24 July 2016

Home on the range

Ashley and I just returned from a quick trip to north-central Kansas to visit family.  "Whereabouts," you ask?  Well, here's a Google map of where Glen Elder is relative to the rest of Kansas:
Ash has a side of the family that dates back to this part of Kansas several generations.  It's such a treat to be able to visit and step back in time, spending time in a farmhouse that is about 100 years old.

Elsewhere on the property, the fascinating remnants of the farmstead abound.  This shed has stayed standing thanks in part to the tree it leans up against: 
I can't fully wrap my head around how wonderful it would be to live somewhere that you can step out of the door and see the deep blues of a darkened summer sky contrasting with the golden wheat fields.  I would so gladly live here, it's not even funny:
Knowing me, you can figure I tied birds into this visit.  I hadn't birded in Mitchell County before and so it was a lot of fun to explore the property (albeit minimally).  With the heat index topping 110 degrees though, my ventures outside were often brief!

One of the most easily-detected species were the pugnacious EASTERN KINGBIRDS, constantly sputtering about.  Here's one that got all regal for me:
In my explorations around the house, I'd say I saw 1 Western Kingbird for every 5 Easterns.

Kingbirds weren't the only flycatchers though.  There were several family groups of EASTERN PHOEBES seeking shade alongside me.  Here are two youngsters that had just fledged recently:
All in all, I tallied about 40 species of birds despite the heat and it being the lull of summer.  Some of the "highlights" included:

Northern Bobwhite (singing incessantly)
Green Heron (~4th eBird record for the county)
American Golden-Plover (flew over the house, calling.  Pretty rare at this time of year)
Common Nighthawk (the open prairie states have an abundance of these, often easily visible)
Red-headed Woodpecker (common, which is always nice)
Yellow-breasted Chat

There was an abundance of other, more common species like House Wren, Baltimore Oriole, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Blue Jay, Warbling Vireo, and Mourning Dove.

I didn't have a chance to see many butterflies.  One that I did manage a photo of looks to be a SUMMER AZURE, a fairly common species over much of the east:
Making up for my failure of butterflies was this tiger-beetle:
I know very little about tiger-beetles but with some Google sleuthing, I've come to the conclusion that this is a Punctured Tiger-Beetle (Cicindela punctulata).  In terms of abundance of this species, I read things like "dreadfully abundant."  Ok, so... I guess it's abundant... but hey, it was still new for me!

Anyway, before long, we had to venture back to Missouri.  We hadn't been on the road long when, just west of the town of Beloit (Mitchell County), we found a recently-cut hay field.  The newly accessible tasty-goods down in the grass clearly were attracting a lot of avian attention.  The one field had about 20 UPLAND SANDPIPERS and twice as many KILLDEER.  There was even a PEREGRINE FALCON chillin' in the field, probably eyeing the many shorebirds.

Farther down the road, we stopped at a few more spots that looked interesting via eBird.  For example, we stopped at some sewage lagoons.  Hmmm, yummy, poopy ponds!  Most of my readers probably know that sewage lagoons are often hotspots for birds... but for those who didn't know that... well, consider yourself enlightened (in truth, most sewage lagoons are just settling ponds and they don't stink at all).

In a dry landscape with very little water, it doesn't take much imagination to see why these sewage ponds are hotbeds for avian activity.  Take a look at the Linn sewage lagoons from above:
The Linn Sewage Lagoons were actually rather pleasant.  We tallied half a dozen shorebird species including:

Killdeer
Upland Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

Oh, there were plenty of swallows too!  African or European?  Hmm... well, this is a Barn Swallow:
The sewage lagoon had other flying creatures too.  Ashley spotted this minuscule skipper on the path.  Luckily for us, it's boldly patterned and quite distinctive; it's a NYSA ROADSIDE-SKIPPER:
Although I've seen a few of these before (Kansas, Arizona, etc), I always enjoy seeing them.  Anyway, all in all, you can see that sewage lagoon checklist here.

Just down the road we spotted a few SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHERS.  Although they aren't rare in that part of Kansas, I pulled over and snapped a quick photo anyway:

Anyway, now that I'm back I can look at my eBird numbers and I'm embarrassed to say that I somehow scored 13 state birds for Kansas!  Ha.  I have to remember that I didn't use eBird when I lived there and so I consider my dataset inadequate!  Cheers.

21 July 2016

Flies (like butter and dragons)

I was a bit surprised to see that my previous post here on SYAS was more than a week ago.  Augh, what have I been doing?!  I better get back to it.

This post will be a bit of a monster though (don't worry, it'll be mostly photos.... spoken like a true 10 year old).  Let's start with birds.

Ever feel like you're being watched?  Both this RED-TAILED HAWK and I had that sensation the other day.  It heard my camera firing off shots and gave me some stink-eye before flying overhead:
Keeping in the raptor theme, this lanky bird of prey is a MISSISSIPPI KITE.  I've never actually lived where they were somewhat findable (a few in Iowa, I suppose).  However, northeast Missouri has a fair few of them and Ashley and I spotted this one during an afternoon hike here in Hannibal:
It turns out this MIKI was the first eBird record ever for Marion County, Missouri.  But remember, that doesn't really mean much in a place where no one uses it.  :-(

These two dudes aren't raptors... but it kinda looks like they're looking at one!  Actually, these are young EASTERN KINGBIRDS that hatched this summer and they were actively begging from a nearby parent:
There are a ton of PURPLE MARTINS along the river (yeah, the big one) in Hannibal.  Just walk up to any martin house down there along the Mississippi and you'll be face-to-face with the biggest swallow species in North America.  Ever notice how it's hard to really capture the deep shade of purple?
Back on "the ranch", so to speak, we've had HENSLOW'S SPARROWS singing from a field on the property.  Although it doesn't look like much in this photo, this uncommon sparrow has endured massive declines due to a loss in grassland habitat through much of its range.  Here's one that was singing not too far from the driveway:
Moving on to dragonflies, it's a great season to be out looking for these (but best get an early start before it gets too hot!).  Here are a few species I've photographed lately.  It starts out with a female EASTERN PONDHAWK, a pretty common species around here:
Even more common is the COMMON WHITETAIL.  Here's a male:
However, the highlight in the dragonfly world came the other day when I photographed this female EASTERN RINGTAIL in the front yard.  It belongs in a fun family of odes (Gomphidae) usually referred to as clubtails.  This particular species was a lifer so imagine my satisfaction of bumping into it and grabbing some decent photos with the evening light:
I've tricked you... I didn't mention anything in the title about MOTHS.  But get a load of this thing.. it's a unique moth species that's been frequenting the property.  It's a Hummingbird Clearwing.  Yes, check out the wings... they have clear patches!  And yes, it hovers around like a hummingbird:

And then just yesterday, I was at the SAME patch of flowers when lo-and-behold... it was BACK:
Wait... or was it?  See the differences in the patterning on the abdomen?  I wonder if this is a different species, the Snowberry Clearwing?  Or maybe these show sexual dimorphism?  I'm no expert with these things but I'm finding them really interesting!

Yay, this post has finally gotten around to butterflies!  Again, summer has a lot more going on than you might think.  Although it's not very large yet, I've started keeping a detailed list of all the butterflies I've seen here on the property.  We've only reached 40 species so far but I'll continue to work on it.  Here are some photos of a few from this past week... I'll progress in taxonomic order.

First up, the swallowtails.  Here's a sharp PIPEVINE SWALLOWTAIL.  Although they aren't abundant here on the property, I've seen a couple lately:
 
Next up we have the Great Eastern Yellow Blob.  Kidding.  This is called a SLEEPY ORANGE and I've only seen this species once on the prop so far:
This sharp butterfly being photobombed by some grass is a GRAY HAIRSTREAK:
This is by far the most common and familiar hairstreak in the US.  The thing is... today was the first day I had actually seen one here.

I was surprised to see this comma on the driveway the other morning.  I actually expected it to be an Eastern Comma but after I got indoors and started looking at photos, I realized it was the less common GRAY COMMA, a species I had seen before only a handful of times.
 The underside of commas are way cool.  Do you think it looks like bark?  They hope you do.
We've been seeing a bunch of HACKBERRY EMPERORS lately (they like to perch up high on the house, windows, and things like that).  They're a pretty sharp looking species especially when you note the eyespots below:
Here are a couple of AMERICAN SNOUTS; note the drastic variation in patterning on the hindwing below:

I guess there has to be an end to all this butterfly madness and, well, it may as well be with the skippers.  Although I'm guessing many of you are not generally interested in these tiny butterflies, I find them fun to chase around and ID.

I'll start things out with a spread-wing type of skipper, a HORACE'S DUSKYWING:
But after that, we're moving on to skippers that DON'T land with wings open flat.  First up is a fairly common species in the yard, the PECK'S SKIPPER:
Compare the subtleties of the yellow/brown patterning on the wings to this following skipper; do they look the same to you?
Hopefully you see some differences because, yes, they're different species completely.  The latter is a ZABULON SKIPPER, a species that was described by French naturalists Jean Baptiste Boisduval and John Eatton Le Conte.

A bit less flashy is this SACHEM, another type of grass skipper.  It may be somewhat plain but it was still a new species for the yard:
I just found this yesterday, another first for the yard.  Even though they're abundant other places, I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to find LEAST SKIPPER for the yard:
Ok, a confession... here's the dullest skipper you'll find on my blog today.  Sorry bud.  NORTHERN BROKEN-DASH:
Let's move on from that to perhaps the brightest skipper!  I just snagged a pic or two of this DELAWARE SKIPPER yesterday:
It so happens that this was only my second one ever, my first being in Virginia 6 years ago!  It's a pretty plain, bright orange skipper but note the black veining in the following pic, a good field mark:
One of my favorite parts of summer in the Midwest are the thunderstorms.  If you've never lived somewhere lacking these, you'd probably wonder what the heck I'm talking about.  However, these storms, sometimes with crazy winds, can do a number on your garden crops!  Here is some corn in the garden showing pretty clearly the wind direction:
But, thankfully, that didn't stop the garden from producing some pretty alarmingly large vegetables!
But seriously, the summer evenings can be a beautiful time to be out and about.  The heat finally diminishes a little, the light gets low, fireflies come out, Eastern Whip-poor-wills start singing, and there are plenty of colorful sunsets:
Here's another view at dusk to close out the post.  Enjoy:

12 July 2016

STATE Maps!

You know, it's only been two days since I posted about my nationwide eBird county map but I thought I would provide a short add-on to that.

Although I've been using Openheatmap.com for years to generate county maps, did you know the website also can generate nationwide maps of your STATE lists?

Yep, there are no excuses now!  If county listing isn't your thing but you would like to have a map of your state lists, look no further.  Gone are the days of having to do this in Paint and the like.

Although sharing my map here on the blog is essentially making all my eBird state lists public, I don't mind sharing it as an example:

Making these maps is not hard, trust me in that.  Here's a quick guide:

1)  Open eBird, go to the "My eBird" tab and select the "State/Province" tab.
2)  Take your cursor and highlight ALL the names and numbers of the states, right click and choose "copy".
3)  Open Excel and paste all of that into an empty worksheet.
4)  Delete the unneeded columns for "County Ticks" and "Year".  You don't need to add any column headers or labels.
5)  Save your document.  Go to openheatmap.com and follow the online directions.

You'll notice the website doesn't recognize provinces and states from other countries so you can either delete those in your Excel spreadsheet beforehand or ignore the error when it pops up.

Try playing around with the color schemes to see which one you like and think makes sense.  You can also select some numbering on the website; I select "1" as my low end and "400" as my upper end.  That basically is telling the website to register a state list of 1 as the lightest shade and a state list of 400 as the darkest shade.  If you chose 700 as your first number, you wouldn't have any shaded states!  If you chose 10 as your first number, any state list with fewer than 10 species wouldn't get shaded in.

Anyway, kinda fun, right?

Seeing these state list numbers just brings up more questions and goals for me.  Like, what is your state list tick total?  Basically add up all your USA state lists together.  I had never looked at my number before today but apparently it's at 4525 birds.

Also, one of my biggest goals is to clean up the glaring holes in the map.  You'll see that I'm lacking lists for 6 states (Idaho, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Delaware).  Although I've been to all of those states multiple times each, I DON'T have eBird numbers from them (remember, I started eBirding in 2011).  Do any of the readers of this blog have a state list for all 50 states?

10 July 2016

Remember the map?

I hadn't updated my USA eBird county map since May and so, given a recent shortage of blog content due to the summer doldrums, I thought I'd revisit it to see what has changed (so avert your eyes now if you wish).  I suppose the 5 biggest changes to the map happened here:

1) Iowa

Remember the 3 weeks Ashley and I stayed there this spring?  It was productive in more than one way; we snagged a state bird (Snowy Plover) and I managed to add a whole slew of new counties.  I now have more than half the counties in the state shaded.

2) Arizona

I was lucky to spend 2 weeks in northern Arizona for work and so my Coconino County list jumped from 2 species to 126.  After the tours, I know I must have added a few county birds farther south too because... well, they were lifers!  All in all, I've managed to add 29 species to my Arizona life list so far this year.

3) Minnesota

I didn't add a ton but I know we visited at least 2-3 new counties on our way up to the airport earlier this summer.  Plus, once there in Minneapolis, I got out birding with a friend in Hennepin County boosting that county list from 0 to 37.  Overall, I've managed to add 34 state birds in Minnesota so far this year.

4) Wisconsin

Remember the White-winged Tern chase?  It turns out that I hadn't birded in Wisconsin much at all and so adding 21 new state birds that day wasn't surprising.

5) Illinois

We recently swung over to Fulton County to see if we could connect with that male Ruff.  Sadly, the Ruff wasn't present... but a lot of other things were!  Our little half-day jaunt over there snagged me 3 new counties and nearly 30 state birds.


Anyway, on to the map.  With the addition of 24 new counties since I last calculated in May, I'm up to 782 counties (or county-equivalents) in the ABA area.  To put that in perspective, that means I have a county list for about 1 out of every 4 counties in the US.

In terms of county ticks nationwide, I've added 1000+ since the last update and am finally over the 15k mark overall.

Enjoy poking around:

06 July 2016

No bird in frame

If dragonflies, wildflowers, turtles, and butterflies scare you... best look away.  Or if you're here strictly for bird photos... well, you too will leave this blog post disappointed.

As it feels more and more like mid-summer here in northeast Missouri, I've found myself looking down at other creatures instead of birds (but my ears are always working!).  For example, even a quick visit to the garden yielded some amazing photo ops; check out this EASTERN AMBERWING:
These are fascinating, tiny dragonflies, one of only a few that actually mimic being a wasp.  You all see the amber color in the wings?

Right next door to the amberwing was this HALLOWEEN PENNANT:
I have to admit that I really love those two photos!  The Halloween Pennant is named such because a) it's black and orange in color and b) it perches at the tops of plants and waves in the wind like a flag.

I don't do a ton with flower photography... maybe because they hate me and never look at me????
These snotty sunflowers were down at Ted Shanks Conservation Area in Pike County.  Of course, these sunflowers are fixated to the east, the direction that generally all mature sunflowers face.  Earlier in life, though, sunflowers are heliotropic or "solar tracking" and move their heads to follow the sun.

There was another flower around here that caught my attention once or twice.  A quick usage of Google found me my answer; this is a DEPTFORD PINK:
Snazzy little thing.  Of course I also learned that it's not even native to the US.  Pity.

While we're on a tear with colorful, non-bird species, here's a favorite of mine, the large BRONZE COPPER:
I would see these fairly regularly when I lived in Iowa but lost track of them when I moved out to California (and out of range).  Now that I'm back in the area for the time being, I was happy to stumble on this one down at Ted Shanks Conservation Area.  These bright dudes hang out in moist areas like wet meadows or grassy edges of wetlands.

Switching families from coppers to sulphurs, here's the very appropriately-named LITTLE YELLOW:
Not much of a habitat purist, these butterflies are found in dry, open areas like roadsides and abandoned fields.

Taking a tragic turn for the bland, the last butterfly is this mostly-brown skipper I photographed in the woods out back:
This guy is probably a NORTHERN BROKEN-DASH, not a particularly rare or uncommon butterfly... just bland as all get out.  Lucky for me, I enjoy studying even the bland-colored butterflies!  Besides, this was the first broken-dash I've seen here on the property.

Woah, here's a change-up for the finale.  We spied this EASTERN BOX TURTLE taking a drag across the front yard (at least it seems like they're dragging most of the time!).  I hypothesized that it caught a glimpse of the strawberries growing in the nearby garden and was headed to those (box turtles DO love strawberries; sometimes they're even lured to tomatoes because they're red).  Anyway, here's a turtle head you should enjoy seeing: