Monday, May 31, 2010

Birding at the Zoo

Happy Memorial Day! We have been out on hikes and birding so much lately, on impulse we decided to go to the Louisville Zoo, even though we knew it would be packed with kids. It was the right decision.
Our favorite zoo bird is the Lorikeet. They have so many bright colors! Hold out a little cup of nectar in and they immediately jump all over you to drink it, lapping with their tongues. Yes, some people couldn't quite handle those little feet in their hair, particularly young kids. Shreek! After the nectar is gone, the Lorikeets still stay on your shoulders to nibble on your earrings, or walk up and down your neck licking sweat - guess they must like the salt. It tickles like crazy!
Sometimes they get a little over-enthused and try to take a bite out of your finger, which Dick didn't care for. Compared to owl bites, though, these were just love nips. In addition to the exotic and endangered animals, the Zoo plays host to many local birds too, especially Canadian Geese. My favorites at the lake are the Wood Ducks. Some of the males haven't started to molt yet, and they are beautiful. Others are in eclipse and will be pretty sorry looking for a while until their colorful feathers start to grow back in. How odd to see so many Wood Ducks at the zoo, and so few out in the wild. Baby ducks slip through the fence and mama swims back and forth trying to call them back to her.
Some of the Flamingos are much pinker than others. This guy sat on his ankles and tucked his head into his wings, looking more beige than pink.
The Emus sat in the shade while kids yelled and splashed at the new water park in the zoo. Construction is still under way for the polar bears and sea lions, but the water park seems popular. I think this emu could wear an earring on her ear. I've never seen one so prominent on a bird before.
I think the sign said this was the Demoiselle Crane, although I could be wrong. I love the different colors in the bird eyes.
This Crested Crane has long been one of my favorites. The punk rock star of the bird world!
Black Swans used to be part of the Australian exhibit, but now they swim in the big lake with all the other geese and ducks. Doesn't seem to bother them a bit.
This stork was in the pen with the giraffe's and I didn't see its name sign. Hey, do zoo birds count on your life list?
Of course, you can't limit yourself to just the birds at the zoo. I was interested in faces today, so the orangutan and the Siberian tiger joined my collection. The lions wouldn't wake up and look in my direction. However, the absolutely BEST photos I took today must be saved for another post, since there are so many of them. I didn't think it would be good to have all these birds, plus my really special photos in the same post. So come back in a few days and see the Griffon Vulture and the giraffes!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cornell Lab of Ornithology on YouTube

Birders are joining the high-tech 21st Century in flocks. We buy iPods and iPhones to carry electronic field guides and song recordings with us in the field. We notify BSBO about bird sightings through Twitter while still out on the Boardwalk at Magee Marsh. We keep our bird lists on Now, Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology has joined YouTube. I subscribed and receive an email notice whenever they post something new. Since I just saw lots of Catbirds at the marsh, I was interested is this one. Here's a link if you want to look at some of their other offerings.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lessons from the Marsh

