Thoughts after First Year Butterflying

Since I haven’t had time to bird the last two months I thought I’d take time to recap my thoughts after my first year butterflying.

Probably a harbinger of things to come but I found butterflying more satisfying than birding on many levels.

First Year Butterflying

An Anise Swallowtail in Western Colorado last June.

Pros

I can see more Bushwhacking (exploring) down the road to find butterflies.

Maybe my memory has faded from my beginning birding days but there seems to be more things to learn than with birding. Which I like.

Besides learning the physical appearance and ID of the butterflies you need to learn the host plants and where they grow. And if you want to take it a step farther you can learn and look for the egg, larva, and pupa.

You look for butterflies in the heat of the day. Which I really like. (Note all my posts from Western Colorado to be in 90 degree heat!)

In the summer when it is the 80’s and 90’s I can look for butterflies after work. Birds are usually quiet at that time.

Butterflies usually sit for analysis and study – unlike most birds.

Cons

Can’t go looking for butterflies if raining or cloudy.

In Indiana on a typical day you’ll see far fewer species of butterflies than birds. This doesn’t bother me as long as you are seeing a few. For comparison in Indiana with work you could annually see 300 species of birds versus 80-90 species of butterfly.

Butterflies mainly fly April-September in Indiana. You can go birding anytime.

Similarities

To be “good” at either it’s hard work. Nothing is easy. But probably since its new Butterflying seems harder.

Like bird migrants there are certain butterfly species that only appear for a short period of time.

Several butterflies are tied to a particular habitat, more so than birds. But to see gulls and large numbers of waterfowl you go to certain locations. So somewhat similar. But that also means you won’t see as many butterfly species at the local park.

And soon I’ll post thoughts on a larger level of butterflying.

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Western Colorado Black Butterfly

This past Sunday morning I finally found time to get out before the deluge hit.  The dark skies prohibited photos but there were numerous Golden-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Without photos from Sunday I’ll use material from June’s Western Colorado trip, particularly a Western Colorado Black Butterfly.

Without the chance to get out the past weekends I’ve been going through photos from last summer. After doing the Uncompahgre Plateau Breeding Birding Survey I spent the afternoon in an alpine meadow watching butterflies. Since I’m still a rookie with butterflies I’ve waited to gain knowledge before I attempted to ID the ones I photographed. So it came as a mild surprise when I came across a black butterfly.

As you can tell by comparing it to the dandelion head it’s not very big.

It then headed over to a fence post where it hid from the sun for a few minutes.

This is the best photo of the black butterfly.

The previous photo cropped and slightly enlarged.

I would like to ID this as a Magdalena Alpine but a couple of things stop that call.

First, it’s size. A Magdalena Alpine is slightly smaller than a Clouded Sulphur. Looking at the first photo and comparing to the dandelion head this is smaller, maybe Eastern Tailed-blue size. The expected Common Alpine is that size.

Second, the expected range for the Magdalena Alpine is the higher Rockies of Central Colorado. I was at 9000′ feet so maybe the elevation was correct but the location wasn’t.  The Common Alpine is expected in Western Colorado.

Third, the angle of the forewing looks more like a Common Alpine at rest versus the Magdalena.

And lastly, take a look at the next photo. This is why you should take notes immediately and tag photos. I’m not 100% certain this is the same butterfly but the time stamps fit. This shows the reddish eyespots of the Common Alpine.

Black Butterfly

I’ll now post a few photos on one of the internet ID help pages and see what kind of reply I receive.

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Motionless Colorado Squirrel

October might go down as the first month since October 2012 that I don’t put a checklist in eBird. Which means I haven’t done any birding. Someone quit at work which lead to a cascade of organizational changes so I’ve been covering 2-3 different positions which means long hours and weekends. At least until everyone is up and running marginally. The good news is it should be wrapped up by November 1 and I’ll be in a new position. Well really it is my old position which I liked but means no travel. So I should have more rest and be ready to go out on weekends. And blogging regularly. But I thought I’d take a few minutes to show a motionless Colorado Squirrel.

On the last day of my June Western Colorado trip I was walking up Devil’s Canyon when I noticed a squirrel on top of a tree. And I mean the very top. And it stayed there for the 10 minutes or so I watched.

I have no idea what it was doing. It never moved or made a sound. And there wasn’t anywhere around that was higher ground. So was it trying to get away from something?

As you can see the squirrel was on the highest branch. Maybe it was waiting for a dragonfly to come by for breakfast?

There it is in the center of the photo on the top of the tree. Why?

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Couple of Western Colorado Wrens

One of the main species I wanted to see on my Western Colorado trip in June was a Canyon Wren. Most field guides state the wren is more often heard than seen and this had been the case on my previous trips. I had heard Canyon Wrens numerous times but one never presented itself in the open. So when one popped out of the rocks the first day of the trip I took the opportunity to observe it. Along with a Rock Wren I present a Couple of Western Colorado Wrens.

Canyon Wren

On the way to the Uncompahgre Plateau Colorado State Route 141 winds through the canyons cut out by East Creek. There are several pull-offs which give the opportunity to see different species. And a Canyon Wren was calling at my first stop.

“What’s going on out here?” The Canyon Wren must have heard me pishing for vireos in the trees along the creek.

 

“OK, it looks safe. I’ll come out for a few minutes.”

 

I’m not sure what its eating but anytime a wren shows its colorful tail it makes the day.

And one last look before it jumped down into the crevices.

Another one of those encounters when I didn’t know to watch or take photos. Luckily the Canyon Wren stayed out long enough because even though I heard several more I didn’t see one again on the trip.

Rock Wren

Now Rock Wrens are more inviting and I haven’t had a problem viewing them. But I’m amazed at where they turn up. On the Douglas Pass BBS run one turned up at the top of the pass, right on the edge of the rocks. Was it gawking at the scenery with the rest of us?

And when I hiked up Devil’s Canyon there was another one out on a ledge.

Here’s a view of the canyon. I’ll end up on the left side.

Up into the canyon. I’m going to end up about halfway on the right ridge where the trail ends. No access to the very top.

A view away from the top looking back on the Grand Valley.

A closer view of one of the unbelievable rock formations.

I finally saw the Rock Wren after hearing it sing for a few minutes. It was located on the rock cropping in the center of the square. I didn’t bother to crop my head shadow out!

There he is sitting on the edge of the rock.

He was sitting and singing like he had no problems.

Western Colorado Wrens

A final photo to show the zoom capabilities of the Nikon P900. And like the Canyon Wren check out the tail.

With the temperatures already well into the 90’s by mid-morning it was time to head back down the trail.

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Butterflies September 17

The unusually hot Indiana weather in September – high’s in low 90’s with no clouds – had people complaining about not being able to do their afternoon activates. But for a guy who goes to the semi-arid world on vacation it didn’t bother me. In fact, it felt good. So I was out on the weekend afternoons and can now present Butterflies September 17. And a few photos from August also.

Since I’m still learning butterflies I didn’t stray far from home. Mainly the pond area out back and the local parks. But those areas provided plenty of learning opportunities.

Butterflies September 17

Common Checkered-Skippers made their appearance the weekend of the 23rd. I learned they are migratory and disperse north from Southern States in the fall.

A Common Buckeye kept throwing me since I hadn’t learned its fall pattern.

This was what I was expecting Common Buckeyes to look like this. It was the most numerous butterfly seen mid-month.

If you haven’t heard Painted Lady are having an outbreak this year. It was numerous from mid-month through the end.

By looking through the forewing I could ID this Question Mark from an Eastern Comma. The fourth spot is missing.

A Northern Pearly-eye was a surprise find at Eagle Creek Park.

A Hackberry Emperor also from Eagle Creek Park.

Fiery Skipper is a migrant and I started noticing them arriving from the south early in the month.

I’m sure Sachem had arrived from the south over the summer but I didn’t notice until September.

Peck’s Skipper

For the year I’ve logged around thirty species of Butterflies in Indiana. And I still have a few more photos to ID. Plus ID photos from Colorado. Hopefully things will settle down by the end of October and I’ll start getting caught up. But I’m not counting on it.

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Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds

Before I head out on another short trip I thought I’d post about Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds. This post should have been written two month ago but finding the time in the summer is tough. Between birding, learning butterflies, and work I never seem to wrap up Colorado. And I still have a story or two.

Before I discovered the problem with trying to run the Baxter Pass BBS and ended up doing the Uncompahgre BBS, I had already spent a day on the Uncompahgre Plateau. This in reflection turned out to be a good thing since, even though I didn’t mean it to be, it was a good scouting trip.

One of the main goals of the trip was to put to bed some of the local birds, both visually and photographically, I had missed on previous trips. And I luckily took care of several of them early on the first day.

