Saturday, April 30, 2011

Broad-winged Hawk

For my second stop this morning I visited Lair O' the Bear park in Bear Creek Canyon. Compared to the feeder station at Red Rocks it was quiet, and my walk was beginning to seem uneventful, when I spotted a raptor perched in a tree just ahead. I had no angle on which to walk to improve my view so I dropped to a knee and shot a few frames in rapid succession. As I looked I thought that the horizontal barring on the breast looked unusual. The bird seemed smallish, but it wasn't right for a Cooper's or Sharpie. It didn't appreciate my having walked on the trail near its tree and was soon off.

I knew I had something as I watched it fly off, but it dropped into the trees before I got a long look. My thoughts turned to Broad-winged Hawk,but having no experience with the species I wasn't sure as I continued around the loop. Poor planning on the bird's part lead him to keep perching in trees along the trail, and I would see it moving off ahead through the trees along the creek. Finally, a Red-tailed Hawk had enough, and used the wind for a bit of dive bombing on the interloper.

The Broad-winged was off, perhaps to continue migrating, or just seeking a more quiet place to perch. Even from a distance this bird is distinctive. Adult birds feature the single prominent white bar on their tails. The black trailing edge on light wings helps to seal the identification.

A long sought raptor on my 'needs' list now seen. I was really excited to find this bird on a non-targeted hike, and to have my best guess for an identity confirmed when I returned to my guide at the parking area.

2011 Count: 123
Lifetime: 255

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Hawk Hour

Yesterday, Lunch. A strong wind was blowing in a front, and for a bit of shelter I decided to walk , the section of Big Dry Creek trail immediately west of Wadsworth Blvd. Despite the drawbacks of wind, there is a benefit, hawks can easily hang motionless in the air for photographs. A group of three Swainson's Hawks did just that, putting on a show for me and allowing me my first photographs of the season.

A young Red-tailed Hawk was not happy about the display, and voiced its displeasure from a perch in the cottonwoods along the creek. All it was trying to do was mind its own business and figure out what would make suitable prey. This Great Blue Heron was too big, but it did make an unsuccessful pass at a Mallard after the Swainson's had departed.

Returning to a different perch bought some new trouble though. A pair of American Kestrels decided that they didn't like the Red-tail on their turf, so a session of dive bombing commenced. I couldn't capture them, but the Red-tail's reaction tells the story.

Check out that lower left leg though, this bird has been banded! I wasn't able to see any markings on my images, but may see if the bird sticks around for another shot.

The front brought cold and varying amounts of snow to the front range overnight, and clear skies with colder, stronger wind this morning. More on that in later posts, but I will be ready for an out of state (and hopefully much warmer) trip starting the middle of this week. Stay tuned....

It's Friday!

A mixed bag here. Wood Ducks are awesome! I was able to see three of them yesterday as I birded the Wheatridge Greenbelt along Clear Creek. I was hoping for a pile of migrants, but didn't end up finding many. There were a handful of Audubon and Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warblers late, but otherwise most of what I saw was similar to the past few weeks of birding.

So I had to be consoled by seeing two of the most striking waterfowl species in the area. (Three if you count my distant looks at a Cinnamon Teal preening in good light). These Hooded Mergansers found themselves too close for comfort to my course along the path and were putting distance between us. They were moving a bit too fast for clarity with the camera setting I selected, but were close enough to imagine the scene.

Wood Ducks, with all their color, could keep me captivated for hours. Despite their appearance these brightly colored ducks aren't very comfortable in the spotlight, and offer fleeting looks at best. Daylight faded, and although I found a perched Great Horned Owl that a group of runners had seen further along the trail the lack of light kept it from being photographed well enough for posting here....So, I found myself due for a nest check-in this morning.

Check out that foot! I left the nest after a quick visit this morning thinking I had gotten no greater detail than some less gray colored nestling lumps. Imagine my surprise when on looking at the shots I saw those toes. Anyone care to do some rampant speculating? Do young birds roll around and sleep in weird positions like puppies? Or, is this a more gritty view of the reality that in bird rearing the weak are often literally held down by the strong? If a foot view is any indication it seems that the upside down bird is almost ready to do a bit of killing. Perhaps just a stretch that felt oh so good?

At one point the upright bird did turn its head, (I believe to check on a garbage truck across the busy street), confirming that the foot did belong to at least one other bird. The adult, meanwhile, seemed to have no interest in me glancing my way once and then turning its attention elsewhere for the minute or two I was around.

