Please, Give Me A Minute!

How am I to identify this bird if it does not stay at least a minute for me to get a good look at it? I am so impressed with fellow birders who look in the sky at a bird flying overhead, often simply seeing their silhouette, and can identify the bird. Truth be told, I cannot dismiss their identification because I have no idea what the bird is! No doubt, they are correct … and then onto the next bird …

A bird pops from behind a branch. This bird is new to me so I really want to photograph it … and I must do so quickly! I capture its eye ring in a photo; that will be a helpful clue when identifying the bird. Then I notice how it sits on the tree branch… its body shape, color of feathers, so many helpful clues … and then it is flying off! Do I have enough information to identify this bird?

Yes, I was in a good location to photograph it, plus with enough seconds for me to capture photos and clues for identification … thank goodness! This new bird for my life list is a plumbeous vireo! I love adding life list birds with a photo; then I know for sure I have seen and identified the bird correctly.

It was a fast minute; thanks for hanging around!

Visit Presque Isle in Pennsylvania to See Birds!

In my last post, I might have sounded like I was complaining about the weather; well I was! And when I saw there was no chance in the weather changing, I cut my Ohio time short and moved on despite knowing the whole east coast of the USA was with lousy weather. I decided to find a place where I could hang out for a day and observe birds in between raindrops! What was funny though (because one must laugh about it all, which I did find myself doing), by the end of the day I had rain, sleet and hail to contend with as I looked for birds. Then if I wanted a photo of the bird, I waited for it to fly off or take its head out from under its feathers! Five hours later I saw 3 new birds for my life list and about 20 other species of birds. Interesting and challenging day!

I was at Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. This park is a peninsula on Lake Erie and quite a place for birds to flyover or land in any of its lakes and wetlands. I drove the peninsula a couple of times because I was looking for a particular bird which unfortunately I never found: red-throated loon. A couple of guys I spoke with had seen one! I had no luck finding it, but my 3 new birds for my life list: red-breasted merganser, common loon, and greater scaup. Photos are below. 

The common loon is only new for my life list started a couple of years ago with eBird. I first heard and saw the common loon when canoeing to an island in Stillwater Reservoir in New York State’s Adirondack Park in the 1970’s. Their eerie call at night will always be remembered. I had also seen a loon nesting at a lake about 4 miles from where my Adirondack place was, so seeing these loons in open water was a treat!

I will keep this state park in mind for future visits. Here are some photos from there when the weather cooperated for a few minutes.

Red-breasted merganser
Common loon … looks like a wooden one I received from a Cincinnatus colleague.
Greater scaup, male
Greater scaup, female
canvasback
Wood duck

I Never Saw This Bird Behavior First-hand!

I watch many nature programs on television and am in awe when a photographer captures fish swimming in schools. The photographer is in the water and using a video camera to capture their movement. Recently I was walking to an area to observe sandhill cranes and had a camera with a zoom lens on it. All of a sudden I observed hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds! Fortunately for me the birds landed on the ground or up in a tree so I could identify them.

What I had never seen firsthand was a large flock of birds moving as one from the ground to a tree, to another tree, and in a formation that blackened the sky and other moments looked like a flowing funnel. My photos do not capture the awe of the 15 minutes while these blackbirds remained in their flock.

Yellow-headed blackbirds basically form large flocks in winter for the same reason as fish form schools, smaller odds of getting eaten by a predator. Scientists report blackbirds being good communicators and will share food information with each other during this season. Wow, what a sight to see and after seeing a Cooper’s hawk and northern harrier in the area, the yellow-headed blackbirds are smart to flock!

Overnight #1 With My Van … “Glorified Tent”

Recently I was thinking about camping transitions I have made in my life. My parents encouraged travel when my 3 siblings and I were young. Many school holidays throughout the year we traveled from New York State to Florida or northward to Canada. We had a couple of camper trailers: a pop-up tent trailer and later a hard-top trailer towed by a station wagon. Each of us were provided a small box to pack our clothing in; everything had a specific place for it to be stored. Our collie, Ginger, traveled with us too. I have many fond memories of various trips and especially the 10 week trip around the USA.

As years went by and I continued my travel adventures, I often backpacked in NYS’s Adirondack Mountains, and also ventured on trails in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming and Arizona. The simplicity of carrying all my gear on my back was what I really enjoyed. In the 1970’s one sister of mine and I added a new dimension to our travel by bicycling from Miami to Homestead, Florida which is at the southern tip of the Everglades National Park and then across the state of Florida to Fort Meyers. The bicycling and tenting bug hit me again in 2018 when I bicycled 600 miles solo and self-contained from Minnesota to Indiana. 

