Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 in review, highlights and new photos

The thought of a new year starting in a couple of days makes me think of the year past and some of the great birds I've had a chance to see.  I worked a lot the past year, but looking back now I was still able to do quite a lot of birding.  

The birding year always starts for me on January 1st when I count for the Detroit River Chirstmas bird count and see our typical birds.  My first birding trip in 2010 was the first weekend in February to Sault Ste. Marie with the Washtenaw and Jackson Audubon societies.  This is one of the best club trips I have ever been on.  This year we had saw the Northern Hawk Owl for the photo opportunity below.  I used my Canon Powershot for the photos I took of this bird and was thrilled with the result.  The bright blue skies behind this bird stayed with us all weekend.    

I was lucky with the photo of the Northern Hawk Owl on Pealine Road outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  I took the photo with my Canon Powershot.  Having fought with my Canon for nearly three years, in late February I updated my camera to the same point and shoot style Panasonic Lumix.  Three big trips were still to come and my Canon needed to be retired.  Incidentally, this Northern Hawk Owl was important in a 2010 big year and can also be seen in the blog Slow Birding:  the big year meets the big night.

In the beginning of March, I went to San Diego for a conference and took a couple of days at the beginning for birding.  I took two photos of the Black-throated Sparrow that I loved and this was my first indication that my new camera was a success.  I loved it.

I saw three life birds in the San Diego area, Black Turnstone, California Gnatcatcher and the California Thrasher above.  The turnstone was too far for a photo, the gnatcatcher was too quick but the thrasher was a singing performer.

In April I went to Florida and saw ten life birds and added several others to my North American list.  I had seen many Smooth-billed Anis on a 2006 trip to Cuba.  We worked hard to see the Smooth-billed Ani pictured above near the Royal Palms Visitor Center in the Everglades National Park.  I wrote much more about this bird in my blog titled, A special bird in the Everglades.  It was only after I returned home and began to think about this bird that the significance of the sighting sank in.  I have no way to prove it but our Smooth-billed Ani may be the last remaining in Florida and thus in the United States. In the winter season publication of North American Birds, Vol. 64, No. 2, 2010 this bird is recognized with a small photograph on page 358.  There is something irretrievably sad about this solitary bird with tail typically askew.          

In June, I went to England and Wales for my first European birding trip.  Actually, my non-birding friends humored me and ran me around the eastern part of the country for some terrific birding at several amazing RSPB locations.  Then they needed a weekend without birding and dropped me off at the Minsmere RSPB to bird with new friends, Malcolm and Angela.  Joy and Cliff topped off our time together with a trip to Pembrokeshire, Wales which was nothing short of spectacular. In England there is nothing at all special about Black-headed Gulls, but I like this photo.  

When I returned from England I was burned out.  I did scant summer birding and concentrated on a few outings to photograph butterflies.  

Then in mid-August on an Oakland Audubon field trip to Point Mouillee led by Jim Fowler, we saw another unexpected bird, my life King Rail.  Before this I had heard King Rails many times but had never seen one.   A juvenile bird, it turned out to be another performer and everybody present that morning got long and satisfying looks.

In November for my county and state list, a Golden-crowned Sparrow showed up at the Belle Isle feeder station.  Not only was it a close chasable bird, but I was actually able to take an extended lunch in the middle of the day to drive over to Belle Isle.  I must have been meant to see that bird because that never happens.

December is concluding with Christmas bird counts and I finished my sector of the Rockwood count on December 26th with two Northern Harriers on Chinavere Road.

January 1, 2011 will start with the Detroit River CBC.  It all comes full circle.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Old Red-tailed Hawk ...

... featured in another great New York Times bird article.  What I really like about this bird is that she even looks old.  She has a great story.

From Old, but Unready to be Rung Out by Peter Applebome, the New York Times, December 19, 2010

Bad weather in England ...

... brings the Redwings in from the fields.

I didn't get to see a Redwing (Turdus iliacus) when I was visiting in June, but they are in my friend's backyard now.  We've all been hearing about the weather that is closing down Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and other airports around Europe, causing holiday havoc.  Found in England in winter and then typically in the fields, the Redwings have had to seek shelter and food in backyards with feeders.  A bird I've always wanted to see.  My friend, Cliff, sent me this photo of a Redwing in his backyard.

