Sunday, October 2, 2011

Rainy Weekend Birding

Despite the lousy weather this past weekend, I decided to make the best of it and hit a few places with fall migration starting so went to Bolton Flats on Saturday morning to see what I could find. I'd have to drive my car through the puddle at the entrance and that alone would remind me of how much I missed this place. I have quite a few places I love to bird at, but this may be my number one because of the bird diversity as well as the memories like my first Forbush Field Trip, walking through deep, murky swamp water in hip waders with Alan who's just as crazy as I am and of course the shore birds, who can forget them.

Anyhow, I'd get out of the car and it wouldn't take me long to find my FOY Swamp Sparrow. There would be quite a few of them and not much else as I was soon to find out.

Lousy shot, but liked the photo because it shows the small slender bill with the yellow base as Sibley describes on page 384.

I'd decide to venture further for my two goal birds besides the Swamp Sparrow being the Virginia Rail and Northern Harrier as both are usually a guarantee here, even this late in the year. Passerine activity would be slow with the rain that started to develop but did get a good look at a couple of Common Yellowthroats.

Since I was striking out on both the rail and harrier, I figured I'd just hunker down and wait for them assuming one or both would make an appearance if I was patient enough. I had plenty to keep me busy and developed an up close and personal relationship with the many Swamp Sparrows like the one above, who had no problem being on the ground as I was nearby. In the hour and a half at Bolton I came to the conclusion that I really like Swamp Sparrows and make the following observations.

1. They are not at all shy

2. They can be feisty and fun to watch as they chased after each other in some form of territorial dispute.

3. They pish easily

4. And finally, a personal observation about me and that is I'd never noticed this about the Swamp Sparrow before and it kind of bothered me. While driving home I'd think about it some and realize a lot of the chasing I've done in the past had given me the mind set that once I've seen the bird and checked it off the list, my work was done and now time for the next species. While it was and still is a lot of fun, it hasn't helped me much in my birding because not only are field marks and song important skills for a birder, but behavioral knowledge is key too.

When I got home, I went to my Peter Dunne's Field Guide Companion and there it would be on page 618.

"A busy, active sparrow. Not shy, but likes to stay where it's thick and likes to stay near the ground"

Well I guess I was right in my initial assumptions!

While walking back to the car with no rail or harrier, I'd hear some light drumming coming from a nearby tree and was happy to see this Hairy Woodpecker. When I first walked in, I immediately heard its call and a few minutes later I'd see a Downy and 2nd guess my call on the Hairy based on what I'd heard. "Crap I'd think, my song knowledge is worse than I thought after taking most of the year off". Seeing that Hairy Woodpecker gave a much needed boost to the old confidence and I left Bolton Flats happy despite the rain that had gotten worse while there.

I'd go straight home from Bolton Flats as it was now raining hard and spent most of the day cooking and harvesting more tomatoes, but decided to go for an evening walk with the light drizzle which felt nice after being in the kitchen for a few hours. I'd bring no bins or camera assuming I'd just be walking but that would change as I heard another chorus of Blue Jays making their mob call. It wouldn't take me long to see the target of scorn which was a Red-tailed Hawk. It was funny because the mobbing annoyed the hawk obviously, but it also looked as if it was used to it by now so just focused its attention to what may be on the ground and paid no attention to its rabid fans. I'd continue walking and think about the Red-shouldered & Blue Jays a couple of weeks ago and realize I don't think I've ever seen a Blue Jay or even an American Crow go after an accipiter before. Could it be they're wise enough not to scramble with a ticked off Coop's or maybe I haven't been in the right place at the right time. And speaking of the Red-shouldered, I'd hear a Blue Jay do a spot on imitation of one and I never tire of that so it would be another bonus.

I'd come home and the comfort food I made was ready to eat. Home made macaroni and cheese that I labored over as well as fresh bruschetta from my garden that tastes delicious on top of the mac and cheese when it's all hot and bubbly and the cold bruschetta sets if off real nice and is a great way to use up some of the tomatoes that are still growing in my garden!!

And since I had craved comfort food it only seemed fitting that I consume some comfort liquid to go with it. Introducing another hobby I've picked up over the summer and that is beer!!! I had become a Blue Moon addict and am now expanding my horizons some with a year end goal of trying every beer they have at Wine Nation...Kidding.......kind of. I only allow myself 2 or 3 a night and only on weekends so I'll probably not get to all of them, but it's fun just the same and it's another list I can have and you all know my love of lists! Tank 7 is a great beer and is nice and light with citrus tones so it went perfectly with dinner.

After being recharged from the dinner and beer the night before, I decided to hit Kristoff Pig Farm in Sterling in hopes for more FOY birds. I'd get my FOY before even parking my car and that would be the Wild Turkey I was complaining about in one of my previous posts. I'd see four of them and I don't think I've ever been happier to see a turkey because I took it as a good sign of course!

The weather was horrible with a consistent drizzle, but I don't mind birding in weather like this and the only concern I normally have are with the optics as there's nothing worse than foggy binoculars when you're trying to ID a bird!

There were a ton of sparrows out including many Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and my new little friend the Swamp Sparrow who again, was not at all shy in front of the camera.

He'd move to the next branch and proceed to try and get some of the rain off of him while I watched knowing he was fighting an endless battle as my soggy feet could attest to. I have no idea how his head came out as dark as it did in this photo as it's the same bird but just looks weird in this shot. My camera being my camera again I guess.

I'd spend about 45 minutes in the rain following the various flocks of sparrows in hopes for a Lincoln's but now matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make any of them into one. It did give me the opportunity to really study the other birds though and never realized just how varied Song Sparrows can look in terms of color. I did manage to flush a good amount of sparrows who were feeding on the ground where they proceeded to land on some brush nearby and could confirm, the Swamp, Song and White throats and would get my bins on one with a really nice white crown, but be gone too quickly for me to determine whether or not it was a White-crowned or White-throated, especially with the foggy conditions so I'm assuming it was just a good looking white throat mixed in with the others.

The rain would pick up at this point and I was having so much fun exploring Kristoff, I decided to hit a trail that would take me into the woods.

Where hints of fall were everywhere including this cool picture above.

I'd spend another 45 minutes here and have decided this is on the list for snow shoeing this winter because the trails are prime with hardly and rocks or roots and a lot of open land which means plenty of sun which is always nice in the winter, especially with a pair of snow shoes on your feet.

Realizing I couldn't spend the rest of the day in the woods I decided to head back to the car, but hit a few of the smaller trails I overlooked previously, including this one that brings you to open land.

It wouldn't take me long to find a Northern Flicker like the one above. ;-). There would be quite a few of them so I decided to follow and they led me to some Black-capped Chickadees who led me to quite a few Yellow-rumped Warblers who led me to my FOY Blue-headed Vireo who led me to my FOY Palm Warbler who led me to my FOY Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Lesson learned, Flicker stalking does have its advantages.

The breath taking view I got of the Blue-headed Vireo was the best look I've ever gotten of one because it was on some lower tree branches so I could see in head on. The Palm Warbler is just as stunning in October as it is April and the Ruby-crowned just as striking with those pretty white eye rings its best known for. The rain was so bad at this point, I didn't dare take out the camera for pictures and now that I think of it, it's probably why I got as many birds I did with such great looks. Now that I have my camera back, I find that I'm still trying to work with it and often by the time I get it ready for a picture, the bird in question is gone so the opportunity lost. I think I need to develop a better balance between use of the bins vs. camera which was demonstrated to me today.

So all was not lost being out in the rain as long as I was. I had thought about calling it day an hour into Kristoff, but held my ground knowing that I needed at least one more FOY bird to make sure the Wild Turkey wouldn't be my last bird seen on eBird as that would just be downright embarrassing this late in the year, but as you all know, I'm not keeping a list, but I do have some pride ya know! A great way to spend my Sunday

Take care all.

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