Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Wrap-up

One of the things I have come to really appreciate about eBird this year is the ability to compare what I have seen this year against last year. I have done this a couple of times over the course of the year, and have looked at different locations to see where I have been at numerically as the year progressed.

Here is my high level view of this year's "My eBird" tab, state view as of this morning.

213 species during the year, and a lifetime total of 252 - A year that I would consider a success for many reasons. Just for comparison here is similar shot taken last year:

At a quick glance the charts show me that I added 51 new species to my life list, and increased my year total from 196 to 213. The 51 is nice, but frankly only 17 additional birds in the course of a year would seem to be a bit disappointing. However, I have a good reason why I feel that number was well earned.
In 2009 I had the good fortune to take a number of trips that worked out really well for bird watching. I drove across Nebraska to visit my Sister's family in Iowa in the spring, and then visited Nevada, and several eastern states in the early and later fall respectively. All those states gave me great exposure to locally common birds that I didn't normally get a chance to see.
This year I have done a bit of traveling, some of it birding specific, but those trips have either been close to home, or have not offered the same opportunities that I had last year. For that reason I think my slightly increased year total does reflect good development of my birding skills over the course of the year. I was identifying more of the birds that showed up in a less diverse chunk of habitat. Too be fair, many of those birds were relocations of previously identified birds reported by other individuals. I hope that over the course of time my exposure to the less common species will allow me to identify them, should I encounter them as I am out in the field myself.
My concentration within the State of Colorado was certainly reflected in my growing county lists. Boulder showed a drop, (I counted 142 species there last year), but I had 8 counties with over 40 species reported this year as opposed to only 3 last year.

I think 2010 was a great year of expanding my horizons within Colorado. State parks such as Chatfield, Cherry Creek and Roxborough became more frequent destinations, and I spent less weekend time hitting the same locations that I visit in Boulder during the work week.
Some of the highlights from the year were the Colorado Field Ornithologists Convention in Ft. Collins, climbing Gray's Peak and adding Brown-capped Rosy Finch to my life list along the way and a snowy but warm morning at the South Mesa Trailhead in Boulder where warblers and orioles perched in snow against a bright blue sky. A few local road trips also had highlights for the year. My first night sleeping in the 4runner in Lincoln County, then waking after a rainstorm to Scaled Quail right in the campground was fun. So was driving over Trail-ridge Road to see my first Colorado Moose in several years, and then touring on through the sparsely populated northwestern corner of the state. Of course chasing, and finding the Orange-billed Nightengale Thrush was a memory I won't soon forget - the species had only been recorded north of Mexico twice previously.
I think the real highlight will have to be remain the May snowstorm that I enjoyed in Estes Park with my parents and sister's family.
Next year will be full of new challenges and goals, and in 36 hours the lists all reset. Once again earbirding will be my stated area of focus. I am getting better, but know that will really help me get a handle on all those birds I have not been identifying in the field. I am also going to try to work in the time for at least one good road trip out of state. To start the year off right it is South Lake Tahoe for skiing and hopefully a few good birds. I hope that everyone has a good New Year celebration, and remains safe whether it is snowy, or just not mixing the libations and driving.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vacation Mode

Getting the chance to spend relaxed time with friends and family is always a treat, getting to do so with busy bird feeders just outside the window is even better.

Minnesota has been putting its best wintry face forward, supplying a fresh coat of the white stuff on Christmas Eve morning, and bright clear skies the past couple of days to show it off.

The Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches have been the most common feeder visitors, but even an American Tree Sparrow stopped by for a quick snack.

I hope that those that are able to do so are enjoying some extended relaxation this week, and if you are back to work just hold out for New Years!

Friday, December 24, 2010

You are now free to blog about the cabin!

Delta did ding me for a bag, but free in air wifi and an iPod makes up for it. Looks like a sea of low cloud over the plains and a sunrise soon to color it.

Coffee served just as we hit turbulence, hope I arrive in dry clothes.