Merry Christmas.   

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bird Song Bible

Really?  A bible?

Well, yes, apparently!  NPR reported on Cornell's new publication on bird song, a ten pound tome with hundreds of bird songs, on their 12/22/2010 Morning Edition broadcast.  You can listen to the Bird Song Bible segment here.  You can also read the segment, but since bird song is involved it's best to listen.

Incidentally, the book's full title is Bird Song Bible: The Complete, Illustrated Reference for North American Birds and is edited by Lee Beletsky.  I peeked at the book on Amazon.  The illustrations are also inviting.  If you still have Christmas shopping to do ...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Audubon and Eyster in the WSJ

It took awhile to locate on-line, but I just found this Letter to the Editor written by Harold Eyster and published in the Wall Street Journal on December 4th.  The article to which Harold refers, Stalking a Masterpiece from the November 26th WSJ, is also linked in his letter.

December 7, 2010 follow-up:  Sold today, first edition Birds of America by John James Audubon.  You can read about it in The Birdbooker Report.  

The University of Michigan Graduate Library also has a copy of Birds of America currently on display.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Sabine's Gull for me

On Saturday, amongst thousands and thousands of mostly Ring-billed Gulls, some Herring Gulls, an even lesser number of Bonaparte's Gulls and one Lesser Black-backed Gull, several Michigan and Ohio birders searched for a Sabine's Gull that has been well seen by many at Metzger Marsh over the past few days.

Everyone present who has seen Sabine's Gull elsewhere said they typically associate with Bonaparte's Gulls.  So when the above Bonaparte's landed in the water of the inlet and floated around for awhile, I thought this might be the Sabine's invitation.  No luck, however.  

The bird had been seen on Friday by James Fox and Karl Overman. James posted this photo of the Sabine's Gull from his Flickr site.

I had an afternoon commitment and so had to depart relatively early. When other Michigan birders who stayed on reported also not seeing the bird, I didn't feel so bad.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bird-friendly coffee

Recently Julie Craves was on the public radio program The World discussing the benefits of shade-grown coffee to help preserve bird habitat.  The segment ends with a pithy little quote that I have come to know is typical of Julie.

Read or listen to the November 10th The World segment, Bird-friendly Coffee.

I spoke with Julie the other evening.  She commented that a producer for The World said that this program segment received more tweets and comments than is typical for The World's program topics.  You can also read more about sustainable coffee and Julie's comments about the show on Julie's coffee blog, Coffee and Conservation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Florida beach birds and others

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Naples, Florida for the lavish wedding of my niece.  In between the quite spectacular festivities, I took the opportunity to do some nearby birding.  Well ... I wouldn't say birding exactly ... more like looking for photo opportunities at nearby locations where the possibility for seeing something seemed likely.  I had really hoped to find Piping Plovers, but no luck with this.  All of the photos below are of birds one would expect to see in southern Florida - shorebirds, gulls, terns and pelicans.  I saw very few little birds.

Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) with fish.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) looking for the bait.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) checking the bait supplies.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Same Snowy Egret

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Willet (Catoptophorus semipalmatus)
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Worn Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis)
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

Brown anole (Anolis sagrei)
Tigertail Beach, Marco Island

Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis)
Marco Island

Sandwich Tern

Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)
Marco Island

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Marco Island

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Tigertail Beach, Marco Island

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Tigertail Beach, Marco Island

Sanderlings (Calidris alba) doing what Sanderlings do.
Delnor-Wiggins State Park

View from the Sunset Grill on Marco Island

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Golden-crowned Sparrow, Belle Isle

Finally, the first chaseable bird in southeastern Michigan for quite some time.  And close!  Nice to leave the hospital - something I never have a chance to do - for a slightly extended lunch hour to see this bird and many other chasers I have an opportunity to see only at special occasions - like a Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla) in town.  

The bird offered good viewing through binoculars, but not the greatest photo ops.  Many of those with big lens DSLRs got some pretty decent pics.  Unfortunately, I had to hit the delete key pretty hard. All photos were taken through the feeder viewing window.  

For many reasons, the birds were skittish this morning.  One reason was the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) perched just above the feeders. Prior to my arrival others saw the hawk pounce on a rat, but somehow the rat escaped.  Another time, Canada Geese flying over dispersed the birds.

This happens to me often - the backside view is often the most in-focus photo.  Go figure.

Sean Bachman reported seeing a "female-type" Purple Finch.  Later when most other birders had left, I saw the Purple Finch perched alone high in a leafless tree.

The Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus) flew down to join the others in the open and reasonably close to the viewing window.  

While the photos are fine for me to remember the sparrow by, I'm sorry they are not better for viewers of my blog.  For really sweet photos of the Golden-crowned Sparrow, check out Jerry Jourdan's blog.

Very well spent lunch time today.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crosswinds Marsh

I actually managed to go somewhere new this Sunday morning - westbound this time and just slightly further away than Belle Isle.

Generally a quiet walk but there were a few birds around, including eight species of sparrows if I include the single junco making its smacking sound.  Many of my first of season American Tree Sparrows were found at a variety of locations.  A single Fox Sparrow was also seen.

A little out of season, an Eastern Bluebird
checks out one of the nest boxes.

Then perches nicely on top.

These Swamp Sparrows appear to be in a mirror.

Swamp Sparrow

Ubiquitious this morning, this was the best photo I could
get of an American Tree Sparrow.

Thanks to an upcoming family event I have the opportunity to explore further afield next weekend.  Hopefully, I'll have time to get some birding in.

When I checked the blog Urban Dragon Hunters, (in my blog list at right), I found a reference to the blog Michigan Odonotes, which offers a nice description of Crosswinds Marsh.  My title box photo shows one of Crosswinds' many views from one of the boardwalks. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Star at the Public Library: a Little Yellow Bird

Enjoy this little gem in the New York Times this morning:  A Star at the Public Library: a Little Yellow Bird.  Not to give it away; from my photo archive.

Prothonotary Warbler, Margee Marsh, May, 2010

However, as my friend Tim McKay points out, there is no mention of how the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) got its name - from the golden robes once worn by the protonotari (protonotarii apostolicii), responsible for the papal documents in the Catholic Church; such information so appropriate from a public library.  Must go to Wisconsin Natural Resources for this - well, sort of.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cooper's Hawk, Belle Isle

Another Sunday morning, another visit to Belle Isle.  Lately I've been pressed for time and my weekends go by in a blur.  I'd like to do some birding elsewhere, especially as Belle Isle has been hit or miss for me this fall, but with my weekend time crunch and the close reliability of Belle Isle, it's my default location just to get some birding and outdoor time in. 

The woods were generally quiet on Sunday, but then I came upon a photo jackpot perched low in bushes just along the creek on the south side of the nature trail.  I was surprised that this Coop (Accipiter cooperii) didn't fly off.  I had an opportunity to take a lot of photos, but my presence was finally too much for the bird and it flew, disappearing on the creek side of the bushes.  Moments later it came out of the bushes and flew directly at me down the center of the path before lifting and disappearing into the trees.

On the west side of the athletic fields there were six Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla). 

The large numbers of White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) of the prior weekend were greatly diminished.  I did not see White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys)  until I birded around the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, an area of the park I rarely visit. 

Finally, on the grassy area west of the conservatory building, this tattered Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) was flying around trying to nector on dandelions.  One of my favorite butterflies, I had opportunities this past August to photograph beautifully fresh buckeyes (second to last photo).  Seeing this worn butterfly stirred some sad feelings.  I checked with Roger Kuhlman.  Buckeyes are seen in Michigan into November and often at warmer places like Belle Isle.

There have been days of great diversity of birds at Belle Isle reported by others, especially earlier in September, all days that were missed by me. The Friends of Belle Isle group have been around the nature trail to clear large areas of invasive honeysuckle that has left these areas barren of plants and berries.  In areas where I usually find good birds there is no where for them to hide and forage.  I'm wondering how this may impact future fall migrations of thrushes and other berry eaters. Certainly, for me, the numbers of these species have been much fewer than prior fall visits.  Julie Craves has written about how non-native berry species may be critical to weight gain amongst birds in fall migration and she is currently studying this issue.


Recently Julie wrote more specifically about buckthorn and posted this to the Michigan birders listserve.  A little long for this blog, but well worth reading.

Many birds eat buckthorn, both Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus).  For the past several years, the fruit preferences of birds in the fall has been the focus of my research.

Neither of these species are native to North America, they are both invasive and both have various ecological liabilities.  However, they also perform an important ecological function as food for migratory birds, especially in urban areas where native fruits may be scarce.  My research has indicated that a number of bird species eat buckthorn even when native species are available.  Birds are able to gain mass when these species are part of their diet.

Our perceptions of non-native fruits as being "bad" are not entirely accurate.  We are learning that the nutritional needs of migratory birds are much more complex than previously believed, and the nutrient and chemical content of these fruits may be much more appropriate than we thought.  Also, the buckthorns have been in North America for over 200 years and the fruit characteristics may be evolving to suit our migrant birds; similar evolutionary adaptations to migrant birds have been documented elsewhere.

Whether or not the ecological benefits of these species outweigh their liabilities remains to be discovered.  Rouge River Bird Observatory (RRBO) has started an integrated approach to this question.  My research program is gathering data on what birds are eating, we are putting together a team of undergraduate students who will be helping with determining the physical and chemical composition of a wide array of fruits available to birds in the fall, and I'm supervising a student and a volunteer who are making field observations of bird foraging behavior.

The fact is that birds are more frequently encountering disturbed and urban areas during migration, and these non-native plant species are well-established.  Eradication is extremely labor intensive and usually not completely successful.  We need to understand how birds and other wildlife use these non-native species and how (or if) they should be managed.

Julie Craves and RRBO on the front page

Today's weekend edition of the Dearborn/Dearborn Heights Press and Guide has a front page article on Julie Craves and the "old" Indigo Bunting captured in her banding nets on September 29, 2010.

Julie also wrote about the Indigo Bunting in her blog, Net Results.  This is a feel good story for every birder.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Belle Isle again and very sparrowy

Spectacular indian summer this weekend in Detroit with no time for birding on Saturday but on Sunday morning, for the third weekend in a row, I spent a couple of hours at Belle Isle.  This is sparrow season and, including towhees and juncos, I saw eight species - chipping, song, white-throated, white-crowned, field and one fox (Passerella iliaca) (no photo).      

Three small flocks of Chipping Sparrows (Spizella passerina) were seen around the park.

October 10th is the typical departure date for Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) in this area of Michigan, so it's possible that this may be the last I see until next spring.

Belle Isle nature trail is overrun with these noisy creatures, Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias sp.).  Good thing they're cute, right?

Readers of my blog know that I am not shy about including less than ideal photos.  I would prefer not to, but the combination of birding, photography and writing a blog sometimes make this necessary.  I offer the photo above as support.  I saw two Winter Wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis) for the morning and after doing my screech whistle and a little soft pishing I coaxed one to perch on the small limb for a momentary photo opportunity.  I missed.  Slowness is not allowed in the presence of a Winter Wren.  Note above Winter Wren's new latin name.  Thanks to the recent AOU split, Troglodytes troglodytes is now given to the Eurasian Wren and Pacific Wren is now Troglodytes pacificus.  Since T. hiemalis and T. pacificus ranges overlap, it should be fun trying to tell them apart in some parts of the country, although Sibley's illustrations reveal distinct variations.  I guess this also means that my life list is longer by two, since I have seen all three of these new birds. 

Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) were still around in good numbers, but nothing like their omnipresence of the prior Sunday.  This morning I saw more Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula).  

The photos above and below may be the best I have ever taken of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).  For such a cooperative bird, I certainly have been nixed more often than not.  I was very pleased with these.

I was first alerted to the presence of this single White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) by its brief song.  I later found a few others in another area of the park.  

White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis) were present in huge numbers and, as usual, were typically uncooperative for photos.  This bird flew to this low perch and then proceeded the preen vigorously.  I took several photos with only a couple keepers.  While taking the photos, I was struck by the nearly perfect lighting.  

After walking the nature trail, I went to an area on the other side of the playing fields that is ignored by most birders, including myself, but should not be.  Here I found more of all of the sparrows noted above and added junco and Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla).  I think of Field Sparrow as a good bird for Belle Isle.

Eastern Towhees (Pipilio erythrophtalmus), all females, were present throughout the woods around the nature trail, but this bird continues to be a nemesis when it comes to getting a photograph.

Sparrows are amongst my favorite birds so this was a fun morning.