Top 5 2017 Highlights

What would a blog be without the Top 5 2017 highlights for the year? Actually these will be highlights from the first 8 months since I didn’t get out much after Labor Day.

#5 Western Tanager

Top 5 2017 Highlights
Western Tanager

There is something about finally seeing a bird I should have encountered years ago. Seeing the Western Tanager in Colorado wasn’t like seeing the Golden Eagle. I expected the Golden Eagle would be hit or miss. But I have made numerous trips out west and should have seen Western Tanagers previously.

#4 Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Johnson County Park

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Over the years I have seen numerous Yellow-billed Cuckoos but never one that stayed out in the open like the one at Johnson County Park last July. As Mike suggested it might have been a young bird or a hungry one.

#3 My First Butterfly ID – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Once I started on my Nature Adventure I wondered what would be the first butterfly I’d ID. Appropriate enough it turned out to be an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I came across it last May at the end of birding at Laura Hare Nature Preserve. And for a newbie it wasn’t an easy ID. If I hadn’t taken numerous photos I wouldn’t have been able to make the call.

 #2 Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

I can’t emphasis enough the surprise in coming across a shorebird in an arid environment. It just floored me. And especially a large shorebird. Seeing the pair in Western Colorado last June was easily the visual highlight of the year.

#1 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Routes

Turkey Vulture – Western Colorado

Nothing else I do can compare to the long-term good the BBS routes do for birding. I only wish I was in a position to run a couple more. This was the second year I ran them in Central Indiana and the first year in Western Colorado. My only question is why I didn’t start running them sooner??

Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017

Work still consists of Saturdays and long days so only one bird outing last month. At least next weekend I’ll spend the day birding on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. The long days also mean I don’t have time to write before work which was my usual practice. So I continue to use my free time to catch up on photos from last summer’s Western Colorado trip. And I finally found time to identify (as best I could) the Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017 I encountered one afternoon on a high meadow.

The view SE from Divide Road on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Mesa County, CO..
Next to an Aspen Glade was the meadow where I spent the afternoon photographing butterflies.

I think I saw more butterflies than I photographed but I didn’t take notes. Following are the ones I did photograph and think I’ve identified correctly. A couple of these I have already posted about.

A Checkered White – note the dark bar on the forewing.
I’m going with Common Checkered-Skipper on this overexposed photo. The size and markings fit pretty well.
Painted Ladies were the most numerous species on the day.
This Variegated Fritillary took some time to ID. I kept trying to turn it into a Checkerspot. The black-rimmed orange cell spot on the forewing finalized the call. I need to learn to ID in the field and write the photo number in my note.
Another photo I should probably send to a butterfly identify website. I have tentatively identified this as a Sagebrush Checkerspot but that’s a tentative ID.
Later in the week I was birding along the Colorado River and noticed this Silver-spotted Skipper perched on a branch. (Is “perch” the correct term for butterflies? Still lots to learn.)
Western Colorado Butterflies June 2017
This is the same Silver-spotted Skipper as the previous photo.

This will probably be the last post on the 2017 Western Colorado trip. I don’t think I can get any more mileage out my photos!

Late Flying November Butterflies

Over the Thanksgiving break I took a couple of longish walks mainly to get out but also looking for late flying November butterflies. With temperatures around 55 degrees I knew it would be a long shot. But I figured the shining sun would improve my chances.

On my first walk I didn’t have long to wait before I came across a Painted Lady flying along the edge of the local park pond. As a side note the local beaver has wrecked havoc on this pond like it has to the one in my “backyard”.

This Painted Lady was spending time flying back and forth between a couple of spots but always staying in the warm sun.

I thought maybe I was in for a good day but the only other butterfly I saw was an Orange Sulphur that went up and over the tree line before I could get a photo.

On Sunday I walked basically the same route and was rewarded with two Clouded Sulphurs. Both were in a field that had Yellow Dandelions Taraxacum officinale I assume were still providing nectar.

The Clouded Sulphur flew up from the ground into the brush to sit in the sun. Luckily I caught its flight or would have missed it camouflaged in the yellows and greens. It really is in the center of the photo.
Not looking too bad for this time of year.
Late flying November butterflies
The other Clouded Sulphur looked a little ragged.

Unusual for this time of Year?

So are these unusual sightings for this time of year? According to Belth’s Butterflies of Indiana both Orange and Clouded Sulphurs can be seen through the end of December. So nothing unusual there. But Painted Ladies are usually done flying the first weekend in November. So a little late but with the huge movement of Painted Ladies this year it isn’t surprising.

What the heck?

With work and the holiday I still haven’t put in any time birding. But I have gone out and taken non-birding walks at the local parks. And I have checked my “backyard” pond off and on to see if Mr. Beaver has everything backed up. Which he has and now there is a nice little pond. But Saturday when I checked all I could say was “What the heck?”

There have been Mallards and Wood Ducks and Canada Geese back on the small pond. And I often thought other waterfowl might show up but the pond freezes very early in the winter. So I never counted on it.

When I checked Saturday there was a smaller bird on the water. My first thought was a Hooded Merganser. But it didn’t take long to see it was a Pied-billed Grebe. On this little pond?

What the heck
There wasn’t a break in the shrubs to take a photo without walking down and disturbing the Pied-billed Grebe.

Now maybe I’ve always had this wrong but I thought grebes needed a decent length of water to take off and land.  From Cornell’s All About Birds “Pied-billed Grebes need a long running-flapping start to take off from water.” But they don’t say how long. Maybe the alterations Mr. Beaver made have lengthened the little pond enough for takeoff. But the grebe would still have to maneuver through all the dead trees to have a long runway.

The grebe didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave. It was preening on both Saturday and Sunday.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it sticks around. With the mild week it probably won’t be in a hurry to take off.

And even though I never expected it I’ll take it for the “yard” list.

I don’t think I ever had a stare down with a grebe before. (FYI – The grebe won.)

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.