Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A little bit from NW Oklahoma...again

Another couple of days in NW Oklahoma. Blue skies and beautiful scenery, I couldn't have asked for anything more. I just have to say, at some point I made a right turn in deciding to pursue birds for my life's work, I couldn't imagine a better job!

In between scouting for new fence marking and removal oppurtunities, future volunteer work weekends anyone, I did happen upon a few goodies. The best surprise of the weekend was locating eight Lesser Prairie Chickens at the Selman Ranch. What's new you ask? Well, they were all down in a valley, most likely seeking shelter from the cold north winds that could be found on the bluff and hill tops. I've been visiting the ranch for around three years now and this was the first time I have seen this many birds that were not on a lek, exciting for me, no pictures though.
I had a chance to visit Fort Supply and the Cooper Wildlife Management Area as well. The lake wasn't exactly pulsing with life, but there were some birds to be found. There were two adult Bald Eagles along the eastern shore. I suppose they were male and female, although I never got close enough to find out if there was a difference in size between the two. I suspect in the upcoming weeks I should start looking for some nest building activity. Gulls were also abundant, at least the first day I checked, unfortunately they were all Ring-billed or Herring. I guess that means I'm still on the search for a state record!

Also had a run-in with a Striped Skunk who was happy to provide me with some nice photos. Fortunately, even though it did show me the dangerous end of its body, it never did follow through...thankfully.

Short and sweet! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More from the Northwest......Oklahoma

I spent another 4 beautiful days in northwest Oklahoma had a grand time, as usual, and got a great deal of planning and field work done for the Important Bird Areas program! I made it to the Selman Ranch IBA late Friday evening, mid-nightish, and was promptly woken by Sue at 4:30 am. Nothing like a few hours of sleep to get you fresh for the morning! Sue had mentioned to me that she was heading over to the Salt Plains NWR to take photographs and see Whooping Cranes. Having never been to the Salt Plains during this portion of the year, especially Whooper
(Whoop..whoop) season I sort of invited myself. Sue obliged, and even drove!

Sue spent the morning surrounded by American Avocets and Am. White Pelicans; I ran about trying to locate as many species as possible. Overall the first few hours we were there were very enjoyable. Sue got some great photos, and I managed to see a quick smattering of birds. It was nice getting back out in the field after a few stress filled weeks. A lot of the winter migrants have descended upon Oklahoma. Not all of them, but it took me back to my days on the Winter Bird Atlas. I found myself surrounded by loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Juncos, and of course the little brown jobs (sparrows).

After Sue's photo session was rudely interrupted by a seemingly-less oblivious park goer, we moved away from the spillway area and over to a few other portions of the refuge. Quick note, if you are walking around at a State Park or Wildlife Management Area, or National Wildlife Refuge and you see someone with a large camera and lense patiently being still and looking very focused; do not interrupt. Wait until they move and find something else to do for a few minutes and then go ask them what they are doing and what it is or was they were looking. But if the person is obviously intently doing something, for gosh sakes be polite and wait!

The sound of Sandhill Cranes could be heard from all over the area. I was standing on the top of the spillway of the reservoir and all that you could hear were cranes. They were at least a mile off or more, their presence could be felt everywhere. As we progressed closer to the refuge headquarters and the Sand Creek Bay area, the sound got louder and louder. At Sand Creek, there were at least a few thousand Sandhills but no Whooping Cranes. We stayed and spotted the whole area with a scope but never came up with a species that was of great need to document; I made some notes. We moved on.

Next was the shorebird viewing area. There were at least 300 gulls of varying species. Most of them were Franklin's and Ring-billed, they were far enough out of reach that really picking through them for subtleties was near impossible. As we were getting ready to leave the boardwalk the flock did finally get up and move, directly overhead I might add. In typical Franklin fashion they swirled in the blue sky, no more than a hundred and fifty feet away, and then slowly, individually or by small group, the birds rolled out all headed northeast of us to a smaller more sheltered mud/sand flat. Watching the behavior of Franklin Gulls on migration is wonderful, the way they move as a flock is one of my personal favorites. Probably coming in a close second to blackbirds, in my opinion.

After stopping in Cherokee for a few minutes we made our last stop for the morning at the crystal digging area. It didn't take long before we located three large white crane at the north end of the reservoir. Pretty soon after that they took off and got mixed up with a few American White Pelicans, at which point I ended up following the wrong large white birds and lost them. Oh well! All in all, it was great few hours. Sue got some great photos, I got another look at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge and more fuel for the IBA summary we are preparing for National Audubon. We traveled back to the Selman Ranch and later went out for an evening survey. One of my last for the season at the ranch. More on the weekend later.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Afield in's only temporary

Due to an unfortunate turn of events my family and I have spent the last few days in Houston. While my wife tended to family business I have been working diligently to keep my girls interests peeked, my mantra, keep the boredom monster from setting in!

