It’s All About The Tides

Murmuration of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers

This will be a brief post as I am still unpacking a few things from my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan. As good as it is to be home, part of me will remain in these vast, incredible vistas for a long time to come.

Our excellent guides Jared and Sarah timed our arrival at Kelly’s Beach in Kouchibouguac National Park to coincide with low tide and a massive concentration of shorebirds. The migratory spectacle at this time of year is quite phenomenal. Birds are fattening up for a long flight to their southern wintering grounds. They gather, forage and rest at low tide. Specifically, we were watching huge flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. Let’s see, that’s a “fling” of sandpipers and a “congregation” of plovers. I think the experts estimated the ratio was about 3:1 sandpipers to plovers. It’s easiest to pick out the Semipalmated Plovers in the photo just below. When we first arrived we had several Black-Bellied Plovers. We also had some Least Sandpipers and at least (sorry) one or two White-Rumped Sandpipers.

The falcons are hip to this event as well, and periodically they disrupted the shorebirds, who broke into amazingly dizzying choreographies of murmurations.

It’s impossible to capture the enormity of this spectacle, but it was also impossible to resist the temptation to try. If you click on the images below maybe you will get an idea of what we were witnessing for what seemed like forever, as fleeting as it was. No sooner would one flock settle down than another from a more distant location was startled by something and it began all over again as that flock moved toward us.

A small section of one flock photo.
An even smaller section.

There were Peregrine Falcons and even a Merlin or two. I managed a few photos of the Peregrines.

Peregrine Falcon

Four days later, on Grand Manan, a couple of us went out with Jared at high tide early in the morning to see if we could find a Nelson’s Sparrow. We had tried for the bird the previous day but it was difficult to get one to show itself well in the vast salt marsh. The strategy behind getting up early for high tide is that the birds have to move in closer to higher land, and that might make the Nelson’s easier to see. Jared’s strategy worked. We got better looks than these photographs, but I am pleased with the images in that you can recognize the bird and the surroundings show off its beautiful coloration. We get Nelson’s around here from time to time and I have seen it before, but never very well, so now I feel like I know this bird.

Nelson’s Sparrow
Sunrise at high tide.
Semipalmated Sandpipers coming in for a landing.

I will be back with lots more from this trip, and I still have some images left from the Texas trip in April. Not to mention several forays from what now seems like a very brief summer. Some day I will have time for this! In the meantime, I hope you are having a safe and pleasant weekend, wherever you are, and especially I wish those of you in the potential path of Dorian ultimate safety and comfort in love.

Sandhills at McGinnis

Two weekends ago I went to McGinnis Slough. A bit later than I’d planned… weekends seem to be getting away from me, and I just can’t seem to get up and out very early. I arrived at the slough around 8:30 AM, so it was still cool. The moment I got out of the car everything else became irrelevant when I saw two Sandhill Cranes standing in the overlook area that juts out toward the slough from the parking lot. I didn’t want to disturb them, so as I started to walk toward the south end, I took pictures at a considerable distance. But later after they had left, I found the two feathers in the grass, above. I arranged the feathers a bit to photograph them and left them there. Once upon a time I collected a feather or two, but I have never done anything purposeful with them and it’s frustrating to inadvertently find them later collecting dust or stuck inside a book or…

Below is what the slough looked like. Overgrown and marshy. Very different from the flooded trails of my last visit.

Walking away from the Sandhills, there were some Wood Ducks at the south end.

I’m always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly, but then am saddened by the fact that I hardly ever see more than one anymore, anywhere.

There were plenty of dragonflies. Blue Dashers are still plentiful and posing this summer.

Below is an Eastern Pondhawk. I don’t think I’ve photographed one before.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are still a presence everywhere.

And it was nice to see Baltimore Orioles.

Some more Red-Wingeds. Those red epaulets really stand out in flight.

Red-Tailed Hawks. Flying together…chased by blackbirds…soaring.

