Friday, February 26, 2016

Hey Toto, Looks Like We're in Kansas

Nothing screams mid west like a work trip to Omaha Nebraska and Tulsa Oklahoma. My coworker and I decided to drive through Kansas rather than trying to fly from Omaha to Tulsa. Of course, we stopped along the way in hopes of getting a life bird - Prairie Falcon. You may remember that Lori and I tried to see one of these birds in Amish country a few years ago but dipped. Spoiler alert - I dipped again at Shawnee State Park outside of Topeka Kansas. We did get to see many other hawks including Harlan's race of Red-tail which is black, a few Rough-legged Hawks and a dozen Northern Harriers. No falcon. Sigh. And no photos of the hawks. I think something is wrong with the focusing on the camera.

The big prize for me was stumbling across a flock of Smith's Longspurs in the grassland. I have only seen one of these birds which wandered to Stone Harbor Point a few years ago. My friend Harvey actually discovered that bird. Seeing this flock in natural habitat was really cool.  Here are  a few of them landing on the barbed-wire fence. You can see the "long spurs" on the middle bird.

Smith's Longspurs
Here is one perched. This little guy/gal let me get really close. Others were in the grass practically at my feet. You can see the orange wash on the belly which is a good field mark to separate Smith's from other longspurs. 

Smith's Longspur
Close up view. You can see how they would disappear in the grass due to their great camouflage. 

Smith's Longspur
The crazy thing about this trip is that we were in "Tornado Alley" with beautiful weather while the east coast was getting hammered with tornadoes. Crazy. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

President's Day

Some birders like to see how many birds they can find in the city limits of Philadelphia. So when a few rare birds from the far north showed up on Friday, cell phones lit up with text messages. I got the alert on Friday, but could not get out to see the birds until today.

An easy ride from Jenkintown to FDR Park in South Philadelphia due to President's Day. I have only been here a few times before and forgot how big the park is. There is a large lake in the center of the park. The rare birds were there with a few hundred of their cousins. Can you see the odd birds in the crowd? Here they are:

Geese at FDR Park
Did you spot this one:

Mute Swan
Or this one:

Snow Goose
Neither of those are the target birds. The target birds were sitting on the ice right in front of the pack. Look closely at the first photo again. Go ahead. Try to spot the geese that look a little different. A little smaller. A little darker. How about now?

Rare Geese
I admit, it isn't easy to pick these birds out of the crowd. Luckily, they were sitting smack in the front of the pack. They mostly slept while I was there but occasionally, one of them would get up and stretch. Here is one of them standing up for a bit.

What kind of birds are they? Barnacle Geese. These are geese of the far north typically found in Greenland and Scandinavia and northern places like that. Each winter, one or two show up in our area but usually in places that are not as convenient as a city park. My first encounter was down right dangerous. You might remember this post:  My Poor Car - from my big year contest.  These were MUCH easier.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Speaking of Sparrows . . .

I finally got to spend a whole day in Cape May birding last weekend. Harvey and I started in the Villas searching for the Varied Thrush that eluded me on my last trip. We spent a good amount of time walking the old fairways and finally got a fleeting glimpse of the bird as it flew past us at break neck speed. No photos and a really crappy way to get a life bird, but it is checked off the list. I hope to see more on my next trip out west which is where this bird belongs.

Once the Varied Thrush was found, Harvey and I headed out to see some other cool birds that were being seen at Beach Plum Farm in Cape May. This is a working farm where they have free range chickens and grow produce for the local restaurants. It is only open to the public on weekends which was fine since we were there on Saturday. Two sparrows were reported there - Lark and Vesper. Both are uncommon species that show up sporadically in our area.

Vesper sparrow isn't a particularly pretty bird. It is pretty drab gray/brown but has one distinctive field mark that you can see clearly - the white eye ring. This bird was very accommodating. When we arrived, the bird was flitting in and out of some hedges but decided to fly out into the driveway to pick at seeds on the ground. There were other birders and photographers there but I crept up the driveway on my knees to get these shots. The bird didn't care at all.

Vesper Sparrow
Here is the bird happily chomping on a seed.

Vesper Sparrow
What the Vesper sparrow lacks in wow, the Lark sparrow has in spades. This is an easy bird to ID in the field with unmistakable face pattern. Once again, creeping on my knees allowed me to get these shots.

Lark Sparrow
Here is the bird happily eating some grass seed.

Lark Sparrow
Back in the parking lot, we couldn't resist spending 25 cents to feed the chickens. Boy are they aggressive. Here is Harvey getting his hand bit off.  I will have to remember to bring the kids that visit us during the summer here.

Harvey's brood
Just down the road from the farm is the site of an old Magnesite Plant that was used during WWII. The plant is gone except for a water tower. The ground is so polluted from the spoils of the work that hardly anything grows there. The habitat is ripe for sparrows. Someone has bird feeders in the parking lot so Harvey and I took the short ride to see what we could see. Best bird was this Fox Sparrow. You can see why they are called Fox sparrow due to the color. Again, this one posed with seed for me.

Fox Sparrow
Why not round out the day by birding the beaches along the ocean. We stopped at Two Mile Beach just south of Wildwood to see some of the damage caused by the recent winter storm which dumped all of that snow up home. Hundreds of Welks washed up on shore. Here is a shot that I staged to show the Welk shells with the damaged sand dunes in the background. Harvey and I each left with a shopping bag full of shells.

Welk Shells - Two Mile Beach
We headed to Stone Harbor Point to see more birds. We caught a brief glimpse of a Pipit and actually heard it call "PIPIT". This Ipswich Sparrow posed briefly before disappearing behind the dune grass. This is another subtle beauty. Ipswich is a race of Savannah sparrow that are only found near the beach in winter.

Ipswich Sparrow
All in all, it was a great day for mid winter birding. Especially since the weather has been too warm to send the ducks, geese and seabirds south.