Monday, December 29, 2014

Birthday Trip, County Bird #100!

Today is my birthday! I turn the ripe old age of 16, which means a lot of things. I can drive legally, have a job (well, I got a head start), and basically be a teen. I actually can't believe it; time has passed so fast!

Anyways, today was a gloomy and rainy day, but I decided to make the best of it. I visited Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the best birding spots in the Piedmont (or so I'm told). It was a bit chilly but the rain earlier made it very humid. The forest was very flooded down on the boardwalk. Some of the birds I first heard and saw were Pied-billed Grebe, Rusty Blackbird, and Brown-headed Nuthatch. Northern Flickers and a Pileated Woodpecker called out too. I investigated the boardwalk/pond area and found Chipping, Song, and Field Sparrows in the marsh. On the lake were more grebes and many unknown ducks flew very high. In the flooded forest were plenty of Red-headed Woodpeckers, calling out repeatedly. Pine Siskins flocked deeper in the forest, probably eating gum tree seeds. Wood Ducks wailed deeper in the forest, and although they were tough to see I did see some. I heard them throughout the day.

Here is some interesting fungi I found growing on a stump.
It was very fun but honestly I didn't find anything too interesting. I was hoping for Northern Bobwhites, Wilson's Snipe, or more ducks, but I found the usual assortment of resident and winter birds.

So I did not see any lifers on my birthday, but I did see something interesting! Near where I live is a movie theater with a man-made pond. It's a quiet pond that is rather large, and every once in a while I ask to go check it out. It paid off today, for I found a lone male Lesser Scaup! It was pretty dusky when I found him, though, so the pictures are bad.

This makes me at 100 species for Union County! I was very pleased to find him here and hopefully he brings some friends over! I was concerned that I would never find ducks there... but I'm glad I have!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Visit

I haven't been able to bird lately, with school and work consuming most of my time. But I was extremely pleased when I noticed something scaling up our pine tree in the backyard. A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker wad circling the trunk, delicately drilling her sap wells! I actually have never seen a sapsucker... suck sap, so this was a first. After she left I went out and investigated the wells she had drilled. They weren't in neat rows like pictures I had seen, but instead in a row spiraling up the trunk. Many were pretty fresh, with the sap flowing pretty constantly.

This isn't the same exact individual (this is a male), but I never get tired of these winter woodpeckers!
She makes Woodpecker Species #3 for my backyard- I have a Downy who comes almost daily and once a Red-bellied Woodpecker landed in my neighbor's yard. (I count those too!) I think she showed up once last year, for I did see a pretty ratty sapsucker once, and she's not the prettiest sapsucker I've seen. But she's pretty, I think- her belly is mottled with charcoal-like smudges and a wash of yellow. She has a red cap that reminds me of a Hairy Woodpecker juvenile and her back is a mosaic of black, white, buff, and some yellow.

I hope to get some pictures of her soon, and hopefully she comes back next winter! I really enjoy watching her drill wells in the bark. If I'm lucky I'll get a Rufous Hummingbird checking out the wells!

In other news, I finally got some pictures of a Pine Siskin! I've seen them before but that was while waiting for the bus at the bus stop. This time is was at Cane Creek Park, where they were foraging in gumball trees with American Goldfinches.

They remind me of European Goldfinches in that their wings have hidden flashes of yellow. The American Goldfinches also sometimes sound like their European counterparts so sometimes I have to double-check to make sure!

I also snagged a great picture of a Cooper's Hawk at Santee NWR! It was taken a while ago, and I forgot to make a post about it, but I really like it!

He was perched on a Speed Limit sign- we drove right next to him!
Hopefully you're having better birding trips than I. I'm hoping over Winter Break I can convince my parents to go check out a Western Tanager! That would be a life, state, county (although I have barely birded in McDowell County), year, season... you get the idea. I'm not crazy about listing (I mainly care about Union County, my home county, year list, and life list) and I'm waayyy too lazy to keep up with all that.

If I don't make a post before Christmas, happy holidays! I know I'll make a post on/after my birthday, though! Here's to hoping to go to Pee Dee NWR!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Duck Survey and a Bird Show

So, this is a very late post for the duck survey, but whatever.

