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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Haverford College Birdwalk

Twelve people joined me this morning for a walk around the Haverford College campus. Here are members of the group watching rough-winged swallows at the duck pond. Warblers are starting to move through with some new arrivals overnight. We watched a very cooperative black and white warbler as it inspected tree limbs in search of a tasty tidbit. There were also several yellow-rumps and yellow warblers. A couple of blue-headed vireos were heard and/or seen, but the warbling vireo behind the pond was more elusive. Baltimore orioles and eastern kingbirds were very vocal. One kingbird got into a tiff with a blue jay, presumably over the entitlement to sit in the high branches of the sycamore tree. Blue-gray gnatcatchers were busy buzzing around. They, too, prefer sycamores and are likely to build their nest high on a branch near the pond. Speaking of nesting, a pair of eastern bluebirds seem to have laid claim to a box in the pinetum not far from where Mrs. Redtail is currently incubating. A singing brown thrasher was a good find. Unfortunately, there is no longer enough brush on campus to encourage them to nest here. We also noted far too many brown-headed cowbirds this morning. They will make it difficult for our chipping and song sparrows to raise their own young. This afternoon I heard a black-throated green warbler, and late this evening, a male ruby-throated hummingbird came for a drink at my feeder. I'm looking forward to good birding in the next couple of weeks. Join me next Sunday for another walk around campus, beginning at 7:30 AM from the South Lot.

Swallow-tailed Kite in Newark DE

Swallow-tailed Kite - Middle Run Park, Newark, DE. Image by Al Guarente 4/24/2011

       My original plan for today was to go on Sheryl's field trip at Haverford College but the internet changed those plans(sorry Sheryl). Instead, I made a quick trip down to Newark, Delaware today in the hopes of finding the Swallow-tailed Kite reported there yesterday afternoon. I arrived around 8:30AM and found a group of birders searching the area. I was told that it hasn't been seen and they have been here since dawn. Although that was not good news, it didn't dampen my spirits any, because I arrived at the time that I did, figuring that raptors don't usually start flying until it warms up a little.

Click to enlarge
     We waited another 15 minutes and everyone started to leave except myself. As they were just about to their cars I yelled out that the kite was coming in over the pine trees. Everyone came back and enjoyed fabulous views of a new state bird and for some Brits, it was a life bird.
     Afterwards I went to the Bridle Trail in Ridley Creek State Park and found some first of the year birds including Yellow, Prairie, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Brown Thrasher and Eastern Kingbird. It was a nice way to start Easter Sunday.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Colorado - Boulder County and Red Rocks Parks

      After birding the Pawnee Grasslands we drove to my son's home in Boulder County, CO. That evening we actually had dinner at his home and after dinner ventured out to Sandstone Park before sunset. We walked around the park until we came upon some small cliffs and Bryan pointed out a Barn Owl sitting on her nest. As the sun set, out flew a male Barn Owl and landed in a distant tree. So we headed back to the parking lot and past the tree where the owl landed and it flushed. As it flew back towards the cliff it flushed out a third Barn Owl. How cool was that? It had been some time since I've seen a Barn Owl and was glad to have the opportunity again.
       The next morning we were joined by Bryan who lead us around to the birding areas in Boulder County. Bryan told us that a Golden-crowned Sparrow was frequenting a park area nearby. So we headed out. We searched the area for about an hour and finally were able to find the Golden-crowned mixed in with a flock of White-crowned Sparrows.

