Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bird Whisperer

Last night at the Beckham Bird Club meeting, Jean and I chatted about our husbands being out of town or otherwise busy today, and agreed to meet at Beckley Creek Park this morning for a little girl-time birding. The weather was absolutely perfect as we set off down the trail along Floyd's Fork.
The meadows are in full bloom with iron weed, milkweed, blue lupine and some yellow rayed flower I can't identify. The purple cone flowers have finished blooming, making this extra attractive to the Goldfinches, who were chowing down on the small seeds.
I love their little black caps and the way they can balance on the most slender of branches to pull minuscule seeds out of a pod.
On closer examination of the photos when I got home, apparently many of the blue birds I thought to be Indigo Buntings were in fact Blue Grosbeaks. The rusty patch on their wings and really large beak were the clues. With a beak like that, you expect them to eat only seeds, but these birds were going for the millions of grasshoppers in the fields this morning.
Some cardinal flower had been planted along the sidewalk, and I said "We should look for some Hummingbirds along here..."

and voila, Jean found a Hummer perched in a tree above the red blossoms. As the sun rose and warmed things up, I mentioned that we hadn't seen any Vultures yet. Turn around and voila, there are 6-8 Turkey Vultures soaring on their first warm thermal of the day. This meadow usually has lots of Meadow Larks in it but we haven't seen or heard any. Well, nesting season is over, so they don't need to sing, but voila, we saw 4-5 Meadow Larks in the next minute. Either we are just good about knowing what to look for in this spot, or I'm developing some new gift that allows me to summon birds like some sort of Bird Whisperer!  It was harder this morning, since we saw mystery brown birds that were probably juvenile somethings, and few birds were singing. We decided they were juvenile Red Winged Blackbirds later.
I did get a shot of a bird we couldn't identify, planning to send it to one of my expert birder friends for help. Before sending the email, though, I remembered the new Merlin Bird Photo ID service Cornell Univ has to identify birds by photo, and thought I'd give it a try. Some of the options they came up with were pretty weird, like Eurasian Collared Dove, Ovenbird and Common Grackle, but then it suggested a female or immature Common Yellowthroat, and their photo pretty well matched mine. Certainly Common Yellowthroats live in the area we found this bird. Pretty cool!
Not sure what kind of milkweed this is. It's pink like my swamp milkweed, but much shorter. Anyway, especially as the sun rose higher, we saw more Monarch butterflies than I've seen in years.
Everyone is making a to-do about the drop in population of Monarchs, and I'm glad effort is being made to save them. But I also haven't seen any Buckeyes or Fritillaries this year, and others I haven't even thought of yet.
The pond at the Grand Allee has been treated to keep the duckweed down, and now has an aerator bubbling to keep the water clear, and it does look nice.

Butterflies weren't the only insects enjoying the morning. We saw lots of dragonflies, such as this Widow Skimmer...
...and the ever noisy cicada. Park staff were mowing some fields nearby and the Barn Swallows were having a great time chasing down the grasshoppers. School started today in Jefferson County, but I'm glad for an opportunity for some nice weather birding!

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