And there were a few Blue Jays who were not camera-shy for a change. This one seemed to think the picnic table might have some promise.

American Goldfinches, so plentiful earlier in the year, are a bit scarce, but I attribute that to the fact that they are late breeders and likely consumed by nesting duties.

American Goldfinch (female)

I was unable to capture a dragonfly on these roses but they turned out to be attractive by themselves.

A glimpse of a Green Heron…

and a Great Egret. There were a few Great Blue Herons but they were too far away.

So that’s my little report from McGinnis. I’ll try to go back there before I leave for my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan in just a few weeks. But I’m still not done with the Texas trip! And I have to find a new bird care person for the indoor crowd, which is not so easy these days. Sigh.

All Hail Breaks Loose

I wasn’t too excited about the photographs I found on my laptop for the day after the big hike, but then when I checked my phone I remembered why there were so few. If my memory serves me correctly, we woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of hail hitting the roof and then when we set out for a short local trek before taking vehicles to other trails, finding hail piled up almost a foot high on the gravel road.

So it looks like it was a cloudy, iffy day weather-wise, and eventually we had hail again. Only this time we were safe inside the vehicles.

The video and these images are from the cell phone. A dramatic landscape enhanced by weather.

Two birds willingly posed within range that day: the Audubon’s Yellow-Rumped Warbler at the top of the page and this lovely Say’s Phoebe.

But also ubiquitous on the entire trip were Bell’s Vireos. We didn’t always see them but we definitely heard them every day.

Bell’s Vireo
A distant Yellow-Breasted Chat

Dark, cloudy and distant pictures of two hummingbirds (Lucifer on the upper left and middle and Broad-Tailed below, right) and a Varied Bunting in between them.

We visited this amazing fossil discovery exhibit which is in Big Bend National Park.

Some flora which I might be able to identify if I could just find the laminated checklist of Big Bend wildflowers I purchased at the Visitors Center. Looking through even more pictures on the internet makes it tempting to revisit this area some day. I want to come back as a plant fanatic.

Not sure who this is either…
A distant but very cooperative Loggerhead Shrike.
Black-Chinned Sparrow
This was the vista behind the Bell’s Vireo above.
A Rock Squirrel and his rock.

There are four more days of photographs from the Southwest Texas trip to decipher. Then it’s onward to rejuvenate or replace the travel laptop before I take it on another adventure coming up next month!

Big Bend: The Big Hike to Boot Springs

Colima Warbler

The third day of my trip to Big Bend National Park, the group started the hike up the mountain trail to Boot Canyon. In spite of the fact that my right knee issues had slowed me down, I intended to do the entire hike, which was advertised as a ten-hour expedition up and back, but I’m sure it took me longer than that! The decision whether to continue down to Boot Springs was at the halfway mark with the spectacular view of the “Boot”, and I figured I wasn’t coming back to do this again, so the only way to go was onward.

The object of what is always lovingly referred to as a “forced march” in birding was to see the elusive Colima Warbler. As it turns out, those of us who made the trip to Boot Canyon saw four or five of these individuals, but I don’t remember encountering any on the way up to the decision point, so my election to go the entire hike was fortuitous.

Chisos Basin, with the lodge in distant view…

On the way, we encountered this Black-Crested Titmouse, a species seen almost on the entire trip, but nevertheless a bit challenging to capture, so I was glad to have a picture of this individual.

Black-Crested Titmouse

One thing I discovered, though, on this hike, was that my decision to take the biggest lens may not have been wise. Actually, the Tamron lens barely survived the trip: by the end, the rubber gasket on the focus wheel was loose to the point where I could barely take a picture. I ordered a replacement, but I haven’t attached it yet. Instead, ever since I got back from the trip I’ve been using my Canon 100-400mm lens and, combined with my best camera, I think this is the way to go, so I’m reluctant to pick up the Tamron again although I’m sure I will before I decide what its ultimate fate will be.

