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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Flying Pennants

Here in Colorado, serious summer dog days have set in. Denver tied a 134 year-old record of 18 consecutive days reaching at least 90°, and will break that tomorrow with forecasted highs of near 100 for the next couple of days, and more 90°+ weather after that. It is dry, too- the mountains had great snowpack last winter so reservoir water supplies are OK, but Boulder has only had 0.09 inches of precipitation this month, tying 2001 for the most arid July unless some rain comes through tomorrow...

Anyway, there is still always something interesting going on if you go out and look. On Sunday, Ted Floyd and I found a Black-chinned Hummingbird nest near Hygiene (yeah, a very clean town), a little hamlet in Boulder County. Seems like this might be the first nesting record in the county, but not completely unexpected since this species is expanding their range northward and have been found nesting in the next county north of here (Larimer.) We saw the bird carrying cottonwood down, and it hunkered in the nest a time or two, but didn't want to stay long for the time we waited. I wonder if it is still building the nest- no little bills peeking out over the rim were evident. Seems late, but the Birds of North America online (a must-have subscripiton for anyone even remotely interested in wild birds) indicates the potential for late nesting, particularly with potential second broods:

Texas: Egg dates 4 Apr-21 Jul, with young in the nest as early as 18 Apr and as late as 12 Aug (Oberholser and Kincaid 1974). At Big Bend National Park, arrival by the second week of Mar, with nesting beginning immediately; young ready to leave nest by 4 May (Wauer 1973); breeding (2 broods when food supplies and predators permit) may extend to end of Aug (P. Scott pers. comm.).

Checking BNA again, the nest construction fits the description to a T:
Nest cup-shaped and primarily composed of plant down (often almost exclusively from the underside of sycamore leaves, but also from down of cottonwood and willow; will take advantage of unbleached cotton if provided) and held together primarily with spider webs and insect cocoon fibers.
Overall, though, birding around here is pretty slow these days. I'm still waiting for a serious influx of hummers to my yard- I've had a few but they aren't sticking around much despite great flowers and feeders waiting for them.

Still, hot summer days are really good for another fun pastime- dragonfly hunting!! I don't know much about odonata (AKA odes, dragonflies & damselflies), but I like to stalk and photograph them, sussing out their identities as best as I can when I get home. I like my long lens for dragonfly photography- I can often get close enough for detailed photos without spooking the bug from its perch.

One dragonfly I do know and look for with anticipation is the Halloween Pennant. This is maybe my favorite dragonfly around here. In his book,
Dragonflies through Binoculars, Sidney Dunkle lists them as common in the East but they are more scattered in Colorado, apparently found reliably only in a few locations. Luckily for me, a couple of these spots are pretty close to home.

Amongst the Halloween Pennants and other odes, I found a dragonfly that was new to me. Looking it up when I got home, I determined that it was a Calico Pennant. This species isn't shown as occurring in Colorado according to Dunkle's book, but the USGS dragonfly site shows them in a couple of Colorado counties (so much for finding the first state record...) Anyway, If Dunkle didn't map it in Colorado I'd guess it is at least uncommon in the state. Probably goes to show that there is a need for updated odes info, at least out west. Perhaps the void will be filled by a book that I heard was coming out (soon?) by Dennis Paulson. Anyone know more about the project? Hopefully it will include damselflies, too, but even if it is just a dragonfly book I look forward to the additional reference when it becomes available.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Black and White Penguins

Sorry for my lack of blog posts lately- my balance of free time and bloggable birdy events has been in the negative for the past three+ weeks. Why? During much of July I had a very interesting job as an instructor for a group of 26 Korean Earth Science educators who were in Greeley, CO at the University of Northern Colorado for an Earth Systems Education workshop. Here's a pic of me with the group visiting the middle school where I teach in Boulder- they were keenly interested in the similarities and differences found in American public schools compared to their schools back home.
We visited many cool parts of Northern Colorado but the emphasis of the trips wasn't on birding. Still, participants were excited to see charismatic birds like Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson's Hawks, and Lark Buntings on our trip to the Pawnee Buttes. A Golden Eagle on Trail Ridge Road in RMNP and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in Estes Park were also big hits- none of the group had ever seen any kind of hummingbird before so they were in awe of the aerobatics.

Throughout the workshop, guest lecturers presented talks on many interesting topics within the Earth System. Among the geology, meteorology, astronomy, and oceanography lectures and activities was a talk on the history of paleontology in Antarctica and its resulting contributions to the support of plate tectonic theory and paleoclimatic reconstructions (like dinosaurs living near the Antarctic Circle in the Jurassic Period- had to have been warmer back then!) The professor giving the talk had the latest copy of The Polar Times with him and gave it to me- the cover caught my eye right away, featuring a melanistic Chinstrap Penguin photographed by Karin Lundstrom on 12 January, 2008 at Deception Island's Baily Head rookery. In complete contrast, the back cover shows an albino African Penguin (born in captivity at a Bristol, England zoo, but still extremely cool...) The detailed cover photo caption on page two includes mention of the Australian Antarctic Division's web page featuring unusual penguins- well worth a visit for those interested in plumage abnormalities and penguin hybrids. Anyway, goes to show that even when you can't go out and find interesting birds, sometimes they find you. The Polar Times website doesn't have an updated current issue page as of this post, so I scanned the front and back covers for your perusal...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Is It?

Following are two pictures of a bird who's specific ID is being discussed- see Ted Floyd's post on the Frontiers of Identification mailing list for more info and to follow the discussion. Click on each photo for an enlargement. Here's what I know about the bird:

Unidentified warbler (family Sylviidae)
Photographed 24 May 2008
Near Nasiriya, southern Iraq
(Photographer's name withheld for security reasons.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Highlight Reel

Folks- I was invited to be the featured Photographer of the Month on the Cape May Bird Observatory page- can't tell you how much I appreciate the recognition!! I put together a 36-image sampler of my work that they have on a nice gallery page- check it out:

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I had the pleasure of participating in the American Birding Association's annual convention held at the Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort in Utah last week. I gave a talk on Tuesday night titled Out of Breath Birding, discussing the environmental challenges of birding in the treeline & alpine tundra ecosystems of the Central Rocky Mountains. After that I could relax and enjoy the convention a bit more for the rest of the week. There seemed to be a great balance of birding (such as seeking & finding specialties like Black Rosy-Finch, Black Swift, and Greater Sage-Grouse), meeting new folks from around the country, catching up with pals I haven't seen in a while, and doing a little business networking. I worked the Leica booth, which is always a pleasure because I get to encourage folks to try some of the best sport optics in the world. We had a prototype of the new 82mm APO-Televid Scope for folks to check out, which generated a lot of interest. I also led trips and helped out on the digiscoping workshop that was held on Friday afternoon. The general consensus among attendees was that our venue, the Cliff Lodge, was the nicest facility to ever host an ABA convention- the food was good, the amenities were great, and the setting was breath-taking. I got one new bird on the trip, a California Quail. Thanks to Bill Fenimore for letting me stake the bird out in his back yard! (And congrats to Bill for receiving the prestigious Ludlow Griscom Award!!)I did a little birding & photographing in Little Cottonwood Canyon before things got underway, and was psyched to get my best pics yet of McGillivray's Warlber and a neat singing Swainson's Thrush. I also enjoyed watching the moon set over the granite cliffs flanking the lower canyon:

McGillivray's Warbler

Swainson's Thrush

Northern Crescent (?)

Anyone know which lizard this is?

One of the trips I helped lead started in Provo Canon at Bridalveil Falls, a Black Swift nesting location. We found 4 of the big blackies high over the opposite canyon walls mingling with throngs of White-throated Swifts- too high for pics but here is what the group looked like as they were scanning:We ended that day at Sundance Resort. Most of the trip participants opted for the scenic chairlift ride, myself included. It was really relaxing & fun to be birding from the lift- here are some highlights:
Yours truly kicking back on the chair- the easy way up the mountain!! (Thanks to Jeff Gordon for the pic.)

Yep- working hard for those mountain birds!

Eye-to-eye with a treetop Western Tanager.

Besides birds, we saw this herd of elk cooling off on a snow patch on the flanks of nearby Mt. Timpanogos. Is it just me or is that snow field shaped a bit like S. America??

I wrapped up my time at Sundance along the bank of the creek that runs through the base area, watching this American Dipper foraging. Other participants were treated to a memorable scene when it was feeding a newly fledged, very vocal chick.

I also co-led a trip to the Deseret Ranch highlands. The ranch is immense and so is the birding potential!! What a great place to visit. Here are a few pictoral highlights:

Field Crescent (?)

Uinta Ground Squirrels

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Lunch along Trail Creek

Orange-crowned Warbler

Greater Sage-Grouse (taken through bus window)

On the last day of the convention, I led a special trip that rode up the Snowbird Tram to the summit of Hidden Peak, elevation 11,000'. We birded around up top for about 1.5 hours (plus studying pikas, marmots, and several high-elevation butterflies and absorbing the scenery) before 7 of us started the long walk down while everyone else rode back to the base on the tram. We took about 5 hours to leisurely make our way down, studying the birds, insects, and plants that presented themselves on the 3200' descent.
Riding up on the tram

Looking up at the summit of Hidden Peak

Pika hunting (photo-safari style, of course.)

Bill Thompson III with some trail booty- I'll bet someone was missing those last winter!!

Making our way down

About 3/4 of the trip down was on snow- in fact, we saw some skiers and snowboarders doing their thing (they rode as long as they could and then hiked the rest of the way down.) We found a safe stretch of snow that some of us glissaded:

Thanks much to the American Birding Association for inviting me to speak and lead trips! Good to see everyone there, and if you missed it, hope to see you at the convention next year in Corpus Christie, Texas!!