Birder's Eye View

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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3 Comments:

  • White rump patch is pretty indicative of N Harrier. Nice bird! Congrats. Go back to the marsh again sometime this week. There's a good chance the bird is on wintering territory and will hang around. There's a reason they're called "Marsh" Hawks.

    Oooh, Andrea, don't pass those off as Sanderlings.
    Take a closer look. Your "Sanderlings" primaries extend beyond the tail. Does that front bird have an orangish patch at the base of the lower mandible?
    Methinks you may have another lifer. If you have any other photos of these birds, I'd like to see them. :D
    In fact, I can't tell too well from the photo but you may have 2 separate species there. Both lifers for you if my guess is right.

    By Blogger Parus, At January 8, 2009 at 11:24 PM  

  • When I saw the photo of the shorebirds I thought the same thing as Chris. The birds are too brown for Sanderlings, in fact they look more like the classic "peeps" (such as semipalmated, least, white-rumped, western sandpipers). I will try to get them identified but my shorebird identification skills are currently a bit slow due to the fact that I haven't needed to use them for a few months.

    By Blogger Tucker L, At January 9, 2009 at 10:19 AM  

  • Thanks for the corrections! I'm working on trying to get them IDed. The details you both pointed out were definitely overlooked (And obviously I need to study shorebirds a LOT more!)

    I'll post an update once I figure out what they are. ;) Thanks again!

    By Blogger A. ☮, At January 9, 2009 at 11:44 AM  

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