Monday, September 28, 2009

Need a Birding Break?

We all do at times, right? Well if you are looking for some "edutainment" this week you may want to check out Ken Burn's latest documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. I got sucked into the first episode last night, after the evening football game and before going to bed for my 6:00 am shift. The short sleep was worth it and I am really looking forward to the entire series. I have the rest set on the Tivo and will hope they don't get overwritten during the later part of next week...

Because I will be out of town and hopefully getting some good Eastern Birds in the next week. I am headed on a fairly short notice trip to see my alma mater's Golden Buffaloes play the Mountaineers of West Virginia University on Thursday night. In addition I will be seeing college friends in Pittsburgh and D.C. as well as meeting up with others from areas in the East. Hopefully during the trip I will get to do some birding as well, even if it is just casual while other sightseeing.

On the downside there will probably not be any updates along the way, as the laptop is not in my packing plans.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall Yellow-rumped Warblers

Yellow-rumped Warblers seem to have similar characteristics in the fall as the spring, namely that once you have seen one they are likely to be everywhere.

After I had been out to see the Least Tern at Six Mile Reservoir I headed to the north side of Boulder Reservoir to see if there were any interesting water or shorebirds about.

I did see a good variety of common species, but by far the best light and most entertaining sightings were these Yellow-rumpeds who all worked their way past me in a grove of changing aspen.

The reflected light off a few rain clouds worked out to great effect and really capped off a great evening. As I walked back to my car in the fading light I even had a Coyote serenade to accompany me and welcome in the night.

Fall Migration Rarity

Boulder County is a fantastic place for any type of outdoor activity. It features a range of ecosystems from semi-arid prairies to high alpine peaks reaching 14,000 ft. During migration that diversity can lead to a number of unusual visitors, who knows if it is more or less attractive than other locales along the migration route. What is certain, is that Boulder County and the surrounding area have a great combination of prime locations and dedicated expert birders to go sniff out those rarities. It makes it easy for a newbie like myself to get to experience some really great birds that I would otherwise not get a chance to see.

In this case Bill Schmoker, who introduced me to the fun of Christmas Bird Counts, shared his sighting details of a Lesser Tern at Six Mile Reservoir in Boulder. Fortunately for me the bird remained in the area and was relocated around midday yesterday. I decided to give the location a shot after work yesterday. From my pics it wouldn't have been clear that the bird on the far shore was a Least Tern, fortunately a fellow birder was there with a scope at the ready, and we were able to reconfirm the id.

Here is a bit tighter crop, again, not enough to go on from here to confirm a rarity, but with the scope we were able to see more detail on the bill and legs and confirm that we were seeing the same individual.

Thanks to Bill for sharing the sighting details, and Art, (I believe), for the view through his scope.

2009 Count: 186
Lifetime: 194

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Worth the Wait

Its been quiet up in here. The reason, ....

three full days of Midwestern March weather, in Colorado, in late September. There has been a serious case of socked in, leaden skies around here, and the migrants and birders were none to happy about it. I didn't get any local snow, but could see it falling just above my elevation on the foothills several times this week. Despite it all I ventured out both Tuesday and Wednesday at lunch, and both times came back damp, with very little to show for it.

Today Mother Nature seems to be pulling out all the stops to make up for it though. I was out at lunch on a beautiful, crisp, fall day. Fortunately, I had forgotten a memory card and had to immediately head back to my car. When I got back to the start of the woods on the South Boulder Creek Trail I caught a group of Chickadees moving across the trail just beyond me. I caught up to where they were crossing, and looking back caught this young fellow moving from branch to branch.

It was the first time I had seen a Yellow-rumped Warbler, (Audubon's - *note the yellow chin*), in first year winter plumage. Until I got back and had a look at a guide I wasn't aware that Yellow-rumpeds could have so much brown on them. A good close up view, but nothing compared to what I would see as the Yellow-rump passed me by...

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet not more than five feet from me, and ranging from one to four feet off the ground. I have seen this species before, but only breeding males, and only at a distance. Today I had a few good looks from close range. They seem even more tiny up close! The view above is better than what I have typically experienced, a head here, a tail in a different shot - always obscured by leaves or branches, or better - looking up into a pine tree - towards the sun.

