Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Hopefully all your ghosts, goblins & ghouls; princesses, power rangers, & puppy dogs; hobos, heroines, and hockey players...

...leave treated, well sugared and happy!

Have a Safe and Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 24, 2011

DaveA's International Adventure with some Birding Thrown In - Number's Summary

I am a huge fan of international travel. Travel in general really, but due to the financial and time constraints that are real life, international travel is always a special opportunity, and one that I am sure readers will find, gets me firing on all cylinders. For those who don't know, I am the proud son of a naturalized US Citizen, my Dad, who grew up in Loughborough, England. As such, I began my international travels at the ripe age of 2, on a visit to meet the family. Since that early trip my visits have been too far between, but perhaps due to their rarity they have forged strong memories. The places and faces of my family's England are certainly never far out of mind. So perhaps it was fitting, that three years after beginning to document my odd combination of birds, photos, and the rest of my wanderings in the natural world that I should expand the scope of my perspective back to a foreign land that is at the same time so familiar to me.

For those whose eyes are already glazed over, browse on to any more entertaining sites, I recommend Top Gear for any Yanks that aren't familiar with it, or Nature Photographers for a quick juicy photo fix. The pretty pictures are likely to follow at a snails pace - recall that I still have posts from Florida, (May), and Grand Junction, (later May), and New Orleans, (August) in the works, and now many thousands of photos to work through so they will be coming - in their own good time.

Disclaimer aside, if anyone is still reading... this post is primarily wordy, a bit of background on my diverse interests that make traveling a holistic experience, and then the stats on the birds and some impressions that I had specific to birding. My scholastic background is history. Being such, for much of the trip I had a recurring Simpson's quote in my head - "everything here is something", - Marge Simpson. After checking it, I do recall now that it was in the Rio episode, but it completely fits with the amazing way that history permeates all aspects of life in Europe. There will be more to follow on some of the amazing sights I had the chance to see, but those along with family, scenery, food and drink, art, and just generally observing the flow and currents of life in the UK would have left me feeling hopelessly cheated had I dedicated my time and focus to birds alone. For some, birding is passion enough, and focused pursuit of all the unusual species the island has to offer would be reason enough to travel and return. For me though, I took the birds that came, and didn't sweat those that I didn't see. In this visit I barely reached coasts - viewing the Irish Sea for my first time from the car in a gale - a huge no-no for a birding visit, but perfectly fine for my style of travel. I wouldn't have traded all the great memories I made, and the lure of future visits to coastal regions keeps me thinking of the next trip.

So, all that being what it was, I toured, and watched, and took opportunities to place myself where birds may come my way - and for no guides or experience - I had a great time and really enjoyed the species I found. Here's the list, a few familiar names, and a few surprises:

*I see that a few of my checklists somehow didn't make their way into ebird, so there may be an update to species list and totals. I know for one House Sparrow is missing, but that may be it.

Of course many of these will be featured in posts to come, but a few quick impressions and highlights. Least expected bird that I saw in good numbers, Ring-necked Parakeet. Bird that I saw in surprising abundance, Common Pheasant. My first bird outside the US, Common Magpie. Common species that will make you think you have six different species, only to find they are all variations of the same - Mallard. Cool birds I wish I had had better looks at - Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, Long-tailed Tit, Mandarin Duck.

"My Ebird" as it stands now (subject to updates):

Just as I was wrapping this post up, I checked back to my post from last year on the 20th, it is good to know that some of the ideas I found reinforced in my travels this year are the same that were worthy of note last year as well. I certainly hope that they remain.

2011 Count: 256
Lifetime: 325

Friday, October 14, 2011

Yesterday's Highlight

...was surprisingly not this eye-popping, Great Crested Grebe. Instead, it was being joined by my parents, whom I had not seen since the Christmas Holidays last year. We have journeyed from Windsor, where I had a great couple of days, and have just spent the night in Rugby, home of the game of the same name. Today we will gather with my extended family to help my Aunt and Uncle celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Yesterday I added a Great Cormorant, bringing my trip total to 35, which will provide ample blogging subjects for future posts.

2011 Count: 249
Lifetime: 318

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Welcome to Windsor

After a long, and uneventful journey I arrived in the town of Windsor, just west of London's Heathrow airport. Home of the famous Windsor Castle, sometime residence of the queen, this little town is a popular tourist destination and commuter suburb. Thanks to having been a home to royals since Norman times it is also home to the Great Park, long a hunting preserve and now trust land. The park and castle are connected by the Long Walk, and it was there that I headed to stretch my legs yesterday.

I made it almost to the far end of the walk, but great birds and fading light had me turned back before then. I haven't even had chance to scan through all my photos from yesterday, but will share the above Red Kite shot. There were several of these Kites about, and they were great fun to watch and attempt to photograph. Hopefully more time will reveal even better shots, but for now there are strange songs coming from the growing light outside my window, a castle to explore, and many more new birds to see.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

"I'm Leavin' on a Jet Plane..."

As teased in a previous post back in August, this birder and as a direct result this blog are going international! For the first time in over five years I am getting back to England, the birthplace of my Dad and home to all of his side of my family. I am under 12 hours from catching my flight, and am very much looking forward to being on my way. On a relevant side note, I want to wish my Mom a very happy birthday! She and my Dad will be leaving Minnesota in a few days, and we will all get to meet up over in England and make a whirlwind trip through the country together. More on that in a moment, but first a few shots from a frosty stop before work yesterday.

Since having seen the Krider's Hawk a few days back while on my way to Denver I had been thinking of light Red-tailed Hawks. Then, while rushing from work to complete a couple of errands last week I passed the resident leucistic Red-tail on a power pole, and didn't have time to stop. So, yesterday morning I stopped off on my way to the office and attempted to find the bird in the reliable spot along the Middle Hyland Creek Open Space. Before really getting down to look through the trees I had to stop for yet another shot of Long's Peak at sunrise. One silver lining of these shortening days is the accessibility of sunrises!

As the sun cleared the horizon behind me my target became immediately obvious. I had been scanning through those trees fairly carefully earlier, and had either missed him in plain sight prior to the light hitting, or he had popped up to greet the rising sun and warm up a bit from the coldest night of the season so far. Such a cool bird to see. I had taken an angled line across the field to get a better direction with the light, and as I approached the cattails at the bottom of the draw I got another creature moving as well.

Unfortunately, my camera had been set for the hawk in the treetop, and the lighting was far from ideal. Still, it is always fun to be mere feet from a coyote, when it is moving the other way.

So here is my impression of a three year old mapping my upcoming route through England. I will spend two days in Windsor, with plans to visit Windsor Castle, Eton College, and do some dedicated walking and birding in the Great Park. My folks will arrive Friday, and we will head north, up the middle of the country, stopping at Rugby, then Maltby where we will join my extended family to celebrate my Aunt and Uncle's 50th wedding anniversary. Then it is off to the Lake District via a stop at Ripon. The return will feature stops in Ludlow and Chippenham. While this is not a dedicated 'birding' trip, (what of my trips are?), I do hope to have some new species to share on the blog in the days and weeks to come. I am so glad that Ebird has been rolled out globally - it will definitely help in identifying and recording what species I find over there.

All credit being due, I grabbed this map from a Google image search that led me to this nice site, and then scribbled all over it. Thanks and sorry,

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sunrise from the Coalton Trail

My post from late last Tuesday about my visit to the Coalton Trail west of Superior, Colorado had me thinking of the area. So, when I was woken up by a page well before sunrise on Wednesday morning I decided to roll with it and go see if I could have any more luck finding birds in the A.M. than I had in the P.M. Just as I hit the trail I was greeted by beautiful colors and silhouettes. The morning was cool, and I moved quickly down the slope of the highland towards the sunrise. I wanted to get as far along as I could before the the sun broke the horizon, I would then have it at my back as I returned, offering great lighting for all the birds I was sure to see.

I reached roughly the halfway point, where the trail turns hard to the east, and slopes more dramatically downhill into one of the draws before reaching the western edge of residential Superior. I had met the halfway point of my available time as well, and just like the fence-line I had a destination back in the civilized world. Fortunately for me, my route took me back towards the mountains, and I was given a spectacular view of the entrance to Eldorado Canyon, the same canyon that had looked so different in the evening on my previous visit.

This whole area is one that I really enjoy, and I will definitely be back to visit through the seasons. I have a feeling as the weather deteriorates in the coming weeks I will have even more opportunity to enjoy the high plains in their full isolation.

This last Black-eyed Susan bloom was standing sentinel over the passing fall weather. It was well colored in the early light - the birds on the other hand were largely non-existent. There were the usual Western Meadowlarks, who were making up for the lack of diversity by belting out a chorus to welcome the day - but even they kept their distance and didn't appear in pictures as much more than noisy blobs. So instead...more sky.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lower Church Lake - er...Mudflat

Monday I stopped by Lower Church Lake at lunch, I hadn't stopped there in a while, and wanted to see if anything was stirring. It turned out that before I could even get to a view of the lake I had disturbed this beautiful dark Rufous-morph Red-tail Hawk from its perch. It gave me a few close passes as it lazily rode a thermal higher. A few moments later a smaller light-morph western Red-tail joined it, and they both headed to the south east and out of view. This bird has been around a bit, either taking a break from migrating or just enjoying what had been beautiful weather. Looking out my office window today I see snow at around 6500-7000 feet, so this bird may have moved on or be thinking that option over seriously this afternoon.

I think the above picture really shows off how well their skulls are shaped as a natural visor. On a clear afternoon like Monday's - the usefulness was apparent.

Below are a few shots of a group of Long-billed Dowitchers I found at the lake-turned mudflat.

Not only are these birds cool to look at for their aptly named long bills, but check out the one going face deep in the soft mud! It is no wonder some of the others are busy preening.

One thing I learned while reading up on Dowitchers was that the white pattern on their backs helps to distinguish them from other similarly sized shorebirds. It won't do much good on a Long-billed Short-billed comparison, but can rule out other species at a distance, and it doesn't look half bad either!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coalton Trail - outside Superior, Colorado

Last Thursday evening I had errands to run, but knowing that the sun is sinking earlier and earlier these days, I headed to the high plains of Boulder County in hopes of crossing paths with a late lingering Burrowing Owl or a rare Pipit before I got down to business. I saw lots of Western Meadowlarks, and a bunch of bikers, but otherwise I just had a peaceful, beautiful evening with a view like this mostly to myself.

As the sun dropped I was serenaded by a chorus of Coyotes. A passing biker said he had seen six beyond the next ridge. However, I was on foot, and by the time I Had gotten there the Coyotes had moved on. That's OK, sometimes the things unseen are the most memorable. Then again, sometimes a view and a soft orange sky stick pretty well too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fall Colors and Unphotographed Birds

A fun weekend for me, and hopefully for readers as well. Mine was not all that intensive a birding weekend - as is often the case for me I had too many other activities and obligations, but that didn't mean my eyes weren't on the beautiful clear skies.

First, while waiting for a bus to take me to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival I had a memorable bird pass overhead... Before I get to the bird though I will plug Beerfest, as it is commonly known. If you are a fan of beer, people, or both I definitely recommend adding this event to the bucket list. The world's largest commercial beer convention has been going, and growing for thirty years - this year it featured 3,930 different beers competing for medals in various categories. Just remember to be safe and plan your transportation ahead of time! ...Getting back to the bird though, as I was waiting for my bus I was watching the clear blue sky for any chance migrants passing through. We Coloradans along the Front Range have been spoiled with weeks of practically unbroken beautiful weather, and I found myself scanning the endless blue hoping to catch a flock of Sandhill Cranes in their high altitude flights. Having a half-hour to wait, I was disappointed that I was seeing nothing. I was growing frustrated, all those days stuck in an office spent wishing I just had more time to watch the skies; then there I was with literally nothing to do but watch the skies, and no birds to spot. I kicked a rock, I took a deep breath, I rechecked the bus schedule, I focused on a different patch of sky. Then, out of the north I spotted something white headed straight towards me.... As it grew closer I forced myself to memorize the markings I could see, white head and body, dark primary tips, faint patagial bars, no dark "v" formed by the legs, slight dark markings on the trailing edge of the wing....bird overhead, flying straight as an arrow due south. I spun as I watched it recede, then another red-tail momentarily circled past it and called. It never turned, and I don't believe it responded, it just continued on ever southward. I just stood silently, it was as if the bird had set its course just to show off for a bored birder doing some 'bare naked birding' (birding without binoculars, scope, or camera) while waiting for a bus. I was cautiously optimistic that I knew what I had seen, but waited for the bus to arrive before I started checking web pictures on my phone for confirmation. I am now confident that my bird was a Krider's Red-tail Hawk. What a payoff for a few minutes of impatience! These are Red-tails of the plains, they may pass through during migration, or in the case of a few will settle in to over-winter here. I followed up on this sighting by consulting my trusty copy of Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight written by Jerry Liguri and Bryan Sullivan (highly recommended book); later I came across this great article by the same guys specific to the Krider's Hawks.

Following a fun evening in Denver, Saturday morning got off to a late start (by birding standards) heading out at 7:30 to pick up my truck, stop by the store, and arrive in Boulder around 9:30 for tailgating prior to the University of Colorado football game. As we boiled our brats and set things up while waiting for the crowds to arrive I looked up to see a kettle of Turkey Vultures passing low over the stadium and our heads before catching the same thermals that are so popular with glider pilots over Boulder. I commented that it was probably not the best omen for the game, and much to our dismay the game exceeded our worst fears. The Buffs came close, but managed to allow two unanswered touchdowns in the last 5 minutes, erasing a 10 point lead and devastating thousands who were hoping for a win before an upcoming stretch of 5 brutal games.

Muttering, I headed off for some quality nature time at the Walden Ponds complex in north Boulder at dusk - finding a bit of tranquility, but not much in the way of photographic opportunity.

I believe this weekend reveals a bit of the 'hook' of birding for me. There are plenty of times when dedicated birding at a prime location will, for whatever reason, completely fail to deliver. Then, while out in the routines of life, nature will come along with something remarkable, as if to test our perception - to see if we are paying attention! Are you up to the test?

The photos here are both from a beautiful drive I took last Tuesday evening. I drove up to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and after limited success birding the Red Barn Picnic area and near the Visitor Center I found a great route, Mountain Base Road to Gap Road stopping at several spots along the way including Panorama Point, before heading back down and joining hwy 72, (Coal Creek Canyon Rd.).