Archive for January, 2006

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January closeout

January 31, 2006

Some highlights from today’s end-of-January outing, which like the rest of this month felt more like April than mid-winter….

First up, a White-crowned Sparrow, which I found cavorting with some juncos along the Poudre River trail just north of Mulberry in Fort Collins…

A late-morning Wood Duck at Prospect Ponds, one of 4 males and 2 females there…

A male Belted Kingfisher, at the southernmost of the Prospect Ponds, just north of the water treatment plant…

And now the lovely female…


A Greater White-fronted Goose, amidst a bevy of Cackling/Canada Geese at the pond just south of the ELC. Damn those heat waves, which made it hard for me to get a non-blurry shot….

And lastly, at Cottonwood Hollow, a partial albino Canada Goose.

The sparrow photo was taken with my digital SLR; the rest were digiscoped.

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Seahawk = Steller’s Sea-Eagle?

January 31, 2006

I just learned from 10,000 Birds that a ‘Seahawk’, as in the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL in the Super Bowl, is a colloquial term for an Osprey. And all this time I thought it was simply some mythical composite bird.

But really, look at this bird – does that look like an Osprey to you? The bill is way too big, not to mention the colors are all wrong. I’m thinking it’s more like a Steller’s Sea-Eagle. Certainly as a football team mascot, Steller’s is more fearsome, even making the Bald Eagle look like a runt.

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Site update

January 28, 2006

I’ve just added a new section on the right column below the blogroll, called “ID Tips”. It’s a compilation, small for now but sure to grow, of sites that offer useful information on more difficult identification problems.

(In the same vein for those who prefer actual books to web sites, I recommend Kenn Kaufmann’s Field Guide to Advanced Birding. It’s written for the avid birder who wants to separate out with more confidence birds like Jaegers, Dowitchers, Screech-Owls, and of course perhaps the most perplexing of all bird groups, the Empidonax Flycatchers.)

I’ve also added a few more sites and blogs to right column, namely the blog SE Colorado Birding, a link to the listserv ID Frontiers (hosted by Surfbirds), and the Internet Bird Collection, run by the creators of the Handbook of the Birds of the World Series. The latter site compiles videos of birds from around the world, and they apparently now have almost 20% of all bird species in their collection.

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Birder Envy

January 25, 2006

Time for a little birdblogger navel-gazing. One thing I’ve noticed a little bit lately is how it is almost anathema among birding company to admit to any human foible or confusion when it comes to bird identification. Some of this surely stems from the kind of credibility issue that BINAC pointed to some weeks back, but I think there’s something more going on here, although I’m not sure what.

A few weeks ago I mentioned at an Audubon meeting that while looking for an unusual bird early one morning in the area, I made a silly error when I heard some Cedar Waxwings in some nearby trees, but thought they were American Goldfinches for a short time. Of course, after about 15 seconds, I realized that I was in fact hearing waxwings, and saw them soon dart off to the horizon squealing as they do. I figured I was just plain out-of-it that morning, having just rolled out of bed and gone birding, and didn’t ascribe much deeper meaning to it than that. If anything I thought it was kinda funny. But when I casually mentioned it at the meeting, I got a comment from someone to the effect of, “I wouldn’t tell anyone that!”

Now, I make every honest effort to identify birds to the best of my ability, but I also feel unashamed of the occasions when I most definitely screw up. I figure that it happens to everyone – we’re only human, right? Sometimes, you forget what a particular species sounds like, and you may miss seeing an interesting bird because you assumed that you were hearing something more mundane or commonplace? Or on some other occasion you watch a bird high up in tree branches, struggle mightily to observe some characters, but when all is said and done (it flits away mysteriously) you still don’t know for sure what you saw, because maybe you focused too much on plumage and not enough on morphology or bill shape?

Or is it the case that, perhaps, of all the people who consider themselves avid birders, I am the only one who makes these kinds of pedestrian, embarrassing errors? Could that be?

I’m serious here. I make mistakes. Probably plenty. I do think I get it right most of the time, but I’m not so full of myself to want to hide the times when I mess up. I guess I’m a little surprised at the reticence of some birders to say what they do wrong. I find it especially odd because most of the time I find the people I bird around to be very cordial and pleasant. Must we be so concerned about maintaining our credibility and image that we suppress any inclinations toward honesty about our occasional failings?

Yes, I want others to take me seriously and believe me on the occasions when I tell them I saw an unusual bird in such-and-such place. But personally, I think it enhances my credibility to admit that there are times when I mess up, because if anything, it means that I am capable of questioning my own judgment, of recognizing when my initial thoughts or expectations have deceived me. It also means that I don’t mind learning that I was wrong, and that I am more beholden to the truth of the matter than I am to maintaining an image of personal rightness, which I could easily do in matters like this by just keeping my trap shut.

If, as birders, we value accuracy and at least some measure of objective reality, why not allow ourselves to admit our own mistakes – even the ones we made just yesterday? It shouldn’t be a secret. Birder envy just compounds the original faux pas.

