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!


September 28, 2009

New Mexico-July 21-Day 3

When the sun rose over the New Mexico plains, I got out of the motor home and immediately found a life bird. The Western Bluebirds (life bird 316, 3rd of trip) were numerous in a small pasture behind the camp area. Although I did not have great looks, I saw them just well enough to identify them. While on the interstate on the way to Albuquerque I also saw some new birds including Chihuahuan Ravens (life bird 317, 4th of trip) which were fairly numerous at times. A Curve-billed Thrasher (life bird 318, 5th of the trip) was perched upon a fence north of Las Vegas, NM. Due to the speed at which we were going I only had enough time to identify them but not get photos.
A stop at a rest area revealed some neat birds, although none of them were lifers. The Say's Phoebe was one of the birds I saw.
A Northern Mockingbird popped into view for a short time as well. I have seen both the phoebe and the mockingbird only once before in my life.
After the rest stop I saw my first Greater Roadrunner (life bird 319, 6th of the trip) sitting on a hillside south of Las Vegas, NM. Not long after we passed Santa Fe we made it into the city of Albuquerque. This was a foreign place to me. It was very "desertish" there and most of the houses were adobe style, nether of these things apply to where I live. We made it to a retreat house and were dropped off. Here we met with 60 other boys from across the country. We were all going on a "religious retreat" before we headed off to hike in the mountains. All of the boys were boy scouts and were chosen by their area "representatives" to go on this trip. The religious theme was carried throughout the trip. The retreat house had a great view of the Rio Grande River and of Sandia Crest, a mountainous area east of town. The room I stayed in on the second and highest floor had a great view of the area shown in the picture above. Just down the hall from my room is a sun porch which gives you an unobstructed view of the city. I got my picture taken there in the evening.There was a small yard there that had plenty of things to see including some roadrunners (first picture in post), Black-chinned Hummingbirds (life bird 320, 7th of the trip) Bushtits (life bird 321, 8th of the trip, pictured). A Rufous Hummingbird (life bird 322, 9th of the trip) buzzed by the retreat house.
Later that night my two friends and I were split up and put into different groups. There were seven groups overall. Mine had 10 boy scouts, a priest, and a seminarian. My group had people from California (2 people/one LA, one San Diego), Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri. The priest (was in the Navy) was from Long Island, NY and the seminarian was from California (originally from Phoenix). My nickname came pretty quickly-it was no surprise that it was Birdman. Birds weren't the only things there to see, I also saw a Desert Cottontail (new for me) and some kind of beetle.

More coming tomorrow.

September 27, 2009

Canoeing on the Little Sioux

This weekend my dad and I canoed 26 miles down the Little Sioux River in western Iowa along the Inkpaduta Canoe Trail. Starting out on our rental canoes near Quimby at the Silver Sioux County Park we would eventually make it to the Little Sioux County Park in Correctionville. Along the way we saw lots of wildlife, including the Osprey on the left, and worked our way around snag after snag while trying to avoid the hidden sandbars (this was due to the low water levels). The weather was perfect when we started and stayed that way throughout the trip. It didn't take long to find birds there. The Osprey (above) flew right over the river just a couple minutes out. Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, numerous sandpipers (we got really close to some), and lots of Eastern Phoebes and Belted Kingfishers accompanied us along our first day of travel. Great Horned Owls were also common sights as they flew from the trees along the river. A young Bald Eagle flew across the river as well adding to the already numerous bird sightings.

Just as it didn't take long to find birds, it didn't take long for a mishap to happen. About five minutes into the trip we tipped the canoe. A tree was crossing almost the whole river and a four foot gap in between the tree and the cut bank was the only way to go. Unfortunately we got going too fast and hit the bank. My dad began to fall in and he started to take the canoe with him. He went in and quite a bit of water got into our canoe but I managed to stay on. Luckily the water was only up to his waist. After bailing it out he got back in and we amazingly we made it through the rest of the trip with no serious problems. The snags (above) were in many spots along the river and they took a lot out of you (both physically and mentally) when you tried to navigate around them. In some spots you couldn't find a safe way to navigate around them meaning you would have to take the canoe out of the water and walk it along a sandbar to a place in the river without any.
After six hours and 13 miles we arrived at a place called Ranney Knob. We set up camp for the night there and did a little exploring and made a nice campfire. A cliff rose above the river giving us great views of the river below. It was made of sand and gravel and was very eroded so we didn't get to close to the edge for fear that it might give way. You can tell how eroded it was by looking at the picture below. The posts are dangling in mid-air and are connected by wire to posts that were still anchored into the ground near the cliff.
An Eastern Red Cedar (below), the only native conifer to the area, clings on to some soil near the top of the eroding cliff above the river.
The most interesting thing I saw there was a Northern River Otter which was floating in the river below me when I was on top of a small cliff. I had never seen one before and was very excited to see this very neat animal. Eastern Chipmunks were fairly common there and we even got to see a Woodchuck. When the sun went down we even heard a Northern Raccoon. The owls there were also of note, with Barred and Great Horned being very numerous. They called starting just before sunset and on through the night.
The next day we were not so thrilled to get up and go canoeing again because of the troubles we had encountered the day before. We got in the canoe and made it to Little Sioux Park a little before one in the afternoon. The paddle on the second day was fairly easy especially compared to the day before making it a very enjoyable time. The river was also wider and deeper making it easier to navigate than the skinnier and shallower upper portions. The trip came to an end and we were glad we went and ended up having a great weekend The river is a place of beauty and wilderness not far from civilization that is well worth exploring. Wildlife abounded there and was found at every bend making for a truly awesome trip.

September 21, 2009

New Mexico-July 20-Day 2

Day 1's post can be found at This post is way overdue so here it goes-Early in the morning, only about 30 minutes from Denver, I struggled to see the large snow draped (in some places) mountains called the Rockies through the morning haze that had not yet lifted. Even though they themselves were hard to see, it wasn't hard to see that they were indeed as grand as many people say. I was a bit anxious to get out of the motor home and go do some exploring for birds but I was going to have to wait until later because we had a ways to travel this day, all the way to New Mexico.
The closer we got to Denver the easier the mountains were to see. Looking skyward I saw a flock of California Gulls fly over, the first life bird of the trip which put me at 314. All life birds I see on this trip will be in bold. Downtown Denver was pretty impressive at least compared to the downtown areas where I live. After Denver we made it to Colorado Springs where we had lunch. We were able to see Pikes Peak (below) from there and I was able to look for a few birds, but couldn't find many since we were right off the interstate at a restaurant. Black-billed Magpies and Common Ravens were numerous there but the harsh afternoon sunlight was not good for picture taking.We finally made a stop at a place called Royal Gorge (below) in Canon City. The gorge is 1,000+ ft deep. Since we were only going to be there for about a half hour we just looked at what we could see from outside the gates because it was $24.00 per person to get in. A flyover Lesser Goldfinch there was life bird 315 for me and the second one of the trip. Cholla Cactus were fairly numerous and in bloom there. The second picture down is of a Rock Squirrel which seemed more fond of the trees than of the rocks. I had never seen one of those before (that goes for the cactus as well).
After that it was off to Raton, NM for the night. New Mexico was a new state for me.Today's post was still kind of boring and I got no bird pictures. Tomorrow's post will be better, I promise (there will even be some bird photos). One last photo before I finish this post-I saw and photographed a rainbow from the interstate in Southern Colorado after an afternoon monsoon. Tomorrow it's off to Albuquerque (and more birds)!

Bird Photo Quiz 5 answer

This photo quiz was a bit of a trick. There were two birds in the photo, not one as most were expecting. The Sandhill Crane easily stood out in the picture but the Ring-necked Pheasant was a little bit more hidden, only exposing it's head. Lynne at Hasty Brook ( was the first one to identify the Sandhill Crane and Hap from New Hope, MN identified the Ring-necked Pheasant. Even though the birds in the quiz were easy to identify one of them did not quite stand out like the other. Here is a photo of the crane and pheasant side by side. This time you can see the pheasant better.

September 17, 2009

Bird Photo Quiz 5

*The prominent bird in this picture, the Sandhill Crane, has already been identified but no one has even mentioned the second bird. Good luck with that one*
Click on the picture to get a closer look. Post a comment to answer. Good luck!

Orb Weaver Spider

Thanks to I was able to identify this spider that was found on the deck at my home as an Orb Weaver species.