This little lady, (maybe a non-breeding male?), was willing to sit in the relative open and give me a few nice looks. Even so this little spec was a constant blur of motion. Capturing it in the dark shade of the plum bush where it was moving proved to be far from ideal, but a satisfactory experience nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fire and Fall Friends

Last things first. As I was returning to work from my lunch I looked up towards the Flatirons, trying to compose a shot that would show off the yellowing shrubs, when I saw this view:

I have seen one other fire in my life in forest land that was about the same size, I was in Junior High School, hiking to a lake high on the Grand Teton with a church group. Walking back down we saw a plume of smoke about that size and watched it grow as we descended. It became the giant fire that devastated a good portion of Yellowstone National Park. Needless to say I did a quick double take. I quickly noticed the shape of the fire though. Note how it has a wide base, fairly parallel to the flat ground. That is a good indication of a prescribed burn. In a normal fire without significant wind a fire will burn uphill. In that case I would expect a single low point, and an inverted funnel shape going upslope.
Even so, I checked the Boulder County OSMP closure page when I got back and confirmed that it had been planned for today and intentionally set.

Now for the birds, I took my time with these first two species and am as confident as I can be about the IDs, but if I am wrong please let me know. Above and below is an Orange-crowned Warbler. Unfortunately the branch was in the way, but oh well. Even without a clear look at the face profile the dark legs and presence of yellow under the bill seem to rule out a MacGillivray's Warbler.

Then, the ever challenging flycatcher species. I am thinking Willow Flycatcher after some back and forth.

The closer I look at Flycatchers the less certain I become, but this one seems to meet the Willow field marks, was hanging around in willows, and is in the same location where I have spotted Willow Flycatchers in the past. Seems like a compelling case to me, but if I have missed the obvious feel free to comment.

These two were both a part of a fairly large loose group of birds that I saw as I arrived, and then passed again as I returned up the trail and they moved south along the creek. The group included eight Black-capped Chickadees, one each of the Orange-crowned Warbler and Willow Flycatcher, and the White-breasted Nuthatch below that was just oozing personality and very intrigued by my "pishing".

Another great day to embrace the arrival of fall. I hope you all are doing the same!

Lesser Finch Family and More

Yesterday at lunch I had a quick drive west of Superior to see if I could get some lucky migrants in the heat of the day. The Vesper Sparrow (above) wasn't necessarily a migrant, but it was willing to pose in the sunlight.

I also had a full family of Lesser Goldfinches gathered right along the roadside. Mom is the least distinctive, she would be much more difficult to ID if Dad wasn't nearby as well.

He is still looking fairly bright, soon those colors will be much more washed out looking. Unfortunately he did not offer me an angle that showed off his great colors in the sunlight.

Finally there is the teenage son. He is an awkward mix of adult, molting into the telltale yellow and black with a hint of the black cap visible above the eye, and child, pink legs and light portions of the back. Of course like any teenager, always hungry.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Afternoon Trumped by Owl

Yesterday afternoon I swung by Plaster Reservoir in Broomfield to see if there were any fall migrants about, specifically if there were any early or transient waterfowl arrivals. What I found were more Coots than I have seen there in the past. After squinting against the sun and counting I headed on to McKay Lake which is just down the road and into Adams County. McKay Lake has a great bit of wood land that had been good for warblers in the spring. It has also always been tantalisingly prime Owl habitat, but had yet to produce.

Until yesterday that is, when, as I entered the wooded area this Great Horned exploded from the brush at my feet and silently soared to a new perch a short distance away. I really like that in the picture above the difference in pupil dialation is visible. Those eyes are highly sensitive for low light visibility, and even the shade of a beak is enough to make a big adjustment necessary.

I love the texture in this Owl's plumage coloration. It makes Great Horneds so difficult to see, but when you find them you can lose yourself in the complexity.
I am always on the lookout for owls, especially Great Horned Owls. They are such a wildcard species - they can be around in almost any brushy or wooded habitat, and are common enough that they "should" be around on any given walk. That said, they are so difficult to pick out that on finding one I always get a rush. Of all the common year round species the Great Horned is the one that will always be a highlight when seen.
Summer is frustrating with Owls because they are so much more difficult to spot than in winter when the leaves have dropped. In yesterday's case I was lucky to have this owl abandon its perch near the trail as I walked along. I was crestfallen when, after it landed in its initial perch it managed to depart, in the briefest of moments, while I wasn't looking. Fortunately, (none of the first pics made this post), it had flown to the ground and an American Kestrel began to mob it without mercy. While I couldn't see the Owl, I waited as the Kestrel continued to make low passes over some brush, and scream repeatedly from its two alternating perches. Eventually the Kestrel departed, and with a few more minutes of patience I was treated to the Owl reemerging and rising to the more open perch offering the view above.
I wish I knew if the Owl had made a kill when it was low and being mobbed, but regardless the interaction between the two was really entertaining. More so, because a year ago I would not have recognised the interaction that was happening, nor had the foresight to remain still and wait for the Owl to return to a higher perch.

Waiting on the owl ate up most of my time, fortuantely I had this Wilson's Warbler on a close low perch at my first stop, so this post can get a bit of well deserved diversity and color.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall Counting at Barr Lake State Park

I had the chance to spend a great Saturday helping out with the Fall Bird Count at Barr Lake State Park. The weather wasn't spectacular, overcast and damp, but birding with others is always educational. Saturday was no exception.

One of the early highlights of the day was the Osprey in the previous post. In addition to that I had the chance to observe four new species, three of which I got passable photos of, including the Swainson's Thrush above.

Not all birds were new, however, some just gave me better photo opportunities than I have had in the past. The Rock Wren above and Great Egret below were two such species. The Great Egret was a species that I observed for the first time in Colorado.

It was really a day of Egrets when looking out over the vegetation surrounding the lake. We kept passing groups of Snowy Egrets in numbers from four to six, and then near the end of the day saw a group of 20 all working through the weeds together. They made a good comparison with the Great Egrets who were far fewer in number.

I was glad for the accompaniment of a much more experienced birder, who was able to help me identify this Cassin's Vireo. The overall olive tinge is a strong field mark distinguishing it from the Plumbeous Vireo which is more gray.
The Vireo wasn't the only Cassin's species I observed however. The two Kingbirds below are of the Cassin's species. We saw these mixed in with several Westerns in a group of passed sunflowers. In the field it was tough to be certain of the id, but after zooming in on the stills the overall gray head and upper breast were clear. That differs from the Western variety which has a lighter head and white on the breast. Because of the lighter head on the Western Kingbird, it has a more distinct eyeline. In contrast the Cassin's has a less distinct eyeline, but a distinctive white malar streak. It was a good lesson to learn. Later as we visited with some banders working further along I learned that in mid September most of the Westerns will depart and Cassin's Kingbirds will become the more common of the two until they complete their migration as well.

Along with the Cassin's Vireo, Kingbird, and Swainson's Thrush I added a group of Franklin's Gulls to my list, but while distinct through a scope they were just blurry specs on a fully zoomed photograph.
Counts are great fun, and as always birding with others is a good educational experience. If you don't get the chance to join one this fall think about clearing some time for a Christmas Bird Count in a few months. I am really looking forward to repeating those counts and being more of a contributor this time around.

2009 Count: 185
Lifetime: 193

Yum! Yum!

Talk about flying in the catch of the day. Admittedly not the best focused shot I have ever arranged, but when I saw the Osprey crossing the sky in the distance I new I had to start shooting. Here is what the bird looked like in my view finder before cropping:

So for a damp overcast day I was fairly pleased with the result. I really enjoy getting to see birds engaging in the activities that they need to do on a daily basis. There is always something new to see. In this case I was below the dam at Barr Lake State Park, and when I spotted the Osprey it was already a good ways off from the lake, and continued flying until it was lost from view. While I am not surprised that an Osprey could catch and fly with a large catch, I was not aware that they would just leave the vicinity of the lake. It passed many mature trees on its way to its chosen location. In any event it was a great sight to see live, and even better when in closer detail on the monitor.

