Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Ah! The sun has reappeared after what feels like a whole week of rain, and it feels wonderful. Since we saw the rare Red Necked Phalarope during a downpour on Saturday, I thought I'd try again in the sun. Some people reported finding it, and others on the KY Birdlist said it was gone.
On Saturday, we saw two females at this vernal pond. Just to show you how small a bird this is, here is an un-zoomed view, as it were. That dark dot in the middle of the pond is the single Phalarope found today. No idea what happened to the other one - hope she's OK.
This gorgeous little girl was busy with her toilette today. Ducking into the water for a bath...
...stretching her wings up to help dry them, then preening each feather so it lays perfectly.
All this activity gave me some great looks at the markings on her wings...
...before a couple of dogs jumped into the pond. She took off in a hurry, but casually circled around, and when the dogs moved on, she landed in exactly the same spot to finish her bath before looking for a late afternoon snack.
The rest of the pond was empty except for one Teal-winged Duck couple, and this Green Heron, who also fled squawking to a nearby tree as the dogs came to his end of the pond. I always wish I could get a clear photo of the Meadowlarks who live on the other side of the pond, but guess I'll just be happy listening to their beautiful songs!
Saturday, May 04, 2013
The sun may shine bright on my old Kentucky Home, but not today. Even though it's Derby Day here in Louisville, the rain will probably be falling most of the day. What does the fashionable birder wear on such a day? A green rain poncho, of course! Unfortunately, cloudy skies and rain are not the best conditions for photographing a rare bird sighting of these Red Necked Phalarope found on a small pond in a city park nearby, so please forgive the fuzziness of these photos.
Dick remarked that they looked much larger in the field guide, and it was hard to find them at all in the camera lens since they are only about 7" long, with lobed toes and a straight, fine bill. Red-necked Phalaropes, like Red Phalaropes but unlike other shorebirds, prefer to swim rather than wade, a habit that enables them to spend the winter on the high seas, although on occasion they wade in pools and feed on mudflats with many other shorebirds.
When feeding, a Red-necked Phalarope will often swim in a small, rapid circle, forming a small whirlpool. This behavior is thought to aid feeding by raising food from the bottom of shallow water. The bird will reach into the center of the vortex with its bill, plucking small insects or crustaceans caught up therein. On the open ocean, they are often found where converging currents produce upwellings. During migration, some flocks stop over on the open waters at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy to take advantage of food stirred up by tidal action.
How rare are they? Looking at the map, you can see that they breed along the Artic Circle, and winter far to the south. Almost all of the nonbreeding season is spent in open water. As this species rarely comes into contact with humans, it can be unusually tame. Ours weren't concerned at all when some folks with dogs walked by. Easy to see, mid-May-Jul, in the Arctic; otherwise seen on pelagic boat trips during migration or from coasts during on-shore gales in fall.
The typical avian sex roles are reversed in the three phalarope species. Females are larger and more brightly colored than males. These were pretty bright, so we think they are both females. The females pursue and fight over males, and will defend their mate from other females until the clutch is complete and the male begins incubation. The males perform all incubation and chick-rearing activities, while the females may attempt to find another mate. If a male loses his eggs to predation, he may re-pair with his original mate or a new female to try again. Once it becomes too late in the breeding season to start new nests, females begin their southward migration, leaving the males to incubate the eggs and look after the young.
This sure beats going to the track in the rain and having all your possessions search by security people. Did you know that you are NOT allowed to carry umbrellas to Churchill Downs?
Thursday, May 02, 2013
In the last 24 hours, I have been inundated with beautiful bird songs! We decided to join the Beckham Bird Club's trip to Mammoth Cave, and it was truly worthwhile.
|Louisiana Water Thrush|
Oh, and thank you Blogger for updating your software. It's about time we can select multiple photos to upload at one time, and get little red squiggles for misspelled words. Hooray!
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone's own beliefs.
|Purple Phacelia and Robin's Plantain|
Since the GSMNP has over 500,000 acres, we didn't get to see everything, of course, but we usually put in 8 - 9 miles hiking each day in different parts of the park. Sessions covered wildflowers, of course, but ferns, mosses, trees and shrubs, birds, and other topics of interest to the nature pilgrim, led by experts in the field. Sometimes the leaders were a little too expert, and academic, so I appreciated anyone who spoke English rather than Latin when discussing the flowers!
One trip went to Cade's Cove for birding, following the winding road tucked between a roaring mountain stream and high limestone cliffs. You have to keep your eye on the road in such conditions, but my attention was distracted by bright red flowers clinging to the cliff as we rounded one corner. "Columbine!" I shouted, soon followed by "Fire Pink!" On the way back, we drove extra slowly, searching for the cliff with these two flowers we had seen nowhere else. A narrow pull off area allowed us to risk life and limb crossing the road to peer up at the rocks for columbine and fire pinks who prefer this habitat.
