Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mountain Chickadee

The Willamette Valley has been invaded by Mountain Chickadees this autumn. While more common at higher elevations, these chickadees are being seen regularly at feeders around the area.
As luck would have it, birder Craig Turner posted to OBOL that one was visiting his feeder at work in Wilsonville. Welcoming a rare sighting so close to home, I drove to the north side of town on December 1 and found it almost immediately.
There was some discussion as to whether this influx of Mountain Chickadees were of the Rocky Mountain or Pacific subspecies, with some leaning towards the less likely Rocky Mountain form in early discussions. Ultimately, I believe most settled on the Pacific subspecies.

Monday, November 19, 2012

American Tree Sparrow

I just completed three weeks of business travel. The first week to Tacoma, WA, the second to Atlanta, GA and this past week back to Leominster, MA.
A stop on the way up to Tacoma netted two new life birds and a new Washington bird and while my annual trip to Atlanta didn't produce any lifers, I did see most all the cool eastern birds I usually find there.
I only had time to bird for about an hour and a half during the Leominster trip before I had to make my way to Boston's Logan Airport to start the long flight home. Instead of birding at my usual spots I decided to try something new. Since I was on my way to Boston, I decided to make a stop along the way. A check on Google maps found that Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was just a short detour off my route.
It turned out to be a great a place for birding making me wish I had gotten up a little earlier so I could have spent more time there.

As I walked along a trail that splits a large marsh, I kept flushing a sparrow out in front of me until it got tired of that game and flew back behind me. I hadn't seen a lot of birds yet so I decided to backtrack and see if I could get a closer look.
When I finally got a decent look at it I decided that it was a Chipping Sparrow as it looked like one and is a bird that I have typically seen in during my past trips to the area. However, at one point I caught a glimpse its breast and I was quite sure that it had a dark spot right in the middle.  Perhaps this was a American Tree Sparrow. Both sparrows belong to the genus Spizella and are similar in appearance and while I've seen a Chipping Sparrow many times, an American Tree Sparrow would be a lifer for me!
I never got any better looks, but I took as many pictures as I could hoping that I'd be able to get a positive ID once I reviewed them. Sure enough, as you can see in the top picture, the bird has a black dot on its breast.  There are other field marks indicative of an American Tree Sparrow. Its lower mandible is yellow.  A Chipping Sparrow's lower mandible is black like the upper.  The stripe through its eye is brown instead black like a Chipping. And as can be seen in the lower image, it has two bright white wing bars compared to the duller bars on the Chipping Sparrow.
What a nice surprise on such a short outing!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Northern Wheatear

On Oct 28, Dave Irons submitted two posts to OBOL along with a link to BirdFellow where he reported some great birds on the Washington state coast. The birds included two juvenile Bar-tailed Godwits, a Tropical Kingbird, a Wilson's Plover, a Common Eider and this Northern Wheatear. All were found within a 20 mile stretch between Tokeland and Westport. 
As luck would have it, I was heading to Tacoma, WA the very next day on business. Since the day was a travel day, I had time to divert off I-5 and try my luck at seeing these birds and in fact ended up seeing three out of the five, dipping on the Tropical Kingbird and the Wilson's Plover.
The Northern Wheatear and Common Eider were both seen in Westport; the Wheatear along the coast at Westhaven State Park and the Eider in Westhaven Cove. These were the last two stops on my trip and the dreary day was getting even darker as it was past 4:00 in the afternoon.
Dave's directions for finding the Wheatear were right on and I found it almost immediately after scaling the rocks at the point just east of the jetty. It was moving about among some large boulders somewhat out of range for my camera lens, but I decided to take some early pictures as Dave was right about another thing; it was highly mobile and not very cooperative. It wasn't long before it flew off below the rocks closer to the water and I didn't see it again. Luckily I was able to salvage a couple of the distant shots. 
Quite the sight as this bird normally only frequents Alaska and the northern reaches of Canada in all of the Americas!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Clark's Nutcracker