More from Barr Lake State Park and the Fall count later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Creekside Lunch

I had a chance to spend a few long minutes along the banks of Coal Creek at lunch today. It was just about perfect. The temp was perfect, not too hot, not to cold. There was a hint of a breeze to move the leaves just enough to give life to the spots of sunshine that made it through the canopy.
The creek softly babbled as it made its way through the rocky part of its course just to my side, pleasant to hear, but not so loud as to drown out the noises of birds and creatures in the area.

The birding wasn't spectacular for fall migration - I had a group of Northern Flickers fairly close at all times, and am confident but not certain that an Orange-Crowned Warbler was briefly over my shoulder and up-sun from me. In the end though, it didn't matter. I had a moment of pure peace in an otherwise hectic day. I got to savor Mother Nature at her finest, in a spot that is often passed but rarely appreciated or given more than a passing glance. I will be back, new found lunch spot; for the experience, for the calm, but most of all for the birds.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Visit to Walden Ponds - Shorebirds and a Snowy

One of the highlights of yesterday's hike was a few minutes spent at a small pond just before sunset. It was the place to be if you were a shorebird. With my usual disclaimer, (I may be way off on shorebird IDs), enjoy and feel free to correct me where appropriate.

The Solitary Sandpiper, above, was one of a group of three - not feeling so solitary, apparently.

While the Wilson's Snipe was foraging all by itself.

Of course Killdeer were everywhere, and the Snowy Egret below was in the same pond, and just looking too good not to include here.

Good birding all!

My Visit to Walden Ponds - Non Birds

While at Walden Ponds yesterday I had many non-bird encounters. There was a Mule Deer to welcome me as I arrived. The dragon flies were everywhere, and my hands bear evidence to the numbers of mosquitoes that became active at dusk.

Many fish were jumping, and this one, (Bluegill perhaps?), was clearly visible in the sunlight.

I also had a great closeup look at this Snapping Turtle. I watched something dramatically moving vegetation as it approached the shore, and was able to wait quietly until it reached the shore below me.
Very cool, bird pics to follow.

My Visit to Walden Ponds - Grebes and Ducks

I had an early morning start at work yesterday, which meant a long free afternoon! I spent it at the Walden & Sawhill Ponds complex in north Boulder. There were lots of birds out and about, I tallied 32 species, one of which - American Bittern - was a lifer, but remained unphotographed. (I saw two individuals fly overhead at dusk and was unable to relocate them in the lake where they landed amongst the log grasses). The waterfowl as always were prolific. I had Wigeons, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, and the Pied-Billed Grebes and Mallards pictured in this post.

The little grebe below is still showing the facial markings and orange bill of a hatchling. I stumbled upon it rooting in the muddy waters of a small pond. I was surprised that it was able to dive and resurface in more open water on the other side of some vegetation in what appeared to be only inches of water.

Enjoy, the signs of fall are beginning to show.

2009 Count: 181
Lifetime: 189

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Live from Las Vegas - Exotic Swimmers?

Not those kind of exotic swimmers - pull your mind out of the gutter!

These were Chinese Geese, swimming happily in the large pond at Sunset Park in Las Vegas. They are certainly not countable, as they are a released captive flock that are fed and supported by the park staff. They are cool looking birds though, and ran a wide spectrum of light to dark color variation.

There were also some domestic Mallards thrown in the mix. At the time I thought I was on to a hotbed of leucism in Mallards until I read that the white coloring is an attribute of the domesticated varieties of this species.

They made an interesting and colorful alternative to the countless Canada Geese that are so prevalent at every pond, lake and reservoir in Colorado.

Fall Migration Flop

Yesterday I finally got back out to see if I could stumble upon any fall migrants. I have been distracted since my Las Vegas trip and haven't been out in the field with camera at all over the holiday weekend.
I did see some early signs of fall, so I believe I had the timing right. Even so, the birds were not present. I still had a beautiful walk along Coal Creek in the evening sunshine - but had a very pedestrian list when complete.

When a Mourning Dove is my sole avian contribution to the post it was clearly a common species day. There were a couple of Red-tailed flyovers and a nice singing Belted Kingfisher, but after a layoff my camera focusing wasn't dialed in and I couldn't seem to get on the birds.
Today is another day, and with an early start to my workday I should have a chance to spend some good hours in prime Boulder habitat. If nothing else I should refresh some skills before I participate in a fall bird count on Saturday.