Immature Golden-crowned Sparrow
      Then we headed to Walden Ponds and added Bank and Rough-winged Swallows to our trip list as well as getting better views of White-throated Swifts. There were many ducks of the ponds but nothing we hadn't already recorded. As we drove around our next stop, which was Boulder Reservoir, we spotted a Bald Eagle, several Osprey, a Red-tailed Hawk on the nest and Carl's next life bird. We walked down from the parking area and looked around the shoreline. The only white bird in the whole area was a Ross's Goose. I think Carl must have got over ten lifers on this trip. He was racking them up. 
      Bryan had to leave us before noon so we headed down to the Denver area, to the Red Rocks Park. At the park we found a feeding station behind the trading post and we planted ourselves on the terrace. As we watched, a Scrub Jay starting giving his raucous calls. Then a Curve-billed Thrasher arrived along with two Spotted Towhees. There were many White-crowned Sparrows and believe it or not, our second Golden-crowned Sparrow of the day appeared. Waiting a little longer we added White-throated Sparrow. Carl and I temporarily left the feeding station. I went inside the trading post and Carl drove off to search for a Canyon Wren that we heard earlier. Then Nick called Carl on the cell phone and came into the trading post to get me. He had spotted a Harris's Sparrow at the feeder. We had accomplished a rare feat today by spotting on four Zonothrichia sparrows in one day (and at one location).
      After spending a considerable amount of time at the feeders we headed out and went to Cherry Creek State Park and reservoir. There were many White Pelicans, Western Grebes and Franklin's Gulls on the lake. But the bird we were after was a reported Red-necked Grebe. After searching through the hundred or so Western Grebes we were able to find the Red-necked Grebe which was a new state bird for me.
      This was the end of our birding trip and tomorrow morning we would be flying back to Pennsylvania. It was a very productive trip. We managed to find Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens and Greater and Gunnison Sage Grouse. We missed Sharp-tailed Grouse, Chukar and didn't try for White-tailed Ptarmigan. We ended the trip with a 157 total species. Below are some nice birds that we were able to find.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Click on photos to enlarge)

Lesser Prairie Chicken

Nick being chased out of canyon by wild horses
Mountain Bluebird
Cassin's Finch

Pine Grosbeak

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colorado - Pawnee Grasslands

McCown's Longspur (click pictures to enlarge)

     The Pawnee National Grasslands gave us a chance to see some very rarely seen birds in their specialized habitat. Both short grass and long grass prairie lands are represented in these grasslands. Although they are national grasslands, 73% of it is private property, so you should stay on the road to bird. This is not really a problem in this case since you can just about see for miles in every direction. Well, we had three species that we were after in Pawnee. They were Mountain Plover (we had seen them earlier but disappointing views), McCown's Longspur and Chestnut-collared Longspur.

     The McCown's Longspur are short grass birds and when we entered the grasslands we immediately found a McCown's doing his display flight. They fly above the ground with their wings held high above their bodies and sing their little hearts out. We eventually saw about fifty of them and although I have seen them in the past, today was definitely the best view I have seen. One bird actually landed in the road directly in front of us.

Swainson's Hawk
     Among other birds we saw in the grasslands were Swainson's Hawks, one Ferruginous Hawk, and three Long-billed Curlews. In among the tall grass prairies we found Vesper Sparrows, but missed Grasshopper Sparrows which are suppose to be there. As we drove along I spotted a bird flying next to the van and told Carl to stop. The bird flew across the street and landed in a fairly visible spot. We got the bins on the bird and it turned out to be the Chestnut-collared Longspur. Both longspurs were lifers for Carl. A little later we spotted 12 more Chestnut-collared Longspurs in their beautiful breeding plumage. We also managed to find 6 Mountain Plovers within close view of the road but still to far for a photograph.

Rock Wren
      An unexpected bird for me in the grasslands was a Rock Wren standing on the only large rock in the whole grasslands. We later saw several more of these wren in the grasslands. Other birds seen were many Say's Phoebes and Golden Eagle. Tomorrow would be our last full day of birding.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ruby-throats arrive!

Hello all,

Inspired by Mariana Pesthy's report of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at her feeder 4/18 last year I put my feeder out early this year (4/1) We spotted our first arrival while at the dinner table tonight. It was a male. It took a nice long drink and hasn't reappeared. There is a report on Delaware birds of a ruby-throat in Chester County today a well.

Nick's book gives 4/18 as an extreme early spring date.

