Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brown Thrasher

This Brown Thrasher was a brave bird to venture into my sister's yard in Little Rock. It was one of the few birds that was not spooked with a person in the yard. In fact, it seemed somewhat curious. I got quite accustomed to seeing this bird around on a daily basis.

This is quite a large small bird. It measures about 12 inches from its head to the end of its large, long tail. When it sat on the fence with a Mourning Dove, it was every bit as long as the dove, but not a stocky.

It has two white wing bars that stand out against it rusty, rufous coloring. On the breast it has dark brown streaks. Its golden eye is very prominent. This bird is a common sight in the mid to eastern U.S. It can also be found in some areas of western Canada.

Note:  Something happened with the upload of this image and it is squeezed up. I tried to fix it but with no luck. I like this image because it shows the long tail very well. It was often observed foraging on the ground where it nimbly ran from place to place looking for insects.

In this image, the Thrasher is puffed up while it sings its song. It can mimic the songs of other birds, like a Mockingbird, but it also has its own repertoire.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eastern Bluebird

The Eastern Bluebird is a brightly colored and gregarious bird. Although, they are reportedly in decline, I saw bluebirds in at least five different places from Little Rock to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Unfortunately, none were within close range.

This bird, likely a female, frequented the power line in the neighbor's yard. That neighbor's yard attracted hundreds of birds daily with several feeders, a water supply and tall trees bordering the fence. It would have been so nice to set up my tripod and sit in their yard in order to capture close shots of the many birds. Instead, I leaned over their fence as far as I could and shot upward (as in this case) when necessary. I heard that they are planning to put up a privacy fence inside of the chain link fence. I wonder if I might have had something to do with that decision.

I came across this bluebird in park grounds outside of Eureka Springs. Initially, we stopped to photograph a deer that was contemplating crossing the road. Then, out of the "blue," in flew this bluebird. The settings on my camera were set for the deer, not a bird. When an opportunity comes, I just start clicking in the hopes of catching a shot before the bird flies away.

Considering the distance, again, these didn't turn out too bad. Nevertheless, I certainly needed to let more light in.

With the amount of brown on this bluebird's back, this is probably a female. The male has much more blue with a brighter color of blue, as well.

Note:  I did get good shots of the deer and will post them along with the caribou and moose shots that I took this summer.

For now, I must give this up and go pick some blueberries. Not much chance that I will find an Eastern Bluebird in the blueberry fields here in Newfoundland.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eastern Kingbird

The Eastern Kingbird is a very common bird throughout  North American. On occasion, this bird will show up as a rare visitor in Newfoundland.

This particular bird was photographed in Eureka Springs, where they could be frequently found. There were often several Kingbirds playing together, much like Juncos. They flitted about playing and catching flies. Flycatchers tend to move very quickly.

This species is about 8" long and has a 15" wing span. As the above image shows they have several white bars on the edges of the wings and a larger white bar at the end of its tail.

In most cases my presence didn't seem to bother the Eastern Kingbirds.  However, this is the exception. It is possible that I may have gotten near a nest because this little Kingbird became very aggressive. This is a common protective stance when this bird is agitated.  This pose provides a rare glimpse at the red/orange stripe on the crown of its head and a clear view of the flashing white on the tail. This head marking is rarely visible. Maybe it was a temper flush....

All of these four shots were taken fairly deep in the woods. I say fairly because knowing what slithers around on the floor of the woods and in trees, I am very cautious about going to far in.

In this shot of the Kingbird there is more brown in the chin area and on the breast. It is quite possible that this may be a juvenile and the brown will molt into the clear white of the adult.  It would be really nice if all birds were as cooperative as this one is for posing.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

On July 7, prior to taking a boat tour just outside of Eureka Springs, my sister and I made a quick stop at a picnic area. The arm, covered with trees, jutted out into the lake. What a surprise! It was a very "birdy" area.

Initially it was a Killdeer that caught my eye and lured me into this area. Once in, I found many different species of birds, including this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

It did take wing several times but only short hops from one tree to another. Try as I might, I could not catch a shot of it in flight. When in flight, the long, scissor-shaped tail is like nothing that I have ever seen before. It was certainly a show-stopper for me.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is found in Northwest Arkansas, areas of Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. This was my first sighting of this bird, and I was able to see two others fly in front of the car before we ended out stay in Eureka Springs. It is very rare to see this bird outside this area.

This bird measures 10 to 15 inches from tip of head to the tip of its tail and has a 15 inch wing spread.

Although the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is supposed to have pink, even hot pink, on its sides and underneath, in this lighting it looks yellow. I was, I guess, lucky to even see that because this special bird was sitting atop a 50' tree covered in leaves. Every time it showed itself, I snapped the shutter like crazy. These three images were the best that I could get.

Red-wing Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird is a very flashy bird.  The red and yellow on its shoulders and wings reflect the sun's light and add to their sleek appearance.

