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.