Big Bend National Park, Day 1.

We made it into Big Bend National Park today, did some great hiking in the Chisos Mountains, and saw some amazing sights.

Here’s a pyrrhuloxia or desert cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus), close cousin to the Northern cardinals we see in Estabrook.

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Here’s a Say’s phoebe (Sayornis saya) on the hunt for dinner out on the desert north of the mountains.

Say's phoebe

Here’re a couple more picture from yesterday at Terlingue. First is a cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) trying to hide.

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Second is a loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) on the hunt and not hiding from anyone.

Loggerhead shrike

Finally, here’s a butterfly from the Chisos Mountains like I’ve never seen before. It is aptly named the American snout or common snout butterfly (Libytheana carinenta), and is said to migrate sometimes in quantities “so huge as to darken the sky in places.”

American snout butterfly

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we’re supposed to take a Rio Grand boat trip, so maybe I’ll have some water birds to show you.

Greetings from Terlingua, West Texas

Anne and I finally arrived this afternoon and immediately set out to see who we could see. In short order, we spotted 14 bird species, 8 of which are entirely new to me, and one butterfly. The wifi is kinda slow here, so I’ll just post a couple pictures to whet your appetite.

Here’s a handsome black-throated sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)

Black-throated sparrow

And here’s a rock wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)

Rock wren

That’s it for now. Tomorrow we venture into Big Bend National Park. Wish us luck!

Big and small…

After I got home from Estabrook yesterday, I got a cryptic message on the facebook that mentioned “saw-whet”, and then I saw on ebird that someone reported seeing a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) in our very own park, so I hustled right back over there. Then, as I was methodically checking the trees by the pond, I even got a text message which helped me narrow my search, and here’s the result of all that excitement: the smallest owl in eastern North America. In the picture below, from yesterday, it appears to be looking over its right shoulder, and you can just make out its dark right eye and its beak.

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I had hopes of getting a better image this morning, but the skies were just as dark as yesterday, and the little stinker wouldn’t even face our way today. Oh well.

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Anyway, elsewhere in the park, the great horned owl, the largest owl in all of North America, was back in its regular spot but a little less buried in the sticks than last time. What are the chances of seeing both owls on the same day, right?

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Finally, the male kingfisher was back to fishing in the river from the northern island.

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Anne and I fly south this afternoon, and I don’t know if I’ll have anything for you by tomorrow, but I’ll be sure to show you if I do.

An early January thaw…

It’s a damp and dreary morning in Estabrook Park, but the temps are mild, and the wind is light, so not a bad time to visit at all. There were plenty of birds out and about making the best of the situation, but I didn’t expect my camera to do well in the low light, so I left most of them alone. Luckily, I have a couple pictures left over from yesterday when the sun was trying to peak through the clouds.

First is this handsome male cardinal sampling some kind of berry.

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And here’s one of several starlings looking spectacular in the same tree.

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Finally, the great horned owl was back, looking regal as ever, and that is always worth a shot, even in the low light.

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That’s it for now, and I get one more chance tomorrow morning before Anne and I are off to Big Bend National Park for a few days. If I see anything there, I’ll let you know.

Happy New Year!

Now that the big storm is all cleared out, things are pretty quiet in Estabrook Park. There’s still some ice on the river, but not so much that ducks and mergansers are coming south in search of open water. Here are a few pictures from the last two mornings.

A black-capped chickadee by the pond,

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And a dark-eyed junco by the pond.

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I was very excited to hear the call of this male belted kingfisher over the river. I haven’t seen one since last May.

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Yesterday, there was also a pair of common mergansers on the river,

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And one hooded merganser drake.

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Today, there was one goldeneye drake and one common merganser hen, but they were both too far away from my equipment.

This morning, the sun tried a little harder to shine through the clouds, and here’s one of about a half dozen cedar waxwings picking berries.

