Friday, January 30, 2009

Re: Hoary vs Common

Thanks for everyone's comments.  The consensus (both on blogger and off) is unanimous (including me) the bird is a light Common Redpoll.  Note the larger bill, more streaking than would be on a Hoary, ect.  Hopefully I'll be able to do a North WI trip and get a confirmed Hoary. 

Happy Birding! 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hoary or Common?

photo credit: Joey Reichhoff.

On Tues, I went chasing after a Hoary Redpoll that was seen in Madison. Even though I spent all morning at the feeder, this was the only bird that looked close. 

So now I'm asking my readers for their opinion.  Is this a Hoary?  or is it an intermediate Common?  
I have some ideas, but I want your input first.  Post your thoughts in the comments. 

Happy Birding! 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fri & Sat birding.

So here's a quick summary of birding on Fri and Sat. 

On Fri, I drove back down to Lancaster for the Rosy Finch. No go.  That bird is unofficially gone. 
Actually, as of today, I'd say it's officially gone.  Anyway, it was still a good day.  I managed to bag 6 species of Finch for the day. My single greatest number of Finch species in one day! I had a grand total of 7 species for the week though.  
I also managed to add a bird to Jeff's now growing yard list: 

This Red-tailed Hawk flew directly over my head.  I also saw a Bald Eagle fly directly over the house.  Other birds at the feeders were: Titmice, Chickadees, Cardinals, Common Redpolls, Am Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, House Finches and Purple Finches.   

A stop at Pine Grove Rd on the way home added White-winged Crossbill to my list for the day. 

Today, after orchestra and my lesson this morning, I stopped at Arena Boat landing on my way home for a N Saw-whet Owl that had been reported there. 
After failing to even find the location (much less the bird) I drove down to the small creek that runs alongside the road and picked up a few wintering birds including this very cold looking Killdeer: 

This is the earliest in the year I have ever seen this bird and certainly the first time I have seen one in Jan.  Especially in snow like this.  
I also saw Am Robins, 1 Belted Kingfisher, 1 Song Sparrow, 2 Canada Geese and a bunch of Mallards.  Otherwise there wasn't much around to see. 

I have to double check this but I think that the only passerine in Southern Wisconsin at this time of year that I haven't seen yet is Red-breasted Nuthatch.  Any other passerine would either require a trip up north, or would be a rather rare bird at this time of year. 

In other words, I'm missing only two raptors for Jan and a whole slew of Ducks and waterfowl. 
Interestingly enough, there's so much water frozen around here that I haven't seen a single gull of any species! Not one.  Ah well, that'll change as soon as the ice melts. 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rosy Finch Ramblings

How many species of Finch are there at these feeders?
What a crazy day.  This morning, I drove an hour south to Lancaster WI where a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCH was reported and has been coming to a feeder.  Unfortunately, said Finch didn't want to come today.  Who knows why.  Tom Prestby, Sean Fitzgerald, Tom Schafer and I spent the better part of 4 1/2 hours watching the feeders and the surrounding area for the bird. No luck.  
We ended up seeing every other finch that had been reported in Southern Wisconsin, just not the one we wanted.  
The 6 finches we DID see were: Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, House Finch, Goldfinch, Purple Finch and 18 White-winged Crossbills.  
We also managed to rack up quite a list while there including:
Lapland Longspur, Horned Lark, Tufted Titmouse, Song Sparrow, Cardinal, Bald Eagle and Mourning Dove in addition to the regular feeder birds. 

We all cut out around 2:00pm and split up. Tom, Tom and Sean went West to Cassville for waterfowl while I headed North to Patch Grove where I found this bird:

Patch Grove has usually been a reliable place for Eurasian Collared-dove in the past and proved to be so this time.  Sorry for the awful photo. It was into the sun and through the car window. 

Then, I headed out of town on Patch Grove Road and turned North again on Breuer Rd where I found this bird:
Gray Partridge are uncommon year round residents in Wisconsin. They are found in wide open fields in winter near Green Bay and near Patch Grove where I found a group of 8 of them feeding on leftover corn in the snow. 

Farther up the road, there is a cemetery where I found this guy:

This Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in while I was stopped at a stop sign. 

On the way home, I bagged this beauty:

Red-tailed Hawks are way cool birds! 

Then, as I did yesterday, I stopped at the row of Oaks on Dayton Ridge Rd where I managed to get this shot:
This is probably THE best shot of a Red-headed Woodpecker I've ever taken.  One of these days I'll run down there (it's 5 mins from my house) and spend an hour photographing this guy. He was one of 2 birds I saw while there. 

So, that's my day today.  I might run back down to Lancaster again tomorrow. Hopefully the Rosy Finch hasn't taken off yet. If it's still around, the cold weather on Sat might bring it in. 

Until then, to tide you over, I've posted some photos below from last summer when I saw Gray-crowned Rosy Finches in their natural habitat in Jasper NP, British Columbia, CAN. 
(Yes this Wisconsin bird would be new for the USA for me)

Happy Birding! 

Not the world's greatest photos. It was a bright day and I was photographing a dark bird against a white background.

Here's the habitat they live in:

Spectacular eh?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finches, Woodpeckers and Eagles

The winter finch situation here in Wisconsin has been getting pretty crazy.  Yesterday, I heard a lone Red Crossbill fly over my yard, only to be followed not long after by 18 White-winged Crossbills.  Today, I first heard, and then saw a lone Common Redpoll zinging around the Maple tree in my yard. 

This afternoon, I went out birding and quickly ticked off this Red-headed Woodpecker: 

Last summer I found a pretty reliable location for these birds.  They have been in decline so reliable locations a getting fewer. 

The surprise of the afternoon was this juvie GOLDEN EAGLE!: 

Not the world's greatest photo, but it's good enough to ID. 
Golden Eagles this far south in Richland County are quite uncommon birds. Not really rare this time of year since they do wander but definitely a good find. 

All in all, I was pleased with the day's birding. Who knows what tomorrow will turn up. 

Happy Birding! 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change in America

Ok, I don't normally blog about politics but since this is inauguration day, I figured I'd give it a go.  
America now has a new president and has turned a new page in history.   The first African-American president in the history of the country. We knew it would happen sometime didn't we? 

Obama has been wildly popular ever since he started his campaign all those months ago. 
The crowd at inauguration today was the largest in history. Over 2 million people attended. 
That's what the estimates said anyway. I'm not sure that anyone got an count that was anywhere close to accurate. 

You can get an idea of the numbers in the above photo
And the below photos

Hopefully the new administration will undo some of the environmental changes that Bush implemented but also, not make a further mess of what we're already in. 
Obama himself doesn't appear to have much experience leading but he has surrounded himself with people who appear to be highly experienced.  Let us hope that they will advise him well. 

There are many issues that I could blog about, but that's not why I'm here.  I'm here to blog about birds, not politics.  :D 

Today, I went out to get the mail and heard a distinctive "Chet chet chet" call over all the Goldfinches.  I immediately thought "Crossbill!"  Despite much searching I could not locate the bird.  But, calls are quite distinctive and usually don't lie.  I can now tick off RED CROSSBILL with a fair degree of certainty.  
Red Crossbills are not as particular as White-winged when it comes to food. They'll take most pine cones as food including White Pine, which we have a stand of on the hill above our house. 
I'll be checking that stand and a couple others in the immediate area as soon as I can

Anyway, after double checking the call on my ipod, I headed back out to try and find the bird in question.  I headed up the road to the top of the ridge and checked out the pines in my neighbor's yard.  While there, I heard another distinctive call. This time it was a faster, less defined "chechecheche."  Yes, another Crossbill. This time though, they were White-winged. 
I first heard and then saw a flock of around 15 or so birds fly right over my head and keep on going. I guess the pines in the immediate area were not suitable enough.  

Well, that's Bigby bird whatever the number is now. I have yet to tally it. 

Happy Birding! 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Eagle survey and photo quiz

Well, there you go. The above photo pretty much describes Wisconsin in winter. At least, western Wisconsin anyway.  Snow, cornfields, hills, ect.  One thing it does not describe though, is just how cold it can get here in the upper midwest. Last Sun, the temperatures started out in the usual 15-20 degree range. Pretty normal for Wisconsin this time of year.  Then, on Monday, the temperatures dropped, sharply. The high temperature balanced on edge in the single digits on Monday and Tuesday and then fell off the edge. Tuesday night, the temperature got down to -20. That's a bit of a chilly night for Wisconsin. We get one or two of those nights every year, but not for very long. Usually only one night.  On Wednesday, the temperature struggled to get to the zero degree mark. That night the temps dropped again. This time it was -26. A bit colder. 
Yesterday (Thursday) the temps decided not to break the -5 degree mark, hovering around -6 all day.  Thursday night, we had one of the coldest nights I've ever seen.  36 degrees below zero!  Now that's COLD!  Windchills on Wednesday and Thursday dropped down to 40 below and in some places 50 degrees below zero!   Windchill this morning was about -50.  
Naturally, all the public schools in the state were closed both yesterday and today. Businesses were closed, activities canceled, people just stayed home. I have been told that Minnesota closed all their schools and schools in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio were closed. 
Thus the saying goes "You know you're from Wisconsin if school has ever been canceled because of extreme cold." 

Anyway, enough about cold for now. I will be making one more post about cold sometime soon, that is, if I can get my video program to work right. 

Getting to the subject at hand: 
Today, I completed my section of the annual Golden Eagle survey that is run by Scott Mehus who is program specialist of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota.
My section covered the area North of US Hwy 14, East of La Crosse, West of Cashton and south of I-90.  
It was a beautiful day (albeit cold) to be out and birding.  I saw several Red-tailed Hawks, quite a few Rough-legged Hawks including one beautiful Dark-morph, one Northern Harrier, one immature Bald Eagle and one beautiful adult Golden Eagle. 
Out of all the eagles on the planet, Golden has always been, and always will be, my favorite eagle. 

I'll leave you with a little photo quiz to bend your brains around.  Time of year and location are in small print under the photo: 

late winter, Wisconsin

I'll post the answer (if it hasn't been answered, otherwise I'll declare a winner) sometime next week.  Good luck! 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ross's Gull update

Well, it's looking like the Kansas Ross's Gull was another one day wonder. Just like most of the mid-continent records for this species. The bird was found late yesterday morning and refound in the late afternoon. It was not seen at all today.

I'll keep everyone posted if it turns up again.

Meantime, I have a Golden Eagle survey to run tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Happy Birding!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Holy Smokes!!!


At about 12:30pm today, Ted Cable and Gerry Snyder found a ROSS'S GULL at "The Tubes" at the Tuttle creek reservoir near Manhattan, Kansas!!

Photos are here:

Below is a paste of the initial post from Ted Cable:
Over the lunch hour today I along with Gerry Snyder found a Ross's Gull
below the tubes at Tuttle. Eventually it was seen and photographed by
Jim Shroyer and Dave Rintoul. At about 12:40 if flew south down river
out of site. While Fred and Pat Freeman waited at the tubes some of us
went down to Rocky Ford and searched for it there but did not relocate
it. So the bottom line is that it has not been seen since then. I
suppose it might be along the KS river. I will try to check later this
afternoon. Unfortunately the Corps is not releasing any water from the
tubes so there is little to hold the bird. In fact initially it was the
only gull present. It was just sitting near the shore seemingly trying
to stay out of the brutal north wind. Dave said he'd post his photos
soon. I will submit mine later today. - Ted

Ted T. Cable, Ph.D.
Professor and Assistant Department Head
Dept of Horticulture, Forestry and Recreation Resources
2021 Throckmorton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506
ph: 785-532-1408

Here is a followup post from Dan Mulhern:

Gene's original message about the Ross' Gull was shown as posted at 11:57
a.m., but for some reason I didn't see it on my computer till about a
quarter till 2 this afternoon. And, by the way, before I forget it, a big
shout out to Al Gore for inventing the internet. I find it nothing short
of miraculous that I can electronically learn about a rare bird in my own
hometown by some guy in Oklahoma the same day it's been spotted. God bless

