Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cardinals on a Windy Day

February 18th was a very windy day (gusts of up to 30 mph) here in Lansing, and I just wanted to share the amusing photos I took of cardinals at the feeders that day.

Those crests must be a real nuisance on windy days like that...

The cardinal in the background later chased away the junco, seemingly because
its feet could obviously get a better purchase on the wood than they could on the
packed snow on top of the feeder. 

The wind was shifting all the time.   In this photo, the wind was blowing from the North
instead of from the East as it is in the rest of the photos.

Every time I look at these photos they just look wrong.  This cardinal's tail was at almost
a 90° angle from its body.  The reason is that at this point, the wind was so strong
that the cardinal was nearly being toppled over!  This was his ingenious and rather amusing
solution to the dilemma. 

Here's a bonus—a look at the black downy feathers of a Dark-eyed Junco!   I took
this photo on the same windy day as the cardinals, 18 Feb.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Avian Photo Essay Part Two: Passerines

So finally, here is the second part of my photo essay:

Rare or Otherwise Notable Passerines

Northern Shrike, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, OH.  Feb 8.

American Crow:  I have already covered this species in detail in previous posts, nut I though it would be fun to repost some of my favorite shots as well as some newer shots from the roost.

My favorite photo of all time:) 
Hundreds of crows at a time dropping into the roost
The entire roost lifts up and swirls about in the air for about half a minute
before alighting back in the trees.
90 or so crows with the glint of the setting sun on their flight feathers. 
A small section of treetops that are overloaded with crows.

Juvenile Horned Lark. One of dozens of that species at ADM Grains on 5 Jan.

Brown Creeper.  One of three in my yard on Jan 26. 

This and another Carolina Wren are both regular year-round feeder visitors
in my yard, especially in the winter and some summers.  One summer, they
bred in the garden, fledging three young!

Townsend's Solitaire:  like the American Crow, I have already dedicated a couple of posts to this and just wanted to share some new photos (9 Feb), as well as mention that the solitaire only has ONE FOOT!  I did not even notice this during my first five hours of observation.  I think it must have been born with it, because it functions so well in spite of it.  It also explains the lack of a bright eye ring on one side–it has to hold on to the branch with its good foot and preen with its stump.  Therefore the eyering on the "stump" side of its head is much brighter than the one on the other side.  I have included some photos which illustrate that it has a stump leg quite well but I somehow didn't notice until after I heard that it had only one foot.

Varied Thrush, 27 Dec.  This bird was seen by a looooot of people during its long stay
at some feeders in Barry County. 

Most of the flock of an incredible 64 Bohemian Waxwings at Rose Lake
WRA.  Among them there were only 8 Cedar Waxwings.  Wow.  That
means that the flock was 88% Bohemians and only 11% Cedars.  Not some-
thing you see very often.  Seen on 11 Jan.  

This tiny bird came as a huge surprise to me and my family when we
discovered it under our pine tree, eating berries and insects off a pokeweed
plant.  After that it flew into our garden, where we managed to take a few pic-
tures.  It actually stayed until the 15th, even visiting the bird bath a couple of times.
The eBird weekly totals graph for Nashville Warbler from Sep-Nov of 2012 suggests that
this one was the only Nashville Warbler in our area that late in the year. 

10 of the 11 Chipping Sparrows in my yard on Oct 25.  A very large number of
chippers for that time of year.

Flock of 123(!) Snow Buntings on 5 Jan at ADM Grains.

This late-ish Red-winged Blackbird was a good surprise at the feeders on 26 Oct.

These photos are of a group of 18 White-winged Crossbills at Mt Hope
Cemetery, 16 Nov.

Photos of a group of 38+ Pine Grosbeaks on the feeders at Whitefish Point
on 17 Nov.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Raptor Mania!

Yesterday (2/10), my mom and I went to Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area in Ohio for a field trip put on by that state's young birders club.  It was incredible!  

On the drive there, I saw 19 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Cooper's Hawk and 4 Rough-legged Hawks hunting or perched along the sides of the highway.  When we got out at a gas station in southernmost Michigan, a Peregrine Falcon flew over!  Just after we crossed into Ohio, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a wooden post low to the ground.  All of this put me at 5 bird of prey species on the day even before the field trip began.   

When we did get there, the young birders piled into BSBO's bus for a drive around the farm fields.  Raptors were everywhere!  There were literally Northern Harriers in every field and Red-tailed Hawks on every woodland border.  There were also at least three American Kestrels around, perching on telephone wires and shrubs.  One of them, a male, was being mobbed by a flicker.  Dozens of harriers and redtails later, the bus parked in the lot at Owl Woods, the preserve's woodland that is famous as an owl magnet. 

Birders that were already there quickly helped us find a Barn Owl high up in a pine tree.  A lifer for me!  The only way to see it was to stand directly beneath it and crane your neck as far as you could, but it was well worth it–it was staring right back down at you, and absolutely beautiful.  We were also shown a Northern Saw-whet Owl not far away from there that was about two thirds up another pine tree.  It didn't take so much straining to see it, but it was blocked by a few small branches and was less clearly visible than the Barn Owl.  We were all delighted to see it anyway.  After everyone had seen both of the birds there, we drove to a location known to be hosting a roost of Long-eared Owls.  Across the road was an eagle nest with two eagles perched near it.   I had now seen 10 bird of prey species on the day.

We trekked out to the Long-eared Owl spot, and indeed, there were five of them roosting in the pine trees there.  Another lifer!  They were absolutely beautiful,  with their striking yellow eyes, long ear tufts, and warm brown mottled plumage.  They were smaller than I imagined they would be, but their presence and personalities were huge!

After that, we went on a  successful search for a staked-out Northern Shrike.  It was very active, flying from bush to bush and getting quite close a couple of times.   The hawthorn shrubs it favored had some mean looking thorns–perfect for a shrike.

Finally, as the sun was setting, we set out to search for Short-eared Owls.  On the way there we saw a flock of robins with a Northern Mockingbird mixed in as well as a flock of American Tree Sparrows that contained a single White-crowned Sparrow.  When we got there, we found at least seven Short-eared Owls flying in the air and perching in big dead trees.  When they flew they reminded me of bats, with their erratic flight, long wings, and flat, broad faces.

I ended the day with 13 bird of prey species:Cooper's, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Rough-legged Hawk; Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, and Bald Eagle; Barn, Northern Saw-whet, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls; and Northern Shrike.  What an awesome total for the middle of the winter!  It was the best birding day that I'd had in a long while.

Northern Harrier in flight.

Bald Eagles.

Northern Saw-whet Owl.

1 of 5 Long-eared Owls.

1 of at least 7 Short-eared Owls.   In flight.

Barn Owl.

Northern Shrike.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Oct.-Jan. Avian Photo Essay--Part 1

Wading Birds:

Great Blue Heron, Nov 22.  It was nice to see one on this particular
day, what with the cold air and  bone-chilling winds.


Western Grebe, 26 Nov.  This very rare bird turned up at Lake Lansing in the middle of November  and stayed an astonishingly long time there.  As you can see, these pics were taken through my spotting scope.  Ingham County has hosted a crazy amount of rarities this  fall and winter, including several Nelson's Sparrows, Northern Mockingbird, Townsend's Solitaire, 2 Franklins,  several Lesser Black-backed, and 1 Greater Black-backed Gull, 1 Cattle Egret, several Surf Scoters, at least 5 White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers, 1 American Golden-plover, 1 Black-bellied Plover (rare in the county), 1 Baird's Sandpiper, 2 Hoary Redpolls, many Bohemian Waxwings, a couple of Evening Grosbeaks, and both crossbills! 

Snow Goose, Oct 27. Cool birds!  One white morph and one blue morph.  I saw these with
Sean Williams on MSU campus.  A LOT of rare geese showed up in the MSU farm fields this year.
I think Sean Williams told me that it's the first fall ever that there have been five--or six, depending on how you
look at it--species reported(Greater White-fronted, Snow, Ross's, Canada, and Cackling, plus an
 "uncountable" Greylag Goose at MSU Ponds). 

Horned Grebe, Oct 15.  I was very excited to find these two Horned Grebes on the small lake at
Hawk Island Ingham County Park.  Crummy picture I know, but an exciting find nevertheless.

Canada Goose, Jan 1.  My second species photographed for the new year!  At Fenner Nature Center.

Cackling Goose, Dec 15.  A cool bird to see in the middle of December!  In some fields off College Road.
"Cacklers" were actually fairly easy to find in the MSU farm fields this fall and early winter.  The one on the right is totally bizarre: no lightly colored breast like a normal Cackling and a really wierd but cool-looking white necklace.

Tundra Swan,  Oct 24.  These Tundra swans that made an appearance at Maple River State Game Area
were a tiny bit on the early side of Tundra Swan migration.

Black Scoter, 10 Nov.  Seen on an Audubon field trip to Allegan County.  There was a Northern Shoveler, of all
things, mixed in--in this picture it's the third farthest to the right.  I believe the furthest to the left is a Surf Scoter.

Long-tailed Duck, 10 Nov.  Seen at an inland wastewater treatment plant in Allegan County
on the same field trip that I saw the scoters.

Birds of Prey:

Bald Eagle, Jan 3.  There were at least seven of these on the ice of Lake Macatawa.

Cooper's Hawk, 28 Nov.  "Coops" visit our feeders frequently, but once we got this House Sparrow trap some
young ones decided that there was something to gain by sitting on top of the trap watching the sparrows inside.
It turns out there isn't.

Golden Eagle, 10 Nov.  This rarity was seen above some Allegan County farm fields while on the aforementioned
Audubon field trip.  What a cool bird!  I loved its wedge-shaped tail and tail pattern.  A very graceful bird.

Barred Owl, 13 Nov.  I was at Fenner Nature Center looking for crossbills when I looked up to see this
owl staring me straight in the face!  I was captivated and its gazed pinned me to the spot.  Luckily, I got my
wits together and snapped a few photos.


 Dunlin and Pectoral Sandpiper (middle) and Killdeer, 10 Nov.  All of these shorebirds were seen at Wade's Bayou on that very productive Audubon field trip to Allegan County. All of them were late for their species except for Killdeer, of which there were about 40 on the mudflats.  You can't really tell from the top photo the ID of the birds, and I only know what they are from being there.


Just a couple of good shots of the endearing young Mourning Dove that visited the feeders during the months of October and November.


Rufous Hummingbird, 7 Oct.  This rarity was at Black Swamp Bird Observatory's
feeders from September through January, nearly 4 months!


My two favorite shots of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.  I love the action in the top one.   It was so fun to
watch the woodpecker ward off the jay.  

This female Downy Woodpecker ran into a window on 23 November and perched on our window sill 
outside until she recuperated enough to fly away.

A female Hairy Woodpecker at the feeders, 26 Oct.

Part two will be coming soon!