Two Sundays ago I went on a duck survey around Concord Mills. We started at 7:30 at the well-known 'HHGregg wetland', which is a wetland behind... an HHGregg! I have seen a good variety of ducks there before, getting my lifer Northern Shoveler and American Wigeon there in previous trips, and it turns up some good birds like Wilson's Snipe (haven't seen one), Red-necked Grebe (during last winter's big irruption season- I saw it!), and an American Bittern that had been reported a few days earlier. We couldn't find the bittern but we did see some Pied-billed Grebes, Green-winged Teal, and the best views of male Hooded Mergansers I've seen. There wasn't too much there, though.

Next we went across the road to the other well-known duck spot, a retention pond in front of the Concord Mills Mall. It's right between the parking lot and the highway, but for some reason the ducks don't mind. We had three Buffleheads, some American Coots, and a well-worn male Northern Shoveler. I'm a big fan of Buffleheads, they're really cute and the males are very handsome.

Next we went to a few places I haven't gone to. One was behind a Target; the only duck there was a male Hooded Merganser. There were quite a few sparrows, including White-throated, Field, Swamp, and Song, and we listened to the bubbly song of a House Wren- in late fall!

We checked out Coddle Creek Reservoir, both north and south ends. The south end as usual was more productive, with American Wigeon, Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Horned Grebes, American Coots, Common Loon, Northern Shoveler, and Bufflehead. The best duck for me was a handsome male Northern Pintail, a life bird for me! The north end and a small pond by the reservoir weren't as productive.

South End-
North End-

It was a good day of duck-watching and I had a lot of fun!

Now, onto the bird show.

I took the day off work Saturday to go to a bird fair, which was in Belmont. This is for pet/domestic birds; if you aren't interested, don't read!

I saw a wide variety of parrots, ranging from your normal Budgerigars and Quakers to Canary-winged Parakeets (now very rare in aviculture), Bourke's Parakeets, and Painted Conures! I got a lot of pictures, which I'll update with soon.

Lady Gouldian Finch
Wild-Caught Violaceous Euphonia. :(
Painted Conure
English Budgerigars
Baby Budgies!
Blue-crowned Conure preening a yellow Quaker.
Sleepy Linnies. The turquoise one looks like my own, Steve!
European Goldfinch
Young White-capped Pionus
Happy Umbrella Cockatoo
Male Paradise Whydah
Look at that tail!
Sleepy Scarlet-chested Parakeet (Male)
Baby lovebirds!
Intense Kakariki eyes!

As for my doves, the babies hatched 11/14/14.
Taken on 11/16/14
Here are the babies; you can still see the eggshell which the mother appears to eat from. The babies are almost always covered by the parents, so this was one of the rare times I could take a picture of them. They make little peeping noises when they're awake and the parents feed them crop milk, which sounds very liquid. I watched the mother feed the babies up close, it was pretty weird! The babies grow fast though; in about a week they'll be out of the nest, trying to fledge with their parents.

Happy birding and/or bird raising!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fun with Scientific Names

Lately, I've been looking at the name meanings of birds. Scientific names always interest me, for some reason. Sometimes the names fit perfectly, others, not so much.

Let's start with some really easy ones.

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera)

For starters, Vermivora is easy to guess. When you hear 'vermi', you might thing of vermin (in this case, caterpillars and insects). 'Vora' means eat, as in carnivore, insectivore, and so on. So the Blue-winged and its close relative the handsome Golden-winged are both vermin-eaters. Nice to know!

The species name is cyanoptera. 'Cyano' is cyan, blue, cerulean, and so one. 'Ptera' means wing (think of pterodactyl, which means 'wing finger'). So it's blue-winged vermin-eater. Not bad! (The Golden-winged's name is similar- chrysoptera. Chryso is gold in Greek.)

Now, here's the next word: catharsis.

According to Google, this is the definition: "the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions; purgation"

This word is pretty interesting. I found it in two names!

If you're familiar with thrushes and eBird checklists, you'll notice 'Catharus'. Catharus is a genus of thrushes, including Swainson's, Hermit, Gray-cheeked, and Veery. All of these have beautifully haunting songs.

Hermit Thrush
I'd assume they went all poetic and decided that these songs were the birds purging themselves of their strong emotions. It's nice, though. At least they aren't stuck in a genus like Turdus

The second catharsis-related one is about a very common bird with a cool story- the Turkey Vulture

Releasing a soul into the afterlife with a tremendous bellow!
The turkey vulture's name is Cathartes aura. As Wikipedia states, Cathates means 'purifier'. Aura means 'gold'. I don't have the exact source on this, but I've heard that vultures were considered the passage between the earth and sky in some Indian cultures, and so if the vultures ate your body, they would help your soul into heaven. Thus, 'golden purifier' (the golden comes from 'golden wind', I think that's what they called the vultures. But then again, I can't remember where I picked that one up.)

Onto some even more familiar birds!

I'll focus on to wrens- the House and the Winter Wren. Both are in the same genus, Troglodytes. This means 'hermit' or 'cave dweller', which describes the rather skulky , well-camouflaged wrens well. The House Wren's species name is aedon. Looking it up, it seems to refer to some Greek mythology. A lady named Aedon was turned into a nightingale, which I assume the House Wren reminds the Old World scientists of in either looks or song.

The Winter Wren isn't as interesting. Its species name is hiemalis. It means 'winter'. So we have ourselves a little winter hermit!

I hope this was interesting to somebody and I didn't spend half an hour typing it all up. I might have a part 2 since there's a lot of scientific names out there, we'll have to see! In the meantime, boast to your friends you just saw your first-of-season Winter Hermit and that you got amazing looks of the Blue-winged Vermin-eater!

Monday, October 20, 2014

More Neighborhood Birding

I really must be boring my nonexistent readers with talk of my neighborhood. After all, I'm the only one who really birds the place. But I'm so proud of it, too! I'm also starting to shamelessly copy 10,000 Birds on bolding the species names- every bird is important!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

After school I decided to go for a walk. Little did I know it would pay off with some good birds!

Normally I start at the soccer fields, which are across the street from the trails. I like to pick up Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and maybe a few sparrows from the adjacent field. The shrieks of a Blue Jay made me look up and gasp! A Merlin flew over! I snapped a lot of pictures (but the SD card will not cooperate, so you'll have to wait) which confirmed that this was not a Cooper's or Sharpie- those wings are pointed alright. Overly pointed. The bird didn't stop and continued flying southward. What luck!

Next I checked out the field; nothing too special other than a female American Redstart. I walked into the greenway and was greeted by a bright Magnolia Warbler in a privet bush. More redstarts flitted and fanned but apparently this wasn't all. A Red-tailed Hawk zoomed over my head, screaming. Woodpeckers abounded with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Noisy, too! It had rained earlier so there was many puddles and mud.

I finally hit something interesting- two handsome male warblers, a Black-throated Blue and a late Hooded Warbler. Both gave me amazing looks, with the Hooded landing within feet of me! Hoodeds are my favorite warblers, hands down. They're stunning and beautiful, with a beautiful song and interesting habits. It's funny, I've never seen a female Hooded before, only males. Maybe this is why?

The Black-throated Blue gave me some of the best pictures I've ever gotten on the species, too.

Later on I found First-of-Season Palm Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Near the end I heard some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and found another lifer- a male Black-throated Green Warbler! He was up in an oak.
Palm Warbler

Black-throated Green

I have more too talk about but I'm lazy. Lucky for you guys!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kentucky Warbler!

Here's a game of Find the Bird!
You may or may not be wondering why there's a blurry picture of leaves here. This is a Kentucky Warbler, a life bird for me found in my own neighborhood! If you look close enough you can see the yellow body and black face mask distinctive of a Kentucky. Now, many birders say they love all the warblers, and I do, but Kentuckies are like top five for me (other than Maggies, Hoodies, Swainson's, and Golden-winged). This is an awesome bird. Just had to share it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Common Kestrels are One of the Coolest Birds, Ever

So maybe you're curious as to why my little avatar picture is a starting-to-stoop kestrel. Well, for one thing it was a female Common Kestrel dropping in close on her hunt for food. I photographed her and a few others of the beautiful Italian isle Isloa dell'Elba. Don't believe me?

On top of Elba
The castle next to the mountain of the kestrels
Anyways, this was a stunning island. Richer with birds anywhere else I've found in Italy- not that I visited very many. Spotted Flycatchers and mysterious warblers abound.
One of the many Spotted Flycatchers I saw on Elba, with a little feather out of place
Anyways, this is about kestrels, not boring flycatchers. So as you may know, Elba is super scenic. Scenic to the power of scenic. We (my uncle, brother, and I- me being the only birder present) pulled over on top of some mountain to get a picture. Anyways, across the road is a hill, with an electric thingy on the top. It's devoid of any trees, just some scrub and grass. But something quickly catches my attention- birds. And they're hovering into the wind!
Here's one, being kestrel-y

The wind was very strong up there, so strong that about eight or nine of these little guys hovered in the wind, perfectly still. The pictures don't do it justice. These birds were perfectly still, only a few feathers twitching. I'll never forget how amazing they were.

Taken a few seconds after the one below; she starts to dive a bit.
My profile pic. Notice the alulas and tail!
I took a crap ton of pictures but not many turned out good; mainly out-of-focus. It's a bit tricky since you have nothing else to go by; they're just hovering in the air.
Really awesome birds.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekend Birding

This weekend I had the pleasure of birding the same spot both Saturday and Sunday morning! The location was Six-mile Creek Greenway, a paved greenway weaving through lowland forest.

Saturday, October 4th

This trip was a Carolina Young Birder's Walk, so of course I had to go. Matt, Ginger, a beginner birder who I met before at other walks, Michael, a younger birder, and his mother and I started walking around 9, later to be joined by four more birders later on. It was rather quiet in the beginning, with Magnolia Warblers and redstarts in the turning trees. Four Wood Ducks flew over, not an unusual sight there, but for the beginning it was quiet.

Then we hit a flock.

It started with me pointing out a small yellow bird. I saw it jumping around in the bare branches of a tree, the first confusing bird of the day. Matt said Philadelphia cautiously, with good reason. I managed to get some shots of the bird, which confirmed its ID. It was a Philadelphia Vireo! It was a bright adult, with a pretty bright yellow throat, heavier bill, and white lores, along with an eye stripe. It was a lifer for both of us.

A few feet up the trail the rest of the flock revealed themselves. More Magnolias, which we saw many of, along with redstarts, and Black-and-White Warbler, and Matt found a Chestnut-sided I didn't get to see. That was about it in terms of the warbler flock.

Farther down the trail we pointed out plants such as cucumber tree, jewelweed, smartweed (my guide was wrong, calling it pink knotweed. Matt got it right) cardinal flower, and some invasive species such as the privet that dominated much of the trailside.

Later we were delighted with views of a beautiful male Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-throated Vireos, and, again, Maggies! 

The day was decent, and the younger kids left, leaving Ginger, Matt, and I. We found a Canada Warbler however, the second highlight of the walk, and another lifer! I only got to see the rump/back and didn't see the face too well, but I heard it call and I'll take that. Overall, a good day!

Sunday, October 5th

Today I started out on another walk, a Beginner's Bird Walk (I'm not a beginner, but still) at the same Six-mile! A cold front had pushed through, dropping the temps overnight to the low 30's and causing the first frost of the season. I worked today, so we had to leave a bit early, but it was still much better!

We started out with flickers and Red-bellieds and a handsome Black-throated Blue Warbler, a male. He was still very pretty and blue!

We saw many more warblers, with my lifer Bay-breasted high in a sycamore. We saw more Bay-breasteds, Cape Mays, Black-and-whites, Maggies, redstarts, Chestnut-sideds, Blackburnians (very pretty!), swifts and empids! I really think the empids were Leasts, but didn't put that on the checklist in fear of 'oh no, those were ___,'. Oh well, eBird will survive.

I had to leave early for work- I'm sure no one knows where I work at, so here it is! I work at the Wild Birds Unlimited in Charlotte. Anyways, at work, one of my coworkers (and arguably the nicest person there) Ailsa reported a dead bird found in front of the store one morning. She had pictures of it- it was a Swainson's Thrush. I asked if the Walmart across the parking lot kept their lights on at night, and they did. I believe this migrant was stalled by the cold front, and, flying low, got disoriented by the bright glare of the parking lot lights. Tired, it smacked into the glass windows of our store. We don't have problems with window collisions normally- during the day we have decals and such and a feeder less than three feet from the windows. Poor little guy, but I'd assume it was one of thousand of night migrants who are killed by building strikes. Mecklenburg Audubon does Lights Out Charlotte and helps them! I wish I could volunteer for them.

Well, happy birding and may a rarity blow of course to you!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

First Post...

Here is my second attempt at starting and maintaining a blog. Let's see how it goes. I'm probably going to be really bad with pictures though, since I have no quick access to uploading pictures. Anyways, I've been itching to write, so let's talk about the last two days.

Sunday, September 28th. 

 Sunday was a bright sunny, but decently cool day. I wasn't feeling that great but hopefully, in an attempt to clear my sinuses, I went for a walk to my neighborhood patch. I went a different way, across the soccer field.

Before we start there, let's talk about the copperhead. There was a dead copperhead on the side of the road. Its front half had been smushed but its tail was still plump. It was interesting to see a copperhead around there but not uncommon; a neighbor of mine had seen one in her garden once, and they are apparently in my 'backyard' creek. I have yet to see one, though.

Across from the fields of soccer was a path following the power lines. This path was mainly field and brush, home to towhees, house finches and sparrows (thanks to someone's feeder), field sparrows, yellowthroats, and apparently indigo buntings in the summer, but I have yet to see one there. Many butterflies were seen dancing among the goldenrods and other yellow flowers.

The path forks into two; one is the 'greenway', which is basically a path of grass cut through a forest, and the other way continued alongside the power lines. The greenway is where I had seen my lifer Yellow-billed Cuckoos before; on all my other walks to the nature path, I had always neglected the greenway. Anyways, I decided to follow the path into the field. In the deepest part I found Asiatic Dayflowers, the largest clump I've ever seen. I tried taking one and putting it in my notebook but it didn't turn out well. At least I know where to get more!

The path was mainly quiet, with a few house finches and crows. As I walked, it forked off again- one leading downhill and one leading towards a road. I took the downhill path, since it seemed like a better idea. By this time I could hear a Red-bellied Woodpecker calling angrily in the small patch of forest down below, and I saw willows, indicating there was swampy land. I started downhill, stopping in my tracks. I had seen movement up ahead. I saw the tail of a Black Rat Snake. Not wanting to bother it, I hummed and stomped on the ground a few times to warn it I was there. I guess I had caught the attention of a female Common Yellowthroat, who perched in the golden flowers.

 I walked down the red-clay path, picking up titmice, chickadees, and that same Red-bellied. Overhead a Red-headed Woodpecker, molting some of its secondaries, flopped overhead like some weird bat. The trail (once again) split, one leading to the neighborhood and one overgrown one. I, of course, followed the overgrown one. It led me to a steep creek with small pools of water. Dogwoods were ripe with their red berries. I hadn't known it before, but I found bird paradise. The first bird I noticed was a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a new bird for the 'hood. Next were Gray Catbirds, eating the berries, along with their cousins the Brown Thrashers. A White-eyed Vireo sang weakly nearby. Cardinals ticked and crows cawed. I'm certain a few thrushes were in there too.

I crossed the deep ditch and continued walking. The same American Crow was perched high on a tree, bobbing his head and calling. I was following another trail again, similar to the greenway trail. I heard Carolina Wrens scolding and catbirds mewling. Another Dogwood was fruiting. Anyways, this trail led me back to the original Cuckoo-Greenway (maybe that's what I'll call it). There, I picked up two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, first of the season, robins, and the first real migrants I've ever seen there! The forest was filled with them, the Halloween Warblers- redstarts, mainly female, (but I did see a male), a very pretty Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Black-and-White Warbler, female, and more grosbeaks, alongside some empids, a Least Flycatcher, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee. All of these except the pewee were new!

Around 1:45 pm activity died down, so I made my way back home. I saw a very handsome Red-tailed Hawk on the power lines, but nothing new. I checked the soccer fields for bluebirds for my list but I couldn't find the usual family that is there, only some mockingbirds. It was a very rewarding walk and hopefully next time I can catch more migrants! Onto the next day:

Saturday, September 29th 

Yesterday I stayed home from school, still recovering. I guess I timed it well, for I found a redstart in my yard! A female as usual, she fanned her tail. I didn't have my binocs or camera but I was elated! This was just a small side note.

Alright, hopefully I didn't bore any of my nonexistent readers to death, but I did really want to write. Anyways, happy birding!