So anyway, I got the message and immediately took a quick break from work
to drive out to the tubes, arriving at the gravel turnout downstream from
the tubes at approximately 2:03 p.m. At 2:04 p.m. I spotted the little
bugger floating on the river right below where I was parked. Sure wish I'd
taken a camera; got killer looks at it. I rolled the window down to see
him more clearly than through winter-grimed glass, and didn't think to turn
off the radio. It wasn't THAT loud, but at 2:06 he took off and flew up
towards the tubes. This confirms a lifelong theory I've held that Ross'
Gulls do not like Led Zeppelin.

I'm thinking he's going to fly to the tubes and light again, to be gently
carried back downstream by the slow releases coming out of Tuttle. So I
drove down the hill toward the parking area all the fishermen use, and was
met by the Ross' Gull flying back downstream in the opposite direction. I
got down to the parking area, and could not find it again either in flight
or on the river anywhere. After waiting a few minutes I made the trek over
to Rocky Ford to see if he'd gone that far, but there was no sight of him
there either. There was a handful of Ring-billed Gulls, quite a large
number of Canada Geese, several Mallards, Gadwall and Green-winged Teal,
and approximately 428,751 Crows. Standing out on the ramp at Rocky Ford in
12 degrees made me realize this was a bad place to look for a rare gull, so
I returned to the tubes for another short vigil. By 2:45 I was headed back
into town, with nothing but the glorious memory of my 3-minute encounter
with a LIFE BIRD! Thanks to Ted and Gerry for reporting this to Gene who
reported it to the rest of us.

Dan Mulhern

Hopefully the bird will stick around for some time.
Ross's Gulls are birds of the high arctic and, while they are an ABA code 3 bird,
They are quite rare anywhere in the lower 48 states.

Google maps tells me that I live 597 miles away from this bird.
Anyone going??

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another common year bird

Well, it's snowing.  Again.  3-5 inches they say. Ah well. I think we might break the seasonal record this year. The Dec snowfall record was already broken.  Last year's seasonal record was 100" of snow.  Let's see if we top that this year. 

I added one more year bird today. One more common bird that I should have had days ago. Interestingly enough, I've never photographed it.  
Pileated Woodpecker (and yes it's Pileated as in "Pill" not like "Pie").
Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in the USA that is currently accepted by the ABA records committee.  They live primarily in the Eastern USA but do have a northern range that stretches as far north and west as British Columbia and California.  They can also be found in Northern Idaho and Northwest Montana.  They are a non-migratory ABA area endemic. 

Interesting to think of our birds as Endemics, but some of them are.  See if you can name them all. :D 

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lazy Days

If you've ever wondered what half an inch of ice looks like when it coats a branch, you won't get much better than this.  Ice forms when the air temperature at the ground hovers around freezing.
The falling water doesn't have a chance to turn to snow and comes down as rain, but only just. when it hits an object, like a branch, it crystalizes and turns to ice. Sometimes almost instantly. Every subsequent raindrop adds layers to it. This is the end result.   
I've only ever seen ice like this a few times in my life (I took this photo in Indiana back in Dec) Here in Wisconsin, we only very rarely get ice. We're usually far enough north that all our winter weather comes down as snow.  On those rare occasions that it is warm enough to rain, we usually just get rain. 

So why am I blogging about ice? Because I didn't do much at all today. I didn't even get outside. Lazy Sundays I guess........ 

It'll be interesting birding this week.  We're supposed to have an arctic cold front come though on Mon night.  The high temp on Tues is not supposed to go above 0.  Wed won't be any better with a high of 5 and Thurs, the high temp will be -5.  Now, this is the ambient air temp I'm talking about. On Tues, we're supposed to have winds of 10-20MPH. This will produce wind chills of 30-40 degrees BELOW zero!  Brrrr.  Now THAT is cold! 

On Fri, I'm supposed to run a Golden Eagle survey for The National Eagle center
That will be interesting since the high is supposed to be zero degrees. 
Not quite as cold as on the Golden Eagle trip of last year, but cold enough to freeze your fingers. :D  

Today's blog of the week is Fort Ephemera.
Michael is an amazing photographer.  He has posted to truly spectacular photos here on his Flickr page. 