In 2021 I built a bed platform, for rainy and quick night sleeping, in the my Honda Element and tented as I traveled 9300 miles around the USA. I also began to realize Covid-19 might be an international concern for a few more years and purchasing a van may allow me to roll off a bed mattress rather than crawl out of a tent each night. And that’s how I have Ram Promaster 1500, low roof, 118 wheelbase van now!

My first overnight went okay! I was at Whitewater Draw in Arizona to see sandhill cranes, more about that in my next blog post. To watch a sunset, cook and eat meals outdoors, hike as I wished to view the birds was great fun. I refer to my van as a “glorified tent”. There is so much in it that I need to chart where certain things are … much more complicated than knowing where in each pocket things were in my backpack … or even in my Honda Element! I have tried to keep it all simple and will tweak some things before my next adventure. But overall, I was a happy camper! I am looking forward to more adventure in my van, meeting new people, seeing new places, and enjoying the great outdoors!

Sunset!
Camping at Whitewater Draw – is in a parking lot!
We are here to see thousands of sandhill cranes!

Thirty Minutes with a Bittern

Last year I was reading eBird, where birders submit checklists of birds seen, and I saw an American bittern was in a nearby wetland. Unfortunately I never did observe the American bittern last year. It can be a difficult bird to find as it stands in marshy reeds. Its back is a brown color and its front has stripes, so always meshing in to look like reeds! None of my trips proved successful.

Recently, I went to the wetland and did ask birders if they had seen the American bittern as they walked the trail. Fortunately one did and gave me an approximation of where to find the bird. It was a challenge to see the bird with its back to me!

I spent 30 minutes observing the bird. It did finally turn around. It spent time looking into the water in front of it and then into the reeds nearby. I kept hoping it would pounce on whatever was drawing its attention, but it never did! After 30 minutes I moved on, but I hope my next visit I can see it again.

Here are the photos taken during my 30 minutes with this American bittern:

Brown colored back of the American bittern
Finally turns around; check out the stripes on its body!
Something exciting is happening below
No, more exciting to the side.
American bittern wants to look a bit closer
Can anyone see what is so exciting to captivate this birds attention?

Raccoon and Birds Near Each Other?

I need to remind myself, wildlife areas have opening and closing times and days. San Jacinto Wildlife Area in Lakeview, California is no different. Open: seven in the morning till six at night with Wednesdays and Saturdays during certain parts of the year only open for duck hunters! Fortunately in our first visit here we were able to check out a few ponds near the entrance kiosk and were most interested in seeing if any raptors were flying in the area.

No doubt I need to return to this area when I have more time and it is open to all with no worry of hunting season; however, we did see 25 different species of birds! Four raptors were seen and a photo of each is below: red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, American kestrel and a new bird for me, the red-shouldered hawk!

Red-tailed hawk
Northern harrier
American kestrel
First time seeing a red-shouldered hawk!

The other fascinating observation was seeing a raccoon so near to birds! We heard some birds squawking, yet not moving away from a raccoon slowly walking through the water! It had to be the largest raccoon I have ever seen too! The raccoon simply continued on his way … I am assuming it a male, yet I have no idea… and the birds didn’t seem to have a flap about it! Before it stepped into the tall grass, it turned and looked back in my direction, despite me being quite a distance from it. I wondered if the raccoon actually noticed me. Fascinating!

First, calmly walking in the pond.
Birds squawked and stayed while raccoon continued on.
Does the raccoon see me?

Spending time in wildlife … a joy, an adventure, and one never knows what will happen! We thought we would only be seeing birds! Are you getting outdoors to enjoy nature? I hope you do!

Flamingoes in Palm Desert, CA

Each time I visit California’s Palm Desert area, I stop by the Marriott Hotel to see the flamingoes. The staff here care for some Chilean flamingoes, birds normally found in South America. 

Flamingoes are interesting birds to observe. The adults have bright pink feathers and a pink-base, black-tipped bill shaped quite differently from other birds. The pink color comes from the carotenoids in plants they eat. Immatures have gray-colored feathers. It is not for 2-3 years before the immatures have their hook-shaped bill and pink feathers.

