Friday, October 29, 2010

Things that go Hoot in the Evening

Nothing is quite like the sound of a hooting owl in the woods.

I went for a walk at sunset at McKay Lake, and had the good fortune to spot this Great Horned Owl well up in a tree.

A bit later as I scanned the shore from a fishing dock I heard the unmistakable hooting, but it was coming from further back in the trees. After the sun dropped behind a cloud I went back to see if it was the same owl or another. I believe that the bird above was the male - the hooter - and his amorous affections were being largely ignored by the female I had seen first.

Eventually the dog walkers in the area made him quiet down a bit, and I left them to it. A great fall sound to hear, and one that is definitely appropriate during Halloween week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Morning Walk

This morning was crisp, but the wind had died down (mostly), so I stopped by Stearn's Lake for a pre-work walk. The Northern Harrier was already hard at work patrolling the fields for rodents.

A Ring-billed Gull was cheating a bit, it flew up to get an early sunrise.

Northern Shovelers were doing their thing as well. I believe the two are young males, with an adult male just visible behind and to the right.

Last but not least, one of a group of Song Sparrows popped up on a fence as I headed back to the parking lot. The birds of the season have arrived, but the weather is still mild. Seems like a drive to the mountains is due for this weekend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hairy Woodpecker

Despite a cold biting wind, or perhaps because of it I had an unusually cooperative Hairy Woodpecker at close range this afternoon.

Not an uncommon bird by any means, but having one at eye level for an extended view was certainly a nice opportunity.

The bird was working hard, without much visible success, but at least it was on the sheltered side of the tree trunk.

The close range opportunity really gave me a chance to get good looks at the longer, thicker bill which distinguish this species from the smaller Downy Woodpecker.

Hopefully the wind is gentle wherever you may be, and that the birds are just as cooperative.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Boulder County Sandhill Crane

Fall weekends can get booked full amazingly fast. The last couple of days were spent at the homecoming game for CU, and split between frustrating NFL games on TV and a long overdue garage cleaning. When weekends pass in a flash I check my birding inbox with mixed feelings. Usually, I will find that local birders have been out seeing spectacular birds, which are now long gone. Today I was pleased to see that a juvenile Sandhill Crane that had been seen through the weekend in Boulder County was still around this morning. As I wrote in my very first blog entry, the Sandhill Crane had a big part in my introduction to this pursuit, and since that first glimpse I have been unable to relocate it for its place on my Colorado list. So I took an early lunch and as the witness quality photos demonstrate I was successful in tracking down the bird.

Unfortunately I had somehow gotten my aperture set to a small opening, which kept these pictures from being anything special. A small aperture requires a longer exposure to allow enough light to reach the sensor - the camera adjusted for that, capturing still objects nicely, but blurring any motion. The unexpected result were some still bad photos, but ones that were tantalizingly close. My panning was right to almost freeze the still parts of the bird while blurring the background - but close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.

All my photographic failings aside; there was an interesting interaction that I replied back to CObirds with:

After seeing the report that the Sandhill was still present early this morning I decided to head over myself to see if I could relocate it. True to the directions the juv. Sandhill Crane was feeding in the wheat field. I was afraid it was going to leave just as I spotted it, because just as I pulled to a stop a N. Harrier headed low across the field directly towards the Crane. To my relief the two birds largley ignored one another. A few minutes and some poor photos later another bird spooked the Crane. I kept the crane in frame as it flew, and then tried to ID the culprit who chased it off. From my impression and close looks at really bad pics it appears to have been a 3rd year Bald Eagle. I watched the two fly east and drop down behind the first group of trees to the east. After a few minutes I did see two large birds rise from that area, the presumable Sandhill heading SSE, possibly turning back towards the S as I lost it.

Does anyone have experience with the frequency of Bald Eagles taking Sandhill Cranes in migration? Would other area species attempt to snack on prey that size?
Has anyone else seen similar interactions with this bird?

Thanks and good birding!

The response was encouraged by the original poster when I wrote to thank her for her update this morning. From my previous reading I had kind of expected that this was a young bird, attacking prey that was a bit on the large size for its regular menu. That was very shortly confirmed as a possibility by a well-respected Boulder birder. Several other birders have responded, confirming that while Bald and Golden Eagles will occasionally prey on Sandhill Cranes, they are generally taking the sick, injured or weak. Having witnessed this interaction I tend to believe this was just a case of two youngsters working out their respective places on the food chain.