On the morning of Sept 8 I drove up to Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood. It's not great for the number or variety of birds, but I find some birds there that I don't find elsewhere. Oh, and the view is great!
One of the birds I have only seen up at Timberline is the Clark's Nutcracker. It's a great bird related to Jays and Crows. In the past, I've only seen a couple during each trip with only so-so views, but on this day there were nutcrackers everywhere. You could see them flying from tree to tree as they collected pine seeds.
At times they would fly out of a tree as if they were fly catching. The one above is definitely in pursuit of something, but it looks more like one of the pine seeds than an insect. I have not found any literature that attributes fly catching to nutcracker's, but they are know to include insects in their diet.

Clark's Nutcrackers are well know for collecting and stashing pine seeds for use during the winter months.  They have incrediable memories allowing them to find the seeds in their many hiding places. Some of the seeds that they don't consume end up sprouting and growing into more trees, making nutcracker's one of the primary means that some pine forests spread.
Here is an account of this behavior from Cornell's All About Birds website:
All year round, the staple food of a Clark Nutcracker’s diet is pine seeds, either fresh or stored. The nutcracker uses its long, sharp, sturdy bill to crack open closed, unripe pine cones and remove seeds from the cone scales. It shells seeds by cracking them in its bill or by holding them in its feet and hammering them. Between September and December it stores seeds to eat later, placing 30–150 seeds in the pouch under its tongue and carrying them to a spot nearby or up to 15 miles away. It digs a trench in the soil with its bill and puts a cluster of seeds inside before covering them up again, or it pushes individual seeds into gravelly soil, pumice, or crevices in wood. During the winter and spring, it relocates caches by remembering where they lie in relation to nearby objects like rocks, logs, and trees. Nutcrackers have such good memories that they can relocate seeds more than nine months after caching them, though their accuracy declines after about six months. They don’t recover all the seeds they bury, and it’s estimated that for some high-elevation pines, such as whitebark pine, virtually all the trees you can see on the landscape come from seeds planted by a nutcracker. Nutcrackers use cached seeds to feed both themselves and their young. Clark’s Nutcrackers also opportunistically eat insects and spiders, and small vertebrates such as other birds, ground squirrels, chipmunks, voles, toads, and carrion.
While most of the nutcrackers were above in trees, making getting a full shot of them difficult, I found the one above on the ground near a stream up the mountain from Timberline. I could be totally wrong on this, but I suspect this is a first year bird. For one thing, it was a little tamer than the others, which always makes me suspect a young bird.  Also, its face doesn't have much white like adults.  Unfortunately I couldn't find much information about year old birds, so please feel free to let me know if I am right or all wet.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Black-and-white Warbler

A couple of weeks from now I will make my fourth trip of the year to Leominster, MA. The company I work for is installing a new lighting system in the high school as it is being renovated. Each time I've been able to fit in a little birding.
On July 19th, during one of those trips, I was walking Wolf Rock Trail in Leominster State Forest.  It was a mostly sunny day, but there was plenty of shade under the forest trees.  The sun was slightly behind me when I noticed the shadow of something flying overhead.
I looked back and saw a small bird fly into the woods not far off the trail. The understory was relatively clear so I decided to have a closer look. It turned out to be a female Black-and-white Warbler, my first as an adult.
Here you can see the warbler clinging to the truck of a tree. This "nuthatch-like" behavior is a trait of the Black-and-white Warbler.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Indigo Bunting

This past 4th of July, my wife and I vacationed in Bandon, OR.  We've done so for the past four years.  This year I decided to rent a big lens as there are many great birding opportunities there.  So the day before we left I drove into Portland and picked up a 200-400mm f4 zoom along with a 1.7x teleconverter from Pro Photo Supply.  It's the first time I had tried this lens.
Coincidentally, there had been recent reports of an Indigo Bunting patrolling some grassland near the Port of Vancouver in Vancouver, WA.  This wasn't so far from where I picked up the lens, so I couldn't resist trying my luck at getting a few shots of this vagrant.

