Thursday, April 30, 2009

Second Post Trip Update (DeSoto NWR - Nebraska)

Bald Eagle nests are a big tourist draw, and I usually do a stop, look, "yep those are Eagles on a nest alright" and then head on off to some more quiet spot while the crowds stay busy there. I post this because it is nice to see that the nest had at least two young, and it reminds me that I need to get back out to Barr Lake State park soon and see what those nests have for activity.

In my mid-trip update I believe I posted that I had finally seen Ring Necked Pheasants from the road. Well at DeSoto I had much better looks, although they sought cover quickly and I had to wait patiently for these shots. It was very much worth it though, getting to watch, (and hear) these two perform their courtship rituals while they were both keeping an eye on me was a highlight.

Just look at those colors! He really goes all out for his ladies.

At the end of my day I reached the Wood Duck trail which the ranger had recommended to me several hours before. I wanted to take a peek, and in my rush did not grab my rain gear as I headed out. Sure enough a few minutes later it was dumping, and rolling thunder convinced me to finally get back on the road. Not before I had added the Eastern Towhee (above) and the Northern Rough-winged Swallow to my list.
Finally, just because they were everywhere on my trip, a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) at the instant of takeoff.

I believe I have one more round of pictures to work through from Ft. Niobara NWR, and then my checklist submissions will be complete. Then I can actually go back through my pictures to recapture any highlights I have missed - and possibly get another post in about all the non-bird related stuff to see on my route. Now stop reading and go see some birds before all the leaves are too full!

2009 Count: 114
Lifetime: 131

1st Post Trip Update (DeSoto NWR Visitor Center Trail)

Wow - what a trip! My family visit to Orange City, Iowa, (the reason for going) was great and so were the birds. I have so many pictures that it is going to take some time to get through them, and in the meantime there are more migrants in Colorado, so here is one tiny sample from one of three sets at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. By the way I saw DeSoto NWR on my AAA map while I was driving south on US 75 in eastern Nebraska, I had no idea about it, and decided that I would break up my day's drive to Grand Island by stopping there around lunch. I spent 5 hours and took over 5 Gb of pictures there while birdwatching in two states. The highlight of which was the Barred Owl above.
I had no idea about Barred Owls, and happened to spot this one just after I had thought..."Hmm haven't seen a Great Horned in a while." If only that though would work this well every time. Just one of many lifers on the trip, and I still have three substantial counts to submit to update my tally.

I'm not even sure if this is my best Brown Thrasher picture, but they were a FOY for me.

I had a lifer Harris Sparrow the night before on a cold and windy walk in Orange City. More on the hunt in scrub brush to find them later - but the next day these two were just out and about in front of a picnic table right next to my car.

Not the best of pics, but the colors of the White-Throated Sparrow stand out so well, even in a blurred flight shot.

Then there were Cedar Waxwings all over a flowering apple tree just above the Harris Sparrows next to my car, I mean really I have been spoiled.
More picture updates to follow, but for now:
2009 Count: 112
Lifetime: 129

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mid trip Update

Pics soon.

Nebraska has been great, despite the turn in the weather.

I updated totals from my visit to Valentine National Wildlife Refuge today.

It is a great location, and I wish I had more time to spend, and a bit less wind to contend with. Even so, I tallied 36 species and updated my lists and pictures nicely. I really am amazed by how well birding by car works. Keeping only one window open minimizes the wind impact, and on lightly traveled roads I can creep along and use the car as an effective blind.

I had a couple of surprises, a Forsters Turn and both Vespers and Baird's Swallows. I also picked up a couple of area common species that I haven't seen in Colorado, but saw frequently growing up in Minnesota. They were the Eastern Bluebird and Great Egret.

Last night driving across northern Nebraska I saw a pair of Ring-necked Pheasants on the side of the road. It felt good to finally pick up that species. Last winter driving from Minnesota to Iowa I watched every ditch going and coming to see if any would turn up, and was totally skunked. Much better to have them in the bag.

I can't express how much my impressions of Nebraska have changed by taking an alternate route across the state. I have cut between interstates several times and have always been struck by the scenery in the dunes - yes, much of Nebraska is a major dune field covered by shortgrass prairie growth. Taking the time to stop at a few key locations has been that much better.