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At the southern parking lot, this male, red-bellied woodpecker wolfed down a crabapple from a nearby tree as it continued to announce his presence from the top of a light pole.

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Finally, just as I was crossing the Oak Leaf Trail to exit the park, this grey squirrel caught my eye as it feasted on box elder seeds while hanging by its hind legs.

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That’s it for now, and I hope your new year is off to a great start.

Sights from CT.

My trip to Connecticut is winding down, and I’ll be back in Wisconsin tomorrow. Before I go, however, I’ve got some pictures for you. There is a nice rails-to-trails linear park that follows the old Farmington Canal through town, and I was pleasantly surprise by the variety of wildlife I found there.

There is a pond near the north end, bigger than the one in Estabrook Park, which is supporting a pair of mute swans, a slew of Canada geese, a few mallards, and this pair of ring-necked ducks. I’ve only ever seen a single hen once before, on the Milwaukee River back in November, so it’s nice to see the pair together.

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When I visited that pond again this morning, the ring-necked ducks appear to have moved on, but they have been replaced by two pairs of hooded mergansers, and here’s one pair.

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The biggest treat for me, however, was spotting my first northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), just chillin’ on a branch beside the trail. No song today, I’m afraid.

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At the south end, I found another spectacle. From afar, it looked like a large clump of leaves, or even a squirrel drey high up in an oak tree, but I gave it a look with the binoculars anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a hawk who appeared to be drying itself out. Sure enough, you can still see its wet breast feathers in the image below.

I believe it is a red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), which would be another first for me, if my ID holds up. It is not easy to distinguish it from a Cooper’s hawk in this image, but the fact that it just got itself wet and is drying off in a tree across the path from a long narrow pond fits the description: “you may find them hunting from a perch along stream or pond. “

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Meanwhile, in that long narrow pond across the path from the hawk, here are a pair of American black ducks keeping a close eye on it.

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Finally, there were also plenty of the regulars from Estabrook; downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, white-throated sparrows, nut hatches, cardinals, blue jays, crows, etc.; but the ones that eluded my camera, despite my best efforts, were the plentiful tufted titmice. The good news is that I got to hear plenty of their calls, and now I’m better equipped to spot one in Estabrook. At least I can hope, right?

The goldeneyes return!

The cold and wind are starting to back off a bit, and the sun was out, so it was a perfect morning in Estabrook Park. The river ice continues to form, however, so my wish came true, and the goldeneyes have begun to arrive. Here’s a hen on the rapids at the south end.

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And here’s a drake just a bit upstream.

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There were still plenty of mallards on the rapids, and a few Canada geese at the north end, but the common mergansers have moved on for now. Also at the north end, this red-bellied woodpecker was busy hunting up some frozen bugs for breakfast.

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At the pond, this mourning dove posed perfectly in the bright morning sun.

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I couldn’t tell if this pair of dark-eyed juncos was looking for something to eat, hoping for sun warmth reflected off the log, or both.

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I was happy to see cedar waxwings still hanging around the pond.

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Finally, here’s a male house sparrow who must have strayed into the park from the surrounding suburbs.

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Lastly, thanks to those of you who wrote in to express concern for me in the cold, but you needn’t worry. I’ve managed to build up a good layer of insulation on my strict diet of dark bread and mature Gouda cheese.

Tomorrow, Anne and I are off to the east coast to see more family, so you’ll be on your own again, but I’m bringing my camera, and I have a hope of showing you some east coast critters.

The snow is done, but the wind and the cold press on.

The thermometer said, “-7°F”, and the wind said, “let’s make that feel like -33°F”, but the snow was fresh, and the sun was out, so I hustled out the door this morning to see who might be out and about in Estabrook Park.

The river has frozen over below the falls, which has backed up the water so much that the surface drop at the falls is barely a foot, instead of the 3 or more foot drop I saw just yesterday. Above the falls, the river is completely frozen past the two islands and all the way to the Port Washington Road bridge at the north end of the park. Perhaps this will bring us some golden eyes, buffleheads, or scaups.

