Another Hawk

One of my weekend morning rituals is to sit in my study, sip coffee and read. I am not reading a newspaper (it has been years since I subscribed to one of those), but instead various things on the Internet. This morning, for example, I was researching Puerto Rico bird watching.

My study has a couple of windows that look out on my backyard. It is fairly common for me to see movement out of the corner of my eye as I sit reading at my computer. This is usually the squirrels chasing each other or some variety of songbird visiting my bird feeders. This morning, however, it was a bit different. I saw something larger fly by.

When I stopped reading to peer out the window, I saw a rather large bird perched on my fence. It was a hawk. I immediately ran to my kitchen to fetch my binoculars. When I got back, he was still there and one look told me it was not the Red-shouldered Hawk I took pictures of a couple weeks back. I had an idea of what it was, but was not sure. Instead of looking more to get the identification correct, I ran back to the kitchen to get my camera.

The camera already had the big lens on it, so I was ready to go. I pulled up the window blinds and then aimed the camera...nothing happened. Huh? Oh yeah...the memory card was on my desk. I quickly popped that into the camera and then realized that the camera's battery was dead. Sheesh. I had another on standby, so I fished that out and replaced the battery.

I was happy to see that the bird was still perched on the fence. I took a few pictures through the window, but this window was very dirty, and had a screen in it. I had pictures, but they were quite lame (so lame, they are not even posted on Flickr). So I moved one window to the right and was pleased that I still had a view of the bird. And this window did not have a screen in it ( "to do" list at home is pretty long).

I managed to get a small number of reasonable pictures through the second window of my study. Here is one of them. The bird is an immature Cooper's Hawk. If you click through that link and read the description of a Cooper's Hawk, you will see "A medium-sized hawk of the forest, the Cooper's Hawk specializes in eating birds." My bird feeders might be attracting more than hungry song birds. Here is a link to another picture of a Cooper's Hawk that I found on the web that shows the tail from the back.

Cooper's Hawk

I think I said it was cold

A few posts back, when I described the trip to Chincoteague, I think I said it was cold. If I didn't, then let me correct that misunderstanding. It was cold. And when the wind blew, it was a type of cold that requires the use of profanity to describe. Here are a few miscellaneous photos that include ice, just as a guide of the coldness of it all.

The first picture is of a piece of wood or stump that was sticking up out of the water. The wind was blowing hard enough to send a sheet of ice from one end of the pond to the other. When the ice encountered the piece of wood, the ice was thin enough for the wood to carve right through it, leaving that trail of broken ice to the right of the stump.

Stump Carving Ice

This picture shows a group of Tundra Swan trying to get to the other side of a sheet of ice. One of the group just took flight and flew over. These, however, decided it would be easier to climb up and walk over the ice.

Tundra Swan

Finally, here is a shot of what I presume to be a very cold Great Blue Heron. To be more precise: I do not presume that this is a Great Blue Heron, but I do presume he is cold. He is standing up to his feathers in water, right next to a section that is frozen on top. It is almost like a Great Blue Heron Popsicle.

Great Blue Heron

Ruddy Duck

Here is another photo from the driver's side of my truck out the passenger side window. This one is of a female Ruddy Duck. I think the shape of these were the model for the little rubber duck bathtub toys. They look like little toy ducks.

Ruddy Duck

Red-breasted Merganser

During Winter in Virginia it is not uncommon to see Red-breasted Merganser in larger bodies of water. These birds dive under water for their food (unlike dabbling ducks, who tip their head under water, but do not dive). They are also extremely shy, and will dive under water and/or fly away if they see you walking nearby. At Chincoteague NWR, you can drive past lots of good bird habitat. So not only is staying in your vehicle good for keeping warm in the winter, but it also acts as a handy bird blind. I took this photo from my truck. We were parked on the side of the road, and I took the photo from the driver's side through the rolled down passenger side window. Tammy is patiently reclined out of the way in the passenger seat. This is a male/female pair of Red-breasted Merganser. The male is closer, and the female is in the back.

Red-breasted Merganser

Northern Pintail

Another fairly common dabbling duck at Chincoteague was Northern Pintail. Once again the male has fairly interesting colors, and it is pretty easy to see how the bird got its name.

Northern Pintail
Northern Pintail

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows are very typical sparrows anytime of the year. They hop around the bushes and weeds that line the side of roads and paths. I was taking pictures of the sun coming down when I noticed a few of them hopping around in the weeds next to me. I cranked up the ISO on my camera to 1600 because the light was getting low, and these two pictures are a sample of the results.

Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow

Northern Shoveler

There was no shortage of dabbling ducks at Chincoteague NWR. One species that was particularly abundant was Northern Shoveler. They were to be found in any shallow water, heads under the icy water eating whatever manner of vegetation is to be found there. The males have interesting colors, and their bills do justice to their name.

Northern Shoveler
Northern Shoveler

Birding to Chincoteague and back

Tammy and I took an overnight trip to Chincoteague this weekend. It was an opportunity to get away for us, but also a chance for me to see some birds I had not seen before.

The trip to Chincoteague took us across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT), and there were several birds likely to be seen at island #1 (where the gift shop and restaurant are located) that I had never seen before (Brant, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck and Great Cormorant). Then, just after getting to the north end of the CBBT, there was a chance of seeing Eurasian Wigeon at the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR. And Chincoteague NWR itself is always a good place to bird.

The birding part of the trip started off great. I managed to see three of my four target birds at CBBT island #1. The one I missed was Great Cormorant. I thought I had it as well, but a review of the field marks this evening showed me the error in my ways. On the other hand, a Brown Pelican was an added bonus in that it was something that was not on my list due to the infamous hard drive crash of 2005 (but something I knew I had seen before somewhere). I tried twice to get the Eurasian Wigeon, but was unsuccessful both times. On the way up I think I might have gotten a glimpse, but the birds spooked and flew away before I could get an ID on them. I tried again on the way back, but it was not meant to be.

I made up for the Eurasian Wigeon by finding a Horned Grebe offshore at Chincoteague NWR. Tammy wisely sat in the truck and stayed warm while I froze in the wind, scanning the ocean for diving birds and fending off opportunistic Ring-billed Gulls who thought the field guide I tossed to the sand might just be that snack they so expected from me. Just in case you did not know: there is a public beach located within Chincoteague NWR. The gulls there are used to people, and probably also used to people supplying them with food.

All in all, it was a good trip. Tammy and I got out of town, my Virginia List grew to 170, and my Life List has now officially grown to 302. I have no pictures of the birds that were new to my life list, but I do have pictures of birds. I will be posting some of them soon.

Lafayette, here I come

Every year the American Birding Association has a convention. I have attended the past two annual conventions: in Tucson in 2005, and in Bangor last year. Both trips have been fantastic.

This year the convention is in Lafayette, Louisiana. Last week I got my confirmation package from ABA. I am all signed up and, even though the event is not until April, I am ready to go. Well, I am mentally ready to go. I would still actually have to pack.

If you look in the June 2006 archives for this blog, you will see that I posted a ton of stuff that month. That was because I was in the middle of the ABA convention in Bangor. When this April roles around, I am sure I will post another zillion pictures and such.

The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is next weekend, Friday February 16th through Monday the 19th. Participation is free and open to everyone. At a minimum, it only takes 15 minutes of your time. Or you can spend the entire weekend counting in multiple locations. It does not even need to be a backyard. And the rules for counting are really easy: just keep track of the maximum number of any species you see at any given time.

A mile long flock of birds

This morning, as I drove down the on-ramp for I-95 south on my way to work, I noticed a flock of birds on the other side of the interstate. Then I noticed that it was a long flock of birds. Really long.

I think the birds were blackbirds of some variety, but I am not really sure because they were silhouetted. And when I say the flock was "long", I really mean it. The shape of the flock was not a blob, or roundish. Instead it was like a long tube, or river, of birds. In other words, it had height (thirty to fifty birds tall) and depth (about the same as the height) and extreme left-to-right length.

They were flying north. As I exited onto I-95, I was pointed east, but turning to the south. I had a chance to look over my shoulder to the north, and I was amazed that I could not see the beginning the flock. That "river" of birds just kept going as far as I could see. As I got onto I-95 south, I kept looking to my left. That "river" of birds was on the other side of the interstate. I could see it through the trees. I drove half-a-mile south before the "river" bent far enough away from the interstate to where I could no longer see it anymore.

I had never seen anything like that before. That river of birds was at least a mile long! It was amazing.

Squirrel Nest

I have a shed in my backyard that houses a few tools, a lawnmower, bird food and such. I keep it locked up just in case anyone feels like "inappropriately borrowing" something. While I am probably in there for some reason a couple times a week when it is warm out, the winter months usually see the shed lonely and locked up for several weeks at a time.

The last time I was in the shed was a few weeks back. I was in there to get at the bird food so I could refill my feeders. It had been quite a while since I had been in there. I noticed that there were lots of leaves in the back corner of the shed and I had a suspicion that the damage caused to the shed when Ernesto came through last summer was allowing squirrels to get in and out of the shed very easily. Since I keep my bird food safely stored in containers that the squirrels cannot get into, and there is really nothing else in the shed they can mess with (not since I returned Richie's lawnmower), all they are really doing is piling up the leaves.

Today I once again refilled the bird feeders. This required me to go into the shed. When I unlocked the door and opened it, I scared a whole flock of squirrels out of that big pile of leaves. I purposely made a bunch of noise when I stepped into the shed. One at a time, the squirrels came out of that pile of leaves and ran frantically up the wall and out their new special Ernesto-entrance. I could imagine one of them saying "I thought you said this place was safe?!?!?" as they ran up the inside wall of the shed.

I counted five squirrels in total running out of there. That was about four more than I was expecting. I think tomorrow I might go out there with my camera in hand, barge in on them again and see if I can capture the "Flight of the Squirrels" on film.