I was hoping for a decent photo of a Black-headed Grosbeak on the trip. Mission accomplished at the second stop.

Same stop, other side of the road. A male Western Tanager singing and moving through the trees. I’m sure I’d heard one in Oregon years ago and previously in Colorado, but it didn’t go onto the life list until this guy.

And back across the road again. I really wanted a good view of a Scrub-Jay. This Roodhouse’s variety was quite obliging.

Down the road I noticed this sign. I had known the Telephone Trail was the spot for owls, and now I knew where to go. This is a few miles from the start of the BBS route. So next year up at 3AM for owls!

The rest of the day I had a few other stops that will get their own posts, but here are a few more photos to wrap this one up.

A Brewer’s Blackbird teed up nicely. Of course I thought it was a Common Grackle at first. And maybe second… It might have taken eBird to finally make me decide.

Yes, the branch is in the way, but I like how the Green-tailed Towhee’s colors shine in the morning light.

Western Colorado June 17 High Country Birds

And lastly a Dusky Flycatcher that was nesting nearby. I heard it calling, got a photo, and watched it take food back to the nest. I don’t usually get that lucky.

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The Paradox of Hot Spot

In the past few weeks I have seen more birders than any time since we moved to Indiana. And this includes Big May Days and Christmas Bird Counts. The reason is I encountered the Eagle Creek Sunday Group one weekend and went on Don Gorney’s Fort Harrison State Park Sunday morning walk the next weekend. And it was fun to be among all the birders. So much so I’ll continue to go occasionally. But seeing the birders at those locations once again brings up The Paradox of Hot Spot.

Does a “Hot Spot” that theoretically increases ones odds of seeing more species outweigh birding lesser birded areas to increase bird data? Because the way we are headed is getting repeated data from certain “Hot Spots” like Eagle Creek.

But as most things the truth probably is in the middle.

Mike and I visited Eagle Creek’s Marina for the second time this month in hopes of seeing warblers. And we did along, with several other birders. This is still strange since I rarely encounter birders at my usual spots.

A Blackpoll Warbler sitting up nicely enjoying the view.

If not for the twig this would have been a good photo of a Cape May Warbler.

And later in the morning we birded the north end and saw a nice variety of shorebirds. Plus encountered several other birders.

This is an ID photo of a Baird’s Sandpiper.

And one of two Stilt Sandpipers working the mud flat.

Paradox of Hot Spot

Would this be the same young Laughing Gull I found a few weeks ago?

In the past I have birded areas where I go the entire day and not encountered birders. (Bushwhacking) And probably not as many species. But I always feel good at the end of the day finding my own birds and adding to the overall data.

But not many people do this type of birding. Most are lured by The Pull to a “Hot Spot” to see birds. So as much as eBird is expanding citizen science data, in my opinion it also promotes birding at certain “Hot Spots” only. Which to me is a paradox.

So how to overcome this? Not sure since it’s probably been happening since birding started. Data from repeatable surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey will still be used for future conservation efforts. Maybe eBird could include something like a repeatable, timed route. But like I have posted before people won’t do those since they are lured by The Pull to a Hot Spot.

Going forward I’ll hopefully be able to split my time between “Hot Spots”, since I need to do more Social Birding, and my less birded areas. We’ll see.

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Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation

As I posted back in early August, from time to time I think of something I should write down as a Birding Rule. So I started out with the first Bob’s Birding Rules. Soon after I had another encounter I wanted to document but for a variety of reasons was prevented from writing the post until now. And it wasn’t really a Birding Rule, so I’m going to start a list of observations. So here is an Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation.

Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation – The Owl is Closer than you think.

And I mean lot closer.

Periodically in the non-breeding season (breeding season is mid-March – early May) I check a few places to see if Eastern Screech-Owls are present. My procedure is to go out an hour before sunrise on a windless day. (And in my opinion Eastern Screech-Owls are more crepuscular than noted, but that’s a different story.) I play a recording for about two minutes and wait.

Inevitably I will hear the soft trill of one or two calling nearby after missing these silent creatures fly in.

Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation

A poor photo but one showing an Easter Screech-Owl is close, maybe 4-5 feet. Trilling softly.

And here is where I make my mistake.

In the morning twilight I can usually make out their silhouette and even see a few features. IF I CAN FIND THEM. The problem is I’m looking 20 or 30 feet away in trees when they are only 3-4 feet away on the closest branch trilling very, very softly. I only figure it out when I move and they fly off screeching.

So how do I ensure I don’t make the same mistake again?

The night before I go owling I make breakfast and lunch for the next day. And since I have to get up and go early instead of waiting and enjoying coffee, I review a checklist of what to take the next morning. I lay it all out and I’ll be ready to go.

I’m going to add to the start and end of the checklist – “Remember owls will be closer than you think!”

And another thing I’ll add is the odds are there will be a Barred Owl nearby watching the action. Always is.

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Of Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos

There are certain species you group together and others that never cross your mind in the same thought. And I can’t say I thought of Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos together until this past summer.

After 20 miles of the 25 mile route of the Uncompahgre BBS route in western Colorado I could tell things were slowing down. At an elevation of 9500 feet there wasn’t much habitat left except for the occasional Alpine Glade. I wasn’t seeing many species and the few I encountered were calling less and less.

Except for Warbling Vireos.

I think every Alpine Glade had one or two calling.

This is an Indiana Warbling Vireo. I didn’t have time on the Uncompahgre BBS to get a photo.

And then it dawned on me things weren’t all that different from running the BBS routes in Central Indiana. The further away I got from the trees and water of the Big Blue River on the Shelbyville BBS and went further east into the agriculture lands birding slowed down dramatically.

Except for Horned Larks.

It seemed every stop past 20 miles had a few calling or landing on the road. And not much else.

And these aren’t Indiana Horned Larks. The Connecticut coast at Christmas.

I find it eerie how two things totally unrelated make you recall the memory of one another. There’s nothing even similar about the habitat or the birds to tie the two experiences together. Just the lack of birds.

Not many birds in this environment, just Warbling Vireos from distant Alpine Glades.

The start of the BBS route had numerous birds calling and flying by. Exciting. But I didn’t think “Oh, this reminds me of the start of the Shelbyville BBS”.  Or any other experience.

Horned Larks and Warbling Vireos

And nothing in the Indiana corn fields besides the occasional Horned Lark.

I think what it comes down to is at the start of both routes I was living in the excitement of the present.

And it must have been the slow birding at the end of each route that let my mind wander to other times and tie the two experiences together.

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Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe

As regular readers know I don’t rush to post the same day. I usually take my time and write the story. Then add a few photos. But after two uncommon and one early species I’ll make an exception. So on with Sunday’s morning Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Eared Grebe.

Update – Don Gorney and Aidan Rominger refound the Horned Grebe this afternoon and identified as a Eared Grebe. A closer look at my photos and I have to agree. Thanks for taking the time to double check.

Laughing Gull

The plan for Mike and I was to bird the Marina area of Eagle Creek Sunday morning. As usual we stopped by Rick’s Cafe Boatyard for a quick scan of the southern part of the reservoir. We saw the expected Osprey and Double-crested Cormorants and were about ready to leave when I noticed an odd gull not very far out. The bird’s bill seemed to dark and droopy for a Ring-billed. Spike S. was also present and thought the tail seemed long for a Ring-billed. Upon pulling out the scope it was definitely a young Laughing Gull.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe

A cropped photo which I think shows the Laughing Gull’s drooped bill.

The best photo I could get in the morning light.

American Avocets

With warblers hopefully waiting we moved on to the Marina. The leaders of the Sunday morning walk were there early and we were looking for warblers when Becky, I think, first called out American Avocets flying over. A straightforward ID being black and white with long bills and legs.

We watched them go north looking for a place to land. Not finding anything they came back by us heading south. They did the same south to north pattern three times and never put down but allowing us great looks. The last view had them flying south.

American Avocets heading north up Eagle Creek Reservoir.

The Avocets came closer on their second pass by to the south.

Horned Grebe

A little later while scanning the water I found an early Horned Grebe. Now maybe the first two we can associate with Hurricane Harvey, but the Horned Grebe I don’t think so.

On first look I thought it was a Pied-billed Grebe but the throat was white. A run back to the car for the spotting scope and one look confirmed it as a Horned Grebe.

A cropped photo of the distant Horned Grebe.

The complete and cropped photo of the Horned Grebe.

And as seen on this eBird Date Range chart Horned Grebe’s aren’t expected until October.

So, all in all a good morning finding an uncommon gull and early grebe, plus seeing avocets. I even picked up a few new warblers for the year.

And hopefully I didn’t make too many errors in writing this quickly.

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