Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Birding with Barbara

Cackling and Canada Geese
My friend Barbara is a really good birder, who knows not only the songs of many, many birds, but their chips and call notes as well, so she's a great resource to have. After the Creasey Mahan GBBC event on Saturday, Barbara and I headed for Reformatory Lake. As you might guess, it is near the state prison. Hundreds of geese keep a good portion of the lake's water open this winter, and we waded through rather deep snow to get as close as possible. The Common Mergansers were beautiful, and the Green-winged Teals looked like little goslings standing close to the large Canada Geese. When several flocks joined the others on the water, we found Cackling Geese, our target for this trip. The newly recognized Cackling Goose is a smaller version of the Canada Goose, and breeds farther northward and westward than does the Canada Goose. Barbara said the trick is not to look at the size of the goose, but the size and shape of the small bill on the Cackling Goose.
Red-breasted Merganser male
Today, the sun was shining, and the urge to bird struck me again, so we headed down I-64 to Lexington, KY, a new spot for me. Reservoir #2 (located with the help of Google) hosted a variety of different waterfowl, including male and female Red-Breasted Mergansers. I love his punk hairdo and red eyes!
Hooded Mergansers, male and female
The tiny Hooded Mergansers didn't have their hoods up today, but quite a few of them swam in the lake. We watched an Eared Grebe come up with a fish, while Great Blue Herons landed on the ice. I think a "murder" of crows were playing hockey on the icy surface, and enjoying themselves immensely!
Mallard male
Mallards stayed close to shore for the most part, except for this fellow who decided to take off for a while...
Ruddy Duck, male
The Ruddy Ducks aren't in breeding colors yet, but we found 10-12 pairs. As soon as you spot one and get the camera focused, it dives under, and there's no predicting where it may surface again. Usually their stubby little tail stands straight up.
Muscovy or hybrid Mallard?
The most obvious character of a Muscovy is the red facial skin.This red skin can be quite bumpy, exaggerated, and frankly, gross, with a knob on top of the bill and lumps all over. Domestic Muscovies can be pure white, all black, or any degree of pied black-and-white. Many hybrid Mallards paddled in Reservoir #4, but I think this one is a Muscovy. I never knew that four good sized lakes could be found within the Lexington city limits. 
Eastern Meadowlark
Many Lexington birders have been taking wonderful photos of a Short-eared Owl at one of the University of KY research farms. I am still on the quest for a good photo of the SEO's face, so for an hour before sunset we drove around the fields of horses, looking for a fence with a dark blob on the top, alas, with no luck. No owls. No harriers. We did find lots of Red-tailed Hawks all day, plus the liquid joy of Eastern Meadowlarks having a song fest. 
 We enjoyed the cotton candy sunset, and treated ourselves to a nice supper, oooing and aahing over our photos and good luck today. There's always another day to look for owls, and we may try our luck for Sandhill Cranes soon, since they are starting to move north - as long as the sun shines!

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