I made stops at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, (and had the park to myself on a beautiful 80 degree day), Toadstool Geologic Park, (where I spent far less time than I would have liked due to a looming thunderstorm which chased me from Chadron to Valentine last evening) and now Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. Wow, what a great mix of geology, history, paleo-mamology and of course fauna and photo ops.

2009 Count: 95
Lifetime: 117
(more updates and species to be added from Wednesday and Thursday)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pre-trip Catchup

Before I head out for feathered adventure this afternoon I wanted to catch up some pictures from a week ago. Last Thursday I stopped by the Stearn's Lake area on my way home from work. It was overcast and drizzly as the storm that would eventually hammer the Denver metro area with heavy wet snow was just arriving. Sure enough as soon as I got out of my car the rain really started coming down. The wind was enough to make sure that my umbrella had little effect. Still the shorebirds and ducks didn't mind and were out doing their thing on the banks. The American Avocet (above) was fairly close to my side of the larger Stearn's lake proper.

Just across the road I peeked at a small irrigation or farmer's pond which happens to fall in Broomfield county. I was fortunate to get a closer look at the Solitary Sandpiper I had seen previously.

I also had this Wilson's Snipe nearly at my feet. Unfortunately for the exposure we were both positioned below a large cottonwood, capturing a bit more of the feel of the weather than I would have hoped. Then again it was a new species for my list so I'll take it in any conditions.
So now my submissions to Ebird are up to date, all of my camera memory cards have been uploaded and reformatted and I have a couple of fresh pics posted to tide the blog over until Friday at the earliest.
My car is loaded and ready and in a few short hours I will be on the road. The only bit of bad news so far is that I could not get a blind reservation at the Valentine Wildlife Refuge for Saturday morning, but I will be camping the next two nights and have an alarm set for 4:00, so maybe I will get extremely lucky.
Even if I don't I know the next few days are going to be a whirlwind, and hopefully my notes and pics will give me a bunch of ID challenges for the days and weeks to come.
Not only will the birding be great, but the Lyrid Meteor shower peaked this morning and will continue in the early hours tomorrow, and I should get some good history exposure as well, (I have a degree in American History).
Take care everyone, and as always please feel free to make any appropriate corrections on my species identifications. Seriously, shorebirds are a whole new world for me. I will always do my best, but would rather learn from my mistakes than continue on in ignorance.

2009 Count: 84
Lifetime: 108

Monday, April 20, 2009

Impending Adventures

I had a very non-bird related weekend. For one thing I was oncall, so keeping close to work or home puts a bit of a limit on things. More importantly, however, were my preparations for my first bird adventure of the year. The birding is an expansion of my drive across Nebraska to visit my Sister's family in Orange City, Iowa next weekend for my Niece's second birthday.
So in addition to the fun of getting to see family and catch up I am going to get to fire off my camping season, do some backroads driving through a totally underrated part of the country, and hopefully catch some great migration action along the way.
My rough plan is to hit Crow Valley and the Pawnee National Grasslands Wednesday evening. I will then head North into the western panhandle of Nebraska on Thursday and catch a couple of the National Parks and monuments in the area. Friday I will make the scenic drive through the dunes to Valentine. Saturday will see me arrive in Orange City.
I am excited about all aspects of this trip. The price though was a Saturday spent doing mundane domestic chores, and Sunday slipped away in a whirlwind of errand running.
I still have a handful of tasks to accomplish so who knows if there will be any major updates through the early part of the week.
Enjoy the migration!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They're baaaack!

Swainson's Hawks!

I took my lunchtime walk today further along the Coal Creek trail. I saw a bit of variety, but mostly common species as I walked along. Not having seen anything too spectacular, and having spent most of my time well away from the creek following the trail, I decided to sit for fiver in a copse where the trail rejoined the creekbed.
As it got close to turn around time I decided to just go under the next bridge and have a peek at the trees beyond to make sure I wasn't missing an obvious owl or something in the trees. I was glad I did because the two Swainson's above were visible just as I emerged beyond the underpass.
It isn't a perfect shot, but considering I have recently traded manual for autofocusing while trying to track airborne birds I think I got fairly close to locked on.

When I was on my sit I heard and then saw this Downy Woodpecker working on a new nest hole, or at least doing some major renovations.

This does seem to be the week of the Kestrel. I go for long stretches not seeing any, and then get a run of them. They are welcome anytime they want to make themselves visible.

