Saturday, February 27, 2010

Page 76 in the Peterson Guide

I joined the Beckham Bird Club this morning for some late winter birding in Southern Indiana along the Ohio River. We started at the Falls of the Ohio, where a light snow quickly increased, until I started to ask myself what I was doing there instead of sipping a cup of hot coffee in my kitchen! The birds were safely hidden away in whatever shelter they sought, and we didn't see many song birds at all, except the Winter Wren we finally tracked down. A climb up the side of the levee got my heart pumping enough to warm my cold fingertips for a while.
As we headed upstream towards a large industrial park growing in the cornfields by the river, the clouds stopped snowing, although the skies did not lighten up. The leaders for the day identified all the ducks we saw. I still have trouble with Scaup and Goldeneyes, but found a Bufflehead, some Ring Necked Ducks, Redheads and Canvasbacks, and Hooded Mergansers on my own. The leader kept searching the water through his good scope and we saw some beautiful Wood Ducks too. I checked the field guide while reviewing the day's photos, and noticed that we found all the ducks on page 76 of the Peterson field guide. I've never found birds by the pageful before! The Scaups all had their heads tucked beneath their wings and seemed to be sleeping peacefully. But as I watched, I noticed that they were not drifting downstream with the current, but slowing going upstream instead. Guess they can swim with their eyes closed!
This mixed group of birds illustrate peaceful co-existence in waterfowl. The wild birds get along fine with the domestics. In fact, we found Marvin and Mabel at the Falls - a male Mallard with his mixed breed sweetheart who live there full time.
The Ring Billed Gulls sat on a dock on the river, listening to an announcer on the other side. They couldn't believe that people were actually going to swim in the river on a day like this. Even gulls are smart enough to stay dry if they don't have to get wet! The Polar Bear Plunge raises money for Special Olympics every year, and nearly 1,000 people showed up. Brr! I'm glad I was only looking for birds.
These Canvasbacks looked peaceful on their little lake, but spooked and took flight before we got very close.
I was amazed at all the little lakes and fields our leader took us too, and the variety of birds we saw. In addition to the ducks, we had great luck with raptors. There are Bald Eagles wintering on the Ohio River- appropriately, we found them near the Eagle Steele Company in the industrial park. I looked and looked without seeing them, but once I finally found them, I was amazed that it took so long in the first place. Kestrels perched on phone lines, and Coopers Hawks and Red Shouldered Hawks took a peek at us, then flew off in the other direction.
We saw one Red Tailed Hawk with something in its talons. Then it slowed and landed in this nest to add another stick to the structure, while its mate supervised from a nearby tree. I never thought of Red Tails starting to work on nests this early in the year. Pretty exciting stuff for me!
February is almost over, and I hope the long V's of Sandhill Cranes are proof that spring is really coming soon. In the meantime, as I took pictures off my camera, I found these last two from my backyard feeders that I can't resist adding to this post. That Blue Jay was a very persistent fellow, determined to get his share of the sunflower seeds, no matter who he had to share a perch with!
All right, Starling, reach for it!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Backyard Bird Count in Louisville

Today the Louisville Audubon Society joined the Great Backyard Bird Count viewing our birds at the Louisville Nature Center bird blind. The feeders are at the edge of a wooded area, and we had a variety of birds come to visit. Highlights from noon count included one Pileated Woodpecker, 18 Cardinals and 18 species overall as seen by a dozen observers...and NO Starlings or House Sparrows in the lot! One poor female Cardinal came in with a bald head. She may have feather mites - I've heard they can cause baldness. It was incredible to see all those Cardinals shining like flames in the trees at one time!

Instead of posting a lot of individual photos, I made these shots into a movie. It looks better in Flash format, but apparently Blogger doesn't allow us to upload Flash files yet. Hope you enjoy these. Just click the PLAY arrow to view the movie. To see the photos individually, go to my Picasa Web Album.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ky Birdlisting for Life Birds

I subscribed to the BirdKY list recently, and have been getting updates on what people are seeing around the state. This afternoon I found this in my Inbox:
There were flocks of Horned Larks feeding along the road into the north construction entrance into the Commons off Highway 1694. We also spotted one snow bunting and 2 American pipits. There were also quite a few Lapland longspurs and savannah sparrows. The larks are very flighty and the snow bunting would fly every time the larks took off. It was very hard to keep track of this bird.

It sure was neat to see these visitors from the North.

