Thursday, May 22, 2008

Red Slough..part two

Even though I am out concentrating efforts on marshbirds (bitterns and rails, ect.), I do take note of other birds that I see while I'm out, and I picked up a few good species while out there. Take these two Willets (photo directly left) that were hanging around on Sunday, they spent most of the day on the Otter Lake levee. Another interesting species on Otter Lake were the Neotropical Cormorants. Its always fun to see a species like this, you get nearly sick of seeing there cousins the Double-crested Cormorant, so getting some good looks at three individuals of the former species is always fun. Even better getting to see both species together, which provided a nice photo as well as a good chance to compare the two (the smaller bird on the right is the Neotropic).
I suppose I should mention the marshbirds, since that was my purpose for the trip. Lets
just say there were plenty to go around. Least Bitterns are pleantiful there, and if you need this bird for your life list this is the place to pick them up. I had over twenty throughout my four day stay. Most of them I heard, but I did get to see about eight or so, either cruising low over the marsh, or making a quick exit when I spooked one. This is by far the most I have seen anywhere. I didn't really look for a nest, I will probably do that the net time I visit. A few other species were the American Bitterns, a couple of Soras, and the pair of Virginia Rails that I mentioned in my last post.

As mentioned before there were also Common Moorhens around (photo on the right). What I forgot to mention were the Purple Gallinules, which already have a nest which David A. had located well before my arrival. This is the only place in the state where this bird is known to occur, I think it's likely that there a marshes that are close to the slough that probably hold a few individuals, but these are all on private property. I wish I
had a good photo of these guys, I'll have to work on that, they really are in impressive species.
So it was a really great trip, I picked up a couple Oklahoma birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Willow Flycatchers. I will be heading back there in a couple weeks and will have to find some nests and try to get better photos, to share with everyone. So until the next to ya' later.
Oh, don't forget you can click on the pictures for a larger view!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marshbird Surveys at the Red Slough...part one

So I have been at the Red Slough in McCurtain COunty Oklahoma for 4 days, which is why I haven't posted anything. Unfortunately the accomodations at Beck Basecamp were laking an electric plug and internet service(see photo). They weren't short on bugs at night or birds during the day though. Actually the observasation platform was a great place to camp, and it kept me up and away from those ferocious little fire ants. Unfortunately it's a place that is not open to public camping. I was given special permission to camp there while doing my surveys. But don't let that stop you from going to check this place out. The more time I spend there, the more I like it. So for those of you that don't know. McCuratain County, Oklahoma is down in the far south-eastern corner of the state, it shares a border with both Texas, and Arkansas. Its far enough in to the "deep south" that it actually has alligators!

Alligators were constantly on my mind this weekend, but I'll save that for later. Beck basecamp was actually very comfortable and enjoyable. Fortunately it was a beautiful weekend and I slept without the rainfly on my tent, which was nice when viewing the stars, and catching a soft southern breeze. But, one evening it did start to drizzle, which is why the rainfly ended up on the tent by the end of the weekend. Oh, well. I enjoyed the view and the breeze while it lasted. Sounded nice though didn't.

My surveys are in the morning and evening, so a couple of the days I spent a few hours sitting and counting birds on the two lakes that I was camping between, Pintail and Lotus. This was actually also very productive in that I gathered a great deal of information and better uunderstanding on the movements of the Common Moorhens and American Coots, and yes these are rails also, between the two lakes. So during my time hanging at my own personal deck party I did see some really fun birds. Highlights from those day time counts included approximately 300+ Black Terns all feeding on Lotus Lake. They would skim around the surface picking up midges and other things I suspect. After a while they would all start circling skyward, clumping into one large drifting dark cloud of beauty. Oh, it was wonderful. Even better when I was out searching for nests on the lakes in my canoe and I found myself among the mass of feeding individuals, now that was cool!

Yes I did try to get photos of these guys while in my canoe, unfortunately I am not a photographer. Other fun birds where Anhingas, Neotropical Cormorants, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and the occasional Least Bittern either heard or seen to the east of my camp in one of the units packed solid with Spike Rush. On the story goes!

Saturday while searching for nests on Pintail I felt like getting some sun, so off came the t-shirt. Bad Idea! Ouch, can you say nasty sunburn. Yeah I know.....sun screen was invented for a purpose. Mom I know you are reading this, and I can picture you saying exactly that at this moment! Sunburn aside it was a productive couple hours, unfortuntaly I only located a couple of Pied-billed Grebe nests (photo on the left), which would total six by the end of the weekend. This is no big deal. They are actually pretty easy to spot, a floating mass of vegetation that sometimes resembles a nest. The only rail nest that I actually got a good look at was this Common Moorhen (right photo) nest that David Arbour pointed out to me. He had located it a few days prior. If you look at the eggs, you can see how different they are from the Pied-billed Grebe, which has no spotting, and is a completely different color, unless the egg has been stained by the wet vegetation in the nest (so the spots you see on the left are nothing but staining or pieces of dried vegetation, you can see the difference when compairing the two photos). Good things to know when you're out looking for specific species, and their nests.

Nests were on my mind alot this weekend. There are a couple of species that have never been found nesting in McCurtain County or the Red Slough. Hopefully I will be able to locate them and add to the knowledge of these species ranges. One such species is the Virginia Rail. I did find two adults birds, that were associating with one another. David and I looked for a nest for a little while but came up empty. I'll be back down in a week or two and should be able to locate the nest then...hopefully. David described our search as looking for a needle in haystack, so that gives you some idea as to the difficulty. Another rail that I am looking for nests for is the American Coot. I know that sounds crazy, but there has never been a confirmed nest at the Red Slough. I searched in vain for a while, but never found one. This maybe due to the fact that the vegetation in the lakes is still very short. Reference books say they like alot of cover to conceal their nest, right now the Slough doesn't have that much of it in their lake units. But soon enough they will, and then look out.

