31 March 2011

Louisiana Waterthrush

Right on cue, there was a LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH back on territory today at Ledges State Park, Boone County:

For those of you not familiar with where to find these guys at Ledges, here is a map:
View LOWA in a larger map

26 March 2011

A Kestrel run-in

I'm assuming a small bird at my feeders was the attention of a male AMERICAN KESTREL that swooped into the yard and actually HIT our living room window!  The run-in with the window didn't injure him though; he simply flew off and circled once or twice over the building before moving on.  Interestingly, I have only seen a kestrel one other time from the yard... and I'm pretty sure that one DIDN'T hit our apartment.

We have noticed a large increase of DARK-EYED JUNCOS in our yard during the past several days.  Other birders in Iowa have reported the same trend lately; huge numbers visiting their yards as well.  This must be the peak of their movement back to the north for the summer.

Speaking of summer, we had a THIRTEEN-LINED GROUND-SQUIRREL in our yard today. We have seen this species only one other time this spring and that was just down the road here in Ames.

24 March 2011

Smith's and such

If it's March or April and you see habitat like this in Iowa, best to check it for SMITH'S LONGSPURS:

Some competent birders did this weekend and found 19 SMITH'S LONGSPURS.  I had never seen a Smith's in breeding plumage before so I swung down to catch a glimpse.  For cover, the flock actually preferred corn stubble and rarely showed their orange fronts.  Here is a side profile of a male:

This Smith's was comfortable enough to sneak in a wing stretch:

If you have ever wondered why they're called "longspurs", it's because they have an extremely long spur (or hindclaw), as seen here:

Switching gears, flocks of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, like this one, aren't too uncommon in Iowa this time of year:

Back here at home, our resident 1st-winter HARRIS'S SPARROW is still a daily visitor to the yard:

Three PINE SISKINS dropped by my feeders; the first since October, 2010:

A partially leucistic DARK-EYED JUNCO also was a recent arrival to the feeders.  This is the first partially leucistic bird I think I've ever hosted at feeders:

23 March 2011


After the COS/WOS/AFO meeting in Nebraska, we headed into the mountains of Colorado.  

If you know which canyon to hike up, it's not uncommon to see wild horses in parts of Colorado.  I've seen the wild horses before at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland but never before in Colorado.  By the way, these horses are actually feral (descendants of domestic horses but are now self-sustaining in the wild).  Here are four horses in the shade of a canyon one late afternoon:

Nearby, I jumped on the opportunity to photograph this "PINK-SIDED" DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis mearnsi).  This is not a race we find here in Iowa:

Maybe it was the lack of birds that helped us notice some small mammals?  For example, on a quiet walk in some high elevation ponderosa pine forests, we spotted this LEAST CHIPMUNK (or so I believe, it looks quite similar to the Colorado Chipmunk which I've never seen):

Just down the path from the chipmunk was this distant TASSEL-EARED SQUIRREL, a new mammal for us.  This species is said to be secretive and difficult to observe:

You can't spend much time in the West without stumbling on PYGMY NUTHATCHES as we did:

... the same goes with seeing MOUNTAIN CHICKADEES:

This BROWN CREEPER really should consider foraging on a different colored trunk:

Near Gunnison, we found feeders that had all three species of rosy-finches:

GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (including the "Hepburn's" race)

It was pretty exciting for us; it was only the second time I've seen Black Rosy-Finch (the first time was in Utah in August 2004).  I took many photos but later accidentally deleted over 100 of them!  Not my brightest moment.  I was left with only a couple photos of the rosy-finches including this one which shows Brown-capped and Gray-crowned rosy-finches (with a Hepburn's):

Of course, if you're near Gunnison in March/April, it would be worth a stop at the public viewing of the GUNNISON SAGE-GROUSE lek.  We did just that and saw about 20 grouse on the lek.  Here is one male that is apparently displaying for only himself:

Near the lek was this early-morning visitor, a WHITE-TAILED JACKRABBIT still in its winter coat: 

A new photo bird for me was this WESTERN SCRUB-JAY:

Another highlight for us was seeing LEWIS'S WOODPECKERS.  I had only seen this species once and that was back in 2001.  It was a new photo bird as well (yeah, I'm not sure why I only have a picture of the back of the bird but I don't really care):

Anyone want to venture a guess at this blue and chestnut thing?
It's a bluebird, as you might guess, but which kind?  Well, the only bluebird that has chestnut on the UPPERSIDE of the wings is WESTERN BLUEBIRD.

