Friday, September 30, 2011


Barataria Preserve; Jean Lafitte National Park, outside New Orleans, Louisiana.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

City Park - Denver

Monday evening; on my calendar, the September meeting of the DFO at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I had missed the August meeting while I was in New Orleans, so it was good to have a reason to head back down to Denver. As I try to manage when my schedule allows - I headed down early and walked with camera in City Park in the late afternoon. A Ring-billed Gull was enjoying the lakeside in the afternoon light.

Walking further I reached 'Duck Pond', where among a handful of species this Double-crested Cormorant was airing its wings with a few slow beats. Those blue eyes are great when they catch the light. Double click the photo if it doesn't show up in the blog formatting!

I continued my loop, cutting back over to City Park Pond, and spent some time with the Snowy Egrets that remained near the island that hosts their rookery. This one wasn't in the best light, but I really liked the patterns of the water in the background.

I unwittingly timed my walk to complete at the Museum steps just as the sun was sinking beyond Denver. Despite showing my need for a graduated neutral density filter, this picture managed to capture enough of the sky color while preserving the detail of the pond, pavilion, and capital dome. Below, an exposure set up to capture more of the color of the sky.

I am always pleased when nature and events come together to provide a memorable scene. Being at one of the iconic photographic views of Denver, on a mild evening in September, with colors abounding and people out enjoying the evening was just fantastic. Not having my short lens in hand, and not being ready with a filter are just reasons for me to keep trying for improvement!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stearn's Lake Saturday Morning

I was out before the sun on Saturday morning, and took the opportunity to visit Stearn's Lake at the southern edge of Boulder county. Readers of this blog will know that this was a spot I visited frequently when my office was located in Louisville and it was a brief turn from my daily drive. On my visit Saturday I stood in the company of a pair of Bald Eagles waiting for the sun to clear a ridge. Turning to the east, a distant post caught my eye...

My interest was peaked, and I did some backtracking to try an approach from another direction. My effort was rewarded, my route took me out of view of the post, and when I had reached a new vantage point it was bare.

To my delight, the bird had relocated to the small tree that had been blocking my view, and had multiplied! I took a few shots, and then dragged myself away to let them settle in for the day.

I looped out to the south, and returned along the edge of a pumpkin field, (they're getting close), as I walked I had some Vesper Sparrows to keep me company, showing off their seasonal colors in the post-dawn light. As I walked I was teased with unphotographed views of at least one Cooper's Hawk. I never got a satisfactory shot of it (them), but did get a nice distant shot of a Northern Harrier skimming the cattails on the far side of the lake. They are so distinctive when seen hunting mere feet above a marsh or field, the white rump, and facial disk were both visible in this shot.

I checked on the owls as I returned to the parking are from a distance and they were still visible. I'll take the opportunity to post one more of their previous shots, they were a real highlight to an enjoyable weekend start.

I hope that yours was just as beautiful, wherever you found yourself yesterday.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday Morning; Standley Lake Park

I was glad I was able to head out early yesterday morning. There was a hint of frost in the dew on my windshield as I started out, and the day dawned clear and bright. I was hoping for shorebirds or some migrant to come my way, but was happy to settle for some common residents instead.

The Great Blue Heron that was waiting on the shore when I arrived waited patiently as I made a wide circle around 'its' cove.

Between the colors, soft light, and rising mist I was thrilled to have a natural start to my day.

A heron, standing in an orange-mist at the water's edge - felt almost prehistoric.

Then, while I sat silently so as to not disturb the Grebes or Heron, a Mallard swam up to within three feet of me looking for a handout I guess. I suppose my lack of response was a disappointment, and the duck continued along its shoreline route.

Finally, on my way out of the park I stopped at the generally productive trees near the boat parking area, and had a good mix of local birds. Again, nothing unusual, but a fun mix in good light. This time represented by a Western Wood Pewee. Reluctantly I had to drop the truck into gear and head on into the office, but the park will be there the next time I have a chance to get away early.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Baird's Sandpiper

Last Wednesday I had tried to stop by Lower Church Lake, but strengthening rain chased me off, the poor light and water kept me from being able to make out much of anything out on the water.

The following afternoon I was back, and in addition to getting my first looks at the Wilson's Phalarope pair I also had these two shorebirds mixed in with the many Killdeer.

It took a lot of comparing the fieldmarks I could see with descriptions and images, but I finally was able to identify these birds as Baird's Sandpipers.

I returned the following evening in hopes of getting better shots, but these two had departed. Instead I had to be consoled with Phalaropes, but that was a previous, and perhaps another post!

2011 Count: 221
Lifetime: 290

Random Sights from the Past Few Days

Vesper Sparrows were the only birds of note at Standley Lake Park when I stopped for a late lunch on Monday. There was a good sized group in the grassy area as I drove towards the lake.