But the biggest problem on this particular day was that somehow, on the way down to Boot Springs, my settings on the camera changed, and I was oblivious to the fact that I was shooting on “M” which I guess is the manual setting I never use, until long after the stop at Boot Springs where we encountered all these delightful warblers availing themselves of the water feature. In effect I had nice photographs of some rocks because they required no attention to shutter speed. So there I was in heaven at least looking at these amazingly beautiful birds, but not capturing them entirely with the camera. I am surprised that I was able to salvage the photographs you see here, which are certainly not of high quality but at least you can see what the birds look like. Something to learn from an exhausting hike situation. Be Over-Prepared. Or don’t forget to check your camera settings after: adjusting your pack, tying your boots, grabbing your water…

Anyway, in addition to the Colima, the Lucy’s and the Hermit were lifers for me.

Lucy’s Warbler

Some other species I’ll likely not see again…

Rock Squirrel
Threadleaf Phlox

The Slate-throated Redstart was a very hot item, and I’m sorry I didn’t get a decent picture of it, but it’s here anyway as a memory. Apparently this bird is more common south of the Rio Grande.

Variable Dancer
Eastern Fence Lizard

So all in all it was an exhaustingly beautiful experience, one I will always treasure, and I survived! Now if I can just get through the rest of my pictures from this trip before I go on the next one. More to come. Summer is upon us.

Goose Lake Prairie: Happy Fourth

Field Sparrow

The forecast was for rain not starting until maybe 11:30 or so this morning, so it seemed like a good day to restart my lapsed tradition of visiting Goose Lake Prairie on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and the threat of rain never occurred. Even though I arrived later than I had planned, for quite a while I was the only human, which suited me just fine.

Song Sparrow, the first of many

Dragonflies were everywhere. I guess the one I’ll be seeing a lot of this year is the Blue Dasher. Last year it was the Halloween Pennant. Nice to see all of these this morning.

Blue Dasher (female)
Blue Dasher
Widow Skimmer Female
Common Whitetail (female)
Halloween Pennant
Dickcissel
Dickcissel

So I’m trying to write this blog post tonight with the explosions going off all around the neighborhood, frequently sounding like a bomb exploding next to my house. I hate this holiday. I don’t understand why I have to be miserable and endure this every year. Maybe it’s why I decided not to be born until after midnight 71 years ago – it was too scary to start living with all this going on.

Luckily it never seems to bother my birds, they just endure it, likely chalking it up to more stupid human noise. We have pretty music playing on the radio. What’s one or two or fifty explosions?

But I can’t imagine the outdoor birds are too fond of this. Oh well. Back to the blog post. This morning I got to see some nice birds. There are a lot of pictures in this post. Let’s just leave it at that.

Eastern Kingbird

There was one Brown Thrasher who barely showed its face and then hid from me as I tried to see the rest of it.

I hoped for a Henslow’s Sparrow and one complied. Their return to Illinois grasslands is one of the few success stories over recent years. If you provide habitat, they will come.

Henslow’s Sparrow

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t bothering to sing, so the guys looked a little bored with their guard duty.

There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats and as secretive as they sometimes are, I managed to see a few.

I’m still on the verge of tears from the explosions. I guess tomorrow morning I can go around and see how many fireworks shells are in the yard. Something to look forward to. My indoor birds are ready to fall asleep. I keep praying for rain.

Summer Comes to the Portage

Blue Dasher

I have been going to the Portage just about every weekend this month, and I’ve also been working my tail off during the week, so it’s been hard to sit down and make sense of anything. These few pictures are the highlights from this past Sunday morning.

Right away I was suddenly engaged following a hungry vireo as it foraged not too far away, right about eye-level. It was a Warbling Vireo, but I had never seen such a wide-eyed one before. He looked surprised to see me as well.The Portage has five or more nesting pairs and I hear them singing all the time, but rarely see them. This is the closest and longest I’ve ever observed a Warbling Vireo.

Summer brings out lots of dragonflies and some other critters I don’t often see, like this Bullfrog.

The frog fanciers were present too, although instead of fishing, I saw them only perched or in flight this time.

Maybe you’ve noticed how bouncy goldfinches are in flight, they seem to propel themselves through the air, and that’s exactly what they were doing on Sunday. The only goldfinches I saw were flying, below.

Not seeing many butterflies, but there seem to be a reasonable number of dragonflies. And then there was this metallic turquoise beetle…

Juvenile robins are gawky and spotted and just generally at an awkward stage…

In general, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t posing, and if they were still for a moment they were still quite far away. They weren’t even bothering to sing hardly at all. Everybody is busy rearing youngsters.

Baltimore Oriole

After crazy busy at work I am looking forward to the four-day weekend. Weather permitting, I hope to venture a little farther than the Portage; I feel the need to at least attempt to see some grassland birds. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s plenty more to do – like finish processing the Texas pictures and those from my previous visits to the Portage this month. One cannot plan ahead anymore. The weather changes ever five minutes, so I am going with the flow. It’s been thundering and raining tonight as I write. Even if we’ve managed to totally mess it up, weather is still something we cannot control. Haha.

Southwest Texas: Building the List

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was challenging for many reasons to get photographs on this day. The birds were far away. They were backlit. They were hiding behind branches of trees or leaves of cactus. It was somewhat cloudy. And yet I was surprised to finally go through all the pictures more thoroughly and find some images I didn’t know I had. Most of all, it is great to get a feel for the landscape where the birds and other creatures were.

Saving the big hike for the following day, we explored the low-lying areas along the Rio Grande.

White-winged Dove

Most of these birds we continued to see throughout the trip, like the Say’s Phoebe below. I like the cactus cover this bird was using.

Say’s Phoebe

Mexican Jays are stunning. I don’t think we ever saw more than two at one time. They were somewhat elusive.

Mexican Jay

We saw Roadrunners on occasion but not close enough or long enough to get really good pictures. Maybe we were too distracted by our search for less common species.

It must be West Texas – there’s a Greater Roadrunner!

Hearing and barely seeing a Bell’s Vireo is a big event where I come from, so witnessing their incessant chatter and then getting such great views was heaven for me.

I adore Ravens and tried to get photographs whenever I could.

Common Raven

We spent some time locating and then looking at this Tropical Parula. It was so far away I wasn’t at all sure I got a photograph so I was surprised to find a few that were in focus. So I guess it was good I was carrying around my monster lens most of the time, although by the end of the trip it was starting to fall apart…

This Turkey Vulture is actually kind of cute. Snazzy pink legs and face to match.

Turkey Vulture, posing

Vermillion Flycatchers were almost everywhere. I like the female’s subdued plumage.

I think Western Wood Pewee was a new bird for me.

Western Wood Pewee

I got only one distant fuzzy shot of the male Varied Bunting, bottom right.

We were privileged to have good, long looks at a perched Zone-Tailed Hawk. You can just barely see the trademark tail band tucked underneath the tips of its folded wings.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are beautiful. Without the monster lens I would not have captured this detail.

Swainson’s Hawk

The Gray Hawk is…well…very gray.

There were more Scott’s Orioles to be seen, but even though this one was quite far away, I love the vegetation it has decided to perch on.

Scott’s Oriole
The Rio Grande
Inca Dove
House Finch
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Cordilleran Flycatcher was a new bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a better photograph, but this at least gives me an idea in case I am lucky enough to see one again.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

The gray day didn’t do this Acorn Woodpecker justice, but I still think of The Joker.

Acorn Woodpecker
Some of the dramatic landscape surrounding the Zone-Tailed Hawk’s perch.

It will take me some time to process the rest of this trip’s pictures, but I get to savor my memories a little bit longer. In the meantime, we keep wondering when summer will arrive in the Chicago area. While I am glad it’s not hot, it’s been colder and wetter than I ever remember for mid-June. I hope your summer solstice is going well.