The area was off limits to the public, but the gravel drive that lead to the property was not, so I sat in my car, using it as a blind, and waited. As I watched a small flock of House Sparrows, I got a glimpse of a blue bird fly up over a small mound to my right.  Sure enough, it wasn't long before I saw the bunting further up the drive. 

Then it disappeared only to reappear on a sign very near me, then dropped down on a blackberry branch and began to sing.  How cool!
It came and went three or four times before I left, at one point spending some time in some early summer Teasel.  All-in-all, well worth the trip and great start to my 4th of July celebration!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Great Horned Owl

Taken way back on April 7th, this Great Horned Owl at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge decided to make its nest in the hollow of a broken tree trunk right next to the road along the auto tour. There was concern over the owls being disturbed by curious humans, so the refuge fenced off the turn out making it difficult for anyone to spend much time there. Some visitors even posted pictures of others who broke the rules and left their cars to get a closer look.
I got this shot while momentarily stopped not far from the nest. The sun was bright that day and the owl in shadow, making  it difficult to get a even exposure.  I had to do a fair amount of post processing to get this one looking good, but it is my favorite pose. While the owl didn't seem too concerned with people, it did tend to keep an eye on you. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Turkey Vulture

I took a drive during lunch this past Thursday to clear my head a bit. I do that once in a while if I feel I'm spinning my wheels at work. Occasionally, I will see a bird of interest and wished I had brought my camera along. Such was the case on this Thursday afternoon, except lucky me, I happened to have my camera!

As I drove along Wilsonville Road, just east of Newberg, I noticed a couple of Turkey Vultures sitting in the field not far off the road. I don't usually stop along county roads, but this was too good to pass up.
The Vulture in the image at the top was just on the other side of a double wire, barbed fence (the blurred streak through the middle of the image is one of the wires), while the other in the image above was a bit further out.
It wasn't long before I realized why they were there and why they didn't fly off. As can be seen above, there was a Raccoon carcass that they were scavenging. Eventually, they grew wary of me and began pulling the carcass further off into the field.
This proved to be too much effort for the Vulture, so it abandoned the effort and flew off. 

However, the lure of the meal was overwhelming, and it soon returned. I decided it was time to move on as I had disturbed them enough. 
It had occurred to me in the past to plant a carcass in order to get photos like these, but ethics and logistics kept me from doing it. Just goes to show that if you are patient and prepared, opportunities will present themselves to you naturally. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Pectoral Sandpiper

This past Monday, I spent the morning at Fernhill Wetlands. It was a little slower than the previous week, but I did get some real nice looks at small flock of five Pectoral Sandpipers.

I found them at the northeast corner of Fernhill Lake near all the construction. There is some nice mud there for shorebirds and is much closer viewing than on the west side.
The rufous coloring on its wings and back along with crisp new feathers would suggest that these are juveniles born this year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

Monday was Labor Day, making it a three day weekend, so I decided to take advantage of the extra free time and rented a lens. You can pick it up on Thursday afternoon and don't have to return it until Tuesday morning for the cost of a daily rental. I was willing to go with any of the three I typically use, but was hoping the 600mm was available as this is a great time for shorebirds. Its long reach is a real advantage. I got lucky as it was available, so I went all out and also picked up a 1.7x teleconverter and tripod with a Wimberly head.
I had planned on Fernhill Wetlands being my primary location, but my wife was tied up most of Saturday, so that gave me enough time to make a day trip to the coast. There had been reports of two Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Necanicum Estuary just north of Seaside as late as Friday, so I decided to try my luck. My success rate at bird chasing leaves something to be desired, but even if I didn't find them, there would be other great opportunities.
This would be my first visit to Necanicum Estuary, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Luckily, those that had already seen the birds left good directions for getting there. What I wasn't expecting, though, was a narrow stream separating me from a vast span of prime shorebird habitat at low tide. It was just wide enough to keep me from jumping over it (note to self, remember to get knee high boots).

After surveying the area and not seeing any Buff-breasted Sandpipers, I explored the trail along the stream until I found shallow area that I waded across. (Later I discovered that if I you just keep following the trail, the stream will end and you can walk out on to the estuary without getting wet) 

As I walked out onto the estuary, I wasn't sure where I should start.  I noticed someone standing a ways off who looked like they may be birding so I decided that would as good a place to start as any.
As I approached potential birder, he started subtly pointing off in the direction he was facing. I looked, but didn't see anything. It was early in the morning and the clouds hadn't burned off yet, so the light wasn't very good. Then, I noticed something moving not far from us. There they were, two Buff-breasted Sandpipers, not more than 20 feet away (probably less).

I took some pictures and eventually they flew off with some other nearby shorebirds. The birder turned out to be Greg Baker. I had read his posts on OBOL. We eventually re-found the birds (they sure seemed to like him. :-)), and eventually went our separate ways.
While I had gotten some ok pictures of the birds, the light left something to be desired, so I was concerned that the pictures would turn out soft.  I decided to stick around for awhile, spending some time with a flock of Caspian Terns, then returned to where we had first seen the sandpipers. By then the sun had burned through the clouds making for near ideal conditions.
As luck would have it, the birds had returned to the same area. They seemed to like this patch of sand covered with a carpet of green vegetation, this time accompanied by a small flock of Western Sandpipers and a few Least's.
They were very cooperative, until a family with small children came blasting through, spooking the Buff-breasted's. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

California Quail

I hadn't been to Fernhill Wetlands since May 28 before this past Sunday. Reports have been that Clean Water Services has been draining Fernhill Lake providing some extensive habitat for shorebirds. While this is certainly true, most of the shorebirds were well out of range of my lens.  The best shorebird species I saw where five Red-necked Phalaropes.
Oddly enough, my closest encounter with a bird that day was this female California Quail. I saw it perched atop this cyclone fence from quite a distance, not realizing what it was until I moved in closer.
It seemed oddly tolerant of me as California Quails typically scurry off into the tall grasses when seen. It just sat there and watched me as I slowly moved in closer. It wasn't until a large covey of Quail that had been laying low all around me startled that it finally began to show any concern. Soon there were Quail scampering everywhere.

I assumed it was a juvenile since it was so calm and appeared a bit small.

But looking at these images, it appears to have fairly worn feathers, especially in its tail region. That leads me to believe that this is an adult female. Let me know if you disagree.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Black-hooded Parakeet

Back in February I made the first of four trips to King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, CA to install an energy efficient lighting system in the newly renovated Anthony C. Beilenson Visitor Center It's nestled west of north LA at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Each morning I arrived, I was greeted by these noisy Black-hooded Parakeets perched high in the surrounding trees.  I didn't have much time to take pictures of them, but managed to get these before I left and I haven't seen them during any subsequent visits.
Though not currently listed by the ABA (unless added fairly recently, it missed out by one vote in 2006), it is estimated that there are approximately 300 breeding in the wild in California in and around this area.  There are larger populations in Florida.
Black-hooded Parakeets are native from southwestern Brazil to northern Argentina and the South American Classification Committee of the AOU and the International Ornithologists’ Union are now favoring the name Nanday Parakeet.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rock Wren

I've been wanting to go to Smith Rock State Park for some time. I've been there before, years ago, when my kids were young and before I renewed my birding hobby.  
Birding Oregon lists some potential life birds for me there and it didn't take long for me find some on an early Sunday morning back on July 22nd.  After my first sightings of White-throated Swifts at the top of the cliffs, I came across this Rock Wren. It was flitting among some rocks near a small grove of pines. There was a large boulder along the trail there setting at a fork in the trail which lead up to the cliffs providing access for rock climbers. I decided to use this boulder as a make shift blind and snapped the picture above while positioned there. 

The wren slowly made its way around to the back side of the boulder and, as I waited, it eventually popped its head up on the opposite side of the rock.  There I was, with this Rock Wren almost too close to take a picture. We stared at each other for a bit (I love these situations!) and then it scurried across the top of the rock and perched on a pine branch a little further from me.

This was actually a good thing as I was better able to get good pictures of it.  The sun angle wasn't ideal, but I'm not going to complain. :-)
I saw several Rock Wrens as I made my way around the River Trail, but these were by far the best views I got that day.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cassin's Finch

During the early part of my last trip to Timberline Lodge on July 1st, I spent a fair amount of time shooting Cassin's Finches. They were out in large numbers in the grove of trees northeast of the lodge.
I noticed an area on the east side of the grove that was especially active, so I decided to sit just outside where the morning sunlight would be good. It didn't take long before a few finches started showing up and pretty much ignored me.
The finch above perched so close to me that I had to back off my zoom a little (not something I do very often).  The light was great, the bird was great, resulting in a nice photo.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Blue-winged Teal

I'm going to try to get back in the swing of posting.  Even though I haven't posted much lately, I have been out taking pictures of birds like normal and am pretty backed up with post processing.
Back on June 9th, I found this male Blue-winged Teal at South Quigley Lake on the auto tour of RNWR.  A few days later I saw a male and female in a pond along the Kiwa trail.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

A couple of years ago during my first summer of adult birding, I spent some time in Albuquerque, NM on business.  I was lucky to have some time between meetings to do some birding, and even luckier to have Saturday morning free allowing me to tag along with a local Audubon Society field trip up to Sandia Crest in the Sandia Mountains.
I learned from the locals that Sandia Crest is one of the few places that you can find all three species of Rosy Finches in the Winter. A great article about the finches and some young boys that study them had just been included in the latest Audubon Magazine and the local Audubon Society president had a box full of copies to give to each of the field trip participants.
I found these birds and the story to be fascinating, but unfortunately it was June and the birds where off in other parts of the world. I've considered returning to Albuquerque just see them, but until a week ago, I was left to hoping that I would happen upon them elsewhere.

That elsewhere turned out to be Mount Hood, just northwest of Timberline Lodge. I like to hike around Timberline Lodge this time of year as there is still snow, but the ground is beginning to be exposed and the temperatures more tolerable.  There is a thin grove of mountain pines that I find to be quite birdie this time of year and a week ago this past Sunday was no different.  There were Cassin's Finches along with a few Pine Siskins and Yellow-rumped Warblers throughout, singing up a storm.
When I reached the end of the grove, I found a rock to sit on to take a breather. After a few minutes I heard a family approaching so I decided to start moving again. As I gathered my gear, I realized that I was missing my cellphone.  It had been in its case, clipped to my belt, but must have fallen off somewhere earlier.  It was then that I saw a bird land not far from the family and their dog. My heart started to pound because I was fairly sure it was a Rosy Finch. I tried to get my camera ready to take a picture, but between worrying about my cellphone and the dog that was approaching the bird, I was too slow and the bird flew off.

I was bummed! I was pretty sure it was a Rosy Finch, but I only had a distant view and I certainly didn't think I would be able to determine which species. I searched the area in the general direction it had flown, but I could not refind it, so I continued back down the mountain, retracing my tracks in search of my cellphone. Luckily, there was still a fair amount of snow on the ground, so I was able to follow my wondering tracks and eventually found the phone on the ground.
That minor catastrophe averted, I ventured back up the mountain and sat back on that same rock. After about five minutes I heard a chirp behind me. I turned and there, not more than ten feet away, was a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch perched at the top of broken stump. I carefully gathered my lens, twisted around and started taking pictures. It stuck around long enough to get three nice poses.
One down, two to go. :-)