It will be interesting to see how much longer the nest remains occupied. My novice impression is that the fledging approaches.

2011 Count: 115
Lifetime: 254

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Misguided Sparrow, Miscolored Robin

At the beginning of the week unsettled weather was turning up unexpected migrants in all sorts of locations. Tuesday I decided to try for a rarity in Boulder that had been seen for a couple of days in a row. The Black-throated Sparrow was worth the rushed drive to see and photograph. In a family that features brown, stripes and eye-rings as major identification points the Black-throated Sparrow is a welcome standout.

This bird was ground foraging, alternating his time between groups of Vespers, Chipping, and White-crowned Sparrows. In an area with heavy foot traffic there were many occasions when the bird mix was reset, but this bird was a reliable return to the same area every few minutes.

I headed off after seeing the sparrow to see if I could also refind a reported Gray Flycatcher. I didn't find it, but did see this partially leucistic American Robin.

This bird seemed to show the pigments for orange, but all the dark colors had been replaced by white.

One last shot of the Sparrow, great looking bird! These little guys are normally found in southern Arizona, New Mexico and California, and extend northward in Utah and Nevada. They are not normally found this far north east of the Rockies. I wonder if this bird's navigation system will tell it that it needs to head west or south, not north with the other groups of migrants? I hope it finds a summer home that will support it.

2011 Count: 113
Lifetime: 254

At the Rookery - Part 2 - Snowy Egrets

In addition to the Black-crowneds there were Snowy Egrets, lots of Snowy Egrets. They are fairly common along the Front Range, but I usually see them in one-sy two-sies. My count on Monday reached 56, and that did not really account for all the motion between the trees, water, and ground for these birds.

Some were quietly doing a bit of material selection for nest improvements...

...while others would get downright territorial, chasing one another around the island as they displayed their wispy plumes. -Tough to take a bird seriously as a tough guy with that lacy look, but the most aggressive would occasionally run a Canada Goose off a few feet.

Seeing all those birds in their disheveled breeding getup was a big change. I am accustomed to the lone, sleek bird working a shoreline with purposeful steps - flashing those yellow feet as they proceed.

Here the picture of mass activity and interaction was altogether different, and entertaining. A great way to spend an hour in Denver on a springtime evening.

At the Rookery - Part One - Black-crowned Night-Heron

Monday evening was the last meeting of the D.F.O. (Denver Field Ornithologists)for the season. So after work I headed to Denver and got a chance to do a bit of birding in City Park before it was time to head inside.

It wasn't so much birding, as watching the activity at the rookery. Of the two rookeries in the area the one I spent my time at on Monday was the smaller and more diverse. It features nests of Black-crowned Night-Herons, Snowy Egrets and a few Double-crested Cormorants. The other, larger, rookery is almost exclusively filled with the nests of hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants. Last year my visits must have preceded any of the nesting activity of the Herons and Egrets, because I had not seen those species at the park in the past.

Getting a chance to watch so many of each was fun. A couple of Night-Herons were grabbing twigs for nest maintenance from the tree above my head. They would move precariously through the limbs and select the perfect stick before returning to their island. After a few minutes of sitting the entire colony seemed to forget my presence and were much more intent on displaying and squabbling, and keeping out of the way of the Canada Geese, and their efforts to establish pairs.

There were well over a hundred Black-crowneds in the nesting colony, but this lone bird in juvenile plumage was a bit of a wonder for me. I presumed, and it seems to be backed up by online reading, that this would be a year old bird. Dates for birds showing their "Formative Plumage" (Birds of North America Online) extend into September of the year following their hatching. I found it odd that there was just a single bird hanging out that was shoeing that plumage. Is it a 'momma's bird' afraid to break out on its own and hang with the others? An overachiever - the Doogie Howser of birds, trying to hang with the adults ahead of time? Or as I had initially thought, but now seems to be unlikely, that it was a lone bird that was late to molt into adult plumage.

Very cool to have so many nesting birds in such an approachable, urban location. If you are in the area I recommend stopping by to check out the activity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

St. Vrain Variety

Saturday afternoon ended for me at St. Vrain State Park. After wrapping up the DFO trip I decided to check the park to see if the owl nest from last year was still active. I didn't find it, and many of the large trees in the area were down or cleared. However, I'll take a Common Loon as a great replacement. Unfortunately I took these shots from a busy campground, and didn't have much time to try for a large variety of shots.

