Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blast from the Past

I apologize that time has gotten away from me. I haven't done any real birding to note in the past couple of weeks, so I farmed the archives. In 2006, there were a few more Rough-legged hawks and Short-eared owls that we see in this part of the state, concentrated in an area about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities. Rough-leggeds really are a great bird to watch hunt - they "hover" much like Northern harriers do. Hatched in the Arctic areas, they will use trees when they find them, but do use air currents to just glide over fields to check for mice, gophers, voles, etc. I think they are one of the prettiest hawks. The ones that we saw were primarily the lighter of the two choices.

This Rough-legged must have seen something through the ice, but was baffled as to how to get to it. Walking on ice is definitely not the first choice of mobility for these hawks. It was fun watching him/her gingerly step and then hop for several minutes.

Finally, I did get a nice flying shot of a male harrier.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day in the Bog

My friend Sharon and I took the day to bird the Bog - Sax Zim Bog. It was a little dark, chilly and snowy, but couldn't complain about the company or the birds!

Gray Jays are seriously one of the coolest birds. They are so inquisitive, and have their own way of moving, their own social structures, and their own little reactions that are so individual. One was barely three feet from my head on a branch and looking down on me, and I didn't know it until Sharon said something.

We did find a couple of Northern Hawk Owls. They have tails and wing tips like a falcon, and a face like a Boreal. The photos are very dark, so they don't convey just how unique they are.

Some very kind landowners put up some bird feeders to attract birds, and are very happy to let us photograph. Here are a couple of American Goldfinches and a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fall in SD part 2

Reier had an observation as we were driving back - "how weird to see Snow Geese, Rough-legged Hawks and a Cattle Egret within an hour of each other?" He was right - the first two are pretty normal for SD this time of year. The Cattle Egret we found was not.

The concentrations of Snow Geese were a little higher than I am used to - more like what I see in the spring. What a sight and sound to see them all lift off out of fields.

Some of the best birding is done in the worst light, so we will just call these shots art-y, okay? The first one is of Sharp-tailed Grouse, who will often roost in trees, or be in there just as dawn breaks. The last shot is of a Rough-legged Hawk taking off after something furry on the ground.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fall in SD

Just got back from a trip to SD to visit my folks. It was unseasonably warm for a November few days. I will post a few of the photos I took.
Here is a male American Kestrel with a bug!

These next couple of shots are actually of two different birds - both Red-tailed Hawks. The first two are of the same bird - he was sitting in a field, and then flew away. See the red tail? Also see the very dark plumage?

This Red-tail is also very dark, but has a striped tail, indicative of a juvenile bird.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Banding November

I did not have high hopes for lots of birds today - I figured most of what we would get (if any at all) would be Juncos, Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees. Well - we did have 25 birds, but only one junco and no Goldfinches. The Chickadees were well represented, and we did get a couple of surprises.
Here is a male and female White-breasted Nuthatch for comparison. The male has the darker "cap", but that is only one mark to look at when you are sexing this bird. AND - if you happen to be in Ohio, for example, there is very little difference in the "caps", and you cannot count on that at all!

Here is a Nuthatch as friend Roger is placing a band on its leg. The pliers he uses has different sizes for the different sized bands.

This bird was a wonderful surprise! It was a female Hairy Woodpecker. She was banded - ready for this? - on almost the same week in November at the same location as we banded today - in 2003! Now, she wasn't the oldest on record - we know of one who lived to at least 15 years, 10 months - but learning this type of information is definitely why we band birds!
Here is her band - it is pretty worn from all those years! The numbers were actually a little difficult to read. It shows, though, that the bird was obviously not troubled by wearing the band.

Something Roger pointed out, which I am embarressed to say is something I had not realized before today, is how a Hairy Woodpecker does not have any barring on the white outer tail feathers. A Downy does - here are two photos for comparison. I have always focused on Hairys being about a third bigger than Downys, have much longer bills in comparison to their heads, and the two have different vocalizations.

Here is a shot of her wing - it was a very clean molt, with no retaining of brown in her feathers. (This often means signs of wear, or bleaching from sun, because birds often take two years or more to go through an entire moult.) Off she goes for hopefully more productive years!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Learning to Sing

One of the things that gets me through the upcoming winter season is thinking about the welcoming songs of birds heralding the coming springtime. It's tough work learning that, though - and learning which song is yours to sing. Check out this interesting article on song sparrows, and a new study on how they learn to do their thing,
And just when you are so bummed that all the species in the world are in trouble, scientists find that there are actually lots more out there than we ever knew about. A recent 24-hour bioblitz (which is basically a snapshot in time survey to find out what plants, animals, fungi, birds, etc are in a given location) in Yellowstone found 46 kinds of bees, 373 plants, 86 mushroom types and over 300 insects. Some of these were undocumented before.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back to the Real World

With the exception of a few songbird banding dates, most of the fall banding season is over for me. It does bring with it a sense of sadness, but also dreams of all the birds to band next year.

Here are a couple of recent stories that I found interesting. How about this one, where there is evidence of a few species of birds who breed in North America who have a second clutch just as they are getting ready to make the trip south. (Orchard Orioles, pictured here, are one species noted.)
Or this one, quoted in the BBC, where different species share a nest box.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good news, bad news

Well, as the title of this post reads - good news is that I got to see my beloved Black and Gold play today at Heinz Field and win a nail-biter against a very good Vikings team. The bad news - I was not up at the blind during that time. I had planned to be, but the weather was not very cooperative.

We did not get skunked - we did get one bird. A male hatch year Northern Goshawk. And what an approach he made - all stealth as he popped up over the top of some hedges in front of us on his way in. This is really a great bird - They are huge and sexy and all feet and voice and long tail.

Saturday was a pretty day, and we did see a ton of birds - probably more Bald Eagles, Rough-Legged Hawks and Red-tails than I remember in recent trips up. Hawk Ridge was seeing about the same thing - 174 eagles, 48 Rough-legs and 440 Red-tails. The bad weather fronts on either side of the day might have been an impetus for them to just get up and get out of town, though - they just thermalized and went on their way, not giving us a look at all for the most part.

The migration of other birds was pretty apparent, too. We had plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos to keep us company while the hawks literally gave us the bird from above.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Golden eagle on the move

Last fall, there was a golden eagle that had gotten caught in a leg hold trap in Buffalo County, WI. He was rehabilitated at The Raptor Center, fitted with a transmitter, and set back to the wild in March 2009. He went up to the arctic circle in the Kitikmeot region of Nuvaat, Canada around 66.9N and 95.8W. You can follow the maps and path he took up to his spring/summer grounds. He is now on the move south! Here is a map of some data points his transmitter is sending back over October. You can follow the story at Audubon, MN's site.

I actually headed to the area in WI where this, and other golden eagles, have been wintering last fall in the hopes of being able to get a transmitter on an eagle before it was determined that this bird would be a good candidate. It was quite an eye-opener for me - being from SD, our goldens are very used to open areas, where the only place to perch is a lone cottonwood or a barn roof or a telephone pole. The birds wintering in this region of WI roost in tree-covered valleys, and never perch on telephone poles. It was hypothesized that these birds were coming from this region in Canada, and not just coming from the west. With the differences in their hunting, perching and other choices, I learned a lot about how species adapt to the environment they know, and continue to make the same choices in similar areas. The first photo in this set of three has a golden perched in the typical woody area - what a shock for me! The other two photos show the woody sides of the valley where a couple of the birds perched, and then hunted wild turkeys and fox squirrels during the day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

. . . and more migrant surprises!

Windy day today, but the migrants were still around. Got 20 birds today, including 2 recaptures (Black-capped Chickadees). Over the weekend here in town, 69 birds banded and 14 species - Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Field Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, White-throated Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, and two Hatch Year Female Tennessee Warblers!
The first two are of the Fox Sparrow - there are 18 sub-species divided into 3 or 4 distinct groups, depending on which book you read. From the Birds of North America, "Fox Sparrow populations vary in migratory distance and route; individuals nesting in the Sierra Nevada of California migrate only short distances, mostly altitudinally, while those from Alaska migrate long distances, with some traveling over open ocean. Populations also vary in their song types; while northern and eastern Fox Sparrow populations sing 1 or 2 song types each, western populations sing 3 or 4; commonly heard calls (contact notes) also vary geographically, differences largely correlating with the major groups." In other words, they are pretty cool.

This is one of the female Tennessee Warblers.

This is a Hatch Year male American Robin - check out the brownish feathers still on his crown!

And finally - here is why we call the Yellow-rumped Warblers "butter-butts."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wave of Migrants

Took a quick break from raptor banding to see what kinds of fall passerine migrants might be moving through. What a day - 49 birds and 10 species! Kept us hopping to make sure we checked nets, banded birds, and interpreted to the public.

Do you think this Eastern Phoebe is a Klingon fan?

This White-throated Sparrow is always a favorite of mine. They are only in town on their way through north and then heading south again.

We had a couple of interesting Juncos today. We will in most cases call the Juncos that come through Slate-colored Juncos. However, we might get a couple of interesting sub species. If you look closely at the first two photos (same bird), you can see some white edging on the coverts. There are also some white feathers around the eye. These two attribures seem to indicate at least a cross-back somewhere in the bird's geneology of White-winged Junco. From the Birds of North America, "Until the 1970s, the currently recognized Dark-eyed Junco was split into 5 distinct species, 3 of them comprising 2 or more subspecies. The American Ornithologists’ Union (1973, 1982) lumped these 5 species but acknowledged the distinctiveness of the former species by designating them and their subspecies as informal “groups” of Junco hyemalis . Each group bears the scientific and vernacular name that it previously bore as a species: hyemalis (Slate-colored Junco); aikeni (White-winged Junco); oreganus (Oregon Junco); caniceps (Gray-headed Junco); and insularis (Guadalupe Junco)."

This other Junco does not have white feathers around the eye, but it does have some white edging, so there is again a possibility of White-wing somewhere in the background.

Can't beat this power of cute, huh? Ruby-crowned Kinglets abounded today. It is sometimes hard to see how they got their name. The males have this surprising little tuft of bright feathers that you only see if they choose to raise the feathers over them.

We were pretty excited about a Golden-crowned Kinglet that we got today. They are quite small - here is a photo of Ben the bander taking a tail measurement while holding the bird carefully in his hand.

What a handsome bird!

It was pretty neat to get this comparison shot - two female Kinglets of two species - Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned!