Monday, January 16, 2017

Mopane worm

My niece is in Botswana for the next 20 months with the Peace Corps (having begun her service back in October 2016).  She was with friends and took this photo and WhatsApp'd it to my mother.  I copied to include in my blog.

I think this is a mopane worm – an edible caterpillar that is a highly popular snack in Botswana!

Crazy Botswana Peace Corp kids.  I like their adopted puppies too!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Cedar Waxwings

While looking for the Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) there was no shortage of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) flying around.  I took these photos after the T. solitaire disappeared from view (above) for the final time during my visit.  

For a brief period in the late afternoon the sky lightened up and a hint of sun brightened up the junipers just as close and low waxwings flew.

My favorite photo.  I can't resist the chance for a photo opportunity of a bird with a berry in it's beak.

The photo above and the one below are each cropped images from a full photo that included three Cedar Waxwings.

A great beauty - our American Robin (Turdus migratorius).

An active flock of chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) would occasionally have a nicely perched bird - briefly - in great light.  I missed all my chances.

My one chance for a photo of a Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) was missed secondary to my distraction in the presence of the solitaire.

Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) were also around but no chances for photos for me.  It was a great January afternoon to be out and even though I didn't know any of the other birders looking for the Townsend's Solitaire our collective efforts paid off.     

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Townsend's Solitaire

Well-reported and with much better photos by others uploaded to eBird.  This afternoon about 3 small and previously unacquainted groups - about ten birders in all - were at Island Lake State Recreation Area looking for the Townsend's Solitaire.  Let me say - this is not a gimme bird.  We all found our way to the generally correct area.  Island Lake SRA is a large park and this was my first visit there.  

In a semi-scattered fashion we all searched for the bird until a sharp-eyed teenager named John (I think) and wearing a red Northface jacket finally found the bird.  This was about 90 minutes into our search.   We all had several good looks and really enjoyed the bird.    

Many of the junipers do not have berries, but when we finally began to see junipers with berries along a ridge I felt our chances might improve.  The bird seemed quite flighty.  It didn't just pick a tree and begin eating juniper berries.  It flew around, perched high in bare deciduous branches and then would fly down to the junipers from its high perch.

I don't have a GPS, so the coordinates being given were not helpful to me.  The cement slab that has  been frequently mentioned is not easy to find either and the junipers around the cement slab have no berries. From the slab the bird was located on the next ridge beyond - perhaps another 15 minute walk toward the lake and smaller ponds.

The Spring Hill pond parking lot is quite far from the bird - at least a mile and likely even further.  It wasn't too cold or windy today and so the walk was pleasant.   Upon leaving at around 4:15 pm, I noticed a parking area called the shooting range.  I wonder if this might be a better spot to park and then walk in from there.   

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Belle Isle birding 01/02/17

I didn't know red-headed woodpeckers were there.  And I didn't know that northern mockingbird was there.  I went to look for owls which I knew were there.  But, as everyone knows, even when you know there are owls, you mostly can't find them.

My photos of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers were mostly awful so I was glad I took this 29 second video.  There was one on each side of the trail and they were making their churring sound back and forth.  At first I didn't recognize the sound, then it came to me - woodpecker! - then one of the birds flew into view.  Beautiful as they are, I find them to also be quite comical.

Above and below:  Before finding the Northern Mockingbird, I took this Red-bellied Woodpecker and three other photos - alas, all are a little or a lot pixelated.

The light is a lot better for this Downy posing than for my January 1st photos.  In the foreground a red twig has blurred the slender trunk and makes the bird's tail appear red!

This Northern Cardinal was posing beautifully in the open.  It moved into this interesting pose just as I snapped the shutter - just a little too far away.

Lots of color on this House Finch.  

It's always thrilling to see a Northern Mockingbird.  Reminds me of my Baltimore days.  One used to perch on the utility wire over my backyard and run though a series of sounds from car horn to ring-billed gull to carolina wren to song sparrow.  This bird, however, was completely silent.