Today I only saw some common mergansers and a few mallards in the water and a few geese on the ice, same as yesterday, but the great horned owl was hiding someplace better protected from the wind, we can hope, so I hadn’t even taken a picture by the time I turned back south and headed over to the pond.

There, in the bushes and trees along the north shore, where the wind out of the northwest was blocked and the sun was doing its best to warm things up, the hardy little birds were having quite a party.

I saw a half dozen house finches, and I’m sure there were more. Here’s a male soaking up the sun.

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The big surprise was about a dozen cedar waxwings.

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Here are a couple amongst the berries overhanging the water, and I was happy to discover that the pond ice is thick enough to support me while I lined up this shot with the sun at my back.

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Here’s a nice and poofy American robin.

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There was a pair of downy woodpeckers, and here’s the male.

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Finally, here’s a black-capped chickadee pausing for just a moment from its morning foraging.

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I find it absolutely astounding that these little beauties can find enough calories every single day on those seemingly-bare sticks to fuel the little fires they must have under those feathers to keep from freezing all winter long. Right? If they didn’t prove it, year in and year out, there is no way I would believe it possible.

A calm before the storm.

It was a gray morning in Estabrook, but the big storm hasn’t yet arrived, so temps where mild, the breeze was light, and the snow was on pause. I didn’t see anything notable on my walk along the river until I reached the north end, where two red-tailed hawks were perched in a tree over the northern island. This is the one that let me take a picture before they became annoyed with me and moved on.

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On my way back south, I was thrilled to spot our old friend, the great horned owl catching some zzzzs on the southern island.

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While trying to focus on the owl buried in the sticks, I spotted a raptor soaring over the river between the islands and figured it was one of the red-tailed hawks I had just seen, but I gave it a look with my binoculars, just in case it was an eagle instead.

Well, it wasn’t an eagle, and it had a long tail and a bright white patch on its lower back, which makes it a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius), my very first. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to take a picture before it was out of sight, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled in the coming days.

I had barely walked 10 yards, hadn’t even looked up the northern harrier yet, and was still on cloud nine from seeing the owl when look who else was out and about. Sure enough, one of our beaver was busily packing on one more pound before the river freezes for the winter and it’s stuck in its den for weeks.

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I was starting to run out of time, but on my way home, I swung by the pond to find this cute little dark-eyed junco hoping I keep right on moving so it can go back to foraging amongst the fallen leaves.

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Finally, deep in the bushes, I spotted this male northern cardinal trying to get some shuteye. It took me a moment even to recognize what was going on because I’ve never seen a cardinal with its beak tucked into the feathers on its back before, as we just saw the mallards doing yesterday.

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As I sit at our dining room table now typing this up, the snow is starting to fall again, so perhaps we will get some. If you’re in the path of this storm, I hope you can stay safe and enjoy the spectacle of it with me.

The Shortest Day

With temps in the single digits (°F), nearly still air, and a bit of sun shining down before it hid away behind thickening overcast, it was a fine morning for returning to Estabrook Park. The pond was frozen over, and the river was icing up, but there was still plenty of open water.

I was thrilled to see that a couple of winter visitors have already arrived. Dark-eyed juncos are here, of course, but they were too quick for me this morning. Instead, I managed to capture this common merganser drake amongst the ice out on the river between the islands.

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Back on shore, the woods are full of chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, and woodpeckers, as usual, but this cute little puffball close to the ground, a hermit thrush, really caught my eye.

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Even better, it ignored me and climbed higher to gulp down some berries, and a bit of sunlight really brought out the cinnamon in its plumage.

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Finally, there were a slew of mallards on the river, and here’s a pair keeping warm while napping with one eye on me.

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Lastly, happy Winter Solstice to those who celebrate. The forecast is for snow showers tomorrow morning, which could make for some pretty pictures, if we have any luck.