Friday, January 13, 2017

New Years Birding - 2017!!

New Years Day! It's a magical day where the birding clock resets, and old becomes new!  Every bird is new again.  Excitedly, we rush around noting the chickadees, woodpeckers, waterfowl and sparrows as they are the first, the first of the year!

     This year, the Kalispell Christmas Bird Count fell on the 1st of the year! I meet with Denny Olson and Gail Bissel and we conducted the count in our section of the count circle. Our area is generally a good one, including a spring creek with waterfowl, a section of town with feeders and fruiting trees, and some natural river bottoms for many other species!

     This winter was been colder and snowier than the last several.  With that, the American Robins have infiltrated the town and are abundant anywhere there are berries to be eaten!  We arrived at the Treasure Lane access point to the Owen Sowerwine Natural Area (an IBA) in Kalispell. Here, we stumbled upon dozens of robins! As we got out of the car, I counted the robins and neared 40 birds! 

     Looking over the robins, a small brown blob in the foreground caught my attention. just 10 yards in front of me was a perched Northern Saw-whet Owl!!!

Northern Saw-whet Owl
     We gawked over this bird for a minute or two before it flew deeper into the thickets. What a great bird to add to the Christmas Bird Count! Turns out, this was only the second time this species has been seen on the count.

     We continued to bird our section, finding some good birds like White-breasted Nuthatch, Merlin, Pileated Woodpecker, and Townsend's Solitare.

     The intersection of 6th and 6th East in Kalispell is a good spot for finding birds, as the many Mountain Ash trees attract berry-eaters. We had over 40 American Robins there as well as several Cedar Waxwings

American Robin

American Robin

Cedar Waxwing
     I ended the Christmas Bird Count with 37 species, and just enough daylight for a quick run to see my resident Harris's Sparrow in the west valley.
American Tree Sparrow - #38
Harris's Sparrow - #39
Now I just needed one more bird to have an even 40 species for the 1st of the year. Just then, a Rough-legged Hawk flew over me as I was departing the sparrow spot! #40!

     The Harris's didn't offer a chance for photos, but I did get an American Tree Sparrow and one of the many Song Sparrows there, this one with some white feathers on its forehead! 

American Tree Sparrow

'whitehead' the Song Sparrow!

A good day of birding, and a great start to the New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Harris's Sparrow on the Winter Solstice

     Just a quick blog update

     On the winter solstice, I left work a little early to bird my way home through the 'west valley' in the remaining daylight.  It was clear and beautiful out, and I felt I needed to go birding to honor the shortest day of the year.
     Well, it didn't take long at all! I pulled up to the hedgerow where I usually start birding the west valley, and I got out and within seconds, spotted a Harris's Sparrow!  It's a first-year bird - hatched this summer somewhere in the Canadian arctic, and now found itself in western Montana on its way south.  It was tucked in the bushes with 8 Song Sparrows and 10 or more American Tree Sparrows!  The farmer seems to be dumping old or rotted grain in the bushes, and it's attracted a lot of birds!
     I tried for some photos of the Harris's, but didn't get the stellar shots I was hoping for. The Song Sparrows were more obliging. I plan on going back soon, and maybe the Harris's will stick around for the new year! We'll see!

Harris's Sparrow

Harris's Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Monday, November 28, 2016

Flathead County Gulls on Sunday

      Taking advantage of the nice(ish?) weather on Sunday the 27th, and a free morning, I went up to the landfill to indulge in the challenge that is gull identification!

     Many birds were present, almost a thousand, most being Ring-billed Gulls, as usual. I estimated 150 Herring Gulls, 45 California Gulls and found 1 Mew Gull and 1 Thayer's Gull.  I managed to do quite well in the relm of photographing the gulls, and got some pretty good shots!  I looked and looked, for about an hour, but I did not turn up any "white-winged" or "dark-backed" gulls.  I have been working hard on learning 1st and 2nd-cycle Slaty-backed and Lesser black-backed Gulls in hopes that I can use that to positively ID one! It seems most of those species go unnoticed unless they are full adults.

Here are my best photos from Sunday! Enjoy!

adult Ring-billed Gull

adult Herring Gull (Ring-billed in foreground)

adult California Gull

adult Mew Gull
1st-cycle Herring Gull

1st-cycle Herring Gull

2nd-cycle California Gull

     It was a good day at the dump, and I got to exercise my gull-ID.  I plan on going back many times this winter, and hopefully will find something quite odd!  In the meantime, I will continue to learn new aspects of gull ID! It's a lot to learn!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Scoter and more!

     Monday night (the 21st) a local birder and friend messaged me a photo of a duck.  She knew what it was, but wanted confirmation. It was, indeed, a female-type Black Scoter! (female-type refers to the plumage of the bird. Females and young of both sexes looks similar and from less-than-great photos, it's hard to tell them apart)
     I congratulated her on the find and set plans to chase it the next morning! Luckily, she found it on Flathead Lake, at Boettcher Park in Polson. Just a easy 55 mile drive away! I have only seen one Black Scoter before (a female-type also) on the Creston pond in 2014 so this was pretty exciting!

Boettcher Park, polson, flathead lake, boetcher park
Boettcher Park dock - Flathead Lake
     I arrived at the park at 8:14am on Tuesday the 22nd and without even getting out of the car, I spotted the scoter near the dock. A quick look through the windshield with binoculars confirmed it! Success! I got my gear and walked out to the end of the dock. The bird swam a little farther away, leading to sub-par photos of the scoter.

Black scoter, scoter, black scoter montana
Black Scoter
     Watching the bird dive and retrieve food was very encouraging.  Sometimes when a bird is so far out of its normal range/habitat, it can have trouble finding food and may starve.  After getting a lot of great looks at the scoter through the scope, I walked around the park looking for other birds.

     There were 4 Bald Eagles in the park, and one immature bird even made a pass at the scoter! Luckily, it was woefully unsuccessful. Many Canada Geese were in the area, and Eurasian Collared-Doves, European Starlings, and Northern Flickers were moving about in the trees of the park. I found 3 Song Sparrows in the brush just outside the park fence.  Check out my full list of birds for the park HERE

3 of the 4 Bald Eagles present

a portion of the Canada Geese at the park

one of the Song Sparrows

     I left Boettcher Park and headed back north; I did after all, have work to go to.  I made a quick stop at Elmo Bay along Flathead Lake to look for more wayward seabirds and not one minute after arriving I spotted some! 4 White-winged Scoters! I snapped a terrible photo using my phone through the spotting scope and just in time! The birds promptly took off, flying east out of sight.  You can see my full checklist and photo of the scoters HERE

elmo, flathead lake, elmo montana, elmo bay
Elmo Bay - Flathead Lake

     Each scoter were yearbirds for me; bringing my 2016 total to 333 species! Another cool thing is now I have seen all three north american scoter species on Flathead Lake this year!

     You never know what birds might show up, and that is always exciting!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Quest for Quail!

     Andrew Guttenberg, Tom Forwood and I got together Friday night in Missoula for a Saturday of birding in Ravalli and Missoula Counties. Our main target: California Quail. The California Quail in Montana have been introduced to the Bitterroot Valley as game birds for 2 decades, but have since grown to a healthy, self-sustaining population.  Just a few years ago, the California Quail was accepted as a countable species in Ravalli and Missoula Counties.  This is the reason for our Quest for Quail!

     We started Saturday, the 12th, at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge outside of Stevensville, MT.  Thick fog first concealed the majority of the waterfowl on the ponds but after an hour, the fog started to disappear.

Frost, frost in the field, field of frost
frost in the field

     We walked the Kenai Trail, and found dozens of Song and American Tree Sparrows! It was great to finally see so many sparrows after the last few weeks of a nearly sparrow-less Flathead Valley.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Among the many waterfowl on the ponds, were many Green-winged Teal. These are common breeders in Montana and often overwinter were food is available. They, along with most waterfowl, have just molted into alternate (breeding) plumage and are very bright! I couldn't pass up an opportunity to photograph a male in his bright colors.

green winged teal, teal
Green-winged Teal pair. The male still has some brown feathers on his sides from his non-breeding plumage. 
Several Trumpeter and Tundra Swans were also on the ponds at the NWR.
Trumpeter Swans
After getting our fill of birds, including two late Long-billed Dowitchers, a Northern Shrike, and a few Marsh Wrens, we left to look for quail!  You can view our entire bird list for our visit to Lee Metcalf here!

We started our search for the California Quail in the middle of Stevensville, and drove up and down the city streets watching for the birds in yards. We made our way to the roads on the edge of town, and continued through some newer neighborhoods. It wasn't long before Tom spotted a small group in a yard right off the road! We turned around and pulled over, staying in the car, and watched the cute birds for 10 minutes or so! They were feeding under a hanging birdfeeder and along a small hedgerow in a yard off Burnt Fork road.  I snapped away, hoping to get at least one good photo of the birds; and I did, just one photo came out while the rest were just a little blurry.

california quail, quail in montana, quest for quail, california quail in montana
California Quail
These birds were a new Montana state bird for me and Andrew, bringing me to 298!

Okay, so it wasn't much of a 'quest'.  It was pretty relaxed birding all day, but making the trip down to Stevensville to see the quail was a trip I have been wanting to do for a while, and it felt great to see these birds at such close range and for so long. We really got to enjoy their intricate patterns and colors.  It was great to add the the species to my Montana life list, but it was even sweeter to enjoy the beauty of these adorable birds! No matter what species of bird, I always appreciate a chance to share a close encounter with a bird.  Nature is wonderful!