Flamingoes are filter feeders. They turn their head upside down, bill pointing at their feet, and sweep their head side to side. Using their tongue they pump water in and out of its bill with comb-like plates along the edge creating a filter. Water rushes out while the food is trapped inside.

I was trying to figure out what this adult was doing with the immature flamingo. With some research, it seems “milk” is produced by both parents in their crop (part of their throat) to feed young ones. Brought up through their mouth, the “milk” provides healthy proteins and fats so the adult is feeding its young.

The knee is actually higher up on the leg hidden by the body and feathers. This is actually an ankle joint seen in the above photo.

Final note: a group of flamingoes can be called a stand, colony, pat, or flamboyance!

Photographing a Hummingbird

When ducks and hawks are not flying overhead and I continue to work on my ability to photograph birds in flight, I find hummingbirds the next best challenge! I have no interest in photographing a hummingbird at a feeder. I love snapping a photo as a bird flies to a branch or feeder, beating its wings so fast, producing the humming noise, thus their name: hummingbird!

These are the smallest migrating birds, weighing less than a nickel, can fly backwards and keep me on my toes while trying to photograph them! With anticipation, patience and the ability to move as the bird moves around too, I have had the chance to photograph a couple of different hummingbirds. I have read about blinds set up, specifically to entice a bird to a spot, and then others can photograph it. I find it more fun to capture a photo while a hummingbird is in at the flower or tree of their choice. Native plants in a garden with tubular species of flowers, such as honeysuckle, are places to watch for and photograph these birds.

The next challenge is knowing what hummingbird it is! A good photograph helps me narrow down the possibilities, but there are times a photo is of little help. If I can capture their wings not beating and blurred in the photo, then it has been a successful photo attempt for me! If I can identify the bird, that may even be more amazing, but not as important!

Here are some hummingbirds I have photographed lately. Some are identified to the best of my ability. If you think I have identified it wrong, please let me know. Thanks for your help!

Violet-crowned hummingbird
Broad-billed hummingbird
Anna’s, or is it a Costa’s, hummingbird?
Could it be an Anna’s hummingbird?
I heard the bird and discovered it was overhead … took the photo anyway … all fun!

Sparrows … Who Knew?

Sparrows are the most abundant bird flying around in the world … 1.6 billion of them! Recently I discovered there are 48 sparrow species in the United States, along with an interesting fact: juncos and towhees are sparrows! Most often I see white-crowned sparrows, but my walk at Saguaro National Park East, in Arizona, allowed me an opportunity to see rufous-winged and black-throated sparrows.

I heard a bird singing so I quietly moved into the area, then I saw a rufous-winged sparrow singing! This species of sparrows was discovered in 1872 in Tucson, common into the 1880’s and then disappeared. Since the 1930’s the species has gradually increased.

Rufous-winged sparrow singing – notice rufous on wing too.
Rufous-winged sparrow

My favorite sparrow is the handsome black-throated sparrow, also referred to as the “desert sparrow”. This bird population declines where there’s increasing development; it does not adapt well in suburbs. I love the look of this bird and hope it remains at our desert.

Black-throated sparrow
Black-throated sparrow

As the number of housing developments increase near Saguaro National Park, birds are in greater need of places to live. They may migrate further north at times or even south, but do have a need for this area too. Let’s be sure to continue to keep it available for them and also for us who enjoy hiking the trails.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in CA

This was my first visit to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, the largest saltwater marsh along the California coast. A perfect place to separate myself from hours of car travel and California’s heavily-trafficked highways where no one drives the speed limit! Highway 1 is right next to this area, but I was soon walking the trail and observing the birds at the reserve. (I hope when I return to this area the oil spill caused by a pipeline leak a few days ago has not damaged any of this area or local wildlife. Cleanup efforts have begun, but we also need to rethink having such old pipelines from the offshore oil platforms.)

I walked to an inner bay passing a fenced-off nesting area. Later in discussion with a local birder, I learn the nesting area once had some birds, a year or so ago, but had been scared off when a drone crashed into the area. It scared adult birds away from their nest, resulting in no young. The hope now is the adults will return, breed, and stay with their young. Having the fenced-off nesting area is good and hopefully no drone incidents will happen again in the area.

There is a 3 mile trail around the inner bay which I will walk next visit, but for this day I see 5 new birds for me! I hope to return when more birds are migrating through or when they are with their colorful breeding plumages.

Here are some photos:

Marbled godwit
Ruddy turnstone
Long-billed curlew