I was sure that I would get a good picture because there were so many. Well, I was wrong again. The RW Blackbirds came and went, all day long - every day, but not in my yard. They were always about 40 yards away, at best.

They mixed with Brewer's Blackbirds, Rusty Blackbirds and Common Grackles. It was also common to find them slightly behind each of these birds or a squirrel or a rabbit. Try as I might, the good picture just did not materialize.

However, I chose a few pictures to illustrate the special features of the RW Blackbird. In this shot where the bird is lifting off from the feeder, its red shoulders are obvious. The red is sitting on the shoulder and the yellow is a part of the wing.

The shape of this Blackbird is really nice. I chose this blurred image of this bird lifting off from the grass and "solarized" it to better outline its frame. As I look at my shots from my trip to Arkansas, I realize that I missed many, many good shots.

However, that is not all that uncommon. It takes a lot of time studying a bird and adjusting to its habits, distance and all of the other extraneous factors to get a good shot. These beautiful bird photos in books and on the Internet, even Flickr, take hours of time and expertise to create. Knowing that is what makes a great picture so pleasing.
Well, all was not lost!

When I went to Eureka Springs and set up in the bird blind for about 15 minutes, this very differently marked brown streaked bird showed up to check me out. I took three shots before it left and they all turned out "OK."

I really didn't know what I had, but I did know that the bird was close enough for me to get clear images that I could use to research this different bird.

Well, much to my surprise and delight, I found that this is a female Red-wing Blackbird. How is it that not one single female showed up in the neighbor's feeder when so many males did? While the colors are so different the general, overall shape of the female is very similar to the male, although this one does seem to be a little more plump. Maybe it's because the male is the one getting all of the exercise going for food to bring back to her.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Canada Goose

I found this lone Canada Goose at Fourth Pond in Goulds in late May of this year. It was not reported by any other birder so I imagine that it made short stopover and moved on.

It was quite large and very sensitive to my presence, not at all used to people.

Note the white breast. This is a different coloring from the Canada Geese that I found in a swampy area in Sherwood, Arkansas. I don't know if the difference in color has to do with the time of year or an adaptation to location. I still have a lot to learn.

In this image of the Arkansas Geese, the breast is more of a buff color. Yet, the geese in Arkansas were just as wary as the goose in Newfoundland. These are not like the thousands of geese seen in Ontario that frequent the many public parks and farm fields. They maintain their "wild" demeanor.

While these birds don't want people to get too close, they don't seem to mind the turtle that is sharing the log. Nature is always at its best when it remains undisturbed by humankind.

Lesser Canada Goose

Once again from the lake in Eureka Springs, I have chosen to profile the Lesser Canada Goose.

At one time all Canada Geese were "Canada Geese."  However, I believe it was in 1984 that the Canada Goose was reclassified with sub-species to include the Lesser Canada and the Cackling Goose.

All three of these groups of Canada Geese have a very similar look and coloring. The main distinction lies in the body size, shape of head and size of beak.

This was my first time to see the Lesser Canada. They were obviously smaller than the thousands of Canada Geese that migrate through Ottawa.

There were about 50 geese in this group. Often a Cackling Goose will appear among the flocks of Canada and Lesser geese. I scanned the group and reviewed photos but I did not find a Cackling Goose among them.

However, what I did find were many young goslings. This seemed like a safe place for them to find their wings. As we know there are many predators in Arkansas that can upset raising a family on the water. This area seemed to be free of immediate threats.

This immature Lesser Canada Goose shows faint shades of its adult markings.  If time permitted, these young geese would have been ideal for a full day's observation.  Another time, maybe.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Domestic Chinese Geese

In the same location in Eureka Springs, I found these three Domestic (Chinese) Geese. There is one male (with the bump on its beak) and two females. They were smaller Geese than the Greylag and are pictured here with the Lesser Canada Goose for size comparison.
I have checked the Internet for similar birds. This male goose had quite a bit of orange coloring on the head, neck and breast. I was unable to find an image with this coloring. However, the beak, eye, eye ring, legs, shape and white color indicates that this is a Chinese Goose.

This is my first look at this species. Who knows how they got in this lake? Every bird has a story and I would love to know this one.
This image shows all three types of geese inhabiting these waters. It is a good illustration of size and also shows their familiarity with each other. I imagine they have been here for quite some time.

Greylag Goose (Arkansas)

On May 11, I introduced Michael, the Greylag Goose that has frequented Quidi Vidi Lake for many years. On a side trip in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I came across this Greylag among some Lesser Canada Geese and three Domestic (Chinese) Geese.

This Greylag did not seem domesticated and was not nearly as big as Michael.  I have included an image of this Greylag with the Lesser Canada Geese to better show its size.

