Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last post of the year and 2008 Recap



Wow! What a year!  2008 was easily the best birding year I've ever had.   I visited more places and found more birds than I had ever done in a single year before.  
I also added nearly 150 species to my life list this year. That's the single largest gain in lifers at one time that I've ever had. 
2009 is fast approaching (in exactly 6 hours and 12 minutes actually) and all my lists for '08 will reset to zero.  Such is the beauty of keeping a year list. On Jan 1 of every year, every bird you see is new! 

The following is a quick summary of everything I did in 2008, including all the places I visited, the great birds I saw and the highlights of the year: 

Jan 1: 
This was the first day of my mini Big Year. I had carefully planned in advance where to start out the new year. I spent the first few hours of daylight in my yard picking up all the common winter birds. A plus for the day was seeing 6 species of Woodpeckers from the kitchen window before going outside. Right after lunch, I hopped it over to Sauk city where I picked up a multitude of ducks and my only Lesser Black-backed Gull for the year. 

Jan 3rd: 
I picked up my only N Goshawk of the year!! Surprisingly near to home too. I was on my way to the school for Bball practice when I spotted the bird. wow! 

By Jan 10, I had added Barred Owl and Red-breasted Nuthatch to my year list bringing it up to 33 species. 

Jan 13: 
Sauk City again. This time Wood Duck and N Shrike were the highlight year birds. 
The winter of '07-'08 must go down as the year of the Shrike. I saw more N Shrikes last winter than I had ever seen before. 

Fast forward to Feb 8th: 
I picked up another year bird! #41: The good old beloved Am Robin! 
Interesting that it took so long to find. 

Skip ahead to Feb 10th:
It was arguably the coldest day of the year.  The high temp minus the wind chill was 8 below zero.  Wind chill was closer to 20-25 below zero. It was COLD!  It was also the day that Dan Jackson and I went along on the National Eagle Center's Golden Eagle field trip. The trip was led by director Scott Mehus. He had mapped out the wintering grounds of several pairs of Golden Eagles. In winter, the separate pairs of Eagles tend to stick to one particular valley per pair.  With Scott leading the way, I saw more Golden Eagles on that day than I have ever seen in any one day.  I also added Trumpeter Swan to my year list on the way home. 


Skip to Feb 27th:
It had come to my attention that an Ivory Gull had been hanging out at Oahe lake in Pierre SD. I really wanted the bird on my year list. It's not every day that an Ivory Gull shows up in the USA.  On the 27th, I received an email from Nick Block in Chicago, saying that he was going after it and wanting to know if I wanted to come. Well did I!  He and Michael Retter arrived in Madison around midnight, picked me up and off we went! It took us half the day Wed to get there. We spent Wed and all day Thurs looking for the bird with no luck.  It wasn't a total loss though as I added some year birds and a few lifers on the trip! Nick picked out my lifer (and my first one of the year) Glaucous Gull and Snow Owl!! I also added Greater Prairie Chicken, Ross's Goose and Sharp-tailed Grouse to my life list!  I came back with a life list that was 396 species long and 61 year birds. 

Fast forward to the weekend before Mar 17: 
I added quite a few year birds in a short period of time.  The highlight was attending the WBCI conference field trip where I finally put Snow Owl on my WI state list. 

Mar 18th: 
I caught the evening plane out of Milwaukee to Houston TX. 

Boyscout woods from the top of the Tropical Birding tower.
Wed, Mar 19: 
After catching a VERY late plane out of Milwaukee, I arrived in Houston at 2:00am. 
I didn't arrive in High Island until late afternoon. 
Despite the late arrival, I did manage to add 3 lifers that day. Including my 400th lifer! Buff-bellied Hummingbird!!

Bolivar Flats. 

Mar 19-25: 
I spent the week in High Island TX.  
Some of the best birds of the trip included Scissor-tailed flycatcher, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Barn Owl, Long-billed Curlew and Inca Dove. 
The photo above was taken at Bolivar Flats. All the birds in the water are Am Avocets. 



The salt-marsh at High Island.
 This was the exact moment when the Painted Bunting showed up back at Boyscout Woods.

