Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December thoughts

Finals are just starting to gear up, in a week they'll be all over, and in a week and a half, CBC season starts.

Birding is brief and periodic at this point, highlighted by a juvenile Thayer's Gull at Saylorville Reservoir yesterday, Dec 7th and north of 3500 Canada Geese on the remaining open water around the reservoir today.

More to follow after finals!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall birding at Saylorville

Alright, it's been about 9 months since I last worked on this (time constraints of being a college student right? Back to the birding...

Wednesday, I kicked the fall migration season off to a banging start. I hit the Neal Smith Trail south of Sycamore Access (between Ankeny and Johnston) over my lunch hour, roughly from about 1230-110 PM. I wasn't anticipating much as it was the middle of the day and pushing the upper 80s with muggy conditions, but I was very pleased with 29 species, the majority of which were migrants.

12 warblers topped the highlights:
1 Golden-winged
1 Tennessee
1 Chestnut-sided
2 Magnolia
10 Black-and-white
2 Redstarts
4 Ovenbird
7 Northern Waterthrush
2 Mourning Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat
1 Wilson's
1 Canada

I'm rarely awarded excellent views of Northern Waterthrushes, but they seemed to be unusually responsive to pishing. Easily some of the best looks I've ever had at this species and I certainly can't complain when an agitated bird is a mere 6 feet away from me on a dead branch!

I love getting to see Mourning Warblers and an adult male was truly a sight to behold. I wish I could have watched him longer, but alas Accounting was calling.

Rounding out a few more notable migrants were 4 Eastern Wood Pewees, 6 Red-eyed Vireos, and 3 Swainson's Thrushes.

After an evening class, I made my way out to Saylorville Reservoir for a quick loop... or at least that's what I thought. My first stop was the Saylorville Dam. At 615 PM, I pulled in for a quick scan when I noticed decent numbers of Common Nighthawks flying outside my window. Upon exiting the car, I realized that migration was fully in swing. For the next 30 minutes, I camped out here and set up a stationary count. By 630 PM, 15 minutes later, I had tallied over 650 Common Nighthawks, and by 645 PM, that count had rose to 952! Birds were not only moving overhead, but along both the east and west ends of the reservoir and I'm certain I missed several hundred birds!

86 Caspian Terns were also moving, about 1/3 of which also moved south over the dam, the rest were foraging over the western side of the reservoir.

After watching the amazing spectacle at the dam, I drove up to the Cherry Glen access where a roosting (loafing?) flock of Terns and Gulls had been assembling. The reservoir has seen several bouts of flooding so far this year and it is just starting to get back to normal (even though it is still several feet above where it should be this time of year). A portion of the lower boat ramp parking lot has begun showing as the waters have receeded and the birds seem to take a liking to this (I recall a number of shorebirds here back in 2008 after those floods, including a Piping Plover). Irregardless, I counted 263 Caspian Terns, just over 200 Ring-billed Gulls and 4 Forster's Terns.

Once I finished here, nightfall was rapidly approaching and I drove back into Ankeny for some supper and ultimately, home. Along the way, Common Nighthawks were actively hunting over most of the city and I estimated another 70-80 birds, if not more, along the way.

What an awesome spectacle! The simple pleasures are what make this hobby so wonderful; incredible views of an aggravated Northern Waterthrush, the feeling of awe in observing an adult male Mourning Warbler, and nature's spectacle of migration. All in all, September 1, 2010 will go down as a day fulfilled in my book.

Now to see 17,000 Common Nighthawks migrating over Chicago!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Year's Birding

Alright, I might have slacked a bit on the blogging and what not but it's also a whole lot of fun to get thrown back into two jobs right after some vacay..... not to mention that classes resume tomorrow morning. Fun, right?

New Years came and went, spending time with the family back in Northeast Iowa for our late Christmas (as our previous date on Christmas Day was snowed/iced out). Nothing too exciting birdwise. I was fairly excited about getting an adult Cooper's Hawk harassing some pigeons at an underpass along Hwy 20 in Waterloo and Rough-legged Hawk and American Kestrel in Buchanan Co., the latter seems to be getting harder to find in winter in NE Iowa.

Bitter cold summed up the next few days with lows well below zero, often in the -10 F to -15 F range with 10-20 mph winds. Yeah, those -35 F wind chills sound awesome for some CBCing action don't they? I know you're envious.

I started my 4-day CBC marathon with a trip to Dubuque on Jan 2nd. Met up with a small crowd of semi-familiar birders that I largely haven't had contact with for the last few years. That said, it was a cold day.... and about the only time my feet were warm was when we were walking small stretches of territory.

I don't think our party even cracked 25 species, so I'll be curious to see how the Dubuque CBC finishes for the year (reminds me, I haven't checked the CBC database yet). Best bird for me on that count by far was a scolding Carolina Wren along a hiking/biking trail down a power-line cut near Mines of Spain State Park. That bird looked pretty darn cold and I'd be very surprised if it makes it through this harsh Iowa winter. Later that evening, Kelly McKay and I met up and we drove to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to spend the night for the Cassville, WI CBC the next day.

And so the Cassville CBC began, at 530 AM at a location known as Eagle Valley (basically located directly across the Mississippi River from Guttenberg, IA). An air temp of -14 F was recorded when we began at 530. By the time we descended into the valleys and 630 AM came around, we recorded a temp of -21 F. That single Barred Owl sounded damn cold!

By and large, the Cassville CBC was a beautiful winter day to be birding, minus the cold weather of course. The winds were very light to practically non-existant, and Kelly and I turned up a very respectable 48 species in arguably, the best territory in the count circle. Our territory reached the northern limits of the town of Cassville, which has not one, but two coal plants along the river. Of course, there must be some open water. Nothing too exciting, but 11 Canada Geese, 13 Trumpeter Swans, a group of about 30 Mallards, 2 Common Goldeneye, and 24 Common Mergansers were more than we could have asked for. Some other highlights amid the bluffs that day included a single adult Golden Eagle, a Belted Kingfisher, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Northern Shrike, and single White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. Our count of 40 Brown Creepers was exceptional and a Peregrine Falcon sitting atop a blinking light near the top of the northern power plant smokestack was a great way to end the day. After dark and heading south, we traveled to Kelly's house in the Quad Cities for the next day's count in Andalusia, Illinois.

Again starting early, we arrived within the count circle on Jan 4th at about 515 AM, where we met up with Dick Sayles from Buffalo, IA (just across from Andalusia, Illinois). The day was an improvement from the previous, with a high of 8 F and a low of -5, but light to moderate northwest winds really put a damper on things in the upland areas and in the river bottom (this is another Mississippi River count). Albeit some significant misses like Snow Bunting, we tallied 50 species for the day, slightly lower than what is normal for the count. The most memorable moment of the day was the sight of 3 Northern Mockingbirds in a single shaggy looking field populated by small cedar trees. I was also particularly pleased with the 40 Eurasian Tree Sparrows we saw, despite being noted as a significantly low tally. We don't get either of these birds much in central or northeastern Iowa. An immature Northern Shrike was definitely a nice bird for this count as well. A few other highlights were 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, 2 Hermit Thrushes, and a female Eastern Towhee.

After another night in the Quad Cities, we left for one of my counts, the Southeast Clayton Co. CBC, bright and early: 3 AM on Jan 5th. We arrived within the circle back in Guttenberg just after 530 AM and began owling, turning up a fairly respectable 8 Great Horned Owls and 6 Eastern Screech Owls. A single Barred Owl was nice, but below normal. Kelly and I were the only ones conducting the count, so it was up to us to make for a good count. We covered an area between Guttenberg and Garnavillo east towards the Mississppi River, including such gravel roads as Buck Creek and Miner's Creek.

We managed 45 species, which isn't too terrible considering the winter (10 inches of snow depth). We did have some excellent finds though, including a pair of Common Goldeneyes and a single female Bufflehead at the Dam in Guttenberg, both firsts for this young CBC (this was the 7th year). Those were also our only waterfowl; waterfowl in general aren't really expected on this count. Incredibly though, I'd have to say our highlight of the day was finding 3 adult Golden Eagles, including a pair. Four Belted Kingfishers and 2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers made for good totals respectively, again considering the winter. Two Winter Wrens were huge and I'm very happy there are at least a couple left somewhere in Iowa this winter. We also had single Eastern Bluebird and American Robin, both of which looked very cold. Four Swamp Sparrows also made for a new addition to the cumulative count list. Two White-throated Sparrows and 7 Red-winged Blackbirds were also nice for this count.

Some quantity records were also established. I'd have to check my cumulative list, but I believe the 230 Black-capped Chickadees were a count high count record and 64 Tufted Titmice couldn't have been far behind. 135 White-breasted Nuthatches were also respectable. By and large, the 22 Song Sparrows found made for an incredibly tally this far north, especially this winter! How many times have I said that now? 519 American Crows was also a record tally and 179 Northern Cardinals was also respectable. 181 Horned Larks and 151 Lapland Longspurs were nice, as were 21 Snow Buntings.

The day for the SE Clayton Co. count was also warmer than the previous two, with a high of 14 F and a low of -5 F.

Since I returned to central Iowa on the 6th, I've had no time for birding whatsoever. I was literally thrown back into the lion's den, working 2 jobs (one temp; gotta support this birding hobby you know). Finally getting a few minutes of free time, instead of getting prepped for classes to resume tomorrow morning at 8 AM, I decided to flip through some other blogs and decided to update my own.

Perhaps I'll try to chase that Varied Thrush up in Mason City one of these days.

Monday, December 21, 2009

December birding

So, despite setting up this blog this past summer (August perhaps?), I'm sitting around recovering from getting my wisdom teeth pulled this morning..... might as well give this thing a kickoff.

2009 is coming to a close waaaaay too fast....

Notable events of the year?

March - May were largely spent in Maine, as I was the Official Hawkcounter for the Bradbury Mountain Hawkwatch near Pownal, Maine.

That's about it!

I spent 2 months living in Maine doing quite a bit of birding, although looking back I wish I would have birded more while I was out there, but I ended my time out there with a respectable 190 species.

That brings me to my next topic..... I'm looking at my lists for the year (I am an avid lister, afterall), and my Iowa year list sits at a meager 178 species. That is impressive for two reasons, #1, my Maine list is higher than my Iowa list, despite living in Iowa for 5 times as long this year..... and #2, this will be my lowest Iowa annual list since at least 2003 (163 species if I remember right)...

Maine is on my mind a lot right now. I just started planning for a 10 day trip (give or take) in August of 2010, which I'm already getting very excited about. Smack it right between summer and fall semesters of college and I shouldn't have an issue.

That said, I'm making it a goal to see (yes, see) 300 species of birds in Maine by 2015. I'll make that goal, but all said, I REALLY want to reach that by the end of 2012, so we'll see.

Back to Iowa?

Well, seeing as it is CBC season afterall, that is about the highlight of my winter break. I've only participated on 2 thus far, the Buchanan County CBC and the Ames CBC.

I started the Buchanan Co. count last season, seeing 34 species in its introductory count. It was a SPECTACULAR count this year, with 48 species recorded on Wed, Dec 16th (less feeder counts). By far and away, the highlight was a single LINCOLN'S SPARROW that another field party found. A single HARRIS'S SPARROW was likely the highlight of the 37 species my field party (Kelly McKay and myself) found. An interesting side note, it was the Junco-iest count I've ever participated on, with a count total of 1,144 (again, less feeder counts).

Regardless, it was a huge success and I can't wait to conduct this count next year. I will likely register this count with National Audubon as well for next count season.

Unfortunatley, I was unable to hold the Northwest Clayton County CBC this season for lack of interest, but I will still be holding the Southeast Clayton County CBC on Tues, Jan 5th.

Looking ahead to the rest of the CBC season, I'll most likely be laid up for the rest of the week between my wisdom teeth and working, yet I'm still tossing the idea of the Lamoni CBC on the 29th, but it doesn't look promising.

CBC plans for the rest of the season:

Nelson CBC (WI) - 2 Jan
Cassville CBC (WI) - 3 Jan
Andalusia CBC (IL) - 4 Jan
SE Clayton Co. CBC (IA) - 5 Jan

Pending on how I feel, I might also do a partial day on the Worth Co CBC (northern IA) on New Years Day, on my drive up to Nelson, Wisconsin..... but it's not permanent.

Kelly McKay and I have worked on CBCs several times over the past few years and is likely my most common associate when I participate on CBCs. His passion is the Christmas Bird Count season, which runs from Dec 14-Jan 5. I believe he is #3 on the All-Time list for CBC participation, with my Buchanan Co. CBC being his 290th career CBC. He is also running a CBC "marathon" this year, participating in a different CBC each day of the count period. It is no easy task! Trying to find a different count for each day of the count period is hard enough in itself, but to say that this will be Kelly's 3rd CBC Marathon is incredible. Kelly is an extremely knowledgable biologist and it is always a pleasure to bird with him (but I must note that birding with Kelly is "hardcore birding" at its finest).

After the compilation of the Buchanan Co count, I decided to tabulate my current CBC total.... at 31 career CBCs. I have since particpated in the Ames CBC, which brings me to 32 CBCs. Needless to say, I have a long way to go to catch Kelly.

About time to catch some food and rest for the evening. Stay tuned....