This is our first trip to Magee Marsh, but only the first of many. Birders take trips like this for many reasons, I think. Some simply want to add to a list - a life list, a warbler list, a Magee Marsh list. Some go because of the unique opportunity to see so many species of birds at the same time and place. Think of all the driving you can avoid! Others may go to help support efforts to protect these feathered gems. We met old and new friends among the birders, and I was impressed with the efforts Black Swamp Bird Observatory makes to encourage young people to become birders. In fact, I was impressed with the wide variety of ages and physical strength and condition of birders, and the boardwalk allowed all of them to participate to the best of their ability. Birders, as a group, have always been very helpful, sharing identifications and a peek in a spotting scope. However, I think there are more lessons to be learned from our trip to the marsh, and the birds themselves can explain better than I can.
First, the Canada Geese teach us that there is safety in order. When things (or birds) get out of hand, somebody is going to be hurt.
The Red Eyed Vireo sings all alone in the deepest forest all day. If a bird sings in the forest and no one is there to hear, is it still beautiful? I'd say the answer is yes!
"Little guys sing the loudest," says the House Wren. Don't disregard someone just because they are small, because size isn't everything. Even small creatures have something important to contribute.
"Sit above the crowds to gain perspective," says this young Great Horned Owl. The masses walked below his nest tree all day, and he just watched, without becoming upset by the disruption to his routine. He knows he is still in charge. "I can see everything from up here."
The Common Yellowthroat recommends that you shouldn't be upset just because they call you "common." He hides in the brush and cattails, singing his distinctive song. We all know he's there, and it's a special occasion when we actually see and photograph him. "It's all a state of mind," he says.
The Cat Bird hops across the forest floor, tossing leaves over his shoulder. "The important thing," he adds, "is to pick up each leaf separately. This maximizes the findings, and thus, my dinner."
"The best bugs are always on the bottoms of the leaves, so don't stop looking," advises this Black Capped Chickadee. "The juiciest bug may be on the next leaf or the one after that. You just have to be persistent and keep your grip."
Although we birders are all looking for birds, they aren't the only things worth looking for in the marsh. We saw this wonderful hairy spider, a big snapping turtle, deer and a muskrat as well as birds. Everything is important.
The BSBO keeps a running list during the festival of all the birds sighted. Yes, with enough eyes on the job, all the warblers on the list can actually be seen! Although Dick and I like to bird and enjoy nature by ourselves, we do get better results when we go with other birders, and we learn so much from them. Thanks to everyone on the boardwalk for helping us find 23 different warbler species in our week! We will keep coming back to find the others.
At the end of the day, or the end of a week, remember that the reeds blow with the wind, and even if they bend to the ground, they will grow again, providing food and shelter for the creatures of the marsh. Be flexible about life, and adjust to what life gives you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Twitter - PEENT

It's after 10:00 on Saturday night in Port Clinton, and we just returned from the best evening program of the week, about Woodcocks. After a presentation with slides, we trooped out into the field to see the show, sinking into the mud the longer we stood there. But what a show it was! With a loud PEENT, the male Woodcock flew up right over our heads, twittering madly, circling up in a wide circle until we could no longer see him in the distance.

He dropped almost straight down, to land softly on the path no more than 20 feet before us. The guide shined a light on the trail so we could see. Ignoring the light, he strutted around, tail cocked, ducking his head as he peented again and again. Then the female showed up and he really went into action! Peenting and strutting, he sidled up to her, wings spread as if to say, "Let me take you to the Casbah, darling." She seemed to be interested for a while, but then walked off. With a shrug, he took off over our heads again, peenting and twittering. This was the coolest thing we did all week, and it had nothing to do with warblers! Can you imagine that!

As we walked around the trails at Ottawa NWR, we saw a large shape crossing the road. Binocs raised, we saw this enormous snapping turtle! It crossed quickly and slid into the creek. The moss on its back apparently was just picked up when he left the water, because it floated when he re-entered the water and disappeared into the dark depths.

There is no doubt that we will return to Magee Marsh again, but next time I will remember the spotting scope and we will pack some folding chairs in the car for a break from birding during the day. I have more pictures, but my eyes won't stay open much longer. The species total through Saturday is at 111 (either seen or heard), including 15 life birds. Of 37 Warbler species on the list, we saw/heard 23. Pretty good for six days!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let the Sun Shine

For the first time this week, we ventured out without long johns and gloves, and it was terrific to see sunshine again. In fact, the sunlight was either too bright or too shady under the trees. Of 319 photos on the card, I deleted about half of them since they only showed leaves and empty branches. The warblers were in full force today, chowing down on bugs galore.
As we walked down the boardwalk, we ran into some friends from the Beckham Bird Club, who said, "Can't stop to talk. There is a Kirtland's Warbler down at the beach!" The crowds dropped dramatically as birders rushed to the beach to see the rare Kirtland's Warbler which only breeds in one small place in Michigan. We decided to enjoy the peace on the boardwalk while we could instead of running with the crowds.
At last, a Common Yellowthroat perched on a cattail long enough for a photo!
Cape May Warbler
The Warblers were wonderful today, and we saw quite a few life birds, including this Cape May Warbler, a Bay Breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Wilson's Warbler and Canada Warbler, and Northern Waterthrush. Yes, I know that last one says "thrush", but it's included with the Warblers. Warblers are hyperactive by definition, so I didn't get photos of all of them, but we have to leave something for next year, right?
Black Throated Blue Warbler
We felt pretty good about identifying all these Warblers, then we discovered that many of the birds we could not identify were just females of something we thought we already knew. It's like learning two species instead of one.
Bay Breasted Warbler
American Redstart
Back at Ottawa NWR for the evening program, a cocky Ring Necked Pheasant posed, gazing into the sunset. Hoping to see the parent Great Horns, we headed back to the owl's nest. Only one owlet watched us from a secure perch, but he never let us out of his sight.
Heading back to the car, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset in the marshes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh Sweet Canada!

Are we tough birders or what? Amidst rain and predicted storms, we boarded the jet boat to cross 33 miles of Lake Erie this morning towards Point Pelee National Park, Canada. Breakfast included the standard coffee and donuts, and McDonald's sausage sandwiches. I can just picture the scene at the drive-thru window. "I'll have 200 sausage sandwiches to go, please." The windows on the boat were steamy on the inside, and covered with splashing waves on the outside, but we could still see flashes of lightning. Where, we wondered, was the standard safety speech in case of emergency? We did not hear it either going over or coming back, but fortunately, everything was fine.
The wind whipped across the marshes, but the rain slowed to a drizzle in a short time. The Common Yellowthroat daintily stepped across the lily pads, although it still eluded having its photo taken.
The Red Winged Blackbirds were pretty tame and met us at the beach looking for a handout, almost stepping under our feet for attention.
The Black Tern is a life bird for us though, and rested for a minute on this log before soaring into the sky again. Down on the Point itself, we almost ducked every time a Swallow flew at us. Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Rough Winged Swallows seemed to fly races down the path on the leeward side of the peninsula. A Blue Headed Vireo landed on a branch for a minute, and I identified it with no help. Whoo-hoo! I'm getting better at Vireos and Warblers, which is handy since we see so many of them. Warblers a clean little birds, even in the wind and rain, as evidenced by this guy just emerging from a bath in the lake. I'm not positive, but think it may be a Prothonotary. It was sad to hear people say, "Oh, it's just another Yellow Warbler," as the day went on. How quickly we become accustomed to new birds!
The real excitement started on Tilden Trail in the woods near the Visitors Center. By this time after lunch, the rain stopped and the wind died down too. We saw so many different kinds of birds, I wonder if it qualifies as a "fall-out" I've read about? Like the boardwalk in Magee Marsh, the trail was filled by birders of many skill levels, guides for different groups, and photographers without end (including me, of course, elbowing my way between the big guys). With enough encouragement from the photographers, this Rose Breasted Grosbeak hopped from the leaf filled branches on to an open perch. You should have heard the shutters clicking then! He's beautiful and he knows it!
Farther down the trail, Dick and I were alone when we spotted this largish brown bird. I motioned some other birders to come help us, but as they approached, I deduced that the large beak (the Gros Beck in French) made this the female Rose Breasted Grosbeak. I enjoyed seeing all the bi-lingual signs at the park.
The biggest thrills of the afternoon came when we saw birds I've heard many times before, but never actually seen. This Red Eyed Vireo was the prize of the day for me. I heard this bird as a Brownie at summer camp, and never had any interest in what it was. Now we have seen more Vireos this week than ever!
Black Throated Green Warblers have followed us for weeks, both here and at home in Kentucky, and now we've finally seen one live.
The Black and White Warbler can usually be heard and not seen, and even today, he was so busy shopping for bugs under every leaf he found, it was hard to get a photo that wasn't blurred.
Yes, they do allow American Redstarts into Canada. I wonder if he was questioned by Customs as we were crossing the border? Orioles whistled from the branches, and we saw bright orange Baltimore Orioles, accompanied by their more yellow mates. Then a dark rusty colored Orchard Oriole joined the crowd to ooohs and aaahs.
For a while I wondered if the photographers would start dueling with their cameras. I found myself whispering, "Ready, aim, FIRE!" when I saw this group because they seemed to be pointing at each other instead of the birds! With birds around you in all directions, it's hard to know where to look first. The weather forecast calls for clear cool weather for the rest of the weekend. Yippee - maybe I can postpone buying those rain pants for a while longer yet. Total species count for us so far is 81!