The day ended too soon, and I was driving back to the Flathead that evening to prepare for the next day of hawkwatching in the Jewel basin.  I am looking forward to more birding with Andrew and Tom in the near future!

A rainy-day surprise!

     After much procrastination, I will be making a few blog posts to catch up to present time, starting with this one about my day birding on October 8th, 2016.

     It has been a busy autumn, and I have not had many days of just leisurely birding to myself.  Most days I check a few locales on my way to work or in-between errands, and although I am birding, it always feels rushed. So Saturday, October 8th, I made no plans or commitments other than to spend the day birding.
     The birding was slow, constant drizzling rain was uncomfortable, and the heavy cloud cover made it feel dark all day. Nothing surprising on the water as I checked for loons and scoters in the north bays of Flathead Lake.

     Checking the Flathead River near where it pours into the Flathead Lake, I heard a group of Black-capped Chickadees start to get worked up and loud. I walked over to the thicket where they seemed to be mobbing and looked for an owl. A few seconds pass as I strain my eyes to see into the dense tangle, and then my eyes adjust and MUCH closer to me than I was looking, the shape of an owl appears! Right in front of me! It's a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL! My first ever! I'm shaking I run to the car only a few meters away and grab my camera!  The bird was calm and allowed me to get a few good shots of it before I left it in peace.

     What a wonderful surprise! A day I will not forget. This Northern Saw-whet Owl is my 462nd bird species I've ever seen, and my 297th bird for Montana.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Photography Post - end of summer

     As summer is winding down I have been preparing for my big trip to Arizona and Utah. As busy as I have been, I have not forgotten about my blog, and I want to share some of my favorite photos I shot this summer.

Sunrise in Glacier National Park

Morning sun on the Pryor Mountains - viewed from Bighorn Canyon NRA

Sunset at our campsite in the Bighorn Canyon NRA, Wyoming

Stephanie and the Bighorn Canyon at Devil's Overlook.

My lifer Sagebrush Sparrow - Bear Canyon Rd - Pryor Mountains, Carbon County Montana

Stephanie and I enjoying the beautiful Montana mountains!

Early morning sun in Yellowstone NP

Green-tailed Towhee - Park Co, MT

Green-tailed Towhee - Park Co, MT

A skull of some creature on the hillside. Park Co, MT

Yellow-bellied Marmot - Giant Springs State Park - Great Falls, MT

My new adventure car!

evening light on Lake MacDonald - Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier and upper Grinnell Lake - Glacier NP

sunrise at Bowman Lake - Glacier NP

Here are a few of my favorites! I hope you enjoy the photos!

Check back to see my next post from southeast Arizona!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

An Owl in the Cemetery

     On thrusday, August 4th, I stopped at the Spring Creek Cemetery along West Valley Road.  I have driven by numerous times and always thought it looked like it may be a good spot for resident and migrating birds.

the Spring Creek Cemetery
     It was a beautiful and cool morning, and I walked around the cemetery looking for small birds.  I was surprised to look up and see a Great Horned Owl sitting 8 feet up in a mature tree, just staring at me. My first thought was "great! what a cool place to find an owl!", then I wondered about the correlation between a cemetery and an owl.

Great Horned Owl - Spring Creek Cemetery

Great Horned Owl - Spring Creek Cemetery

Great Horned Owl - Spring Creek Cemetery

     Here is a passage I found on owls in North American Tribal culture.

"In most Native American tribes, owls are a symbol of death. Hearing owls hooting is considered an unlucky omen, and they are the subject of numerous 'bogeyman' stories told to warn children to stay inside at night or not cry too much, otherwise the owl may carry them away. In some tribes, owls are associated with ghosts, and the bony circles around an owl's eyes are said to be made up of the fingernails of ghosts. Sometimes owls are said to carry messages from beyond the grave or deliver supernatural warnings to people who have broken tribal taboos. And in the Aztec and Mayan religions of Mexico, owls served as the messengers and companions of the gods of death."**


     My belief of the symbol of an owl is nearly the opposite.  I see it as a good omen, a blessing on the day.  To see an otherwise nocturnal bird with quiet and secretive habits, I believe, is great!  The owl makes its living trying to not be detected, so finding one, especially in the day, is a good blessing. Maybe it has to do with the owl being outsides its relm, and into one we have dominated, that makes it seem special to me.  It feels like a visitor, and if I were to spot an owl at night, I sure would feel like the outsider then!

     I hope anyone who is reading this can appreciate what it takes to find and see an owl during the day, and make your own idea of what it means to you to see an owl.

**Source of the above quote: