Thursday, December 21, 2017

There's Cold and Then There's COLD

Before you say it, I know it was our choice to go to Canada in December so we get what we deserve. We we prepared for cold weather. The temperature was forecast to be between 5 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit. We had boots and hats and gloves and layers, layers, layers. We weren't prepared for this:

Dashboard Temperature Reading
That's a - before the 20. 20 below zero Fahrenheit. That's fucking cold. It was that cold even when the sun came up. We didn't venture far from the car. We couldn't. Even with the mittens and hats and boots and hand warmers and toe warmers, it was cold.

We spent a lot of time at the Visitor's Center too - for 2 reasons. First the cold, but also because one of our target species often hangs out under the bird feeders there. This critter is called American Marten or Pine Marten. It is a type of weasel that can climb trees.

Pine Marten
A-dor-a-ble. Right?

Pine Marten
He would eat the bird seed on the ground and then run up to the building and hang out next to the foundation. We figured out that there is a little pipe there that he must use to get a drink. Cute little critter but make no mistake, this is a predator. Look at those teeth and claws. He could rip you up.

Teeth and Claws
OK. One more photo just because. Look how cute he is with the snow on his nose!

Cutie Pa-tootie
It did warm up with temperatures above zero in the afternoon and the next day too. On our last day, we found an uncommon woodpecker on a hike. This aptly named woodpecker is Black-backed Woodpecker, a female.
Black-backed Woodpecker
Another fun thing to do in the park is photograph common and uncommon birds. Here is Todd bearing the cold to take a few photos of a Blue Jay. 

Even the Blue Jays look better up here.

Blue Jay
Up north, there is another type of Jay - Gray Jay. These are the same size as Blue Jays but somehow they look cuter. 

Gray Jay
They are really smart and figured out quickly that when people arrive, they get fed. Just put a little peanut butter on your finger and hold out your hand. Here is a photo of me feeding the jay that Todd took. You can see that the jay has bands on his legs. I think the park does this to keep track of them. 

Linda with Friend
The Gray Jays aren't the only birds that figured out that people equals food. Here I am feeding a Chickadee. 
Another friend
Birds and wildlife up here have adapted to the cold and snow. We found this flock of Pine Siskins on the road eating grit and salt after the snow plows came through. 

Pine Siskins in road
Sadly, some of them are not fast enough to get off of the road. We found 4 of them dead. 

Roadkill Siskins
Their little bodies were still warm when I picked them up. They are now on their way to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for study. I didn't think about whether that was legal or not but they didn't ask me if I had any dead animals in the car when we crossed the border. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

In the Ditch at Algonquin

Todd and I headed northwest to Algonquin Park in Ontario in search of winter birds and mammals. Once we entered the park's East Gate, we saw a big sign for Moose crossing. Of course, Todd wanted to get a photo for his sign collection. An easy task except that the side of the road was icy and sloped. Yup. We went into the ditch. Barely but that is all it took to get us hopelessly stuck. Todd isn't happy.

In the ditch
The ironic part is that Todd just finished telling me about how he got stuck in a ditch on his last trip to Algonquin when they spotted a moose on the side of the road. (a real moose, not just a sign)

Lucky for us this happened in Canada where everyone is sickeningly nice. A lady stopped right away and offered to go to the gas station outside the park and ask for a tow. About a dozen other cars stopped too. By the time the lady got back, another good samaritan with a big pickup truck was already pulling our car out of the ditch.

Getting a tow
Success! I was really happy not to have to wait for a tow truck. (or pay for one)

Here I am with both of the nice people who helped. The lady turned out to be a wildlife photographer too. The man was on his way to his daughter's house to celebrate early Christmas. Thanks to all who helped.

Heroes of the Day
And off we went to explore Algonquin park. Only one road is open in winter which stretches east to west about 40 miles. We stopped in at the Visitor Center to ask about any wildlife sightings. We were rewarded with a few good birds like Purple Finch.

Purple Finch
And this Evening Grosbeak. Such rich colors.

Evening Grosbeak
There are 2 types of crossills in the park - Red and White-winged. We heard and saw many of both species. Here is a shot of White-winged Crossbill that shows how the bill actually crosses. These birds use their bills to unlock seeds from pine cones.  

White-winged Crossbill
Our hotel was on the west side of the park so we headed out after a long day. Oh, in case you were wondering, Todd did take a photo of the sign . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Owls on Amherst Island

In the last post, you saw how many Snowy Owls are hanging out on Amherst Island. The island is known for owls and even has a place called "Owl Woods" where birders go to see owls in winter. Well, we drove down a very snow covered dirt road and found the woods. When we arrived, it was sunny. As soon as we got out of the car it started snowing sideways. Guess what we didn't find? Owls. Zero owls in Owl Woods. Busted. g

We thawed out in the car for a few minutes and headed back to the main road. By now, it was getting late and we hoped to see Short-eared Owls cruising the marshes and fields. Boy were we happy when we saw 2 "Shorties" flying together along the road just about the same speed as the car. And then 2 more joined them. They were all kind of chasing each other. 2 landed in a tree. Then, 2 more flew in. Then Todd yelled "stop the car!" He noticed one sitting on a post in someone's yard really close to the road. It was getting late and not great conditions for photographs but when you have a bird just sitting there . . .