Hope everyone's holiday travels are safe and smooth.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Black Scoter - can't you tell?

To be fair, I have no idea if the bird in the picture above is a Black Scoter. There is a fair chance that it is the right bird, but no matter how tight I zoomed in on the frame there was no detail after shooting at long distance and into the light.

More on this bird though, back at the end of November a birder spotted and identified the Black Scoter that was hanging about at Baseline. On a side note, Scoters, whether Black, Surf, or White-winged - are all pronounced 'skoh -ters' with a long "o". Having never really had much reason to study them closely I kind of dismissed them incorrectly as Scooters, and then after I noted the spelling, I had it in my head that they were Scotters, like the dogs I guess, but with feathers instead of fur.
So anyway this Black Scoter, a female or immature bird, has been hanging around at the most readily accessible large reservoir from my work, and I have missed it multiple times. Reduced daylight has kept me limited to quick scans at lunch on weekdays. I gave a quick look while scouting for the CBC, but missed it then. Often I was limited to scanning with bins or taking photos like the one above with my camera, (non-digiscoped) and zooming in to see if I could identify the bird.
For me, a new or life bird gets held to the highest standard for identification. Ideally it gets photographed and clear fieldmarks are visible, or other birders more familiar with the species are around to confirm the call.
In this case the bird was known to be around, but the large size of the water surface and limited times of day were keeping me from locating the bird, or seeing it with enough quality to distinguish it from the other species around.
This morning I took an earlier than normal lunch and set up the scope to scan for the bird. After a couple of misses I finally found it, and scrutinized it closely for markings. The bird showed a white cheek, and dark contrasting crown stripe. It had a darker body, which varied in the light as the bird turned from a dark brownish grey to almost black. At one point while in scope the bird rolled as it preened and showed that it clearly had a dark underside to go along with its one visible dark foot. At no time did I see an upward pointed tail that would have been likely for a Ruddy Duck, and it did not did not have an eye-line in the cheek, (female), or bluish tinge to the bill, (male). I was glad to have finally located this bird, and to have the ideal conditions to identify it, even if it remained out of range for photographing. I did try for a shot though - the effort; (above), was from after I drove to the north side of the lake and attempted a shot from closer range. The remaining ice kept the bird more directly south of me than I had hoped, creating a nice reflection shot - but a bit of a failure for a detailed bird image.

The Black Scoter was one of three species I had hoped to add to my list in the last month of this year. The others, a Black-legged Kittiwake that I missed once at Union Reservoir, and the still eluding me Rough-legged Hawk may have to wait until 2011. I am off to Minnesota in the morning, and will only be back with two days left in the year.

As they stand now:

2010 Count: 211
Lifetime: 252

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Web Goodies

Just a fun diversion and a new aspect of ebird to share as we hopefully all have a bit of downtime coming. First up, the Wordle above is a little web gadget that analyses a blog or news feed, and then makes a cloud diagram. It seems to be making the rounds of some of the blogs, and as there hasn't been much bird content since the weekend I thought I would give it a whirl this evening. Totally pointless, but a cool representation. I'm thinking they read the colors of the template as well to get the blues and greens for mine. Do you have a blog or webpage, might want to wordle it up to see what you have been focusing on. Thanks to Dawn and her Bloggy Blog for sharing.

On a moderately more functional topic.....there have been some great new developments over at Ebird of late. In what will hopefully be a well timed release ebird launched a beta "My Yard Lists" functionality at the beginning of the Christmas Bird Count season. In addition to birders like myself that head out into the field to count the birds in a count circle, the Audubon also encourages feeder watchers to record their counts for the day and add them to the compiled data. It is a great way to include anyone who can't or for whatever reason won't head out into the mid-winter elements to count birds. As many of you already know, sometimes the best way to find rare or secretive birds is just to bribe them with a snack. I have a couple of feeders that I try to keep stocked, but am personally not much of a yard birder. Frankly, I am just not around enough to know what is coming by, and have been lazy about monitoring with the birdcam.

