Birder's Eye View

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Birds at school

I returned to college on Monday but before unpacking, took a short trip out to Ft. Desoto to add some shorebirds to my year list. I haven't had time to tally everything up yet, but I am estimating I have about 65-70 birds so far.

I was able to get really close to this Ring-billed Gull and get some good shots.

This picture kind of cut off the tip of this little Ruddy Turnstone's beak, but I thought it was a funny "action shot" anyhow.
Fastforwarding to Tuesday, my friends and I went fishing off a little dock on campus, and I, of course, did some birding. Saw some Monk Parakeets, Brown Pelicans fishing right next to us, and... A Common Loon (below)!!

I've always heard about people seeing loons in Florida, but I've never seen one myself. I thought it was a funny-looking cormorant at first, but I took pictures of it to make sure. And, lo and behold, it is, indeed, a common loon.
Well, I better get started on my homework.
Until next time,
Happy birding!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching history, not birds!

This past week I haven't done any birding, so I haven't really had much to post about. However, it has been a historic period of time in which I am glad to have been involved. (Please excuse my following political bias.)

Like millions of people, I watched Barack Obama sworn in as President of the United States yesterday. Although I support him, I do not think he will solve all our problems, nor is he going to be perfect, by any means. He’s a politician.

Nonetheless, I am hopeful that he will do his best to lead this country in a better direction than it was heading before.

With that aside, I will be starting school again next week so I may or may not get to post for a while. So, I’ll leave you with another time lapse bird painting that I made a few weeks ago, to tide you over.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For a rainy day

I saved these photos and sketches for a rainy day, and judging by the water falling from the sky, I'd say it's definitely rainy. In fact, it has been the last couple days.

This morning dawned dark and grey, letting loose a drizzle of little more than a heavy mist descending from the thick clouds (rain is quite poetic! Either that, or I've been cooped up indoors for too long...).

Anywho, I took these photos a couple days ago before the rain started, of birds in my yard. A couple Carolina Wrens were hopping about under my window, making the craziest noises. They're extremely hard to photograph, as they move around constantly.

In our front yard oak tree, a Red-bellied Woodpecker posed nicely for a few moments and I got a couple good shots.

I have also been working on some drawings -- not exactly field sketches, as I was using pictures from my field guide, but close enough. Above is a sketch of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and an Ovenbird, two fairly common species around here.

This sketch I just did this afternoon. I was being lazy and just took a picture of the drawings, instead of scanning them, so the quality isn't great, but oh well. It's a rainy day, and I don't really care. :-)

Once this rain goes away, it's supposed to get pretty cold, with lows in the 30s tomorrow through Friday.

Until next time,
Happy birding!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

'Nuff said. :-)

Today's Mother Goose & Grimm comic in the local newspaper.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Local birding

"Whose woods these are I think I know."
- Robert Frost

Today my sister and I rode our bikes down to the local nature park that we have been to so often these past couple months. With nothing better to do, I would say taking a long hike in the woods is perhaps the best way to pass the time on such lovely winter afternoons.

We arrived around 1:30pm, not a great time for birding. We wandered off the trail through the tall grass that surrounds the lake and found our way to a pond, whose bank was torn up by what we suspected was wild hogs.

There were a ton of animal tracks in the mud, and sure enough after a few minutes of inspection, we found the tell-tale hog footprints: small hooves with dew claws in the back. Exploring the bank of the pond, we also found opossum, bobcat, raccoon, and armadillo tracks, as well as lots of tiny treefrogs, a leopard frog, and a somewhat freakish-looking spider.

At one point, I heard a Snowy Egret squawk and take off across the pond and looked up to see a large, dark raptor swooping low over the grass. My first thought was that it looked somewhat like a Kite, only it was dark greyish brown and had an extremely prominent white band over its rump. Within a second it was out of sight.

What was that?? Once we got back onto the main trail where I could see across the main lake, I saw the bird of prey far away through my binoculars, seeming to hover over the grass. When I got home, I started pouring through my fieldguide and the internet, and eventually came to the conclusion that the raptor may have been a Nortern Harrier. I have never seen one before, and don't know if they are normally seen in my area, but everything I saw seems to fit the bird's description.

Sometime later, we stopped to watch a huge flock of gulls and vultures circling in an air thermal overhead. My sister pointed out what she thought was a bald eagle.

Homing in on it with my binoculars, I confirmed it was indeed, a bald eagle and appeared to be an older juvenile, judging by the patchy underside. Above is the clearest picture I was able to get of it.

We hiked out to our favorite mudflat, there were the usual gulls huddled together in the water. This time, there were also a few Least Sandpipers (above) (Thanks for the help IDing them, Chris and Tucker!) and a pair of Sandhill Cranes (below), wading in the shallows.

Although I see Sandhill Cranes all the time, this was the first time I've ever gotten decent pictures of them.

Action shot!... or something. Kinda cool, whatever it is they're doing.

By the end of the day, I added 5 (or 6, if that really was a Harrier!) new species to my year list. I'm not sure if I'm ready to count a Harrier yet, but I'll do a little more research.
Until next time,
Happy birding!

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Year list reaches 50 species

On the chipping sparrow: "This common little sparrow is esteemed more for his social disposition than for his talent as a musician." -- F. Schuyler Mathews

"WHAT?! I'm eating here!!"
Today, with the return of the chipping sparrows and goldfinches, my year list reached 50 species -- An interesting phenomen in at least two ways. First, I can honestly say this is the fastest I have ever reached 50 species for my year lists. And second, it is a little disheartening because thinking realistically, this means I have seen about half the species I will probably see for the entire year.

As I do not expect to have the means to travel or go after any special birds this year, I expect I won't get much past 100. Nonetheless, I am still more than inclined to continue trying for as many species I can get. :-)

Photo quiz! ;-) How many sparrows do you see in the above picture?
Along with the sparrows and goldfinches, I also saw a great egret today across the street when I headed out on a bike ride, and two female hooded mergansers down the road.

"Who YOU lookin' at?!"

Chipping sparrows. So photogenic. Well, until next time...

Happy birding!

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Friday, January 2, 2009

after-Christmas Bird Count

"Birding, after all, is just a game. Going beyond that is what is important."- Roger Tory Peterson

I just spent the last 8 hours or so on my second Christmas Bird Count. This one was at a different park than the last one, but the procedure was more or less the same for the first few hours.

As the 5 of us in our group hiked out into an open field, the sun rose in a great burst of peach and orange rays off to our left. As it rose, the sky filled with a bubbly, chortling chorus of birdsong. Looking up, we observed a seemingly endless river of Tree Swallows flying south-west above us.

We counted them for what seemed like an eternity, and by the time they finally disappeared from sight, we had counted 409 of them. Not only did these count as year birds for my list, they were also lifers as well!

Further down the trail through the field, we stopped to try and identify some sparrows. This area was apparently known for its wide variety sparrow species, but the little birds proved impossible to ID, even by the experienced birder in our group.

After about an hour (perhaps a little less), we came to an area where there had been reports of an American Kestrel. Just as one of the birders was telling us this, I saw one land on top of a tree, and quickly pointed it out.

Kind of funny, I seem to be the one that has found the American Kestrel on both the CBCs I've attended so far. (Well, at least I'm good for something!)

Not far past the Kestrel, we found feathers from some kind of medium-sized black and white bird. Unfortunately, we weren't able to ID it, so we took some photos to look at them closer later on. I have a couple ideas of what it could be, but nothing I'm willing to bet on yet.

Hiking down another trail, we picked up some Eastern Towhees, a Swamp Sparrow (finally!!)Carolina and House Wrens, tons of Palm and Pine Warblers, Sandhill Cranes, and a few Tufted Titmice among other species.

At one point, we went along a bike path in search of a Brown-headed Nuthatch. I was especially eager to find this bird, as it would be another lifer for me. Just as we were nearing the very edge of our assigned CBC area, one of the birders spotted it. I got a brief, but sufficient look at the Nuthatch before it flew off.

Traveling around to different areas, we also picked up a Blue-headed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Red-shouldered Hawks, a couple Ovenbirds, over 200 Robins, three different species of Woodpecker, and even heard a couple Barred Owls.

After lunch, we drove back to the education center where all the CBC groups were gathering to turn in their midday reports. Most seemed to be leaving by the time we got there, but there was still a significant number of birders milling about. The above picture is of a giant checklist taped to the wall of all the birds that had been seen that morning (I was really bummed out to find I my photo cut off the last panel of the checklist! :-().

The man in charge of this CBC was intent upon checking off every single bird, and was sending out groups to find certain target species. It was then that I realized how competitive this Audubon chapter was, and how they had managed to have allegedly gotten so many local records in the past.

After turning in our reports, we were getting ready to head out again, when a reporter for the local newspaper walked up to me and asked if I was "the college student."

Oh god, I thought, my heart sinking. I hate reporters. I did a lot of journalism in high school so I do have sympathy for them, but I hate being the interviewee.

After having to carefully spell out my name for him, he asked me various questions about how long I had been birding, how I got into it, my favorite birds had I seen today. At this last question, I was not feeling too happy about being interviewed, and I drew a complete blank.

"Nuthatches," I said off the top of my head, feeling myself blush. "Uh, Brown-headed... Nuthatches. And an American Kestrel. I like those."

Real smooth, I thought to myself. Just blurt something out.

The reporter and his photographer decided to follow our group for a little while, so we headed out around the education center. We didn't see much, and after about 15 minutes we came back out to the parking lot, at which point the journalists left claiming they had everything they needed. I guess we'll see -- I might be in the newspaper in a couple weeks! It'll be interesting to see what the article is like when it comes out.

After that little adventure, we birded for another couple hours. We found more Palm and Pine Warblers, like those in the picture above, and I and another birder even heard a Bald Eagle in the distance. One of our last birds we saw as we were heading out was another lifer for me -- a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Our final list count was 45 species, which I would say is a pretty good start for the year!

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year of birding

Happy New Year!

My New Year's day has been alright, though oddly quiet as far as birding goes. There was nothing at my feeders or in the yard all day long -- not even squirrels (until just now, as I'm looking out my window).

Somehow though, I managed to see 5 species today, elsewhere in the neighborhood. I thought this seemed rather meager, but, looking back at my 2008 list, I only saw 6 birds the first day. So I suppose 5 isn't that far off.

My first species of 2009 were the Turkey Vulture, 2 Mallards, a Little Blue Heron, a Red-shouldered Hawk (heard, not seen), and Tufted Titmice.

Tomorrow I have more to look forward to, as I will be attending my second CBC. At the last one, we got 30 species in about 4 hours, so this should give me a good jump start on my year list.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

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