September 16, 2009

16th Birthday Birding

Today on my 16th birthday (my golden birthday) I got my driver's license and visited some of my favorite birding spots. Among these were a few wetlands and a couple dairy farm ponds in the Missouri River Valley.
Among the many birds I saw the most interesting were the first migrant warblers that I have seen so far this fall at a place called Owego Wetlands. A short hike in a small wooded area produced Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, and Black-and-white Warbler. Many first of the fall migration Ruby-crowned Kinglets were flitting about in the trees. Not only was it the birds here that caught my attention but also the other animals and plants. A Monarch was feeding on some sort of flower when I first got there.
I found and photographed a couple flowers in the wooded area. I am not sure what they are but maybe someone reading this will. If you know please post a comment and let me know.

A tiny tree frog was sitting on a dogwood leaf when I was there. Does anybody know what species it is? As I was headed out of Owego, I found and photographed a female Blue Grosbeak.

At one of the stops I made a cooperative Killdeer allowed me to get a nice picture of it. Usually they fly off before I can get close enough for one but this one was not so shy.

At one wetland I found this Painted Turtle laying on the side of the road. Ten Great Egrets as well as 6 Great Blue Herons were at that wetland as well. Despite a lot of searching I could not find a Snowy Egret, a bird I have been wanting to find this year. A Great Horned Owl flew from a rather treeless area along the road onto a pole out in the middle of the place in broad daylight. I got a picture of him as he sat there watching me.
The view of the wetland I just mentioned was very nice from atop a dike which had a road on it. This road overlooks the marsh and makes it easier to view the birds there. At a drier part of the wetland a field was covered in goldenrod and Big Bluestem grass which made for a nice picture. The Loess Hills are in the background.
After birding I headed back home and had steak, crab, and much more at Outback Steakhouse with my dad which was a nice end to a very exciting but rather busy day.

September 15, 2009

Going to Camp Chiricahua in 2010!

In July of 2010 I am going to be attending Camp Chiricahua, a Victor Emanuel Nature Tour, focused on the birds and other fauna and flora of SE Arizona. 14 young birders ages 14-18 including myself will be traveling around the area in search of some of the many neat birds that call the area home. Many birds very exotic to me such as Elf Owls, Elegant Trogons and Flame-colored Tanagers should to be seen on this trip along with numerous other birds. To read more about this trip and to see what was seen on other past trips go to:

September 14, 2009

Swan Takeoff

This photo of eight Trumpeter Swans and one Tundra Swan was taken this past February at Blue Lake, Monona County, Iowa.

Click on the picture for a closer look.

September 13, 2009

Mink, Monarchs, and Many Birds

Late this afternoon I went down to a local wetland area to do some exploring in hopes of finding birds and any other creatures that inhabit the place.
As soon as I got there a Mink, a member of the weasel family, ran across the road a ways from our car.
While I was there I took a hike one mile each way down a mowed path along a dike there. This path gets you way out into the marsh where most of the birds are. The Monarchs were hard to ignore as they were all over in the goldenrod stands, fueling up in order to make their journey southward to the mountains of Mexico.
At first, the birds were scarce and almost non-existence but as I got further away from the road they began to become more numerous. Savannah Sparrows and Bobolinks were beginning to show themselves along with the Eastern Kingbirds (pictured in a flock below) and Red-winged Blackbirds (ditto). All of these birds were in flocks, most likely gathering before they journey south together for the winter season.The first real marsh bird that I saw outside of some Wood Ducks was a Sora that was right near a small pond. I saw it fly and then quickly run back into the weeds on the other side. I sneaked up on a small group of Blue-winged Teal and managed to get a photo of them before they flew. Besides a blade of grass in the way, the picture turned out nice.After that I managed to sneak up on a Great Egret which let me get fairly close before it flew off.
On the way back to the car I had a close encounter with a Northern Harrier that flew over me at about 10 ft! It was so close that I had a hard time getting a photo. Despite that I got a neat shot of it before it left.The real surprise of the trip was a flock of four ibis (most likely white-faced) that flew over! I am glad that I was able to get a photo. I really liked the lighting and how they are all silhouetted in flight in the photo. I wonder if there is a Glossy in there....

After that there wasn't much else that was of much interest. I managed to photograph a flyover Great Egret in good light before my hike at the marsh was over.