Yesterday morning I stopped for a few minutes at Lower Church Lake, and was rewarded with a flyover juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. I had to use some noise reduction on these shots, but felt these couple warranted a bit of extra processing.

Northern Shoveler

This bird always tripped me up, and I think I fall for the same trap every autumn. This is a Northern Shoveler showing its fall appearance. In the fall it shows the pale area behind the bill, and made me think I was on a hybrid Blue-winged Teal X Northern Shoveler. Just another reason to look closely and double check assumptions.

Still have a few posts that keep sliding behind, I may have one more from Louisiana, and I definitely have a post from Lower Church Lake last week, a new species for me and maybe a few more of the Wilson's Phalaropes - not present yesterday morning.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hall Creek Morning

A busy weekend was capped by a quick one-night camping trip to the Hall Valley, this is a nice spot and one I enjoy visiting. As we arrived after a fun day at the Rocky Mountain Showdown college football game the sky looked a bit ominous in the valley as we climbed. Sure enough, as soon as we met with the rest of the group at the site the drizzle turned to snow! Winter camping 2011, check! Actually the weather cleared after an hour or so and the evening was very nice for the late season.

Yesterday morning I woke early and headed off for a walk. Unfortunately the location of this valley has never been good for early morning photography, but it is a nice area for a walk regardless. I failed to relocate the Moose a couple of others had seen the previous evening, but did see Juncos, Mountain Chickadees, and Colorado Chipmunks.

When the sun finally did peak over the ridge the Chipmunks all came out to socialize and bask.

Posing on the edge of a creekside meadow this Chipmunk shows that the colors are beginning to change, and soon will be in full fall mode.

Even so, some remnants of summer are hanging on, like this Pleated Gentian(?). There is still a new species I have to update from last week, and perhaps a few more Wilson's Phalarope pictures from Friday, which I haven't had a chance to look through closely yet.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wilson's Phalarope

A few good shots this afternoon at Lower Church Lake on my way home from work. In a bit of a rush, and little chance for PC time in the next couple of days. Fall migration is heating up, so keep your eyes open for short term visitors.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fall Counting at Barr Lake State Park (2011 Style)

Highlight life bird of the day - Barn Owl

I'll ask the reader's forgiveness in advance for a long-worded post, but yesterday was a highlight day of birding. For the second time I was a part of the Fall Count at Barr Lake State Park, my previous count in 2009 was blogged here, and here. I am a big fan and proponent of the organized counts that are largely a function of the Audubon Society. Most birders and a good chunk of the general public are aware of the Christmas Bird Counts - and I have had a great time over the past few years joining in as many of those counts as I am able to in that busy season. Fall counts are more limited, but offer another group birding opportunity, with the added bonuses of good weather and the possibility of migrants.
When I stumbled into the fall count at Barr Lake in 2009, I was a year into birding, had a bit of experience, and had the very good fortune to arrive on a day when our largest group of counters was three, and dropped to two in marginal weather. On that day we counted 46 species. This year, with better weather we had a group of seven counters, and our species count ended at 76, (I believe), when added with the species totals from counters in other areas of the park and the bird banding station we were confident that total would climb to over 80 for the day. My personal list reached 65, and included three new species for me.

Cassin's Vireo

Our group on Sunday had a good mix of birding ability, including a couple of great 'ear' birders - who were able to let the rest of us know what we should be looking for before any of us saw the bird. While my ears aren't that well attuned, being quick with a camera can produce results in its own right. While scanning a few trees on my own I spotted the bird above and got four pictures before it was gone. The spectacles gave me a right first guess of vireo, but I was so caught up in warbler ids that I dismissed it and immediately had the group look at the image on my camera for help. A worse picture showed the olive back noted in the first linked post above, and I had my second ever Cassin's Vireo - on my second ever Barr Lake Fall Count. We spent a long while in the area trying to get the rest of the group on the bird, but it was long gone. Fortunately there were lots of other birds in the area and we tallied some good species while we watched.

Common Yellowthroat

This Common Yellowthroat was just one of the many species we saw in that area. We were having good luck in the area below the dam, but we had to head on. Dedicated counts help to keep you moving when birding. You want to avoid recounting the same individuals, and the idea is not to stake out an area in hopes of getting great photos. So before long we were off, hearing a Virginia Rail before reaching the far end of the dam, where we had cars waiting to ferry us back to the far side of the lake. Before we reached our destination, we had one of those non-bird moments of amazement that so often happen while out to see birds. We were passing one of the spillways, and there was some pooling in the creek bed, where recent flows had apparently been cut off and were now receding. In a harsh view of nature we saw many fish that were struggling in the remaining pools. Rainbow and Brown Trout were all stranded, along with a lone Carp. I'll save those images, as they are a bit grim, but beautiful fish nonetheless - and instead share an ugly fellow that was living large in the shallows.