Anyhow, for those who do watch for birds to come visiting your homes I highly encourage you to create a location for your yard in Ebird, and then designate that location as your yard list. The yard, or patch lists are also available, can then be viewed by other birders to see what has been recorded by you. As you can see, my yard is representing those of us who are just starting out or don't have incredible habitats, so no need to feel like your yard isn't good enough to share.

Even one yard list a month for a year from every ebirder would be an incredible data set. More specific to the birders though, it is another fun way to enjoy and share what you are seeing in the natural world.

I just read about, and started exploring this feature today, and already had a 'holy cow - that was cool' moment. Today I was using ebird to list the bird species reported so far in Hennepin County, MN this month. I pulled the list and compared it to my own, and found that there were three new species reported. I was able to see the mapped approximate locations and the name of the birder who recorded the sighting. From there I found that one of the birders had reported a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in their "Patch List", and as a result I saw a handful of reports by the same birder, for the same location this month. I could then see what other species were turning up in the same area. I exchanged quick emails with the other birder, who kindly shared even more detail about the location, and hopefully was happy to know that their local park was providing a view of the area birds to a person several states away thanks to their effort.

I doubt that this was exactly the usage the good folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had in mind for this expansion, but I find it incredibly informative when planning to visit a location and trying to get up to speed. Another good tool along those lines are the state online bird forums or mailing list archives. Googling a city, or better a county and rare bird usually will provide a good starting point to track one down. I am spoiled by Colorado's on a daily basis, and had fun reading what has been turning up in Minnesota recently as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Count Day!

"Hurry up and count me, so I can get back to suet!"

As my past entries on the subject indicate, the Christmas Bird Count has been a special event for me. From a first time exposure to the great people that one can meet while birding, to unexpected encounters with new species, and revelations about new ways to expand identification skills the CBC has always been a highlight of my birding year. This year presented a new challenge, to organize and lead a territory count. While I had my hesitations, I was flattered to be asked to do so by the count organizer. My concern was that I would be taking an opportunity from a more experienced birder, but the need remained and I was happy to give it a shot.

Two of three Coyotes, calculating their chances of success with a group of Mule Deer just after sunrise.

I began by mapping out what I thought the best locations in the territory would be, and then driving around to see what did and did not meet expectations. As I guessed, some of the peripheral areas were our most productive. My guess that some of the creek corridors running through the neighborhoods would also be good turned out to be completely wrong. A large area of trails on University of Colorado pasture/prairie restoration land also ended up being a major bust. That area did generate a Northern Harrier and juvenile Bald Eagle, but failed to produce species our team hoped to find, like Western Meadowlark or Ring-necked Pheasant; all at the cost of over an hour and several miles of extra walking. I believe birders would still be well advised to look to that area on future counts, but may look for ways to check it and similar areas more quickly. Leaving a vehicle at both ends of that trail is a refinement I would consider for future years. Multiple vehicles would have allowed for an end to end search, but without the team having to make a full loop in an area that we quickly determined was under productive.

American Kestrel - hover-hunting in the breeze.

In a bit of a surprise for me, our best habitat turned out to be the last houses on the edge of the open space just before the foothills. I knew they were going to be good, but our species counts from trails running just beyond the developments and the streets on the opposite side of those homes, gave us the greatest species diversity. That transition zone netted us three species of jay, two woodpeckers, both chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creepers and Townsend's Solitaires, along with two different raptors and many other more common species. During the count compilation, those teams reporting Western Scrub-Jays all found that the species turned up at the perimeter of developments, just as they approached the lower edges of ponderosa pine forest. Not Earth shattering, but a cool confirmation and as I look back at my previous sightings, (Red Rocks Park and Roxborough State Park), one that holds true throughout the Denver area.

Western Scrub-Jay - a species we found in a very specific habitat belt.

Once again my expectations were completely blown out of the water by the people who volunteer for the Christmas Bird Counts. I had three great volunteers, each an accomplished birder and all three were people who had a good time just getting to know the others while being out seeing some cool birds. Each of us spotted species that made for 'good' adds to our day list, and I think as a group we all made one another stronger with our varied backgrounds and skills.

Townsend's Solitaire - a welcome sight on each of my Boulder CBCs to date.

We had a section that was as advertised, it produced a good list of fairly common birds. There were some birds that we were surprised we did not run across during the day. White-crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Belted Kingfishers were all misses for our count, and despite our best efforts we could not produce a roosting owl. It is amazing to me that even when spending an entire day dedicated to watching for birds, some of the more common species won't turn up.

Brown Creeper - an elusive bird that gave us good looks, and was a lifer for at least one member of our team.

When I look back on this count I hope the lesson I will remember is that identification skill isn't a prerequisite to bringing others together for good birding. Having been taught and lead by so many great birders in the past couple of years I guess I just hadn't seen what happens when a bunch of willing folks get together and bird. It turns out that if you pick a meeting place and have a general idea of where you want to go the rest will take care of itself. In our case one participant even lived in our count area, and invited the three strangers to her home at six in the morning for breakfast - how often does that happen these days?

I hope that all the members of the Bear Creek team had as good a day as I did. Thank you very much to each of them, Bill Schmoker the count compiler, Bill Kaempfer who hosted the compilation potluck that evening, and to all the other birders who participated. To all of them and for anyone reading this...

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

Bear Creek Territory 2010 Total: 30
Boulder CBC 2010 Total: 114, (A count day record by 5 species) plus 1 'free-flying presumed escapee' and 2 additional count week birds so far.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Count Week and a healthy dose of Hustle and Bustle

Despite the local Denver media's predictions of a mini snowpocallyps last night our area dry streak continues. What was reported as potentially 1-8 inches of snow ended up being a few minutes of rain yesterday afternoon, followed by a light frost this morning. Today bright sun and a crisp breeze finally cleared the air.
In non-weather related news...Holiday activities and preparations for the Boulder Christmas Bird Count continue. Today marks the beginning of 'count week' for Boulder. For anyone new to the Christmas Bird Count concept, the count week incorporates the three days preceding and the three days following the date of the count. Birds recorded within the count circle during count week, but not seen on the actual date of the count can be added to the report which is sent back to Audubon by the count compiler.

In recognition of that, I spent my lunch in Superior - well outside the count circle. I had a couple of quick errands to run in the area, but did want to get out for a bit while the skies were clear and bright. I started at the Singletree Trail, but only caught a few species moving around, Magpies, Juncos, Spotted Towhees, a Raven and a couple of House Finches (above) were the only birds around.

As I drove back through old Superior after getting in my walk I caught an aerial dogfight passing me on the left. Peering around trees and houses I followed the progress of yet another juvenile Cooper's Hawk to a perch behind the firehouse. I circled the block and was able to shoot a couple of frames as it perched on the framing where hoses are dried after use. That perch was not to last though. A pair of American Crows were soon on the scene, chasing the Coop off its perch and into a nearby tree, where all three birds eventually settled down. In the picture below note how similar the Crow and Hawk are in size. Crows are often used as a mental reference for size comparison in the field. Cooper's Hawks are very similar, where Sharp-shinned Hawks would seem smaller, more along the lines of a Robin's size.

I am not sure why I have been seeing so many Cooper's Hawks this December, but they are certainly welcome. This bird offers another good chance to review the field marks for a juvenile of this species. From a distance the size is a solid starting point, and the vertical dark stripes on the breast are a good way to eliminate a juvenile Red-tailed, even when distance makes size tough to judge. From a closer vantage point the light-colored iris is a good indicator of youth across many raptor species. Cornell's Birds of North America Online also indicates that the streaking on a young Cooper's will end higher on the belly than a Sharp-shinned juvenile, but I'll admit I haven't had much of an opportunity to compare juveniles of both.

