Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Elusive Common Yellowthroat

Whoever named all the warblers has a big problem with yellow birds, because so many warblers have yellow. So there is the Yellow Warbler - which is all yellow, or the Yellow-throated Warbler - which has a yellow throat (duh!), or the Common Yellowthroat, which has not only a yellow throat but a yellow belly as well.
Common Yellowthroats are sly little birds, who sing loudly around meadow or marsh. Witch-ity, witch-ity, witch-ity. Very easy to identify, but not so easy to locate. They like to hide low in the grass, where it's safe, right? If you call them out, they might pop up for a second to take a peek at you, but they quickly drop back down into the grass.
Yes, this is usually the best shot I can get of the Common Yellowthroat on most days. It's hard to get focused around the grass, and when you do, they have already moved somewhere else. Sigh.
Leaves make a good alternate place to hide without being seen.
But this morning at Beckley Creek Park, not only were the Common Yellowthroats out in force, they actually stopped long enough several times for some of the best photos I've ever taken of any of them!
Yessir! Those hormones are flowing, and he can't take time to be shy. He has to sing and protect his territory! Never mind all those tall funny looking creatures looking up at him from the ground. There are more important things to do today!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Birds and Blooms II

Zebra Swallowtail on Dogwood Blossoms
If you are having trouble locating the flitting, darting little warblers in the spring, you can always take photos of wildflowers. At least they only move when the wind blows.
Dwarf Crested Iris
Many spring wildflowers are white, but sometimes you find bright blues, reds and yellows. The colors look different to pollinators who can often see in ultraviolet light.
Canada Violets
Roses are red, Violets are blue, or white or yellow...Usually violets grow close to the ground, but the Canada Violet has a long stem and a yellow center in each blossom.
Halberd Violet
Other violets leaves of elongated shape or varied shades of green.
Yellow Lady's Slippers
It's always the thrill of the season to find any kind of orchid, so when a friend asked if we'd seen the Yellow Lady's Slippers growing on the roadside, we hopped in the car immediately. You would expect a bright yellow like this to flash like neon, but it's so easy to drive right by them if you don't know exactly where they are. Two professional photographers with tripods were our clue. We saw single blossoms, or pairs, then found a cluster of four and another of SIX blossoms! What a thrill!
Pink Lady's Slipper
We found a single Pink Lady's Slipper almost by accident, growing all by itself on the top of a large boulder down by the Visitor's Center just below the Falls. People walked right by it all day without seeing it.
Sweet White Trillium, Jewel Wakerobin - t simile
Trilliums have three of everything - three leaves, sepals, petals - so they are easy to recognize. Natural Bridge State Park has similar geography, and there are loads of Trillium there, but we found very few plants at Cumberland Falls State Park, and a few different species at Yahoo Falls in McCreary County. How disappointing.
Sweet Betsy - t cuneatum
Telling them apart can be a real challenge. Be sure to use a field guide that puts all of them together for comparison. Since most of them have dark red or white blossoms, you can't rely on color or leaf shape to make an ID. The trick is to look closely at the colors of the reproductive parts - the stamens and ovary.
Red Trillium, Stinking Benjamin, Red Wakerobin, Stinking Willie - t erectum
There are sooo many common names for trillii (trilliums?) so even I try to pay attention to the latin names for them. Many of them refer to the unpleasant odor. Less common names for the t erectum include American Tru-Love, Bumblee Root, Indian Shamrock and Threeleaf Nightshade!
Solomon's Plume fka False Solomon's Seal
Every year I seem to take photos of the same kinds of flowers, but that's OK. They are always beautiful!
Fire Pink

Foam Flower

Squaw Root

Star Chickweed

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Birds and Blooms

Black-throated Green Warbler
Every spring, we have a hard decision to make. Where shall we go this year for birds and blooms? We belong to several organizations which sponsor weekends at various state parks. Or there are trips to the Smokey Mountains or Magee Marsh in Ohio. April is also a busy time for our volunteer activities, so it's hard to get away at all. Add the Kentucky Derby to the equation (even though we aren't too much into horse racing) plus grandchildren, and you can see our dilemma. Sigh.
Yellow-throated Warbler
This year we threw a dart at the wall (figuratively speaking of course), and decided to join the Kentucky Ornithological Society on their spring trip to Cumberland Falls State Park. I haven't been to this park, home of the "Niagara of the South," since we were newlyweds with no vacation money. Plus, if we are looking for warblers on migration, it's always best to go with the experts. We came a day early to take a few hikes on our own before the official activities began. The Weather Channel forecast rain and storms for all day Saturday and most of Sunday, but birders are tough, so I just packed my raincoat and pants.
Black and White Warbler
Birders are subject to an ailment in the spring known as "warbler neck." You guessed it - watching these small but often colorful birds can give you a stiff neck from looking straight overhead all day. Since most of the facilities at Cumberland Falls State Park are built atop steep sandstone cliffs, we had one advantage over the birds. We can stand on the cliff top, and see many birds at eye level! Our trip leader today knows every bird song and call there is, so when we heard a bird, he brought out his phone, with birdsong software and a wireless speaker to invite the bird in for a closer look. Some came in, but hid among the leaves and blossoms on the trees. Others darted from branch to branch so quickly, it was hard to find them in the binoculars let along a camera lens. But birders are nothing if not persistent!
Kentucky Warbler
This little Kentucky Warbler slipped in to spy on us from behind a branch. Then he popped over the top of the branch to challenge us in song, before dropping back into hiding again.
Hooded Warbler

We saw and heard more Hooded Warblers than anything else today. Some on our trip were disappointed not to see more variety, more exotic species of birds. I, on the other hand, was glad for a chance to reinforce my somewhat scanty knowledge of the more common warblers shown here. I don't get out to go birding as often as I did a few years ago, and from year to year I tend to forget birds I might only see once a year. This weekend allowed me to add some good photos to my collection. I only hope I will remember the songs for them after I get home!
Northern Parula
One little bird was easy to identify by ear, but trying to pronounce its name.... You probably know of the controversy between the "pill-e-ated" and "pile-e-ated" woodpecker. There is also the "par-you-la" and the "pa-roo-la".  If George Gershwin were still alive, he could probably write a song, concluding "let's call the whole thing off!"
Red-eyed Vireo
Among the warblers, we saw and heard several species of vireos. When I was a Brownie Scout in Ohio, we went to day camp in the summer, and I remember one bird that sang all day, no matter how hot it got. When I became a birder, many, many, many years later, I was surprised to find that call came from the mysterious Red-eyed Vireo. It still sings from the tree tops all day long. And they all seem to be named after colors - the red-eyed, the blue or the white-eyed.
Yellow-throated Vireo
The Yellow-throated Vireo must have bad vision, since it wears little yellow spectacles! In case you haven't guessed, many of these photos are the first I have ever taken of the species, so this has been a great weekend for me. KOS was joined this weekend by a young man who went to birding camp with the American Birding Association last year on a scholarship from KOS. He is here this weekend, and still very enthusiastic. Plus, he brought along 4 or 5 friends or brothers too, so I traded birding photo stories with one of his friends all morning. It's great to see some young people interested in my favorite sport. Our speaker this evening was from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and he gave a great update on eBird and how the data collected by birders around the world is being used. Absolutely fantastic stuff. Guess I need to look into it again. All my birder friends assure me that it's easy to use, even if I don't go out very often.
Birding in the Fog
Although the weather guys predicted rain all day Saturday, none fell until the thunderstorm struck about 10 p.m. that evening. But we were all in bed, and nobody cared. Sunday morning, all the rain turned into fog, requiring us to bird by ear.
Worm Eating Warbler
One last warbler came when called, this little Worm Eating Warbler. What? Don't they all eat worms? I often shake my head at the names these birds get. This little guy opened his mouth as wide as he could and sang with all his might, but we could hardly hear anything because he sings at an extremely high pitch. Birders who have trouble hearing the higher ranges often miss many small birds.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Oxbow Wetlands Birding

Flooded Oxbow Wetlands
 When my kids were little, we always took the Interstate past the Cincinnati Airport to cross the Ohio, and reach my hometown of Harrison, Ohio, on the west side of the county.  They would ask, "Are we there yet?" and I had them watch for the lights on the power station, and the big bridge over the river. Then they knew we are almost to grandma's house. In the spring, both the Ohio and Great Miami Rivers would flood for miles and miles. I returned there Saturday for some birding at Oxbow, Inc., which was founded in 1985 to protect this area from development.
Of course, since the water was so high, we only walked along the levee above the water levels, but we found 51 species for the morning despite the flood, not including this beaver who didn't see to be  affected at all by the the high water.
Cattle Egret
A trio of Great Egrets in breeding plumage were joined by a single Cattle Egret along the grassy shore of the levee.
Black and Turkey Vultures
Both Black and Turkey Vultures soared overhead looking for something to eat. When the flood waters recede, they will feast on all the big carp that get caught in the shallows and can't escape to the river.
Double Crested Cormorant
I never saw the crests in these Cormorants until recently, and couldn't get a close enough shot of the crests on this guy. But look at him taking off from the water! Several Bald Eagles perched in trees waaayyy across the water, an Osprey circled overhead, and a Red-tailed Hawk perched by the highway. But we didn't find any warblers at all, but saw most of the swallow species from the area.
Gulls and Caspian Terns
A sandbar hosted a group of Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns. Some Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Ducks and Scaup joined them with American Coots.
Red-winged Blackbird Female
Red-winged Blackbirds called in the reeds trying to establish nesting territories. I think the females are absolutely gorgeous.
Wood Duck male
We expected to find some Wood Ducks at Oxbow, but didn't. When I got home, my daughter and the kids invited me to join them at a local park to feed the ducks, and we found this drop dead beautiful Wood Duck there. I'll have to return to Oxbow with some Cincinnati birding friends some day when the water isn't so high.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Adventures in April

Smoke from GE Appliance Park Fire
Holy Cow! April 1 may be a day for jokes and fooling people, but in Louisville, April 3 is a day of disaster! April 3, 1974, was the big tornado that came through town, flattening everything in its path. April 3, 2015 was a day of severe thunderstorms, and about 12 solid hours of rain; from 6 - 7 inches, depending where you are in the county. Every time I dropped to sleep, the phone would ring with another flash flood warning. Cars got caught under viaducts, apartments flooded, and roads were washed away entirely. We got water in the basement again, even after spending a bundle to have it waterproofed after the last flood.  At least it wasn't as deep as last time, and our terrific son-in-law came over with two water vacs to help get it out as soon as possible. The area rugs are on the patio drying. During all this downpour, something happened to start a six alarm fire in one of the buildings at GE Appliance Park, one of the largest employers in the county. You could see the smoke plume from anywhere in town. Some said it looked like a tornado while others thought it resembled the smoke from a volcano. Fortunately, the employees were off for Good Friday, but they will close the plant for at least a week while they investigate.
Purple Martins
April 4, though, the sun came out and we headed to Bernheim Forest and Arboretum with our 3-year-old grandson for Pollywogs play time. Our grandson will grow up to be a naturalist, if he keeps going the way he's started! The Salt River covered the flea market grounds with muddy brown water. Surprisingly though, the small streams at Bernheim flowed clear and within their banks.
Flicker Male (left) and Female (right)
One spot near the Education Building traditionally hosts many Flickers in the spring. That's where we ate our picnic lunch today, and I had my camera close at hand for some photos. Of course, every time I followed the calls of one bird, I couldn't find it, and the calls started again from a tree 40 feet away. I finally found a large dead sycamore limb which supports at least 5 woodpecker holes, so that's probably why they are in this area every year.
Flickers - 2 females and 1 male
Finally, three birds who sat on a nice sunny branch where I could photograph them at leisure. Lots of hopping around and calling back and forth. Looks like courting behavior, I thought. Probably two males after one female. I checked the field guide to discover that the male Flicker has black sideburns (or malar stripes) in the Eastern part of the US, so my trio is actually two female and only one male. Curious! Do the females compete for a really great stud?
Flickers - Yellow Shafted
In the Eastern US we have the Yellow-shafted Flickers, and you see yellow under their wings and tails as they fly, while the Western area has the Red-shafted Flickers. At one time, they were considered separate species, but apparently they inter-breed where territories overlap, so they are now merged into one. Most woodpeckers are red, black and white only in coloration, while Flickers are more brown with only a white rump. Flickers are often found on the ground hunting for ants and beetles to eat.
Brown Thrasher
A Mockingbird --no, make that a Brown Thrasher, serenaded us from a tree top. They only repeat their mocking of other bird calls twice, instead of three or four times like Mockingbirds.
Fox Sparrow
A Fox Sparrow scratched in the dirt under the feeders by the Ed Building, while a Field Sparrow called from the Great Meadow.
Purple Martins at Nesting Gourds
The Purple Martins have returned, taking up residence in the gourd colonies put up by Bernheim for their use.
Canada Goose on Nest
The the Canada Goose pair is on the pond nearby as usual. Every year she builds her nest on a small island that supports the pedestrian bridge over the pond. You would expect her to look for a more private location, but it doesn't seem to bother her. As she sat, she moved around small pieces of grass and sticks to make her nest just right... This was a wonderful relief from all the alerts, warnings, and bad news of the last day. BUT, the weather forecast is for more rain next week. In fact, for 5 DAYS of rain!! Yikes, what is going to happen to our basement!