We set the ISO to 2500 and just started shooting and playing with the settings. Here he is looking down at something. Check out the snow blowing sideways!

I backed up and put the bird in front of the sky for a different effect. The wind was whipping the bird's feathers up.

The funny thing is that Todd and I were talking about how hard it is to get a photograph of Shorties. They are usually down in the marsh or flying past you at dusk. Honestly, we couldn't stop taking photos of this bird. He just sat there and we just kept telling each other how we couldn't believe our luck.

All in all we counted 7 Short-eared Owls and got to know one of them pretty well. It was a magnificent way to end a very long day.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cold and Snowy in Canada

A quickly planned trip to Canada in winter? Sure. Why not. That was the gist of the phone call that I got from Todd while I was in Seattle last week. Now, we are freezing our asses off in Canada looking for winter birds and wildlife. This probably sound nuts to most people but it is a "normal" trip for birders. Our destinations are all in Ontario. We started on Amherst Island near Kingston.

Todd arrived at our house at 3 AM on Friday. We were well into upstate NY by the Canadian border by 8 AM but we had a problem - the windshield washer wasn't flowing. Big problem since we were driving through snow and salt and grime on Interstate 81. We found a service station near Ft. Drum NY. They figured out the issue and had us back on the road in about an hour. You should ask Connie to tell you what the issue was. Let's just say - I told her not to fill the washer tank with plain water and leave it at that. Even with the delay, we were on the ferry to the island before noon and had all afternoon to explore.

We found our first Snowy Owl about 1/4 mile from the ferry terminal and counted about a dozen over the next few hours. They were literally everywhere. The second owl that we found was sitting in a gnarly tree.

Then we found this one sitting on a fence post against a dark and stormy sky.

Just when we were thinking that all of the owls would be really far away, we spotted this one perched on a telephone pole a bit closer to the road.

We watched this bird fly down into a farmer's property and snatch something from between the hay bails. He sat there proudly clutching his prize.

When suddenly, another Snowy Owl flew in and attacked him knocking him off of the hay bail! The interloper screamed like a mad man.

Finally driving off the owl that had the prey. You can see that the first owl no longer has anything in his talons. He flew off beyond the farm.

The interloper took up position on the telephone wire right in front of us.

All of this happening with us in and out of the car and the farmer moving hay bails around the farm with John Deere tractors. Amazing!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Seattle Work Trip Nets 1 Life Bird and a Volcano

What a crazy work trip last week. So busy with meetings in Seattle that I didn't think I would have even an hour to be outdoors. Luckily, my boss and I had an hour to kill on Monday afternoon and went out to Marymoor Park in Redmond WA just to get outside. As luck would have it, we met a couple on the trail that told us about a Red-breasted Sapsucker pecking away at a tree further down the path. Check! Life bird!

I've missed this relatively easy bird on many west coast trips in the past, but not this time. The bird was in no hurry to leave. Bad news is that I only brought my binoculars and not my camera. You can see how close we were though since I managed to get this cell phone photo.

Red-breasted Sapsucker
I also had to head down to Portland OR to meet with some clients. The scenery was beautiful. Mountain ranges and big cedar trees all along the route. The weather was clear enough for me to see the major mountains (volcanos) that run along the Cascade mountain range. I saw Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood too. On my way back to Seattle on Thursday, I had a few hours of daylight so I decided to detour off the highway to see Mount St. Helens.

The Visitor Center has a gorgeous, but distant view of the volcano.

Mount St. Helens
Getting a closer look requires an hour drive. I made it pretty far up but the park road is closed in winter.

Imagine back to 1979 before the volcano erupted. This mountain had a pointed top. But then unexpectedly, BOOM! A cataclysmic eruption blew the entire top of the mountain right off leaving it looking like this. 

Mount St. Helens
A closer look at the back side of the volcano shows how the mountain top blew off and destroyed the side of the mountain. Pretty impressive to see first hand.

Mount St. Helens - eruption zone
If you have the opportunity to see it, you should make the trip.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fun Facts About Birds in Australia/New Zealand

Tim is my friend and coworker. He is a great guy but definitely NOT a birder by any stretch of the imagination He is a tech geek who takes tech as seriously as I take birding. He regularly sends us emails with interesting tech news. Today's tidbit reminded me of our trips to Australia and New Zealand many years ago - before blogs were invented. I thought I would pass along some interesting facts/stories.

Tim sent a link to a story about how Sulfur Crested Cockatoos (think Barretta's bird from the old TV crime series) are tearing apart the Internet cabling in Australia. Here is the link to the article: 

Its all true. Everything in Australia can kill you or disrupt your life. Even seemingly innocent birds! I’ve seen these birds in action. When I was at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, I watched one of the buggers follow a gardener around a fountain and pull out every flower that the guy planted. When I asked why the gardener didn’t shoo the bird away, he told me that they were protected species. He must have planted those flowers 3 times before the bird got bored and flew off. 

Here is a photo of the bird in the garden. Keep in mind, that the photos posted in this blog were taken with FILM (remember that?). I dug out the old photo albums and took iPhone photos of the photos to post here. 

Crested Cockatoos gardening
Hysterical! He was even showing a friend how to do it. "Look mate, just grab it by the flower and yank".

We saw other cool birds in Australia including the iconic Kookaburra. We sang the song alot.

Kookaburra sits in an old gum treeMerry, merry king of the woods is heLaugh Kookaburra, laugh KookaburraHow gay your life must be

This is the best photo that I could get. Back then the photography skills weren't what they are today (LOL). 

Kookaburras sitting in a gum tree
Connie and I took another trip to New Zealand in the 90's too. There, we were warned about another parrot-type bird called a Kea that would remove the rubber gasket around the windshield if you left your car in the parking lot for too long without feeding the birds. People regularly came back to the lot to find the windshields out of the car or at least, the wiper blades removed. Here is one in action on our rental car! 

Kea in action
Other tourists told us to feed the birds so that they left our car alone. Thankfully, we had some grapes in our lunch bags. These fuckers shake you down for food. Here is Connie feeding one. 

Connie shake down
They are pretty big birds with sharp, curved bills. They are prehistoric looking parrots. 

Our favorite birds of New Zealand had to be the penguins. We saw a few different species but finding the Yellow-eyed Penguin on her nest was amazing. They burrow holes in the hillsides along the coast. 
Yellow-eyed Penguin on nest
Ah, good times down under for sure. I highly recommend making the trip. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

There's Bird Chasing, Then There's This

One of the best things about Florida is that the birds are pretty tame in many areas. They are used to people walking, jogging, driving and boating by them. They are used to people with cameras snapping photos of them. But even though they are pretty tame, you still have to go out and find them like I did at Babcock-Webb NWR.

That's great, but what about this:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
What about when the birds come right to the front door? This Yellow-crowned Night-Heron did just that. Here is his Dad or Mom sitting on Steve's railing. Notice the Halloween lights!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Steve has names for all of the birds. Here are a few close up photos. I actually had to back up into the house to get in focus.

You can see the reflection of the front door in the bird's eye.

Why do the birds come to the front door? Because the neighbors feed them fish from the local bait store, that's why. Here is Lori with the Night-Heron and a Great Egret.

Lori and friend
The Night-Herons prefer clams, so of course, we obliged.

We had a lot of birds in the yard. Check out the Great Egret video.

And a herd of White Ibis too. I say herd, because they move together more like dinosaurs than birds. This one posed in front of the garden.

White Ibis

Fun times!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Babcock-Webb Again

Connie and I have this nasty habit of bringing cold weather to Florida when we visit. Makes it difficult to plan outings on the boat or other outdoor activities. On this trip, I ended up at Babcock-Webb National Wildlife Refuge a few times in the early morning even though it was pretty cold. I was really lucky to find a few interesting birds and get some photos starting with these VERY accommodating Limpkins. Connie and I first saw a Limpkin 25 years ago near Orlando. They are usually very secretive wading in dark places. Notice how bland their plumage is to hide them in the marsh and the swamps. This one seemed quite comfortable in the sunlight. He was even squawking loudly.

 After a while, he sauntered across the road like he owned it.

I found another one in a pond right at the park entrance. This one was more interested in finding a meal than worrying about me.

I also had good luck with a few other birds along a pretty deserted gravel road in the park. This juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron was trying to blend in but I found him anyway.

Black-crowned Nightheron
This Boat-tailed Grackle was grackling away.

Boat-tailed Grackle
This Green Heron posed for a long time and didn't care that I was practically standing right underneath the tree. They usually skiddadle as soon as they see you.

Green Heron
The best find of the day was watching 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers grabbing acorns from an Oak tree above my head. They also ignored me as I stood directly under the tree. This one flew into the same Pine tree as the heron. I guess he didn't want to be left out of the photo shoot. You can clearly see why this species is the owner of the name "Red-headed".

Red-headed Woodpecker
On the way out, I re-found the Purple Gallinule family feeding in the Alligator weed. This time, I got better photos. Check out those giant yellow feet. I have no idea how they navigate on the tiny stems.
Purple Gallinule
The juvenile struck a nice pose too. He navigated up in the weeds as if he has been doing it for years.
Juvenile Purple Gallinule

We killed some time with bird friends at the house too. More on that later.