Friday, May 27, 2011

Owl Update & General Birdliness

This morning I swung by the neighborhood owl nest area, and sure enough the young owls have fledged. I had a couple of minutes and was listening and scanning for other birds in the area when I saw another woman who was obviously looking in the same area. In a quick chat she confirmed that the birds had been around since leaving the nest, and that she had seen them as recently as two days before. I spotted the young bird above shortly after, clicked a few frames and waved the woman back over. As she was approaching I saw the adult I had missed sitting on a branch a couple of feet and directly above the younger bird. A few moments later I found another young bird several trees over in a more exposed spot.

I am aware that these birds are still pulling a lot of human attention. I imagine, but haven't confirmed, that this is a rough time for owls if mobbing by other species occurs so I kept my looks brief and then focused my attention on the reservoir. Since Redhead Ducks and Yellow-headed Blackbirds are self explanatory I'll use the rest of this post to share a handful of my non-photographed recent observations.

On Wednesday evening, heading home from work, I was able to watch the leucistic Red-tailed Hawk (blogged here, and again here,) circling above the intersection I was stopped at. No chance for photos, but an impressive sight nonetheless.

While doing a bit of tuning up the backyard for the annual Memorial Day BBQ/party I have added a couple of birds to my limited yard list. Wednesday evening a flight of three American White Pelicans flew low overhead, and last night while I cleaned up an old brush pile I had one each of both Red-winged Blackbird and Blue Jay. The trees in the neighborhood are continuing to mature, so there is a bit better chance for more diversity this year. I have moved the thistle feeder from the front porch to the back yard, which has made the American Goldfinches more visible this year as well.

Now I just need to rig up a few spots for the Wingscapes cam so I can multi-task my birding! I also need to figure out a good spot for the hummingbird feeder I used in Estes Park last spring but have never hung at home.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Fun and Frustration of May

Birders will relate that May is one of the most fun and frustrating times of the year. It flies in the face of the adage, "When you are in a hole, stop digging!". As birders, we head out to see all the goodies that are migrating through to their northern breeding grounds, each day offering new potential arrivals. As a photographer, blogger, skier, camper, hiker, and person who still values the friendships I have with non-birders - those urges to catch migrants passing through can really cut into other activities I enjoy.
Even so I have been heading out on my lunch breaks, further deepening the pile of unprocessed pictures I have, and some developing blog topics that are a bit deeper than my typical, 'I went here and saw these birds today' posts. So, rather than insightful writing, here is some of what I saw when I walked along Big Dry Creek on a cool cloudy afternoon Tuesday. Above is one of two incredibly cooperative Western Wood-Pewees.
I had started the walk with a flyover Snowy Egret, which I snapped a few frames of from my building's parking lot, before realizing I had not yet inserted my memory card back in the camera. I then had distant shots of a yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, Bullock's Oriole (first a male, then later a female which I believe was distinguishable from a female Western Tanager by her yellow tail - correct me if I'm wrong here), and finally this slightly blurry Western Tanager male.

They are such cool looking birds, but somehow I rarely get crisp shots. For a better look check this one. I kept moving on after the Western Tanager had moved back into the trees, and had a Yellow-rumped Warbler eyeing me from some streamside vegetation.

Then I caught site of the Pewee show, and camped out for a bit at the entrance to an underpass.

The two gave a great show, occasionally exploding from their perches in pursuit of unseen insects.

More good stuff from yesterday, no phenomenal pictures that jumped out at me, but some swallow flight shots that are at least good for IDs, a Chipping Sparrow out of the bath, and a Swainson's Hawk eating a stay tuned!

Updated counts after all CFO trips entered in eBird.

2011 Count: 197
Lifetime 276

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gone West

The first day of the CFO convention was great, if a bit more wet than anyone would have hoped. Our day started with a good sized group, getting good looks at the Black-throated Sparrow (above) and Lark Sparrow (below).

By then the rain started to get serious, and our group thinned due to muddy roads. A somewhat smaller group pressed on, and got good looks at the Burrowing Owl, and Sandhill Crane below.