Eventually we left Colorado to start our way back home to Iowa.  However, not without a quick stop in Kansas.  Like the sage-grouse, it would be silly to pass through western Kansas without stopping for LESSER PRAIRIE-CHICKENS during their lekking season.  That's exactly what we did; here is a distant flock of six (part of a flock of nine) we spotted after they finished lekking:

This one preferred to sit on top of a bale of hay:

This BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT decided to sit tight for a couple seconds in the rich morning light:

Here is a parting shot from near Gunnison, Colorado:

21 March 2011

Kearney, NE

I was recently in Kearney, Nebraska for the AFO/COS/WOS ornithological meeting.  This post is to share some photos from a few times I got out birding while in the area.

One morning I drove north to near Broken Bow.  Standing at one point, I was able to scope SHARP-TAILED GROUSE lekking to the east and GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKENS to the west.  First, here are the distant SHARP-TAILED GROUSE (there were about 9 in total):

... and here are two of the distant GREATER PRAIRIE-CHICKENS:

Even if lekking prairie-grouse wasn't your thing, it was a beautiful calm morning with a spectacular sunrise:

Of course, on my way back to Kearney I found 9 prairie-chickens much closer and pecking alongside a highway.  Here are 4 of them:

There was a plethora of SANDHILL CRANES in the area during the meeting (which was great for all the visitors!).  Just driving down a side road would yield all sorts of great looks.  This photo amuses me; look at the shadow on the underside of the left wing of the right-most crane:

This photo also amuses me; you can see the chunk of corn stubble that the right-most crane previously chucked up into the air:

It was about the time this buteo flushed that I realized it was probably a young "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk:

Strings of geese and waterfowl were a constant reminder of us being in the middle of a migration corridor.  Here is a mixed flock of NORTHERN PINTAILS, SNOW GEESE, and ROSS'S GEESE:

... and yes, sometimes even a SANDHILL CRANE can wind up in a goose flock:

Sunset in a land of grass:

When you pull up and see this distant shape on a telephone pole, would you be able to ID it?  I had a hunch and as I drove closer, you can see the progression of the ID

Before I knew it, it was time to leave Nebraska and instead of heading east back to Iowa, I ventured into the opposite direction.  Westward.
Stay tuned.....

08 March 2011


The urge hit today and I decided to put together a blog post using old photos. 

So, a chickadee is just a chickadee, right?  Well, there are actually 7 species of chickadees here in North America and all belong to the Family Paridae.  All are generally year-round residents and some are very familiar to us.  Well, this post is devoted to these guys....

I'm going to arrange these in descending order of familiarity to me.

At the top has to be the BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus), the species I have lived with in New York, Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas:

Next is the CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis), the common species in Tennessee where I lived from 1997-2000.  Ironically, I first photographed this species only in 2010!  Here is one from Texas:

The next down is the BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus).  I've had the good fortune of seeing this species many times in northern Michigan, northern Minnesota, and Newfoundland.  Here is one in northern Minnesota:

I suppose the next species on the list is the MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli), a common species of the western USA.  I haven't actually lived around this species before (and hence the terrible photo!) but here is a picture of one near the Grand Canyon, Arizona: 

Second to last for me is the MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri).  This species barely reaches the USA and is present here in only a couple of mountain ranges in AZ/NM.  I've seen MECHs on about four trips... here is one from my last trip to AZ back in 2009:

The last chickadee on my list is the CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (Poecile rufescens).  This species is present from southeast Alaska down to California.  I've seen this species once each in Alaska, Washington, and California.  Here is one at Cape Flattery in northwestern Washington:

So that summarizes the 6 species of chickadees I've seen in North America.  Of course, there is still 1 species that I'm lacking: GRAY-HEADED CHICKADEE (Poecile cinctus).  Even though I've spent 3 summers in Alaska, I haven't visited the range of this rare chickadee of northern willows and spruces.  Maybe someday.....