Trilliums are the stars of the wildflowers in the Smokey Mountains, as we saw many different varieties, but my target for the week was the painted trillium, which I have never seen anywhere. We asked if anyone knew where they were, and only one group had spotted them on one certain trail. It rained all day, but we were determined to find them! So it's pouring as we make the 2.2 mile one-way climb up Porter Trail. As we began to think about giving up, we turned one last corner and there they were! About 15 painted trilliums grew on a large mossy boulder, shining wetly in the rain. I expected them to be as large as the others, but these were only 3 - 4 inches tall, probably due to the limited nutrition available when living on a rock! Laughing in triumph, we celebrated with BBQ at the bottom of the road.
|Sweet White Trillium|
The large white trillium and yellow trilliums were more common than the painted trillium, but I never tired of seeing them. I don't know which is more beautiful - a hillside covered in trilliums or focusing in on the heart of just one perfect flower.
Although I avoid the Latin scientific names as much as possible, I'm starting to swing the other way. It's hard enough to recognize the plants and learn all the common names for them, but many related flowers, such as trilliums, are so similar and the multiple common names are so confusing, that I'm starting to learn Latin for them. Sigh!
Orchids are always a prize finding on any wildflower trip. The showy orchis bloomed everywhere...
|Yellow Lady's Slipper|
...but we had to make a long hike for the yellow lady's slipper.
What else did I learn on my pilgrimage? Take a magnifying glass or loupe along - it's essential for identifying most ferns, and fascinating for any plant. Learn the proper names for the parts as much as possible - the vocabulary doesn't transfer over from flowers to ferns. Mosses don't have common names at all, so I'll just make up my own. Get a small white umbrella to use as a filter for bright sunlight. Use low gear when driving downhill in the mountains, and pull off to let the speedsters pass while you enjoy the view. Don't let rain stop you. Everything dries once you get back to the motel, and you feel so strong by reaching you goal even in the rain. Take lots of Aleve for sore feet and back muscles. Be sure you have a fully charged extra battery for your camera. Yes, indeed, I was a nature pilgrim at the Wildflower Pilgrimage.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A little bird, he told me so
He said come on, get on the go
He said come on, get on the go
Open your eyes the sky is full of butterflies
The blossoms on the trees stir up the honey bees
Spring makes my fever right
Spring fever, spring is here at last
Spring fever, my heart’s beating fast
Get up, get out spring is everywhere!
Don't waste time! The Spring wildflowers don't last long. It you wait, you might miss it!
Saturday, April 06, 2013
Muskrat Den in Marsh
The Kentucky Bird List sends emails to subscribers about sightings in this state, and, of course, Indiana has one too, but I don't subscribe to it. Others in the Beckham Bird Club do, however, and at the board meeting they were talking about a Redshank sighted at Goose Pond, IN. "What's that?" I asked, and as birders do, someone pulled out their smart phone to show me a picture. It is a Eurasian sandpiper-like bird with bright orange-red legs and bill. It doesn't belong in mid-America though, and would be considered a very rare bird here. Hmmm, I've heard about Goose Pond, and this might be a good opportunity to explore it and get a rare bird on the same day. Let's do it! Google maps says it's about 2.5 hours from Louisville, on two lane roads most of the way, to Linton, in western Indiana. "Just look for all the cars and follow the birders."
The flat corn fields spread for miles, with natural gas pumps nodding here and there. Suddenly the sun shines off water, as lakes, ponds and shallow pools in the corn fields announcing my arrival at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. The last glaciation flattened most of Indiana, and left a large ice chunk at Goose Pond creating a basin which still retains water due to the clay layer underneath. Farmers fought with the marshiness for years, with limited success. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) purchased the entire 8,000-acre Goose Pond site from a private landowner in 2005. The Goose Pond project is part of several very large Wetland Reserve Projects that NRCS has put together up and down the Wabash River to help re-establish part of the weave of the Mississippi flyway. As a result, Goose Pond is attracting some of the most diverse birds that anyone has ever seen in the state. Listen to these chuckling leopard frogs! I thought they were some kind of strange bird at first.
|Northern Shovelers and Blue Winged Teal Ducks|
I did, however, get some good views of about 500 American Pelicans, Double Crested Cormorants...
Thursday, March 21, 2013
|Bufflehead Ducks on Ohio River|
|Coots Looking for a Handout at Freeman Lake|
|White Trout Lily|
|Turkey Vulture Sunning at Bernheim Forest|
|Common Loon - Freeman Lake|
|Pied-billed Grebe - Freeman Lake|
|Red Breasted Mergansers|
|Killdeer at Freeman Lake|