December 31, 2008

2008 Bird Highlights

The past year has been fun and rewarding. I must say there have been hits and misses I have done fairly well. Below are the bird "highlights" of 2008 with a short explanation of each.

2008 Year Birds: 256 (50 life birds)

Bohemian Waxwing and Townsend's Solitaire:
I saw my lifer Bohemian Waxwing in with a flock of hundreds of Cedar Waxwings in January in O'Brien County, IA. I traveled two hours and almost missed it but saw it at the last minute. I saw a Townsend's Solitaire the same day.

Band-tailed Pigeon and Snowy Owl:
I saw the two bird listed above on the same day in Nebraska. Another birder and I were going to see the state's second Band-tailed Pigeon and I happened to find a Snowy Owl on the way there as we were talking about Snowy Owls! A lot of people, including us got to see both birds makin for a great day.

Scott's Oriole:
Iowa's first Scott's Oriole was seen in Emmet County in early April. I headed up with two other birders and we saw the bird right away at the feeders that it was visiting. We got close-up looks at it and got some pictures of it. It was a new bird for me and a great one for Iowa.

Pileated Woodpecker:
I found Woodbury County, IA's first Pileated Woodpecker by the creek near my home. Nine birds came to see it but only two others besides me got to view it before it left.

Prothonotary Warbler:
I got to see Woodbury County, IA's second (if I am correct) Prothonotary Warbler at a local park on May 1. I got fairly close to the bird as it put on a wonderful show.

Sabine's Gull: On August 21 I found South Dakotas earlist fall record of this gull in Yankton, SD. It was not onluy a record early but a new one for me.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher: I saw and photographed my first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Brandon, SD during October. This accidental species has been recorded something like 12 times in the state. This was a new bird for me and a beautiful one as well.
Snowy Owl: This bird showed up in late October, ahead of schedule. It was found at a grassland area in Iowa about 45 min. from my house so be went to go find it and got nice looks.

Black-legged Kittiwake: I saw a young kittiwake below Saylorville Dam near Des Moines, IA on the first of November.Barrow's Goldeneye: this was the first accidental bird I had ever self-found. I first saw it on November 16. Click the following link to read a full account.

December 27, 2008

Ida County Christmas Bird Count

Today was the Ida County CBC and despite the cold weather and windy conditions we still managed to pick up a few nice species. As the day went on the weather got better and the birding got better as well.

After driving there with a birder named Jerry, we all congregated at the county conservation board office at a place called Moorhead Park. From there we were all assigned our sections of the designated circle in which to bird. We were teamed up with Bob, a birder who has been on the count a good number of times. He helped us to navigate around the area and showed us some nice birding locations. When the planning was done we were headed out to start counting.

The first stop was at a nearby town to look for Eurasian-collared Doves. We checked a grain elevator in town and found a few different birds but no doves. After looking there we went through town birding all the side streets. Jerry spotted one Eurasian-collared Dove on the road. Before long we counted 39 as they flew out of the roosting site that they were at.

Once we were done birding in town we headed up to bird a lady's property which has been visited on previous cbc's. The area was fairy productive with a Barred Owl being the most interesting bird. We also came across Harris's Sparrow and Downy Woodpecker which are pictured below.

After a successful time of birding it was time to go to lunch. When we were done eating it was time to get back out in the field for the afternoon. On the way to an owl roosting location we saw a Merlin which was spotted by Jerry. We parked right below him and amazingly he didn't fly. I got a nice photo of him as he watched us from the wire. This was a nice species and was definitely a highlight of the day.
Our group headed to the owl roosting spot and hiked all over around the area with no owl to be seen. We found owl poop, owl pellets, owl feathers, and fresh owl prey at various locations but no owls were to be seen. Luckily we had a backup location at Moorhead Park which usually has owls.