We've had two fun trips, one to Galveston where we managed to not get run over by the thousands of bikers who were attending the Texas Biker Rally. We spent the afternoon walking the beach and running from the waves, loads of fun! In between photos of my girls I managed to see a bird or two, even managed to photograph a couple of them. I was surprised by the numerous Piping Plovers running about. Far more than I have seen in one sitting, none of them were banded. There were also numerous Ruddy Turnstones, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, and lots of gulls and tern. Unfortunately my Laridae list is shorter than it could have been, no scope, and certainly not enough time to pick through them all. Don't forget I had two little sanderlings of mine own scurrying about! There were loads of Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls, also twenty or so Royal Tern. I was able to spot a Black Skimmer at night while walking the beech in the light of the full moon. Not bad for having two handfuls.

The girls had loads of fun gathering shells, poking dead jellyfish and chasing around dragonflies, which were numerous for November. Of course I'm not real sure they follow the seasons like birds. Maybe someone else can fill me in, but it seems they depend more on the current temperatures than the actual seasons.

Following Galveston we spent the next day checking out Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. We only spent a few hours there but had a great time. Our main purpose was to see an American Alligator, after some persistence we finally found one. The girls just loved it, this being a first for both of them. It was a young one, maybe 6 or 7 feet in length and still pretty small in the body. There were loads of birds around, but I didn't spend nearly enough time picking through them. Lots of Marsh and Sedge Wrens, Tri-colored and other common wading heron and egret. Neo-tropical Cormorants were plenty, we also manged a few American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. Maybe someday I'll get down there for a rope drag and get a Black and Yellow Rail or two.

We are getting ready to leave Houston, so it's time for me to go. Stay tuned though I am working on a post about wind development, Lesser Prairie Chickens, and a call to action for Oklahoman's and birders alike....Till then!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Crazy Couple of Weeks

Well lets just say I've been busy! Over the past few weeks I've traveled up to the Selman Ranch IBA, hit Robber's Cave State Park for the 2009 Oklahoma BioBlitz, a quick and dirty meeting at Beaver's Bend State Park with my favorite Okies from south of Muskogee. I took a three day trip to the US Fish and Wildlife Services National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, made it back to Cameron University for my Chem II exam and lab, and spent this past weekend at the Wildlife Expo at the Lazy E Arena. I know I'm forgetting something...

Oh well. Instead of a long drawn out story I'm gonna throw some photos at you. Enjoy!

A few shots from the NCTC in West Virginia, my second visit, and equally as enjoyable.

The man, the legend!

A shot of Theodore Roosevelt our 26th President. I should have taken notes on the photograph, I don't recall who the other prominent fellow is. I do know it is not John Muir.

The gun on the left was at least seven foot long, a punt gun, it was attached to the front of a boat and could take out a dozen or more waterfowl in one shot. I'm glad we finally caught on! If we would have kept up with that practice there would be no waterfowl left!

Dreaming of clear streams and Kokanee Salmon!

A Few Words of Wisdow

These photos were a big surprise to me. I had loaned my camera to a good friend and look what he gave it back to me with.

The 2009 BioBlitz, from the eyes of Cameron University

I drummed up a few volunteers from Cameron University for the 2009 BioBlitz at Robber's Cave State Park, no these two aren't it but they meant business! We had a great time, ran into a few birder friends I hadn't seen in a while, and managed to not burn the place down! All in all a great experience.

One of the most common butterflies of the event . An Eastern-tailed Blue (Cupido Comyntas)

Apparently the pressure of the Cameron Biology faculty is almost too much to bare. At the actual site "Robber's Cave".

The bug whisperer, she stunned us all later as she did a repeat performance with a Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia). She actually got it to walk onto her finger. I later tried this technique on the way to the Wildlife Expo with a Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis), I was pleasantly rewarded.

A Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis), these were pretty common along the shorelines of the lakes.

Till Next Time!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Salt Plains Mountain Plover

Well, I'm mid stream with classes so don't expect much. I figured I'd post these Mountain Plover pictures from Sept 4th at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge. An especially pleasant surprise. These are digiscope photos taken using a camera that I was a little unfamiliar with so there a little grainy. Observers that were present were Ron Sheppard, Jackie Vargo an SCA student from San Francisco, and yours truly. Later!

Monday, August 17, 2009

North, East and all over again, part I

Wow, so it's been a very long time since my last post. To say the least I've been busy, my apologies to the few people who check daily for changes (mom?). I took classes through the summer and they finally wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. Since that point I have been desperately trying to play catch up with the to-do list at home, and the other list sitting in front of my home office desk. Needless to say some things have gotten checked off and some things haven't, the fall semester started on Wednesday, while things are still a little slow I decided to get some posts out.

Two weeks ago Monday (that's right 10th August 2009) I started off driving north out of Lawton, stopping at Tom Steed Reservoir before heading to the Selman Ranch. Birds were a little slow but I did pick up a few, including but not limited to, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, ten Upland Sandpipers, and a number of common shorebirds. I actually fared better with dragonflies/damselflies, I managed to get
photos of what seemed to be a Powdered Dancer (above, female, comments on identification are welcome) emergence, or perhaps not so long after one. There were literally hundreds (<250) all moving about and testing my patience as a photographer.

I made it to the Selman Ranch that evening, and the next morning I watched the sunrise on the Buffalo Creek Salt Flats. Sue Selman and I watched the adult and young Least Tern pitch and dive for the little morsels of minnows that were still pooled up along the stream bed. After a few looks at Snowy Plovers, Black Tern, and both Greater and Lesser Yellolegs we moved on. Stopping here and there along the way back to Selman Ranch Headquarters we managed a few more common bird species and had a spectacular time chasing bugs around, some of which are shown below. This Variable Dancer (above), represents a new record for the county...(pending that is), a very attractive little guy.
The same can be said about this Blue-Ringed Dancer (also pending).

Ok, I figured why not throw this Sachem Skipper in for kicks, the photo just turned out so nicely.

I still have a number of photos to identify so that dragon/damselfly county record count may continue to rise. After a nice visit with Sue I moved on west to Laverne, but not before stopping at my favorite pond in Harper County, which followed a visit to Doby Springs. The springs produced a Great-crested Flycatcher, multiple Blue Grosbeaks, female and young Orchard Orioles, as well as a smattering of other more common species (BGGN, NOCA, ect..). The odonates weren't all that bad either. In the shaded spots were loads of Ebony Jewelwings (25 or so now that I think about it), and as I picked through them and others I was able to locate a Great Spreadwing (pending county record). I mean this guy was really neat looking, at least a quarter size or more larger than the Ebony Jewelwings, and a little more difficult to spot, a more cryptic color pattern and clear wings. There were also plenty of butterflies and other bugs as well. Cottonwood Burrowers were flying about. Jim Arterburn sent me this wonderful photo that he took at the Salt Plains on the 14th of August. Great shot Jim and thanks!

Can you believe I had some wonderful photos of two burrowers myself and managed to accidentally delete them all, all that is except for a few that I manged to crop and save right away when I got to laverne...........argggg, very frustrating indeed!).These guys would be pretty intimidating creatures if you didn't know any better.

After Doby Springs it was on to my favorite pond (Marty and George know the one). Just like always (or at least it seems that way) a great bird was awaiting me. It took some patience and a little good luck, but the molting adult Sanderling (owing that correction to Michael Patten, I thought it was a juvenile but you can definitely still see a tiny tinge of "rufous" under the birds chin) was a welcome return to the bird world.
It made me work though (probably because it was a state bird for me), constantly flushing and flying across the pond. I'd get my scope out and everything set-up for a digi-scope photo and then a truck would come by and off the bird would go, again. Just before I was ready to leave and after having spent entirely too much time working for a documentation photo, I noticed two birds flying straight at the truck from across the pond. Wouldn't you know it one of them was the Sanderling, the other a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. I couldn't believe it. I took photos, some from only 20 feet or so and then headed for Laverne and a quick gas up and visit to Oklahoma Lesser Prairie Chicken Headquarters. About twenty minutes later I stopped at Fort Supply, I scanned the lake and nothing. Soon after I headed east.

This seems like just the place to stop....stay tuned for part two of the story..Henslow's Sparrows and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More thoughts on the Wild Turkey carcasses

I'm in Wichita, KS at the moment and just finished up a series of two presentations over the past two days. My first, an Important Bird Areas program/discussion held in the beautiful town of Lawrence. It just seemed like a very tranquil place to live, lots of people walking, riding bikes, recycling centers, clothing/shoe deposit sites...... I wish I could have stayed a little longer. However that was not the case and I headed for Wichita today. This evening, a presentation on the marshbird distribution work that I am doing in Oklahoma. It was held at the Great Plains Nature Center which is a really great place. I may end up visiting the center again before I leave tomorrow morning. Both events went well and I think people enjoyed the presentations, I believe only one person fell asleep! No, just kidding.

So while I've been traveling apparently my post about the Wild Turkey carcasses sparked some feelings of concern with many people. First, it was my initial impression that this was in fact the work of a human. My comments about the predators were more of a hopeful nature, I've seen plenty of dead birds. Part of the field work I did for the Sutton Center required me to identify the causes of moralities with the Lesser Prairie Chicken we were tracking. Now that I really think about these carcasses must have only been a day or two old. Had they been there any longer I believe something would have consumed them. So maybe it was in fact a poacher.
Having said that I'd like to apologize for addressing my suspected culprit as a hunter. Having been a hunter myself, and been raised by family of hunters I should have known better than to address someone that would do something like this as a "hunter". Because in fact they are a "poacher". My apologies to any hunters out there. Well I've got a little work to do so until the near future....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cold, Dead Turkey

So this past week while I was surveying/camping at Fort Supply resevoir. Usually mid-day is my time to rest and sometimes bird. In this case I was checking out the local woodlands that surround the resevoir. I was walking the limits of the campground hoping for warblers, but mostly picking up orioles, waxwings, and lots more common stuff. Something I didn't expect to find were some rotting carcauses. Five to be exact. They were no more than a few feet from a campsite, just lying in some tall grass.

This was very perplexing to me. Who and what did it, was it human or did some lucky predators get into a group of turkey and have a field day. I'm leaning torwards the former. So in the interest of interesting comments and theories I have a few questions.

1) Look closely, is this the way turkey are normally field dressed? I mean you can actually make out the sternal keel in the photo on the bottom, on the center bird . Do hunters cut the meat off of the breast and leave the bone, in the field?
2) If this was a predator(s), the only individuals I can think of that could take down a turkey would be a Bobcat or some Coyotes. Could this be the case in this situation?

3) If this was a hunter(s), why leave the carcasses lying and rotting so close to the campsite? Talk about no respect for others.
4) Again, if these were game for someone it seems like a lot of waste. Isn't there something all of those feathers and parts could be used for?

If you'd like to comment either email me personally or maybe even comment on them on the listserve Okbirds. Just be mindful that we shouldn't try to offend anyone in our comments.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Black Rail Fun

Well I was standing there at my second broadcast point with my camera around my neck and turned off...can you see where this is leading. I had a single Black Rail calling about 20 yards in front of me when all of the sudden another Black Rail gets up and out of the sedges and flies about eight feet only ten feet from my dumb-founded face. No, no picture, although I've got some great recording of one calling from only a few feet away. This is by far the best look that I have ever had of a Black Rail. Full morning sun, you could see the soft grey tones of its underwing and it's belly. It's feet were held in typical rail fashion, hanging down below its body. Just a really great look. Very exciting.

Another interesting thing from this morning was a young blonde racoon.. I did get photos of this guy. Obviously not an Albino, but still very cool. I'm not sure how common this is but I'd be interested to hear anything anybody has to share about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Harper County...well, mostly just the Laverne area

Well another good day of marshbird surveys. I spent the entire day in and around Laverne. Many of the playas north of town are full, including the large Gate playa that sits along the Harper/Beaver County line. In all I had 78 species for the day. The morning marshbird survey turned up 4 each Sora and Virginia Rail. Some other birds that came along the way included 36 Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and a drake and hen Cinammon Teal. For the first time in three years at this site I was unable to locate any American Bitterns, very surprising and a little dissapointing. After completing the surveys in the morning I checked a few of the local playas. They are full of water, however the shorebirds were a little slim and I was only able to pick up ten species, including 10 White-faced Ibis, and a few American Avocets. Three Black Tern were a first of year for me, and one of the better birds of the day.Cinammon Teal, 14-May-2009,

The evening was spent surving for marshbirds yet again. I located three more Virginia Rail, still no American Bittern. For some reason there are far more Green Heron present this year. So it makes me wonder wether or not the usual locations that I find the bitterns may either be to deep or the vegetation just isn't dense enough, not sure...The best bird of the day was a single male Bobolink. This was a new state bird for me, I always manage to miss them at the Red Slough. Didn't miss him this time, although when I went for my camera it headed for cover. Still exciting though! Not a bad day at all, and tomorrow morning 0530 sharp I'll be chasing Black Rails.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

336 Miles, Hackberry to Laverne and Inbetween

Monday (11-May-2009) evening at Hackberry was overcast but productive. My survey route ran the east west levee of the Goose and Yellowleg Units. The highlights of the marshbird survey included 2 Sora (Porzana carolina), 3 King Rails (Rallus elegans), an American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)and two unidentified medium sized (most likely Soras) rails. I picked up some great birds along the way. Ibis were everywhere (225+), conditions wouldn't allow proper identification so there could have been Glossy present but I can't be sure. A flock of 22 Willets (Catoptrophus semipalmatus), were seen and heard flying from one unit to another, and shortly after a flock of around 35 Godwits (Limosa sp..) . Conditions remained bad but I countinued and it paid off. At around 2020 hrs I located 13 Ruddy Turnstones (Arenaria interpres), there were probably more but the conditions were so awful I could only make out the individuals that were in the open and clear. Fortunately they really stand out in their alternate plmage, I didn't even bother worring with peep identification.

The good birds continued the next morning (12-May-2009) with a Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola) and King Rail. After surveying for marshbirds, I turned my attention to birds in general and decided to stay in the area until noon. This to paid off and throughout the morning I picked up an American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)and Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus) in the south boundary willows. I added 5-Black-bellied Plover(Pluvialis squatarola) and Buff-breasted Sandpipers (Tryngites subruficollis, 6; a first for me at Hackberry). Lots of other great birds were present but most were the usual suspects for this time of year.
I moved on and north to Fort Supply and was greated by yet another Ruddy Turnstone. This guy was all alone, except a single Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla). This brings my spring total to 15+ Ruddy Turnstones; just think up until this year it was a state bird for me! This individual was particularly tame and I was able to lay on my belly from about ten feet away and took loads of great full light shots, this one was especially good.

Fort Supply was nice, and quiet, and empty. Just the way I like. Through the 20 hours that I was there the birds worth mentioning included 7 Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) , lots of Spotted Sandpipers (Actitus macularia), 23 Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), 36 Plegadis Ibis, 2 Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), a family of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe), and one unidentified Catharus thrush. Well tomorrow includes surveys of some sloughs associated with the Beaver River just north and east of Laverne, and then on to Black Rail territory so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ruddy or Knot

So yes there was infact a Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) today at Hackberry Flats WMA around 9:15 am. But no, there wasn't a Red Knot; I just couldn't avoid using the title, it just came too quickly. The turnstone wasn't the only good bird though, so keep reading.I spent last night and today wrapping up my first rounds of marshbirds surveys for the 2009 season down at the now sopping wet survey site. Last week I visited the flats as well, and things were a whole different story. I was actually considering not going back this year because it was so dry. What's the point in looking for marshbirds in dry habitat? Well I'm glad I did go back to check it out. No marshbird photos, although I had a one Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola, 2-May-2009) and Sora (Coturnicops noveboracensis, 3-May-2009) each, both responding to broadcasts. Now that things are adequately wet at the flats I suspect we'll begin seeing the usual numbers of rails, ect. for our wet springs.
Some other highlights included Yellow-headed Blackbirds ( Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus, approx. 64), White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) , and a single Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Ok, so the Glossy Ibis photo sucks more than usual, I'll try to explain what I saw in the field. The small white lines (moderately visible in the photo) that outline the dark lore had a bluish tone to them. The lore, unlike the other adult Plegadis sp. present, was a dark plum kind of color. Distinctly not the pinkish lore surrounded by white that you see in P. chihi. I observed the bird from about 85 yards or more, for about fifteen minutes. It was pretty over cast, however it was late enough in the morning that the sun was breaking through at points. So the light and brightness could have been worse! What I didn't notice until I got the photo home is that the green on the head of this individual looks as though it wraps around and below the base of the bill, making the head appear dark. Now in my field guides this varies to a degree between authors. In Peterson's and Sibley's they both show a darker head for the Glossy. My Nat. Geo. does as well, be it a little more defined. I guess what I'm getting at, is this a field identification mark that you could use while picking through adult Ibis?
Other birds of particular interest were a couple Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus), a single Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialus squatarola), one Dunlin (Calidris alpina), and at least 14 Snowy Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus). I walked four different tree out croppings after my marshbird surveys, hoping to pick up some neo-tropical migrants that may have dropped out during the luck. Well that is except for an unidentified Empidonax, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata). There were plenty of Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida), and about 6 Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula), and oops almost forgot 3 House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon)! This was a first for me at Hackberry and I was little surprised to see them to be honest. First of the season as well.

Along the way I found a couple of nests, so I thought I'd share them as well.

First, two Morning Dove (Zenaida macroura) chicks, they almost look like little Dodos!

Second, an Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) nest with
5 eggs