There was enough time to catch a passing Belted Kingfisher, which just happened to have its catch as it flew.

I moved from the camping grounds, and a walk around one of the lakes yielded all four Teal species, and these Lesser Yellowlegs.

This Song Sparrow was living up to its name.

One of the highlights of the afternoon portion of the field trip was this Loggerhead Shrike. I had mentioned to some of the group earlier in the day that I had been trying to make distant Meadowlarks into Shrike, and then just as we were getting ready to wrap up I found this one down the road on a pasture fence.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Colorado Weather - Ready for Anything

Saturday morning I headed out early. A DFO trip in the Longmont area was the plan for most of the day, but I stopped off in Boulder to see if I could add a reported Yellow-throated Warbler to my list. I didn't find it, but a Downy Woodpecker tried its best to make up for the missing birds.

45 minutes later, and a dramatic change. The weather actually complimented the birds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds shone in the snowy cattails.

Without strong winds our group was finding birds at every turn. Ruddy Ducks remained distant, but are always a hit.

This season seems to be the one for White-faced Ibis. Our group saw many during the day, and with the groups I had already seen this season I can't believe I haven't noticed them more in the past. I'll welcome all the looks I can get.

At one point I had to backtrack for my scope, and found this Pied-bill Grebe just offshore.

The snow only lasted for our first stop at Jim Hamm Nature Area, but we enjoyed it while it lasted.

A full day with lots of lists completed brought my year list up to 109, and there are a few more pictures to share in future posts.

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone had a great day!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lunchtime Looks

Lunchtime yesterday was beautiful, mild and sunny, without too much wind. The area Bald Eagle was out to prove that you can keep the people away from the Eagles, but you can't keep the Eagles away from the people.

The Bald gave me a close look as it made a lazy circle in the sky. It was checking me out as it flew straight overhead. I am sure in my white button down shirt I was quite a sight standing in the middle of a brown grassy field. Just goes to show that you don't have to have special equipment or gear to have random interactions with cool birds. Sometimes sticking out like a sore thumb helps.

It didn't help when a fleeting glance I had at a bird that may have been a Green-tailed Towhee was the only one I got. Shy birds were headed for deep cover when I headed their way.

It wasn't all bad though, I headed to the edge of the dam, and while scanning for shorebirds found a nice group of Vesper Sparrows instead. They were the first I have seen of that species this year. A FOY (first of year) bird on a casual lunch break, not too shabby.

An eye level flyby from a Great Blue Heron is cool, even if it is taken while facing into the sun. A less focused shot had it hanging its tongue out of its mouth a la Michael Jordan, but I'll stick with what I got.

As of yesterday's lunch my counts were:

2011 Count: 91
Lifetime: 252

but there will be more to add after I update my list from last evening...

Happy Earth Day!

or solemn Good Friday, whichever you are feeling....

A quick walk past the owl nest today showed some growth on the nestlings. Everybody was trying to keep down out of the strong gusty winds though, so my quick look was enough.

They still look to have a while before fledging.

Still hundreds of pictures from yesterday to get through... so stay tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Backside of a Storm

Tuesday I headed down to Cherry Creek Reservoir. A Neotropic Cormorant has been around, along with all kinds of migrants, and I thought I would pay a visit to see what I could find. Initially I thought I was on the young Neotropic Corm, but it turned out to just be a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant instead.

That was not to say that I regretted the trip. I had several good year birds, including this Black-crowned Night Heron among others. This was an early shot, as the storm was brewing overhead. I wandered around the marina to the edge of the dam, when the sun finally dropped below the clouds and stared reflecting. I hustled back to the fishing pier, and was treated to a great sight as the storm moved west.

A full double rainbow was huge before me, and the lower bow was repeated on itself at least three times. It was so perfectly aligned that it seemed as if I was looking through a tunnel into the distance. Of course a telephoto isn't a tool for that job, so the gull flyby will have to do.

Cherry Creek was full of Western Grebes. I guessed two hundred, but that may have been low. They were everywhere, and even with all that variety I couldn't find a single Clark's among them.

I headed back down last night, similar weather, and still no Neotropic. Lots more pictures to get through, and aspirations fro the weekend, so we'll see what happens and when they get posted.

2011 Count: 90
Lifetime: 252