December 27, 2009

Boulder CBC Scouting

On the 17th of December we scouted for the Boulder Christmas Bird Count which is on the 20th. Our territory is area 17 and it is on the west side of town in the foothills. Our area requires lots of hiking. We hiked up a ridge that topped out on Mount Sanitas where the view was spectacular . . . we could view all of Boulder. We then winded down the east side of the mountain and followed Sanitas Valley back down to the trailhead.

Bird Count:
Red-tailed Hawk - 4
Rock Pigeon - 13
Hairy Woodpecker - 1
Northern Flicker - 3
Steller's Jay - 5
Black-billed Magpie - 2
American Crow - 2
Common Raven - 2
Black-capped Chickadee - 1
Mountain Chickadee - 9
White-breasted Nuthatch - 2
Pygmy Nuthatch - 15
Canyon Wren - 1
American Robin - 1
Dark-eyed Junco - 5
Pink-sided Junco - 1
Gray-headed Junco - 5
House Finch - 1

Total Species = 16

Red-tailed Hawk - by Joel Such
Note: Blood on bill from its previous meal.

Overlook of Sanitas Valley from Mount Sanitas - by Joel Such

Overview of Boulder from Mount Sanitas - by Joel Such
Note: The reservoir in the photo is the Valmont Reservoir Complex.

December 15, 2009

Fountain Creek CBC/Valmont/Scott Rashid Talk

At 5:20 AM we were standing in the Fountain Creek Nature Preserve parking lot with Ted Floyd in Colorado Springs, after an insane 2:45 AM departure from our house to meet up with Ted Floyd for a 3:30 AM departure from Lafayette. Joel counted no less than 50 flaming meteorites during the drive from Lyons to Colorado Springs thanks to the stunning Geminid meteor shower.

We trudged down the icy trail in the pre-dawn darkness, hoping for owls, and betting on what our first bird was going to be. That question was soon answered, as a female Great Horned Owl called from across a frozen lake. We stopped at nearly every grove of promising trees, calling for a possible Western Screech-Owl. As the sun started peeking out over the horizon, we stopped hoping for the non-existent screech-owls and turned our attention to the diurnal avi-fauna which was starting to awaken. An American Wigeon called from the river, and a flock of juncos started bustling around. Song, White-crowned, and American Tree Sparrows were also calling from the brush in a dry flood plain. Suddenly a loud, rich, smacking chick (Ted says "like a junco on steroids") caught our attention. We quickly located the Fox Sparrow, which turned out to be the "Red" subspecies! "Red" Fox Sparrows are very rare this far west, so this was an excellent find (with the bonus of being a life bird for Joel)! We watched it for a while before it flew off, following the junco flock. Other highlights include not one, but two Swamp Sparrows (one adult and one juvenile), two Virginia Rails, about eight California Quail (we have no idea how they got there, but we are almost certain that they are not of wild origin), and a "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk.

After the long return journey to Boulder we stopped by Valmont Reservoir to go "gulling." There was a large flock of gulls out on the edge of the ice, and after methodically sorting through them, we managed to pick out an adult Glaucous Gull (a lifer for Marcel!), an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, and two adult Thayer's Gulls from the hordes of Ring-bills. We also found a California Gull and a couple of Herring Gulls, plus an Eared Grebe and a Prairie Falcon. While walking back to the car, we saw an awesome fly-over of thousands of both Canada and Cackling Geese. We tried to pick out some white geese in the fading light, but we were unsuccessful in this task.

Our day wasn't over yet! After parting with Ted, we headed north to Berthoud to hear Scott Rashid give his presentation on small mountain owls for the Foothills Audubon. It was an excellent talk, which we highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to hear it. We've put his book, Small Mountain Owls, on our wish list.

It was a twenty hour day . . . something we'd only do for birds. We apologize for the lack of photos in this post, as we unfortunately left the camera behind in our sleepy 2:30 AM departure.

December 8, 2009

The Harris's Sparrow has met its doom . . .

I glanced out the front door at our feeder trees and found myself being stared at by the false eye spots of a Northern Pygmy-Owl. The owl noticed me and took flight towards the creek, lugging with it some very large cargo. My mom got a glimpse of it flying away, while Joel had missed it entirely. Joel quickly slipped his bare feet into our dad’s Crocs, donned a light fleece jacket, grabbed his binoculars and quickly exited out into the miserable 5° F. snowy weather. I, on the other hand, put on cold weather gear and went for the camera equipment only to realize that the long lens was in the car that my dad had driven to work! Joel came back in for warmer clothes (his idea for “warmer” is sneakers in 10 inches of snow, still no gloves) and we both went out, Joel armed with a short lens attached to the 40D and myself carrying a point and shoot with video capability. Immediately, Joel and I spotted the small owl sitting in a ponderosa pine with its quarry. It flew off into another, low-lying deciduous shrub and began to rip apart its prey. Joel and I crept to within about 15 feet of it and were finally able to identify the victim, the Harris’s Sparrow!

Northern Pygmy Owl with its prey, a Harris's Sparrow
by Joel Such

Northern Pygmy-Owl with its prey, a Harris's Sparrow
by Joel Such

Can you find the Northern Pygmy-Owl?
Click on image for a closer look.

Northern Pygmy-Owl with Prey
Footage by Marcel Such

December 6, 2009

Harris's Sparrow!!!

For the past five days, our feeders have been graced by the appearance of a first-winter Harris’s Sparrow.  Arriving with the snow storm of December 2nd, it has stayed for nearly a week, resting and tanking up on food.  According to Colorado Birds (Andrews & Righter, 1992), the Harris's Sparrow is a very rare visitor to the mountains and foothills with only 22+ records (as of 1992).  We don't know how many records there are by now.  These birds commonly winter on the eastern plains, so this young bird presumably got blown west by the storm.

We're wondering how long this bird will stay, as another storm came in last night.  He had a chance to leave a couple of days ago, but it obviously wasn't ready to go.

Harris's Sparrow - by Marcel Such

Harris's Sparrow - by Joel Such

Harris's Sparrow - by Joel Such

Harris's Sparrow - by Joel Such

Cassin's Finch - by Joel Such

List of birds that were seen in the past five days at our feeders:

Cooper's Hawk - 1 individual swept through the feeders today hoping for a songbird snack 
Downy Woodpecker - A pair of locals that are present every day
Hairy Woodpecker - A local family (1 male, 1 female, 1 immature male) present every day
Red-shafted Flicker - A male and a female seen pretty regularly 
Steller's Jay - ~8 seen all the time
Western Scrub-Jay - 1 individual that has taken up residence the past several months
Black-billed Magpie - 3-4 individuals seen regularly
Black-capped Chickadee - one pair seen regularly
Mountain Chickadee - one pair seen regularly
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1 male seen off and on 
White-breasted Nuthatch - 1 individual seen regularly
American Robin - 1-3 individuals seen fairly regularly
Harris's Sparrow - life bird/yard bird/great bird!
Dark-eyed Junco - lots of these daily (five sub-species)
Oregon Junco
Gray-headed Junco
Pink-sided Junco
Slate-colored Junco
White-winged Junco
Cassin's Finch - one male came in with the storm and stayed 3 days
House Finch - a few pairs seen regularly (one is a variant male with a golden head)
Pine Siskin - one came in with the storm and stayed 3 days
American Goldfinch - a flock of ~dozen seen regularly

July 29, 2009

Return to Ouzel Falls

At the first river crossing, we saw an adult American Dipper fly under the bridge, and we did not see it fly out the other side.  We didn't investigate whether or not there was a nest under the bridge, because we were in a hurry to get to Ouzel Falls.  Another dipper was spotted flying downstream at Calypso Cascades.  I (Joel) also saw a Black Swift high in the sky while we were walking through the old burn zone.  When we reached Ouzel Falls, there were no signs of dippers anywhere, but we did see adult and juvenile Golden-crowned Kinglets in the firs near the river. We spent some time observing them before heading back down the trail.

While we were showing another hiker some Red Crossbills and distant Band-tailed Pigeons, we noticed that there was a Black Bear feeding on the opposite hillside.  People started piling up around us, as we observed the bear.  Many of them had never seen a bear in the wild before.  At the old burn zone, we saw a couple Wilson's and Yellow-rumped Warblers along with singing Hermit Thrushes.

Black Bear - by Joel Such

Wilson's Warbler with Fly in Bill- by Joel Such

Back at the first bridge, we peeked to see if there might be a dipper nest.  Sure enough, there was a nest on a boulder just under the bridge with two chicks.  We spent a lot of time observing the adult coming and going, as it fed the chicks.

