Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Siskins!


Although I've had a single Pine Siskins visiting my feeder periodically since November, this last cold front finally brought down a sizable sum of seven seed-eating siskins. I've decided to share some of my photos.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Greater Scaup! or NOT....

Blogger's note 1/13/09: See comments to this blog entry. I always listen to the opinions of David Ringer. His thoughts and insight into bird identification are thorough, and he always asks the right questions. After reading his comment on this post, I investigated. The comments that struck a chord with me were not about the "nail" (Sibley guide says there is much overlap), but the one about a feeding, threatened or alert Scaup.

From
http://www.biology.eku.edu/kos/scaup.htm , I quote: "Images E and F depict how head shape can change with attitude. Lesser Scaup typically compress their head feathers when feeding eliminating the peak to the crown which gives them a totally different appearance. They may also do this when alert or threatened. They can appear very similar to Greater Scaup when assuming this attitude, particularly when showing a green gloss to the head."

Perhaps the Scaup of this post is a Lesser, and the three Scaup of the previous post are Greaters. Or perhaps all are Lesser. I've learned a lot about Scaup through these sightings and follow-up blog entries.

Birders have come down on both sides of the fence on the original post called "The Scaup Scoop". Perhaps I should return to Robbins and Easterla's comment,
"the only reliable field mark for distinguishing these two species is the extent of white on the upper side of the primaries."

Original post:
Well, today I seemed to have run into another rare Greater Scaup in the Ozarks. This individual did not have the striking green head of last Thursday's birds, but the gizz sure seems right to me. Check out the wide head on the bottom pictures. What do you think?








The Scaup Scoop

Some species of birds challenge the best of birders. So it goes with the Scaup. As my skills as a birder progress, with my point and shoot camera always handy to get adequate documentation shots, and with a very fine birder, my own son, a simple email away, I find myself more willing to stick my neck out these days. And so it went this past week when I spotted some ducks way out of their expected location.

Set in the center of Springfield, Southern Hills Lakes have always been a winter hotspot. We regularly get Ring-necks, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Wigeon, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, Teal, Scaup, and our resident Mute Swan population there. Hardly a large body of water, it seems a rather unlikely place for a Greater Scaup.

Last Thursday, however, this greater species graced the middle lake. Or, at least, that's how I see it. I hesitated to post the sighting, for fear that I had overlooked something. I emailed Nathan with an attached photo, and his quick reply gave me confidence. I Googled for comparison pages and found an excellent one that distinctly illustrated the differences. Brian Currie's page is awesome, but Ryan O'Donnell's ID challenge still illustrates the difficulty of the ID and differences of opinion among birders as well.

Internationally recognized KU ornithologist Mark Robbins and his colleague Northwest Missouri State ornithologist David Easterla, in their 1992 essential records book, "Birds of Missouri: Their Distribution and Abundance", state that "the only reliable field mark for distinguishing these two species is the extent of white on the upper side of the primaries." I have met both of these men, and I greatly respect their knowledge and expertise.

I'll still stand by my identification. By now, I hope I have piqued your curiousity. If so, here are my photos of last week's Greater and Lesser Scaup, followed by a few more of my
Greater Scauup. Greater Scaup above: note the rounded head, lack of distinct peak, green iridescence, broad bill, and generally longer gizz than Lesser Scaup below.
Lesser photo taken 3 days after Greater photo.
Lesser Scaup
Here's a few more of the Greater Scaup:
Unfortunately, the birds did not stick around. By the following morning, they were gone. So, I was the only birder that got to see them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the plight of this beautiful species and its lesser counterpart, whose numbers are both plummeting. Click here for more information.
I welcome your comments and insight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Greeting the Birds of a New Year

In early and mid December, I spotted 2 Least Sandpipers at the Bois D'Arc Conservation Area just a little northwest of Springfield. When the new year came around, I decided to see if the hardy little shorebirds had managed to remain in spite of sub freezing temperatures in recent days. The peeps were gone, but replacing them was a flock of at least 9 American Pipits, another Ozarks winter rarity. A couple of them posed nicely for the winter afternoon photographs.

Just down the road, I spotted my first winter Wood Duck in several years. This one is arguably the most beautiful North American duck, and it is always a joy to take in its glorious plumage.A couple Red-tailed Hawks in the area made me take a second look in hopes of turning up a Rough-legged Hawk, but neither passed the test for dark wrists. Here's their pictures, nevertheless.
The most exciting sighting of the day, however, came when I least expected and was too quick to get a picture. Looking into a barn that I have checked a 1000 times unsuccessfully, I encountered a Barn Owl high in the rafters! At the instant I saw it, it swooped through the exit. I briefly looked for it outside of the barn, but a pang of guilt swept over me. I hope it returns, and brings with it a mate. For now, I'll keep its location on the down low, and hope that spring brings fledglings!

January is looking ok. A day earlier, I picked up Winter Wren, Red-shouldered Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Bald Eagle at Linden, all while playing disc golf. Yesterday there were 21 Black Vultures feasting on a deer carcass on the roadside near the Springfield Nature Center. It seems I haven't even tried, and my year list currently stands at 47 species. Plans to check some lake and ponds tomorrow to add some waterfowl. Who knows where this will end?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Top Ten Nature Moments of 2008

Once again it is with gratitude and a desire to share the joy of the great outdoors that I post my top ten nature moments of 2008.

As a retired biology teacher, I know that natural awareness and environmental responsibility is taught in the classroom, but the teachings simply do not take hold without awe inspiring, first hand encounters with the natural world and all of its beauty. We who long for our next day out of doors have developed a heartfelt gratitude for the gift of Nature. It is from the core of this "gratitude within" that we are called into action to educate others, and to protect, defend, and preserve our biosphere.
So yes, this is a self-indulgent episode in blogging, but I still prefer to think of it as a testimony to the power of Nature to transform lives and to instill, as Rachel Carson coined, "a sense of wonder" in all of us.

My Top Ten Nature Moments of 2008

10. Fellows Lake Feathers! In November, I was forced to study the subtle difference between Western Grebes and Clark's Grebes as a tempting intergrade bird appeared on Fellows Lake. I ultimately decided it was a Western Grebe, but only after 2-3 days of mulling it over in my mind. This place is always special. It is the location of my life Clay-colored Sparrow, Northern Shrike, and Pacific Loon discoveries in past years. Last, but surely not least, it is the main piece of the pie in my section of the Springfield Christmas Bird Count circle, where I learned that "every bird counts."

9. Environmental Education Excellence!: Receiving a $26,000 grant from the Together Green project to set up the first annual Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE). Our plan is to select 16 of the finest young environmental leaders in Southwest Missouri high schools, to have them converge in a week long residential adventure and to put them to work near the Arkansas border in an effort to restore habitat for Swainson's Warbler, Bachman's Sparrow and other endangered species of Missouri. Check it our plans at www.greenleadershipacademy.org

8 Bodacious Bois D'Arc Boids! I have underbirded Bois D'Arc Conservation Area. I vow not to do it again this year! In 2008 the area produced stunning views of LeConte's Sparrow, Wilson's Snipes, and American Pipits. A single Dunlin appeared in November. In December, I spotted 2 late Least Sandpipers that stayed for at least 2 weeks.7. Aldrich Avian Adventures! On a comfortable August morning, Marvin and I headed up to the Aldrich arm of Stockton Reservoir in search of Buff-bellied Sandpipers. Although our target species eluded us, we enjoy large numbers of terns and shorebirds, getting soul satisfying views of Western Sandpipers and Least Terns.

6. Lockwood Luxuries! Although I had discovered a Northern Shrike at Fellows Lake last winter, I was again thrilled when birder friends Charley, Lisa, and David found another Northern Shrike in the Lockwood area. I convinced Charley to join me a few days later. We quickly found the cooperative Northern Shrike and added a stealthy Prairie Falcon to my Missouri list. The speedy bird was hard to keep up with, but as I look back, I realize that we were very fortunate to get three looks before it disappeared into the distant prairie.

5. Gustav Gulling! When Hurricane Gustav's landfall path reached into Southwest Missouri, I beelined down to Table Rock Reservoir in seach of Royal, Sooty, or Bridled Terns. Although unsuccessful in my tern quest, I was fortunate to be with one of Missouri's top birders, Joe Eades. He spotted my life Sabine's Gull along a distant shore, and we marveled in its distinctive yin-yang triangular wing pattern.

4. Wetlands Wonders! In September, I journeyed out to Kansas, where I birded Cheyenne Bottoms for a single afternoon. Not only did I add Red-necked Phalarope to my life list, but I photographed grace in action in wading American Avocets and swarming Monarch butterflies. Quite a sight!

3. Big Day Bonanza! An unbelievable 125 species on our May Big Day! Marvin, Charley and I arrived on the Missouri Prairie at sunrise, covered the roads down to the Busiek State Forest glade and Mark Twain National Forest, on to the Palmetto Meadows and urban waters, and finished some 14 hours later at Lake Springfield! This awesome day broke my previous big day record by 20 species!

2. Outer Banks Odyssey! The holidays provided a wonderful opportunity to visit my NC son and daughter-in-law and we all ventured to the the Outer Banks. Besides spending 4 days on the beach and visiting three light houses, I managed to pick up 4 life birds as my son struggled to pick up his 300th NC bird for 2008. Birds that I added to my list were Red-throated Loan, Mute Swan, Surf Scoter, and my favorite, the Purple Sandpipers of Oregon Inlet near Pea Island NWR.

1. Wyoming Wonders! An incredible family trip to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. It all started when my brother-in-law planned a family reunion there. Fourteen of us converged in Moran Junction, Wyoming, sightseeing our way up to Cooke City, Montana, and back to Moran Junction. The valley of the Lamar provided an amazing wildlife viewing experience that I will never forget. We arrived early in the morning in the valley of the Lamar, shortly after the Slough pack of wolves had taken down a young bull elk. Lying on the banks of the river, the carcass became the hub of biological activity for at least two days. The wolves gorged themselves, magpies and coyotes waiting on the sideline for a clearing in the mob. As the wolves dispersed, a Grizzly Bear barreled down the hill at an incredible speed. At one point, it confronted a member of the wolf pack. There was no doubting who the boss was in that valley as the bear chased the wolf out of sight. In the distance, huge herds of American Bison grazed in valley. At one point the distance between us and a bull buffalo became too close for comfort, however. We barely got into the car as the behemoth passed within inches of our vehicle. Amazing mammals were joined by Amazing birds on the trips, as Ferruginous Hawks, Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Trumpeter Swans, Red-bellied Sapsuckers, and Western Grebes rise up in my memory, but there were more..... many more. It was truly a "once in a lifetime" experience!

So that's another year passed. Wishing you many life birds and many life birding relationships in 2009! Cheers to all!

Six Random Things Meme

I was tagged by Mike at the Feather and the Flower with a Six Random Things meme. Although up to this point, I have stuck fairly closely to birds and conservation issues on this blog, I've decided to dive into the meme world. I ask myself.....why would anyone care, but then I, too, visit blog sites looking for interesting writers and people in general. I only hope I have something of interest to share.

Here are the rules for Six Random Things:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you. *done
  2. Post the rules on your blog. *here they are.
  3. Write six random things about yourself. *below
  4. Let the tagger know when your entry is up. *will do
I skipped a couple of rules, but hey, as far as I know, anyone that wants to can do this on their blog. Who needs an invitation?

1. I play bluegrass music, although not as much as I used to play. I own a Martin D-15 LE with a spruce top and a Wynn mandolin built in the late 70's. In the early 80's I played with a band called Backwoods Harmony at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Later I played with the Wynn boys in a band called Cedar Ridge. We played fairs and local venues. Now I just go up to the Ozark, Missouri, Square and pick with jam groups on summer evenings.

2. I also ride a sweet road bike. I posted about my Colnago Dream Plus on my blog once. I was going to sell it to buy a spotting scope and binoculars. Well, I couldn't sell the bike because I still love it, and I bought the scope and bins anyway. So, I've decided to start riding it again. There are recently completed greenways trails in my town, and they keep me off the road, where increasing numbers of drivers are text messaging and not looking at the road!

3. I went to college in 1970 on a small baseball scholarship at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina, Kansas. I am left handed and was a pitcher. I pitched when it was very cold in the early spring of my freshman year and ruined my arm. It still is painful for me to throw a baseball hard, but

4. I play disc golf for recreation and exercise. The closest course is only 2 blocks away, and my friends and I completed a country version of a 10 hole course at Lindenlure on the Finley River just last Saturday. We used big galvanized tubs for the baskets, and tucked the tubs back into the brush. It's a decently challenging course. 5. My wife and I were married in 1973, that's 35 years ago although she doesn't think I remember how long ago it was. We were part of the original Mother Earth News and Rodale Press Organic Gardening "back to the land" movement and lived way off the beaten path for many years. I had what I called the "Appalachian School Teacher Dream", where one goes to a poverty stricken mountain community, drives the school bus to and from work, and gives young people the key to escape from their world of poverty and illiteracy. So, we did all of that it in the Ozarks. However, we live in the suburbs now. My lovely, social daughter needed the town connection and besides, that simple, but hard life just burned us out after 24 years. Bicycling to work makes more ecological sense any way!

6. I have not always been a birder. When we camped on the Mulberry River in northern Arkansas in 1973, I thought that the Turkey Vultures soaring above us were Eagles for longer than I care to say. I know what you're saying...... "what was he smoking?" It was years later that my 11 year old son told me he read that the Native Americans often referred to vultures as "peace eagles", as they always appeared above their gatherings and took no life to sustain their own. I like that story, and it was one of the first of myriads of bird lore, tales, trivia, and facts that I have learned from my son since.