Well I've rambled on enough I suspose. I'm home and have errands to get to. I'll get some more of the story posted later. Bye for now.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

School Is Out and Birds Are In

I can't begin to express the sense of relief I am fealing. The 2 1/2 month long summer break is here. I don't have to worry about classwork, and I only have to concentrate on two things! My family and the marshbird project! Oh the beauty of it. We have started getting our new garden in shape on the south side of the house, and I've been working on the brick walkway. We have had the house for a year, and things are finally getting settled enough that we are getting to do some gardening.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about getting to work in the garden (besides the stress relief factors), is the chance to see the spring migrants come through, or watch the residents dig through the freshly tilled soil. The American Robins are especially tame, and don't mind dropping in while I'm still in working only a few feet away. A few of my better yardbirds this year thus far would be the Catbirds, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, and the Western Kingbirds that have come back to take advantage of the bee-hive in our yard.

I am going to do my best to get a few videos of these guys catching bees. It would be very interesting to find out what there success rate was. From what I've seen it's probably pretty high. Unfortunately the little buggers aren't nesting in my yard. I think they live across the street. Speaking of not nesting in my yard, I do know of a few nesting birds in the neighborhood.

Take for instance a pair of Yellow-cowned Night Herons nesting in my friends backyard. This is the second year in a row and it's probable that these are the same pair from last year. In fact there were a couple other birds gathering early in the breeding season and I suspect it could have been some of last years young. Pure speculation. So I've taken a few photos and I thought I might keep track throughout the summer and see how things progress.

These first few photos were taken on 8 April 2008. The two individuals were in the midst of a lackadasik round of struttin'. I was only able to get a few decent shots of the head and back plumage, only for the reason that they would put on a show for very brief periods.

One good thing about taking photos around sunset is that every once in a while you catch some realy pretty light. Which is what the next picture is in the post for, I love the pink hues that the sunset added to this shot, and it helped that the bird was posed pretty nicely. Not only a good photo oppurtunity but it just so happened that this particuliar evening I was fortunate enough to catch their copulatory routine as well. How exciting, right?

After the excitement the male bird dozed off, which speaks highly for most male vertabrates. My friends and I had a pretty good laugh after that. The next time that I made it over to my buddies, they had finished their nest and had begun to lay eggs. I picked up half of a shell that had fallen out of the tree before the nest was finished. This nest photo, which isn't that great was taken on the 23rd of April, same day of the egg.

I'll be keeping my eye on the couple and the outcome of their nesting attempt. I am also going to check some of my resources to see if this is in fact a first nesting attempt for the county (probably not). That's it for now!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Meeting of Ornithologist in Mobile, Alabama

I am taking a short break from studying for my finals, and thought I would try and ketchup on some of my latest adventures. The weekend after the Boots, Buckets, and Chickens event was spent schmoozin' with other bird nerds. From the 16th through the 19th I was presenting a poster on my Marhbird research at the joint meeting of the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Association of Field Ornithologists in Mobile, Alabama. This was my first large national ornithological meeting, from what I hear it doesn't even compare to the AOU meeting. But hey, I had a really great time, and learned a great deal.

First, my poster! Basically it was a bit of general information about the project, and then I added some highlights from the preliminary season (last spring/summer'07). Unfortunately we had so much rain last year most of my season was flooded out, however I still managed to find some goodies out there in the marshes of Oklahoma. The poster session was Friday evening, and I had some people come by and talk rails. Which I could do for hours. Its really interesting to run into people that are doing similiar research. You can share stories, bounce ideas off of one another, and just have a really good time with a complete stranger.

It was funny to see the reaction from people when they realized this work was being done in Oklahoma. It's definitely not a coastal state, and that's were most marsh bird research is happening. It gets even better when you tell them about the possible Black Rail populations in the state. Who would have thought, Oklahoma! Anyhow..good fun.

On with the story. So I have to admit. Yes, I did skip a few sessions to go out to Daphin Island to do some birding. Fortunately the crew from OSU (Andy George, Vic Cavaleri) were down with it as well. The three of us got in a hot, fierce birding battle with Tim O'Connell and Paul Rodewald from Ohio State. Some how those two old guys managed to bag a few more species than we did. You know it's probably age catching up with them, when you start going blind your bound to see good birds! Even though we were defeated by ten species we still managed to scrap up 101 for the day.

Perhaps the highlights for me were a handful of lifers that we happened upon. I picked up one of my nemesis birds, the Blackburnian Warbler. Actually the warbler was a lifer for Andy as well, so I didn't feel so ashamed. Having lived in the northeast, traveled through the smokies, and checked numerous hot beds of warblers I've never managed to get this bird, until that weekend. Boy what a looker! Two more lifers were a Sandwich Tern, and a Gull-billed Tern. Then there's the Reddish Egret which provided me with a nice little video of it's crazy prey catching technique, also a lifer. Which I will post as soon as I figure out how to attach videos to this thing!
Oh, and then finally there's the Clapper Rails. Yeah I wish my birds were as easy to spot as those guys down in Alabama are. They were out walking around mid-day, swimming, klakking, and making noise, it was great! I managed to get baptised by a saltmarsh, fully submerging my feet in about thigh high muck. Actaully, I have to admit. I really love getting dirty in a new marsh; I know, I know, that sounds really crazy, but it's true!

Anyhow it was a lot of fun, and the meeting, papers, and posters were exceptional!

I can't wait to return