Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Lifer Birding

Red Crossbill - Female on top, male bottom right
You are probably aware of the large numbers of finches in places they normally aren't seen this fall/winter, right? I've heard it's because Canadian fir trees don't have enough cones this year. The KY Bird List reported Red Crossbills at the cemetery in Lexington yesterday, and this morning at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. We planned to go an a Beckham Bird Club trip to Cave Hill anyway, so it was a bonus to have such a rare target bird.

Red Crossbill Male
I'll be honest. If I'd gone by myself to find this bird, it would have been a complete failure. I might have seen this bird perched at the very top of a hemlock tree, and wondered what it was through my binoculars, but I never would have known for sure. And they were far enough away that the photos don't give much detail. Thanks again to all our birder buddies with big Swarovski spotting scopes, I got some good long looks at these unusual birds. I even watched the brick colored male grab some hemlock cones, pry them apart with his crossed bill, and pull out the seeds to eat. We did not see a White Crossbill, just the Red. "Just, the Red..." I shook my head in wonder as the words left my mouth!

Cave Hill National Cemetery
I've gone to Cave Hill Cemetery off and on for years, but I did not realize before that it is also a National Cemetery, with soldiers from the Civil War through Vietnam buried there. The rows of small white headstones looks much like Arlington Cemetery. The stones with a rounded tops are Union soldiers, while the ones with pointed tops identify the graves of Confederate soldiers. During the Civil War, there were so many dead that the bodies were carried to the cemetery in trains of wagons every day. Beginning with 0.65 donated acres, today, the national cemetery encompasses 4.1 acres within the nearly 300-acre Cave Hill Cemetery.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
We also had some good views of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker coming to check out one of his favorite trees. These birds aren't really rare, I suppose, but I don't see them as often as the other woodpeckers, so this was exciting to me, especially since he was close enough for a good shot. A new person who is a professional photographer joined our group this morning . She carried her camera (with a 3 foot long lens) on a monopod. To take a photo of a bird up in a tree, such as the Crossbill, she had to kneel down on the pavement (which we fortunately had this morning). Sorry, I don't care how good the photos would be, I don't want to carry around that much equipment. I do covet another spotting scope with one of the bent viewers, though I can't really justify spending that much money.

Northern Harrier
The KY Bird List also reported another sighting of the Short Eared Owls I went to look for a few weeks ago, in the same place as before. Well, it's warmer since the sun came out, so why not? I chatted for a while with the owner of the land when he drove down the road. He likes the hawks that eat mice, but he's not fond of the ones that go for bunnies and birds. He didn't mind at all that birders were coming to look for these owls.

Short Eared Owl
As the sun sank behind the horizon, I finally saw some birds. No, that one has a long tail, it's a Harrier. Why are they coming out at dusk, when I didn't see them for the whole hour I waited? Oh, sure. That facial disc means they hunt with sound, just like the owls do. But the long tail is the giveaway. Look there! This bird has rounded wings, a rounded head and shorter tail. This must be the Short Eared Owl!  Hooray! Now I just have to find one sitting on a fencepost sometime so I can get a photo of its beautiful face!

The hunt continues, but I can put notches in my binoculars for two more life birds today! Just imagine the hunting success the owls will have tonight in the light of the full moon.

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