Birder's Eye View

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Random sketches

Just thought I'd post some of my latest sketches, seeing as I haven't gone birding in a while. Below is a basic silhouette I drew yesterday. I was sort of experimenting with the lighting, shadows and shading a bit.

The next picture was drawn a while ago. I sort of got the idea from the Beatles' song, "Blackbird." I don't know why, but the picture came out almost cartoonish. And finally I have a Common Loon sketch. I like Loons. I saw lots of them last year in Maine, and heard them every night.

Hopefully I'll get to go birding again soon, and *fingers crossed* get some new species on my list!

Happy birding

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Afternoon Birding

The earth is what we all have in common. -- Wendell Berry
I walked along the dirt road of the archery range, an area where I occasionally go birding. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. I listened to the steady beat of my footsteps on the gravel. It was warm and humid outside, cooled only occasionally by a breeze that brought with it the scent of damp wood and swamp vegetation.

All the way down the road my ears were keen to the slightest rustle of the bushes, the softest chirp. But all I heard was the electric-buzzing of the cicadas and the soft hum of bees. I was looking for Roseate Spoonbills; I had seen one fly over, so I had set off down the road to find where it had landed.

After only several minutes, two flew right over my head and I eagerly snapped pictures. Spoonbills are one of my favorite bird species, and, while I've seen them many times this year already, birding is not just about the lists to me. I love to watch birds, even birds I see every day; they never cease to reveal something new to my boundless curiosity.

Moments after the spoonbills had passed, an Osprey flew over. I can usually recognize them quickly because of the length of their angular wings.

A few more minutes passed, and this time four Roseate Spoonbills cruised overehead! They flew in pairs before joining together and flying over the treeline.

After a while, we left the archery range and drove to the other side of the park near a big lake surrounded by cattails and pickerell weed. As I trod along the lake's shore, suddenly the ground beneath where I was about to step coiled back.

Trying not to lose my balance, I leapt over the obstacle. My family burst out laughing at me, as a 4-foot long Yellow Ratsnake slithered away into the reeds.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not at all afraid of snakes. In fact, I like them very much. But when you come inches from squishing one beneath your foot, it can be a little startling. Nonetheless, I was able to get some nice shots of it (see picture above).

Besides accomodating large ratsnakes, this area of the park also held an abundance of grackles and crows. Above is a male Boat-tailed Grackle, and below is a female. They appeared to be defending a nest from us, as they fluttered around frantically when we passed by.

So, no new species on this outing, but it was fun anyway.

Happy birding!

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kayaking and Baby Hawk pics

Really nothing much new to blog about, but I thought I'd post a few more pictures of the Rainbow River trip.

This was a Double-Crested Cormorant we came across up the river. It seemed very used to paddlers, and we passed extremely close to it.

There I am kayaking past it. Really, cormorants are large birds when you get up close. I see them on a near-daily basis, but I never really realized how big they are!

This picture was taken locally (not at Rainbow River). The hawks from the nest are fledging! There's a really large fledgling sitting on the left side of the nest (notice the fuzzy feathers around the back of the head) and another hawk sitting in the middle of the nest (you can just barely see its back).

Hopefully I'll get to go birding again sometime soon, and have more to report on!

Happy birding

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rainbow River

"The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past but through us. Nature was made not just for us, but for itself and its own happiness, and is the very smile of the Divine." - John Muir
Yesterday we took a family trip to Rainbow Springs State Park. It was a lot of fun; we went kayaking for about an hour and then hiked for a while.

Rainbow Springs is one of the biggest springs in Florida. The park actually used to be an old tourist attraction, but it closed in the 1970s. It reopened again in the mid-90s as a nature preserve. There are still a lot of tourists there, but it wasn't bad on Monday afternoon.

After kayaking, I spotted a Great Blue Heron in the vegetation by the swimming area.

There were tons of Northern Parulas; this was a juvenile hopping around on the walkway. I saw a female parula feeding its baby in a palm tree at one point, but by the time I got my camera out, they had flown away.

As we were walking back from the boat launch, we were looking at a dragonfly; my mom pointed to it, and it flew over and landed on her finger!

Really clear water -- a small bass swimming through the spring.

There are many waterfalls at Rainbow Springs, but unfortunately, they're not natural. They were built as part of the tourist attraction about 40 or 50 years ago.

Can you tell what this little guy is? I sent the picture along to The SW WI Birder, and he confirmed my suspicion that it's a White-eyed Vireo! (life bird!)

A Double-crested Cormorant sitting by the swimming area.

As we were leaving, a Swall0w-tailed Kite put on a great aerial display over our heads; it was swooping and diving really low over the trees.

Over all, it was a great trip! I only got two year birds (White-eyed Vireo and a Bald Eagle), but it's better than nothing. I'll try to post some of the kayaking pics later.

Happy birding!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Falcon cam

The Field Museum of Chicago, IL, is running a live Peregrine Falcon Cam. The falcon is nesting in a nesting box on top of the Midwest Generation power plant.

As of May 9th, two eggs had hatched, and the nest seems to be doing well. The falcon has been in the nest every time I've checked; she's usually in the back, right-hand corner.

Happy birding!


Friday, May 9, 2008

On the road

“Living on Earth without knowing anything about nature is like living in Tokyo without knowing a word of Japanese. Sure, you can get by. But you’re going to miss a lot of what's going on.”
- Kenn Kaufman
Yesterday, I went on a 100 mile trip to Cheifland. It was a LOT of driving, mostly down monotonously long, straight, desolate highways. The landscape didn't change much the entire way; sometimes a few more hills here and there, or some agricultural fields. But for the most part, it seemed like we were driving in place for hours.

Much as I hate riding in the car, though, ever since I started birding, road trips have become significantly more interesting. About three quarters of the way through there, two Barn Swallows swooped in front of the car, becoming number 84 on my year list.

While in Chiefland, (which, to its credit, is one of the friendliest little towns I've ever been in) my mom and I took a trip to Manatee Springs State Park.

The spring was breathtaking. Turquoise blue water bubbled out from an enormous underwater cave. It was surrounded by cyprus trees, and the water was so clear you could see little turtles and mullet swimming around.

As we followed the boardwalk into the cyprus woods, the air was filled with bird songs! It was almost overwhelming; some of the sounds were familiar -- Tufted Titmice and cardinals -- and some I had never heard before.

Then my mom pointed towards a tree.

"What's that?" she asked.
"Where?" I said.
"Over there!"
"Omigosh, it's a Prothonotary Warbler!"
"A what?"

The little bird flew down to the cyprus knees, right in front of us (see above picture). I was really exciting -- that's a lifer!

Further down the boardwalk, we came out to the Suwannee River. It was so big, it looked a lake.

On our way out to the parking lot, something caught my eye. Nope, not a bird, for once! It looked like a puppy darting around next to the rental canoes. A fox kit! Possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen. :-)

By the end of the day, I had seen two year birds and a life bird. Not anywhere near what I had hoped for, but it was fun anyway. My year list is now up to 85.

Happy birding!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Magnificent" birding

I went birding today, somewhat spontaneously and somewhat unexpectedly, so I was somewhat underprepared. But I had my camera with me, and that was *almost* as good as my binoculars.

So why was this birding trip "magnificent?" Take a look at the picture below:

One of the first birds I saw was a Magnificent Frigatebird flying out over the dock on the beach! That's a lifer for me. At first glance, I thought it was a Swallow-tail Kite, but I couldn't figure out why it was black. However, my mom identified it almost immediately as a Frigatebird! (Yay mom!)

Also got some cool pictures of Brown Pelicans...

... And Laughing Gulls. There were tons of them at the beach.

And then I saw this little guy (above). Yet ANOTHER life bird -- A Ruddy Turnstone!

There were so many of them all running around in the waves and hanging out with the gulls and terns.

Above is a Royal Tern; there were several of them chillin' on the beach. I had never seen one so close before; you could literally walk right up to them.

And a year bird -- a Least Tern. When I was taking this photo, I was standing near a bunch of rocks by the edge of the water. I had my eye up to the camera, so I failed to see an enormous wave crash against the rocks. The next thing I knew, I was half-soaked and my camera (my beloved camera!!) was also wet. At least I got the picture though.

Above is a photo of two Royal Terns and behind them, three Ruddy Turnstones. Kind of cool.

A Great Blue Heron landed on the roof of the dock.

Over all, considering I wasn't really planning on going birding, it was a fairly productive trip! I came home with five year birds and three life birds. Here's the total list of all the birds I saw today:

  • Magnificent Frigatebird (life)
  • American Oystercatcher (year)
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Anhinga
  • Ruddy Turnstone (life)
  • Brown Pelican
  • Fish Crow
  • Least Tern (year)
  • Royal Tern
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • White Ibis
  • European Starling
  • Roseate Spoonbill
  • Willet
  • Laughing Gull
  • American Golden Plover (life)

I saw the American Golden Plover on the side of the causeway and couldn't get a picture, so I'm not 100% sure that's what it was. It was either that, or a Black-bellied Plover. But, judging from what I remember, and the description in my field guide, I'm going to go with Am. Golden for now.

I'll try to post more pictures later.

Happy birding!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An empty nest

Just a quick update on the baby Mockingbirds I've been observing for the last two weeks. They're gone! The nest was empty this morning.

I visited it on Wednesday, and the three of them were huddled together, much bigger than they had been several days prior.

But this morning, the nest was empty. There was nothing underneath or around the area; only a few downy feathers left in the twigs. My first fear was that they became lunch for a hungry snake. But when I got home and did some research, I read that Mockinbirds typically fledge within 12 days of hatching.

In fact, it has been exactly fifteen days since I watched them hatch, so it is quite possible that they left the nest of their own accord. At least, that what I'm hoping.

So, whether they became nourishment for another animal, or simply took off on their own, the Mockingbird chicks are gone. Nature is endlessly perplexing...! :-)


Friday, May 2, 2008

My story in Audubon Magazine

"When I stepped into the world of birding, I felt like I had opened my eyes for the first time."

This June will mark my one-year anniversary of becoming a birder, when I won a scholarship to the Coastal Maine Bird Studies camp on Hog Island. The picture to the left was taken more or less the moment my birding obsession began (I'm the one in the tan & green hat and the purple shirt reading the field guide).

So what does this have to do with Audubon Magazine?

I wanted to share my story, and last December, I pitched the idea to the magazine. To my delight, the editor accepted it as a "Web Exclusives" feature.

For the last four months, I have been working on writing and editing the article, and this month, it was published for the magazine's May/June issue online. I am really happy; this is the biggest article I've written and to have it published in Audubon Magazine is truly exciting.

In June, I'll post more about my adventures at the camp. I couldn't fit even a fraction of it in the Audubon article, but thankfully, I that's what I have a blog for. :-)

You can read my article here, and check out some of my photos.

Happy birding!

Labels: ,