Cayfish - species unknown

The small pool had some fascinating wildlife to observe, the large fish mentioned above, hundreds of minnows, water skimmers and other insects galore, and crayfish. This one and several others could have passed for small lobsters at some restaurants. It was a testament to the diverse natural interests of birders that we stopped for as long as we did, but eventually we were off to find more species. Leaving didn't stop us from wondering what opportunistic predator(s) would find an easy meal before the day was over though.

Semipalmated Plover

We were off to find more birds, and to that end we weren't disappointed. Passing the group of banders who were leaving their station as we approached, we learned that they had recaptured a Magnolia Warbler in their nets that morning. Hoping to somehow relocate the bird, a longshot at best, we headed out across the extended shoreline following the track between nets. While scanning the lake for gulls one sharp-eyed member of our group spotted this Semipalmated Plover with several killdeer on the mudflats. While its markings could possibly be confused with those of a Killdeer, its size is revealing.

Semipalmated Plover and Killdeer

Getting a life bird, and having it pose for size comparison shots is almost too much to hope for. It seemed tiny while foraging with the Killdeer. I lingered, getting shots of the two species and just enjoying the opportunity to get to know a shorebird before hurrying to catch the rest of the group.

Townsend's Warbler

It was good that I didn't fall too far behind. Before long we came across more fall warblers, this time including a Townsend's Warbler, my second life bird of the day. We actually had two individuals on the day, this was the second, and the only one that I was able to get a picture of. Like all warblers it was there, and then gone - vanished beyond the leaves and branches. Pressing on, we completed our last leg, reaching more staged vehicles and returning to the nature center where we could consolidate our totals and make sure nothing was missed. As we approached a picnic table one group member spotted a large bird departing the tree overhead. We all turned, and had different impressions as the large bird glided across a canal. Popular opinion was Great Horned Owl, and others thought maybe it was an immature Black-crowned Night Heron. It turned out we were all wrong.

Barn Owl

The bird first perched with its back to us, and was a bit to far for good looks with bins. My first few frames were inconclusive, it looked like a rusty Great Horned Owl to me. Then I shot a few more frames and zoomed in again on my camera's LCD. When that white face emerged I was floored. Here it was, my number one most sought after bird. I always kept my eye out for them, but after countless detours to check abandoned hay barns, sheds, and hedgerows they had grown into an elusive target. Finally seeing one in broad daylight in the mid-afternoon was so unexpected I am sure I will never forget that sighting. Almost immediately a scope was on the bird, and it remained perched allowing everyone to get up close views. Absolutely an impressive bird and one that I hope will not remain as long unseen for my second sighting.

If returning readers couldn't tell already, I am really a fan of this specific count trip. I have more conflicts with dates in the fall, but always hope to be able to make this one happen. Check with your local birding organization to see if there are spring and fall count locations in your area. You will be glad you did.

2011 Count: 220
Lifetime: 289

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sherburne WMA Shorebirds

Wanted to post a sample shot of one of the wider views from my visit to Sherburne.  This is just a sample of a much larger area filled with birds, the majority of which in this shot were White Ibis.   I was walking along a small levee, separated from the area in sight above by a small watercourse.   The birds below were all on the near or far bank of that section, offering views of shorebirds that even I could enjoy!  

Solitary Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs

Spotted Sandpiper

Lesser Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt

What a location!  Right in this area I also had a roost of Black Vultures numbering in the hundreds.  I am not sure when my travels will next take me to the Baton Rouge area, but when I am next there getting back to the South Farm at Sherburne will be a priority.   

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sunrise, Grand Isle Style

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Louisiana, or any recent trip for that matter, was my excursion to Grand Isle to catch the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico.  I had to be up at 3:00 to make it, but would do it again in a heartbeat - it was that memorable.    

The high humidity and haze over the water allowed the sun to get up fairly high before it began to 'rise'.   That offered some interesting colors to form up for silhouetting the Brown Pelicans that were emerging from the darkness.

Soon the sun began to break free though, making smaller birds and other shapes visible.  

Occasionally, the inhabitants beneath the surface would pop up for a tantalizing moment, generally not where I was looking, or, as if toying with my intentions, just outside the target light.   Finally though...

a fin captured in the golden light.  What did those fins belong to?   Coastal visitors know of course, but capturing one in an image is tougher.......

Finally!  My guess would be Bottlenose Dolphin, but I've lived in Minnesota and Colorado, so what do I know.   I do know that I had a blast standing and shooting for an hour as the sun rose and the colors changed on the Pier at Grand Isle State Park.   Watching and shooting a full 8Gb card trying to capture Dolphins in the first part of their breaches is a great way to start a day.    They weren't the only mammals about though.  

The parade of boats heading out and in was entertaining as well.   I was shocked at the heavy traffic as I drove towards the coast before 5:00am, but for fishermen and roughnecks that is rush hour.  

Only smaller craft had the luxury of cutting through the colored waters of sunrise on that memorable morning.