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. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Golden-crowned Kinglets invade Belle Isle

Morning visits to Belle Isle the past two Sundays were remarkably different.  On 09/26 I was hoping for migrant warblers, and there were a few, but otherwise it was very quiet.  I did see Orange-crowned and female Black-throated Blue warblers.  Otherwise, thrushes call notes were heard but the birds generally remained well hidden.  The arrival of White-throated Sparrows was apparent.  Three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were seen.  One, Rose-breasted Grosbeak was still around.

Otherwise, this Eastern Phoebe was flycatching near the east red bridge and swallows were working the pond just beyond this area.

Two Brown Thrashers were on the south side of the nature trail - momentarily I had a nice profile pose of one.  Just as I was about to click the shutter the bird shifted to fly into the bushes and all I could get was this rear end view.

On Sunday, 10/03, the invasion of Golden-crowned Kinglets was in full swing.  Species diversity was low, but it was very birdy.

There were so many kinglets that I had many opportunities to try for photographs.  These are a couple of the best.  Amongst them were also several Ruby-crowned Kinglets.


Otherwise, White-throated Sparrows had really increased in number and amongst them was a single White-crowned Sparrow.  All three of Michigan's Catharus sp. were present and easier to see as they fed on abundant red berries. 

Feeding on the trail, a quick look revealed robins, two juncos, White-throated Sparrows and ... this Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  This was sweet.  I slowly crept closer and closer trying to improve my photographs.  The other birds flew into the bushes at my approach, but the grosbeak remained.  I was not as close as I would have liked, but finally it too become aware of my presence and also flew into the bushes.  

Typical fall departure date for Rose-breasted Grosbeak is September 28th, but this 10/03 bird was well within the record late date of November 17, 1980 in Wayne County, Michigan.

Finally, this distant Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is well camouflaged as it peaks around the back end of an oak tree.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Birding Chicago: lakeside parks and the magic hedge

The weekend of September 23 - 25 I traveled to Chicago for a hematology conference.  When making my plans I easily recalled my last visit to Chicago in October, 2009 and the great two hours of birding I enjoyed in one of Chicago's numerous lakeside parks.  

This time I planned to make an effort to visit the famous "magic hedge" in Lincoln Park.  I found out where it was located and, as it happens, it was an easy trip on the red line of the "L" - stop at Wilson Avenue. From the Wilson Avenue "L" station the Lincoln Park area of the magic hedge was a many block walk though a so-so neighborhood - took me approximately 15-20 minutes.  It was a hot and very windy afternoon so less than ideal birding conditions, but this was my one chance during this visit to at least see the area.  Once I arrived in the park, I had to find the hedge.  I had a rudimentary map and I just continued walking in the direction suggested by the map.

I began seeing birds well before arriving at the hedge.  The first was a Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulalus) that I was not able to photograph.  Other photos are below.     

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina

Finally, I arrived at the magic hedge.  As far as birds go it was very quiet.  I saw a flycatching Eastern Wood Pewee, a Swainson's Thrush and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet below.  In other shubbery around the hedge, there were more Palm Warblers and a few other birds that escaped identification.

I could easily see how the magic hedge would be a great birding location during peak and good migration conditions - either spring or fall.  I didn't have much luck this time but I now know where it is and how to get there for future visits.

Another Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the "magic hedge"

The magic hedge is very near the beach and great dune-like, scrubby habitat.  It was not birdy for me - again, a few Palm Warblers - but also easy to see how great birds could be discovered here.

Wilson Avenue "L" stop platform

With my remaining free time, I had to look much closer to my hotel for other places to bird.  The hotel was just a couple of blocks walk from Millennium Park, Grant Park and a lakeside park - don't know which - with a marina.  Much of the green area is very manicured, but Chicago seems to be trying to improve this and I found large areas of habitat such as above in Millennium Park.  It was full of sparrows, mostly White-throated but also a couple of Lincoln's, and goldfinches, chickadees and a Palm Warbler.

In a wooded area, I also found a couple of Yellow-breasted Sapsuckers. It was very dark and overcast and a light rain fell on this morning of birding.

At the end of the day on Friday, the sun came out and I returned to the park for a couple more hours of birding.  Several warbler species, more sparrows, sapsuckers and thrushes were seen in the tall trees of habitat shown in the photo above - manicured, but many trees.

On the walk back to the hotel, in the shaded courtyards of the Chicago Art Museum there were both Swainson's and Gray-cheeked thrush, Wilson's Warbler and resident cardinals still with begging young.

Chicago:  nice place to bird.