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.

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.

New Year’s Birds

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Yesterday was cloudy, cold and windy, so I did not go down to the lakefront to visit the crows. I decided to check out the zoo instead, only to find there were hardly any birds to see except a Downy Woodpecker afar.

Brookfield Zoo
50+ Canada Geese flying over the zoo

So I spent much of the day looking out into the yard for activity, and it changed over the course of the day. My official first-bird-of-the-year sighting was American Goldfinch. These birds have become my biggest fans.

It didn’t seem worth going out into the yard to take pictures on a gloomy day, so I took all my pictures through the windows and sometimes the screens as well, which gives everything a warm and fuzzy appearance, I suppose. It was the only way I could capture the interloper below.

Cooper’s Hawk (male) with prey

I am not sure what he was attempting to eat, but I think it might have been a European Starling. I’ll should see if there are any telltale feathers by the neighbor’s fence.

The Pine Siskins were still around, at least four of them. And one of my Northern Cardinals even made an appearance, however temporary. At one point I had over 100 birds in the yard, which became all the more evident when they all took off at once in a thundering rumble of wing beats.

But my most cooperative subject was the female White-Breasted Nuthatch who was hanging out in the sumac by the kitchen window.

The only species that visits my yard that I haven’t seen in a while is Black-Capped Chickadee. I haven’t heard them either. All I can hope is they haven’t gone missing totally in the neighborhood.

American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins

I am afraid I’m getting off to a lazy start this year. Naps were all too easy to come by. Choir rehearsal should wake me up tonight.

Happy House Sparrow New Year!

Best of Luck getting into 2019…!

Crow Holiday Post

Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.

They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.

There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…

But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.

Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.

I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.

Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.

Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!

Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.

Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.

Catching Up

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.

Juvenile Rusty Blackbirds

The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.

I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Robin and Red-Tailed Hawk

Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.

Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.

As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.

Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

A Kinglet-Sized Rescue

Portage with Mallards - 10-28-18-3924I had no plans to go out yesterday. I slept in and so did my birds, even after one or two Zebra Finches announced theoretical sunrise around 6:28 a.m., because it was dark and cloudy. But then the sun broke out during breakfast and after I checked the radar it looked like we had a two-hour rainless window so I decided to see what was happening at the Portage. No sooner did I leave than the sun went behind the clouds.

Photography in next-to-no light was almost not an option, but I couldn’t imagine going out without the camera. I hadn’t gotten too far beyond the Mallards and Canada Geese before I encountered a Golden-Crowned Kinglet in distress.

GCKI Rescue - 10-28-18-3997The bird had a long, skinny twig caught in its primaries. I put my camera down to help, but when I reached for the bird it flitted a few inches to avoid me. I managed to grab the offending plant matter and the Kinglet immediately wrested itself free. Glad I could help this little bird continue, and it gave some purpose beyond my need to escape the “other reality” for a while. After the encounter, it seemed I was seeing more Golden-Crowned Kinglets than anything else. Unfortunately they move so quickly they were hard to capture in low light.

GCKI - 10-28-18-4023

It just so happened that I had to replace my cell phone on Friday. It was a case of new software meets old hardware: the latest update wreaked havoc on the old phone. So I put the new cell phone camera to use to capture some stirrings of autumn color at the Portage.

img_0002img_0024img_0014img_0006

Hawk migration continues. Below, some aerial dynamics of a Northern Harrier.

I was going to visit the dirt road that runs along the railroad tracks and faces the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property but when I encountered the buck below staring at me, I changed my mind.

Buck - 10-28-18-4016

Common Milkweed was everywhere this past summer and I have a feeling it will be even more prevalent next year.

Milkweed pods - 10-28-18-4018

Two Turkey Vultures flew over in the grey sky…

The only birds that stood up to the lack of light were Mallards and Canada Geese, and then just barely.

Not much else to report, really. I’m surprised the Mourning Doves showed up as well as they did.

MODO - 10-28-18-3990I still have images from the previous weekend’s last organized walk…and then I’d better be focused on preparation for the choir’s three-day tour to St. Louis. I may not be seeing many wild birds for a few weeks. Maybe I can recruit the indoor crowd.

img_0020Tree Fungus - 10-28-18-4047