30 January 2010

so long and thanks

On Thursday afternoon, my wisdom teeth were excavated. With bleeding gums and liquid diet, my weekend has turned into catching up on the list of movies that I wouldn't otherwise be watching. I tend to average fewer than 5 movies per year, sometimes 1 of them being in theaters. This song from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy happened to strike a chord.

So Long & Thanks for All the Fish (the sing-along)

So long and thanks for all the fish
So sad that it should come to this
We tried to warn you all but oh dear

You may not share our intellect
Which might explain your disrespect
For all the natural wonders that grow (around you)
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

The world's about to be destroyed
There's no point getting all annoyed
Lie back and let the world dissolve (around you)

Despite those nets of tuna fleetes
We thought most of you were sweet
Especially tiny tots and your pregnant women

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

If I had just one last wish
I would like a tasy fish
If we could just change one thing
We would all have learnt to sing

Come one and all
Man and mammal
Side by side in life's great gene pool

So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long, so long so long, so long so long, so long so long
So long so long and thanks for all the fish

(lyrics from allthelyrics.com)

On the note of tasty fish, Matt et al have been absolutely wonderful in keeping me comfortable, fed and preoccupied. He even took a break from spouse-sitting and braved the ridiculously cold weather to run errands for me and fetch non-chew food items. Smoothies and soups and jello, oh joy! Still, I'm looking forward to eating sharp, crunchy objects again. Say, Amish peanut brittle, perhaps?

13 January 2010

"That page in the field guide"

The long-time birders know "that page." Even newcomers may know of "that page in the field guide," drawn to it by names like Red-flanked Bluetail and Stonechat.

Maps, if even illustrated, show ranges from Siberia barely into the continent in northern Alaska, Greenland.

Old World species gracing the New World in the farthest reaches of tundra corners.

"That page" is often where the Family Turdidae (thrushes) begin in our guides, but where our distant imaginations hover. One would have to take a trip to Nome, AK in the spring/summer to holdout hope in seeing one. A trip I would like to take one day, but since I haven't I feel very fortunate to have seen 2 of these species on "that page" in the lower 48. One shared with Heidi.

photo by J. Fidorra

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) , first fall/winter female

On 14th September 2008 this Old World Species was discovered by 4 intrepid ;-) biologists working on San Clemente Island, off the coast of Southern California. Yours truly being one of them.

This gal is the first, and only, record in the lower 48 of North America. Spending spring and summer in Siberia, northern Alaska and far northern Yukon Territory, Canada this bird migrates to north Africa and India in the winter.

Click here to read my original post about her on my old blog.

It just so happens that a single Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus ) was documented on SCIsland many yrs before I began working there.

This brings us to Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). Far from San Clemente Island, in fact the Greenland race (O. o. leucorhoa) makes one of the longest transoceanic crossing of any passerine.

This bird winters in Africa, not 8 miles outside Beeville, TX where Heidi and I recently observed one.

In the Spring most of the aforementioned race migrate from Africa by way of continental Europe, the British Islands, Iceland to Greenland. Incredible!

Amazingly, a few months earlier, during migration not winter, a Northern Wheatear was seen shortly in Ohio. On an Amish farm.

The "Beeville" Northern Wheatear...... Amish farm. These subsistence farmers must be doing something right by the Earth. Small rows of crops share space with forbs (NOT WEEDS, not pests, 'cides not needed). Gracious folks taking only what they need from the Earth's giving; no more. In tune.

Anyhow, 2 down from "that page." One shared with Heidi. Which one will be next on this lifetime's list?

above: National Geographic Field Guide to North American Birds, ed. by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer, 2006.

By the way, Bluethroat and Northern Wheatear had been members of Family Turdidae (thrushes) but are now more generally considered to belong to Family Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers) which is not related to "New World" (the Americas) flycatchers.

May need a new page.

12 January 2010

Northern Jacana

Choke Canyon State Park has had a Northern Jacana for quite a while now - Matt had seen one in the Rio Grande Valley, but it'd be new for me. So, Northern Wheatear seen, we headed over to Choke Canyon.

So as not to disappoint anyone with the title:

The teetering "feel" of the bird was very similar to a Spotted Sandpiper - long legs tended to amplify small foraging movements.

I feel the urge to insert text between photo and thumbs, so here 'tis.

Here's a bit of habitat, and our dear friend Steve.

Northern Wheatear

Surely with the subject of "Northern Wheatear" this post will disappoint some people. In fact, here's a photo of a Savannah Sparrow. It's a very cooperative critter, not 15' from us, foraging behind a horse.

And here's a photo of the wheatear-wishful gathering crowd:

Here are thumbs of other angles for the SAVS and crowd:

Honestly, I'd have liked to get a photo of the little dog that adopted the Amish family. It was a very friendly and alert pup with a bone that any dog would envy; it was about half his size!

Lest I fail to wax poetic about a little bird who made us wait for nearly 5 frigid hours during the course of 2 days, I should mention that it is a remarkable creature. One belonging to northern climes, Alaska in the summer if the observer is lucky. We, as observers, were quite fortunate. The crisp, perfectly crafted peanut brittle made the drive worthwhile. The quiet, gentle conversation with John certainly made the cold bearable. His earnest work and respect for the land did not go unnoticed. Subsistence farming living at its best, the tiny farmhouse shelters at least 8 to 10 people.

