Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Blues Heron Express

No these guys aren't blue herons, they're Blues Herons. Why you ask, well they live in the backyard of some longtime friends of mine. Danny and Felicia Dupree. Some folks from the Lawton Area may have heard of Danny's band the Brothers Dupree, a get down and dirty blues/jazz band. Honestly these guys are by far the best blues/jazz group that I have heard in Oklahoma. Actually I've seen a fair amount of blues shows, mostly on the east coast, these guys would definitely be tops over there as well!
Just as I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I took photos of the adults, this is the second time they have nested in the Dupree's backyard. Come to find out it is most likely the third. Yellow-crowned Night Herons typically prefer shady swamps or forested areas near water ( finally got to use this photo from three years ago!), I suppose an older portion of town with mature trees and a decent amount of shade works as well. This particular family of heron is nesting about thirty five to forty feet high in a Pecan Tree. They chose the exact same branch to nest as they did last year, fortunately in plain view which allows for decent photo opportunities. There is also a second nest positioned just above and about fifteen feet to the right of the active nest. Until recently everyone thought it had been abandoned, but just a few days ago we noticed new vegetation in it and a couple of eggs that had fallen out of the nest and had landed on the ground just below.

The five young of varying ages are all very active, and walk about the large branches. The more mature ones of the group usually venture a little further and forage along the main branches. Upon close investigation using a field scope it looked as though all primary feathers on the more mature birds were complete, and correspondingly these individuals are constantly flapping and stretching, probably working up to the moment of their first flight (hope I'm there). Well that's it for now, I'll keep everyone informed of how things turn out and hey, if you're in Lawton on a good weekend you should look for the Brothers Dupree they won't disappoint!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gallinule, Bitterns, and Moorehens Oh My! Gallinules, Bitterns, and Moorhens Oh My......

My surveys for the Slough didn't really begin until Monday (9th) morning, and then they were abruptly held up by torrential downpours in the evening. The totals in Broken Bow were 3+; I think the Red Slough got a little over an inch. Beck base camp was nearly torn to shreds by high winds. Even though my tent is pretty much expedition weight, it was only tied down with a few strings; had it been on the ground, I would have been alright. The winds were able to get under the floor and nearly turn it into a kite. Had David A. not had his knife handy, I would probably still be picking up the pieces in the marsh! Needless to say I spent the night at the Microtel in Broken Bow. A friend made a comment about hippies never sleeping in hotels, I feel good in saying this was a first in two field seasons of marshbird surveys. I mean I even got to take a shower, no late night dips in the slough for me.

After a good night's sleep, I hit the Slough Tuesday morning for a survey route that runs past Bittern Lake on the north side. My first broadcast point held three King Rails, the second point three more (and I could still hear the others from the last point); the remaining points produced Purple Gallinules, Common Moorehens, four American Bitterns, and a handful of Least Bitterns (click on the picture below and try to find the Least Bittern that is hidden!). It's not easy keeping track of all those birds in such a small area, trying to make sure you don't count the same bird twice, and deciding whether or not the American Bitttern that flew past you is the same from five minutes ago, possibly returning to or from the nest with some goodies for its little ones.
After the route I headed over to another location to check on some Virginia Rails that I had located on the previous visit. I had two associating adults, unfortunately I wasn't able to locate them again. Although I feel pretty confident that these guys bred at the Slough, I will probably have to wait another season before I get some solid evidence like a nest. But you never know, maybe we will see some young down there this year. After the check-up, I headed to Pintail lake for a lengthy (and tiring) session of nest searching. My goal was to map as many nests, and get egg counts when possible, for the entire lake.

Four hours later, and multiple trips back and forth across the lake, produced a total of four nests. Three with eggs and one which I came across while the female was building it. She was just getting to the point where the nest was starting to rise out of the water. The three active nests held 12, 10, and 9 eggs respectively, all of which were Common Moorehens. Only a single active nest for Pied-billed Grebe was located, unlike when I checked the lake two weeks prior, where only four grebe nests were found.

Pintail Lake is shaped much like a square; so in order to cover as much of the lake as possible, I criss-crossed its entire length. Not not just once, but enough times to exhaust myself. I tried to keep the intervals at aproximately 75 Meters, anything past that and I couldn't feel comfortable with saying that I found more nests than I missed. There are a few locations in the interior portion of the lake where I can't really get to in my canoe; there are so many downed trees and large, live willows that I end up getting pinned in, and waste lots of time retracing my steps. I have yet to find any nests in this portion of the lake, and that includes Pied-billed Grebes. David Arbour and I spoke about this a little, and we both suspect that close proximatey to trees and perching sites allows for higher predation rates (pure speculation of course).

Upon returning to my truck, I found a yellow slip of paper wedged into the door, surely not a ticket? No, a note from David asking me to check out a nest that Herschel Raney and he had located. His description was: two small white eggs, unmarked, postitioned in a willow treee about a foot off of the water. Instantly Least Bittern came to mind, I quickly hopped in the truck and drove to the location of the nest. As soon as I approached, a female Least Bittern flew out of the nest. I was right! I waded out about waste deep and took a few photos of the nest (yes, there is a nest in the photo on the left), and while I was there the female came flying around again only about ten feet from my head! How exciting! A few minutes later, I left the nest and then located a male foraging along the edge of a large patch of rushes (which is the bird in the first photo, if you can find him!). Soon after the excitement, I met up with David and Herschel and then proceeded to go to Pappa Poblano's for a nice late lunch/early dinner with David. Five hours later I was home, cleaning the kitchen and putting my girls to sleep, whew what a day!

*****One note this is all part of a research project I am working on, please do not try to relocate any of these nests that are mentioned in this blog. When I'm out I do my best to keep from disturbing the birds as much as possible, please practice restraint.....! Not that I think anyone would actually do such a thing.******

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moore from the Slough!

Another night at the Red Slough, fortunately this evening I am sharing the deck and a late evening meal with a green tree frog. I am munching on some almonds and raisins; the frog, an assortment of mayflies, multi-colored beetles, and spiders. We both agree that it couldn’t get much better. There’s a nice light breeze and the mosquitoes aren’t much of a bother.

It has been a very long two days. Yesterday was spent helping the Nickel Preserve do its annual breeding bird count; it’s always a treat to see my good friend Doc Revels, who helps with organizing it. This was my first visit to the preserve and I enjoyed it thoroughly (except for a nasty message from a disgruntled bird watcher when I got a chance to check my email!), even though I had managed to get only three hours of sleep the night before (no I was not partying!). Basically, just a late night drive followed by uncomfortable sleeping arrangements in the cab of the pickup. I met up with Jean and Martin B. and rode with them to the preserve. The count included a few highlights such as a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, a Blue-winged Warbler, and a very nice look at a Snowy Egret foraging in a small woodland stream. I am used to seeing them in large water impoundments or man made wetlands; it was a nice break to see one in truly natural habitat, and me without a charged camera…..duh! Following the count we traveled back to Tulsa and had a lengthy Oklahoma Important Bird Area meeting until around 12:30 ‘ish, and then finally a good nights sleep.

The drive from Tulsa to the Slough was long and uneventful, except for a biker gang that happened to be taking a break at a rest stop. I played the ever watchful observer, and wondered if I could ever be that much of a bad-ass. I mean these guys weren’t your latte’ drinking weekend warrior bikers, they were serious and just their presence demanded attention. Silently I moved on, as if watching an American Bittern foraging for its early morning meal, hoping not to disturb. Onward to the Slough I pushed.
Upon arriving I made the turn onto the road that takes you past Otter Lake, and then over to Pintail and Lotus Lakes, the site of Beck Base-camp for the next couple of days. The first bird or at least my first observation was of a Great-horned Owl cruising past the truck and over unit 37, all the while being mobbed by very unhappy Red-winged Blackbirds. It found a perch in a Willow tree; I snapped a shot and then moved on. The rest of the evening was spent nest searching for about an hour and a half, most of which took place in the dark. I located a single Common Moorhen nest with nine eggs on Lotus Lake (not the same nest from my last visit, this was a few hundred yards further down the levee to the south). I was also able to take a photo of a Purple Gallinule on Pintail Lake before the sun set.
Looking for nests in the dark is not exactly easy. It can be a little unnerving when ever there are two big, orange gator eyes staring at you from less than a hundred yards away in the dark. I would check his position ever five minutes or so, I think it was as wary as I was because it eventually moved out of sight. You know all those years of watching scary movies about attacking gators and sharks doesn’t help you feel at ease in the dark on open water in gator country. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to locate any nests on Bittern Lake, so my tally stayed at one for the evening after having located a Moorhen nest on Lotus Lake with 9 eggs.

My evening companion has shown back up, presumably after a short hunt on the backside of my tent. A bit of a unnatural setting for the guy, but I think he has been pretty successful with his novel approach and use of a man made structure as hunting grounds. That’s it for now, on to bed.

Just a note, this was written at the Slough, I couldn't find any oppurtunity to post it until now. The next post should be very interesting including many shots of various marshbird nest and some fun stories to go along..stay tuned

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Out of My Territory but Still Interesting

I had this one whittled down to White Checkered or Common Checkered Skipper, thanks to everyone who filled me in on it. It is a Common. I am still new to butterflies, but I felt there was to much white on the FW to be a Common. Shows what I know.

An Egg Mystery

This egg was one of three, all of which were likely from the same species. They measured 46-48 mm, were off white to buff white in color, non-glossy, and had no speckling of any sort. Duck species that were present were Redhead, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, also present was an Eared Grebe. I am leaning torwards Blue-winged. I also suspect that they are infertile, which may explain them being layed randomly along the mudflat in three distant locations, with no nest in sight. Interesting, feel free to leave some remarks or comments. Good Luck!

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Day in My Favorite Region

My first experience in the NW/Panhandle region of Oklahoma began a few years ago working on the Sutton Center's Lesser Prairie Chicken project. From that moment I pretty much fell in love with the region. I just love the smell of Sandsage on a cool morning with a light breeze. But, before I go and get all poetic about it, I'll get to the story. I spent the evening last night driving to Beaver County, and finally arrived at the Cimarron River at about 1 am, put the tent up, blew up my air mattress and snuggled down to some light reading. Bent's Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds, specifically the section on Black Rails, preparing myself mentally for the morning.

A few hours of sleep (about 4) and I was up and making my way to the first calling point. The morning progressed and unfortunately no calling Black Rails. I didn't let that get me to dissapointed, the marsh was drier than I have seen in past years and sometimes birds don't always do what you expect. Still I managed to located a pair of Virginia Rails, and a single Least Bittern, and that is where the story turns almost comical.

I had finished my survey and was walking back to the location where the Virginia Rails were detected, in hopes of securing hard evidence for breeding. I like to confirm breeding in every county with a nest, and have still manged to miss a Viriginia Rails (VIRA) in Beaver County. The presence of associating adults is pretty much a sure thing for breeding VIRA evidence however, this is not always adequate for record keepers. While walking back to that location I heard a familiar call, but just one. I stopped and listened and failed to hear anything else, but felt sure that a Least Bittern was lurking about somewhere. I walked around a small pond and caught a glimpse of something moving, sure enough there it was, a single Least Bittern stalking along the edge pf the pond. Finally something exciting for the morning, nearly making up for the missing Black Rails!

It was still early in the morning and cool, so I decided to do a little nest searching. I placed my gear on the ground and headed into the marsh with my binoculars and camera. I worked my way to the edge of the pond where I saw the bittern, and that's were things began to get a little messy. Before I knew it I was over knee deep in water, I took another step trying to get myself released from the muck on the bottom, and then it dropped off a little more. There I was standing nearly chest deep in water with the muck up to my knees keeping me from moving any further. When I looked down my Nikon Monarch's were completely submerged and my camera only an inch away from the end of its existence. I took them off my neck and held them high and proceeded to use my other hand to pry my legs out of the bottom of the pond. Five minutes later I worked myself out, and managed to take a picture while being only knee deep. My binoculars made it through the ordeal, and never fogged up (thank goodness!). I searched for a nest for another hour but never located anything. I also missed out on the VIRA's, but hey still a good and exciting morning.

After that I took the next few hours to check a few of my favorite spots in the region, including a small pond north of Laverne in Harper County. Much to my surprise there were four American Avocets hanging about. Using my scope I spotted a single bird sitting on what appeared to be a nest. After getting permission to enter the private property I walked out to confirm and was pleased to find it with three eggs. I left quietly and waited a hundred yards away and watched the female return and settle down.

Even without the presence of Black Rails I was pleased with the morning. I have a little reading to do, but from some early conversations with Dan R. at the Sutton Center the Avocets seem to represent a first breeding record for Harper County. The Least Bittern may represent a first record for the Panhandle but that requires some checking. Well for now that's about it.......till next time.