Sunday, September 22, 2013

Awesome Yard Birds!

Well it's been a while since I have had a new post here at Bird Lady Blog.  I've been a bit pre-occupied with becoming a first-time Grandmother, with baby boy Cyrus due on Thanksgiving Day!  Also, I was having an issue with getting car sick when I would go out birding.  But today, as fall has officially arrived, the birds decided to come to me!  Awesome bird days like these are few and far between...

As I stepped out on my balcony to get a wiff of that cool, crisp fall air, I heard a familiar sound.  It was a Pileated Woodpecker, one of my favorite birds, my 'Spark' bird, the one that got me interested in birding over 27 years ago.  As I scanned the ground where the woodpecker was, I catch a glimpse of another one!  Two Pileated Peckers foraging for ants most likely.  Ants are the main diet of these woodpeckers.  I ran to get my binoculars and camera to try and get some footage of these awesome birds.  When I got back, I noticed there was a third bird a few trees away from the other two.  When I took a break from the binoculars, I saw a fourth woodpecker fly on to the scene!  Likely an entire family!  And to top that off, there was also a Northern Flicker hanging with the gang of Pileated.

I took four different videos I will share.  Pardon the shakiness.  While I was videoing the birds, my son let the darn cat, Stanley Oliver outside.  Immediately he ran over next door and started stalking my lovely woodpecker family!  OMG, I would be devastated if he was to get one.  I did send my son out to get him when he proceeded to get too close to them.

After all the excitement of the four, well five woodpeckers, I went inside to download my videos.  Not long after that, I went back out on the balcony when I heard some birds calling back and forth.  For a quick second, I thought the Pileateds were back, but the sound wasn't quite right.  Then I thought perhaps it could be a Belted Kingfisher, they have an interesting call like what I was hearing.  I scanned the trees, over and over, looking for any movement.  Back and forth the birds were chatting with each other.  It took quite a while for me to finally see one of them when it flew to another tree.  I got the binoculars, but it was difficult to see, and mostly was hanging out behind a bunch of pine needles, so I couldn't see it clearly.  I snapped a couple of photos, thinking I might be able to zoom in on the computer and see better.  The photos weren't clear either, as the pine needles were in the way.  So I get out my trusty iPhone iBird app and do a search based on the criteria I do know.  Came up with three possibilities, an American Kestrel, which I knew it was too big.  A Sharp-shinned Hawk, which I have seen here once before, and a Merlin, which I have never seen.  Not knowing which of the two it was, I listened to the call of both birds.  Sure enough, it was not the Sharp-shinned, but indeed it was the Merlin!  A life bird for me!
A Shy Merlin hiding
So between the four Pileated Woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker, and a pair of Merlins for yard birds today, it makes for an A-W-E-S-O-M-E Bird Day!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Birds of Prey Show

I was excited to hear that there was going to be a Birds of Prey exhibit at the Big Horn Show at the Spokane Fairgrounds this weekend. Promptly, I had Bird Lady Assistant put it on our schedule. When Saturday came, we showed up at the Big Horn Show and I practically ran (well, not really) from the information booth to the annex where we were told the Birds of Prey would be. The show was to start at 5:00, and we had about 25 minutes before the it started. There were a few things to look at while we waited. But I wanted to get good seats, so I didn't want to dilly dally too long. Here are some posters that showed the stars of the Birds of Prey Show.
The Stars of the Show
They had this sweet looking little American Kestrel, named Sadie in a cage that did not seem to mind all of us photogs trying to get a snapshot of her. Here I just used my iPhone because it seemed to fit right in between the wire cage. Come to find out, Sadie is the center's loudest and meanest bird! Can't judge a 'bird' by it's 'feathers', I guess.
Sadie, the American Kestrel
When the show was about to start, they started bringing out the birds. The first bird to come out, I didn't recognize. It wasn't until later, after the speaker started, that I found out it was a Harris's Hawk named Stanley. They aren't from around here, only the very most southern part of the US in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and into Mexico and Central America.
Stanley, the Harris Hawk
The bird handlers ranged in age from about 9 or 10 it looked like, to teens and 20's. There were two experts who took turns doing the speaking, one on hawks, the other on owls. The youngest handler, who looked to be about 9, worked with the birds daily at the Hawk and Owl Sanctuary at West Valley Outdoor Learning Center. He seemed very confident in his handling skills.
Young Handler and Stanley the Harris Hawk
I did recognize the next star of the show. It was One-eyed Willie, whom I had
seen on TV on KHQ 6 news, advertising the Birds of Prey exhibit at the Big Horn Show. He was a beautiful male Barn Owl. The males have a mostly white belly, while the females have more spots/streaks on their bellies. The teenage handler of Willie said his favorite part of the Barn Owl was their heart-shaped facial disk. I was surprised to learn that Barn Owls only live one or two years and eat up to 1000 mice a year!

One-eyed Willie the Barn Owl
I've only seen one other Barn Owl, and that was at my friend Jana's. She had one roosting in the peak of her house one year, and invited me over for lunch one day so I could see the owl they named Baxtor. Just recently I found out that the males have mostly white bellies, and the female's bellies are more spotted or streaked. So I think Baxtor was most likely a female, so maybe Baxtorette is more appropriate? You can see her at the bottom of this blog on the scrolling banner.
Willie, Barn Owl
The next owl star to appear on stage was a Great Horned Owl named Hanovi. The handler stood right behind Willie so I couldn't see worth a darn. Did I mention we had front row seats? They were still in setup mode, and the speaker gal was looking to the audience to see if we could see, so I gestured that we couldn't see. Then she directed the handler to bring Hanovi down in front of the stage just a few feet from where we were sitting. Our front row seats became up close and personal seats in a snap!

Hanovi, the Great Horned Owl
Hanovi was quite the character during the show. He kept flapping his wings and ending up hanging by his feet upside down until the handler could get him back right side up and perched on her leather-gloved arm. His feather covered feet were so cool. They looked more like dog paws.
Hanovi flipped upside down
Apparently, Hanovi is well behaved enough that he can be kept out of his cage, although tethered to a pole. He does snap and hiss at people, but doesn't bite. His beak is so strong he could snap a broomstick in half.
Hanovi, the Great Horned Owl
You can imagine my glee when the next bird came out and it was a huge Rough-legged Hawk! Yep, my newest life bird (see yesterday's post). They came and stood right in front of me just about 3 feet away! I swear I was in hawk heaven! The main speaker said this was her favorite, and her name was Pantelones, which is Spanish for Pants, which happens to be her nickname. She was named this because of the feathers on her legs make it look like she is wearing pants.
Pantelones (Pants) the Rough-legged Hawk
This hawk was really a gorgeous creature, and to be so up close and personal was truly a special moment. The fact that I had just added this hawk to my life list yesterday, made it all the more special. Pants made the sweetest little chirps, and her handler would whisper to her throughout the show.
Pants, the Rough-legged Hawk