Skip to April 5th: 
I went Owling at the Kickapoo Reserve and turned up my lifer N Saw-whet Owl!  Curiously enough, it was one of only 2 Owls we found that night. Not just 2 species, but 2 individuals! 

April 28th:
Baxter's Hollow, Bakken's pond and Spring Green Preserve.
I added Lark and Grasshopper Sparrows, Dickcissel and W Meadowlark to my year list.

Also  saw this male Yellow-rumped Warbler

Skip to May 13th: 
I had added a bunch of year birds including most of the warblers and a bunch of passerines.
I also could not find the Painted Bunting that had been reported in southern Richland County the day before. That was to be the second of four separate times that I missed the bird by hours this year. 

May 20th: 
At the annual WSO convention in Mequon WI,  I added a few more lifers!  Hudsonian Godwit and Ruff!  New state birds included N Mockingbird, Blue Grosbeak and Purple Martin. 

May 26th-29th:
I added both cuckoos to my year list in one day.  Got photos of Yellow-billed on the 26th and Black-billed on the 29th.

Jun 14th:
Chuck-wills-widow, Whip-poor-will and Le Conte's Sparrow brought my year list to 300 species.



Skip to Jun 29th:
This Harlequin Duck at Moraine Lake in Banff NP was one of the best birds of the entire year. I had always wanted to see a Harlequin Duck and I finally got to see one! Not only that, but I got better photo ops on this bird than anyone normally gets. 
By this time, I had been to the ABA's YBC in Minot ND. I added 6 lifers there. The second fewest of anyone. But I did add a bunch of year birds. 
My parents picked me up in Minot and we kept heading west. We spent two weeks in Banff and Jasper National Parks. The scenery out there is absolutely stunning! 

It was tricky to get this photo.
Especially since.......  

It looked like this most of the time.


Fast forward to July 21st:
I had spent 10 days at VENT's Camp Chiricahua. THAT was one of the most fun things I've ever done!  I have to admit that YBC was THE most fun, but Camp C was amazing! I added over 60 lifers and many year birds. Yellow-eyed Junco in the Chiricahuas was year bird #400. 
Flame-colored Tanager at Madera Canyon was my 500th lifer!!!!!!!! Easily the best bird of the entire year!!! 

Jump to July 24th:
I had just gotten home from visiting my friends Neil and John in California.
I added 21 lifers and a bunch of year birds. One of the best parts was getting some fabulous shots of Black Turnstones.

July 26th:
I found out that a Loggerhead Shrike had been found in my home county while I was gone (figures doesn't it that someone else poaches on your home turf and finds all the good stuff? lol jk, thanks Daryl!) 
Anyway, I had to tick it. Since it was only 20 mins away, it was an easy bird. 
I found the location with little difficulty (especially since I know that area backwards) and spotted the Shrike within seconds. It was sitting on the power line above a brushy area. Perfect Loggerhead Shrike habitat. Also my 200th county bird. While watching the Shrike, I spotted a SECOND BIRD!! It turned out later that it was a nesting pair!  What an awesome find for Richland County!


Loggerhead Shrike

July 27th:
I caught the train out of Chicago and headed east to music camp in upstate NY. I spent a month out there playing music. The best bird of the entire month? a Broad-winged Hawk.

Fast forward yet again.

Sept 20: 
WSO WI point weekend! 
AKA: Jaegerfest 2008
The point this year was slow. The Wed before had a bunch of good birds including Red-throated Loon, Little Gull, Sabine's Gull, and several other birds. 
By Fri, everything had slowed down quite a bit. Fri thru Sun was very slow. Sun it started to pick up a bit more but we had to leave by noon.  I ended up added Red-throated Loon and Sabine's Gull to my life list!! and I added Red-necked Phalarope to my state list! 

Also in Sept, I finally added a new Shorebird to my life list. One I had been wanting for some time. Buff-breasted Sandpiper!  The shorebird habitat in Spring Green was the best in the state.
There was one week where I had seen more Buff-breasted Sandpipers than anyone else had seen during the entire season throughout the state combined!  My BBSA count went from 0 to 15 in one hour.

Jump to Oct 19th:
I went with Jesse Peterson and Mike McDowell to the WSO's Harrington beach field trip. 
No new birds during this trip but it was fun and it was good to see some old friends and go birding at the lake. 

Fast forward again to Nov 10th. 
I had gone up to the Linwood Springs Research station to learn how they did N Saw-whet Owl banding. It was really cool to see how they drew them in, extracted them from the mist nets and banded and released them.  I got to hold one of the little owls, then adopt and release one! That was the best part of the trip. The little guys get so comfortable and warm in your hands that they sometimes don't want to leave. One lady who adopted an owl had the owl sitting on her open hand for 5 minutes. The little guy didn't want to fly off. They're soooo cute! 

Jump to Nov 22nd:
Since I had to be in Madison anyway, I decided to "twitch" the Rufous Hummingbird that was hanging out at a birder's feeders there. 
I wasn't there 5 mins before the bird showed up and took quite a bit of time observing the bird and managed to get some nice photos. The bird is unquestionably a Rufous Hummer. 
My photo of this bird now graces the WSO website

More of my photos can be found on the WSO Website here

Nov 29th:
I had Pine Siskins at my feeders once again for only the second time. I need to keep those thistle feeders full. 

Dec 7th:
I headed over to Devil's Lake State park for a very special bird. 
Townsend's Solitaires have wintered at DL for many years.  I never saw one while I was there, but I heard them! That's good enough for me to finally add to my WI state list. 

I didn't add any new year birds beyond Oct 19th. 

My last bird of 2008, was the N Cardinal that is pictured at the top of this post. 


Here's my 2008 listing totals as of 11:50, Dec 31st 2008:
2008 year list: 461 (my best year total ever)

WI state year list: 252 

WI year list within a 1 hour Driving radius: 222

2008 Big Green Big year list (non-motorized, human powered only): 140 (Which is pretty good considering I spent most of the summer away.) 

Life list: 526

WI State list: 277

Richland County list: 207

Yard list: 159

NOTE:
As of tomorrow, I will be erasing my 2008 lists from the side board of my blog. I will be replacing them with the lists I will be keeping for 2009. 
 
I will also be erasing the "Trips already taken" section unless my readers wish me to keep it. 



We wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So that's the summary of my mini Big Year in 2008.  I spent 5 months birding around WI, then spent 3 months birding around the Western USA then another 4 months birding around WI. 
The states and provinces I visited this year were (in chronological order besides WI): SD, TX, ND, SASK, ALB, BC, MT, AZ, CA, IL, IA, MN, NY, WI. 

Looking back over 2008 and everything I did, I cannot believe how everything just fell into place. Trips I had not expected to take, birds I never expected to see and great people who I never dreamed of meeting!  

Hopefully 2009 will bring some more great birding and welcome surprises. 

I don't know if I told my readers just yet exactly what I will be doing in Summer 2009! 
Dave Jasper (The leader of Camp C and the local bird guide in Portal AZ) has asked me to tend to his house and feeders while he's away for the summer. I essentially get to stand in for him in his business of bird tour guiding!! I'll live in his house (which is almost self sufficient) and my only expenses will be food, gas and the business phone.  It's going to be one awesome summer!!!!  By the time Sept 2009 rolls around, I'll have seen every regular AZ bird and migrant there is to be seen, and hopefully, some vagrants and rarities like Crescent-chested Warbler! 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!


Monday, December 29, 2008

Kickapoo CBC today



I finally got to do a Christmas bird count this year!!  After many scheduling conflicts, cancellations and postponements, today I finally ran my only CBC for the year. 

The Kickapoo valley CBC is centered just north of the town of Ontario in Vernon County WI. 
My section was the far Southeast part between Hwy 33, County P and County V, including Wildcat Mountain SP. 

I started off at 8:30am (a bit later than I wanted to). The sky was clear, the winds (at least at first) were calm and there was roughly 12" of snow on the ground. As the day wore on, the wind picked up to about 15-25Mph during the day. 

A nice Belted Kingfisher at 8:35am brought my second species for the count and an excellent start to a beautiful day. 
Dark-eyed Juncos were out and about in the hundreds (I mean this literally). I wasn't sure if I was going to get Mourning Dove until, around midday, I spotted 9 of them, all tucked away on a log trying to hide from me. Ha! I showed them that they can't! 
Wild Turkeys seem to have been on the decline in recent years. I found only 7 in one flock. 
House Sparrow was the second most numerous bird. Don't try and tell me that they're declining! lol After them was Am Crow. 
Only 2 Tufted Titmice showed up. Both at the same feeder (I think some of mine need to head north a little farther). 
A pleasant surprise was the finding of only 16 Starlings! I remember some years where we would count 160 in one flock. 
Another surprise was a quick glimpse of a rather far away N Shrike. Only to be outdone an hour later with spectacular views of another individual. 
A surprising miss was Am Robin, along with all the other members of the thrush family. 
The only finches around were Goldfinches. House and Purple finches were nowhere to be seen. 
There had been Crossbills reported in that area before. I still haven't figured out where. I certainly didn't see any. There goes my last hope of putting 2 more species on my year list this year. 
Another interesting miss were Song and Swamp Sparrows. Although, the snow was pretty deep so I'm not entirely surprised. 


This Am Tree Sparrow posed rather nicely.
I could not get the thing in focus though. Darn bird.


Then we saw this beautiful Am Kestrel!



This Horned Lark was very cooperative.



The bird of the day! 
Lanius Excubitor


Northern Shrike!!



Below is a paste of my ebird report for the day, including all the times, distances and all the birds we saw:

Location: Kickapoo valley CBC: SE Section
Observation date: 12/29/08
Notes: All seen within the Southeast section of the Kickapoo CBC (HIghway 33 on the south, County P on the north, County V on the east).

Start time: 0830 (a bit late)
Starting Temp: 27
Sky: Clear
Wind: Calm
Snow 12"
Mileage: set to 0.

End Time: 1500
End Temp: 35
Sky: Mostly Sunny
Wind: W @ 10-20MPH
Snow: 12"
Mileage: 100

Total Miles driven: 100
Total miles walked: 0
Total Miles: 100

Total hours in the field: 6.5


Number of species: 26

Ring-necked Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus 2
Wild Turkey - Meleagris gallopavo 7
Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus 3
Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis 8
Rough-legged Hawk - Buteo lagopus 1
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius 2
Rock Pigeon - Columba livia 125
Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura 11
Belted Kingfisher - Megaceryle alcyon 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker - Melanerpes carolinus 4
Downy Woodpecker - Picoides pubescens 11
Hairy Woodpecker - Picoides villosus 3
Northern Flicker - Colaptes auratus 1
Northern Shrike - Lanius excubitor 2
Blue Jay - Cyanocitta cristata 24
American Crow - Corvus brachyrhynchos 96
Horned Lark - Eremophila alpestris 7
Black-capped Chickadee - Poecile atricapillus 55
Tufted Titmouse - Baeolophus bicolor 2
White-breasted Nuthatch - Sitta carolinensis 8
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris 16
American Tree Sparrow - Spizella arborea 16
Dark-eyed Junco - Junco hyemalis 296
Northern Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis 8
American Goldfinch - Carduelis tristis 30
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus 129

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A couple interesting articles

Yesterday, I had a couple articles happen my way. 

This one I don't think I've ever heard of happening before. 

This one was a rather interesting mystery. Way to solve it and the problem! 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New birding gadgets

So what happens when a birder gets a new gadget?  A new blog post! That's what! lol 

I received a green laser pointer for Christmas. For those that don't know, it's a great tool for pointing out birds. I can pretty much dispense with the "clock system" now on all but the brightest days.  For really bright days, I can use a mirror so point out birds.  But, if all else fails, I do have the good old "Clock system." lol 

Anyway, today, I hauled out my camera (and yes it still works even after the icing down) and set the shutter speed to 30" and, for some shots, Bulb and tried to get some cool laser pointer shots. 





Ha, my brother suggested drawing a car. 
I think it came out pretty well.



I tried letters, but that didn't work so well.




It's laser beams everywhere! 

I think it's a pretty cool tool. At night, there's enough dust in the air that you can see the beam forever.  I have yet to test it for range but I think I can put a spot on a mountain about 5 mi away. It's also useful for pointing out constellations and features on the moon.  

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Weekend photos

Some kind of rotunda thing with christmas roping and light on it


The Sears Tower




Chicago at night. Just outside Rhodity's.



A Snow median! And no, there isn't a median there, it's a pile of snow.


Here's what 12 inches of snow on the road looks like before it's plowed. 

Weekend report

Wow, long weekend. Still haven't done any birding at all though.  It's been nearly a week (longer I think) since I've officially gone out birding.  Most of my birding has been from the car.  lol I should really tally my SFC (Seen from Car) list. I'll bet it's pretty long. Maybe I should tally my LSFC (Lifers seen from car) list too. That one has a few birds on it. 

Anyway, this past weekend, I went to the family Christmas party at Grandma's house in Northwest Indiana.  I have four Aunts and Uncles so consequently, a lot of 1st cousins. I really don't know how Grandma can keep track of all 10 of us. lol  Interestingly enough, except for a few gaps, we were all born within a year of one another. I'm the oldest. Also interestingly enough, the first four were boys, the next four were girls and then one boy and the another girl. weird. :D 
Since I'm the only one who lives in WI, I don't get to see the rest of my family very often.  It's actually been a couple years since I've seen some of my mom's cousins. 
So after spending altogether too short a period of time with them on Sat, on Sun we drove over to my brother's house to visit him, my sister-in-law and my niece and nephew. 

lol, don't ask me who's who any farther than that. I hate trying to figure out how people are related. I have some cousins on my dad's side who live out in Idaho (and who I barely know) and all I know is that they're my cousins. They're not 1st cousins but that's all the more I know.... or can figure out! lol  

Ok, back to the main subject.......
On Sun, the mercury hovered around zero and the wind howled up around 25-35 Mph with gusts up to 45 mph.  Needless to say, the windchill was down around 30 below zero during the day and down to nearly 45 below zero on Sun night. 

So here's how the mistake of the week took place: 
We had parked in the garage to unload our gear and presents
I had thought that the car was going to remain in the garage so I left my camera (yes, my very expensive DSLR and both lenses) in the car. 
The car, was later moved outside and left there all night 
Nobody told me........ 
(remember that -45 windchill)
This morning, I found my camera (along with everything else in the car) lavishly lacquered with a thin coating of ice. 
Needless to say, I was not happy.  
Even the inner prisms of my short lens were frosted over. 
Even my box of pencils was frosted over.
Every bottle or container the had any water in it, was frozen solid.
I think that even the bottle of hand sanitizer (which btw contains alcohol) was frozen.  
My binocs were also coated with ice
So was just about everything else in the car. 
Even after we had the car heated back up, the ice still formed..... on the INSIDE of the windows......

Whatever. The good news though, is that my camera still works..... I think........ 


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Weekend visiting.

Well, I really didn't get to do much birding this week. In fact, I didn't do any birding at all except from the kitchen window.  Not because I'm sick, not at all.  I'm just fine in fact so no worries there.  It was mostly because of the weather.  Early this week we got hit with several inches of snow, and then the temps dropped.  
Then, on Thurs night, another snowstorm hit. This time, between about 4am and 11am on Fri, we received 12" of snow.  I would guess that a few daily records were broken then.  Our driveway now looks like a bobsled run since we had to shovel the whole thing all the way down.
Anyway, it was about 1pm on Fri before we managed to escape south. ;)  
I wish I had a photo of the device that the township guy uses to plow our road.  In light snow he uses the regular truck to plow the roads. When we get heavy snows like this last one, he takes a Grader (yes the same one they use to level out gravel roads), extends the blade, and puts a huge steel plow on the front. It's a pretty awesome way to plow snow; and you can go through 10 foot drifts without getting stuck!  I'll try and get a photo next time. It's not easy since I never know when he's going to come by. 

Ok, back to my original subject.  
I'm going to the family Christmas party at Grandma's house today and then will be visiting other family tomorrow. I'll be headed back to the land of heavy snow on Mon. 
I probably won't be doing much in the way of birding until after Christmas. When we get home, we still have some stuff to do (including putting up our tree! :D). 
I have a CBC route to run on the 26th over at the Kickapoo Reserve.  Hopefully I'll find some Crossbills! 

Happy Birding! 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Catching up (again)


Ok, I'm sorry. My internet has been rather shot this week and it's being super slow. This is the first time I actually got this page to load!  
Although, there hasn't been much to blog about anyway.  Last Mon-Tues, we had a huge snowstorm blow through. We received 8" of snow!  Wed, Thurs, Fri I didn't do very much at all. Sat, I went Christmas shopping with my family (aka, they shopped and I took off and wandered around to the more interesting stores), Sun was my bro's birthday and Grandma was over to visit (not sure why since we'll be seeing her next week) and today, well, that's why I'm posting now. 

Yesterday, the ambient outdoor temp was up around 40 degrees. That's pretty warm this time of year.  About half of our then 12" of snow (we had 8" on top of 4") turned to water so we now have about 6" left.  Today, I got up and the temp was 5 degrees BELOW zero. Right now, the temp is 4 degrees ABOVE zero and the forecast is that it's not going to get a whole lot warmer just yet.

Hopefully I'll get to do a little bit of birding this week.  I'm headed to Chicago on Fri and will probably be there til Sun (Grandma's Christmas party is on Sat). 
Otherwise, not much going on here.

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Devil's Lake State park

Balanced Rock, Devil's Lake SP

Wow. I actually missed a day! Ok, need to work on that.  Didn't do too much anyway. Went on an un-successful search for a Thayer's or Iceland Gull.  I met Steve Thiessen at Olin park in Madison and we systematically searched out every group of gulls in the area and subsequently failed to find anything other than Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. 


Now, on to today.  I arrived at Devil's Lake State park at about 8:30am (slightly later than I wanted to). Devil's Lake is a great place in the spring and summer. Residents include Winter Wren, Black&White Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and several other species. In spring and fall, one can usually find numerous waterfowl and Common Loons on the lake.  
The question for winter though is what is there to see?  All the migrants are gone, the summer residents have left and the lake is frozen.  So why Devil's Lake in winter? 
The answer lies in a certain bird that normally lives North of Lake Superior and west of the Great Plains. 

Townsend's Solitaire. 
Myadestes townsendii

A bird of the family Turdidae (Thrushes) Solitaires have a breeding range that stretches along the Rocky Mountains from Alaska to Mexico.  Most Solitaires winter only just downslope from their breeding territory but a few winter east of the Mississippi each year.  A small population of wintering Solitaires have been seen at Devil's Lake SP for many years now (I don't know the exact number).  
They are called Solitaires because of their secretive behavior (and therefore presumably solitary; although not really). The scientific name Myadestes townsendii means "Townsend's Fly-eater" (from the Greek "Mua" meaning fly and "Edestes" meaning "eater". Similarly, Myiarchus means "Fly Ruler.") 

This morning, I spent about 3 hours searching for this bird. In past years, my searches have been fruitless.  This time, I carefully picked a day that was forecast to have very light winds. The key to finding Solitaires at Devil's Lake is to go on a calm day. 
When I arrived, I was pleased and surprised to find it almost dead calm.  After walking the base of the cliff without luck, I resigned myself to climbing the cliff (roughly 500ft straight up icy rocks covered in 4" of snow). About a third of the way up, I heard two Solitaires calling further up the hill.  Unfortunately, the trail took me in the opposite direction and by the time I got to the are where I had heard them, they were nowhere to be found. 
So I can finally count my WI nemesis bird on my state list, albeit heard only.  I'll see them one of these days. 

Until then, 

Happy Birding! 

P.S. The above photo of the Townsend's Solitaire was taken in Banff National park this past summer.  Since I did not see today's birds, I (obviously) cannot provide a photo. Next time perhaps. 

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

On the trail of the elusive White-winged Crossbill


This morning, I headed out in search of White-winged Crossbills. 
I figured it would be easy. 
I was wrong. 

Finding Crossbills in their winter range is as easy as trying to find a needle in a haystack. They are nomadic and never stay in one place for very long.  They normally don't come any farther south than Ashland but this year, the seed cone crops in Canada failed. Particularly those of the Spruce family. 
Crossbills are pine cone specialists.  White-winged Crossbills are Spruce cone specialists. 
The result of these two factors added together, is widely wandering White-winged Crossbills. 
So far this year, they have been seen as far south as Chicago, New York and southern Oregon. 

