Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cranes at Dusk

           Tuesday I spent the whole day trying to photograph birds.  Starting out in my yard I didn't see anything of note except this Cooper's Hawk that visits pretty regularly.

   Headed to Lake Erie Metropark where I saw no migrating hawks.  From there I went to Ohio and refound the Snow Buntings at Maumee Bay State Park.
  Also a late season Great Egret passed by.
   From there I drove back toward Toledo and Woodlawn Cemetery to look for Red Crossbills.  Didn't find any  but got some shots of a female White-winged Crossbill and a Pine Siskin.

   Back in the fall of O-10,  a Whooping Crane made nightly fly-ins with the Sandhill Cranes at the roost in Haehnle Marsh in Jackson County.  Last year high water in the marsh kept even the Sandhills away.  This fall the Sandhills are roosting in record numbers which topped out over 7000 in early November.  Also last week the same Whooper returned.  What's so special about a Whooping Crane?  It is the tallest bird in North America standing about 5 feet tall.  It has a 7.5' wingspan.  In 1941 their population had dwindled to 21 due to hunting and habitat loss.  Even after years of  breeding programs the conservation effort has yielded a wild population of only 421 as of 2011. 
  Of course the cranes on Tuesday didn't start pouring into the marsh until after the sun had set, so picking out the Whooper among the thousands of Sandhills was impossible.  Here is a photo I took two years ago.
Whoop, there it is
Some more shots from Tuesday.

Northern Shovelers

     Everyone wants to live forever or at least leave a legacy.  Very few however have the legacy of their sense of humor etched in stone.

  Back on Thanksgiving, between the 8 hours of work, family get-together,and the cooking of the pierogis and kielbasa, I had time to do a load of laundry.  I took the laundry bag from the hamper in the bathroom down to the washing machine in the basement. 
Laundry basket looking deceivingly empty.
  Five minutes later when I returned the laundry bag to the hamper.  I found this....
Re-enactment of Baby Jessica stuck in the well
    It is well documented( ) that my cat Comet likes to hang out in the bathroom so that she can try to persuade anyone to turn on the water in the sink so that she can get a drink of fresh water.  Beside camping out on the counter waiting for someone to enter the bathroom, she also likes to wait on top of the laundry basket.  What happened here is that she tried to jump on top of the basket.  Being a cat she doesn't notice that the top has been removed.  So instead of landing on her perch she fell into the basket.  Being a quirky cat she didn't care and made the most of her predicament and settled in for a nap.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yard Crossbills

  This afternoon I spent a little time watching my bird feeders when I heard a flock of White-winged Crossbills fly over my yard.  With my camera at the ready, I was able to get some distant shots of them.  This is only the second time I've seen them from my yard.   They are the 91st species I've seen from the yard this year, breaking last years record of 90.

9 White-winged Crossbills

Composite photo of cropped images

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Red Crossbills Woodlawn Cemetery 11/18/12

Red Crossbill

  Reports of both crossbill species drew me to Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo after working a 13 hour shift this morning.  Through a thick morning fog that the National Weather Service promised would dissipate around 9am, I navigated my way in the light Sunday morning traffic.  Right on cue the fog started to burn off just as I pulled in the cemetery driveway.  Woodlawn has been the final resting place for many prominent Toledo residents since at least the 1870's.   The long history of this location results in many mature trees that attract a variety of birds. 

  Today the main attractions for the birds were the Sweet gum trees.  Here are some of the 600 photos I took today.
Red Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged(left), Red Crossbill (right)

Dark-eyed Junco

Pine Siskin

Red-bellied Woodpecker

White-throated Sparrow
   While strolling around the grounds in search of the crossbills, I ran into two other birders Chris and Jackie.  While talking to Chris I mentioned that I had worked all night and I was on my way home in a roundabout way.  I told him the line of work that I am in and he said he met a birder at the White Wagtail (at Pt. Mouillee in April of last year) who shared my occupation.  Turns out it was me. It made me realize what a peculiar way it is that birders can use a bird to describe a time and place.  For example, besides Chris I also met a birder named Mary at the White Wagtail,  John  and Karl at the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Scott at the White Pelican, Jim and Dave  at the winter American Pipit.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Accipiters in the 'hood

  Accipiters are long tailed hawks that often chase down and eat smaller birds.  In North America they come in three varieties.   The Northern Goshawk (from the Old English 'Goose Hawk') is the largest and least likely to be seen in southeast Michigan.  Locally the small and medium versions of the accipiter genus are the Sharp-shinned and  Cooper's  respectively.   In my yard the multitude of House Sparrows that raid my feeders serve as a kind of bait pile for the local Coops.  Yesterday two accipiters spent some time eyeing the sparrows.  The one perched on the utility pole is an adult Cooper's.  The second bird in the lower two photos is an immature.....Sharpie? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dog's big day

       There are many people who treat their dogs like they're one of their kids.   Sometimes dogs pick up on this and go through a rebellious 'teenage' phase.   Like this dog.
Identities obscured for legal reasons
       I don't know exactly what is going on here but I'm willing to take a shot.  What I figure happened  is that the dog took his owner's boat for a joyride without permission.   Being impulsive and irresponsible he never thought to check the gas tank.  He gets out in the middle of the Detroit River, runs out of gas and has to call the old man to tow him home.  I can hear the excuses......I didn't have any money.......I don't have opposable thumbs to operate the gas pump nozzle.....I didn't think....
That's just it, he didn't think.  There'll be no fire hydrant pissing for him for a while.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Golden Eagle

  The mostly sunny skies promised for the past two days never quite materialized. Today's gloomy start  prompted me to ditch my morning plans to go to the Lake Erie Metropark (LEMP)  Hawkwatch.  In the afternoon, the clouds hinted at breaking up and the noon infrared radar showed clearing in Ohio possibly heading northward. So, I decided to give it a go.  I arrived shortly after 2pm at the LEMP boat launch to find only Jonathan Stein, the official hawk counter.  A lackluster morning at the count site must have convinced the morning hawkwatchers that the day was going to be a bust. Well I certainly lucked out because within 10 minutes of my arrival, Jonathan spotted a Golden Eagle headed right overhead into the only clear patch of sky.  I was able to fire off a few photos of it as it passed over.  

Golden Eagle

The reason I go to Hawkwatch

    The breaks in the clouds got fewer and smaller until the sky was 100% clouded over in the meantime 3 more Goldens flew by and steady flow of Red-tailed Hawks kept us scanning the skies for the next hour and a half. 

   Here are some photos I took yesterday at LEMP Hawkwatch

Turkey Vulture

Not a fan of Proposal 3
Red-tailed Hawk
Bonaparte's Gull preparing to dive
Coming up empty
  For more information on Bonaparte's Gulls check out Paul Cypher's blog from yesterday..... . 

     Here are some photos that I took in my yard yesterday morning.
One of a pair of Pine Siskins that passed through.
Blue Jay close-up

Half a peanut wedged between a zip-tie, the TV cable and the slab of our backroom
   Q.  Who would wedge a peanut in the location shown in the photo above?   

   A.  This guy(girl).

Red-breasted Nuthatch

   If the Red-breasted Nuthatch is hiding peanuts around the yard does that mean it's planning on staying for a while?   Hope so.  Last winter (more accurately non-breeding season September- May) I had Red-Breasted Nuthatches only 5 days.  This season they've already visited the yard on 21 days.  In the winter of 07-08 I had them on 77 days while the next year 08-09 they only showed up on 4 days. 

   Back on Sunday October 28, I saw an unusual bird fly over my yard.  I initially noticed the white wing patches visible when the wings were open and size of the bird much bigger than a House Sparrow and closer to the size of a Robin.  Luckily I had my camera out and was able to capture a series of lousy photographs of its backside as it flew off toward the north. 
mystery bird
     I checked the photos on the computer later that day and still had no idea what it was. I didn't think there was enough info in the photos to bother sending them to a real birder to analyze. In fact with the crazy weather that followed (that had me checking the Lake Erie shore for ocean birds), I forgot all about the bad photos of the unidentified bird. 
    One week later (this past Sunday), I'm reading several posts to the SE Michigan and Ontario, Canada listserves about reports of Evening Grosbeaks out of their normal winter haunts.  The reports had me googling images and sounds of the Grosbeaks.  Then I came across a flight photo of a female Evening Grosbeak and suddenly I remembered the bad photos of the mystery bird with the wing patches.   I quickly threw together the composite photo shown above and emailed it to a birding expert who will remain unnamed.  He said it looks like a Female Evening Grosbeak.  Evening Grosbeak in my yard.   I would throw an exclamation point in there but I've made one rule when I created this blog and that was keep this corner of the internet an exclamation point-free zone.  I speak to my dog in exclamation points.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Good Hawk Day

  After a busy morning I paid a visit to the Hawk Watch at Lake Erie Metropark (LEMP).  As I arrived I was greeted with reports of how great the morning had been with Golden Eagles, Rough-Legged Hawks, Red-Shouldered Hawks and many Red-tailed Hawks all making appearance.  The clear skies that dominated in the morning gave way to mostly cloudy skies that I was accused of bringing.   In the three hours that I was there I saw quite a few birds but not the coveted Goldens or Roughies. 
Young Red-Tailed
Comparison of Red-tailed (left)  and Red-shouldered (right)
Young Red-Shouldered
   Among the many Red-tailed that I saw was a rare Dark-morph pictured below
Heavily cropped photo showing Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk

   As the cloud cover thickened around 4pm I pointed to the broken clouds to the northwest and joked to Pat Mulawa and Greg Smith "Looks like it's sunny at my house".  Since the hawk activity had died down I headed home and was indeed met with blue skies above my neighborhood.  Not only that but at 5:10 pm I had this bird fly over the yard.

Rough-legged Hawk
  It was the the first Roughie I have seen this fall and only the second one I've ever seen from my yard.

This week at Lake Erie

     During the past week I spent a few hours over several days on the western shore of Lake Erie looking for birds to photograph.  Last Saturday, October 27,  I went to the Lake Erie Metropark Hawkwatch to look for some of rarer late season migrants (Golden Eagle, Rough-Legged Hawk, Northern Goshawk).  Well I didn't see any of those but this Bald Eagle provided a nice photo-op.  Favorable weather conditions coming the next few days (Sat Nov.3- Mon Nov.5)  should bring some of the aforementioned rarities. 

Adult Bald Eagle  at Hawk Watch

      Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the East Coast earlier this week also brought a chance of ocean-going birds to the Great Lakes region, so I walked the shoreline in Erie, MI after work  a couple of mornings this week.  I didn't see anything too unusual but here are some photos that I was able to capture.
Greater Black-backed Gull (world's largest gull)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (which breeds on the Atlantic coast of Europe)
Forster's Tern (left), Bonaparte's Gull (right)
Young Herring Gull
Forster's Tern

On my Thursday morning stroll, I saw something out in the lake, among the birds, swimming toward shore.

What's that floating in the water?  Not Neptune's only daughter.
    It was a swimming weasel. More precisely a mink.....coming from where?  Who knows?  But it was motoring as if it was a triathalon participant. Not breaking stride as it completed it's swim and hit the beach running.

Mink after a morning swim
   With such short legs the bicycle portion of the triathalon was out of the question,  also the running was limited to a just a few strides before the weasel went........
.... airborne?
   Such a beautiful creature, it took all my inner strength not to club it to death with a piece of driftwood and skin it to make a winter hat.