May 27, 2009

Memorial Weekend Birding Part II

On Saturday birding friend Paul came and picked me up and we went out birding around the county like I did on Thursday but we visited some different areas.

The first place we did some birding was on a small dirt road about 3 miles from my house up in the Loess Hills. The bushes along the road had several foy Bell's Vireos as well as Least and Willow Flycatcher. A couple Sedge Wrens and Grasshopper Sparrows were calling from the grasslands that surrounded the area. Bank Swallows were nesting in a cliff that was created when the cut through a hill to put in a road. Paul got a photo of a swallow with my camera for me since they were not on my side.
The sun was shining and the birds were singing all over the place. Bobolinks were found a mile or two down the road and were singing their strange jumbled song. As we moved on we found a few more grassland birds including an Eastern Meadowlark an more Bell's Vireo putting us at 12 for the day.

We headed down to the Missouri River Valley to a place called Table Marsh WMA. We were surprised to find so much water and so many birds there. We knew it was there but didn't think that it was as large as it was. Over fifty American White Pelicans were there resting on a small island. Surrounding them there were tons of shorebirds including American Avocet, Dunlin, and Stilt Sandpiper. Black Terns and a Forster's Tern were cruising the area looking for food. A number of Great Egrets were fairly close to the road. They were a bit shy and flew as soon as we got close enough to get a photo. I did however manage to photograph one.
Waterfowl were also there including a Green-winged Teal (strange to see them this time of year), two Hooded Mergansers, a Gadwall pair, and Blue-winged Teal, Mallard, and Canada Geese. We found a large mud flat with even more shorebirds on it. We found a few Semipalmated Plovers there as well as the other shorebirds previously mentioned and some more common ones. Before we left we checked the large cattail stands for birds and found a Sora, a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and a good supply of Marsh Wrens. After that it was time to head home after a nice five hours of birding. Table Marsh really surprised us and appears to have a lot of potential and we will be heading back to do some more birdwatching for sure! One thing I forgot to mention that there is a dike that runs along the west side of the marsh making it easy to observe the birds from above, revealing more birds than we could see from eye level.

That concludes my Memorial Weekend Birding.

Memorial Weekend Birding Part I

Spring migration is coming to an end and I am seeing less and less migrants and more resident birds instead. This past Memorial Weekend I tried desperately to get as many birds as I could to add to my year list and even my life list. We were a bit short on passerines like warblers and vireos. This spring was absolutely HORRIBLE for migrating passerines. I have only seen 12 species of warblers so far this spring compared to the 23 species I saw during spring migration last year. That is a difference of eleven species! Despite the lack of warblers we still had a good weekend.

Although not considered part of Memorial Weekend I am going to include Thursday because it was the first day of summer break and sort of started the weekend for me. To celebrate the first day of summer break my mom and I headed out in search of birds around the county that we call home. We ended up with 98 species, with one of them being a life bird. The first good bird that we found was a Lapland Longspur at a place called the Luton WMA. This was the latest date that anyone had seen one in Iowa by one day. It was neat to see it in it's full breeding plumage. I tried to get a picture of it but my attempts were unsuccessful. In the same general area we had three Blue Grosbeaks (foy) and some Dunlin.

The next two places we stopped at were cattle farms. They produced 31 Snow Geese and two Upland Sandpipers.

Sandhill Lake had some good birds including a Black-bellied Plover which was my 308th life bird! It was on a small pond that had lots of other shorebirds on it. More Snow Geese were there but only four.At a place called Brown's Lake we found a number of birds but none was of much interest except for some Purple Martins that were on a nesting box. Not far from there was New Lake. We found 8 Hudsonian Godwits as well as some Great Egrets. An Osprey was tending it's nest that sits on top of a cell phone tower about a mile away from both New Lake and Brown's Lake.

After a successful time birding the Missouri River Valley we decided to bird some Woodland areas up in the hills. We visited Stone State Park and Bacon Creek Park and found Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, etc. At Bacon Creek I was lucky enough to see a Cerulean Warbler. The bird was reported to me by a local birder. The directions he gave me were very helpful and I found the bird right where it was said to be. It was singing up a storm and seemed very territorial. I managed to get a few crappy shots of the bird. The lighting was worse here than anywhere else we had previously visited.

We finished the day back in the valley at Owego Wetlands. I needed a few more birds for my day list so we headed down there so I could do some wading. I scared up three Soras and saw a Green Heron fly by. The last new bird of the day if I remember correctly was a Western Kingbird, but I could be wrong. It was a fun day to be out and I was able to add some birds to my lists. Stay tuned for part two of my Memorial Weekend Birding.

