A Bird in the Hand

Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler

As I start to go through the pictures from Costa Rica, some of the best bird images are invariably closeups of birds shown to us by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. These were invaluable teaching moments on the part of Bill and the birds themselves.

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Although the focus of the Operation Rubythroat trip to chayote fields in Ujarras Valley, Costa Rica, was ultimately to trap, band and release as many Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds as possible over six days in the field (more about all this in a future post), invariably, other birds sometimes got trapped in the nets. Any bird trapped was a potential teaching opportunity. Neotropical migrants were retained for banding. But after we had seen a species native to Costa Rica once at the banding table, which is where we gathered for these demonstrations, all future caught birds of that species were immediately released.

Bananaquit

Bananaquit

With field guides in hand, we studied the birds until we were able to identify the species. Bill would only help by pointing out various field marks, but he also elaborated on other features you might never see unless you had the bird in your hand. Some species were familiar, but the opportunity to study them so closely was absolutely phenomenal. For those who are squeamish about the trapping and handling, I admit I once was too, but Bill treats the birds with the utmost respect and care. You can go to a museum and study skins, but for color and presence there is nothing like a live bird.

Blue-Grey Tanager

Blue-Grey Tanager

I have seen Blue-Grey Tanagers virtually every time I have visited the American tropics. They are ubiquitous and easy to identify. But I have never seen a Blue-Grey Tanager like this before.Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9026

The afternoons invariably turned cloudy and sometimes rainy, which made taking pictures of other birds anything from challenging to impossible. Nevertheless I managed to get some good photographs, and I will be back with many more.

These are just a sampling of some of the earliest birds we saw in the hand, and I will be back with others, as well as eventually adding pictures to my flickr page.

House Wren - the same species, but not the same population we have at home

House Wren – the same species, but not the same population we have at home

As for the timing of this post, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the past week. Sleep has been erratic at best, and I’ve been emotionally exhausted. I went to bed early last night, so I guess it’s not altogether strange that I am awake at 3:00 a.m. Trying to go back to sleep I started reviewing the past week, and that wasn’t all good, so I shifted my thoughts to things I want to accomplish, which woke me up even more. When I started thinking about this post which I started to work on last night before I conked out on the futon, it seemed prudent to just wake up and finish the post. I apologize for any detectible grogginess. I think I’ll grab a drink of water and go back to sleep for a couple hours.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warblers and Tennessee Warblers were the most-frequently-caught neotropical migrants. At some point, we had caught so many Tennessee Warblers, we released them from the nets without banding them.

Tennesee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tyrant Flycatchers can be confusing.

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

One more of the Blue-Grey Tanager, up close and personal.

Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9068

 

Trying to Wake from a Long Winter’s Nap

Fermilab Christmas Count 12-14-13

Fermilab Christmas Count 12-14-13

Yesterday I participated in the Fermilab annual Christmas Bird Count, as I have for the past however many years now. I admit to being a bit wary about doing it, as it has only been a week since my trip, but I decided it was one way to make sure I got out to see a few birds and I reminded myself that it is always a fun, if sometimes grueling, experience.

The weather was everywhere. It had been snowing steadily overnight and kept on snowing, making the driving conditions at 5:30 a.m. practically prohibitive. I almost turned around two or three times, the first when I encountered a roadblock set up by police, but I decided to continue.

Fermilab IMG_1408

If I was beginning to get over the culture shock accompanying my return from Africa, hiking around in deep snow tipped it right in for me. Our team slogged on for at least an hour or two before we saw hardly any birds at all, and then it was suddenly something like over 100 American Tree Sparrows.

Our last discovery before meeting the other teams for a lunch break was a yellow-headed woodpecker which got us excited for a while; it looked like a possible Golden-Fronted, which would have been pretty rare. I had only my point-and-shoot with me which hardly did the bird justice but even one of the team leader’s better camera was unable to find enough white in the tail to confirm a vagrant species. It turns out that juvenile Red-Bellied Woodpeckers can resemble Golden-Fronted in this way, except that they lack a large white area of the tail. Still it was fun to see something unusual and I am now reminded that no matter what, the Christmas Count always yields a surprise of one kind or another. In the same location we also had a Brown Creeper which is pretty uncommon this time of year.

"Yellow" Red-Bellied Woodpecker

“Yellow” Red-Bellied Woodpecker

So unlike last year when we had rain and balmy temperatures, this has been definitely winter weather. During the work week I managed to get out to see my crows one or two times. Below are a few pictures.

Crow with Peanuts IMG_2138_1

Rock Pigeon Flight Drills

Rock Pigeon Flight Drills

Returning to the Christmas Count, I had lunch with everyone and then decided to return home while I was still able. Still exhausted from getting over jet lag and going back to work, I barely made it home after a few grocery store stops. I took a nap, got up to feed the birds their evening snack, and went back to crash on the futon. Every time I got up my legs complained about the strain of climbing around in the snowpack. I gave up and went to bed, sleeping at least 10 hours, refusing to get up before daylight. When I finally woke up this morning it took a while before I felt like I could ever do anything but sleep. But by the time I went out to fill the feeders and had breakfast, I felt a sudden burst of energy. It occurred to me later that I got caught up on all my dreams last night, sort of like getting caught up on all my movies on those long transatlantic flights.

I probably would not have gotten all that much-needed sleep if I had not exhausted myself doing the count. Funny how that works.

This is my first post from the new laptop, but the pictures were processed on my old desktop. I am waiting for the delivery of a DVD drive so I can install Lightroom and then start learning all over again how to process my pictures. It’s going to be a bit of a learning curve what with the new OS and all but I am motivated and so very happy to have a new computer.

I leave you for the moment with a slightly blood-stained Cooper’s Hawk I found resting in a tree in Millennium Park last Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m certain the blood was from its devoured prey.

Cooper's Hawk, Millennium Park

Cooper’s Hawk, Millennium Park