Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walk While the Sun Shines

Gadwall male
In the winter, I just lose all interest in going outside on a cloudy, gloomy day. "Gloomy" is the key word. Go out for a walk when the sun is gone and the wind blows down my neck no matter how tightly a scarf is wrapped? No thanks. I'll just sit in my lounge chair wrapped in my favorite fuzzy blanket, reading a book or watching old movies. Of course, that also leads to excessive snacking, but that's what winter is about, right?
Mallards in head bobbing - courtship behavior
But the sun has been out this week, and the temps are up in the 40's and 50's - very pleasant weather for January - so I actually went for a walk along the Anchorage Trail this morning. It is paved, and I won't end up tracking a lot of mud home with me. All the little winter birds sang as they darted around unseen by me. It's always good practice to recognize them by sound alone. The ice on the lake was partially melted inviting several Gadwalls and a pair of Mallards to swim around. The Mallards were head bobbing at each other, then the male climbed on top of the female. Seems a little early for such behavior to me, but they know what they are doing. A pair of Kingfishers called to each other from the other side of the lake.
A flock of, say, 30 or so Canada Geese squabbled at each other while grazing in the nearby soybean field, then flew back to the lake. Some landed on the water with a splash, while others landed on the ice instead. All stood on the edge of the ice for a drink of cold water before hopping in for a little swim.
Hornet Nest
One tree had two hornet nests, with all the hornets safely inside, I hope. Don't they look like big skulls? In colder climes (according to National Geographic), hornet nests are abandoned in winter and only new, young queens (and their eggs) survive the season by finding protected areas under tree bark or even inside human dwellings. In the spring, such a queen will begin a new nest, and soon her young will become workers and take over the chores of the new hive—leaving the queen to tend to reproduction. She will produce more workers to expand the hive and then, before she dies, yield a breeding generation of new queens and males (drones) to restart the cycle of life.
Red-shouldered Hawk keeping warm
 As I headed back towards the car, I heard the repeated call of a Red-shouldered Hawk. I know they live around the trail, it's perfect habitat and I've seen them before. But lots of Blue Jays were out and about today, and they always mimic this hawk and I always fall for it. OK, let's walk in that direction and see if it really is a hawk or not. Yeah! There she sits on one foot, with the other curled up under her fluffed out feathers, trying to stay warm while keeping an eye below for something to eat.
Isn't she beautiful? Yes, indeed, I like taking walks when the sun shines!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Winter Woodpeckers

The sun is shining, and it's not too cold, so I joined the Beckham Bird Club for their trip to Cave Hill Cemetery this morning.  We probably heard more birds than we saw, but the woodpeckers were active and came out of hiding.
That stiff tail gives this Red-bellied Woodpecker good support on a vertical tree trunk.
Hmm, sap holes... I'll investigate. Time for something sweet!
The Downy Woodpeckers called and looked for bugs.
Ah, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, making more and more holes in the same tree. Maybe if it warms up more this afternoon, some sap will actually rise into them. Rats, thought I had another close shot of him, but I can't find it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Goose, Goose, Goose

Ducks and geese winter at Ballard WMA in varying numbers every year. The first time we went, we saw about 70,000 Snow Geese, but this year, the numbers were down. Maybe the weather isn't bad enough up north yet. No matter how many Snow Geese there are, it's always a thrill to watch them come in for a landing in the field. White bodies, black tipped wings, and blue morphs give them wonderful protection from predators. It's really hard to find an individual bird.
In flight, they don't use the classic "V" formation of other geese, but fly in waves.
Not all Snow Geese are white. They have a blue morph where the body is blue/gray and the head white in adults, or dark in juveniles.
Flocks of White-fronted Geese gathered at the WMA too. They are dark gray, with a patch of white on their heads by pink bills. I noticed all of them looking in the same direction and the bus driver said they were getting ready to take off. Small numbers of Canada Geese stayed apart from all the others. We couldn't get close enough to the open pools to actually see any ducks though.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Gathering of Eagles

We saw lots of variety and action among the eagles this weekend in Western Kentucky. KY Fish and Wildlife has been putting radio transmitters on some eagles in the last couple years to see where they actually go, and they have gotten good data, but sadly, the birds don't seem to be living very long, something NOT related to the transmitter, but something that can be recorded accurately with the transmitter. In 2014 they found 131 active nests in the state, and everyone's very excited with the numbers. Young birds travel in all directions, some up north, even as far as Canada, and some going to the south. The one mature bird they tracked had a large territory (about 15 X 16 miles). There were other pairs there as well, and he always flew wide of their nests to avoid attack. We especially enjoyed the many varieties of brown and white in the immature birds until they get their white heads and tails at age 5.
If you can find two birds sitting side by side, like this, you can guess their gender just by looking - the larger bird on the left is the female. But it's hard to catch them like this!
We saw some really good activity among the eagles. These two are definitely love birds!
Next they will work to improve a nest from last year, or maybe start a new nest. It's amazing to watch them select and carry the sticks to the nest site.
It's early in the season, but we did see one bird on the nest already, unless she's considering new wallpaper patterns!
I love the flight patterns. Total count for our weekend - 8 birding on Saturday morning, 38 from the boat that afternoon, and 82 at Ballard WMA this morning! Woo-Hoo! 128 altogether!
This morning we took an early van ride from the park to Ballard Wildlife Management Area. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife manages this area along the Ohio River near the confluence with the Mississippi (and many others across the state), not for the benefit of the wildlife, but for the hunters who pay fees for licenses. It's been pretty cold all weekend - down in the single digits most mornings - and the shallow ponds were frozen, except for a few open areas where all the ducks congregated. Yes, that's where the eagles gathered too! At one point we found 22 eagles gathered around an open pond to hunt for ducks. Some were even standing around on the ice! Of course, you could only get photos of this from the other side of the school bus we rode, but I sneaked a few views between all the heads.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Back at the Camera Again

It's been a long time since I birded or posted to this blog, but we've spent more time as grandparents and entertaining for the holidays, so sorry 'bout that. But this weekend will make up for the lack. It's Eagle Weekend at Kentucky Dam Village State Park on Kentucky Lake. RROKI is doing the program this evening, but the rest of the time is our own. I've become a big fan of Jim Johnson ( who lives down here and has the discipline and dedication to go out every morning to watch for birds and take absolutely phenomenal photos of them. He also posts to his blog every day. So, when we planned to come down, I contacted Jim and asked if we could go birding with him. What a good move that was!
We met him at frosty sunrise, for a guided tour of all the hot eagle spots around the lake. Every branch and blade of grass sparkled in the sunrise as steam rose from the river. Outside temp? Around 7 degrees (or maybe a bit less).
Jim knows where many eagles have nests, and we checked out several of them. There has been some nest construction going on, but not this morning.
The early sun added an orange tinge to this pair of Red-winged Hawks, hoping to catch a few rays and warm up before going on the hunt.
The Redheaded Woodpeckers were active - calling as they flitted from tree to tree. The Turkey Vultures were already flying from their roosting spot for the night, which seemed pretty early in the day to me.
Hundred of thousands of gulls (Ring-bills mostly, I think) gathered below the dam. Sometimes they flew too fast to get a good photo.
Jim's favorite spot below the dam is a popular spot for the Bald Eagles too. We found a pair perched on one side of the river while five more gathered on another tree on this side.
All the birds were fluffed up given the temps. After a few hours, I wished I had feathers to fluff up on my feet too.
Several times we watched an eagle enjoying his breakfast...
...then taking off to look for seconds. I must admit, I went for seconds at the breakfast bar in the lodge myself when we got back. That hot coffee sure tasted good! This afternoon we are taking the C.Q. Princess up the lake to look for more eagles, but we can go inside the yacht if it gets too cold and windy on deck. Now that's the way to go birding!