Birder's Eye View

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spotted Sandpiper follow up

"How is it possible for birds to be so infinitely fascinating?"

While studying for my environmental biology exam yesterday, I came across some notes I had forgotten about, pertaining to the Spotted Sandpiper.

In class we had been talking about reproduction -- monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, etc. The first two mating systems are fairly common, but polyandry (female choosing multiple mates) is much rarer.

As an example of polyandry in the wild, the professor talked about the Spotted Sandpiper.

The way it works is the female lays a clutch of eggs with a male, then leaves him and lays another clutch with another male, and so on and so forth. The system is certainly out of the ordinary, but it has advantages to both sexes.

For the males, there is less competition, he has more control over incubation of eggs, and he can be sure that his genes are being passed on in the chicks that hatch.

For the female, she can have lots of young with relatively little effort, and there will be a significant amount of genetic diversity in her chicks (which is always great from a biological standpoint).

So, although the bird itself doesn't look that atypical, its story is nothing short of remarkable if you ask me.

Well, I just had to share that little scientific piece of trivia.

Happy birding!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Life bird and other animals

Today I went to see the manatees that come every year to the warm water discharge canals at a nearby power plant.

I haven't seen a manatee in a long time, so it was a lot of fun. There were at least a hundred of them (probably more, even) swimming around in the canal.

I also saw a life bird! It was really far away and I didn't have my binoculars with me, so I took a bunch of pictures and IDed it when I got back. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like we have a Spotted Sandpiper!

The shorebird isn't in breeding plumage, but it does have a couple spots on the under belly. It also seemed to bob its tail a lot when it walked.
If it's possible to have a "life fish" (as opposed to a "life bird," of course) this sting ray would be one of them! I have never seen such a sea creature before -- the Spotted Eagle Ray's fins spanned at least 4 feet across and its tail was over 5 feet long. It was just swimming in circles in front of the nature boardwalk.

I also saw a couple of bonnet head sharks chasing fish around near the manatees. These, too, were nearly 4 feet long.
Today was a lot of fun. I didn't see many birds besides the lifer, but it's always great to see new animals in general.

Happy birding!

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Kestrel or Sharp-shinned?

A few days ago, I posted my GBBC report and some photos of some of the birds I saw. One of these was the above picture, which I had originally claimed to be an American Kestrel, based on its size, flying pattern, habitat, etc. However, an anonymous person posted that it looked to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk, not a kestrel.

I have never seen a sharp-shinned before, and after doing some research, it does seem possible that this is what I saw.

But what do you think? Here are the two other photos I have of this bird.

Post what you think! Whenever I see a hard-to-identify bird, I have a tendency to ID it as a species I already know; but if this is really a Sharp-shinned, it would be a lifer for me.

Well, until next time,

Happy birding!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Last day of GBBC

This afternoon I took a hike around my birding spot again to find some more birds for the last day of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

It wasn't the best time of day to go, but I did manage to see 19 species and get a few good pictures.
This Anhinga was sitting in almost the exact same place it was yesterday. A beautiful bird, if you ask me, especially with that great plumage!

These Mottled Ducks were having a little disagreement the entire hour I was at the pond.

I thought this picture was pretty cool, even if it is totally out of focus. :-)

Yet another out-of-focus picture, but this one is of a bird I haven't seen at this location before -- an American Kestrel! It didn't hang around too long, and it was flying pretty far away so I wasn't able to get a clear photo.

Just like yesterday, the two flocks of Lesser Scaups floated around in the pond. I've decided that scaups are rather skittish; they swam quickly away even when I wasn't anywhere near them (hence the above picture) and always looked nervously over their shoulders when I was trying to take photos.

They're adorable though, even as paranoid as they are.
So, nothing especially exciting today, but it was nice to get out and go birding again. My year list is up to 67 species, and when the birds migrate back up North in for the spring, I should be able to get a bunch more.
Until next time,
Happy birding.
GBBC Report
Observation Date: FEB 16, 2009
Start Time: 2:15 PM
Total Birding Time: 1 hour
Party Size: 1
Skill: good
Weather: good
-coniferous woods
-salt water
Number of Species: 19
All Reported: yes
Mottled Duck - 7
Blue-winged Teal - 1
Lesser Scaup - 27
Brown Pelican - 6
Double-crested Cormorant - 2
Anhinga - 3
Great Egret - 1
White Ibis - 28
Black Vulture - 8
Turkey Vulture - 8
Osprey - 2
American Kestrel - 1
Common Moorhen - 1
American Coot - 2
Laughing Gull - 18
Ring-billed Gull - 10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
European Starling - 20
Palm Warbler - 15

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oh, right! The GBBC!

College has this fantastic way of blurring the days together such that you lose yourself in the academic world, and neglect to nurture your need for the quiet solitude of nature.

Well, this morning I realized that when I woke up thinking about the Great Backyard Bird Count. It occured to me that I missed its first two days! I threw my birding gear into a bag and took off down the road on my bike to my favorite birding spot on campus.

It was still early enough for many birds to be roosting in the oak grove and around the pond. After tallying up the many vultures blinking sleepily at me from their perches, I turned my attention to the multitude of Lesser Scaups floating around in the water.

There seemed to be two seperate flocks of them, totalling 34 individuals.

There were also quite a few Mottle Ducks swimming around, as well as Coots and Moorhens.

I had never seen the above duck before, so it wasn't until I got back to my dorm and looked it up that I realized I had seen a beautiful male Blue-winged Teal! That's a lifer. Very cool duck, and one I definitely wasn't expecting to see.

It was a delightfully refreshing hike around the pond and through the oak grove, and a good reminder to myself that I need to take a break from college sometimes and make some time for myself.

Well, until next time,

Happy birding.

My GBBC report:

Observation Date: FEB 15, 2009
Start Time: 9:30 AM
Total Birding Time: 1 hour
Party Size: 1
Skill: good
Weather: good
-coniferous woods
-salt water
Number of Species: 25
All Reported: yes
Mottled Duck - 8
Blue-winged Teal - 1
Lesser Scaup - 34
Brown Pelican - 2
Double-crested Cormorant - 30
Anhinga - 5
Great Egret - 2
Snowy Egret - 1
Roseate Spoonbill - 1
Wood Stork - 1
Black Vulture - 20
Turkey Vulture - 12
Osprey - 2
Common Moorhen - 3
American Coot - 3
Laughing Gull - 16
Ring-billed Gull - 1
Rock Pigeon - 3
Monk Parakeet - 2
Blue Jay - 1
Fish Crow - 6
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - 1
Northern Mockingbird - 1
Palm Warbler - 12
Northern Cardinal - 1

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