Our territory group for the CBC are getting the details worked out for Sunday, and hopefully we'll get a chance to compare some Cooper's and Sharpies along the way. I hope to swing by Baseline Reservoir on Saturday as well, as both a White-winged and Black Scoter have been there for over a week, and both would make nice life adds to my list as 2010 winds down.

Hopefully birds and weather will come together for you, wherever you may find yourself birding this weekend.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cherry Creek Reservoir Rarities

Yesterday morning I headed down to Cherry Creek to try to re-locate the reported Iceland Gull that had been hanging about in the area. As myself and several other birders were setting up scopes and scanning the gulls lining a sand spit this Say's Phoebe popped up just further along the shore.

This winter rarity posed just long enough for me to get a couple of shots using the digiscoping rig - giving me some hope that I may be able to figure out camera settings and get reliable shots at some point in the future. That bird, which has apparently been in the area as well, was close and cooperative.

Our main target, and my first ever Iceland Gull, was not nearly as close or stationary. These were the best of a series of very rough images. I did get great looks at the bird through other scopes that still had their standard eyepieces on, enough so to clearly identify this bird. Clearly though the digiscoping still needs a lot of practice.

Another great gull courtesy of Cherry Creek Reservoir, I hope more continue to show up this winter. The count update below reflects two new adds, the Iceland Gull, and another bird from last weekend that I still need to get posted....stay tuned.

2010 Count: 210
Lifetime: 251

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Scouting the Territories

It is almost Christmas Bird Count time! As such there were some preparations that needed to be made. I had been contacted by the organizer of my local count asking if I would like to be a territory leader this year. I replied that I would be happy to help in whatever capacity, but that if there were more experienced birders to lead the territories (Boulder, Colorado has some phenomenal local birding talent), I would be happy to return to the same territory I had worked in years past as a participant.

Unsure which of three potential territories I would be birding next Sunday, I spent the majority of today poking around in areas of Boulder County I had not previously visited. I was checking for potential routes and hotspots to revisit next week. In between the two new territories I stopped by Betasso Preserve where I had done my previous Boulder CBCs. I just had to get warmed up in case I was to return there next week.

What I found immediately were dozens of Pygmy Nuthatches. Until today I had never known that these little birds were prone to large groups. My most extended previous viewing, also at Betasso, was a nest cavity in the spring where I presumed two parents were making alternating trips to care for the young.

This evening I checked the "Birds of North America Online". I learned that actually Pygmy Nuthatches are very social, and multiple adults may assist in tending nests in season. All I know for certain is that the first group of 15 I encountered all flew towards me as I photographed them. A handful were willing to perch within a meter of me to get a closer look at the spectacle that was a human on their turf. Those were too close for photos, but the encounter was a highlight.

The Pygmys are very active, and fun to watch when there is a large group to follow. Also, while out walking I was called to by a Common Raven in a tree at Bummer's Rock. It started in normal Raveneese - a low, croaking caaaar. Just after I had taken the shot below it switched to a noise that I can only describe as being close to the old bulb style bike horns. Not sure how well the image will display in the blog, but shadowed as it was the bill details and grayish neck really show off.

Just a few hours ago I learned that I will be leading one or the other of the two different territories I scouted today. After giving them both a look I am confident that I will be able to cover either one, and hopefully pull together a good representative list next week.

I haven't made a Christmas Bird Count hype post yet this season, and may not get to it. If you are new to birding and would like a fun way to get exposed to other birders in your area, consider joining a count near you. Check out the Audubon web page for more details and to find the date and location for a count that would work for you.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roxborough State Park

Our bizarre mild December continues here in Colorado, making it tough to process that the holidays are nearly upon us. I fear that Colorado is not going to give me a preparatory cold snap before I head to Minnesota at the end of the month.

On the bright side though, walking around in a t-shirt and light jacket last Wednesday wasn't bad at all. I spent a few hours in almost perfect solitude on the South Rim Trail at Roxborough State Park. It was one of those days where the air wasn't stirring a bit, and the silence was palpable. I would hear animals and birds moving on the ground or through the branches from dozens of yards away. The Western Scrub Jays (top) and Spotted Towhees (not pictured), were generally stationary and I would pass groups or individuals as I walked. Chickadees, both Black-capped (above) and Mountain (below), were moving about - with mixed flocks moving past at times. They would all gather around to get a look as they flew from branch to branch, responding to my very quiet pishing. Twice, they were joined by Downy Woodpeckers (two below) - who seemed to associate more with the Mountain Chickadees than the Black-capped ones.

Roxborough didn't produce those great Gray Foxes, as it did during my last visit. Even so it continues to grow on me. Wednesday was great for reflection, while getting in a bit of exercise. For a few weeks now I've been chewing on the question of how far my birding skills have progressed. Along those lines I had a great opportunity to wrap my mind around ways to improve one's birding skills. I had some thoughts...but am curious about what others think. If there was a single tip you could give to a beginning or novice birder, what would it be. Feel free to comment or email, I would like to see if my thoughts are in-line with those of others.

I haven't had the lens or lighting to show off the rock formations of the park on my visits to date. To set the scene think of a more intimate Red Rocks or Garden of the Gods if you are familiar with those types of rock formations. The view that I had from the crest of the South Rim ridge moving counter-clockwise around the loop was just great; it offers views north towards Long's Peak.

Hopefully I will get back on a day with better light to show off the impressive geology. A young Red-tailed Hawk was trying to make up for the overcast sky, and doing an admirable job.

Not a remarkable birding day, but a memorable one nonetheless. Nature offered an intimate look at some of its more subtle sights, and I am glad I was there to accept.

Still a couple more posts in the works from last weekend, and will be getting in some type of outdoor activity this weekend as well.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Coops of Cooper's Hawks

In my previous post I teased a comparison Cooper's Hawk from the weekend, well I have that and then some.

On Sunday I made a couple of stops in Boulder County, the second of which was at north Teller Lake. I had a good bird list on my walk, nothing uncommon but a great mix of species. Among them was this juvenile Cooper's Hawk. Like the bird from Friday afternoon, I suspect that this was a female. Both were noticeably large birds, and in Cooper's Hawks the female can be almost one third larger than the male. I was really happy to see a juvenile for comparison so soon after seeing the adult. The major differences to note are the vertical striping on the breast, as opposed to the horizontal barring on the adult, and the light colored irides which turn an awesome red-orange color on the adults. On the subject of which....

'Boom goes the dynamite'. Today I stopped by a nearby park and reservoir for lunch. I had neglected the spot for a few months, but was treated to this male adult Cooper's Hawk today. The park is at the edge of a development on the extension of the Davidson Mesa north of South Boulder Road, it is a small, basic park, but features views through the fence at the private Louisville Reservoir, and a step-over-fence path that runs into a much larger section of open space. Just as I was approaching the lake the Coop flew out of the backside of an evergreen, and landed up high in a Cottonwood near the water.

My first impression was that it was a small bird, and possibly a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They are even smaller still, and have a less prominent dark 'cap' on a proportionally smaller head. Being smaller than the two birds I had seen previously I was fairly confident that this was a male in the field, and closer looks at my photos after the fact strengthen that conviction. I guess when it rains it pours, and I am feeling very fortunate to have gotten three great looks at distinct individuals of this intriguing species.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Weekend Blew In

Friday was mild, but oh so windy. I had an earlier afternoon, and headed east to get out of the strongest of the gusts. With about an hour of daylight left I arrived at the South Platte River just outside of Brighton. There wasn't much to see, the wind was too strong even there for much of anything to be perched in the open. I did see one Red-tailed Hawk gliding by incredibly fast, and a few hardy Rock Pigeons that were imitating accipiters on the strong air currents. Eventually I struck gold. The Cooper's Hawk above was trying to take shelter beside some willows on the bank, and remained close to eye level for a few blurry shots. It flew off a short ways, and I continued on in the opposite direction, no need to follow a bird and make it continue to fight that breeze.

As I returned along the same path at dusk I kept my eyes peeled for the same bird. The wind had dropped off at sunset, and I was rewarded for keeping a sharp lookout. The bird had retreated into some more substantial trees, and appeared to be getting ready to roost. I took a few quick pics and then headed off, leaving the Cooper's Hawk to get some rest.

My birding was done for the day, but there would be a nice comparison Coop' later in the weekend.

Bonaparte's Gull

Some distant shots of a small, off-course gull, from a mad dash to Union Reservoir at lunch today. A Black-legged Kittiwake had been reported through the weekend and again this morning, so I made the drive up to see if I could still see it hanging around. Unfortunately I missed it, but a second ever sighting of Bonaparte's Gull was a nice consolation. The weather did some favors as well, allowing me to shoot almost directly into the sun at mid-day, and giving a nice color to the light.

Because I didn't plan this trip in advance I was scopeless, and really wouldn't have had time to slowly scan through all the birds on the water. The Bonaparte's Gull does stand out due to its size. Even at a distance I could readily see that this bird was smaller than the Herring Gulls around it. I was happy I decided to go, adding this little gull to the blog photo list was a reward in itself.

More out of sequence reports and photos to come from the weekend.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brown Creeper

Very quiet end to November, birdwise. Strong winds and chilly temps made for some lunchtime walks where I was absolutely skunked. Today the wind dropped off and the sun was shining, which made for a great afternoon walk. Still the birds that I did see weren't posing particularly well. This Brown Creeper was one of a pair working over a group of trees, and trying their hardest to remain out of sight of the guy with the camera. Hopefully the month has more mild days of birding in store.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Silver Lining

Huh. Last time I posted I was planning on heading off for birds, photos and adventure within 24 hours. One poor lunch or dinner decision, (not really sure which), and I found myself spending hours contemplating the decor of my bathroom, if you catch my drift. After shifting a planned Friday off to a Wednesday of recovery and spending a Thanksgiving giving thanks for noodle soup and ginger ale I was ready for some good local birding on Saturday. My guess was that being forced to abandon travel plans was a push towards staying local and going back for closer shots of the national A-list bird, the Ross's Gull which had remained at Cherry Creek Reservoir. Unfortunately, I and many others were unable to relocate the bird today, it has apparently moved on. But, starting a beautiful Saturday in a state park surrounded by nature is never a wasted effort.

I spotted this juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk perched just off one of the roads. I was a ways off, but was able to shoot from my truck and get great looks at those pale irides - which will turn dark as this bird reaches adulthood.

The bird continued to scan the field below it, rather than spending much time looking at me or the other traffic, so I waited hoping to catch a flight shot. It dove, rose back to a perch as I followed the road which looped back below the original perch. Just as I drew near it dove again and caught its meal in some thick grass, just beyond where I had stopped.

The bird definitely knew I was close this time, but it was in deep cover and was not going to do anything other than eat. I stayed put and was thrilled to see the bird so close.

Just goes to show that nature can always provide a silver lining, even when plans and target birds fall through.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plans and Packing

While running errands at lunch this afternoon a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was perched on a light post. I had to stop for a minute just to get a couple of shots.

In other news planning and preparation is well underway for my holiday weekend adventure. I am expanding a trip that I did two years ago, just after I had started birding. I'll be hitting four or five states and depending on weather and whims the trip will target a National Wildlife Refuge, a National Monument, multiple National Grasslands and State Wildlife Areas and Parks.

Hopefully I will catch a variety of habitats and species, and little to no precipitation. My previous version of this trip predated the blog by a few months, so I look forward to sharing some stories, checklists and photos when I return.

Take care readers, and if you are heading on a Thanksgiving adventure of your own this weekend go safely and have fun!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ross's Gull

No pictures yet from this weekend, it was fairly busy. Friday afternoon as I was checking out the Snow Goose, reports were circulating about a Ross's Gull that had been seen and photographed at Cherry Creek Reservoir. There was no daylight to check by on Friday evening, and Saturday was the last home game for the Colorado Buffaloes, a game for which I was meeting fellow alumni at 7:00 am, no time for birding there.

I was left to hope that this bird would hang around until Sunday so I would have a chance to go looking for it. I headed out well before dawn Sunday morning, and was one of the first on the swim beach side of the lake. I did a lot of scanning with my scope, but was not having much luck.....there are hundreds of gulls, and picking out one on a large lake is always a challenge. Just as some of the out-of-state'ers began to arrive we found the bird. It was flying along the dam, and occasionally dipping down to the water surface. From that distance I was just scanning with the scope; no camera. Just trying to keep the bird in scope was a challenge enough. Still, at the distance we were able to watch it for some time, banking back and forth and occasionally flashing its wedge shaped tail. When it was close to others you could pick up a hint of pink, but it was far from a dominate feature at our distance. Camera or no, the scope seems to have earned its stripes as far as attracting rarities!

Later I worked around to the Lake Loop on the west side and got looks again with another group of birders. More great scope views, but distant. As a cold front blew through the weather fell apart, whitecaps kicked up and scoping to the far side of the lake became impossible. Counting my good fortune I headed home, only to read later that others had gotten to watch the bird resting on a sandbank yards from their position near the marina.

I am really happy just to have seen the bird. While a photo for the blog would have been nice, getting to see a bird that rarely leaves the Arctic is memorable in and of itself. From what I have gathered Colorado had two other accepted records of Ross's Gulls - and historical records in the lower 48 have been counted in the dozens. So having gotten to see this one definitively was worth it, as 15 or so years seems a safe bet before the next one comes around.

2010 Count: 208
Lifetime: 249

Friday, November 19, 2010

Digiscoped Snow Goose

Driving home this evening I caught a glimpse of white among some feeding Canada Geese in the Broomfield "field". After wondering while waiting at the next light whether I had seen a plastic bag or a bird I decided to take the chance and head back for another look. I pulled into the conveniently located historical farmhouse parking lot and had a great look at a smallish white goose.

Fortunately today was the first day I was ready with a new bit of technology. A spotting scope and adapter now allow me to join the ranks of digiscopers - hopefully giving me an opportunity to get more detail on distant birds, and as a result some more tricky ids in the future.

In the field this evening I was leaning to calling this bird a Ross's Goose. It was smaller than the surrounding Canadas, and appeared to have a small bill. Glad I had pictures! Note the forehead of this bird. A Snow Goose's head continues up from the bill along roughly the same angle as the bill itself. For a Ross's Goose the forehead rises more sharply from the top of the bill and shows a bit more angle. The other solid field mark for a Snow Goose is a grin patch on the bill. The grin patch is a dark area on the bill itself that gives an impression of an opening. The low light of the evening didn't really allow the feature to show, but I believe close zooms reveal it to be there. From all this I come away with the feeling that this is a Lesser Snow Goose.

As my first white goose in my home county I am glad to have seen it. Had I not been ready with scope and camera I would have likely walked away with an incorrect id, or at least doubts about the details I had missed.

Not everything had been quite as smooth on my scope rig's inaugural day. I woke early this morning and was in position on Baseline Reservoir at sunrise. After a 3/4 mile walk with tripod, scope, camera and bins I was ready for some great shots - but realized that I had left my memory card back in the truck. Fittingly, as I stood trying to bask in the beautiful morning, just binocular birding and not worried about getting shots I had three loons approach. Two were Common Loons, and the third was a ...Pacific Loon. All three came right up to shore at the point where I was watching. So, I regret being unable to share pictures of the best loon looks I have gotten; but trust me they were a great way to start the day.

The scope rig requires a more manual photographic approach, so there will probably be some additional growing pains along the way. Hopefully there will be more looks to share soon though, so check back in the days and weeks to come.