Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas Bird Count-Presque Isle

Belated Merry Christmas everyone! After a longer than intended hiatus filled with Christmas hustle and bustle I finally have a chance to sit down and post! I'm sure you can all relate. Last Saturday my friend, Julie, and I headed down to the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Presque Isle State Park. As I was driving to pick up Julie, the dash indicated it was a balmy 17 degrees outside. Don't worry though, I think it hit the toasty 20s by the time our bird counting adventure began:)
This was my first CBC and Julie's as well so we took our cues from our more seasoned counterparts. Participants for the CBC met at the Ranger Station on the park; Julie and I were fortunate to be teamed up with Chuck Snyder, a former Edinboro University professor who had taught ornithology, and our great birding buddy, Joao. Each team was assigned to "count" a designated area of the park so when we got our assignment we loaded in to Chuck's car and headed out into the frigid and icy "wilderness". The trails were carpeted with snow, crusted over with a layer of crunchy ice. This made walking quite cumbersome, not to mention noisy! Things were "slow" on the park. Obviously the birds had more sense then we did! Chuck has been participating in the CBC for many years and he said that this year is one of the lowest tallies he's had, likely do to the inclement weather. We recorded 23 different species of birds in our area with the highlight for me being a group of tagged trumpeter swans. I have e-mailed a swan banding station in Ontario to see if the swans might be from there. We were also fortunate to see a small flock of golden-crowned kinglets. We also observed a large group of 8-10 beautiful red cardinals that were feeding together. I had never seen so many cardinals together before. For a brief history of the Christmas Bird Count, including its grizzly forerunner, click here.

Don, Joao and Julie scope out some waterfowl including scaup, mergansers, mallards, goldeneyes and buffleheads.No fishing today!Birding: NOT for wimps!Joao starts the mid-count tally.The trumpeters take time for a stretch and preen.
Joao, Jerry and Chuck G. (moving at warp speed) check out a field guide.
Pat, Janet and Chuck thaw out and discuss their morning finds.When the clouds cleared the sun shone beautifully through the ice covered trees.It kind of reminded me of one of my favorite Frost poems.

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
-- Robert Frost

So, the 2009 CBC is in the books. Not an auspicious start for me, but will I do it again next year? In the "immortal" words of another who got off to a less than auspicious start, "You betcha!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Suspended Animation

I was astounded when I read Toni's (A Spattering) post about her experience with the hanging white-breasted nuthatch in her yard and the fact that she had scared off a Cooper's hawk, because I had an almost identical experience here on the same day!! I looked out my window in the back and saw a white-breasted nuthatch just hanging from the catch tray on my sunflower seed feeder (In my haste and excitement when commenting on Toni's blog I wrote "suet" feeder). I have seen nuthatches perform some weird maneuvers but when he stayed there for quite some time I wondered what was up. I called my husband into the kitchen to check it out and he noticed a downy woodpecker on the other side of the deck just "frozen" clinging to a post. I've seen this behavior before (I read it's part of the "Fight-or-flight response" to danger) and I told him that there must be a hawk around. I went to the door but didn't see the hawk. My grandson, never one to be left out of anything, came to the sliding glass door and started pounding on it. That didn't cause the nuthatch or downy to move but a few minutes later a Cooper's hawk swooped over the deck and into the pines. The nuthatch and WP just stayed in their places and I grabbed my camera. I went out onto the deck and took these shots of the nuttie and downy. I was only limited by the close focus distance on my long lens and if I had had my macro on I could have gotten very close but these birds were already traumatized enough. The last two shots are of a Cooper's hawk I found dead in my yard last winter. There is no gore, but it may not appeal to some. I just wanted to provide a pictoral reference.

Beautiful piercing eyes.

Sharper-than-nails talons wrapped around my thumb! It's no wonder the little ones freeze in terror.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Christmas Card Pose Off

OK, for those of you recalling my "birds are like ice cream" post, this bird might be vanilla, but sometimes these "commoners" can amaze you with there beauty. I try not to to take any bird for granted because I think they all have something special to offer. In the case of the eastern tufted titmouse, cuteness seems to be their specialty. We have titmice all year round, but they are never more social than in winter, especially on blustery days, and it was a fairly blustery day when I took these shots a couple of weeks ago. There were definitely other contenders for the Christmas card but I decided to pick the titmouse this year. The chickadee was not happy, but he will surely get his chance! Last year I used a junco and house finch.
"Gorgeous, darling, but can you put your chin up a little?"
"That's it! Marvelous!" "Now, let's look to the right. Smashing!"

"Now back to the left. Hold it there. Perfect!"
"Oh my! Are you OK darling? Perhaps a little brandy to warm you?"
"All better now? OK, all the way right. Lovely dear!"
"Now let's try with the costume."
"Oh, yes! That's it! We have found our new Christmas card model. Brilliant!!"
Merry Christmas from the Franz Flock!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Few from the Zoo!

Our local zoo closes for 3 months in the winter so hubby and I decided to take our grandson, Emory, on the last day of this season. We love zoos and when traveling we try and visit the local zoo in whatever city we happen to be in. Our zoo is fairly small but clean and nicely kept, I think. While I was photographing the orangutans someone mentioned that it is too bad these beautiful animals are caged. I had been thinking that myself and mentioned it and we both came up with some positive things about zoos. I liked one of her rationale best; if we did not have the access to wild animals that zoos offer we would be much less likely to want to save them. Reminds me of the adage "out of sight out of mind".

A Grivet monkey chillin'.
One of the very cute meerkats!A red panda eating some young bamboo.

A pretty Amur leopard...ready for a long winter's nap! Just in from the Detroit Zoo, our new male polar bear, Norton. He's loving this winter weather.And last but certainly not least, Dasa and her daughter, Leela share a goodnight kiss.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carolina Wrens

I recently joined the PABirds listserv and for the past few days have seen several posts regarding Carolina wrens in PA; posts from people like me who were surprised to see these beauties coming to feeders in this rather inclement weather. According to some of the seasoned birders, Carolina wrens were not always year-round residents of PA but are now and are actually quite abundant in some areas. The wrens use seed and suet feeders during cold weather, but, alas, many die because of the cold weather:( I guess all I can do for my part is to keep providing the seed and suet they need. I have also kept my wren houses up in case they would want to roost out of the elements but I'm not sure if they will do that.
These shots were taken in the late morning on Saturday, November 22nd.

Where there's a will, there's a way!Ladies with an attitude,

Fellas that were in the mood.

Don't just stand there, let's get to it.

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it!

Vogue, vogue, vogue, vogue

There are way too many chickadees at that feeder. I'm outta here!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oregon Junco, YES!!!

I sent some of my junco photos to my birding instructor, Jerry McWilliams. author of The Birds of Pennsylvania, The Birds of Erie County, etc... and this was his reply:

Yes, your junco is an "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco. I am not familiar with name Cassiar junco. Oregon's are rare, but regular in Pennsylvania. I have only seen a handful of them in Erie County and only a couple were males.

I then sent him this excerpt describing the Cassiar Junco to which he replied:

According to this description of Cassiar junco, I probably have seen a few of these, especially females. I would still call any ADULT MALE juncos with a distinctive hood and orange-brown flanks, "Oregon" Dark-eyed Juncos. It really becomes a problem making this distinction between a "pure" subspecies and hybrids between the two subspecies when trying to identify females and immature males.

As of Saturday the "Oregon" was still hanging around and I took "a few" more shots. I'm not sure how I expect to catch up with all the categorization I need to do if I continue taking all these photos! Looks like rain for the next few day so maybe that will keep me in the house and focused on the task at hand:(

This guy's sure packin' it in!
Notice how distinct his hood is from the rest of the body. I've seen them darker in pictures but according to Cornell's website the hood can be dark to dull gray.

Here is a male dark-eyed junco, slate-colored form. Not sure if he's singing or yawning:)

This is a female slate-colored junco chomping on a sunflower seed. This cute little female adorned one of my Christmas cards from last year.

As the afternoon wore on it started getting pretty cold and windy...

so I headed indoors for some hot coffee and a cozy warm blanket!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not Your (My) Usual Snow Birds!

OK, maybe a few of them, like this goldfinch, are but they are all so darn cute they deserve there 15 minutes. With the snow here now the birds are coming into the feeders by the score. I started shooting at about 3:00 p.m. and by 4:00 p.m. it was already starting to get too dark to get decent shots:( But I guess that's OK since I took over 250 in the one hour period and saw 13 different species. Because of the poor lighting I was having to shoot at 800 ISO which is why some of these are a little grainy. Also, most of these are shot at 1+ exposure to compensate for the bright snowy backgrounds.
Of course, there were lots of noisy little chickadees!And the quintessential "Snow Bird", the slate-colored junco.But then, I spotted this fella, which I am fairly certain is an Oregon Junco!According to Sibley's this species is a rare visitor to the eastern US.

I can always count on this white-throated sparrow to show up with the juncos!

Not to be outdone, there were the always-entertaining tufted-titmice!And this downy that waited patiently for his turn at the suet.

And last but certainly not least, guess who's not gone after all. That's right! The Carolina Wren is still hanging around. I was very pleased and a little surprised, but I thought I had been hearing him in the mornings.
He looks a little mad doesn't he. Bet he's upset that he's here in over a foot of snow! Maybe next year he'll take off sooner.