Saturday, June 7, 2014

May 2014 Birds

I didn't expect my first May with a baby to be so productive but with relatively few trips, I happened to make them on the right days, right places.  Feeling pretty good about it.

My long-awaited Prothonotary Warbler was spotted at Skokie Lagoons after Jerry guided us through the flooded, wooded lake's edge.  As the male suddenly flew in close I got greedy and lifted my camera spooking the bird.  So I failed at getting a good long stare or a photo. >: / (Here's a video I found on YouTube) But with that bright yellow it's quite hard to miss.  Such a beauty...  I'm not sure why I wanted to see this one so badly but then turned my nose up at waiting around LaBagh Woods for a glimpse of the much more elusive worm-eating warbler.  Perhaps it's the huge, dark eyes that contrast with the consistently soft yellow head, neck, and chest. The blue-gray wings and white underbelly.  Looks a little cartoony.  And, we're at the far northern range of their breeding territory so not-so-common.  They're the only eastern warbler to nest in tree cavities.  And their "sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet" song is about what you'd expect.

Anyway, others worth noting..  My favorite new spot produced a female Scarlet Tanager and my first Hooded Warbler (pair) :O.  I was at LaBagh Woods May 13th around 9am before work. Dropped W off with Lhatso and got in probably my best solo session ever.  Such a serene setting and trail.  The slope down to the river allows for good visibility (compared to areas where you have to look up into tall trees).  Perfect temp. and amount of shade with just enough sunlight for some decent shots.  Once I saw a birdy spot I just leaned against a tree with camera up and waited.  It's an intense feeling to start seeing exactly what you came for but then lose it...  finally see it again, struggle to ID another at the same time,  then hold your breath while trying to capture an image.  Birds popped everywhere - chestnut-sided warblers, hooded warblers, magnolia and wilson's warblers, canada warblers, scarlet tanagers, redstarts, blue-winged teals, thrushes, great-crested flycatchers, eastern phoebes, the list goes on.

Almost a week later, I was lucky enough to show up at Montrose on what a bunch of pros were calling the birdiest day of the year - May 19th around 9am.  I didn't write down my list, but saw tons of warblers.  I caught a brief glimpse of a Connecticut Warbler and then saw my first Clay-colored Sparrow.

And, finally, a fairly entertaining wounded display from a Killdeer at Montrose Beach .  Not the greatest pics but you get the idea.  This adult was acting all broken-winged and unable to fly away, slowly moving away from me hoping I'd follow.  Apparently I'd come to close to its nesting site.  Pretty goofy-looking theatrics.  (oh, and on this day I had some company <3)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Farm - Missouri

First time away from my girl.  :(  We're at Nathan's farm/woods near Bowling Green, MO.  I'm sitting in the shade, it's 65 degrees.  Staring into the woods right now.  I'm hearing an Eastern Wood Peewee, Blue Jay, Red-bellied woodpecker, and a cardinal.  The Barn Swallows overhead occasionally fly through the window of an old and tattered abandoned home next to our tent.  A pair of brown thrashers (pictured below) were visibly concerned that had encroached on their domain.  Cool breeze, cloudless day.  We woke at 4:45, whip-poor-wills still calling.  It's a strange bird that's difficult to spot but easy to hear and ID throughout the night. Fact: they migrate up for the Summer from the Gulf Coast or Central America and lay eggs in phase with the lunar cycle to capitalize on an insect feeding frenzy during a full moon. :D

Sean headed one way this am and at sun-up and I headed the other, my bird quest involving a bit more biodiversity and leisure, his more..  hmm..  I want to say "skill and determination" which is true, but I know a thing or two about birds.  He just happens to know a LOT about one particular bird.  We'll probably be eating some wild turkey soon.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The bird that pops in early May

When I caught up to a birding group at North Park Nature Center packing in a 10-month old with a bright pink hat I wasn't met with a warm welcome but perhaps I was paranoid.  A few ladies finally quietly giggled with me that they had spotted a pink-crested cutie baby, lol.

She was pretty quiet for the first 20 minutes or so as I crept along behind the crowd of ten.  As soon as she started squawking I peeled off and headed back the way we came, toward the entrance. I knew what I was attempting was a stretch, it was worth a try.  Figured I'd try to spot a few more on my way out.  It was only May 2nd, very few leaves out on the trees so imagine my panic/elation when I saw this orange and yellow sun-spotlit first-ever what-the-hell bird is that against the drab brown and gray of the surrounding woods.  Trying to keep her quiet and still so I could get a proper focus was a challenge but to be honest I mostly remember my fumbling with my gear.  Do I get the shot and risk not getting it, do I sacrifice the shot and just get a better look with binocs?  How is that bird still sitting so low and close with us making all this movement/commotion? 

Upon doing a little research this is a first-spring Summer Tanager.  These birds migrate up from Central & South America but aren't all that common this far north.  They are bee and wasp specialists, usually catching them in flight as they sally from branches high in the forest canopy - another reason I'm lucky to have seen one up close.  Fun fact - they beat the insects against a branch before eating them.  And another fun fact - they are commonly nest-parasitized by brown cowbirds.  This involves the cowbird mom laying eggs in the tanager's nest then the unsuspecting tanager raising all the young only to have her own often kicked out by the bigger, stronger cowbirds.  Doesn't that make you love them even more?

I walked out feeling like hell yeah.  That was a good session.  I was thankful the pink-crested chatty baby hitched a ride or it probably wouldn't have happened.