Sunday, March 1, 2015

Icy Days

The latest snow storm ended up being more of a slush storm than anything. Snow and freezing rain combined to form over an inch of slush all over the region. Then, the temperature dropped dramatically (again) which froze the slush into hard ice with footprint holes in it. It has been treacherous. It has been difficult to get out birding. Roxy and I tried to go to Lorimer Park the other day to check on the owls. As you can see, she was miserable:

Roxy at Lorimer

I was slightly less miserable due to a purchase that I made 15 years ago - ice cleats. You can see the frozen footprint holes in this photo too.

We are relegated to birding from the kitchen window.  The only interesting bird at the feeders this winter has been a Robin that is eating the seeds which is odd. He also chases away other birds if they get too close to "his" seeds. The woodpeckers are loving the peanuts. And the Blue Jays are totally gone. I can't imagine where they are.

View from the kitchen window
You can see a fresh coating of snow. It is snowing again as I speak. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ice Hawk

The old time name for Gyrfalcon is "Ice Hawk" because it lives above the arctic circle in places like Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. When word of one that has wandered south hits the Internet, birders go running. That happened last week when a Gyrfalcon was found in Wallkill New York. Marty and I decided to take a trip up to see it if it continued to be reported over the weekend. It was, so we headed up highway.

We arrived at the road where everyone had been seeing the falcon at 12:45. Only one other car was there. Not a good sign when such a rarity is reported. The guy told us that the bird was seen earlier but had flown out toward the other road. We stood there for awhile and a few more cars arrived. Marty started chatting with one of the guys and found out that he is a neighbor of Marty's sister. Go figure. I tried to photograph Horned Larks while we waited for the falcon to show up. You can actually see the horns in this photo.

Horned Lark
We stood there and stood there and finally, another birder got a phone call - the bird was on the other road. We all jumped in our cars and raced around the corner where we should have been all along. It was a "bird jam" of cars, people, scopes and cameras. Paparazzi. We jumped out of the car and . . . 

. . .there he was in all of his glory. An adult male Gyrfalcon. Far from home and livin' large.

The best part of the day was that this was a lifer for both me and Marty. It was also Marty's 600th ABA bird which made it even more special for him. This is us trying to show 600 with the Gyrfalcon in the background. 

Other DVOC members were there too - Linda and Mick. Funny - Linda and Marty and Linda and Mick

This is an awesome bird. The largest falcon, Gyrfalcons come in a variety of colors - dark, gray and white. This one is actually a gray phase because his back is gray. You can see the top of the wings here are gray. He was pumping his wings just before takeoff. 

When this guy flies, he is gone! One of the fastest fliers in the world, the Gyrfalcon is out of sight in a few seconds. He landed farther down the road in his favorite Spruce tree for a while, then headed down to the horse farm. We followed him but didn't get any better photos than these.

I think the saddest thing about the day is that the best photo that I have of the bird was taken with the iPhone through the spotting scope. Look at that! I might throw my camera in the trash soon. 

Gyrfalcon - iPhone
Another iPhone photo from the end of the day. We went over to the nearby grasslands in hopes of seeing Rough-legged Hawk and Short-eared owl. Got them both. Here is a digiscoped photo of the owl. Not as good as the other one, but this bird was pretty far away. 

All in all, it was a great day.  We didn't feel the cold. We didn't mind the 3 hour drive home either. We saw a Gyrfalcon. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Single digit temperatures combined with gray days and lots of work obligations have really put a damper on my birding efforts lately. I did manage to get out yesterday to chase a Thick-billed Murre with my friend Marty. No luck on the Murre but we did get to see some other cold hardy birds at Manasquan Inlet. You can tell why this bird is called Long-tailed Duck.

Long-tailed Duck
Here is a Red-necked Grebe floating past the jetty with a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers.

Thousands of Scoters were offshore - Black, Surf and White-winged. Here is a small sample of the flocks.

Scoters and Troller
It is pretty amazing that all of these birds can survive the frigid temperatures. Here are Dunlin huddled together on the ice covered rocks of the jetty.


Here is Purple Sandpiper hanging onto the ice too.

Purple Sandpiper
The birds were not the only frozen things on the jetty. Marty and I were braving the elements too. Waves splashing against the rocks. This was supposed to be a photo of another grebe. My camera changed focus as the wave crashed.

Just when I was wondering how crazy we were to be standing on the frozen jetty waiting for a bird to show up, this guy showed up. See, I'm not as crazy as you thought.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gray Days

The trip was not what I expected. There was a lot of time spent in the van driving all over Minnesota looking for birds along the road rather than getting out into the environment. Days spent glued to a hard bench seat  waiting for people to load and unload, peering through fogged up windows, passing time.

The weather was better than expected in some ways - the temperature was above zero - but a bummer in other respects - gloomy, overcast, snowy - the entire trip. Here is a typical view from the van.

North Woods - Minnesota
The gray conditions made photography very difficult. Its a good thing that our main objective looks good in gray. The group was getting very anxious about seeing the Great Gray Owl. We finally got to see this majestic owl on our last afternoon out. There he was posing for the photographers along the road. He sat there for a long time. We pulled up and got to spend about 5 minutes gawking and snapping photos when a guy pulled his SUV in front of the photographers which made the owl fly away. AARRRRGGGGHHHHH! Exuberance quickly turned to exasperation. I almost had a stroke trying to keep my temper under control. Most of the group thinks that I didn't but trust me, the guy wasn't physically harmed, so believe me it was under control.

Anyway, I did manage to get a few photos. Not my dream shots due to the low light conditions and my ineptitude with camera settings but at least you can see a big owl in the tree.

Great Gray Owl
Here is a cropped version. You can see the huge facial disks and the yellow eyes and the white bow tie that make this owl special.

Great Gray Owl
When the owl flew away, our leader ushered us into that damned van again to go see if we could find another owl on yet another country road. We did indeed. This one was back a ways in the woods behind a cabin. The cabin owners were not present but there were a few people in the driveway (far beyond the "No Trespassing" sign). They had a bucket which until very recently has mice inside. It became apparent that the reason that the owls were out and about is because people were throwing mice at them. Oh brother. The experience was becoming even more tarnished. Nobody said anything to the people with the mouse bucket but everyone was disappointed. Here is a photo of the owl waiting for another mouse to appear out of the magic bucket.
Owl in the woods
Once again, we loaded up into the van and went back to see if the original owl returned. It had. It was even darker by the time we returned. I tried a few more photos but it was futile. I gave up and just watched hi. When he looks at you, it is like he is looking directly into your sole. The brief moments that we got to spend with him were special despite the humans that tried to ruin it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Seeing Red

I wonder why so many birds have red in them. Most of the small birds that we have seen on the trip have some red in them like this Common Redpoll. ("poll" is an Olde English word for "cap")

Common Redpoll

Common Redpoll

Another red, well purple bird that is common up north is Purple Finch. We visited a few other bird feeders in the area which attracted these birds too.

Purple Finch
Even the squirrels are red. How cute is this little guy.

Red Squirrel
OK, there were yellow birds too like this Pine Siskin which has a hint of yellow. This one was picking seeds from the snow.

Pine Siskin
Of course, the Siskin doesn't hold a candle to the yellow of the Evening Grosbeak. This guy hung out on the bird bath to get a drink. Talk about eyebrows.

Evening Grosbeak
Sunrise was colorful too.

Sunrise over the north woods
Getting anxious now about seeing a Great Gray Owl. So far, we have struck out 3 times. . .

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bad Ass Bird

Northern Hawk Owl gets my vote for baddest bird in the land. We have seen 3 of these little monsters on our trip to Minnesota. Check it out.  Look at the way it perches.

Northern Hawk Owl
Look at that "V" brow that it has. And the intense stare. 
Northern Hawk Owl

Look at the way it can disappear into the surroundings. Look at the tiny stature and yet it is still menacing. 

Northern Hawk Owl
Look at the way it ignores other birds like this Common Redpoll. And the way it has no fear of perching at the top of trees. 

Northern Hawk Owl/Common Redpoll
Bad Ass Owl!  Another really bad ass bird that we saw on the trip is this Northern Goshawk. This is an adult male. It is a giant accipiter - about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. This dude will hunt and eat other hawks. That is bad ass. Check out the big body and relatively short (but powerful) wings on this bird. It is made to seek and destroy prey in the woods. Check out that evil red eye. Yikes! I was in the van, shooting this photo through the dirty window and was still a little scared of this bird. 

Northern Goshawk
From bad ass to cuddly. This Gray Jay was one of many that we saw on our trip. These birds always look happy with a permanent smile and light fluffy attitude. There are feeders set up in the Sac-Zim bog to attract some of the specialty birds. The Gray Jays take full advantage of the peanut butter. 

 Here he is after having his fill.

Gray Jay
The trip will not be complete unless we get to see our target bird - the Great Gray Owl. . . 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lake Superior

We finally made it to Duluth yesterday and got to see Lake Superior. We met up with the group leader at the hotel (Days Inn - don't ask) and headed out to the harbor on the lake to see some gulls and ducks.  Thayer's Gull is a cute gull that some birders think is just a form of Iceland Gull but it counts as another species. Thayer's Gull is one of the "white winged" gulls. You can see that that the wings don't have any black on them.

Thayer's Gull

Thayer's Gull
Here is another white winged gull - Glaucous Gull. This one reminds you of a Ring-billed Gull, only whiter.

Glaucous Gull
OK. I admit that these are not the most interesting birds but they are interesting to birders. Here is another bird that isn't very sexy to look at - Common Eider.  I love these birds. They winter off of the New Jersey coast so we get to see them floating around in the surf for a few months each year. They nest up in Maine and we got to see that a few years ago when we went to Hog Island. Why do we care about this one ( a drab female)?  Because you are looking at the first Common Eider to show up in Minnesota since 1959!  All of the birders who saw the last one are dead now. This is pretty rare.

Common Eider
These 2 lighthouses mark the channel.


We also saw 6 Snowy Owls. This one was perched behind a nursing home near the airport. We had to maneuver past the smoking nurses aids to get this photo. Cough, cough.

Snowy Owl
More to come. We went out for more birds today which will be posted tomorrow.