Unfortunately the rain that kept us company all morning also caused a fogging issue with my camera, and I missed getting shots of my lifer Long-eared Owls on their nest.

The group contracted again, but six of us pressed on through the heaviest rain, getting to unsuccessfully scan a flock of close to 200 White-faced Ibis for any stray Glossies, (still a great sight). Eventually the weather began to break, just as we were guided to a nice hotspot for Sage Sparrows, (below) and Sage Thrashers (picture not posted - see fogging issue above). Both were great looks at life birds for me.

Life birds aren't the only highlights though, many birds were willing to give us close looks, like this Brewer's Sparrow.

Many thanks to my carpoolers, Nick and Matt, and our awesome west slope guide Kim who braved the weather with us and showed us some great sites.

Hopefully the weather is a bit more cooperative and the birding continues at the same great pace.

2011 Count: 184
Lifetime: 273

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Out on a Limb!

Back for a quick peek at the local owl nest between showers this morning. The family is still around, when seen between the thickening leaves.

Everyone was still hanging out on the nest....or were they?

Nope, this owl at least is out seeing the world! Actually those few feet are a big development. These owls are getting close to becoming airborne.

My guess is that they may well be off before I am back in the area next week. Hopefully they continue to provide interest for the area residents between now and then.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Florida Birding; May 5th, Part 4

A few odds and ends...

Great Blue Heron

Northern Mockingbird

Barn Swallows


With that Cinco de Mayo is in the books.

Stay tuned though, the following day involved a beach walk in the morning, a trip into the park itself later in the morning, and a brief visit to a wooded park in the mid-afternoon. Lots of pictures to share from that, if I can ever get them processed.

Florida Birding; May 5th, Part 3

Sanderlings and Willet.

Have at it! I am sure that in this and upcoming posts there will be opportunities to review, critique, and or correct my identification & photography skills. Please feel free to point out any misses on my part, along with reasons why. That way I can learn along with anyone in the audience who cares to get to know their shorebirds a bit better.

So without further ado, Ruddy Turnstone.


All three species.

One more time, Sanderlings and Willet.

Corrections keep pushing my numbers up....

2011 Count: 160
Lifetime: 269

Florida Birding; May 5th, Part 2

The Black Skimmer. Of all the birds I had occasion to see in Florida, these were the most surprisingly impressive. As I caught sight of them on that first early morning their over sized and brightly colored bills blew me away.

The first morning I only had the chance to watch a small group of them - later in the following day their were dozens in a group resting on the island.

I swear those bills are dayglo orange, they show up at a distance like construction signs.

On the topic of large, brightly colored birds, here was another common sight:

The Laughing Gull. I had seen these birds before, but not in breeding plumage.

I believe that this one has a young Franklin's Gull for a companion. Franklin's Gulls aren't nearly as common along the Florida Gulf as Laughing Gulls. The Franklin's generally stay to the west, heading north from Texas. However, young gulls are apparently not all that unusual, they will associate with Laughing Gulls, to whom they are close relations. I am basing this distinction on the size difference, and the smaller bill of the Franklin's. If there are any gull experts who are sure of a different ID please feel free to let me know. Identifying a bird that doesn't show up on the eBird list of commonly occurring species at a new location always gives me a reason to double check!

One last shot of formation flying Skimmers in parting, they were so close to completing their flying circle!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Florida Birding; May 5th, Part 1

May 5th was my first morning in Pensacola Beach, Florida, and my first extensive birding in the area. I started very early in the morning, and walked out to the entrance station for the Ft. Pitkins Park section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. There was a stiff breeze at my back as I headed out, and with sunrise and my about face, it strengthened into a full-on blow. Even so the birding was surprisingly good. I found myself in the midst of a Least Tern breeding colony coming to life with the increasing light.

From some after the fact reading I have learned that Least Terns have a diet that consists almost entirely of small 'baitfish' caught in the shallows near their colonies. Part of their mating ritual involves the giving of food to a prospective partner. At the time I wasn't sure if the interactions were sharing or thievery, but it seems likely that those exchanges were between pairs.

It was clear that the food source was small fish though, and they seemed to be returning frequently with fresh catches.