Pat and Jane Bell

Jefferson County

Pat and Jane are friends from the Beckham Bird Club, and birders par excellence, so I was excited to find their posting from a location just a couple miles from home. "Let's go," I told my husband. "It isn't too cold, the sun is shining, the wind is not blowing, and Pat and Jane have sightings of birds we've never seen before!" Even a man with a broken rib can go birding in conditions like this. Yes, when he fell on the ice, it broke a rib.
The target birds are Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, American Pipit and Savannah Sparrows. We found 3 out of 4, and those 3 are lifers for us! I had "seen" the Horned Lark before, but not closely enough to identify it with confidence, so we marked the field guide first to make sure we knew what to look for.
Lapland Longspurs
The construction entrance for this development is very muddy, as you can see, but it provides perfect camouflage for these small ground birds. The other trick is remembering that they are in winter plumage now, so look at the right picture in the guide. Grains of yellow corn left from last fall's harvest shone brightly, attracting the birds' attention. We were warned that they were very flighty, and that is putting it mildly. We walk carefully, squishing in the mud, and trying to shield our eyes from the late afternoon sun. Fortunately, they only flew around for a few minutes before resuming foraging in the same spot.
This Lark even has his horns up, just a little.
One brave little bird did not fly away as we crept down the road in our car, but continued peering around the dirt piles on the side of the road, bobbing its tail vigorously. I got some nice shots right through the window. As I reviewed the pictures on my computer, I said, "This is not a Lark, Longspur or Snow Bunting at all!" We found the American Pipit!! I will definitely have to go to the car wash tomorrow to get the mud off my car. (Wonder if they wash boots too...)

By the way, Pat and Jane, we also saw a bright yellow Meadow Lark. (Dick got this photo.) This is a great way to go birding and get new life birds, so I'll watch the KyBirdlist more carefully from now on. Did you see that today 49 of 50 states in the US have snow on the ground? Guess who does not....

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

...Followed by a Lot More Snow!

Our brush with the storm over the weekend was followed by reality. We have at least 6-8 inches in Louisville. At least it's not as bad as the Mid-Atlantic. The birds are not intimidated by the tall caps of snow on top of the feeders. In fact, a Starling managed to pull the suet feeder off entirely. Although I filled everything yesterday, they will be tapping on the windows by morning, demanding that I fill 'em up again. I know little birds have high metabolism, and can fluff their feather up to conserve heat, but don't their little toes get cold perching on the snow and ice? I've seen stories from the Ky. Birdlist about birds who drink from the birdbath, then perch on a metal bar and get frozen to it.

Who ordered the SnoCones?

At last, one seed the Starlings left for me!

In our retirement, we have finally figured out how to enjoy being snowbound. First, Dick decided NOT to drive to Asheville, NC for a conference. YEAH! Neither of us had to go anywhere today (our appointments were all canceled along with the schools), so we called a neighbor to find out who clears his driveway. In about 15 minutes the long drive and two sidewalks were snow-free, and worth every penny we paid the guy. I'm catching up on some computer projects and recent snow photos, while Dick is cleaning part of the basement, actually throwing away old cassette tapes, players and batteries that have been down there for... well, you take a guess! Maybe we'll stay snowbound tomorrow too!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Just a Little Snow....

For two weekends in a row, the big snow storms have bypassed Louisville and the Ohio Valley, thank Goodness! We had our share of bad weather in the ice storm of 2009, and I am quite content with the little snow we have - just enough to make it pretty, without piling up on the roads. This weekend the snow fell horizontally, and stuck to the windward sides of the trees. I remember an art project in my youth where we used black paper and white chalk to make a picture something like this.
I like this contrast - the snow and cold of winter on the dogwood buds ready to bloom in Spring.
White Throated Sparrow

The little winter birds appreciate my feeders, and I keep filling them despite the large numbers of Starlings chowing down. A fellow feeder at the store recommended a suet cake with red peppers in it, saying that the starlings don't like it. Yeah, sure... I don't think there is anything that Starlings won't eat!
American Tree Sparrow

Northern Cardinal

I have a coffee mug with that angry Bluebird on it, and always hope I can come up with a picture that I can make lots of money from. I'm afraid this Robin just looks resigned to the cold.
Mourning Doves and Cardinals share the seeds whether they are in the feeder or on the ground.
It's exciting to be the first to walk on pristine snow, pretending you are in the wilderness. Someday, I'd like to learn more about tracking, and winter is the perfect time for it. I think this is a raccoon - you can distinctly see it's five fingers. I kept hoping to see signs of owl wings in the snow, but no luck. Our backyard Great Horned Owls hooted and called almost all night recently. We wondered if they were celebrating an egg hatching. One of them stood clearly silhouetted in the top of a tree. But I have no guess at all for this one. Actually, I don't like being out in the snow for more than half an hour or so. Skiing doesn't appeal to me at all. I prefer to watch the snow through the window of a nice warm room. And I feel sorry for the little birds trying to stay warm. At least I can put on more blankets or snuggle up to a nice warm husband when I get cold!