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.