Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Trailhead in a Favorite Area

Any trail that I come across where a Coyote and I cross paths at midday is one that holds good potential for me. This one even more so, because it is fairly close to my work, and is accessible during a lunch break.

My furry, young, companion decided that I was not someone who was going to yield the trail, so it dove for the trailside underbrush ahead of me. I had a feeling that I knew where the wanderer would emerge from the thickets ahead, so I slowed and then stopped, 'pishing' the bushes as I waited.

I tracked the progress of my unwitting helper by the increasing numbers of juncos who were rising from the depths of the brush as a predator slunk below them.

When the path of starting birds merged with the end of the brush I though I was ready, little did I know that the Coyote was many feet closer to my position, and unfortunately I missed the close up as it peeked through a gap. Realizing it was too close for comfort it returned to the depths and reemerged at the anticipated spot seconds later, allowing me the two shots above from a still respectable range.

The opportunities were not wasted by me as the juncos rose from the depths to stay at a safe range from hungry teeth. Above, a Gray-headed representative of the Dark-eyed Juncos posed for a shot.

Not to be outdone, an Oregon race perched at the top of the stack, with only the snowy backdrop keeping the eye from fully resolving. I also had passing picks of Pink-sided individuals, who are close in appearance to their Oregonian cousins, but lack the highly contrasted dark hood.

In lieu of a poor junco shot I will show this Song Sparrow, who thanks to a response to some 'pishing' finally appeared amongst the camouflage of branches and a lichen covered concrete marker. The marker brings me back around to this trail, which is one I will be sure to visit again, especially as spring arrives, and the brush that was so productive yesterday will be full of even more goodies. In addition to the wildlife it features a placard that points out the historic foundations of the old mining town of Superior, Colorado.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Few Shots of Winter Friends

A second walk while visiting Minnesota featured much better weather, and some good looks at a pair of woodland friendly faces.

This particular White-breasted Nuthatch perched for a relatively long while, for a nuthatch, and allowed me some good looks.

I also had lots of looks at three members of the woodpecker family, Downys, Red-bellieds, and several looks at Hairys. Most Hairys are distinguished in the field when viewed by their overall size, and the relative length of their bills to the length of their heads. I am learning that they can be distinguished well before sightings by their calls and drumming, but I am not there yet.

Another field mark, one that I hadn't gotten much chance to observe until these photos were taken, is that the outer tail feathers of the Hairy Woodpecker are clean white. Note the straight vertical edges of the white on the Hairy's tail above. On the bad picture of the Downy below the black spots, which make a barred appearance on the outer tail, are seen while the feathers are fanned.

Finally, one more look at the White-breasted. This particular individual either had something caught on the end of its bill, or had gotten a bit of a deformity while pecking. It didn't seem to slow this bird down as it worked over its dead perch, but does give it's upturned bill an even more authoritative appearance.

I have entered my species from the trip and Boulder CBC into eBird, and unless there is a dramatic sighting at lunch these will be the numbers I use for my year summary tomorrow:
2009 Count: 196
Lifetime: 201

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! Winter Wet!

Ah, back home for Christmas! It is always fun to return to your childhood home, especially with the nostalgia of the holiday season. Add in 18 inches of snow on Christmas Eve, and the magic of Christmas is in full effect. Regrettably the snow was measured in feet at my Sister's home in Iowa, so the holiday focus has shifted from childhood exuberance about presents and Santa to good times and relaxation with my parents, Aunt and Uncle, and cousins. All of the present exchanges are on hold until my sister's family can make it into town, so working a few jigsaw puzzles and just catching up while watching the snow fall and the birds visit the feeders has been the order of the days.

This morning after a great Christmas breakfast I was off to break a trail through the snow to Mt. Normandale Lake Park. Unexpectedly the snow changed over to rain, and I was in for an increasingly strenuous, soggy, postholing adventure through the snow.
For the first hour I didn't see a bird besides Chickadees, and didn't even dig my camera out from the dry shelter of my coat. Eventually I reached the woods, where the steady rain/sleet/snizzle was broken by the trees, and exchanged for constant large drops everywhere. Despite the damp the walk was great. It was warm and calm enough to stay pleasant, and even with poor light I was able to see some fun birds.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers seem to be my constant traveling companions, greeting me wherever I visit east of the plains. I also have never seen as many Blue Jays as I did today, there were multiple groups of four as I moved along. I had Northern Cardinals as well, but despite their bright colors none were captured well enough for posting here. I did however get a poor shot of a passing Red-tail Hawk. Shooting up in low light with falling snow is a bit of an effort in futility, but the shot below after a bit of brightness adjustment shows the Minnesota version of the species that is everywhere in Colorado. A bit more of a treat to see this one in suburbia.

Continued Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Few More Count Day Images

Just a few more shots taken on the Boulder Christmas Bird Count last Sunday.

There were White-winged form Dark-eyed Juncos, one that I don't know that I have previously photographed.

Nuthatches were all about, and for whatever reason Sunday was the day that the Red-breasteds were the most photogenic.

I really enjoyed the chance to spend hours learning and then practicing identifying the dramatically different calls of the various Nuthatches. Hopefully I will have a chance to hear a few in Minnesota over the next few days.

A Townsend's Solitaire is no stranger to a perch atop a juniper, but this one stopped close as we were gathered next to, and just upslope of his perch. It was the spot from which we had been observing the Northern Pygmy Owl, and ended up being well lit for the Solitaire as well.

To any and all, may your Holiday be filled with family and friends, food and fun, fur and feathers, and if your location favors it at least a bit of frost!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My target bird while checking out the South Platte on Saturday was a reported Barrow's Goldeneye. It had been seen and refound by a number of Denver area birders, at both the Evans and Florida Avenue bridges.

My previous sighting of this species was through bins out in the middle of Baseline Reservoir. It was a chance to see the bird, but nothing like this close range exposure where I was at times no more then 10 yards away from this male as it fished in the rapids.

I mentioned in the previous post that I had started off in the wrong direction from where I parked, and as a result saw a great variety of ducks, geese, and mergansers along the river. Among the many species were a handful of the much more numerous Common Goldeneye. The male above gives an opportunity to see the differences in their field marks. Note the solid upper boarder of the white on the wing, the more smooth transition between the bill and angle of the forehead, and of course the obvious oval shape of the white cheek patch.

Here is a female Common Goldeneye, she has a tell-tale yellow tip to her bill. Should I ever track down a female Barrow's her bill should show yellow from base to tip.

Check this picture for the field marks on the Male Barrow's; it has the distinctive white spots along the back, a noticeable angle between the bill and head, and of course when visible the teardrop shape cheek patch.

Our fine Barrow's fellow wasn't going solo just because he was the only representative of his clan - he just found a Common Goldeneye female, and the two seemed to enjoy some cross species company. I watched as they preened near one another and did a bit of diving in the rapidly moving water below the bridge. Perhaps next year there will be a hybrid or two to sort out!

A great looking bird, and a great opportunity to see it up close!

Colatteral Duckage

Female Hooded Merganser
Saturday I had a bit of daylight left as I was heading back up from the hospital in south Denver, so I swung by a hot spot that I had not visited previously, but that was teeming with avian variety in the midst of the city. That is the stretch of the South Platte River that runs between Evans and Florida, and borders a municipal golf course.

Male Hooded Merganser
It was late afternoon on a short day, so I parked on the west bank, and walked north in the direction of the current.

Male Ring-necked Duck
I had a target species in mind, one that had been reported and refound multiple times in this same stretch over the course of a week.

Male Gadwall
While I was scanning for the single target individual I was amazed at the diversity of waterfowl that I was seeing along the half-mile or so stretch of river.

Male Northern Shoveler
All of these species were on display, and were well lit by the low sun angle and a bit of filtering by the shoreline trees.

Male Green-winged Teal
I didn't see a single new species on my walk, but I have never had an opportunity to get quality looks at so many different birds in one session, and to walk away with quality photographs of the majority was a really nice bonus.

Male American Wigeon
Not a single one of these birds was my target, that one is coming up in a following post along with its more frequently seen relative.

Male Bufflehead
No, all these ducks, and mergansers were seen simply because I had the good 'mis'fortune to turn north from where I parked and not check the 2o yards south of my car to the bridge at Evans Ave. But that species, and its comparison with its more 'common' cousins will have to wait for all these fine looking individuals to enjoy their time in the sun.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sometimes, You Just Get Lucky

I knew that the Christmas Bird Count in Boulder would be good, they always seem to be. This year was no exception, but there was one highlight that I didn't even consider prior to the count.
Note the size of the bird in the picture below, it is roughly twice the size of a Ponderosa Pine cone.

We never would have seen it, if I hadn't followed a likely Townsend's Solitaire toward the top of the same tree. We moved around for a closer view, and I was quickly tipped by the count leader to a trait that made it definitely not a Solitaire - it has a relatively fat head! The count leader, being far more experienced than I, already had a good idea what it may be, and was trying to disqualify it. I picked up on the spotting, before I moved around to the side for a better view. It was from there, and approaching behind a tree, that I got all of these shots.

The bird, was an unexpected site, a Northern Pygmy Owl! These tiny owls are incredibly difficult to spot. This one was silent, but apparently they can be heard fairly readily, but usually hang out deep inside evergreens, not on low hanging bare limbs.

This one was content to sit for some time, giving us good views as it rotated through multiple angles. It was unfazed as we stood and exclaimed our good fortune to one another.

I can't express just how tiny this owl is when seen in the wild. It seemed almost like an over-sized, puffy junco. The last treat that this great bird had in store was when it took off to pursue a junco as it flew by. They really appeared to be close to the same size, before they were gone in an instant, lost amongst the trees.

I am sure that in time I will lose the memories of some the species that I saw today, some of the lessons I learned about identifying bird calls will have to be revisited, but once again a Christmas Bird Count has given me at least one memory that I know will take years to erase at the earliest. Betasso Preserve, this fun little slice of nature just outside Boulder, seems to have that characteristic for me. My first visit was my first CBC, my first sighting of Pygmy Nuthatch parents returning to feed there young were here, my unforgettable first wild American Black Bear sighting, a handful of species added to my life list, and now most recently a new and most unexpected Owl. I look forward to many more visits and surprises.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday Night "Light"

What species is this?

Being that this past Friday was just a few days before the Winter Solstice, there wasn't much light to work with when I got away from work a few minutes early and had a chance to swing by Stearn's Lake before full dark. Fortunately, this large buteo was content to remain perched on a power pole as I drove below, and then returned from the south for a bit better illumination.

I would like to think this is a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk. In the picture above, one tell-tale feature appears to be visible. The Ferruginous sports a pair of feathered legs. In a light adult those white legs will take on a rusty-brown color, and will provide a great overhead field mark, in a juvenile they remain white. Unfortunately, from the angle I had it seems that the legs are feathered, but a Red-tailed Hawk can pull its legs back into its lower feathers, obscuring the 'bald' legs.

A tighter look at the face reveals more specifics of a potential Ferruginous, but become more inconclusive on closer inspection. "Sibley's" describes a "large bill and long gape", which certainly seems to be here, but Red-tail juvenile's tend to have a longer gape as well. Frankly, I am not sure if this one reaches back far enough under the eye to qualify.

The head seems a bit darker, but given the light conditions and angle I am thinking that it may appear lighter in full sun. If anyone can help with a definitive trait I would love to know, but for now I am willing to target this bird for a return visit. In the meantime, the weekend is already on a very birdy path, I filled a 4 Gb memory card along the South Platte in less than an hour today, and head out for the Boulder, CO, Christmas Bird Count early tomorrow.
If there is time amid the work, laundry, holiday cheer, packing, and potential snowy commutes over the coming days I should have some good, pic filled, posts coming.
Take care all, and good birding!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

He thinks he's been very good this year!

If only he had opposable thumbs, to aid in the writing of a letter.
He might ask for a couple of these guys to pal around with.

Not much time for birding for humans though, holiday deadlines loom large.
All will hopefully be done in time for Sunday's CBC.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Coming Soon - CBCs!

Or, if you are in a really early area, they are here as of today! That's right the 'longest running wildlife census', is back for its 110th running, the Christmas Bird Count.
I will be participating in my second year of Christmas Bird Counts this year. As indicated in my previous post, the CBCs have, and will probably continue to have a special place in my birding consciousness, as I am sure they do for many others for a variety of reasons. For me they represent my first exposure to group birding, and will hopefully remain as a yardstick against which to measure my experience and ability from year to year.
An update to my previous posting on the Boulder CBC: I have confirmation that I will be returning to the same count area that I was at last year, this time seeing it with a whole new group of eyes for company. I wonder what I will learn this year? I have already learned that the weather will be dramatically different from last year's count: tells me that Boulder is in for much more mild weather than last year, when we only briefly saw the sun from our location up on the ridge, and the counters in the valley below had to endure a full day of overcast skies and falling snow. That count will be this coming Sunday, I can hardly wait. My only reservation is that I will be carrying my on-call pager for work, and will have to trust to luck for an uninterrupted count. Failing that, I am only minutes from work and will just have to keep my vehicle close, so no extra carpooling for me.
In addition to the Boulder count, I have also signed up for this year's Loveland count, on New Year's Day. That count is in its second year, and should be a quite different experience again, as I believe that there are fewer participants in that one. Since it is still a ways off, held on New Year's Day, I have no idea what I will be in for but look forward to the surprise. (It says quite a bit about my level of frustration with my CU Buffaloes football program that I am abandoning all the bowl games that day, but a healthy day outdoors sounds much better, as my alma mater seems destined for a drought before its next New Year's appearance).

I was flattered to receive a call from the leader of the group with whom I had participated at last year's Denver count. He wanted to check to see if I was still planning on rejoining the count. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so as that count is on Saturday the 19th, and my on-call leash doesn't reach that far - even for a good excuse. Sadly, even were I to be able to free up time I would be unable to attend, as my friend's just-out-of-town wedding would be the next priority on my list. Even so I was impressed to be contacted by the leader. As a first year participant last year, I know I wasn't the most valuable asset to have along. But even now, a year later, the leader gave my cell a call to see if I was interested in coming back. I have been involved with many volunteer projects where the communication was not that well done, and wish that there was a way I could be in three places at once this Saturday.
So, as a good faith appeal, let me ask for another consideration from the small, but hopefully growing, audience of this bit of avian digital clutter. If you have already given blood in the past 8 weeks, and have signed up with the national organ donor registry, and still have a few hours to spare on Saturday in the Denver area please think about signing up for the:
56th Denver Christmas Bird Count
Please hit the National Audubon site to preregister, it is the count with the four letter abbreviation CODE, or contact Count Leader/Compiler: Dick Schottler (303-278-8035, birdschotuswestnet) and I am sure he will be happy to point you in the right direction.

For those of you not in the Denver area check out the site and throw in your hometown or holiday destination to the search tool. I guarantee you won't be disappointed with a few hours or a full day spent in the outdoors this holiday season!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Common Colors

Got out for an even more gorgeous lunch this afternoon. 30 some degrees has never felt so nice.

I decided to have a look-see at Greenlee Preserve, where I had a feeling some brush areas might make up for the lack of open water on the area lakes.

I was treated to lots of activity from some very common species, House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos, and European Starlings were all busy in great numbers. The Spotted Towhee started in a fairly clear patch under the brush, but gradually moved deeper and deeper until the movement was visible but the bird was not.
Chickadees were present as well, but were far too preoccupied to remain still for any pictures.
Next time perhaps.