Cool birds though, I spent a few afternoons on the beach trying to capture their entertaining dives in still images - but relaxation and general difficulty capturing birds in high speed flight made that a lost cause. So instead an early morning shot of a bird cruising.

While Least Terns were by far the most numerous, there were a handful of other terns mixed in. They were Gull-billed Terns, which were just a bit larger in size, but had notably thicker black bills by comparison.

Stay tuned, more to come shortly from my images on the 5th, and my list of images to process from the 6th is daunting. Plenty to keep me busy through and beyond the CFO convention trip this weekend.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Falling Farther Behind!

Note to self: If you go on a trip and take thousands of photographs in the beginning of May don't expect to process through them anytime soon.

Note to readers: I now have a list of selected photos from the first two days of my trip to be cropped/processed. Two additional days, and some cropping and I'll be ready to post! In the meantime migration is too good not to be out in, and the images keep piling up. On Wednesday I realized that I would reach my anniversary at work over the weekend, and had a half day of vacation that would have burned, so Thursday morning, was a cold, rainy, snowy day...with some great birds.

A Fox Sparrow seems to have taken the place of some of the unusual wintering sparrows at the Red Rocks Trading Post, so my first stop was to check on the feeders there. I quickly located the Fox Sparrow as it occasionally emerged from the bushes on the far side of the garden. This was a bird I was glad to photograph. I had mis-identified one back in 2009 in the blog (an obvious Song Sparrow). I corrected the entry, but the keyword remained like a scarlet letter on the right side of my page. Ha. Anyways, it is good to actually add the species to the blog.

The Fox Sparrow may have been the main draw, but other birds quickly stole the show. Two Black-headed Grosbeaks mingled with the many Spotted Towhees, showing their similar color schemes.

I also hit the jackpot on Lazuli Buntings. I placed my count from early in the morning at 30. They were everywhere! Eight to ten would feed in a group, while other clusters would circulate into the trees.

Even soaking wet these guys are colorful. The large numbers of birds even attracted a Sharp-shinned Hawk to make a pass. It was unsuccessful, and only captured as an image of a faint dot disappearing in the clouds. Even so, cool to see 50 or sixty birds scatter all at once.

After over an hour at the site I decided I would head uphill and get a bit of my precipitation in solid form (almost 2.5 inches of slow steady rain in the high plains of Colorado was welcome, but tiring - we like our sunshine!). I feel that this Ruby-crowned Kinglet was really trying to show off his color against all that white. It worked! The rest of my visit to Golden Gate Canyon State Park was uneventful, two Mallards, a flicker, and a Lincoln's Sparrow completed my list.

So the backlog remains, but I'll deal with it someday! Next week ends with a trip to Grand Junction for the CFO convention. That should ensure that the backlog carries me well into June! As of now my counts stand at:

2011 Count: 159
Lifetime: 268

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coolest Evening of Birding in a Long Time

This afternoon work wrapped up a bit early, so I headed to Boulder County to get a visit in to one of the Spring migration hot spots, and just one of the coolest spots to visit in general - Gregory Canyon.

I arrived and was checking out the entrance road when another photographer walked up. He was trying to relocate a Black-throated Gray Warbler he had seen this morning. At the time it was fairly quiet and I had to settle for a Catbird, some Virginia Warblers, and displaying Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

Around six o'clock I watched a Black-capped Chickadee move past some trees, and then did a double take at the 'reversed' chickadee. It didn't take long to realize that I had found the Black-throated Gray Warbler. Like most warblers it was distant, and the pictures aren't ideal - but I'll take distinguishable any day.

I had another surprise when I checked my email this evening - the following cheesy award was waiting for me:

The meat of it was really cool. Whenever I get through Florida pictures I will introduce Semipalmated Sandpiper JNT. I was amazed that I had been able to pull the code from a photograph of the tag - even more that they could tell me within 24 hours that I had found a bird that was banded back in 2004! How cool is that?

I will get posts up from my trip, but for my own future reference my year and lifetime totals stand at:

2011 Count: 153
Lifetime: 268