Happy Birding! 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year birds

Today, I birded my way back home from Madison.  I needed some common birds for the year so I decided to stop at all the usual places.  

The first place I stopped was Mazomanie (pronounced May-zo-may-nee) Bottoms hoping for Grouse, Bobwhite, Red-breasted Nuthatch or anything else.  All I found was a juvie Bald Eagle and this Eastern Bluebird who didn't want his picture taken: 

He was one of 8 birds present. 

Then, I ran over to Arena Boat Landing where I picked up the most species for the day. 
As I drove in, I quickly picked up the 150 or so American Robins that were hanging around the open water.  A Song Sparrow put in a quick appearance and then the resident Great Blue Heron flew over.  Now up 4 more year birds, I headed back to the river only to find it completely frozen over.  Coming back out, I spotted a lone male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as he flew through.  A stop at the pine stand on the way out added Brown Creeper to my day list and a probable RED CROSSBILL flew over.  I wish the bird would have sat down so I could get a proper look at it. It would have been a new State bird. 

This beautiful sunset ended a decent afternoon of birding: 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Canada Geese and Mallards

Yesterday I went chasing after the stupid White-fronted Goose again.  Of course, it didn't show up.  So I got bored after a while and took some shots of the hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards that were around: 

More photos here

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A New County bird!

So what is this latest addition to my Richland County list?  Yep, you guessed it. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL!!!  

I knew it would be only a matter of time before some were found in the county. Either by me or someone else.  

This was county bird #208! Unfortunately, the birds were well back into the pines and the branches and falling snow blowing in the wind didn't help visibility much so I couldn't get any photos. As it was, I could barely see the birds.  

Now I have to go driving around the county and systematically search every stand of Spruce I can find. There has to be more of these finches out there somewhere! 

Happy Birding! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mega Rarity in Texas!

A PINE FLYCATCHER has been seen at Choke Canyon State park in Texas. 

I have been following sightings of this bird since the initial posting. It was originally found on Dec 13th but not identified to species until only a few days ago.  
Not surprisingly, since the bird looks for all the world like a Dusky Flycatcher, it took several different methods to finally identify the bird.  Not only was it closely observed, but the observers took photos, video, and audio recordings. It finally took a Sonogram to confirm the ID.  Sonograms, photos and audio recordings can be found here.

David McDonald's photos can be found here

Here is the initial post on TX-birds:

"Dear all,
There is an almost certain Pine Flycatcher, a Mexican empid, at Choke Canyon State Park in McMullen County, south of San Antonio. The bird was initially found by Willie Sekula on Dec 13. It was thought to be a western type, which it appears like. On January 1 Martin Reid, Willie, Derek Muschalek and myself went to the unit and observed the bird. I was able to get an audio recording which matches a sonograph of a Pine Flycatcher.

We returned this morning and did some further observations. More audio and some video was obtained by Martin, Mel Cooksey and myself. Also more photographs were obtained. We did get permission to do some tape playback (this is not normally allowed) The bird responded strongly to the Pine Flycatcher call while seeming to ignore earlier attempts using both Western Flycatchers, Hammonds and Dusky vocalizations.

To reach the area go to the Calliham Unit at Choke Canyon. After the entrance road take a left at the stop sign, going towards the boat ramp. After about 400 yards you will see a sign on the right pointing to the ball field, There is a service road with a vehicle barrier by the sign on the right side of the road. You can park opposite the sign in a parking lot and walk in along the service road about 70 yards where you will see some water on the road. There is a small water treatment plant on the left behind a fence. The bird frequents this area. It seems to prefer the two live oaks on the left side of the road. It does move around a lot, periodically giving a series of single "pwip" calls. The call is similar to a Least or Dusky Flycatcher, but with a slight inflection at the start. There is also a Hammonds Flycatcher in the area, which the Pine Flycatcher chases when it invades its territory. The Pine Flycatcher looks most like a western type in
plumage, but less bulky, smaller billed and with black legs. The tear drop is whitish rather than yellow and is not as extensive behind the eye as a typical western.