While we waited, there were ample Savannah Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, a Northern Harrier, Sandhill Cranes, Mourning Doves, a Loggerhead Shrike, etc. Really, though, it was wonderful to see that a local naturalist was brave enough to open his property to hordes of curious birders. The gratifying experience was not the momentary glimpse of pale, muted grays. It was John and his lifestyle, welcoming birds as part of the farm, asking of the land only enough to survive. And reaping a Northern Wheatear.

11 January 2010

Northern Wheatear, Northern Jacana

Northern Wheatear (European vagrant) and Northern Jacana (Mexican vagrant) in Beeville, TX - both in one morning... that's how Matt and I spent Saturday. Of course, it's now Monday and I still haven't eBird-ed the list or written up notes on either. The eBird list is far more likely to happen than notes; I'm a bit more focused on wisdom tooth teething (and extraction scheduling) than the super-documented rarities.

But, since photos aren't even uploaded yet (no, there are none of the Wheatear), I'll leave you with a snazzy link or two.
Arctic bird makes rare appearance
Rare northern wheatear spotted in Bee County

To put this into perspective, there have only been two Norhtern Wheatears ever recorded in Texas. Northern Jacanas are not quite annually reported in the state, but they're similar to the Spindalis; probably nesting around here somewhere, we just haven't found out yet.

Until the "real" post goes up, I wish everyone a less-cold week and may everyone be so fortunate as to try Amish peanut brittle at least once in their lives!

03 January 2010

E Waco CBC

Location: Cameron Park/Brazos Corridor
(and Bellmead and Lacey Lakeview and...)

Observation date: 1/2/10

Notes: 1 wren spp, no grackle roosts counted; vulture and "city bird" numbers likely undercounted.

Above is a larger photo/link of the cooperative Couch's Kingbird which is apparently a first record for McLennan County. Perhaps it followed me to Waco. Oddly enough, as I was entering the list into ebird, one of the rarity photos was a Couch's in Louisiana!

Wood Duck 5
Gadwall 2
Mallard 23
Pied-billed Grebe 2
Double-crested Cormorant 51
Great Blue Heron 5
Great Egret 1
Black Vulture 80
Turkey Vulture 23
Cooper's Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 3
American Kestrel 2
American Coot 8
Killdeer 8
Ring-billed Gull 5
Forster's Tern 2
Rock Pigeon 170
Eurasian Collared-Dove 1
White-winged Dove 30
Inca Dove 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 9
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 8
Northern Flicker 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 2
Eastern Phoebe 5
Couch's Kingbird 2
Loggerhead Shrike 3
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 7
Carolina Chickadee 19
Tufted Titmouse 1
Carolina Wren 1
Bewick's Wren 2
House Wren 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6
Eastern Bluebird 2
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 3
Northern Mockingbird 5
European Starling 34
American Pipit 7
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 16
Chipping Sparrow 40
Clay-colored Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 41
Vesper Sparrow 14
Savannah Sparrow 82
Lincoln's Sparrow 6
White-throated Sparrow 9
Harris's Sparrow 2
White-crowned Sparrow 8
Dark-eyed Junco 12
Northern Cardinal 22
Western Meadowlark 1
meadowlark sp. 62
Great-tailed Grackle 23
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
American Goldfinch 19
House Sparrow 26

Number of species: 61

02 January 2010

Couch's Kingbirds in Waco

This morning around 9 am, Matt found two VERY bright yellow birds flycatching on the north side of the Brazos; here's the first photo I was able to get.

...it's the blurry speck in the middle of the frame, I promise. From this distance, Matt and I ruled out Ash-throated Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird and hearing a rolling "breer," we almost narrowed them to Great-crested Flycatcher. We still hoped for Kiskadee or Social Flycatcher with that amount of yellow, but our ears still heard "breer" and the birds didn't cooperate. Such is the miracle of pulling out the scope and having the birds vanish.

We drove around to the MLK side - the birds had been foraging out on branches above the river - but one had vanished completely and the other had moved up between the pavilion and the road. The rest of the photos are digi-binocular-ed from that spot. These are not in chronological order; the better shots are larger.

From the above photos, the bird is clearly not a Great-crested Flycatcher. In fact, I had nearly sworn off on the bird even existing because the only critter in the tree visible was a starling (amazing mimics, those starlings). Thankfully the kingbird flew out from behind the trunk and cooperated for a little while. It constantly called a bubbly trill and we completely forgot to feel bad that it wasn't a Tropical Kingbird. Sad, how birding the RGV conditions birders to immediately scorn and move along from Couch's because they're not Tropical ;-)

After the thumbs were taken, the bird flew across the road and across the culvert - presumably where the other bird had already smartly wandered to avoid the pesky birders in hot pursuit. The shot below is from the Brazos side, looking towards the pavilion where the birds were initially seen. It's fair game from there to the culvert/water retention pond.

...thankfully we're off the hook for any other writeup birds for this count =) I'll try to get the rest of the count list posted sometime after work tomorrow.