May 20, 2009

Sphinx Moth: hummingbird of the insect world

A large number of White-lined Sphinx Moths are visiting a flowering lilac bush in my yard tonight. I tried to and then successfully photographed one of them feeding. These moths are as challenging to photograph as hummingbirds and they even look like them too. I remember a number of years back I saw one of these during the day visiting some flowers and I thought it was a hummingbird! It must be a common mistake that people make since it was mentioned it in the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects. These moths are good sized and have a long, bill-like tube to suck up nectar, just like a hummingbird, plus they hover. If you want to see one of these strange insects go out to a flowering bush or a flower bed at night with a flashlight and you might catch a glimpse of this hummingbird of the insect world.

Baby Robin

I found this baby robin in my yard today while out enjoying the nice 90 degree weather.
"Mommy, I want a worm!"

Cerulean Warbler and friends

The past week has been hectic as I have been finishing up school and taking tests and on top of that, the computer has been acting up. Finally I got hold of my dad's laptop to give a quick update.
This past weekend I was lucky enough to hear my lifer Cerulean Warbler (307)n Nebraska on a boyscout camping trip. I think there was more than one but it was hard to tell. They are scarce in our area but used to be more common in years gone by. The scout ranch has had these warblers nest there before but they have been hard to find recently. Last year they were not seen or heard. I hope that they stick around this year to nest.
Warblers have been moving through and I have had Black-throated Green-Warbler and Blackpoll Warblers show up in the yard recently. Besides that I have not gotten out much, so hopefully I will get out some in the next few days.

May 12, 2009

Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

My dad and I drove 12 hours straight to Indianapolis, IN to watch race car drivers attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, the greatest race in the world this past week. This is a time when the drivers practice and then qualify to get the chance to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We both enjoyed the weekend and I have found a new love for racing. The track is 2.5 miles around and it takes the cars 40 seconds to travel that distance meaning that they go over 220 mph! They measure their speed down to the thousandth and every number counts. Every mph counts here and even one or two mph too low could mean getting knocked out of the race line-up.

Danica Patrick!

My dad has for many year been a race addict since he first went there when he was young. He says that racing to him is like birds to me. He used to race at local tracks and always loved what he did. It had been a number of years since he was able to come to Indianapolis to watch the cars so he was VERY excited to be going there once again. This year was especially exciting for him for a couple reasons.

The first was that I was going and could enjoy it with him. The second was that he got to go into the Pagoda (pictured below) , a large ten story tower overlooking the race track, and meet a number of well known radio announcers for the race.

The view from the Pagoda was amazing and it was neat to go where few people are allowed.
It was a neat trip and I will never forget it. We were also able to see a car crash into the wall between the first and second turn there. Luckily the driver was okay.

I almost forgot the birds. I didn't see many since I really didn't have any time to go birdwatching but had some birds that I don't usually see back home-Northern Mockingbird and Tufted Titmouse. I can't wait to go again and can't wait to tell you all about the birds I see the next time I'm out there.

May 11, 2009

Busy as a Beaver

I was busier than the beaver to the left on the weekend of May 1-3 because I was at the Iowa Ornithologist Union meeting in Carroll, IA. We had a great time and overall 181 species were tallied. The highlight on the weekend came on Friday night. On the way to the meeting my dad and I stopped at a place called Hobb's Pitts. There was a Black-bellied Whistling Duck there the night before which is casual in Iowa and would be a new bird for my life list. My dad and I searched all around the pitts for the duck with no luck. As we headed back to the car I looked to the east and saw the bird flying! I wasn't able to get a photo of it but there was no doubt about what it was. It was life bird 306 for me and a neat one too.

The rest of the weekend was great aand we turned up lots of other neat birds. A few highlights included a Surf Scoter, Western Grebe, White-faced Ibis, Piping Plover, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Blue-headed Vireo. The biggest miss for me was the Western Sandpiper. I missed it by two minutes! I was litterally just hundreds of feet away from it and then it flew off. I can't complain though since I did see some other cool birds.

Here are some pictures I got during the weekend:

I got within 20 ft of this Western Grebe but I couldn't get a decent picture because the sun was behind it.

An American Bittern Playing hide and go seek.

A Double-crested Cormorant

An American White Pelican

A House Wren at my house before we left for the meeting.
I saved the best for last-the WORLD'S LARGEST POPCORN BALL

Do Phalaropes Get Dizzy?

After seeing this it makes one wonder how they don't.