Please be courteous. Absolutely do not chase or pressure the bird. It will come in if you are patient. Martin has posted a web page on the bird with photos and audio. The URL is
This bird, if accepted will be a first record for the United States.
Good luck!
Sheridan Coffey, Martin Reid, Willie Sekula, Derek Muschalek
Currently at Choke Canyon"

Here is a follow up post including directions by Martin Reid:

"Dear TEXBIRDers,
Just a little more background and information about this bird:-

Willie had seen it on Dec 13 and Dec 27, and based on coloration and structure felt it was a Western-type Fly. Willie, Derek, Sheridan and I were there on the morning of Jan 01, and Derek called us over as he was hearing an empid calling - when we saw that the calling bird was this Western-type I started to consider the idea that it might be a Pine Fly, as they look mostly like a Western-type Fly but sound like a Least Fly - quite unlike the vocalizations of both forms of Western Fly.

We got some pics and some very weak audio snippets that day, and I spent most of yesterday consulting with various people. In particular Alvaro Jaramillo was of immense help, and he too suggested Pine Fly (before I had mentioned my thoughts to him) after preparing a sonogram of the call note and seeing a couple of the pics.

Alvaro and others felt it was vital to get better audio of the bird, and to attempt to conduct a controlled playback experiment to build (hopefully) a case for the ID as Pine Fly. Thus we delayed posting about this bird, and obtained permission from the staff at Choke Canyon SP to do a one-time playback exercise this morning. By late morning we had gotten lots more material (pics, audio, video) and successfully shown that this bird did not respond to audio of Cordilleran, Pacific-Slope, Hammond's or Dusky Flys, and on three well-separated occasions responded to audio of Pine Fly - the latter two time quite vigorously.

We then rushed over to a relative of Derek's who lives nearby to make to post to TEXBIRDS. When we got back to the park, we bumped into John Arvin (one of the consulted experts the day before), who had come over to take a look for himself. I won't speak for John (I'm hoping he'll choose to post himself!) but he did get great looks and obtained some good audio recordings of the bird, and appeared to be quite happy with the ID as Pine Fly.

NOTE: in the mid-morning we all (5+ people) saw this bird get agitated and appear to chase another Empid away from its favored area, during which time it made a sharp, loud two-note call; I had seen/heard it do this twice on Jan 01 while on my own with it in the afternoon, and during that time I saw what looked to be a Hammond's type fly in the same area ( but only when the Pine Fly had wandered off). To my knowledge no-one has heard any Empid-type vocalization in the immediate area of the Pine Fly other than those we can attribute to the Pine Fly (i.e. no calls from this second Empid thus-far). I suspect that this is the Hammond's -type Fly that Willie saw on Dec 25 about 150 yards west of the Pine Fly's favored area.

ACCESS: we chatted with the staff at the office before leaving - they seemed quite excited about the bird, and were looking forward to seeing visitors. PLEASE make an effort to sign the guest book in the office prior to leaving, saying why you went there, etc. On such occasions we really get the opportunity to register hard data with TPWD that hopefully will be taken into consideration when budgeting time comes around...
The park will be CLOSED for a couple of upcoming days; Veronica Roberts and her staff have kindly forwarded to me the details, as follows:- The park will be closed to the public from Jan. 12, 2009 through Jan. 14, 2009. Access to the boat ramp will be available until 10 pm on Jan. 11, 2009 and will reopen at 2 pm on Jan. 14, 2009.

Choke Canyon State Park is located on the south side of Choke Canyon Reservoir which is c. 70 miles south of San Antonio. There are two units open to the general public - both from H72 that runs west from the town of Three Rivers: the South Shore unit by the dam at the east end of the lake, and the Calliham Unit located at the tip of a peninsula jutting up into the lake about half-way along the south shoreline. There are various routes from San Antonio, but the easiest is to go down I37 towards Corpus, take exit 72 onto H281 south towards the LRGV, then after about 4 miles at Three rivers turn west onto H72. The Pine Fly is at the Calliham Unit: Turn off H72 to the north about 8 miles after passing the South Shore entrance, and continue north until you get to the Park Office (3 dollars entrance fee; if you get there early prior to any staff, there is system for self-registering and then you can pay later). From the office continue north staying on the main road until you get to a "T" junction - there is a low sign pointing left to a picnic area and boat ramp - take this left road and continue for about 300 yards until you see a small low brown sign on the right side of the road saying "<- Ball Park" - immediately past this sign on the right is a service road blocked to vehicles by a low barrier; the apparent center of the Pine Fly's main territory is located about 60 yards north along this service road at a spot close to a fenced-off small building on the left and where the road is covered by a thin layer of water. The bird moves around this area quite a bit, typically calling repeatedly for about 15 - 30 seconds then going quiet for five minutes (by lunchtime it can be quiet for more than 30 minutes) before starting another bout of calling - at which time it is fairly easy to locate. PARKING: As you drive up to the "Ball Park" sign you'll see a parking lot a few yards down the left turn at this point on the road; you can park here, or go on to the birding trail located a further 60 yards ahead and then to the right. I have updated my web page on this bird so that it now contains some good-quality audio of the typical calls of this bird plus one snip of the two-note alarm/agitation call; feel free to download these data, BUT please do not use it at or close to the bird's location (any use of playback requires prior permission from the Park Staff) Good luck; we'll probably be back there tomorrow morning... Cheers, Martin 

Martin Reid"

Here is John Arvin's post on the subject:

"I did something I rarely do yesterday and drove 5 hours to look at a bird. I love Empidonax, especially when their identity is not clear-cut. I spent about 2 hours in the vicinity with the bird in view to one extent or another about 50% of that time. I made digital audio recordings of its call, which is a "whit" note. This vocalization is shared by Least, Willow, Dusky, Gray, and Pine Flycatchers. Upon arriving back home last night I wrote up about 5 pages of notes on the bird while the experience was still fresh in my mind and before it became contaminated by reference materials (to the extent that there are any). These notes will be passed along to Mark Lockwood, secretary of the TBRC, along with the audio recording. I cannot distinguish the "whit" notes of the various species by ear. And there is some variation between and among the individuals of the same species depending on context and perhaps sex, age, etc. However they can be examined spectrographically for minute differences (as Alvaro Jaramillo as already done; see
I will cut to the chase on all this. As some of you know I am a professional skeptic when it comes to reported birds that are wildly out of range, season, habitat, and/or that are tricky to identify in the field. The present bird is all the above. Having said that, I must now be convinced by someone that it is *not* a Pine Flycatcher, as wildly unlikely as that seems. It is a species I know from field experience spanning 30 years that is fairly common at high (above 2000 m) elevations in the nearby Sierra Madre Oriental. It is basically not a well-known species to anyone as far as I know. Details of its life history remain unknown to me. For example I do not know for sure if it is migratory in northern parts of its range and if so, where the migrant population winters. I have never seen it at lower elevations in the S. M. O. in winter so I don't think it is an attitudinal migrant as are some montane species. I have recorded its voice (both calls and song) in both NE Mexico and in western Mexico in the S. M. Occidental at the Sinaloa/Durango border. I passed these recordings along to Martin Reid (of the eastern population in case there is some subtle difference between it and the western population). I was not present for the playback experiment but it is described elsewhere on this listserver. No doubt it is a bird whose identity will be chewed on by numerous knowledgeable people. Presently it seems that we have about all the information that can be obtained other than in the hand although every opportunity to obtain more/better documentation should be pursued.jcaJohn C. ArvinResearch CoordinatorGulf Coast Bird ObservatoryLake Jackson, TexasJohn C. Arvin
Research Coordinator
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory
103 W. Hwy 332
Lake Jackson, TX 77566
(979) 480-0999"

You can follow the posts on Texbirds here.

This is an amazing find and Willie Sekula should receive a hearty congrats for finding the bird and realizing it was something different. 
If accepted, this bird will be a first record for the ABA area. 

