Sunday, February 27, 2005

Red-winged Blackbird and American Woodcock

Dear Readers,


I missed last weeks entry. Was busy on a little birding trip. Will elaborate on this in an upcoming entry. Over the last week and a half the Red-winged Blackbirds (Aeglaius phoeniceus) and the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) have returned to northern Illinois. Red-winged Blackbirds are generally found in wet areas around marshes and fields. They usually feed and roost in large flocks. The red-shouldered male can only be confused with the Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) which is found locally in the central and western California. Females are very different than males and can be initially hard to identify. They resemble large sparrows, but are dark above and more heavily streaked below and have longer spiky bills and a buffy eyebrow. The Red-winged Blackbird’s song is an energetic conk-a-ree and when singing are heard usually 4 to 9 times a minute. Aeglaius is Latin for gregarious. Phoeniceus refers to deep red in reference to their wing patches. They are among the most numerous land bird in North America.

The American Woodcock is most easily seen at dusk on the edges of fields or other open areas near thickets, swamps or wet woods. They are a master of camouflage. When walking through wet woods I have almost stepped on woodcock without seeing or flushing them. To find them listen carefully for their “peent” or “beent” call while on the ground and the unusual musical twittering of their wings while in their high, corkscrewing, mating display flight that goes on until well after dark. A flashlight can be used to see their eyeshine when on the ground. They probe the wet ground with their long bill with a flexible tip in search of earthworms. They generally feed until daybreak. Scolopax is Greek for “woodcock”. Their former name, Philohela, is Greek for “bog loving”. Their species name “minor” refers to it being smaller than it’s Eurasian counterpart, S. rusticola or the European Woodcock.

American Woodcock and Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) are the only members of the Sandpiper family that are legally hunted in North America. The woodcock is identified by it’s long bill, short legs and plump rounded body and rounded wings. It’s back is mostly grayish and the belly is a buffy orange. There are three horizontal black bars on the crown. The large eyes are set extremely far back on it’s large head which allows it to vigilantly look for danger while feeding.

Next week I’ll be out one evening listening and looking for American Woodcock. I may just see you out and about.

Mike

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Destination - South Coast Maine

Dear Readers,

The southern coast of Maine is an amazing place to bird in winter (as is the whole coast). This week I will focus on the town of Ogunquit(www.ogunquit.org) and the surrounding areas.

A quick trip to www.maineaudubon.org this time of year will make many a birder drool with envy over what is being seen. The town of Ogunquit not only has varied coastal habitat, but also has incredible public access to the water. Ogunquit is about 19 miles from the Maine/New Hampshire boarder at Kittery/Portsmouth. There are three major airports nearby. Logan Airport(www.loganairport.com) in Boston places you about a 90-minute drive north away. Better yet is the airport(www.flymanchester.com) at Manchester, New Hampshire, which is one hour away. Closest is the Portland International Jetport(www.portlandjetport.org), which is only 45 minutes from your destination.

Ogunquit is a busy tourist town with many places to stay and several restaurants. It has one of the nicest sandy beaches in the state. This time of year tourism slows which means there is more room for the birders. If you are driving from the south be sure to stop at the Maine Tourism Association(MTA)(www.mainetourism.com) information center in the southern Maine town of Kittery that is accessed from Route 95 North or from coastal Route One. The MTA number in Kittery is (207) 439-1319. There you can get info on lodging, restaurants, other amenities and professional help with directions including a complementary state map. Use your new maps to find the Shore Road, which runs from York to Ogunquit. Head north on the Shore Road until you reach the Cliff House Resort and Spa(www.cliffhousemaine.com). Drive carefully and slowly. Most folks will not be used to this twisty, narrow road, especially with beautiful glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean distracting you along the way. The Cliff House is PRIVATE PROPERTY so PLEASE be respectful. They tolerate birders coming there – so far. The resort is perched on rugged cliffs overlooking the ocean. I like to park in the northern most lot closest to the cliffs. This area can be extremely difficult and dangerous walking if it is icy or there is a lot of snow. Pack your snow boots, warmest clothes and wind blocking gear just in case.

After scanning the area near the parking lot you can walk south along the cliffs behind the resort. Bring your spotting scope to view the large groups of Common Eider(Somateria mollissima) and try to pick out a King Eider(S. spectabilis). Almost every winter there is a male hanging around the area. There currently is one being seen about five miles north in Wells Harbor. Close to the cliffs there are usually a small group of Harlequin Ducks(Histrionicus histrionicus) to be seen. I have seen up to 60 individuals. With patience you should see Red-necked(Podiceps grisegena) and Horned Grebes(P. auritus), Red-breasted Mergansers(Mergus serrator), and possibly all three local scoters – Surf(Melanitta perspicillata), White-winged(M. fusca), and Black(M. nigra). Will diligence you may pick out a Razorbill(Alca torda), a Thick-billed Murre(Uria lomvia), or the elusive Dovkie(Alle alle). This is where I spotted my one and only Dovkie about 15 yards off shore! You should expect Herring(L. argentatus) and Great Black-backed Gulls(Larus marinus) and others might show up. I have even seen Snow Buntings(Plectrophenax nivalis) in the parking lot.

Just north in Perkins Cove is a paved, public walkway called the Marginal Way. Wear rugged shoes and expect slippery and tough walking this time of year. I would guess that it is about a mile long and runs toward town. This little cove is a phenomenal place to view all the above-mentioned birds. I once had a King Eider standing 15 feet away on a rock here. In summer you will be charged to park in Perkins Cove (if you can get a spot). Usually there is no problem in the winter, however, on a nice, weekend day it can be crowded so get there early.

The beach in Ogunquit is worth a walk if you get there early. The town of Wells has several beaches to the north, as does York to the south. You may like to check out the beautiful Nubble Head Light(www.lighthouse.cc/capeneddick)lighthouse at York Beach. This is also a great place to bird.

If you don’t mind the cold or wind the rewards along the southern coast of Maine can be great in winter. Who knows, you might even see me out and about. Hope one day you get to enjoy this little piece of heaven.

Mike

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bird Recap January 2005

Dear Readers,

This week I’ll review the birds I’ve spotted so far this year and share the highlights of the exciting moments. I began with a New Years Day bird walk with Kane County Audubon(www.illinoisaudubon.org). We had a nice, but cold walk around Nelson Lake. There was minimal open water so we were lucky to see Herring Gulls(Larus argentatus) and Ring-billed Gulls(Larus delawarensis). We had a total of 27 species for the trip, the “best” bird being a Common Grackle(Quiscalus quiscula).

At the end of our walk we met another birder on the trail. He invited me to look for a Lark Bunting(Calamospiza melanocorys) at North Aurora Forest Preserve that he had recently observed, about three miles away from Nelson Lake. After only about ten minutes we found our target bird despite the strengthening wind. It was hunkered down with a large flock of White-crowned Sparrows along a field edge in the brush.

Of course you read my first entry about the trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Aside from that, all my birding has been in DeKalb County, Illinois. I have seen a total of 57 bird species this year; 34 in DeKalb County and 21 in our back yard.

Most exciting was the discovery by my wife of a Greenfinch(Carduelis chloris) at our feeders. After consulting with members of the Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS) (www.illinoisbirds.org) and an ornithologist at the Illinois State Museum (http://www.museum.state.il.us) in Springfield we discovered that an “unscrupulous” bird dealer released a number of birds last year or the year before in northern Illinois. Two Greenfinch were seen near Lake Michigan last Spring. “Our” Greenfinch stayed around for more than a week and seemed to be traveling with a flock of House Finches(Carpodacus mexicanus). It was quite aggressive and drove Dark-eyed Juncos(Junco hyemalis) away that strayed too closely. Greenfinch are native to Europe.

We have had a moderate warm-up in the weather this week so our back yard is not being visited so heavily. Another reason that the birds may be staying away is the Sharp-shinned Hawk(Accipiter striatus) that is making a few daily visits to our back yard. My wife and I have both observed it hunting and feasting (usually on Dark-eyed Juncos) several times.

Hope to have more stories from February. If you are out and about, I may see you on the trail!

Mike

The following is my year list to date.

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo
Ruffed Grouse Bonasa umbellus
Sharp-tailed Grouse Tympanuchus phasianellus
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Great Gray Owl Strix nebulosa
Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula
Boreal Owl Aegolius funereus
Red-headed Woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus
Boreal Chickadee Poecile hudsonicus
Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Northern Shrike Lanius excubitor
Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Common Raven Corvus corax
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea
Lark Bunting Calamospiza melanocorys
Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
House Sparrow Passer domesticus