Back to this morning. 
I headed north, thinking that the Kickapoo Reserve would have the highest concentrations of Spruce.  It does. It just didn't have any concentrations of Crossbills. In fact, it didn't have any Crossbills at all.  I'll find them someday...... 

On the way up, there were many flocks of Snow Buntings alongside the road. I also spotted 12 Horned Larks mixed in with them.  Since my mission was finding Crossbills, I didn't stop to check for Longspurs. 
After searching every spruce stand between here and the interstate, I gave up and headed home.  My list for the day might have been short on Crossbills but I sure wasn't short on raptors. I saw at least 15 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 American Kestrels and 1 adult Bald Eagle. 
Otherwise all I saw the entire morning were the usual winter residents. 

Watch out Crossbills! I'll find you eventually! 

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Photo Quiz


This was taken on Sept 17. 
Good luck! 


If you prefer gulls here's one:  http://www.pbase.com/image/106641022
One of these gulls is a Thayer's. Which one?  

Monday, December 1, 2008

FOS (First of the Season) Rough-legged Hawk


Today, I went out looking for Snowbuntings, Lapland Longspurs, Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks and other winter residents. 

As I drove along the ridge, I spotted this Rough-legged Hawk as it winged it's way westward:


Unfortunately, it was to be the only one I saw and the only winter resident I was out looking for that I found. 

I did come across many Juncos, a few Cardinals, a flock of Am Tree Sparrows and this Mourning Dove:

He's pretty cool eh? 



I captured this photo as the sun was setting. 
I think it's pretty cool with the light rays pouring out of the clouds.

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Latin quiz answers

Below are the answers to last week's Latin trivia quiz. Hope those that didn't comment guessed as well.
I have color coded the answers: 
#10 and letter "I" do not match. 

Quiz 1.
Below are 10 names. Each in Latin and in English. Match the Latin name to the common name.
Here's the catch, 2 of the names don't have a match. Have Fun!

1. Charadrius alexandrinus (C)        A. White-rumped Sandpiper

2. Larus dominicanus (F)                B. Yellow-rumped Warbler

3. Columbina passerina (E)            C. Snowy Plover

4. Calidris fuscicollis (A)                  D. Boreal Owl

5. Dendroica coronata (B)              E. Common Ground-Dove

6. Aegolius funereus (D)                 F. Kelp Gull

7. Myiarchus crinitus (H)                G. Marsh Wren

8. Cistothorus palustris  (G)          H. Great-crested Flycatcher

9. Peucedramus taeniatus (J)        I. Botteri's Sparrow

10. Nyctidromus albicollis        J. Olive Warbler



For quiz 2, I have put the letter next to the number:

Quiz 2.
Here are ten Common names. Below them is the literal English translation of their Latin name. Match the translation to the common name.

Common names:
1. Gyrfalcon (H)

2. Common Redpoll (J)

3. Red-throated Loon (A)

4. Northern Gannet (B)

5. White-necked Petrel (G)

6. Violet-green Swallow (C)

7. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (F)

8. Tennesee Warbler (E)

9. Harris's Sparrow (D)

10. Bobolink (I)

Literal Latin name translations:
A. "The seabird who is covered with stars"

B. "The stupid one of Bass Rock"

C. "The swift mover who resembles the sea in color"

D. "The banded thrush who is always full of complaints"

E. "The foreign worm-eater"

F. "The absolute ruler who possesses scissors"

G. "The White-collared Wing runner"

H. "The Rustic falcon of the farm"

I. "The Long-clawed Rice eater"

J. "The Goldfinch of Flame"


Thanks to everyone who posted an answer.  I'll post a new latin quiz sometime in the next few weeks.  I might also post a bird trivia quiz. 

Happy Birding! 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Siskin photos

Here's some photos of yesterday's Pine Siskins: 








I also came across this article. It was posted on Mike McDowell's bird digiscoping blog. 
Very interesting. I kind of wonder how many species I lose in the background noise. 

Happy Birding! 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pine Siskins

I had four Pine Siskins at me feeder this morning!  That's the first time this season that I've had them at my feeder. Hopefully they'll stay and maybe they're bring more friends, and their cousins! The Redpolls! 

I'll post pics tomorrow sometime. 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poll

Just a quick question for all my readers out there: 

Of all the gulls in North America, which species do you think is THE #1 most difficult to accurately ID? 

Post your answer in the comments section. 

It's Turkey Day!


Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Herring Gull vs Iceland Gull vs Thayer's Gull.

Adult breeding plumage Herring Gull



3rd cycle Herring Gull



3rd cycle Ring-billed Gull



Adult breeding plumage Ring-billed Gull



Herring or Thayer's? 

Gulls. Herring and Ring-billed are pretty simple.  They're your everyday "seagull". 
But what about the other gulls? Well, Great Black-backed is fairly easy. It's much bigger than anything else.  Adult Lesser Black-backed is also fairly simple. It's darker backed than the surrounding Herring Gulls and is bigger than the Ring-bills.  What if you added Slaty-backed or Kelp Gull? again, they are much much darker mantled than most of the other gulls you'll see around here. Slaty-backed is dark dark black and Kelp is even darker. 
Then what happens if you added Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Iceland you say. Same thing except backwards.  GLGU, GWGU and ICGU are all much lighter in color than Ring-billed or Herring. Neither do they have black primaries which makes ID all the easier. 

But what about the tricky ones.  Let's try Thayer's Gull.  Thayer's Gulls are identical to Herring Gulls in every way, except for three small differences.  Adult Thayer's Gulls have dark eyes, no black on the underside of the primaries, and brighter, richer pink legs. 

How many times have you picked through a huge flock of gulls at a dump while looking for a Thayer's Gull?  Has someone reported a Thayer's minutes ago only for you to miss it?  Why is this? Imagine that the other birder has exactly the same skill level you do. He picks out the Thayer's. You can't. Why? 

Because if you take into account the variations in plumage and regional plumage variation in both species, you will find that the two species are impossible to tell apart with any certainty. 

Now, add a dark Iceland Gull and a light Thayer's Gull. Once again, they are practically impossible to tell apart.  
Now think of all the things that to you, constitute a Thayer's Gull. 
Bright pink legs? Dark eye? Lack of black on the underside of the primaries? Amount of white on the "windows"? 
Then think of all the variations in gull plumage that you've ever seen. Think of all the reports of aberrant gulls and weird looking gulls and darker-backed Herring Gulls, Herring Gulls with a minimal amount of black on the underwing tips......  
Taking all that into account, are the field marks that you use to ID a Thayer's Gull really sufficient to actually confidently ID a Thayer's Gull?  

I didn't think so.  

Ask yourself, do we even know much about Thayer's Gulls?  Look at all the other Gulls in North America and then compare to Thayer's.  Compared to other gulls, we have very little idea about where Thayer's nest, how they nest, what the incubation period is, what the fledging period is, or even the exact time of year they start nesting.  Why is this? Surely not because they nest in remote areas.   
Here and here you can read what little we know about these birds. 

You can probably see where this is heading.  Ok, I'll get to the point. 

SHOULD THAYER'S GULL EVEN BE CONSIDERED A FULL SPECIES? 

Should it?  But even if we lump it, it doesn't completely solve the ID problem.  
If it should be lumped, it would be lumped with ICELAND GULL.  This doesn't help us at all. 
Now, instead of trying to ID Thayer's vs Iceland, we'll be trying to ID the Thayer's subspecies of Iceland Gull from Herring (which by the way, is considerably harder). 
That leaves us back at square one.  

So then what about Iceland?  Should Iceland be considered a full species?  Most people would reply yes.  Iceland Gull is considerably easier to ID. Most Icelands are missing the black primaries of Ring-billed and Herring. 
So leave Iceland alone. 

Let's try lumping another two species. THAYER'S AND HERRING. That would solve all our ID problems.  Larus argentatus thayerii would be much easier on us birders than Larus glaucoides thayerii. 

Why not? it's easy, it's simple.  The two species are identical anyway so why try to ID a bird that you can't ID with any certainty? 

Let's hear your thoughts on the subject.  Anyone?  Post your thoughts in the comments section.

You can vote your answer in the polls just to the right of this post.