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The Magic of Allenspark

January 18, 2006

After my previous short post on seeing the Rosy-Finches, I thought I should say a little more about them. I made it sound almost like all I cared about was ticking them off on some of my many lists.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a brutally cold morning. Allenspark is at about 8,000 feet elevation, and it’s not far from Longs Peak, the northernmost of Colorado’s 14ers. A strong westerly wind was coming down the long slope toward Allenspark, and at 7:20am it was about 12 F with 20-25 mph winds, gusting to 40. Couple that with my lack of good gloves, and I was only good for about 10-15 minutes at a time outside, before retreating to my truck to thaw out a bit.

But I had the Rosy-Finches to cheer me up. I was thoroughly charmed by them, and spent much time studying their behaviors. They were already at the feeders when I arrived, so no waiting or struggling see them. And even though I’m a wuss in this mountain weather, the finches are unflappable, just doing their thing in spite of the conditions. They’d arrive and park in the treetops for a few minutes, as pictured here, and after a few minutes a couple brave finch souls would head to the ground to start foraging, either at the feeders, or more often than not, in some other seemingly random area around the inn. The fun was trying to figure out what on earth they were going for, but whatever it was, it certainly had them interested. A few scattered seeds, perhaps – it was hard to say. But they’d walk and hop around, and even get pretty close to me as I stood there snapping photos of them.

I also spent considerable time studying their plumages. They of course come in what is now recognized as three varieties – Gray-crowned, Brown-capped, and Black. I find their colorations difficult to describe, especially collectively; they consist of a subtle yet elegant blend of browns, pinks, grays, and blacks. And it often seemed as if each bird had a unique blend of these colors, with personal gradations specifying a precise age, wear, and sex. Perhaps it was just the cold affecting my brain, but I found it hard to concentrate on watching any individual for long – trying to separate each bird by species and so on became very difficult after a time. Their behavior borders on madcap in character, and coupled with their exotic appearance, I became transfixed not on details or individuals, but on the whole roving mass. If not for the comparative permanence of the camera, I’m not sure I’d remember what I’d seen today.

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a special trip to see these birds. Hopefully we’ll all see them next in more amenable weather than I had today, but rest assured that whatever conditions await you, the Rosies can handle it.

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The original spy-cam

January 18, 2006

Nothing too deep here, just a funny story about a girlfriend caught cheating with another man, with help from the cuckold’s African Grey Parrot:

LONDON, England — A computer programmer found out his girlfriend was having an affair when his pet parrot kept repeating her lover’s name, British media reported Tuesday.

The African grey parrot kept squawking “I love you, Gary” as his owner, Chris Taylor, sat with girlfriend Suzy Collins on the sofa of their shared flat in Leeds, northern England.

But when Taylor saw Collins’s embarrassed reaction, he realized she had been having an affair — meeting her lover in the flat whilst Ziggy looked on, the UK’s Press Association reported.

Ziggy even mimicked Collins’s voice each time she answered her telephone, calling out “Hiya Gary,” according to newspaper reports.

On a related note….did you know that “cuckold” is derived from “cuckoo”? The etymology reflects knowledge of Old World cuckoos nesting habits, wherein the female lays eggs in other species’ nests, to be raised by those birds. The modern technical term for this is brood parasitism, but in olden days it was imagined that this was a reflection of the female having ‘cavorted’ with birds other than its presumed mate.

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A quick update

January 18, 2006

I do have a couple other bigger, more substantive posts in the works, so stay tuned. But for now, a quick birding update.

I had a nice birding day today, commencing with a trip up to Allenspark this morning to see the Rosy-Finches that frequent the Fawn Brook Inn. And I found them, lots of them, flitting about with abandon in spite of brutally cold conditions and howling wind barreling down from Longs Peak. It ain’t no thang to a Rosy Finch, apparently, as they were there in the hundreds, and all 3 varieties to boot. It was my first occasion to see a Rosy Finch of any kind since 1996, when I saw them at the 13,000 ft. summit of Mt. Dana in Yosemite National Park.

I also saw lots of geese at Dodd Reservoir outside Boulder, including a Greater White-Fronted Goose and a Ross’ Goose. Over at Valmont there were at least 3 dozen Red-breasted Mergansers hanging with some Commons – and on the other side of the Reservoir there were even Western Grebes, and possibly some Clark’s, although they were very far away and it was hard to know.

Heading north, I made a fast stop at Walden Ponds in Boulder, and saw lots of nice ducks there, including Wigeon, Redhead, Ring-neckeds, Canvasback, and Bufflehead. And lastly, I stopped in Loveland at Rist Benson Reservoir, and saw the reported Great Black-backed Gull there. And with some luck I also saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull too, on some occasions both were in the same field of view in my spotting scope. A nice finish to yet another great birding day.

That’s two great days this month. Does this mean I’m using up all my good bird karma?