American Dipper Flying in to Feed Chicks - by Joel Such

American Dipper Chicks in Nest - by Joel Such

Marcel Photographing American Dipper Nest - by Renee Haip

Just before reaching the parking lot, we found other hikers puzzling over a chicken-like bird with its two chicks grazing on Kinnikinnick berries along the side of the trail.  The birds were Dusky Grouse!  When we told the ranger about the grouse, he said that this local grouse had started out with 8 or so chicks, but now is down to two chicks with foxes likely having devoured the others.

Dusky Grouse - by Marcel Such

Dusky Grouse - by Marcel Such

Dusky Grouse Chick - by Marcel Such

Below are a couple photos of butterflies we saw that day.

Weidemeyer's Admiral - by Joel Such

Hoary Comma with Opened Wings - by Marcel Such

Hoary Comma with Closed Wings - by Marcel Such

July 20, 2009

A Two Lifer Day (aka Our Mom's Belated Birthday Hike)

Yesterday morning we hiked to Ouzel Falls in Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park.  Black Swifts nest behind this waterfall.  Besides the swift, our two other "target" species for the day were Golden-crowned Kinglet, which we should have seen long ago, and American Three-toed Woodpecker, which is making a comeback due to all the trees infested with Pine Beetle.

We scored on Golden-crowned Kinglets right away (lifer #1)!  There were two of them calling to each other near Copeland Falls.  We also got a quick glimpse of a Warbling Vireo where the kinglets were.  At Calypso Cascades we first heard, then saw, four Brown Creepers “creeping” up trees while foraging right along the side of the trail.

Brown Creeper - by Joel Such

At the old burn zone we saw a MacGillivray’s Warbler pair in some young Aspens and a Hermit Thrush singing in the top of a tall snag.  Other Hermit Thrushes were singing in the distance.  At Ouzel Falls there was a very tame Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel that was begging for handouts from other hikers and having much success.  Of course, we ourselves didn't share with the ground squirrel.  Not only is it illegal to feed wildlife in the park, we personally wanted to consume every morsel of our own snacks!  

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel - by Joel Such 

Below Ouzel Falls by the bridge we spent quite a long time observing a busy adult American Dipper (or Water Ouzel) actively feeding three fledglings.  There were a lot of people out on the trail today, but few seem to notice these amazing little birds dipping and diving into swift moving currents.

American Dippers (adult on left, fledgling on right) -
by Marcel Such

Fledgling American Dipper - by Marcel Such

Fledgling American Dipper - by Marcel Such

Fledgling American Dipper Begging - by Joel Such

Fledgling American Dipper - by Joel Such

Fledgling American Dipper - by Joel Such

Traveling beyond Ouzel Falls, we discovered that there was a side trail that would take us into different territory for a portion of our return trip.  It was starting to threaten rain, so we had to hustle back down the remaining three miles of trail.  On the way down, Joel spotted two Black Swifts “swiftly” flying by (lifer #2).  Back on the main trail, we found a flock of “Gray-headed” Dark-eyed Juncos, which is our only local breeding subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.  There were actually more streaky juveniles than there were un-streaked adults.  Marcel also found another adult dipper as we neared the trailhead, this one feeding just one fledgling.  When we neared the parking lot, the sun emerged again.  It was a nice two-lifer day with some extra entertainment thanks to the creepers and dippers!

And oh . . . Happy Birthday, Mom!

June 9, 2009

Odd-Looking Grebe

While working through my photos from this year's trip to Texas, I (Marcel) came across this photo of a grebe.  At the time the photograph was taken, there were both Least and Pied-billed Grebes in the pond, and I had assumed this was a Least.  A few days ago, I looked at this photograph more closely and realized that something was amiss!  I wondered if it could be a Least x Pied-billed Grebe hybrid.  However, Pyle says that this type of hybrid has never been recorded before.  I sent it to Tony Leukering and he also suspects that this is what a hybrid of that cross would look like.  Note the huge bill and yellow eye.  The only other option I can think of is a Least Grebe with a deformed bill.

Odd-looking Grebe
Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco, Hidalgo County
February 23, 2009  - by Marcel Such

If you have an opinion on the identity of this bird, please leave a comment.

June 2, 2009

Check Out the Eyrie

American Avocet at Blanca Wetlands - Joel Such

We recently attended the 2009 Colorado Field Ornithologists' Convention in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.  Check out the ABA's Young Birder blog "The Eyrie" for my write-up, and some more of Joel's (and our mom's) great photos from the convention.

May 18, 2009

2008 ABA/Leica Young Birder of the Year

Thanks to the American Birding Association and Leica for putting on this annual competition. A big thanks also goes to the judges for the time and effort they spent evaluating work and providing thoughtful feedback.  We enjoyed it, learned a lot, and encourage other young birders to participate in this event.

Marcel's Photography Samples

Lincoln Sparrow
Melospiza lincolnii

Neotropic Cormorants
Phalacrocorax brasilianus

Calidris alpina

Laughing Gulls
Larus atricilla

Joel's Illustration Samples

Williamson's Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus thyroideus

Charadrius vociferus

 Juvenile American Robin illustration from Field Journal

Joel's Field Journal Samples

Journal Entry - 2 Page Spread

Journal Entry for Western Scrub-Jay

From the ABA website . . .

ABA/Leica Young Birder of the Year

2008 Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2008 ABA/Leica Young Birder of the Year Contest, and thanks to all who participated in the event.

Overall 2008 Young Birder of the Year
Joel Such (Age 10), Lyons, CO

Notebook Module
Ages 10-13 - Joel Such (Age 10), Lyons, CO
Ages 10-14 - Harold Eyster (Age 14), Chelsea, MI

Ages 10-13 - Joel Such (Age 10), Lyons, CO
Ages 10-14 - Harold Eyster (Age 14), Chelsea, MI

Ages 10-13 - Megan O'Brien (Age 13), San Jose, CA; Dakota Outcalt (Age 11), Rockford, IL
Ages 14-18 - Sarah MacLean (Age 16), Escondido, CA

Ages 10- 13 - Marcel Such (Age 12), Lyons, CO
Ages 14-18 - Malkolm Boothroyd (Age 16), Whitehorse, Yukon

Another Birding Trip to the Plains

Yesterday we again went out to Crow Valley Campground, the Pawnee National Grasslands, and Lower Latham Reservoir.  This time we were birding with Raymond Davis and John Vanderpoel.

Swainson's Hawk (probably looking for juicy insects)
by Marcel Such

Who's This Brown Bird? - by Marcel Such

Hard to Mistake from this Front View . . . 
A Singing Western Meadowlark - by Marcel Such

Hooded Warbler in Motion - by Joel Such

Magnolia Warbler - by Marcel Such

Horned Lark - by Marcel Such

A Fat and Juicy Grasshopper for Swainson's Hawks
and Other Birds! - by Joel Such

Lark Bunting . . . Another Bird That Enjoys
Grasshopper Snacks - by Joel Such

Black-tailed Jackrabbit - by Joel Such

Evening Primrose - by Joel Such

Horned Lark - by Joel Such

Western Grebe - by Joel Such

Immature Yellow-headed Blackbird - by Marcel Such

Adult Male Yellow-headed Blackbird - by Marcel Such

American Bittern - by Marcel Such

Can you see the bird in this picture?  You have to look hard for some of these birds!  This Virginia Rail is Obscured by the Cattails, as usual! - by Joel Such
Click on the picture for a closer view!

Burrowing Owl - by Joel Such

American White Pelicans - by Marcel Such

Day List (species Joel and/or Marcel saw on the 17th of May).

Canada Goose
Wood Duck – a pair on WCR5
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Lesser Scaup
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Ring-necked Pheasant – FOY
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark’s Grebe – maybe, not counted
American White Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
American Bittern – a couple at Lower Latham Reservoir
Great Blue Heron
White-faced Ibis
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Swainson’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Virginia Rail – 1 
Sora – heard only
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Baird’s Sandpiper – one on WCR 42
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson’s Snipe
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope – life bird
Franklin’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Common Nighthawk – Crow Valley
Common Poorwill – at Home
White-throated Swift
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Dusky Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher – Crow Valley Campground
Say’s Phoebe
Western Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Shrike
Plumbeous Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Blue Jay
Pinyon Jay – Davis’s house
Black-billed Magpie
American Crow
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
N Rough-winged Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Mountain Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
House Wren
Marsh Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird
Swainson’s Thrush
American Robin
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Tennessee Warbler – one at Crow Valley Campground
Orange-crowned Warbler
Virginia’s Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler – one immature at Crow Valley
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler – one male at Crow Valley
Green-tailed Towhee
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Lark Bunting
Savannah Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
McCown’s Longspur – lifer, a couple on Murphy’s Pasture
Black-headed Grosbeak – a couple at Crow Valley
Bobolink – a few at McCall Lake
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Bullock’s Oriole
House Finch
Red Crossbill – two males at Davis’s house
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow