Extinct Species Visitation

A couple of weeks ago we took a family trip to Washington DC. This was something we had attempted the last few years but had to cancel one time for a hurricane. This trip wasn’t much better weather wise with temperatures the first day in the 20’s and 40-50mph winds. This made for low wind chills and few people walking on the National Mall. And I really didn’t expect to come up with a story about birds on a family trip to Washington DC. But I did. The problem is it’s on an extinct species visitation.*

On the National History Building’s first floor is an exhibit of birds seen in the Washington DC area. The birds are stuffed and mounted with a brief description of each species.

Like my nemesis the Golden Eagle.

But what caught my eye were the species no longer seen in the area. Or anywhere for that fact.

Because they’re Extinct Species

Just imagine if there were still Carolina Parakeets flying around our area?

Unless I visit another natural history museum this will probably be my only chance to ever see these species. Stuffed and behind glass. Not out in the wild.

Or the huge flocks of the Passenger Pigeon?
Or on a visit to New England encountering the Heath Hen?

And where are we headed with other species? Will they be in this or a similar museum in 150 years? I’m afraid there will be many more than the six that have gone extent since the European settlers arrived.

Another part of the museum had other extinct species, not only ones from the Washington area. Like this Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
Extinct Species Visitation
And another Carolina Parakeet. It’s larger than I expected.

A side note. Of the hundreds of people at the museum, only a few were looking at the birds. Most visitors were at the dinosaurs and elephants and other “exciting” exhibits. These held people’s attention, not inactive, stuffed birds

But my wife pointed out even though my daughter, niece, and nephew don’t spend time in nature, all the parks and museums they visited when young have given them an awareness of nature. And that they should be concerned. Hopefully it will affect all the urban school children running around the museum each day.

* – where I come from in Illinois a visitation is the viewing before a funeral. Hence, extinct species visitation.

Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While doing a “hawk watch” along the Colorado River on December’s trip I had the opportunity to watch another group of corvids harassing a larger bird. In this case it was a group of Black-billed Magpie mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk.

Before I relate the story it seems I keep running into this kind of action. Back in February I posted the story about a Great Horned Owl being mobbed by a flock of American Crows at Johnson County Park. And in early January I saw a group of Blue Jays harassing and chasing a Red-Shoulder Hawk in Geist Reservoir in Marion County.

Now I haven’t been out in the field much lately. So am I just stumbling upon corvids acting like this or does it happen more than I know? I really can’t answer the question but it appears to happen frequently.

Colorado Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While scanning for raptors along the Colorado River north of Grand Junction I noticed one, then two, then several Black-billed Magpies flying to a distant tree line. Now this seemed odd since I had only seen and heard one or two in the previous hour. In fact I had noted earlier in the trip I heard many more magpies than I saw. Which struck me as acting like a Blue Jay. Not wanting to be seen unless the need arose.

It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening. The magpies were gathering in one tree. Which meant there was something present they could harass.

How many Black-billed Magpies can you spot in this photo? And the Red-tailed Hawk?
Circled in red are the ten magpies I counted though I know there are at least 5-10 more. The hawk is circled in green.
Black-billed Magpie Mobbing
The Red-tailed Hawk finally had enough and flew off.
But only a little further down the tree line before it stopped and the process started again.

Eventually the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk I had seen earlier appeared and the two flew off together. And the magpies must have lost interest since they did not pursue.

Red-tailed Hawk Nest – Weekend Highlight

This will be a short post which probably won’t hold any interest to anyone else. But there are certain things I like to keep track of through the blog. Like the Red-tailed Hawk nest I’ve been watching.

Once again work and family obligations limited my time birding over the weekend. For once though it’s during the holding game waiting for migration instead of early May. So I didn’t feel as much disappointment only getting out for a few hours.

I previously mentioned the Red-tailed Hawk nest when I happened to see a couple of hawks in the local park. It appeared they were either building a new nest or occupying a previously used nest.  On subsequent trips I didn’t see any activity.

Until this weekend when a hawk was sitting on the nest.

Red-tailed Hawk Nest
The initial view from a distance. The nest is in the center of the photo.
A zoomed view of the nest showing one of the Red-tailed Hawk parents on the nest.

I’m glad to see it’s occupied so I can continue to monitor it though the spring.

Over the years I have seen several Red-tailed Hawk nests and I have to say this looks small. Or is it my memory?

Must be my memory. Hal Harrison in Eastern Bird Nests lists the outside diameter at 28-30″, and the inside diameter at 14″-15″ with a depth of 4-6″. Looking at the photo again I would definitely say this nest is within that range.

I often wonder with all the Red-tailed Hawks I see why I don’t come across more nests. The following photo answers that question.

Any idea where the Red-tailed Hawk nest is located? This points out why I don’t see more nests when I’m out in the field.
The other bird of note this weekend was my FOY Fox Sparrow seen hanging out with a group of White-throated Sparrows.

Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies

This started out like the post on winter Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Wood Ducks in Western Colorado. That post highlighted the fact I had overlooked the possibility of seeing either species on my trip. So, along those same lines I was going to discuss four subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco which are possible in Western Colorado. That will still be the theme. But I’ll also share some thoughts after researching the Dark-eyed Junco frustrating subspecies.

I knew Dark-eyed Juncos were possible in Western Colorado since they had a .06 possibility. I expected to see the usual Slate-colored subspecies until seeing a “different” junco at Connected Lakes State Park.

Once I realized it was a different subspecies I started taking as many photos of juncos as possible. I finally got around to reviewing them last week.

Using Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western NA – pg. 424-426 I found there are 6 subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos. The first four listed below are possible in the Grand Junction area in winter.

  1. Slate-colored – All NA – Indiana’s
  2. Oregon – Western NA
  3. Pink-Sided – Central NA
  4. Gray-headed – Great Basin
  5. Red-backed – AZ and NM
  6. White-winged – small strip of area from Montana to CO

Slate-colored – No

The nominate subspecies in most of the US is the Slate-colored. It is the one we know in the Midwest – dark gray above and white below. The female is a more gray-brown above. And looking through my photos I didn’t see one on the trip.

Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies
Now here’s something I hate to admit. I can’t find a decent Slate-colored Junco in my photo collection. This means I haven’t spent enough time studying Dark-eyed Juncos. This is the only photo I could find in my collection, from 2009. I think I need to take some time with them.

Oregon – Yes

What finally made it dawn on me that I wasn’t seeing the usual Slated-Colored was the different colored juncos at Connected Lake State Park. The junco had hoods.

Once I noticed the gray in the junco didn’t continue in its “normal” pattern I knew I wasn’t seeing my usual juncos.
The dark hood with contrasting white underside is standard for an Oregon.

The Difference

The biggest difference between the Slate-colored and the other subspecies is the bottom of The Bib. On the Slate-colored the bib is slightly convex, on the others a larger concave bottom. (Now if I had a different Slate-colored photo I wouldn’t have to go to Wikipedia – Slate-colored – Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer) A Dark-eyed Junco subspecies – the Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)

Pink-sided – Probably Not 

I originally thought this was a Pink-sided but now think it is a female Oregon. The ID indicators for Pink-sided are dull brown back, mid-gray hood, and bright pinkish-cinnamon sides. But those are also ID marks of a female Oregon.

Gray-headed – No 

Since I don’t have a photo I took this off the internet.

By Peter Wallack (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now for an Indiana Bonus

While searching for a photo of the nominate Slate-Colored Junco I came across the following photo.

Everything about this is saying female Oregon Dark-eyed Junco. What do you think? Johnson County Park, 11/26/16

This post exemplifies why I got into blogging and birding. It “forces” you to look closer and do more research on a topic you might otherwise blow over. And eventually the frustrating part turns into knowledge. This will make my future encounters with any subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco very rewarding.

Windblown Eastern Phoebe – Weekend Highlight

So how windy was last Saturday? Check out this photo of a windblown Eastern Phoebe!

windblown eastern phoebe
Luckily this Eastern Phoebe could still see with its feathers almost over its eyes!
Or this Red-tailed Hawk kiting in a strong SE wind?
Or even a Tree Swallow hanging in the wind.

Along with Mike Saturday’s plan was to search for the expected early migrants. But before I met up with Mike I did a bit of owling.

The Eastern-screech Owls weren’t the usual spots but a Barred Owl was calling nearby at one. I finally found one screech-owl.

Can you see the Eastern Screech-Owl in the photo? This is my first attempt using the flash on my camera. Looks like one of those TV supernatural show videos.
And now a zoomed shot. OK, next time I’ll have a better photo.

I met up with Mike at the Great Horned Owl spot where we eventually heard one calling right before sunrise. We visited a couple of lakes and saw a good variety of waterfowl and the first of the migrants, three distant Tree Swallow flying over the Pisgah Lake.

The next stop was the known Eastern Phoebe Bridge and one was heard “chipping” immediately exiting the car.

The first Eastern Phoebe of the year, looking rather cold. Which it was for most of the day.

Now watch the tail. Wait for it. Classic Phoebe!

At Driftwood SFA we found both migrants. The before mentioned windblown Eastern Phoebe and a small group of Tree Swallows.

Probably feels good in the sun with a break in the wind.
Looks like I’ve been spotted. Time to move on.
Now you see why it’s called Driftwood. A different Eastern Phoebe warming in the sun.

A third one flew in from behind and almost landed on me.
I couldn’t get the angle of the Tree Swallows in a tree, so I’ll have to settle for a line shot.

This is my fifth spring in Indiana, so I can start to have realistic personal early/late dates.

Earliest Eastern Phoebe by 6 days. But not sure I was always looking for an early one.

Tree Swallow was the second earliest. Earliest was 3/2/13.

I should have checked at lunch…

The following probably would have made a good Facebook post. But as followers know I disdain a bird photo or species report without a story behind it. Even a few details to liven up the story. So I’m still going to do this as a blog post versus a FB post.

Most of my posts take between 1.5-2 hours. But this one is going to be similar to what I see on other blogs. Short and to the point. I have set the timer on the iPhone to 30 minutes and off I go. We’ll see if I think it holds up to my usual standards.

Yesterday morning wasn’t anything special. I worked on a future post concerning juncos in Colorado and headed off to work. Upon arriving I did the usual scan of the plant’s retaining (or is it retention??) pond. I have seen most of the expected waterfowl on the pond including a Red-necked Grebe during the outburst a couple of years ago.

Yesterday Morning I Added a New Species to the Pond

The scan produced 7 Greater-white Fronted Geese on the edge of the pond.  They were hanging out on the spot usually taken by the Canada Geese.

That’s right, just like a FB you are getting photos of the Greater White-fronted Geese from my iPhone. Did you miss my Birding Backpack post where I state I don’t carry my camera?

I watched them for a few minutes, getting an accurate count, and headed in to work.

And in the Afternoon I Added One More

Jump several hours later and I’m heading home. I scanned for the Greater White-fronted Geese but they weren’t to be seen. But to my surprise there was a little white goose!

A Ross’s Goose took me by surprise. But considering that geese are turning up everywhere this winter I shouldn’t be.
That’s right, why take the time to enlarge the photo when I can just stick it on the webpage? I was hoping the photo would show the size difference between the species.

Not everyday I can add a couple of species to my work list. Of course I don’t actively pursue my work list so it isn’t very large.

Now what if I had gone out and checked at lunch???

There I did it under 30 minutes. Of course that isn’t counting the time to get the photos from the phone to the blog. And no photo editing, proofreading, verb usage check, SEO check, highlighting, etc. Sorry if there are a few errors. I’ll stick to the longer format unless I think I have something someone else would like to chase.

Female Northern Harrier – Colorado Day 4 Afternoon

Luckily for once extra time at work coincides with the winter Birding Doldrums. I did get out for a few hours last weekend but not much was happening except there are now four Red-tailed Hawks in the neighborhood. So I’ll continue with my December Colorado trip discussing Day 4’s afternoon with the highlight being a female Northern Harrier.

After birding Connected Lakes State Park all morning, the goal was to drive the short distance to Walker State Wildlife Area and scan for Raptors. Probably not the ideal location to scan but I didn’t feel like driving. And there werer eBird reports of raptors flying along the nearby Colorado River.

From what I read it appears birders out west take Black-billed Magpies for granted like we take American Crows for granted in the Midwest. That’s a shame since the magpie is such a beautiful bird, especially in flight.
Sandhill Cranes winter in the Grand Valley so there were flocks overhead each day.
This group was a little lower flying south up the river.
I heard waterfowl to the north but had only seen a few groups of Canada Geese flying until something put all the waterfowl up. Then I realized the full extent of their numbers.

I never did see what made the waterfowl fly. But a few minutes later I got a glimpse of a distant bird flying up river. The bird was large and dark. Even at that distance it didn’t have the feel of a Bald Eagle. The wings weren’t “planky” enough. The elusive Golden Eagle?

Not one afraid to show a bad photo, this was my desperate attempt to capture a distant bird which might have been a Golden Eagle. Not the blob in the tree but way out there, somewhere.
Two bad photos back to back. This was my only photo of a Red-tailed Hawk Dark Morph circling the area during the afternoon.

Female Northern Harrier

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a female Northern Harrier who spent the afternoon slowly cruising the nearby corn field.
female Northern Harrier
She would go up one side of the corn field and down the other, occasionally dropping down hunting something.
Finally she caught her meal which I assume was a mouse.