On the other side of the stage, down on the floor was another owl. Oroville was a mixed hybrid. Spotted Owl x Barred Owl = Sp+arred Owl. 
Spotted Owl x Barred Owl = Sparred Owl
The owl expert told us that the dark-eyed owls always have a pale beak, and the light-eyed owls always have a dark beak. They aren't sure why. Are you scrolling back to see the previous owls? Yep, the Barn Owl has dark eyes, pale beak. The Great-Horned Owl has light eyes and a dark beak.
Oroville, the Sparred Owl
The following picture is of a Long-eared Owl. Notice the eyes look a little dull? That is because it is a stuffed (taxidermy) specimen.
Long-eared Owl (stuffed) on display
Some other fun wildlife from around the Big Horn Show...
Friendly Skunk
Black Bear
Mountain Lion
Brown Bear
Black Bear
It was a great time spent with the Bird of Prey at the Big Horn Show. I wasn't much interested in all the other hunter related stuff, but did enjoy doing some taxidermy birding while I was there. Scoping out all the stuffed ducks and birds and trying to identify them. I stopped by one booth that had some spotting scopes and binoculars displayed. Told the guy I was into bird watching, not hunting. He pointed out a pair of binoculars and said they were the top bird watching bins. I took one look through them and it was like looking through the cleanest window you had ever seen with the freshest eyes! He told me they run about $18.99. I was sold! I was about ready to whip out my debit card when I realized he was talking eighteen hundred and ninety-nine dollars!! I laughed, and told him he was a big tease! Now, Bird Lady wants some obscenely expensive bins! Oh boy...
~ Sherrie (Bird Lady)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mistaken Identities... The Beginning of Spring!

Now that it is officially spring, I'm eager to get out and about, but it is still too cold and breezy to be outside for more than a few minutes. So car birding it is for me, until that weather warms up. Since I had such good luck in Deer Park on Enoch Rd., I headed back there today to see if I could get some more birds in.

The first bird I saw after I turned off the busy highway was a small rusty-breasted bird with a dark body sitting on a phone wire. I snapped a quick pic, thinking it was a Barn Swallow. But after looking at the shot on the computer, it didn't look quite right for a swallow. With the rusty belly, and a grayish, blue tone back, and a notched tail, I knew right where I wanted to check next in my Stokes guides. Sure enough, I had mistaken the identity and had actually captured a Western Bluebird. Makes me happy because I haven't seen one since 2004. So almost 10 years ago. Nice to put one on my 2013 list.
Western Bluebird
As usual, I saw lots of Red-tailed Hawks.
Red-tailed Hawk
Thought I saw a Bald Eagle, in the same area where I saw two Bald Eagles last week (the one in the photo-merge pic from my last post). I was thinking maybe it was a juvenile eagle who's white head had not quite come in all the way. There were two of the large birds out in the field close to each other, both looked like they were in different stages of molt or different ages. Wasn't sure if they were Bald Eagles or Red-tailed Hawks. It looked like too much white on the chest for a Bald Eagle when I looked through the binoculars. So I took several pictures, and when I got home, I enlarged the pics on my huge 23" screen computer. Consulted my old Stokes Field Guide to Birds Western Region (1996) and my new Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America (2010).  Did some research online and determined they were neither Bald Eagles or Red-tailed Hawks.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that they were indeed hawks...

Of the Rough-legged variety (with feathers on their legs).

Rough-legged Hawk... a new life bird for me #101.

Of course spring means lots of American Robins.
American Robin
Also, new for this year, were a dozen Killdeer out in the field hanging near some European Starlings. They were too far off for pictures, so I had to use the binoculars and could still barely see them. They are such cute little birds and their sweet little faces that stood out even in the distance. A fun fact about Killdeer is the parents will fake a broken wing and start chirping real loud to distract predators from it's nest. It's a hoot to see!

These sweet little bunnies were busy getting ready for the big Easter weekend coming soon...

Best of all, I didn't even get a hint of car sickness wearing my motion sickness bands! I feel like Super Bird Woman with them on!

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that Bird Lady Assistant (hubby) is taking me to the Big Horn Show this weekend to see the Birds of Prey Exhibit! They showed a one-eyed Barn Owl named One-eyed Willy on the news today. I'm excited to go and hope to get some close-up pictures of some cool Birds of Prey! Stay tuned...

~ Sherrie (Super Bird Woman)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the Way Home... Yearning For More Birding

On the way home from my afternoon of owling and then grocery shopping, I was still yearning for more birding! So I took the back road instead of jumping on the highway towards home. There is a natural bog/wetland area with a dead end road on one side and agricultural land on the other side of the road. I had never ventured down the dead end road before, but it seemed like a great place to bird!

The first bird I saw was an Eurasian Collared Dove hanging out on the phone lines. A different looking bird than I've seen around here, but I used to get Mourning Doves at my feeder when we lived on the west side of the state in Poulsbo. They look very similar except for the 1/2 necklace around the Eurasian's neck. This is a new life bird (#99) for me! After I took a few photos, it flew away...
Eurasian Collared Dove
Down the road a bit were thirty American Crow perched in some trees. I'm not sure I have seen that many crows together all at once. As soon as I snapped a picture of them...
A Murder of American Crow
They made a bunch of noise and then flew away...
American Crows in Flight
I was able to get some photos of some more birds in flight, I wasn't real sure what kind of birds they were and I couldn't tell much from the distant photo. But when I looked again on the computer and zoomed in real close I could tell that they were  some sort of Geese or Swan. My friend Jana from across the lake had text me this last weekend and told me the swans were here on the lake. So I researched swans some more and I do believe these were Tundra Swans! Another lifer bird for me! That would be number 100!!!
Tundra Swans

Flying away seemed to be the thing to do today. Here I caught a huge flock of blackbirds, that looked more like mostly brown birds when I looked at the picture on the computer. Not exactly sure what kind. Originally, I thought Starlings? Red-winged Blackbirds? Brown-headed Cow Birds? Can't really tell in this pic.

What kind of Birds???
There were a dozen ducks out in the field. I was leery of using the binoculars, as they have made me car sick before. But I was wearing my SEA-Bands for motion sickness, and so far, I have not been car sick since I have tried them. So I peered through the binoculars, and could see that they were mostly Mallards, except one odd man out. I snapped a distant photo to help with identification later. When I was able to zoom in on my computer and check my my new Stokes Field Guide, I deciphered it to be a Pintail Duck. Not a lifer for me, but definitely not one that I see often. I can't remember when I've seen one, but it is marked in my book with a date of October 2005, so there you go!
Pintail Duck with a bunch of Mallards
Now it's not a bad day when you see FOUR Bald EaglesI saw the first Bald Eagle of the year earlier in the day not more than a couple of miles from here on Highway 395 in Clayton.

I stopped and pulled over on the shoulder of the highway and snapped a couple of quick shots. To far off for decent photos, but at least you can see the eagle!

Here is another far off, distant photo of one of the Bald Eagles. I also saw two Bald Eagles together, but...

The two eagles took flight as I got my camera ready to take photos. It was all I could do to push the button on the camera and point it in that direction in hopes of catching the birds in the viewfinder. These pics didn't turn out well either, so I decided to use a new technique. I photo-merged the five Eagle flight shots to get this effect. Took me a few tries to perfect it, but how cool is that? Much more interesting than showing you the individual shots one by one like I was going to do.
Photo-merged Bald Eagle in Flight
The Red-winged Blackbird males have been seeking out the best ponds with cat tails for a couple of weeks. The males migrate back first to scope out their territory. The old saying... "The early bird gets the worm" applies here. The early birds get the best territory. Now that the females are showing up,  I love watching the males show off and broaden their shoulders and puff up the red and yellow part of their wings.
Red-winged Blackbirds
And there he goes... flying off...

On the way home from a family get together in town last weekend... I was enjoying being out and about and seeing some birds. I got excited when I saw a Northern Shrike, and wanted to turn around to go check it out (I don't have any pics of one). Bird Lady Assistant (a.k.a. my husband) murmured a resounding NO. But I was still yearning for more birding! So after I dropped off the family at home, I let my chihuahua Jack E. Cheez hop in the car, and come birding with me. I had seen some ducks back at the wetland a mile from my house. Now that the lake was starting to defrost and there was a little of the lake showing, the birds will start showing back up. It's an exciting time here for this Bird Lady! There were a dozen ducks, all Common Mergansers, and then one Common Goldeneye. Funny that each time I've seen a Goldeneye this year, they have been the only one in a group of other ducks. In this picture, the Goldeneye is... yep, flying off... from the group of Mergansers. The lucky ducks are the first (I've seen) to enjoy the lake this year!
Common Goldeneye flying away from the group of Common Mergansers
On the Way Home...

Finally, I'm at home, relaxing in my recliner, and I hear an all too familiar sound coming from outside. I leap up, open the slider to the balcony, and sure enough, I hear the resident Osprey, returning after a long winter to check out the annual nest that is just a few yards away from my balcony. However, there is a huge tree in between the balcony and the nest tree, and way too many branches blocking my sight of the nest. Oh what I would give to have a clear shot. Guess I'll have to use the neighbors deck behind us to get some pictures. They have a great view of the Osprey nest! As I'm out on the balcony, I also hear the Pileated Woodpecker that have been calling out to each other the last couple of days. It's great to be adding some new yard birds to the list. Be sure to check out my yard list, 2013 list, and life list on Bird Lady's Lists. I have 17 yard birds, 45 Species in 2013, and  finally 100 species on my life list!!!

and yet I'm still... Yearning for More Birding!

~ Sherrie (Bird Lady)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Owling During the Last Week of Winter

It's still a bit snowy around here and the lake is still frozen solid this last week of winter. But today it was to be the warmest day of the year so far, near 60 degrees, so I thought it would be a good day to get out and about and do some birding. As I headed out, I noticed a small amount of water along the edge of the ice down at the wetland. Look closely, you can barely see the reflection of the sky in the water where the dock is floating between the ice on the lake and the snow on the beach. I am so excited to see that reflection and my old friend the lake. Oh how I've missed it over the long winter.
Finally the ice is starting to recede!
My plan for the day was to head over to Deer Park to look for evidence of the owls my daughter has been hearing at night behind her apartment. The other night, when I got home after dark, I heard an owl near our house too. After listening to all the owl sounds on my iBird app, I decided that it sounded like a Great Horned Owl. I would love to get some proof of it, but there is still alot of snow around our place. There isn't much snow at all in Deer Park so it's much easier to walk around there. So today I did my owling in the woods behind the apartment complex. The first thing I came upon was this cool fort.
Neat fort with a Home Sweet Home sign inside

Then I stumbled upon another type of home. Wonder what type of woodpecker made these holes?

There was an old fallen down barn in the lot next door. I had fun exploring inside...

Looked like the perfect hangout for barn owls. It was a little spooky...

Vole Tunnels

In the field were tons of tunnels made by voles, also known as field mice, making it a perfect area for owls to hunt.
Entrances to the tunnels

Then I made my way to the wooded area, checking the ground around each tree looking for owl pellets. Owl pellets are the regurgitated indigestible parts of the food the owl eats, and contains bones, fur, feathers and such. I did see a few questionable piles of waste, but didn't feel like poking around in it to see if it was owl or dog waste. I also came upon several deer droppings.

As I scoured the trees up and down, checking the tangles of branches, I hear some sweet little tweets coming from the woods. I followed the tweets and found some cute tiny birds flitting about the pine trees. They moved so quickly, it was hard to get a glimpse of them. But I would see a flash of yellow on the tiny birds crown, and a fleck of red on the crown of some. First bird that came to mind was a Kinglet. There are Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and I wasn't sure without checking my references which these little birdies were. I tried to get a decent picture of the cute little things, but the were so quick to flit about the tangles of the trees, that it was next to impossible to get a good shot in. I did get enough pictures that I could confirm the I.D. as being the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The male and females both have the yellow crowns, but the males also have a red spot on their crown too, hence the Ruby-crowned. Here are the pics that cinched the identity.

So I spent almost an hour and a half wandering through the woods and found plenty of evidence that this was perfect owl territory, but no actual owl evidence. This won't be my last time, as I plan to go back in the near future!

~ Sherrie (Bird Lady)