Perhaps this bird has already returned to its field to continue to fuel up for the continued flight south. If so, hopefully this Eagle will focus on more appropriate prey, leaving the Crane in peace.

Maybe then I will be able to add a few better photos of this species!

2010 Count: 202
Lifetime: 245

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nice Lunch Break

At lunch today I decided to swing by the Broomfield Civic Center parks to see what birds I could spot in a short amount of time. The list wasn't all that exciting, but the fall colors were great. This House Finch was hanging out with some friends right in the parking lot.

At the library pond I spotted this banded Canada Goose while looking for odd gulls. It conveniently swam over to me, so I grabbed a legible shot and submitted a sighting report this afternoon. The website for submissions seems to have had a face-lift, and has a convenient section for identifying the type of band you saw.

In this case the record took well under five minutes to submit. I don't know that the goose records are of much interest to researchers outside the scope of their project, but it is easy to do, and kind of fun to add to the records I keep. If you have the chance to record a readable bird band in a photograph be sure to stop by A good way to make common birds more interesting.

2 Years

An anniversary of sorts today, my two year mark of keeping a bird list. I started off trying to get more use out of my digital camera, and wanting to spend more hours outdoors. I had also just had a fire lit for me when a low flying flock of Sandhill Cranes buzzed my home. (I have still to relocate them in Colorado, although the reports of their flocks moving through keep rolling in). I have been incredibly humbled in those years by the diversity that is out there to be seen, and by the skill it takes to definitively identify birds in the field.

My progress in birding has been slow. While I like keeping a list, and enjoy adding life birds to it over time, I am still very willing to dismiss those birds that I was unable to identify. Periodically I will scroll back through old entries and find a mistake, I correct the entry with an update, attempting to leave the mistake there for my future reference or to help anyone else who may stumble through the entries. Mostly though, I prefer to remain conservative in my identifications, and use my uncertainty in the field as a fuel to learn more and keep the incorrect assumptions to myself.

It is fun to look back now using Ebird and see the birds that I was able to identify on my first birding specific walk:

The birding highlight of that trip was the Northern Flicker. I had so little experience in the field that it was an unexpected shock to catch a bird that showed lots of red when it flew, but disappeared against a brown background when perching. Now, of course I see and hear them all the time, but it is a great memory - one that reminds me to always keep my eyes open in the common areas, and of how much I had been missing until I began to actually look.
Two years in and I am glad to have found a pair of hobbies that suit one another and can be rewarding whether I am by myself an hour before work, or with a group of friends on a hike. Birding may not be for all, but if it isn't for you I hope that something out there the words of ski and snowboard movie legend Warren Miller:
"If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do."
So to anyone out there reading, take a chance and try your something - you may look back years later and wonder what took so long in the first place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Birds from Last Week

Prior to watching the sun set last Wednesday I had done some actual birding as well. Here are a few of the shots:

A White-crowned Sparrow working on dried blooms.

A female Ruddy Duck, the white cheek with a single dark line through it help on this species.

California Gull in flight.

Ring-billed Gull in flight.

Birding hasn't happened for me since, and I have been missing it, despite being busy doing other fun things. Hopefully this weekend, although the opening date of a certain mountain ski area may have an impact.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

As day passes into night...

"Fate favors the prepared" - it is a quotation, or a maxim, or just a tried and true phrase.

Whatever its origins I was in a great position to see the validity of the statement yesterday. In some down time, I had for some unknown reason gotten to thinking about my repeated failures when photographing sunrises and sunsets. In my case the colors would just wash out, leaving me with hints of what I had seen.

I had made a few mental notes of a few tips and tricks during the day, and unexpectedly the sunset rewarded me with some brilliant colors.

I was out birding and was catching some gulls as the light softened. The memory card in my telephoto equipped camera - great for birding, horrible for landscapes or sunsets - had filled and I had started for home. Just as I was turning from east to south, and caught the view to the west the radio traffic copter woman commented on the brilliant approaching sunset. I had to agree, pulled off close to home, and filled another card on my other camera with experiments to capture the colors of the sky.

I learned a lot, and while I am far from having any actual proven formulas or techniques, I will offer these notes to myself or anyone else who has been frustrated by vivid sky colors. In Aperture Priority mode (Av), kick the Aperture value way up, and bump up the ISO value as well. I was trying shots from between 200 and 800. Then to compensate drop the Exposure Compensation, (Ev) back down below neutral. I also tried setting the WB to what I believe were the Shade and Cloud values, (haven't translated those icons back from my manual).

I was all over the place trying settings and the results varied. Because I stopped spur of the moment I didn't really jot down notes, and usually don't on photo settings, so I'll have to keep experimenting. At least I am on my way, and should enjoy the results more as I refine from here.

Another note, touching up sensor specs in sky pictures is just no fun! With bird shots I could usually crop to avoid the majority of them, and in the past year my Canon EOS 7D's sensor cleaner has made me forget just what a chore it can be. I will be cleaning off that sensor before any more sky shots, that's for sure! That being said, I am a huge fan of having the second camera body ready to go for scenery type shots. I don't generally carry it with me when hiking - I am doing well if I remember a point-and-shoot, but it is great to have in the bag on the way to and from work.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gray Fox

Really just a gratuitous post of more Gray Fox pictures from Friday afternoon.

I first spotted a single fox as it lay in what appeared to be the prime spot in the sun. I just saw the eyes and a light colored face in the sunlight and had my heart skip a beat as I briefly thought I had spotted a bob-cat. I was no less excited as I continued to watch and eventually saw four foxes as they alternately rested and played. At the time I had no idea what type of fox species they were. I see red foxes with a bit of regularity, but these were the first Grays that I had the chance to observe.

I had just emerged from some scrub Oak when I saw them, and was able to stay there to watch them until the sun had moved and they departed from their spot, (twenty minutes). They kept an eye on me, but weren't overly cautious - often flopping down to yawn or stretch. I had come upon their sun spot just after the trail split, and twice walkers headed down the other path, speaking as they went. That would get a moment's attention from the family, before they dismissed the potential threat and went back about their business.

Important activities like sneak attacks and play harassment are the leisure sports of the fox. Those practiced actions will be important for the youngsters as they head out on their own in the coming months.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to watch these wild dogs interact with one another. It is fun to see how much of their behavior when at rest is similar to that of the domestic dogs so many of us share our homes with.

The bit of detail I noticed as I looked through pictures of this family was the difference in eye color. At first I wondered if like birds, young foxes may have lighter eyes that changed as they matured. It seems though, that foxes like other mammals, just have a variety of eye colors that are possible. That makes sense, and seems to be upheld through a number of random hits for Gray Fox eye color on Google.

Of course now that I have seen them once I will be on the lookout for more!

Chatfield State Park at Daybreak

Occasionally my work requires me to be a different office, one that is conveniently close to Chatfield State Park. Driving from the northern edge of the Denver metro area to the southern at rush hour is not my idea of fun, so I started early on Friday and spent an hour at Chatfield State Park as the sun rose. I particularly wanted to work a bit with a different auto focus setting to see if I could get better results than I had with the Pipit. Before the sun had even risen the Osprey were hard at work, keeping the fish population in check.

For flight shot practice there may be no species better than gulls. They are inquisitive and predictable, often flying loops along the same stretch of shoreline. I was able to get a couple of passable shots, and confirmed that I am going to have to study up on gulls before the coming winter.

These were far from great, but a really good way to start a work day. Making my way back to my truck I headed away from the lake and followed a road, dividing areas of mowed lawn and native grasses. A Townsend's Solitaire posed on its perch in the early light, soaking up the soft colors.

Only a few minutes later the colors were getting brighter as I stopped to watch a bunch of Yellow-rumped Warblers doing their constant motion thing.

After work my plan was to return to Chatfield immediately and spend another few hours walking and birding rather than adding to the traffic congestion. As I headed back I saw a sign that indicated Chatfield and Roxborough State Parks were accessible from the same exit. With nothing to do but kill time I had to go for the different venue. It is one that I have certainly heard of, but really enjoyed getting to visit for a few hours. I would have enjoyed the visit if only for the red rock formations, scrub oak covered trails in all shades of fall color, and birds; but then there were the foxes who totally stole the show....

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nice Surprise

Stopped by Roxborough State Park on Friday. A family of Gray Fox were enjoying the last minutes of sunlight. Totally unexpected and unknown mammal.