Friday, March 28, 2014

You Might Be a Redneck if... and other Red-fronted Birdie Dudes this winter

The horrible winter here this year kept us indoors for most of it. Yes, we are "fair weather birders". But I always watch the weather forecasts and birding reports, and found a few occasions where it looked promising for an adventure.

My thoughts are now turning to The Biggest Week in American Birding, but I wanted to get out some more pics from this winter.

Besides the amazing spectacle with the Long-tailed Ducks I reported earlier, I also shot my best ever pics of Red-breasted Mergansers on that day. We have hardly ever seen them and they came up close and personal. Great day!!! I add a few more pics here. I have many more pics of both male and females (including many "bird book pics"), but worked on a few of my favorites to share now.

I took a ton of pics of the birds, but need to note that this behavior I call "snorkeling" is not from only one series of pics, but was a common behavior as I watched this bird! Indeed, I think the bird cruised along with head under water looking to see if it were worth diving for prey. Very fascinating!!!

Red-breasted Merganser shakes it off

What's up? Duck?
RB Merganser snorkeling

RB Merganser snorkeling

Close up for Judy. She loved their hairdos! I love this shot!

And I think my most amazing shot shows a film of water surrounding the head!!!
Indeed!!! An amazing day!!! I have hundreds more pics of Long-tailed Ducks, Mergansers and their feathered brethren, but at least I shared some of them! (What will happen to all our pics when we die? I suspect they will be lost. At least I try to share some memories as I move along ...)

And, then on another amazing day, I shot some quite decent pics of a Red-necked Grebe feeding on Yellow Bullheads at the North Dam at Stony Creek Metro Park. Thanks to Carl Bachtel for identification of the fish! (BTW, if you follow the highlighted link to Carl, you will see him talking about how to get kids into fishing. I love it! It really applies to birders as well! We go out to "catch" something, and just need to get the kids prepared with the right equipment - accompanied with preparation, understanding, guidance, and patience on our parts!!!)  )

This bird (Good Grebe!!!) was possibly the most photographed individual member of that species ever. Local birders had reported it there several days before we went, and the bird stayed for maybe two weeks after and left fat and happy. I surely appreciate my Facebook Birding Michigan friends for their posts telling me about great birds!!!

Yes, when we went, the day was above freezing, but the wind off the frozen lake (the dam was about the only open water) was positively frigid! But even with the shaking, our stabilized lenses allowed some decent pics from the top of the dam. It even was so cold, my intrepid wife and companion Judy retreated to the car before I did! First time! But she had fun and saw her lifer first!!!

Red-necked Grebe with Yellow Bullhead

"Darn thing is not cooperating!
I'll smash it a few times on  the water to loosen it up."

"Now if only I can swallow it without those spines getting caught in my throat!"

Just thinking. I wonder if anyone named this guy! I have not seen anyone do that yet, so I think I will name our wonderful visitor "Jeff" after Jeff Foxworthy and his gang who inspired the title of my blog. Now our local Red-necked Jeff is even more personal!

So as I was thinking about rednecks, I also thought about other red-fronted birds. A large amount of reddish coloring is fairly rare anyway, but especially in winter.

Here are a few pics of the American Robin that visited our deck a couple of weeks ago. Many people think of Robins as the first sign of Spring, but we usually see them here all winter. I guess there are enough berries or other fruits left on our trees to help them, and a river runs behind our yard for fresh water. But I know they are sure happy to see grass again, and maybe soon the earth will thaw enough to bring forth their favored worms. By now, the Red-winged Blackbirds have come back. These are my first avian sign of spring.

And we had occasional visits from our year-round House Finches. I keep looking and hoping in winter to get a rare glimpse of a Purple Finch, but no luck this year.

And no discussion of red-fronted would be complete without the Cardinal. The following pics were taken while snow was falling and the light was yukky, but I'll take them! (Oh. That's right, I really did take them ...)  :)

Male Cardinal eats while snow falls
Oh. Oh!
I am eating and flashing my gals and this guy shows up!
Bombs away!!!

Lady Cardinal - the object of desire?
"Hey guys, I am trying to eat here. Stop showing off!!!"

Hope y'all liked my "redneck humor" and pics!!!
- "Dr. Bob"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Three Swans - Beaudette Park, Pontiac, 2014-03-08

This post is mostly about pictures. Judy and I have mostly been housebound this winter and this was the first time we went to Beaudette Park - one of our favorite places in winter. I saw an earlier FB post (thanks so much Mike!!! I sold my 4WD drive Jimmy last year and really missed it this year ...) from a very experienced birder who got stuck in a snow drift there (and really saw nothing of too much interest) and decided to avoid it for the interim. But a more recent FB post mentioned Trumpeter Swans there again (as usual in winter), and the day was milder and some of the snow had melted, so we tried it.

Great day! Not only did we see the Trumpeter Swans, but also a Tundra Swan. A couple of years ago we saw all three there, but this time I shot some better pics. It was a great lesson in swan identification! I admit I was stumped before, but the day allowed seeing the differences quite well. Even in the pics here, I think you can see differences.

OK. Mute Swans you know. The big thing about Trumpeters and Tundras is that (mostly) the Tundra has a yellow spot on lores (like just below the eyes). That makes it easier. And even if not, the Tundra has a rounded (actually fairly flat) border where the white of the head meets the bill. The Trumpeter has a more pointed white going towards the bill. Sibley's guide has good illustrations of this.

Yes, I know it can be more complicated than this, but tonight I did not want to take the time to look up the great ID tip sheet that Bruce Bowman put on the Mich lister's site a couple of years ago. These birds were easy.

"Un-Cloaked" Mute Darth Vader Swan goes after Tundra Swan

Same nasty Mute spent most of its time going after the Trumpeter Swans

I think I'll have a couple of Mute's and a spilled latte on ice ...
Damn! I have been chasing the other swans all around this pond
and I still can't ever get rid of this darn thing that always seems to be below me!
No matter where I go, there it is! 
Trumpeter Swan goes after Tundra
So I figured out the pecking order. Mute swans go after any other swan as well as geese (no geese were present and I know why!). Trumpeters go after Tundras. I hope the Tundra finally made it to the ice hole to grab some veggies!
Tundra Swan napping

Tundra Swan ice dancing

.And to the folks on the Facebook (FB) Hearts in Nature site, I posted the following. Reflecting, it reminded be of some comments by Desmond Morris (author of Naked Ape) from the 60's/70's. (Anyone remember him? Curious, I am interested in knowing ...)

It's a heart, but part heart is under water ...
And just to complete my story, here is a pic of lovely wife Judy.

Judy marks her territory with a footprint while some weird snow Trump bird thing watches ...

Fun day!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring and one's fancy turns to ... The Biggest Week

Today (Pi day - i.e., 3.14) was sunny and hit over 50 degrees! The icicle-laden ice dam on our roof melted and dropped. Our front porch lost the dangerous sheet of ice that salt would not faze and one that we and our neighbors would not cross (thank goodness for the garage door!). Grass appeared out of the white back yard and also replaced some of the muck along the roadways.

We saw about 20 Robins feeding on the grass. Several Robins have over-wintered here, but at least now they have a chance finding something. Our first-of-year (FOY) Grackle fed from the deck. We saw our FOY Turkey Vulture circle overhead. The Red-winged Blackbirds who arrived about a week ago no longer need to figure out what to do with the seven inches of new snow we received only a couple of days ago. Oh, those silly  "early birds" got the snow ... now they are singing happily! Sing it out guys; your gals are coming soon.

Spring, finally! I no longer see temps in the single digits in the forecast! We got out a couple of times this winter when the temps hit the "warm" 40's For example to see an astounding scene with Long-tailed Ducks, but oh, those teens and especially pre-teens, have been merciless this winter! We just "hunkered down".

My winter SAD is being replaced with my usual joy on anticipating the marvels of spring. The earth will again be re-born and replenished. Life will spring forth anew. It happens every year. It is really miraculous! Spring is my favorite season! No wonder why spring and religion provided us with so many upbeat melodies from the great composers! Rebirth! Hope springs eternal! A yearly reminder: Life is Good!

And ... the marvelous feathered beings will again return here from the far off places to which they flew to avoid such a winter. Just imagine the accumulated air miles for these avian frequent fliers!!!

And speaking of spring migration, have you made your reservations yet for The Biggest Week in American Birding? (Hey! Click that URL! Then use the pull-down tabs at the top for info ...) Registration has been open awhile, and many talks and field trips are going fast! I let my Facebook friends know about this as soon as registration opened (FB is a rapid way to fire off tidbits whereas a blog post suggest a longer "ramble" to me), but have not yet blogged about it ... sorry about that!

I drop a few pics here to get your attention, and refer you to some of my past blog posts to further pique your interest and offer ways to enjoy the Biggest Week. And, no, you do not have to officially register to enjoy it! But, I suggest this is the best way to do it. The birds will be all around the area, but you might also want to partake of the many other happenings that registration brings. And ... it benefits great birdie causes!

Every year we add another night to the time we stay overnight in the area.  I wish we could afford to spend the entire span there, but like most of y'all, money and commitments dictate otherwise. Oh ... that reminds me ... besides registration for Biggest Week events, you might think about getting lodging reservations now (not linked, just emphasized ...)! Every year, this festival grows larger, and some lodging may already be drying up!!! And, be sure to tell them when you register that you are coming to see the birds! Many places may have special rates for birders. Even if not, it is important to let hem know that birding is the main reason that draws your hard-earned dollars into the local economy! In turn, many (most?) of them support local birding causes. Win-win!

We will always remember driving into Oregon, Ohio and seeing signs along the major streets proclaiming "Welcome Birders"! And then at our motel, we found a stack of free Guides to the Biggest Week. Welcomed indeed! We left our home to "come home"!

Here are URLs to some of my previous posts. Just "click and go". Note that these are from previous years and some things like road conditions are ancient, but they are provided as background and include links to other sites (many of which are still pertinent ...). As the Biggest Week approaches, I will drop a post with this year's updated info site URLs.(But, note that if you start by clicking on the Biggest Week link I provided at the onset, you can probably get to the best available ones now anyway ...)

And for historical info, here is a link to my first Biggest Week blog. It more emphasizes just "being there". We avoided the crowds.  As new birders, someone told us about the Biggest Week, and also that it could be crowded. We usually hate crowds! But, interestingly, we have learned that the more eyes - especially experienced eyes -  in the area, the more we learn! Birders are a great group and willing share info - especially at the Biggest Week! We see so many things that we would miss on our own!!! And, with few exceptions, everyone is far more courteous than we experience in our daily lives! They see the bird, then bring us forward and point it out. They not only tell us what we are seeing and where to look, but also the special characteristics by which the bird is identified. Oh, how we have grown!!!

We hope to see you there!!! Please introduce yourselves to us! A wonderful part of our experience is meeting new birding friends!!!

- "Dr. Bob" and Judy

BTW, you can also "Like" and "Follow" the Biggest Week on Facebook to see all the updates!!! You will get current info and also links to posts by the amazing blog team as they are posted. Great stuff!!!