Since a Northern Saw-whet owl was located at Moorhead Park we drove back a little early to see if we could find it. We were guided by another birder to where the owl was and we found him with no trouble. The little owl was tucked into a pine tree not far from the road. He was hard to get a picture of but I did manage to get a couple good ones before we left. I heard a saw-whet owl in South Dakota once but haven't seen one before so this made it my first time to see one. It is amazing how tiny they are and how approachable they are. This is definitely an experience I will remember for some time to come. This is a new state and year bird for me making it even better.Once the owl viewing was over we headed down to where all the birders met in the morning to have dinner. The food and the building was nice and warm which aided in our thawing out. After that Jerry and I drove back home after a fun and successful day of birdwatching.

December 26, 2008

Gloomy Day

It may be gloomy but the temperature finally got above 40 degrees today. The snow is starting to melt but I don't think the warmer temperatures are going to stick around much longer unfortunately. I birded around my yard and found a Morning Dove (fairly hard to find this time of year) and Pine Siskins. At the creek near my house there were very few birds. I don't think the birds like this dreary weather anymore than I do. This weather gives me a reason to stay indoors and watch some of my videos however. Good birding and hopefully the weather is sunnier where you are!

December 25, 2008

Christmas Day Birds

As Christmas Day was coming to a close my dad and I headed out in search of Short-eared Owls. We have had several failed attempts at locating this species so far this fall so I figured that our chances would be slim. We stopped at three large wetland areas before finding them. The first location we stopped at was the Luton WMA North Unit. As we pulled up to the area I spotted a Northern Shrike perched atop a small tree. I haven't had one yet this fall so it was a nice surprise. As we drove along we saw a few birds including Ring-necked Pheasant, Horned Lark, and Red-winged Blackbird but there was no owl to be seen. After that we headed to the south unit and found nothing but pheasants and larks. We decided to try one last spot before the day was over. The Owego Wetland Complex was not only the last stop but it was the best stop for Short-eared Owls. On the way there a couple Horned Larks and meadowlarks flushed from the road. When we got there it looked rather lifeless with no birds to be seen. The sun was setting and it was getting late.
I took out my scope and scanned the large wetland area. Only a moment later I found a large bird coursing over the fields. It was a Short-eared Owl! The search was finally over to find this species for my year list and I was rather happy to find one on Christmas. I got out a bird caller that my mom gave me for Christmas as a side gift and I used it to mimic mice. Only a few seconds later the owl was headed right for us! He quickly came and landed in a field behind our car. As he sat there I got the picture below by poking out the sunroof. It is a nice picture considering the distance and lighting at the time.I continued making the squeaking noises as he flew around trying to find what was making all that noise. A few moments later he dissapeared just as quickly as he had appeared, not to be seen again. Incase there where anymore of them to be found my dad and I drove around the area for a short while. We were rewarded with great looks at an owl that was perched on a post. He stayed there long enough for me to get a decent picture.The Short-eared Owls were a great Christmas treat adding to the fun of the already great day!

Merry Christmas!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

For my Christmas present I got a trip to Duluth, MN (as well as a 1-year membership to the Minnesota Ornithologist Union) in February 2008 and a dvd set called The Life of Birds which is hosted by David Attenborough. It is 10 hours long and goes through the life of birds (go figure!). I also got a video called Alone in the Wilderness which tells the story of Richard Proenneke. This Iowa native filmed himself making a log cabin and surviving in the Alaska wilderness year round. Although he is long gone this video tells it all. I also got another DVD that shows the wildlife and scenery that was in the area. A book was written about him and I got that as well.

It has been a great Christmas and I can't wait to watch my new videos and go on the trip!

Birding Lately

Sorry for not posting lately, I have been busy lately. A few interesting things have happened since I last posted so here are some things that have gone on. On December 14 I went with another birder to Cherokee, IA for a Christmas Bird Count. We got 30 species during the day despite the cold and wind. I was really surprised to find a Prairie Falcon in pursuit of a flock of Horned Larks. The falcon came out of nowhere and was quickly gone. It only stayed around long enough for us to pick out a few distinguishing field marks. I have not seen one of these rare visitors in Iowa before so it was nice to add such a neat bird to my state list. The second most interesting bird we saw was a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The bird was hanging around a large cedar stand near a creek. These birds are rare in Iowa during the winter so it was a bonus. Other highlights include Rough-legged Hawk, Brown Creeper, Harris's Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and Pine Siskin. Later in the day we went to Sioux City to help out a bit in their bird count but we didn't see much there.

A relative on mine gave me a hunting blind of his that he couldn't use because it was to small to use when bow hunting. I went outside and put it up near my bird feeders so I could get some close-up bird photos. A few species came in and I got some nice photos of A Hairy Woodpecker and Dark-eyed Junco while I was out there.

The weather here has been brutal in the past few weeks. We have gotten 21 inches of snow this month and one night it got down to -19. It is not the greatest weather to go birding in so I haven't been out much. Despite this I have been watching the feeders from time to time. Pine Siskins have been showing up lately and I am still watching for the Common Redpoll I had as a visitor in November. I don't have anymore to write about so I am done with this post.

December 8, 2008

Feeder Visitor Photos

I headed out this afternoon to get some pictures of the birds that were visiting our feeders. I took a chair and sat in it until the birds came in after getting used to me being there. Eventually they came in and I got some nice photos. A flock of Pine Siskins invaded our feeding stations for a while and they were very cooperative.A few Harris's Sparrows came in to and fed on the ground near the feeder adding to the fun.

December 7, 2008

Black Scoter and more...

Today at noon I went online and read that a Lesser Back-backed Gull and a Black Scoter were at a dam near Yankton, SD just a couple hours before the post came out. Both of these species would be life birds for me so after talking to my mom she decided to drive me up there. We packed up and were on the road in about ten minutes. About an hour and a half later we were at the dam. I began scoping the half-frozen lake for the gull with no success. Many Ring-billed and Herring Gulls were out on the ice, but no black-backed. I saw some waterfowl above the dam such as Common Goldeneye and Common Merganser as well as a young Bald Eagle that was trying to make a meal out of one of them. After a long time of searching I went below the dam to look. We came across another birder who had no luck of seeing the gull either. We decided to look along the river for the scoter since it looked like the gull wasn't going to be found. A few moments later the other birder came back and told us that he had found the Black Scoter. My mom and I went to where he said it was and found it right away. Since the bird appeared to be closer to the other side we went over there and got some photos of it. We went home satisfied, even though the gull eluded us.

December 2, 2008

Injured Pelican

Today in the local newspaper was a story about an injured American White Pelican that was found at a local park. The pelican has a nasty tear on the bottom of the bill, presumably preventing it from eating. I went out to the park this afternoon to go get some photos of it while it was still there. I got within 20 feet and it didn't seen to mind me as it stayed asleep for some time before it finally woke up. After a while of photo taking I finally got some nice ones. The cattails made it hard to take photos and most of the time he was asleep so it was a challenge to get a photo of the bill because it was tucked away out of sight. Despite the efforts of animal control the bird is still out there although they have been trying to capture him for a couple days now. Below is a close up of the bill which clearly shows the tear.

December 1, 2008

Screech Owl

Late this afternoon while taking my dogs outside I spotted an Eastern Screech-Owl sitting rather low in a tree near our house. I went inside as soon as I spotted it to get my camera and quickly made my way back outside. He was still perched in the tree and allowed close approach. I got lots of photos of him and he was very cooperative and even stuck around for my parents. The cold air and breezy conditions made my fingers numb while I was taking the pictures. I couldn't even feel them at all and I had a hard time using them after a while because the were so cold. This was a nice end to the rather boring day I had. When it got dark he eventually flew off looking for a new place to hunt. Hopefully he will stick around to nest next spring.