Sunday, January 29, 2012

Long-eared Owl

Just as we approached a rocky shore along Lake Michigan one of the field trip members spotted what they thought was a hawk. Before the rest of the group had a chance to get a clear view, it flushed and flew to some nearby trees. It turned out to be a Long-eared Owl and was the highlight of the trip. It was a gorgeous bird!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Snowy Owl

I was out of town on business from the 18th through the 24th and had Saturday, the 22nd, off, so I contacted the Chicago Ornithological Society in hopes of finding a good place to go birding. I had read that a nearby park on a peninsula of Lake Michigan, Northerly Island Park, was a good place to find winter Snowy Owls and asked about what my chances might be. I got two quick responses saying that there had been Snowy Owl sightings at the park and that they had a field trip planned for that morning that started at the park.
I decided I'd join them and I'm glad I did. It turned out be a fruitful birding outing, all though not a great photography day as it was gloomy and lightly snowing. I did see four new life birds including a Snowy Owl sitting on the snow and ice of Lake Michigan. It was quite a ways out, but one field trip participant spied its head above the snow with her binoculars.
We repositioned ourselves and where able to get a fuller view as seen above. The bottom image is a full frame view to get a feel for just how far away it was. My 300mm lens is about a 6x magnifier.
Other life birds were American Black Ducks, a Long-eared Owl and my first verified Thayer's Gull. I'm sure I have seen Thayer's Gulls already, but am still not confident of my id'ing skills on this bird. I learned a few things and hope I will be apply them to birds here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


A female Bushtit outside my kitchen window. I've had a fair number of Bushtits in my yard this winter.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Black Turnstone

A Black Turnstone at Seal Rock State Park this past December 31. Evidently, the name Turnstone comes from fact that they often use their beaks to overturn stones as they forage for food. I've never observed this, but now that I am aware of it I will looking for it.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I find Sanderlings to be great fun. If you are patient they can be quite tolerant of your presence allowing for interesting observations and photographs. They feed on small aquatic invertebrates, probing the sand with their beak, their heads in almost constant motion.

One of their classic behaviors is racing just ahead of the waves as they roll in, then, as the waves recede, they take advantage of any prey that may be left on the beach.
At one point I found myself just a few feet from them, taking pictures as they were feeding, when a large wave came rolling in. Just before we were about to get wet, both the Sanderlings and I made a beeline inland, literally running side by side. It was a hoot.

One of the more interesting Sanderling I saw was the one above. At first I thought it had some type of eye infection, but the more I look at it the more it looks like a wound from a predator. It's not unusual to see birds with some type of injury or infection. Interestingly enough, many of them still seem able to take of themselves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Harlequin Duck

One of the great things about Seal Rock State Park is that you can regularly get close views of Harlequin Ducks during the winter. I suppose one reason is that it has classic Harlequin habitat; rocky coastlines with strong wave action.
While they will swim in right next to the shore, they are quite shy and make a beeline for more open water when they see you approaching. But with a little patience, I was able to get some reasonably good pictures.

The skies were clear for the first hour and a half during my visit, but then the clouds starting rolling in, cloaking the wonderful morning sunlight that the beaches enjoy. Unfortunately this was when I got my closest shots of the ducks. For some reason, I have trouble getting sharp looking pictures of males. It maybe have to the its dark coloring, but I'm not sure.
In the images above, this male is being tossed around a bit as it navigates the waves crashing in between the shore's rocks. I've noticed that both Harlequins and Surf Scoters tend to dive under water whenever it gets very rough. I'm not sure if that is to avoid the waves or if the agitated water stirs up better food harvesting opportunities.

This female caught a small green fish. Not sure what it is. I've never seen a fish quite that green.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lincoln's Sparrow

I got a late start yesterday morning (it was a long week at work after having been off for over two) so I decided to stay nearby and check out TRNWR. I don't get there very often anymore and I thought it might be nice to see if I could see the Emperor Goose and check it off for 2012.
I dipped on the goose, but I did see a couple of new refuge birds for me; a Lincoln's Sparrow and three Fox Sparrows. All were along the beginning of the trail before the small ponds.
In the young Oak trees planted just after the ponds were a few Western Bluebirds and in the distance from the observation deck was an Eurasian Wigeon.
It's fun being able to check off all the birds at the beginning of a new year. It can get pretty slow towards the end of a year. :-)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Surf Scoter

A Surf Scoter from my trip to Seal Rock on Dec 31.
These birds have the craziest beaks. Not only in shape, but in color. It would be fascinating to be able to trace its evolutionary path through history to see what circumstances brought about such a formation.
There were two males and a female swimming on the ocean side of the volcanic rocks that protrude out of the sand on the beach at Seal Rock. It was great fun to watch them as they dodged the rocks as the frothy waves smashed into the rocks, dragging them in closer.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


On Monday, my last day of holiday vacation, I decided to see if the Canvasback that had been reported at Westmoreland Park was still hanging out. Sure enough, though not obvious at first, it eventually showed itself. A nice female.
The pond at Westmoreland is nice for photographing waterfowl as its not very big and the birds are used to people. It would have been nice if the sun could have shown itself, but the results aren't bad.
After that success, I called my wife. She was busy with her own things, so I drove over to Heron Lakes Golf Course when there had been reports of a Brant in among the Cackling Geese. I spent the better part of an hour, through rain and bursty winds, scanning through the thousands of Cacklers, but could not find the Brant.
I did, however find a total of eight male and two female Canvasbacks on a small pond on the east side of the course. I have only seen Canvasbacks a couple of times before, both times at long distance. It was great getting so many close views of these handsome birds on the same day.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bird Watcher's Special

My son texted this picture to me while on a road trip to San Diego and back.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rock Sandpiper

I ended the year well.
I made my second trip ever yesterday to Seal Rock State Park. The weather was fantastic until about 10:30 AM when clouds started rolling in, but even then it was pleasant.
Best of all, I was successful in finding all my target birds, with the prize being my first sighting of a Rock Sandpiper. There were at least two on the beach as I saw two together during one sighting and then had sightings of a single bird throughout the morning.
Some time had passed after my sighting of the first Rock Sandpiper when I spied a Surfbird. This started me questioning whether I had correctly identified the Rock Sandpiper as they look somewhat similar. A Rock Sandpiper was my primary target at Seal Rock and when your mind is set on seeing a certain bird, you can sometimes misidentify a bird that closely resembles it.
Luckily I had more sightings of Rock Sandpipers throughout the morning and at one point I saw one next to a Surfbird as seen in the image above. The sandpiper (on the right) is clearly smaller and has more defined feathers on its back, along with more spots on its breast and belly.
Other target birds that I successfully saw were Harlequin Ducks (I hadn't seen any yet this year), Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers. Nice additions were close views of Surf Scoters and Sanderlings.
On my way back home, I stopped at Newport's South Jetty and saw Red-breasted Mergansers, large numbers of Common Loons, large numbers of Horned Grebes and a male Barrow's Goldeye (my first Oregon sighting). I'll post images of some of these birds in the coming days.