It would also be a great bird for my 2009 year list. Anyone have about $600? :D lol 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Lifer!

Early this morning, I headed down to Roselawn cemetary in Monona WI (part of Madison). 
I arrived at 8:15am and quickly added Pine Siskin, Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet to my '09 year list.  After a bit of searching, along with Bill Brooks and Jane Dennis, we found (to their delight and my excitement) a flock of 10-15 of these birds: 

Not sure what that is? 
Try this photo: 

Still not sure? 
Take a good look at this one:

Another?  Here:

Yes, you guessed it:

This is my nemesis winter finch......... lifer #527.........

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

3 new year birds and a Horned Lark

I went out for about an hour and a half this afternoon and added 3 new birds to my year list. 

Belted Kingfisher (I knew that wouldn't take long) 
House Finch
Am Tree Sparrow. 

I also saw a beautiful dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk (probably the 15 or 16th one I've seen this year) and this beautiful Horned Lark: 

Happy Birding!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Owl day and Buena Vista Grasslands today

Today was Jan 1. The first day of the new year. Since I had decided on New Year's eve to go Looking for Snowy Owls at Buena Vista, I decided to start the day off with an owl.  At 12:35am this morning, I walked out on my driveway, played the Barred Owl call on my ipod, and right away, a pack of Coyotes started up.  I waited til they calmed down, and then played again. This time, a Barred Owl came sailing in over the yard.  What a great start to the new year! 
I headed in and went back to bed. 

I awoke at 6am and got ready to go to Buena Vista. Since my family was going with me (They wanted to see Snowy Owls) I left much later than planned.  I arrived at Buena Vista at 11am after a 2 hour drive.  
We began cruising roads, slowly heading up to Taft where the bird had been seen before. 
Thanks to a tip from a kind hunter, we learned that the bird had been seen on Taft Rd only an hour earlier.  We hopped it over to Taft where Dad and I quickly spotted the female Snowy sitting on a sprinkler.  I took several photos. Here are the best: 

Then we started cruising around in a futile attempt to find some Prairie Chickens. My guess is that the weather was bad enough that they were all hunkered down. It was west winds at 15mph and snowing. Visibility was down to half a mile at times. Not the greatest weather for seeing Prairie Chickens.  
In an attempt to cover every road, we turned down a snow covered section of Swamp Road between County UU and Tower Line Rd.  Little did I know that it was to become the most "fun" trip of the winter so far. Our suburban has 4-wheel drive but even that can't get through everything. As we drove along, the snow drifts got deeper (apparently they don't plow on New Year's Day and do not plow anything except the primary roads anyway).  Finally the end of the road came in sight. So did a huge pile of snow in the middle of the road left by some @#$#$$@ idiot plowman.  There were no signs warning that the road was closed (for all practical purposes it was) so we unknowingly ran into trouble. Unable to stop, we ran headlong into the snow pile and perched the car (yes, our big, powerful 4-wheel drive Suburban) right up on top of the pile. High and dry.  After a few necessary (and unnecessary) curses, we started digging our way out. It took my Dad, my brother and I about an hour to dig our way out, get the car back on the ground and dig a path through the snow.  I can now proudly say that the next car going down that road will not become stuck on that particular snow pile! :D   

Anyway, we cruised up and down a couple more times and then called it quits for the day. The Snowy Owl was what I had really come for, and I got it! So it was a productive day. 

N Shrike, Common Raven, Rough-legged Hawk and Snow Bunting nicely filled out the list. 
I ended the day with 23 species. Only 3 less than last year. Also, befittingly, I ended the day by watching our resident pair of Barred Owls as they hooted away from the maple tree in our front yard. 

Here's to 2009 and may it be a great birding year for you all!! Happy New Year!!!! and, as always, Happy Birding!!!!!!!!

First 5 birds of 2009

Here are my first 5 birds of 2009, in order of sighting:

1. Barred Owl (at 12:35 this morning) 
2. N Cardinal (this and the other 4 at 7:20am)
3. White-breasted Nuthatch
4. Black-capped Chickadee
5. Dark-eyed Junco. 

Happy New Year!!!!!