Thursday, August 19, 2010

So where has the Ornithophile been?

Sorry for the lack of posts. The Ornithophile only gets 3 months with Ornithophile, Jr. so he's spending all his time with Jr. before he goes on his way back to the Northwest. I'll be back with more posts after Labor Day.

Perhaps I will recruit Ornithophile Jr. to take some photos of the birds of Spokane, WA to share here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Yes, I'm new to birding

As I'm new to birding, I'm slowly discovering the world and culture of birding. As if I didn't have enough acronyms in my life, I'm now discovering the world of rare bird sighting reports. At first, I wondered what was up with all the four-letter all-cap "acronyms". Just like texting teens, birders have their own lingo of shorthand. Thus, I came to understand that WOST=Wood Stork.

Click here for a complete listing of all acronyms.

Thanks to the folks at the MOBIRDS listserv, I'm discovering all sorts of resources on the net for area birders. Of particular interest is Showme-birds, maintained by Joshua Uffman.

So thanks to all you MOBIRDS posters. I'm learning a lot while lurking.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Now somewhere in the black mining hills of Dakota...

I'm heading off for our Scout troop's Black Hills High Adventure trip tomorrow morning. I can hardly wait.

This should be a great opportunity for birding. The Black Hills are a biodiversity hot spot. As the easternmost extent of the Rocky Mountains, they combine the flora and fauna of the Mountain West and the Great Plains, all in a relatively small area. My number one wish: the White-Winged race of the Dark-Eyed Junco.

Do I plan on counting those Black Hills birds for my checklist? Darn right I will! I never said the photos had to be of birds IN Missouri, only that they'd been seen in Missouri.


This just in. Apparently there's a Brown Pelican at Blue Springs Lake. I'm getting ready to leave on a Scout trip, but maybe I'll have time to run by tonight. Sources have it that this is only the 7th record of the species in this state (I would imagine a lot more unreported sightings occur, as this species is known to wander).

Thanks for the heads up, Sissy.

UPDATE: Apparently there's a Neotropic Cormorant mixed in with the Double-Crested Cormorants as well.

Latest info I may be a day late and a dollar short

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk

I have been trying to get a "good" picture of a Red-Tailed Hawk for a very long time. I had lots of pictures of them, but none that really "popped".

Given the fact that they're by far the most common bird of prey, it's not like I didn't have any opportunities. The biggest problem was that whenever I'd see one, I'd invariably be in my car on my way to somewhere. Even if I did stop and dig out all the camera gear, they'd usually be gone by the time I got ready.

I was puttering around in my garden this past Sunday when I saw a hawk fly over. I dashed into the house, grabbed my camera and was lucky enough to get this shot of an immature Red-Tailed Hawk. How do I know it's immature? The tail is banded instead of the solid red/orange of an adult. From now on, the camera is NEVER getting put away!

Red-Tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis


The rest of the birds of Bartle

Eastern Wood-Pewee




Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher


blue-gray gnatcatcher


White-Breasted Nuthatch

white-breasted nuthatch

Chipping Sparrow



Brown-Headed Cowbird


Indigo Bunting



Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

ruby-throated hummingbird



ruby-throated hummingbird


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pikachu, I choose you! (Summer Tanager)

Remember way back when I posted my ambitions for my Bartle birding? I was after the Pileated Woodpecker and warblers. Well, I got some crappy pics of one Pileated Woodpecker and one Yellow-Throated Warbler.

What I wasn't expecting was to have a nesting pair of Summer Tanagers in my campsite. We were unloading the Scout trailer when one of the kids said "Hey, look at that Cardinal!" Well, it was red. Unlike the dark red of a Cardinal, this was a red that seemed like the bird required batteries! There's only one all-red bird found in Missouri, and that's the male Summer Tanager. The female is a solid yellow, sometimes shading into olive tones.

Soon enough, I'd seen the female too. They were always in the campsite area or very nearby. I never did determine exactly where the nest was, but it must have been somewhere in the area.

The male was much more camera friendly than the female. The male was actively hunting all over the campsite, as well as harassing Eastern Wood-Pewees. He was also very vocal. The female seemed to stay up in the tree tops much more.

As a total nerdy aside, I noticed that the call of the Summer Tanager can be translated as "pi-ka, pi-ka, pi-ka-chu-chu-chu, pi-ka, pi-ka, pi-ka-chu, I ch-ch-ch-ooose you". Yes, I have a son and yes he likes Pokemon. He and his best friend have in-depth discussions about Pokemon and their strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps they should write a Field Guide with David Sibley as the illustrator.

Summer Tanager Piranga rubra

summer tanager male

summer tanager male



Monday, July 12, 2010

A tale of two kingbirds

I happened to glance out my living room window yesterday evening and was amazed to see two kingbirds hawking insects in my front yard. Why was I amazed? Number one: you rarely see two kingbirds in the same area because they are violently territorial. Number two: one of the kingbirds was an Eastern Kingbird and the other was a Western Kingbird. Try as I might, I could never get a picture of them together in the same shot.

There must have been a real buffet of flying insects, because in addition to the two kingbirds, there were also numerous Barn Swallows hunting, and my resident Eastern Bluebirds were hawking insects like the kingbirds. Even dragonflies were joining in the party.

We're right on the eastern limit of the Western Kingbird's summer range here in the Kansas City area. Apparently, this is another species like the Cattle Egret and the House Finch that has been rapidly expanding its range.

Eastern Kingbird Tyrannus tyrannus



Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis




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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The quest for the pileated woodpecker (and bonus yellow-throated warbler)

One of my prime objectives, birding-wise, while I was down at H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation was to nab the Pileated Woodpecker. Since the majority of the reservation is prime Pileated Woodpecker habitat (mature oak-hickory forest with lots of dead trees), I was sure it would be a cinch to find one of the loud, boldly patterned crow-sized birds. All I had to do was listen for the drumming and then go to the source. Well, that turned out to be a less than optimal strategy. Sounds carry a LONG way across the hills and valleys down there, and so the birds would usually be long gone before I got anywhere near where I thought the drumming was coming from. Also, finding any bird in the densely leaved canopy was a challenge.

So, I tried another approach. I would stake out trees with obvious woodpecker excavation. In fact, there were several within a stone's throw of my campsite.



I did this for 4 days. Still no Pileated Woodpeckers. Where the hell did they all go? I could hear them drumming and calling, but they never seemed to be anywhere near me. On the second to the last evening, I took a hike to the top of Scorpion Hill (actually a creek bluff) where I had a good view across a wide area. Maybe I'd see one flying across the treetops. At worst, I figured I would wait until I heard drumming or calling and then take off from there.

That plan was dashed by a group of extremely noisy Scouts screaming and throwing big rocks off the bluff into the creek below. I did manage to get a Yellow-throated Warbler before the wrecking crew showed up.

Yellow-throated Warbler Dendroica dominica

yellow-throated warbler

I got fed up with the antics of the Scouts, who continued to wreak havoc further downstream even after I reminded them that throwing rocks on the reservation is strictly VERBOTEN. So I headed back. As I was approaching the end of the trail, within sight of a campsite full of very noisy teenagers, I heard an equally loud drumming not 10 yards behind me! At long last, the Holy Grail, the object of my quest! Unfortunately, it was quite dark by this point so all I have to show you are these crappy pictures. Still, I finally managed to find one. Who knew it would be such hard work to find a big, showy, loud bird!

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus




Monday, June 28, 2010

H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation Bird Report

Well, it's day 5 of scout camp. So what's going on bird-wise down here at HRB? Upload speeds through the WiFi here are painfully slow so I'll have to upload some select pictures later.

First of all, the single most common bird I'm seeing is the Eastern Wood Pewee. They're everywhere. Why? Bugs. If you've ever been to Bartle, you'll know that there are plenty of bugs. Almost everywhere you look, there's a Wood Pewee perched on a branch, darting out to snatch a bug in mid-flight then returning to their post.

A pleasant surprise for me on the first day was finding a nesting pair of Summer Tanagers in our campsite. The brilliant red male has been more camera friendly, but I've got both. Interestingly, the male tanager has been chasing Wood Pewees. I guess they're in his bug-hunting territory.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are pretty common too, and not just around feeders. I've seen them catching insects as well, flitting through the forest.

Brown-Headed Cowbirds are quite abundant in the more open areas. I've never really paid that much attention to them before, but I've come to appreciate the liquid gurgle of their song.

The Chipping Sparrow is found wherever there is bare ground. Some are quite bold, literally hopping around people sitting in chairs.

And of course, the ubiquitous American Robin. Even deep in the woods, this bird commonly associated with suburban lawns can be found hunting through the leaf litter.

Other species I've seen so far but haven't got good photos yet: Eastern Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, Northern Flicker, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Red-Tailed Hawk, Downy Woodpecker, American (Common) Crow. I've heard the Pileated Woodpecker, but have yet to get within visual range. They seem to be most active very early so I'm going to have to get up REAL early some morning and try to track one down. As for those warblers, well I'm still looking. I'm thinking of doing a night-hike owl hunt as well.

For an added bonus, there are two fawns living almost in our campsite. They are quite acclimated to human activity. As long as you don't make any sudden movements, you can approach them to within 5-10 yards. I've gotten some stunning photos of them that I'll share with you too.

Oh well, can't stay here in the AC forever. I'll report back with more sightings and maybe some photos later.


Firebuilder Little Swift-Flying Snake Killer, aka the Ornitophile

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Off to Scout Camp

I'll be off to Scout Camp at H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation tomorrow morning. Hopefully I'll be able to knock a lot of birds off the list while I'm there. Birds I'm specifically going to pursue there will be the Pileated Woodpecker and the warblers. Stay tuned, I'll update from camp if I can.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mourning Dove

I'll say this about Mourning Doves: they're much easier to shoot with a camera than a shotgun. If you've ever hunted doves, you know the ratio of shells fired to birds in the bag is about 10 to 1. Their small size and high-speed zig-zagging flight makes hitting them quite a challenge.

This dove on the other hand, walked right up to me as I sat in my lawn chair. It was content so long as I didn't make any sudden motions.

Mourning Doves are frequently seen on gravel roads and driveways, or along the side of roads. Why? They're getting grit for their crops. Many birds use grit (sand and small pieces of rocks) to help digest tough plant matter. You may have eaten a crop before in the form of chicken gizzards.

The similar-looking Eurasian Collared Dove was introduced in the Bahamas and has spread over much of the United States. I suspect released pets are also contributing to the range expansion. I've seen one Collared Dove in Independence, but I didn't have a camera at hand. The Collared Dove has a much squarer tail and a thin dark band on the back of the neck.

Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura

Time for some Bird Yoga:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Snap, Grackle, Pop

Grackles, along with squirrels, are annoying bird feeder pests. They're big, greedy and bossy. I've noticed that they tend to descend on feeders en masse at certain times of the day. There is currently a battle going on between the Common Grackles, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and the Red-Winged Blackbirds over monopoly control of my feeders. Oh well.

The Common Grackle has one thing going for it though: its iridiscent plumage. The Common Grackle has an iridescent sheen of blue/green/purple on its head and to a lesser extent its body. The Great-Tailed and Boat-Tailed Grackles have the iridescence all over, as well as big showy tails. I've got some Great-Tailed Grackles visiting the feeders, but they seem to be much shyer than their Common cousins, so I haven't got a good photo of one yet.

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula

Yes, the bird bath is a purple plastic saucer sled.

Juvenile Common Grackle: note the lack of iridescence and brown iris (adult iris is yellow)

Little Bird, Big Song

The House Wren. It's small, drab and non-descript. It flits about unnoticed and is largely ignored. Once a House Wren starts singing however, it's impossible to ignore! The song has been described as "effervescent", "tinkling", "bubbling" and "trilling". It's certainly a lot of volume for such a small bird.

House Wren songs

House Wrens will nest almost anywhere. They like small birdhouses and gourds, but just about any "cave" (hence the generic name Troglodytes) will do: old cans, boxes, on top of light fixtures, you name it.

Wrens spend a lot of time hopping about on the ground and flitting around through brush in pursuit of insects.

I've enjoyed watching them spar around the edges of their "territories" in my yard. They chase each other from tree to tree when one crosses into an area near another's nest box.

This House Wren posed quite nicely for me and sang its heart out, as long as I stayed in my "portable blind" also known as my car.

House Wren Troglodytes aedon

Full Flickr set here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ever wish you could be a field biologist?

I think many of us came to birding from a love of nature. When we were kids, we dreamed of being field biologists, studying animals for a living. Then we got sidetracked into another career. I intended to be a biologist when I went to college, but discovered I had an aptitude for chemistry. I thought I'd make more money doing chemistry, so I pursued it all the way to graduate school.

I ended up working in various capacities as a chemist or engineer and found that although I loved the theoretical side of chemistry, I hated the practical side. I quit that field, high-paying though it was and stumbled into librarianship.

I never lost my love of nature and science, though. Although professional scientists get all the glory, there are still plenty of opportunities for amateur scientists and naturalists to do valuable research. Data collected by hundreds or thousands of amateur naturalists can be collected via the Internet to support academic research projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has harnessed the power of thousands of birders to help study bird conservation. If you have a hankering to do some science, check out their Citizen Science Programs:

Project Feeder Watch
Help track winter bird migrations and study the effects of non-native species.

Nest Watch
Help track the breeding success of birds across North America.

The Great Backyard Bird Count
Collect and display real time data online about bird sightings across the entire continent.

Pigeon Watch
Pigeon watching? Why? Pigeons exist in a remarkable range of colorations, and studying them is a great way of studying population genetics in birds.

Watch live real time images of nesting birds.

Tag and classify images from NestCams to help scientists sort through mountains of data.

Celebrate Urban Birds
Urban birds need love too. Learn how to help native birds in urban habitats.

Store your bird observation data in an online database. This database is accessible to birders, scientists and conservationists alike.

A new program coming in 2011 is the YardMap Network, a project that will investigate the impact of sustainable practices on bird conservation.

If you're a birder, sign up (you may have to pay a small fee) and you too can be the field biologist you've always wanted to be!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Turkey Vulture

Now we move on from the majestic Bald Eagle and the cute Gray Squirrel to the Rodney Dangerfield of birds: the Turkey Vulture.

Not exactly cute, and with a diet of rotten roadkill, it's easy to see why the Turkey Vulture can't get no respect when seen up close. In the sky however, they are magnificient soarers.

If you see a large dark bird soaring, it's likely to be a Turkey Vulture. Turkey Vultures soar with their wings at a slight dihedral angle (V-shaped, not flat) which makes it easy to distinguish them from their smaller cousins, the Black Vultures. Black Vultures aren't common in Missouri, and are usually found only in the southernmost part of the state. They're expanding their range though, so we may be seeing them here in the KC area before too long.

There is some debate on whether New World Vultures are more closely related to birds of prey like hawks and eagles, or stork and herons. In fact, they may be closely related to neither. The fact that they superficially resemble Old World vultures is an example of convergent evolution.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura


Enjoying a delicious roadside snack

On the roost