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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Enemy of all bird feeders....

Well, if you can't beat them...take photos of them. I've given up trying to feed the birds and not the squirrels. Now I just throw some seed out on the ground and they seem to prefer that to messing with the feeders. I also have a hopper feeder that is basically the "Grackle/Red-Winged Blackbird/Squirrel feeder".

Gray Squirrel

Bald Eagles at Longview Lake

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Last Friday, I went down to Longview Lake after work to stake out the Bald Eagles and their nest. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad weren't very cooperative. One adult was in the tree with the nest when I first arrived.

The adult flew off towards the back of the cove and never returned, at least not before it got too dark for photos.

There are two young eagles in the nest. They look to be about ready to fledge. Only one of them was easily visible from my vantage point, and it spent most of its time lying in the nest and panting (temperature was in the 90s).

Finally, as dusk set in the young eagles stood up in the nest and moved around some.

Again, nothing spectacular as far as photos go. I guess I'm jaded. There was a time when seeing ANY Bald Eagles nesting in Missouri would have been quite an occasion. I want to get at least one more shot at getting some "keeper" photos of them before the young fledge and the adults abandon the nest site. I figure I've got 2 weeks to a month.

NOTE: If you plan to use my map to locate the nest, PLEASE keep a low profile. The cove has been blocked off from boat traffic, but I'd hate to see the parents abandon the nest because they felt harassed. If the parents buzz you (and they have done it to some other photographers at this location), that's probably a sign that you're getting on their nerves and that you should leave. Wear drab clothes, keep still and respect their space.


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Monday, June 7, 2010

Hey, where did all the birds go?

I've noticed that in the last week, the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles that were hanging around my yard are gone. And there's been a serious drop-off in Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

I suspect that those birds were just passing through on their migrations to points farther north.

I have had one Indigo Bunting so far. I had them in bunches last summer. I hope they come back. There's been some serious construction in what had previously been an open brushy field across the road. I hope that hasn't run them off.

UPDATE: Saw one Indigo Bunting at the bird feeders in the evening.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not a wild bird and not in Missouri

I just thought this Bourbon Red tom turkey was awfully handsome so I thought I'd share these pictures with you.

Of course, a tom has to have some ladies, and what a lovely bunch they are.

The Gulf BP oil disaster: or why we should quit commuting in our V8 SUVs

As I write this, an environmental disaster of epic proportions is spewing out of the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf Coast is a birder's paradise, and a crucial stopover point for many migratory species. The potential for long-term environmental damage to beaches and marshes is immense. And the economic effects will linger longer after the last seabird or dolphin dies. It's a bad time to be Bubba Gump.

There's been a lot of finger pointing: British Petroleum, the Minerals Management Service, President Obama, etc.

And there's reason to blame BP,the MMS and the Obama administration. For all you folks out there calling him a socialist, President Obama's initial response to the spill proved him to be a corporate lackey just like the rest of Washington. The spill been going on for a month, and now he's "furious"? Frankly, I'm very disappointed. This will be his "Katrina moment".

But we need to look in the mirror to see who's really to blame here.

THIS is the cost of our oil-based economy.

AP photo/Charlie Riedel

THIS is the cost of cheap oil. I certainly don't exempt myself. Yeah, I bought a 40 mpg car, but there are many times when I could walk or ride a bike and I don't.

If anything good comes of this catastrophe, I hope it will be increased efforts to move towards a more sustainable energy policy. And not from the government: we all can make a difference by choosing to drive less, and supporting conservation whenever we can. We need to support efforts to make us less dependent on oil and other fossil fuels. We need to support companies that have responsible environmental policies and avoid those that don't. Keep your SUV/pickup truck. Use it for what it's actually made for and buy a high-MPG vehicle for commuting. The birds will appreciate it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bald Eagle

I can remember when seeing a Bald Eagle in Missouri was a big deal. Going to Eagle Days at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge with my Scout Troop were about the only times I ever saw them. I left the state for a decade, and when I came back I was amazed to see Bald Eagles: at the Lake of the Ozarks, on the Missouri River, even sitting on the side of the highway near Smithville.

Last spring, I walked out of the library where I work and looked up and saw...a Bald Eagle. And then another. This is in Grandview, which isn't exactly the wilderness. I figured they must have been from over at Longview Lake. One of my co-workers who lives near the park told me that the eagles had a nest in a dead tree in the lake.

I went down to take a look, and sure enough there was a nest. I could hear the young but never saw them. I took a lot of pictures but didn't really get anything outstanding. They're back again this year. I'll have to make a trip down with my blind and make a day out of it. Stay tuned.

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

NOTE: If you plan to use my map to locate the nest, PLEASE keep a low profile. The cove has been blocked off from boat traffic, but I'd hate to see the parents abandon the nest because they felt harassed. If the parents buzz you (and they have done it to some other photographers at this location), that's probably a sign that you're getting on their nerves and that you should leave. Wear drab clothes, keep still and respect their space.


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Great Blue Heron

Probably the largest bird you're likely to see on a regular basis in Missouri is the Great Blue Heron. I used to know some guys who called them "pterodactyls". Not a bad nickname.

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias

The Nutcracker Suite (Blue Jay)

Most birds seem to be able to shell sunflower seeds with just their beaks. However, I've noticed that Blue Jays seem to prefer to open sunflower seeds by pecking at them on a hard surface. This Blue Jay entertained me for some time with its efforts to open sunflower seeds against the rocks around the base of one of my feeders.

Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata

Ready, Aim...


Hey, where'd my seed go?