March 31, 2009

Birding 'round the Lake

On Saturday the local Audubon group headed out to Yankton, SD to do some birding. A large reservoir called Lewis and Clark Lake was created along the Missouri River and it is a favorite birding spot of many avid birdwatchers
*FOY=first of the year
On the way there we saw some gulls including my FOY Franklin's Gull. When we got there it didn't take long to find birds. We stopped at a lake below the dam for birds first. Many waterfowl species were on the lake with 21 species present. Highlight birds around the lake included Cackling Goose, FOY Red-breasted Mergansers, FOY Horned Grebe, Great Blue Heron, FOY Bonaparte's Gull, and a Merlin. I got a picture of a not-so-shy Ruddy Duck that was swimming about 30 feet away from me at the time I took the picture.We also birded the river below the dam and saw Ring-billed and Herring Gulls but not much else. Roger, a local birdwatcher, took us out to a spot where there were several species of shorebirds present. Besides the ever annoying Killdeer we found Greater Yellowlegs, a FOY Dunlin, and over 40 FOY Baird's Sandpipers.
After a nice morning of birding we went and had lunch at a large cabin owned by an Audubon member that overlooks the lake. We saw a few birds there on the feeders including some Pine Siskins that posed for some pictures.
After we had a great lunch we headed over to a marina on the Nebraska side of the lake (the SD-NE border runs down the middle of the lake) to see an active Bald Eagle nest. Much to our delight a Bald Eagle was sitting on the nest when we showed up. That was the first time I have seen an active nest.
We saw a number of birds on the way back home. We cut through Nebraska and saw 16 American Kestrels (I saw more kestrels than I have ever seen in a day in the period of 1 1/2 hrs.), a FOY Swainson's Hawk, and a FOY Loggerhead Shrike.

Not a bad day with 74 species seen and a few year birds to put my year list at 118.

Bird Photo Quiz 2

Congratulations to Chris West for correctly answering the last photo quiz. The bird was a Black-legged Kittiwake.

Here is the photo for quiz #2. It was taken in the midwest during the winter.
Post a comment to answer. All birds are on the ABA checklist which can be accessed by going to:

March 22, 2009

From the Hills to the Valley

Today was muggy and warm (it got up to almost 70 degrees F). It was cloudy all day long but there were birds out despite that.
The most interesting thing that I observed was a flight of 20-30 hawks over my house within a 15 minute period. The lighting was terrible and I didn't get my scope out in time to i.d. them all. Most were Red-tailed Hawk although there were probable some others in with them. I saw a kettle of 12 birds moving over at one time. They came in quickly and left quickly, giving me limited time to view them.
Late in the afternoon my dad and I went out and explored the hills south of our house. There weren't many birds, but there were a few interesting ones. I found a group of 18 Ring-necked Ducks in one pond together as well as a Turkey Vulture. The first vulture I saw this year flew over my house the day before spring. Here is a shot I got of it as it headed north.

We didn't see much more on our jaunt in the hills. I did however find a Mourning Cloak butterfly at a county owned nature area which was a pleasant surprise. We decided to head out of the hills and go down to the Missouri River valley. We checked a couple dairy ponds to check for migrant shorebirds and waterfowl. We found four species of shorebirds at the ponds three of which were year birds: Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, and Pectoral Sandpiper. A nice array of waterfowl were also at the ponds including a few Common Mergansers as well as the more common waterfowl. Snow Geese are getting scarce now so seeing one at the ponds was a treat.When we got home we were greeted by our dogs and a nice springtime thunderstorm.

March 21, 2009

Another reason not to bird alone...

I came across this today on a birders forum as well as on the state list-serv. This is just one reason why not to bird alone:

Thank God for cell phones!

March 20, 2009

Spring is Officially Here!

Spring is now "officially" here. Get off the computer and head outside and enjoy spring while it's here!

March 19, 2009

Fun with Fungi

As you can tell I have a lot to blog about. It is not often that I will put multiple posts up in one day. Anyway, I contacted a fungi expert from Iowa State University today and asked for help with identifying some fungi I found in Nebraska on a camp out a week ago. She got back to me and promptly and identified two of the four specimens I sent her photos of. The first of the two she identified was one of several species of fungi called Turkey Tail. The picture kind of dulled down the colors which were more striking in person. It was purple with orange strpes and a white border.The other one she identified was a Scarlet Cup. This is a neat red fungi that really stands out on the forest floor and is shaped like, you guessed it, a cup.

Yet Another Butterfly Lifer

Today I found another picture of a butterfly that I took, this time of a skipper. I identified it is a Peck's Skipper which is a new one for me. I am saving up to get some butterfly gear such as a net and cage as well as the Kaufman Guides both to Butterflies and one about Insects (to identify the moths). My butterfly life list is a wimpy 10. I guess you have to start somewhere though.

Tucker's Bird Photo Quiz 1

I posted a different shot of the bird (which is a gull) to make the identification a bit more straightforward. The picture was taken in Iowa at a large reservoir in late fall. I will try to put the location and time of the year and an easier to identify shot next time. Post a comment to answer. All birds are on the ABA checklist which can be accessed by going to:

March 18, 2009

Four Butterfly Lifers

Today I picked up the Kaufman Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America from the library and used it to identify some of the butterflies I had photographed last summer.I was glad to identify them so easily (even the skippers!). It only took me a couple minutes each. My four butterfly lifers are: Least Skipper, Red-spotted Purple, Silver Spotted Skipper, and White Admiral. Kenn and Jim Brock sure did a wonderful job with the butterfly guide, which is very easy to use. I guess I am becoming a leodeprodist as well as an ornithologist!
The first butterfly in the list, the Least Skipper, I noticed in the flowers at my house in Iowa.
The Red-spotted Purple was in a bush that had tons of flowers on it in my neighborhood.
This Silver-spotted Skipper was in the same bush as the Red-spotted Purple.
The White Admiral was at Itasca State Park and is my favorite of my butterfly lifers. You can't find them where I live so I'll have to travel in order to see one of these again.

Backyard Visitor: Harris's Sparrow

One bird that regularly visits out yard in the fall, winter, and spring seasons is the Harris's Sparrow. We usually have them every winter on and off, showing up sporadically. These sparrows have the a small range. In the winter they live in the Midwest from Southern South Dakota down through the plains to Texas. They spend the summer in northern Canada in the stunted boreal forests there. They can be found rarely from coast to coast and it is not uncommon to hear about them showing up miles from home. The number of Harris's Sparrows in our yard had increased in the past couple weeks. I think they are getting ready to head north. They sing quite often, giving away their hiding place in the bushes. I got a video of a non-breeding individual hopping around under my feeders today. I always like to watch them in the spring because they often transition from their non-breeding to their breeding plumage right in my backyard!

March 17, 2009

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Have a happy Saint Patrick's Day! Here is a bird with some green on just for the occasion.

March 16, 2009

It's that time of year again...

It's springtime again and the birds are on the move. The past couple days I have been out watching the waterfowl, looking for some new arrivals. Birds are literally all over the place around the wetlands. The skies are filled with many flocks of ducks and are almost always filled with something to see. Among the thousands of ducks and geese I picked out some year birds including American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Northern Shoveler, and Ruddy Duck. Ring-billed Gulls were also migrating through but were only around for a short time. Killdeer and Common Grackles as well as the occasional Brown-headed Cowbird are back and are as annoying as usual. The warm weather the past few days has really pushed the birds north with the south winds. Today it got up to a beautiful 73 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest it's been all year. At last, winter has released it's icy grip on our area that seemed to be colder than usual this year.
Check Spelling

March 15, 2009

Scouting for Birds

This past weekend I was out camping at a boyscout ranch in Nebraska and saw a few interesting birds. The most exciting of them all was a vocalizing Eastern Phoebe that was there this morning as we were leaving on Sunday morning. Red-headed Woodpeckers were fairly easy to find in some areas. They apparently winter here since I saw them in the same area in January. This is the only place I have found these woodpeckers since last fall. Another bird of interest was a Barred Owl. Actually there were two of them calling in the woods near the creek two nights in a row. I found some fungi out there as well and am waiting for a biologist to id them for me, so I will write more on that later.

March 13, 2009

Owl in the Yard

The Eastern Screech-Owl is a relatively small owl of eastern woodlands. They are fairly common where I live and I see them from time to time. Last night while outside I heard a screech-owl calling from a small woodlot behind my house. I could not locate the bird at all and it didn't help that he quit calling every time I would head his way.

Today while going out to get the mail I saw a couple nuthatches and a robin near a tree. They sounded distressed. I figured it must be the owl that I head the night before. The tree has a spot where an owl could nest or roost so I went up and checked it out.
I got up next to the tree and out pops an owl. I went inside to get the camera but when I came back out it was gone. He must have went back inside the hole. By this time the goldfinches showed up and the birds were everywhere in the trees above looking to see what was the matter. Eventually I gave up trying to find him since I had a test to get back to. I can't wait to find out if they are nesting. This was a nice surprise to raise my spirit during a long week of test-taking.

Other things of note in my yard today was a singing Harris's Sparrow and the first butterfly of the year.

March 11, 2009

The Birds Are Moving (slowly)

As I type this the temps outside are in the single digits (5 degrees to be exact). As you may be able to guess we are still waiting for the waterfowl pour in. I have seen no divers or dabblers anywhere this spring except for Blue Lake, which is a ways to the south. The geese have been seen on and off but nothing sectacular.
Last week we had a warm-up allowing for some birds to make their way north. I had the first Killdeer of the year fly over my yard, as well as four species of geese. One thing that also caught my attention was a group of 22 American Crows flying over. Crows are certainly not unexpected here, but I have never seen that many in a group over my house.
I hope that warmer weather comes soon since this winter has been unusually long and cold. Looking back to last year waterfowl migration was at it's peak about now, but they just haven't come this far north yet. I remember seeing lots of birds migrating in late February last year but this year is different. I guess I will just have to wait.....