26 February 2011

Rusty with rusties

With the new thin layer of snow, the AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS are back at my feeders.  The HARRIS'S SPARROW is still reliable as well.  However, the best bird lately was this RUSTY BLACKBIRD, my 106th yard bird:

Not sure it's a Rusty?  Check out the bill (thanks Tim); a Brewer's would have a stouter bill in most cases.  In addition to that, a Brewer's Blackbird would be very rare at this time of year in Iowa.

This time of year always brings flocks of waxwings and robins to some fruiting trees in my neighborhood.  Here is a CEDAR WAXWING:

... and an AMERICAN ROBIN:

21 February 2011

Suburban Short-eared Owl

This was one of the strangest things I had seen in a long time...

Around 6:15 PM when I was heading home from campus, I turned onto Todd Avenue here in west Ames (like I do every day) to find a SHORT-EARED OWL hunting in a small open area.  This is surely the most suburban setting I've ever seen one and would have never, ever expected to find one using such a small piece of "habitat".

Here is a map of the location:

View SEOW spot in a larger map

Although these weren't taken in Iowa (in Nebraska instead), here are a few pictures of SHORT-EARED OWLS:

The HARRIS'S SPARROW that has been frequenting my feeders since January is still present but no sign of the 7 AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS since the thaw.  

19 February 2011

Various owls and LTDUs

Earlier this winter (back when there was snow on the ground!) we managed to see some neat owls here in the midwest.

First, here is the always-shockingly-tiny NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL (Aegolius acadicus):

Three times larger and less brown was this distant SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus) in a corn field:

Ok, this isn't an owl, but rather a HARRIS'S SPARROW (Zonotrichia querula) that has taken up a winter-residence at my feeders here in Ames (you can see an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW in the foreground):

PLEASE note that the correct name is Harris's Sparrow.... not Harris Sparrow.  Same issue as with Ross's Goose (it's NOT a Ross Goose).  Anyway, this bird was especially rewarding for me because a) it was a new yard bird (#104) and b) it completed my North American Zonotrichia sweep this year for the first time in my life (see my previous blog post about the Golden-crowned Sparrow we snagged earlier this year).

Here is a picture showing two LONG-TAILED DUCKS (Clangula hyemalis) on the Mississippi River:

As most of you know, the Long-tailed Duck was formally known as Oldsquaw but the name was changed in 2000 (or thereabouts).  Wikipedia sums it up like this:

"In North American English it was formally called Oldsquaw, though this name has fallen out of favor under influence of negative connotations of the word "squaw" in English usage.  Some biologists have also feared that this name would be offensive to some Native American tribes involved in the conservation effort.  The American Ornithologists' Union (2000) stated that "political correctness" was not sufficient to change the name, but "to conform with English usage in other parts of the world", it officially adopted the name Long-tailed Duck."

Personally, I didn't take offense to the former name even though I am a registered Native American.  Granted, I'm not an old squaw.

Either way, here are some other pictures of Long-tailed Ducks I've taken over the years.  The first comes from Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Michigan where I worked during the fall of 2007.  That fall I tallied 22,968 Long-tailed Ducks migrating southeast past the peninsula.  This is a winter-plumaged male:

This is another winter-plumaged Long-tailed Duck but this time here in Iowa (where the species is much less common):

Lastly, here is breeding-plumaged male that had started to molt into non-breeding plumage (note the black being replaced by white on the back of the head).  I took this picture when I worked in Barrow, Alaska where the species is a common breeder:

13 February 2011

Oh the 3s

In continuing my recent theme of ABA codes and needed birds, this post is devoted to the Code 3 birds as described by the American Birding Association (ABA).

Summing things up, I still am looking for exactly two-thirds of the Code 3 birds in the ABA area.  Here is the entire list of those (five nemesis species in bold):

Taiga Bean-Goose
Tundra Bean-Goose
Whooper Swan
Common Pochard
Masked Duck
American Flamingo
Short-tailed Albatross
Murphey's Petrel
Bermuda Petrel
Fea/Zino's Petrel
Cook's Petrel
White-faced Storm-Petrel
Least Storm-Petrel
White-tailed Tropicbird
Red-billed Tropicbird
Brown Booby
Aplomado Falcon
Lesser Sand-Plover
Terek Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Gray-tailed Tattler
Common Greenshank
Black-tailed Godwit
Temmink's Stint
Long-toed Stint
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Ivory Gull
Black Noddy
Great Skua
Long-billed Murrelet
Craveri's Murrelet
Common Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Buff-collared Nightjar
Green Violetear
La Sagra's Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Yellow-green Vireo
Tamaulipas Crow
Sky Lark
Gray-headed Chickadee
Siberian Rubythroat
Eyebrowed Thrush
Olive-backed Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Western Spindalis
Rustic Bunting
Flame-colored Tanager
Shiny Cowbird

10 February 2011

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Earlier this year, Ashley and I drove south into Missouri to chase a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW that was frequenting a yard.  We arrived and saw this SPOTTED TOWHEE right away:

And then this bird popped up, surely the Golden-crowned, right?
Nope, clearly a young WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

Was the Golden-crowned on the ground with these guys?

Finally, this bird popped up along the back of the yard.  THIS was the GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW:

It eventually started to work towards the feeders and closer to us:

Finally, it came in and fed on the ground.  Here it is with a male NORTHERN CARDINAL, WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, and female PURPLE FINCH:

The PURPLE FINCHES here were incredible, easily 50-100 at one spot.  Here is a picture of part of the flock as well as a female that posed nicely:

There were many AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, this one braver than the others:

Lastly, here is a FOX SPARROW that also made an appearance:

This was only the second time in my life that I had seen a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW; the first being on Middleton Island, Alaska, where I worked with seabirds for a summer back in 2003.

09 February 2011

ABA birds

I'm only copying a friend's idea for a blog post... but considering I haven't posted on my blog in several months, maybe it's forgivable?

As many birders know, the American Birding Association (ABA) puts out a checklist every once-in-a-while that also has a 1-6 scale ranking the difficulty of finding any particular species (you can see the ABA checklist at: http://www.aba.org/checklist/abachecklist.pdf).  The lower the number, the easier the bird should be to find.  With that in mind, here are some species I'm still searching for....

Code 1 (n = 1):
Storm-Petrel, Leach's     

Code 2 (n = 32):
Goose, Emperor 
Snowcock, Himalayan
Petrel, Mottled
Shearwater, Buller's
Shearwater, Black-vented
Storm-Petrel, Ashy
Storm-Petrel, Black
Cormorant, Red-faced
Plover, Common Ringed
Curlew, Bristle-thighed
Kittiwake, Red-legged
Noddy, Brown
Tern, Bridled
Tern, Aleutian
Tern, Roseate
Murrelet, Kittlitz's
Auklet, Parakeet
Auklet, Least
Auklet, Whiskered
Auklet, Crested
Parakeet, White-winged
Owl, Spotted
Nighthawk, Antillean
Vireo, Black-capped
Vireo, Black-whiskered
Warbler, Arctic 
Thrush, Bicknell's
Thrasher, Le Conte's
Myna, Common
Bunting, McKay's
Warbler, Colima
Oriole, Spot-breasted  

As you can see, I'm hurting most with my lack of seabirds/alcids.  Considering how violently ill I become on any boat, I doubt I'll see them anytime soon.

This list reminds me of my "nemesis" list... birds I've tried for and missed (sometimes many times!).  If I had to pick the top 5 from the above list, they would be:

Spotted Owl
Le Conte's Thrasher
Spot-breasted Oriole
Arctic Warbler

I might continue to work on this later and post a list of the Code 3s I need.  Stay tuned....