The mockingbird was feeding on these red berries, Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), of which there are a lot remaining near the red bridge.  The bird could stick around for awhile.

I feel sad that this photo is so pixelated.  I must have been just a little too far away or my lens out too far.  Love this pose!  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Dearborn portion of the Detroit River CBC

Up and out of the house around 5:20 am this New Year's morning to find owls in Dearborn for the Detroit River CBC.  Unfortunately, no Eastern Screech Owl for me on 01/01/2017.  

Instead my first bird of the year was American Tree Sparrow found behind Henry Ford College at around 8:15 am.  

The weather was beautiful this year.  Sunny, bright, dry trails with the temperature reaching 41 degrees at the end of counting.  So mild was that weather that when I made a brief pass through Ford Field, I saw three men sitting at a picnic table along the river talking. 

In general, for Michigan CBCs I think a little bad weather, i.e. snow, is probably better for the birding.  Today was very slow and I don't have much to write about here.  Some of my best spots were completely empty of birds.

This Great Blue Heron was the only one I counted this year.  Some years there are more and other years there are none.

My final bird of the day was this Downy Woodpecker photographed on the Rouge River channel.

I missed what may be the best bird of the day, Pileated Woodpecker, by about an hour or so.  I received a text from my birding colleagues that it had flown to an area where I had already counted. Plenty of squirrels were around, but I did not see deer or coyotes this year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

End of 2016: Why do I do this?

By this I mean blogging about birds and other things.  I have been thinking of an end of year post for the past couple of weeks.  A recent comment exchange with another "birding" blogger made me think about this question more.  Then when I opened my computer this Christmas morning, I read a new post by another birding friend - one whose blog inspired me to start my own blog so many years ago - and read the following:  "Why do I blog?  Because it allows me to generate a place for all of my photos that I take to document my adventures. And, when "both" of my backups fail, it provides a small amount of consolation for having just lost every photo I've taken the past 4 years! :( "  This was written by Jerry Jourdan whose work many are already be acquainted with in the form of his photographs and dedication to blogging.  Oh wow!  My photos are Brownie camera shots compared with Jerry's stunning images.  I can't even imagine how horrible he feels about this misfortune. Then his beautiful photos of Eastern Screech Owl follow as he begins all over again.

Above is the first photo I took in 2016 while counting for the Detroit River CBC on January 1st.  I remember it was my first photo because I had to fumble to get my camera battery out of my pocket (to keep it warm) and loaded into my camera.  Remarkably this little bird stayed put while I did all that fumbling and I took a string of about a dozen shots - my best ever of Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

Above, my early summer photo of a male Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is one of my favorites of 2016.  The way the small seed pod petals show through the dragonfly's transparent wings and with evidence of the spider web on the plant also being seen on the left lower wing of the dragonfly appeals to me. 

Above and below:  On a mid-week day off from work in the middle of December I went to see this Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) that I had learned about several days earlier.  In 2016 I worked the equivalent of 17 months.  You can do the arithmetic and I'm not proud of it and realize this reality may be signaling the end of my career.  In the last quarter of this year I still had 11 vacation days remaining.  In my organization if we don't use our yearly allotment of vacation days we lose them.  There is no rollover.  I'll be damned if I was not going to use each and every one.  I got busy and figured out how to schedule them.  My reward on this particular day off was spending about 15 minutes alone with the wayward Mountain Bluebird.  In my prior blog entry I described this experience as one of birding's golden moments and felt I had earned it.  After that brief but adequate time, a couple of others showed up and it was back to being birderly again.  I love this bird!  Despite severe winter weather the Mountain Bluebird is still present in the same location.

So, why do I blog?  Like Jerry, I use my photos as context for my outdoor adventures and experiences.  While my primary interest has always been birds, over the years I've branched out to anything that moves or grows in the wild.  There is something very satisfying about seeing a new living thing and then trying to identify it.  In deep summer when the birds are quiet and hidden in the leaves, dragonflies, butterflies and wildflowers become my focus. When I take a trip there would be no way to remember the details if I didn't blog about it. The same is true for getting out on any ordinary weekend morning.  

Many of my blog entries also have a significant amount of narrative - in spite of my belief that when others look at blogs they are really only interested in seeing the photos.  I also use my blog to practice my writing.  This is an idea I got from another blogging friend who is a real writer and has published her research and other articles.  I've read a lot of my friend's writing and she is such a readable writer.  For my work I read a lot of medical research (definitely not readable writing!).  The kind of writing I do at work is in the form of medical documentation, as in progress notes, office visit notes, procedure notes, etc.  I can say with certainty that this is the kind of writing that would choke a horse. It's a pleasure to write words and pieces that are so different from that drudge.  I have never published anything - may one day have the opportunity - and I know my writing has improved thanks to having this blog.  So, while I believe that others are mostly interested in only the photos, the writing is for me.  If others also happen to read it, that's fine too.

I got through this whole thing without writing that I have never liked the words blog, blogging or blogger.  I can't change it but all are awful word choices.

Merry Christmas.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mountain Bluebird

A day off and bright sun was enough to get me out to chase a bird - something I rarely do anymore.  Generally I'm not a chaser but the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) was only 40 minutes from home at Harvey Ensign Memorial boat launch on Lake St. Clair in Macomb County.  Plus I have my new camera and need practice with it.

As I was arriving a birder I didn't know was leaving and he confirmed that the bird was present at the tip.  I saw and heard american goldfinches and then saw and heard cardinals.  Scanning with my bins the mountain bluebird came into view perched on a low rock at the very tip of land.

For about 15-20 minutes I had this bird to myself.  There is something special in that kind of serendipity - birding's golden moments.

It's a startlingly beautiful bird - one of my favorites.  On one of my morning walks in northern Idaho last September I found several mountain bluebirds in a farm and livestock field.  To my dismay, those birds were too far away to even fake a photo.

Not so with this cooperative bird.  It appears to be a first year male.  I think the female bird would be overall grayer.

Above and below:  In sun and shadow.

It flew from perch to perch and I tried for a flight shot by switching to 4K burst shooting.  But my fingers were too cold and, as it turned out, 4K burst was turned off.  I couldn't fiddle.  I did take video and posted it at the end.

I lost track of the mountain bluebird when it flew into the weedy center of the tip that is surrounded by a fence.  I walked around the bird's favored area twice more before deciding to leave.  By this time, it was becoming more overcast and the wind, which had been present the whole time,  worsened.  

The bird hung out with the cardinals and goldfinches for the whole time I watched it.  There were also a couple of downy woodpeckers nearby.  I wondered if the mountain bluebird could endure the winter on this small spit of land.  Our eastern bluebirds remain throughout the winter.  Mountain bluebirds breed in northwestern states but migrate south during the harshest months in their most northern breeding locations.  Northern Idaho is extremely wintery but the birds migrate south in winter.  They hang out in flocks and together search for fruit. A few photos posted on eBird show this bird perched amongst large purple berries.  If they haven't already, the berries will run out.  I feel like its chance for survival would be better if it could hook up with some eastern bluebirds.

I don't enjoy seeing wayward birds - especially ones that have landed in harsh environments.  Years ago I drove up to the UP beyond Marquette to see a first year male Vermillion Flycatcher.  It was October and already cold, but snow had not yet fallen.  As I watched the little bird flit here and there to find bugs I knew it was doomed.  A few weeks after my visit the bird's dead body was found in a nearby barn.  I no longer chase vagrants in locations that require a lot of driving unless I am going to be in the area anyway.  It's too sad and it's one less bird that will become a successful breeder at a time when we have fewer and fewer birds.  It's much more fun to see birds in their  proper habitat.

The walk back to my car was directly into the wind and my face was freezing when I finally got in and drove away.