I didn't use much of my time shooting this goose as I had seen one before. I was more eager to get shots of new birds for my catalog. Time was too short to tarry too long with one bird.  As I trudged deeper in the woods I found a bird blind, a good sign that there were many birds in the area. I would love to go back. No doubt, I could have easily spent a full day at this sight or maybe even a week.
Aside: I took a walk around Quidi Vidi Lake this week and was astounded to see how big Michael has become over the summer. He must have eaten very well.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Great Blue Heron

Some birds just stand out over others. On an early morning jaunt around Eureka Springs, my sister and I took a detour to a marshy area to see what we could find. We found plenty! Among the numerous birds there, this Great Blue Heron was feeding about 50 yards from shore. That and the early morning haze did not make it easy for my camera, but I did the best I could.

This long-legged wading bird stands very still for long periods of time feeding on fish that dare to pass too closely.

I watched this heron with its long, "billowy" feathers for quite a while, hoping that it would come closer. There were many other birds in the area so I didn't waste my time shooting shot after shot of this distant figure.

Note the white dots in the atmosphere. These drops of moisture were not visible to the naked eye but were certainly captured by my high shutter speed. And we think it is humid here in Newfoundland!

A Little Blue Heron was spotted here in St. John's just two days ago. If it is located again, I will rush to see it, with camera in hand, of course.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green Heron

NOTE:  THIS TEXT WILL NEED TO BE ALTERED AS I JUST REALIZED THAT IT IS A GREEN HERON.  In early Summer, I often heard the strange gulping/gurgling sound at Long Pond. It sounded like a boot had just been plucked from the mud, very strange. I thought it must be a bird because it consistently happened about every 5 minutes. I had no idea what it was. When I ran into another birder at Kent's Pond, I described the sound and he identified the bird as an American Bittern. I researched  the bird and armed with an idea of what it looked like, I returned to Long Pond. Try as I might, I could hear it and narrow in on its location, but I could never see it. Then the bird went away. I figured I had lost all chance of seeing an American Bittern this year.
Well, that was not the case. While in Eureka Springs, Arkansas waiting for a tour boat, I spotted this American Bittern sitting in a tree. It was extremely cooperative, probably because it had two young Bitterns in the area. The American Bittern is typically a migratory bird in Arkansas but this one stayed to breed in the area.

It was a rare opportunity to photograph the Bittern because they tend to stay among the tall grass and reed, making it very difficult to see them. This was the case at Long Pond. It has excellent camouflage with its brown streaks on the breast. When this bird is startled, it does not flush but rather raises its head, straight and high, and stands perfectly still. This enables the bird to blend in naturally with the tall grass and woody surroundings.

When I was comparing these pictures of the Bittern with other images in the Field Guides and the Internet, I found some discrepancies. Then I began to compare it to the Green Heron, another wading bird. There were striking similarities between the American Bittern and the juvenile Green Heron. I began to doubt my identification of this bird. However, I kept searching the Internet and confirmed that this, indeed, is an American Bittern.

Identification is so difficult, even with what at first seemed a sure thing. However, this is the process of learning. As a result of my self-doubt, I now have a better understanding of both the Bittern and the Green Heron. The study is never wasted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Northern Cardinal

One of my goals of my visit to Arkansas was to get a great photo of the plentiful and beautiful Northern Cardinals. Try as I might for many hours I was not able to get close enough to the bird to get the "great" shot.

Shooting from a distance of about 40 yards, I captured some nice poses but very poor lighting (either too bright or too dark) and somewhat blurred. It was a disappointment for me but I did get the record shots contained here.

As I observed the Northern Cardinals, I noted that they seem to be family oriented. The pair and their young were often grouped together and they kept a watchful eye out for each other. Perhaps it was because of the presence of the young NCs that they were so skittish and took off any time that I drew near.

This is one of the juvenile Cardinals that frequented the feeder. This one seems to be a young male. Its markings are similar to the female at this stage but are a little more red. The brown beak is the most important indicator that this is a juvenile.

This was an interesting episode that occurred. The Northern Cardinal was feeding this non-cardinal. I finally found a bird that matches the brown one. I believe it is a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird. Why would a cardinal be feeding the young of another species?  Well, it seems that cowbirds are notorious for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. They let the other species do all the work and their species continues to thrive. Maybe this juvenile was hatched in a cardinal's nest and raised by cardinals. Nature is very interesting.

The female of this species also has a crest and the very distinctive bright red beak.

The female was often seen very close to a male who seemed to be watching over her in this shot. The Northern Cardinals were so plentiful and so bright that they lit up the yard with color and activity.
I also noted that the Northern Cardinal is a very social and tolerant bird. It was often seen sharing its fence perch as it is here. I frequently saw the Cardinal with Brown Thrashers (as pictured here), Red-winged Blackbirds, Mourning Doves, House Sparrows and more.
I will just have to wait until my next trip South to get the great photo that I had hoped for.