Friday, September 28, 2012

Hawk Watch 9/28/12

    Perfect weather conditions for hawk migraton at Lake Erie Metropark (LEMP) today, produced a good mix of birds if not great numbers of hawks.
Red-Tailed Hawk

Northern Harrier

Solitary Sandpipers

  Over 30,000  Blue Jays were recorded for the day.
One of 30,000 Blue Jays
Sharp-Shinned Hawk

   A couple of times each season hawkwatchers are treated to a little aerial sparring between Bald Eagles.  These altercations usually take place at a pretty high altitude, so it's tough to get decent shots of them.
Immature Bald Eagle

Two immature Bald Eagles (upper bird probably a 4 yr old)

Younger bird claiming its airspace

Sparring continues

Older bird in an upside-down defensive posture

Interaction went on for at least two minutes
  Light  north winds are forecast for Saturday Sept. 29th so there will potentially be more photo ops
to be had.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Red-Eyed Vireo v. Katydid

   Sometimes you find a bird doing something so fascinating that you feel compelled to fire off  86 photos in 3 minutes.  This morning I did just that when I found a Red-eyed Vireo in my yard trying to eat a Angle-Wing Katydid.

   Also of interest I was able to get a photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird trying to catch flying insects.

      I sent a photo of the following bird to birding expert Allen Chartier and he confirmed it was a Tennessee Warbler.  The bird becomes the 120th species and 20th warbler on my backyard list.  You can follow a link to Allen's blog "Michigan Hummingbird Guy" in the right hand column under 'My Blog List' heading.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Summer Purple Finch

Female Purple Finch
    Shortly after 9am EDT this morning with less than 2 hours remaining in the summer of 2012,  I photographed this female Purple Finch in one of the sycamores in my yard.   It was the earliest fall date for a Purple Finch in my yard, beating the November 1st female I saw eating sycamore seeds last year.  These finches breed in the forests of northern North America and are most likely to be seen in southeast Michigan during the winter season.  They move around erratically from year to year so they aren't necessarily seen in the same locations each year.
  Another bird more likely seen at bird feeders in the winter is the Red-Breasted Nuthatch.  I've been hearing them do their clown-car-horn imitation in my yard since September 13th (early fall date in my yard 9/11/10), but today I got a couple of good views of them and had a chance to get some photos.
Red-Breasted Nuthatch
   While the first winter birds are starting to show up they share the yard with the lingering birds of summer.  I'm still getting a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird or two hanging around my yard, last year I had a late date for them on October 2nd.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
   With summer and winter birds both represented let's move on to the interesting fall migrants I've had in the yard the past two days.
American Redstart
Nashville Warbler

  Yesterday I spotted a Merlin in my neighbor's Silver Maple tree.  Lighting was about a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.  I was able to get a decent portrait of it with a drab background by cranking up the camera's sensitivity to ISO 2500. 
   I also captured a couple of undynamic flight shots after it left its perch and flew past my yard.

     I had a Wood Thrush in the yard yesterday morning, it took off as I started to point the camera at it.  It was a new bird for my yardlist, number 119.

   Trying to keep up with these birds of overlapping seasons is enough to make your head spin

Head blurred at 1/125 second

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From My Yard

Broadwings riding a thermal

  As the calendar ticks past September 20th the Broad-winged Hawk migration is winding down.  Historically 88% of them have passed through southeast Michigan by this date.  Although there haven't been the epic 100,000+ count days at LEMP this year, I did set a new record for my yard yesterday when a kettle (group of birds gaining altitude on rising air columns called thermals) of 500 broadwings flew over yesterday. They were flying so high that my camera couldn't focus on them until they were losing altitude as they spread out and streamed out of the thermal.
The black specks are Broadwinged Hawks
  Shortly after the large group of hawks moved  through an immature Bald Eagle flew over.
It is the fourth day this year I've had at least one Bald Eagle fly over my yard after having 3 days each the past 3 years.
   Today I had 53 more broadwings fly over. They were much lower and I was able to get some decent photos, including the one at the top of this page.
Relatively low flying BW Hawk
  After the hawks  passed through I was entertained by two Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds fighting over my feeder.
I'll clean the feeder tomorrow

    Apparently there is a company that photographs boats from a helicopter.  I checked their website and they take pretty nice pictures.  They might have been  photographing my across-the-yard neighbor's boat that hasn't been in the water during the 8 years that we've lived here.  I wonder if they take pictures of backyard hawkwatchers' camera rigs. pilot coveting my camera
 Things I've learned this week
1.  The Broadwinged hawks will pass through between Sept 17-20 but maybe not where you want them to.

2.  The old disney movie 'Mary Poppins' was not a documentary and she may not even have been a real person.
   2a. While the movie was beloved for generations in the U.S., I'm told in England it has been characterized as setting US/UK relations back nearly 200 years.
   2b. Dick Van Dyke is not from England(independent verification needed).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Broad-Winged Migration Update

   In my previous post I mentioned the impending Broad-Winged Hawk Migration, well....... a massive push of hawks has yet to be observed at the Lake Erie Metropark (LEMP) this year but there is still time.  Strong winds from the north on Tuesday the 18th will get the hawks moving if the rain clears out early enough in the day but the strength of the wind may have them crossing the lower Detroit River/ Lake Erie obstacle farther south or even farther east than LEMP.
  The ideal conditions that were forecast for Saturday the 15th, for the most part were correct but historically only 11% of the Broadwings pass through by that date.  Although 400 BWs were counted at LEMP, probably a couple of thousand were observed a the Pt. Mouillee Headquarters by a group of birders that included Jeff Schultz, Scott Jennex, Mary Trombley, John Lowry and author, icon Kenn Kaufman.
  If you ever wonder if you're at the right location to observe a Broadwing migration, look around and if you see Jeff Schultz, you know you're there.  Jeff is like a hawk-whisperer with a knack for getting to the best location for intercepting flight lines.
a few Broadwings in a small kettle
BWs late in the afternoon at LEMP
    Here are some other birds I was able to photograph on Saturday.
One of several Bald Eagles that passed by the Pt. Moo HQ

Flock of Lesser Yellowlegs
Blue-Winged Teals
   One of the many birds that flew over that I wasn't able to photograph was a Palm Warbler, but it did produce this memorable exchange....
 Birder: "there goes a Palm Warbler"
 Kenn Kaufman: "They used to be known for landing on people's hands, that's why they call them Palm Warblers"
Several birders: "Really!?!"
Ken Kaufman(just sly laughter).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Broad-Winged Hawks through Polarizing lenses

Broad-Winged Hawk through a 500mm lens w/polarizing filter

    This afternoon I had 40 Broad-Winged Hawks fly over my yard.  At the time I was wearing polarized sunglasses which deepened the blue sky and made the birds much easier pick out.  I calculated the altitude of bird in the photograph above at between 1400 and 2100 ft, depending on a body length of 13-17 inches.
Most of the hawks that were detected without binoculars were in the zone of greatest polarization, which is an arc 90 degrees from the sun.
   This weekend will be the start of the brief massive push of migrating Broadwings over the Lake Erie Metropark Hawk Count area.  Last year on September 17th 190,000 Broadwings were counted.    Although Saturday may be a day or two early for a 100,000+ day, the weather conditions will be perfect with lots of sunshine and  light winds with a northerly component. So if you're heading out there bring your polarized sunglasses they may make spotting the birds a little easier.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Unrelated Thoughts (with gratuitous bird photo)

Cape May Warbler  in a demure pose
  Leading it off with a photo of a Cape May Warbler that has been visiting the Mostly Birds (but not always) home office the past three days.  The lawyers have made it clear this blog must contain more bird content if it is to retain the rights to its name.

  Spent an unintended extra four hours at the Mostly Birds (but not always) after hours headquarters this morning, which ate directly into planned birding time.   On my way home I did manage to make a cameo appearance at the Lake Erie Metropark Hawkwatch, to renew some acquaintances.  Caught up with Greg, Pat and John.  While there I was able to find the planet Venus shining in the midday sky.  Greg was able to find it quickly after I gave him a reference point and talk turned to weather balloons.  I told him that I saw my first one last summer and didn't know what it was.  A couple of weeks later I saw another and was able to get a couple of photos of it and could actually see the line connecting the balloon to its instruments.  Wouldn't you know it when I woke up this evening  I went out in the yard and spotted my third ever weather balloon.

Weather Balloon


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Home for a rest

To paraphrase the Canadian folk rock band Spirit of the West---"These so called vacations will soon be my death, I'm so sick of the drive, I need home for a rest."  

   Things I learned over the last 10 days on my Yellowstone trip.
     1. Grand Prismatic Spring has to be the most beautiful 2 acres on Earth. 
  2. Although rain is inconvenient and doesn't make for great photo-ops, it's a great fire suppression system.  The low humidity out there not only creates a volatile tinderbox on every hillside it also allows quick temperature swings.  The temperature was 100 degrees when we picked my wife up at Bozeman airport on Tuesday and 28 degrees on Monday when we dropped her off.
   3. The libertarian philosophy out west can show itself anywhere, at anytime and is completely understood by everyone present.  Take the four-way stop at the corner of N. Canyon and Yellowstone Ave. in West Yellowstone MT.,  where rather than passing through the intersection in order in which they stopped at their respective stop signs the drivers proceed in order of their level of disdain for the government and no one beeps their horn and middle fingers remain in their holsters.  It's as if Fox News told them that the stop signs were put there by President Obama.
    4. There is a speed limit on the interstates in Montana and its not the same as the road's number designation.  My co-driver  was given 3 souvenir points to carry on her driving record for the next 2 years. On the plus side she did knock of an hour off of our GPS's estimated time of arrival in less than 3 hours.  I'm told that while I was trying to nap the arrival time display was ticking down like a NASA countdown.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Yellowstone Continued

Grand Prismatic Spring viewed from Grand Asthmatic Trail

        The wildfire that started in Pine Creek, MT on Wednesday August 29 continues until the time of this posting.  As of Saturday evening it had burned 12,000 acres and was 30% contained.  The two photos below show the burning hillside on Thursday morning.
Pine Creek Fire

Pine Creek Fire Close up

   Our stay at the Centennial Inn was cut short by a night as we took off for a place less at risk after the wind shifted and the heat from the fire could be felt from a couple of miles away. 

Centennial Inn Livingston

Below are some random photos that summarize the sights seen the past seven days.      
Abstract of Insects on Glass
50 million yr old petrified tree
Pronghorn trotting
Bedstraw Hawk Moth Larva
Moonset over Yellowstone River
Moonset Elk at ISO 10,000
Mountain Bluebird
Old Faithful Inn
Thermophiles at the edge of a hot spring
Bull Elk crossing road
Different Elk
Actual Wolf that can almost be made out in inset
Pelicans group feeding
Pelican throwing back a cold one
Roadside Bison
Bison sparring
Osprey over Yellowstone River