December 29, 2009

Feeder Watching and Christmas Bird Counting

With all of the snow recently, going out birding is a bit impractical since most good birding spots are along gravel roads which do not get plowed to often. Instead of risking my life on the hazardous roads I have just been doing some birding around my home and have found some nice birds recently. The best was the Tufted Titmouse which is a rare bird where I live. To read more about it go to this link which is to a past blog post about the bird:
A lot of birds have been drawn to the feeders because of the storm including Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Brown-headed Cowbird. I wouldn't be surprised if a Rusty Blackbird showed up but none have visited yet.
An American Tree Sparrow (the first at the feeders this winter) was feeding with the juncos this morning. One of the juncos was cooperative enough for me to get a nice picture of it.

Away from the feeders in the yard I saw some pheasant tracks. This was the first time I have proof that there was a pheasant in my yard. I have found feathers before but they may have blown in from somewhere else.

Before the storm I saw 32 Eurasian-collared Doves in the neighbor's tree. Not all birds are in the photo but it gives you a good idea of how many there were .Also before the storm I went on the Sioux City CBC. I wasn't out long since I had some other things to do that day but we did pick up 25 or so species including the Northern Shrike below.
This Eastern Cottontail was also seen on the CBC and posed nicely for a picture.
I really don't have time to keep blogging today (I have somewhere to go) so I will have to call that good for now!

December 26, 2009

A Very White Christmas!

Twenty inches of snow and strong winds made Christmas 2009 one for the record books. The 8 inches that fell on Christmas day alone was the most that ever fell on Christmas day in Sioux City, IA. The three day snowfall total ended up putting this storm in the top 3 worst seen in Sioux City, IA ever. Combined with the other snowfall seen in December it was the snowiest on record with 30 inches of the white stuff.
The best present I received was the news that I am going to be an uncle next August!

December 17, 2009

The Cleaners of Walmart

My dad and I saw these two tagged crows at a Walmart here in Iowa. One of the crows which was eating something nasty looking in the parking lot had the letters CW on it's tag which we said meant a Cleaner of Walmart! We later came to find out that they were part of a biology study being done at a local college.

December 16, 2009

What in the world is this?

That is exactly what I asked myself when I saw this arachnid sitting on the ground at our campsite one night at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Thanks to Internet I was able to in the matter of minutes find out that this was a spider in the genus Eremobates. These are ground dwelling spiders of the west that most often come out at night. I learned on Wikipedia that these spiders have the largest jaw size to body ratio of any creature! So next time you are out at night in the west keep your eyes on the ground to see if you can spot any of these fascinating creepy creatures for yourself.

December 10, 2009

Butterfly Laying an Egg!

There is an ANGRY MOB in My Yard!!!

Hopefully that title got your attention. Today while out in my yard I noticed a large group of birds (particularly the Blue Jays) looking at one particular hole in a tree and after doing so they would fly away calling as loudly as they could. I figured there was an Eastern Screech-Owl in the tree and when I went up there it was no surpise that one immediately flew out. I followed the angry mob of birds through my yard and caught up once again with the owl and got a photo of it hissing at the other birds! It is not every day that you get to see such interactions between birds.

Short-eared Owl in B&W

This is just one of the 13 Short-eared Owls I a few nights ago! I also saw two Great Horned Owls which makes 15 total owls. We had the same number of owls as we had number of species. The photo was done in black and white to give it the feel of a cold December night. I love especially that you can see snow falling in the photo. I saw eight with one leaft to right move of the binoculars!

Snow and Birds!

The past couple of days have been rough weather-wise in the Midwest. Where I live 10 inches of snow fell, winds got over 50 mph, and temps dropped to ten below last night. Thankfully things have improved a bit today. A couple birds have been drawn into the feeders such as Brown-headed Cowbirds and the Tufted Titmouse which both have been absent for a while. I went out to photograph the titmouse this morning (which is rare in NW Iowa) but didn't get a photo of it but I did get a photo of both a Blue Jay (my first nice one of this species) and a House Sparrow both of which turned out excellent! I have not been posting on my blog much lately because I can more quickly and easily put stuff on flickr than on blogger. To see some of my photos on flickr go to:

November 18, 2009

Creeper Camouflage

This afternoon while sitting in a hunting blind near my bird feeders I spotted a small and very well camouflaged Brown Creeper working his way up a nearby tree looking for food. I got a photo (left; click on it for a closer look) which shows very well just how hard they can be to see when the are up next to tree bark. The creepers are hard to detect also because their calls are generally hard to hear due to how high pitched and quiet they are. The Brown Creeper spends most of it's life attached to the bark of trees, not only while feeding but while nesting as well-they put their nest behind a loose piece of bark on a tree. Although small this is one impressive bird and one of my favorite.

On the opposite end of the spectrum a large, easy to see, and not very well camouflaged Blue Jay came by as well. The picture below is the first really nice Blue Jay shot I have taken because they are so easily spooked. Unfortunately there was no sign of the titmouse which I saw the morning before:(

November Evening in Iowa

November 17, 2009

Surprise Visitor

Today after I got the newspaper for my mom I went outside to look at some sparrows that I saw hanging around our cars. The sparrows flew off as soon as I came out of the door so I decided to just head back inside. As I turned around I noticed a strange bird on the feeder. "Crested head, blue-gray body. That can't be a Tufted Titmouse!". Sure enough it was a Tufted Titmouse, a rare visitor to NW Iowa that has only been seen in my county once or twice before. For some reason it was visiting my yard and it is still out there as I write this.

A local birdwatcher Jerry came over to see the bird and we immediately saw it. It landed within 20-30ft of us as we were walking towards the feeders. To add to the excitement the titmouse buzzed us, flying just one foot above our heads! That was a very nice surprise visitor that makes feeding the birds worth it!

November 14, 2009

Smile for the Camera

Last fall I came across dozens of LeConte's Sparrows just like the one pictured above. Unlike most other sparrows they would actually sit within a few feet of me as I took pictures, probably thinking that they were well camouflaged in the grass and that I couldn't see them. Maybe one day I will find a Savannah Sparrow that is just as cooperative. This brave little LeConte's certainly wasn't camera shy!

November 13, 2009

Remembering Warmer Days

Since all of the plants are brown and drab in the Midwest this time of year I decided to post some of the prairie flower photos that I took this summer so I can be and everyone else in the northern part of the country can be reminded of warmer days when the grass was greener and the prairies were full of color. Enjoy!
Butterfly Milkweed (above)Hoary PuccoonPrairie Phlox Prairie Rose

November 12, 2009

White-winged Scoter

Early this afternoon a birding friend of mine, Paul, called me to tell me that a White-winged Scoter was seen near Yankton, SD in Nebraska which is only about 1 and 1/2 hours from my home. There is a large lake there formed by a dam which draws in a number of water birds but for some reason the scoter decided to go to a sewage lagoon near there instead. This scoter, which would be a life bird, would also be the last scoter I needed on my life list. I have seen one Black and several Surf Scoters before but no White-wings.

We drove up to see it and when we got to the lagoon we immediately found the scoter swimming around with a gorgeous adult male Redhead. The scoter was life bird 341 for me and it was a new state bird for my friend. This is not the first time I have seen good birds on sewage lagoons. I have seen Barrow's Goldeneye (self found, accidental in Iowa), Snowy Plover, Piping Plover, Least Tern, Ruddy Turnstone and much more at a couple local lagoons by where I live in western Iowa. The lagoons may stink (luckily the one near Yankton didn't) but the birds that you find in them sure don't!

A couple other birds were seen while we were up there including three Western Grebe, some Cackling Geese, and a Bonaparte's Gull.

New Flikr Webpage

I just recently created a new Flickr webpage. I put some of my favorite bird and nature photos on my photostream. To access it go to

November 11, 2009

Great Sand Dunes

On the way back from my high adventure trip at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in SC Colorado. The sand dunes for which the park was name really are great with some standing over 700 foot tall. They are the largest sand dunes in all of North America and are perhaps the most beautiful as well. I climbed up some of the dunes which cover approximately 30 sq miles of the San Luis Valley. The picture below (which has been altered to make the people stand out more) shows just how large the dunes are. Click on it to see the people on them.
The first glimpse I got of the Great Sand Dunes is in the photo below. Seen from 15 miles away they are barely visible and are dwarfed by the 14,000 ft peaks in the background. In this picture you can only see the dunes when it is blown up but for some reason you can't do that once you move a picture on blogger :(
I took the picture below at dusk from just outside the park at a restaurant. The dunes look very neat in this light; almost purple.
After dinner at the restaurant we parked the motor home at a campground just outside the park. I took the picture below the next morning. It is of the view from the our campsite!
As soon as the sun was up I was too. We drove down to the dunes where I spent some time hiking up them. The sand dunes are contained within the Great Sand Dunes Wilderness.
On the way in we saw a small herd of Elk feeding in the grasslands near the dunes.
It was very windy out and it was hard to walk in the sand even on the flats below the dunes not to mention hiking up a very steep hill of it. Somehow I managed to survive the climb up. My camera was having a hard time with the sand. The wind was blowing some grains around where the lens comes out making it almost impossible for it to open up for some time. I did manage to fix the camera which is working just fine today. The photo below is one of my favorite photos I took while I was up in the dunes. I love that you can see my footprints, that the clouds seem to be getting blown up over the dunes, and the fact that the lighting was great and the skies were dark blue. A lovely picture indeed!
The view from the top of the dunes was pretty neat. The photo below shows the visitor center, parking lot, etc. As you can tell it is a long ways down from the top.
The time came for me to leave the dunes. On my way down to the parking lot I found a Circus Beetle which is one of the eight endemic insect species that inhabit the dunes. Just several days after playing around at the dunes I got a grain of sand in my eye which I had to get removed for a whopping $250. That is a bit much for one piece of sand don't you think? Although we are not sure where the sand came from my mom and I like to think it was from the sand dunes.
The Great Sand Dunes are a very interesting place. to learn more about them go to:

November 9, 2009

The Ups and Downs of October

October 2009 for me was a month of ups and downs. The birding was nice but the roll over accident that I was in wasn't so great (no I was not looking at birds!). I haven't been able to get to the computer much to blog as I have been busy birding and recovering from the accident. I am alright now and am back out birding.
Perhaps the non-bird birding highlight of the month was spending an afternoon birding with Jon Dunn, who is the author of the Peterson Reference Guide to Gulls, the Peterson Guide to Warblers, and he edited the National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America. My friend Paul and I picked up Jon at the airport in Des Moines on our way to the Iowa Ornithologist Union Meeting at which he was going to be the one speaking. Although no particularly great birds were seen on the way we had a lot of fun birding with a world-renowned birdwatcher like Jon. We saw a few nice birds including a Blue-headed Vireo and several Herring Gulls. That day we saw a few birds on the way to picking up Jon Dunn including my lifer Northern Goshawk (#340) and my first for Iowa Tufted Titmouse both of which were near Saylorville Reservoir. A White-breasted Nuthatch (above) was at the same feeders as the titmice. At the meeting itself I saw some Bonaparte's Gulls, Common Terns, and Nelson's Sparrows long with many other less notable birds.
The day before we also saw some birds back near Sioux City at out regular birding spots. A White-faced Ibis and American Avocet. The three pictures below are of the birds I saw while birding at the local marshes in the early part of October (avocet, ibis, dowitcher) The American Avocet and White-faced Ibis (one of seven seen) were both photographed on a morning when it snowed and the temperature was in the 20's! Those birds looked cold as well as the 10 Great Egrets and 1 Black-crowned Night-Heron that were with them!
The real birding highlight of the month came in late October when several good birds showed up just ten minutes from my house. On the 25th after finding 104 Smith's and some Lapland Longspurs in a wet field I headed south from that field through the town of Luton. I glanced out my window and noticed a very strange bird sitting on a wire in town. With a long tail and salmon colored sides the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that was sitting there was unmistakable and very hard to miss! It didn't take long for lots of birders to show up with their large and expensive cameras! This bird was the second one for the county that I found it in. They are pretty rare in Iowa with only a few records each year (only one for 2009). The same day I found a Northern Shrike which was the first of the fall. The bird stuck around until the next morning when it finally flew off. Of course I don't want to forget to talk about those 104 Smith's Longspurs! They are pretty awesome as well. Here is a photo of one in flight which is unfortunately the only one that I got.
Now I better not forget about the adult Northern Goshawk seen the next day. While looking for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher my friend Paul spotted an adult goshawk in the vicinity where the flycatcher was at. I got to see it in a scope very well and was very excited to see such a hard to find bird being so cooperative for everyone there. I got one good photo but even the photo I got wasn't too great. I guess I'll label it a record shot.

Well that is a short summary of how my October went. Hopefully I will be able to blog some more this month and maybe I will be able to finish posting about my New Mexico trip that I took in July!

September 29, 2009

New Mexico-July 22-Day 4

We are already on day four of my New Mexico adventure I went on this past July. I have not gotten to Philmont Scout Ranch yet to go hiking and am still at the retreat house in Albuquerque. So far I have seen 9 new bird putting my life list at 322. Now lets see what July 22nd had in store for me.
Waking up early certainly does have it's benefits. Not only did I get to see a couple new birds that I didn't see on the rest of the trip, but I was also able to watch the sunrise and four hot air balloons fly over the city. The cool and crisp air was refreshing and was nice to wake up to after being in the searing heat the day before.
The birds were out and about and I quickly spotted a Ladder-backed Woodpecker (life bird 323, 10th of the trip) on a distant tree. The picture is terrible but does confirm the identification.

A Virginia's Warbler (life bird 324, 11th of the trip) was also nearby but didn't cooperate. Being in a new place like New Mexico is nice not only because you find new birds, it is that you are continually surrounded by birds you usually don't see back at home, like Say's Phoebes (first picture). While at the retreat house I was constantly seeing Lesser Goldfinches which were life birds just days before. I got a poor picture of one in the harsh sunlight of midday. The pictures I took starting yesterday were taken by my small Canon camera that is not quite as nice as my other camera.We went to numerous sessions during the day but I did manage to see a flock of White-winged Doves (life bird 325, 12th of the trip) fly by while I was walking from one building to another. Later in the afternoon we had free time. I saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher (life bird 326, 13th of the trip) flycatching in the same tree that the woodpecker was in the morning.A lizard was out running in the retreat house yard. Does anyone know what it is?

In tomorrow's post I am going to be at Philmont Scout Ranch for the first time and see lots of hummingbirds!