Since I have been compiler first arrival dates reported to me have been 4/30/08 (Janis Zane), 4/26/09 (Janis Zane), 4/18/10 (Mariana Pesthy) and mine today 4/20/11.

Interestingly all of these first arrivals have been males. This sent me to my trusty Peterson Guide to Hummingbirds by Sheri Williamson. Sure enough she states that male ruby-throats migrate earlier than females in spring and fall.
She also gives a spring arrival date map with a line drawn through northern Virginia & the Delmarva labeled 4/11 and the next line drawn through southern NY state & northern Connecticut labeled 4/21. So these guys are right on time!

The consistency of migration dates of birds is always fascinating.

Anybody have similar or earlier dates than these?


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Colorado Chicken Chasers con't.

Our guest blogger today is Chaser Carl Perretta

Day Seven - the mud, THE MUD!

We started out early in an attempt that would be the envy of Chicken Chasers everywhere - to tick off Sharp-tailed Grouse AND Greater Sage Grouse in the same day.  We had gotten what seemed to be reliable and specific information about leks for each bird, and laid our plans, even pre-scouting the sites and planning the most efficient route from A to B.  You know the end of this story - the advice turned out to be less than accurate.  In fact, it was worthless, and now we had to come up quickly with a Plan B, as we did not plan to spend months in Colorado.  Al had some information about Greater Sage Grouse leks in the area, but they had not been the subjects of any recent reports.  The site was about twenty miles away, so we had to get going.  The DeLorme map for Colorado showed the tiny county road we were looking for, so off we went.  Upon arriving, we were met by a road that deserved the description "unimproved."  Not wanting to miss a possible good shot at the grouse, we plunged ahead.  The temperature was still sub-freezing, but it was easy to see that the roads were actually muddy, made temporarily passable by being frozen.  About a mile in from the beautiful, firm, paved, main highway, we stopped and scanned.  Al spotted the grouse displaying on their lek, about one to two miles distant, but with very good viewing conditions.  In fact, through the scopes, we could see the males strutting and heaving their bright yellow air sacs; it was an observation that would satisfy anybody.  It would have been great to hear them, as we did with their Gunnison cousins, but I'll take it.
Stuck in the Colorado Muck(Click to Enlarge)

Then the trouble started.  While backing up to a wider spot for turning around, we got stuck.  Hopelessly mired.  Unable to move. Forward or backward.  It takes a bit of time for people in hopeless situations to accept their fate, and in this case, it took about an hour of the usual trying to put traction materials under the wheels.  The suggestion was made to see if we could get cell phone service to call for help.  I didn't hold out much hope, our being over twenty miles from the nearest town, but I fired my cell up to try.  The signal strength meter showed no bars, but I made a test call anyway to my own home, where I knew my  machine would answer.  I was never so happy to hear my own voice.  After wasting several minutes trying to find the AAA contact number, Nick suggested I just dial 911.  This seemed to qualify as an emergency, so I did.  The woman who answered our always just-on-the-edge-of-breaking-up call was actually with the Wyoming emergency services!  Not to worry, she didn't hang up on me, but helpfully connected me with the Colorado emergency services people who coordinated with the state police, in case we needed them, and got me the phone number of a four wheel drive tow truck in Craig, Colorado.  After calling for the tow and having to wait for the owner's helper to show up before he could rescue us, things finally got moving.  Let me put in a good word for Vic of the Arrowhead towing company of Craig, CO for being a cool-headed professional who didn't bother to ask who these eastern jerks were, or what they were doing in the middle of nowhere. 

Vic digging us out of the muck

Vic used his skills, acquired, no doubt from years of others' dumb stunts, and had us out of there in about an hour.  Total birding time lost was about three and a half hours.  It could have been a lot worse.  Two things I vow:  get the 4x4 next time, and never again criticize Verizon wireless.  Since I felt a little guilty because of the birding time lost (along with the complimentary hotel breakfast), I sprang for brunch.

Carl with new found friend(A dead Pine Grosbeak)

Because we were behind on our schedule, we had to get going toward Fort Collins.  The route took us past Colorado State Forest, where there were feeders at the visitors' center.  New trip birds Pine Grosbeak and Mountain Chickadee joined the list, so we salvaged something from the day.

Mountain Chickadee

If Al Guarente shows you a video clip of me crying hysterically and begging not to be allowed to die unmourned in a muddy and cold Colorado wasteland, don't believe it.  It's faked.  I think he used one of those new digital technologies to make it.  You know - the kind where it looks like Frank Sinatra and Charlemagne are sharing a Coke.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Colorado Trip - Wray to Elkhart, Kansas Day #2 and #3

Western Meadowlark
    After leaving the Wray area we headed south to Bonny Reservoir, located out in the prairies. The winds today were predicted to be 40 mph with gusts up to 60. However, we all felt that the winds were 60 mph all day long. We ate lunch at a picnic table and everything was blown away. At the reservoir we found many White Pelicans, Bonaparte's & Franklin's Gull's.
Breeding Plumage Franklin's Gull
     Then we headed to Nee Noshe Reservoir where the winds made birding impossible. We were hoping for Snowy Plovers and other shorebirds but struck out. We spent the night in Lamar and before we went to dinner we birded the Willow Creek Nature Center behind the Lamar Community College. My target birds there were, believe it or not, Northern Cardinal and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Our motel was actually right next to the college so we wold go there first thing in the morning.
      We ate dinner at a local restaurant and ran into the Victor Emmanual Nature Tours group. It was being co-led by Mike O'Brien from Cape May. This chance meeting would become important the next day.
      Sunday morning we went to the college and Nick found me my Cardinal that I needed for my Colorado state list. Cardinals can only be found in this location, so this was a good sighting. We dipped on the Red-bellied Woodpecker and were too early for the Mississippi Kites. We did manage to find another unusual bird at this park. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which is rare in Colorado, was also added to my state list. Walking around the park I saw a strange bird that reminded me of the flight pattern of a robin but didn't quite look correct. I followed the bird to where it landed and discovered our first Townsend Solitaire.
      We then made a few other quick stops and picked up a flock of 76 Long-billed Curlews feeding in a field with Western Meadowlarks and a few Harriers. At the Campo Prairie Chicken lek (no longer accessible) I remember years ago that I had Cassin's Sparrows there. We arrived and right away we could hear one singing along with all the White-crowned Sparrows that were present.
Lesser Prairie Chicken
      From here we had to travel to Elkhart, Kansas to a lek in order to watch the Lesser Prairie Chicken display. We had a long drive because, believe it or not, you can't get to Kansas from Colorado. We had to drive into Oklahoma then around into Kansas. No roads led from where we were in CO to KS directly. This is desolate country out here on the range.
     Well, the plan was to get up before dawn and head out to the lek before sunrise. But since we had about an hour before sunset we decided to try for the chicken now. So when we arrived we found 12 Lesser Prairie Chickens on the lek displaying. We got out of the car to walk to the blind and they all flushed but we stayed in the blind and within minutes they were back. The lighting at this hour was perfect with the sun behind our backs. Much better then the morning light would have been.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Colorado Chicken Trip

      First off I apologize for the low quality of this blog. I left home without the device to download my pictures onto my computer so I have to download to Nick's. When he emails them to me and I enter them on the blog I can't enlarge them and it looks like you can't either.
      So let's carry on. We arrived in Denver on Friday morning and quickly headed to Barr Lake just north of the airport. Lots of waterfowl were present and we also found our first Swainson's Hawk. Many more would follow.
Carl & Nick at barr Lake
Most of our stops today were at lakes and reservoirs, so lots of waterfowl made the trip list. We had many White Pelicans, Western, Clark's and Eared Grebes, Bonaparte's and Franklin's Gulls, along with Wigeon, Lesser Scaup and Gadwalls.
      We had to travel almost to the Kansas border today to get to the town of Wray. The Colorado Division of Wildlife was providing an orientation about the Greater Prairie-Chicken lek that we were visiting the next morning before sunrise. Along the way we passed through many a little town. One town we were already though when we got pulled over by a cop. He said we were doing 35 in a 25 MPH zone. None of us saw the speed go down that low and told the officer. He asked us if we were local and we told him we were from PA. He then asked where we were heading. Carl said to Wray to watch the Prairie Chickens and that we were birders. The guy gave us a weird look and went back to his car to write a citation. When he came back, he told Carl that he would just give us a warning if Carl could tell him two facts about Greater Prairie Chickens. Well, I never saw Carl talk so fast, with the help of Nick throwing out some extra facts if needed. The officer accepted this and sent us on our way, probably thinking these Pennsylvanians are a weird lot indeed.
Division of Wildlife Trailer
      The next morning we arose around 4:30AM and took a local school bus to the chicken lek. At the lek was a trailer set up with two rows of  cushioned bleachers. I chose to stand in the back and to set up my telescope for better viewing and digiscoping. As soon as we settled in, the ranger opened the front of the trailer and the Greater Prairie-Chickens were already in display mode.  The males were booming and clucking and waiting for the arrival of the females. Once the females arrived the chicken dance really kicked up a notch. We had a total of 67 chickens on the lek today. The ranger said this was the best day he had there since he started four years ago.

Carl & Nick in trailer
Greater Prairie Chicken
       When the birds were finished with their rituals, we jumped into the bus again and headed to a local ranch for a breakfest. On the way we found our first Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a telephone pole. At the ranch we picked up White-crowned Sparrows and Pink-sided Junco.
Part of the 67 chickens on Lek

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Colorado or Bust

Dusky Grouse
     The Colorado Chicken Chasers are off to Denver tomorrow on an expedition in search of all the grouse (Chickens) in Colorado. Carl Perretta, Nick Pulcinella and I will be flying Friday on a Southwest Airline 737 (so wish us luck). We will tour the entire state of Colorado in 10 days.  With any luck we should find Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens, Dusky Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Greater Sage-Grouse, Gunnison Sage-Grouse, Chukar and Sharp-tailed Grouse. We will try to keep the BCDC members up to date on what is happening in the Mile High State.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mountain Bluebird at Middle Creek WMA

     On Wednesday and Thursday of this week a Mountain Bluebird was found and seen by many at Middle Creek WMA. Our own Nick Pulcinella and Holly Merker were able to locate the bird and add it to their state list. Unfortunately Sharon and I arrived around 2PM on Thursday afternoon and spent 4 1/2 hours there searching for the bluebird but only found Eastern Bluebirds. However the waterfowl and other birds were well represented. We were able to find an amazing 22 species of waterfowl located throughout the refuge. Highlights were 5000  Snow Geese, 4 White-winged Scoters, 2 Long-tailed Ducks, Wood Ducks, Mute Swan, Northern Pintail, 1 Canvasback, 1 Redhead, 100 Ring-necked Ducks, both Scaups and Common and Hooded Mergansers. Also reported was a Red-breasted Merganser but we didn't find that. A Horned Grebe was present on the small pond near tour stop #1.
      It was now getting late in the evening and we were at tour stop #3 watching a Northern Harrier flying over the fields when Sharon asked what are those two other hawks. I took a look and was surprised to see a Short-eared Owl hunting over the field. Then I saw the other supposed hawk and I was shocked to see it was a Sandhill Crane flying into and landing in the pond. What a nice surprise.
Short-eared Owl (click to enlarge photos)
     Other birds that we saw were 65 Wilson's Snipe, several Ring-necked Pheasants and 1 Wild Turkey. Horned Larks were in the corn stubble, as were a few Eastern Meadowlarks.
Ring-necked Pheasant
     Although we missed the Mountain Bluebird, the bad weather proved once again to be an excellent birding day.