Finally under the bridge I startled out this lightly colored Rock Pigeon. It paused for just a moment before making a noisy exit.

One more Swainson's shot to round out the post.

I didn't add any new species, but if I could bottle the feeling of seeing a near talon grab - and then seeing it well captured later in the day I wouldn't worry about another ID again. Okay maybe I would, but it was still pretty good.

Harper Lake

Fairly quiet on Tuesday. I took a quick lunch trip to Harper Lake to get a walk in. It was a pleasant day for being outside, even if there wasn't anything too spectacular on the bird list. The sun did peak through just long enough for me to get a few nice shots of this American Kestrel.

I also got some distant pictures of this Double-Crested Cormorant, a first for me in Boulder County. Unfortunately its perch was way out in the middle of the lake, so there weren't any spectacular shots. In case you are wondering, the object covered in Cormorant, and avian whitewash is called a SolarBee. It is a solar powered water circulation system designed to improve water quality in reservoirs and lakes using environmentally friendly technology.
I checked their website today, I was trying to determine how they keep all the gulls and other birds off the solar panels. I know they are in most of the lakes and reservoirs here in the front range cities of Colorado, so it seems like the North Dakota company has been hard at work.
The answer to what keeps the birds off the wasn't real clear, there is some type of accessory that they sell, but no pictures or descriptions online. Streams of water or lines, whatever they are I guess they will keep showing up in my pictures.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday at the Marshes

I wanted to get back up to the Cottonwood Marsh, Sawhill Ponds, Walden Pond area in Boulder now that the migrants are arriving. Monday, being the day I get off work at 3:00 was the perfect opportunity.
Before heading up I checked the recent emails that referenced the location and knew that both Mew Gulls and Black Phoebes had been spotted recently. I did a quick lookup on each so that I would be prepared to identify them if I saw them. (I didn't see either, but it seems like a good way for me to prepare for trips, and learn about likely species before I see them.)
At the entrance to the complex I was checking the Cottonwood Marsh mudflats for shorebirds when a couple passed me and told me that if I wanted to take pictures I should head over a couple of lakes to one where 50 or so Pelicans were feeding.
The complex is large - there are many different lakes, marshes and woodlots to explore. As such it is always nice to get a target destination right off the bat. I headed over and sure enough there were a large group of Pelicans feeding in the lake.

I initially counted 66, and another dozen arrived in pairs or solo while I was watching. Carry a camera and binoculars around a nature preserve and you will quickly find that others in the area immediately consider you an expert....either that or they were testing me. I started getting questions about how long the Pelicans would stay, and whether or not the American White Pelican was the largest bird in Colorado.
Anybody know the answer to that one? I said that I wasn't sure, but that some of the swans or cranes may be larger.

The Pelicans were fun to watch, and I hope that some of them hang around. This one successfully caught a fish and was happy to show it off.

Just to the north of the Pelicans I spotted a Great Horned on her nest, and just around the corner - west of the boundary - there was a fairly developed Great Blue Heron rookery. It looked like the pairs were still in nest building mode, but getting back there with some morning light will have to be a priority.

I spotted this bird from across a lake and despite being the first one I had seen in the wild I knew it immediately.

Osprey! When perched with their wings folded their white heads can look a bit like a Bald Eagle, but the black eye band/cheek patch gives them away, as does their white belly from below. I really like this bird, and got the opportunity to direct a late arriving birder towards it as I was heading back to the entrance.

In an area like this heading back is an hour proposition, and I still had plenty of time to enjoy the American Wigeon seen here and all the other waterfowl as the sun sank.
I stopped by the spot where I had listed my first Great Horned Owl back in January, and there were two sitting in the next tree over. Back to back days seeing three Great Horneds, I am getting spoiled!

In addition to the great Owl, Pelican, and Heron sightings I added three new life birds on my trip. As well as the Osprey pictured above I got a Barn Swallow (not even close to pictured), and a Black-and-White Warbler (pictured but too small and far to show up well on the page). The day was very good, I got 35 species between three stops and just enjoyed a long enough afternoon that I could almost bird/hike 5 miles before it got too dark to continue.

2009 Count: 83
Lifetime: 107

Monday, April 13, 2009

An Easter Hunt: Part 2, Three Owl Night

I love owls.
Maybe it is the opportunities that I have had to work closely with them at the Birds of Prey recovery center. Maybe it is the fact that they are the silent assassins of the night sky, that hit their prey before it can sense them coming.

Or then maybe it is that looking at this

to pick out this

requires that you respect their phenomenal camouflage adaptation.

Here is a shot of the same Great Horned Owl, after I had worked my way down and back from a different angle, getting a soft background that made the camo less efficient:

The owl was maybe ten yards off the trail when I spotted him, and didn't seem to bothered by the human who was moving around in the area off the regular path. I was fortunate that there was a utility yard with a chain link fence for snow plows and road repair just off the trail. I hugged the fence, and was able to move along it far enough to get clear of most of the brush without spooking him. I guess there is enough regular activity inside the yard that the motion along it is not considered threatening. I also know that owls will sometimes remain still when they feel threatened relying on their colors to blend them into the background rather than revealing their position trying to escape.
In this case I do not think I was considered a threat because the owl spent the majority of the time checking back along the creek and trail. It also did not show any signs of panting, an action that owls display when they are stressed.

In my previous post I noted that I had reached what I believed to be the eastern edge of the trail system on my walk. When I got to the far end I had to cross the road and scan the trees that lay beyond. Just as I crossed I spotted another owl silently flying to a new perch on a tree further back. Owls are like Easter Jelly Bean Eggs, once you have had one, you keep looking for more. I saw the one above in flight. The owl was definitely moving to put more vegetation between itself and me. I am sure that the lack of trail in that area made its resident much less habitualized to human presence. I would have never seen this one if it had relocated successfully without my notice. Even having seen it, and knowing generally where it was I still had to look through my camera lens for several minutes before I could locate it.
I returned on the same trail to find that the original Great-Horned had relocated to a more visible perch in the same area where I had left him.

I once again slid along the fence and was able to get a good series of shots. Eventually he did tire of my antics, and flew off. He went all of 15 feet and landed in a tree just on the other side of and immediately above the trail. Not wanting to be any more of a disturbance I walked past staying to the far side of the trail and looking from the corner of my eye rather than turning face on to him. I did turn to get a few more shots after I had passed.

Just a spectacular bird to see in the wild, but be warned - find one and you will be checking trees from then on to see which owls you have been missing!

An Easter Hunt: Part 1, Not just eggs.

One of the first things I saw after leaving my car yesterday afternoon, well besides the rain, was this egg. It was sitting on the concrete outcrop of an underpass, just above eye level. I thought it was either, not an egg - it almost looked like a marble as I approached, or someone's stashed Easter Egg that had not been found in a hunt that morning. After checking on line it does seem very likely a Rock Pigeon egg. It was certainly the right environment, and there are Rock Pigeons around, but I have never seen an egg that exposed that was completely undamaged. I did double check it on the way back to my car two hours later and it was still there, intact. Weird, but at least I can say I found my Easter Egg!
I should say that my walk yesterday and Friday evening were both basically in the same location. A new one for me. The Coal Creek Trail extends eastward from some of the areas I access while on lunch breaks. The stretch I walked in the previous post is located between highway 287 and South Public, and the stretch from yesterday runs east from South Public all the way to 120th St. and from what I could see was the end of the trail.

There is a good stretch of trail that runs away from the creek in the middle of a cow field. It offers great views of the trees to the south, and makes picking out raptors a snap. The juvenile above has great colors in the feathers on the back. It was one of my first Swainson's Hawks of the year, and since I have been listing.

This Song Sparrow perched long enough for me to get his picture.

Here were two American Kestrels on a date. Personally I thought the atmosphere was a bit drab, but then maybe for a Kestrel a poop covered pole on a cloudy damp evening is where its at.
I am very glad I went out. As soon as I learned that trail connected those areas of Coal Creek I knew I had to get over there. It was a seventeen species count and one of them counted three individuals that were so much fun they are getting their own follow-up post. I will be making those walks again soon.
2009 Count: 80
Lifetime: 104

Starting the Weekend Right

Is there a better way to start a weekend than by exploring a new stretch of creek bed?

Not much, when you get a good view of a Yellow Rumped Warbler - aka Butterbutt. This was a much better look than I had on my previous sighting, and the first time that I had located one myself rather than having it spotted by someone else in a group. I was impressed by the brilliant yellow stripe in the middle of the plain grey head.

Even more yellow was to be had with this American Goldfinch.

Not to be outdone, the Black-Capped Chickadees made up for their lack of color with their activity and song.
No new species, but a lot of improved looks and just a great evening to be out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lunch before the weather broke

I drove over to Superior on my lunch yesterday to see if I could get close to a reservoir that I glimpse on my drive into work each day. My first attempt missed the res. but I did find a stream that runs along a road out to the Superior water treatment facility. This is the stream that eventually passes below the Flatirons Mall. I walked along and had some nice views of the Red-tail nest pictured above. I also chased and failed to get a good picture of a Song Sparrow that was working through the underbrush along the stream. I thought it was some kind of a wren, but looking at the poor photos was enough to clarify what I had seen.

As I turned to head back to my car I spotted a bird rising from the open field in to a small tree away from the creek. I snapped a few pictures and initially thought it was a not-quite-right Meadowlark. Looking at the pictures later confirmed that it was not a Meadowlark. I worked through the common species for the site based on E-bird, and eventually confirmed that I had seen my first Say's Phoebe. Based on the reports on the listserve I would imagine that this will be followed by many more sightings, and hopefully better pics.

I eventually did make it to Hodgson-Harris Reservoir, but the weather was turning and it had become heavily overcast. I also had a bad angle, as much of the bank is Private and gated, and I did not see access to the Boulder Open Space area surrounding the other sides. I did pick up some additional species for the month, but didn't come back with any additional noteworthy pics.
Hopefully the clouds burn off by lunch, and the good fortune continues.
2009 Count: 79
Lifetime: 103

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An even nicer evening at Stearn's Lake

The shorebird above is an American Avocet, just one of the 6 new life birds I saw on Tuesday evening. It was so nice on Tuesday that I decided to stop at Stearn's on the way home for a bit of a walk and some more pictures. While I was there I saw 3 shorebirds, including the Avocet above, two new Grebes, and an American White Pelican which I knew would be coming any day now. For the record I did peek at the Farmer's Pond across from the parking lot. That is where I spotted the Avocet, a Solitary Sandpiper, and the standard assortment of ducks, Red-wings and Killdeer.

Here is a Greater Yellowlegs walking along the beach. I am going to do my best with shorebirds, but will very likely be wrong at some point along the way. Feel free to email or add corrections in the comments.

I saw a lone American White Pelican on the lake and apparently the fishing was better towards the middle than it was for the humans on the bank. It was quite a battle for the Pelican to get it lined up for swallowing.
A quick note on Pelicans. Back a few years I spotted one on the lake at a local golf course. I was shocked that Pelicans showed up in Colorado. In Minnesota where I grew up there is a town called Pelican Rapids where White Pelicans nested, but they were fairly isolated, from what I knew, and I really thought that the additional 4000 feet of elevation would be prohibitive. At any rate - I started noticing Pelicans, even thought at that time I was far from doing any actual birdwatching. Since I started keeping a list last October I have known that at some point the Pelicans would return and I would get see them officially. What a cool way to get to see my first of the year, catching a monster fish.

I also had three species of Grebe on the lake, two of which were lifers. The Horned Grebes above were a long way out, but their distinct buff "horns" and bill shapes made the ID clear.

Also present were two similar species of Grebe, the Western above which is fairly common...

and this Clark's Grebe which is less so. I actually got several shots with multiple Westerns and the Clark's in frame, but they were far enough apart that the formatting would have made them indistinguishable blobs.
The above pictures still aren't great, but they show the major differences for making an ID. On the Western the black on the head drops down below the eye, and the body is mostly dark. The Clark's has a whiter face, including the area around the eye and the mottled light sides. Also of note is the difference in bill color. The Western's bill is a greenish-yellow and the Clark's is bright yellow to orange.

This Killdeer was in great light with a group as I walked past it in a field. Check out that great red eye.

I saw this Great Blue Heron way up in a Cottonwood that was somewhat removed from a small pond on the way to the Cradleboard trail. Interesting to see something that large, on those skinny legs, standing 40 ft up in a tree.

What a day!
Between my earlier walk along coal creek and the evening spent at Stearn's I really saw some of nature's best. I added six new life species on the day. They were, American Avocet, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, American White Pelican, Horned Grebe, and Clark's Grebe.
2009 Count: 78
Lifetime: 102