Friday, October 2, 2015

Daniels Ranch Highlights: Inca Dove, Gray Hawk, Vermilion Flycatcher and Northern Parula

[Big Bend National Park. April 2015]

Pioneer farming in the early 1800's transformed not only the economy of America but also irreversibly altered the natural ecosystems of the land. Evidence of pioneering can be found across the country, including in Big Bend National Park where the remains of Daniels Ranch can still be seen; especially the adobe farm house built in 1918 that still stands today.

The history of Daniels Ranch offers a fascinating retrospective into the life in early America: Swedish immigrant John Wedin, who bought the land from Jesus Estrada in 1918, was the first farmer of the area to introduce pump-based irrigation farming; heretofore, the Hispanic farmers of the area had practiced flood-plain subsistence farming. Wedin grew crops such as wheat and alfalfa and eventually, the farm was sold to other buyers including John Daniels who occupied the farm until it was incorporated into Big Bend National Park in 1944. 

Since then, in ample testament to the restorative powers of nature, Daniels Ranch has melted away into the landscape and is now one of the most birding-productive areas of the Park -- with the following species observed in a Spring visit earlier this year:
  • Inca Dove
  • Grey Hawk
  • Vermilion Flycatcher
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher
  • Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  • Summer Tanager
  • Northern Parula
  • Audubon's Warbler
  • Wilson's Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Greater Roadrunner

Inca Dove: this is a tiny dove with a uniquely scaly look. At Big Bend this distinctive columbid can be found nesting in tree branches:

Grey Hawk: this raptor is widely found in tropical America but in the US, it has an extremely limited range in Texas and SE Arizona.

Vermilion Flycatcher: proving that not all flycatchers are identification conundrums; the Vermilion is a standout tyrant flycatcher that ranges all the way south to Argentina.

Ash-throated Flycatcher: a common flycatcher of the Southwest:

Golden-fronted Woodpecker: another tropical American species that reaches the US only in the states of Texas and Oklahoma.

Summer Tanager: a bright strawberry-red songbird, the Summer Tanagers were conspicuous and loud at Daniels Ranch in Spring:

Northern Parula: in addition to the above species that are breeders, there were also a handful of migrating warblers, such as this dazzling Northern Parula:

Audubon's Warbler:

and, Wilson's Warbler:

Common Yellowthroat, on the other hand, is a breeder here in the Park -- the race found here shows much more yellow than what is observed farther North in places like Michigan:

Our final songbird is the incomparable Yellow-breasted Chat:

and, in ending, what symbolizes the West better than our very own ground-cuckoo -- the Greater Roadrunner:

The establishment of our National Parks has been vital in preserving precious ecosystems for our wildlife; and, Big Bend conserves the largest area of Chihuahuan Desert habitat where 450 species of birds can be found. And, while the old adobe farm-house from Daniels Ranch still stands, it is more a testament to the resilience of native wildlife as much as it is to the pioneer farmers of the early 1900's.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rabbit Mountain: Sage Thrasher, Bullock's Oriole and Golden Eagle

[Boulder Co., August 2015]

Is there no justice in Birding? Woeful is the birder who returns empty-handed with naught but barren tidings from a chase or excursion that commenced with bright and cheery hopes sprung from the fertile soil of optimism. 

There are no guarantees in birding; no "reap as you sow" law -- good effort expended does not necessarily yield reward reaped. Occasional despair, it must be freely admitted, shall not be unfamiliar in the travails of the indefatigable birder. 

Yet, birding is also a great redeemer -- in seemingly random acts of good fortune, ordinary days sometimes blossom with sightings -- thanks to bountiful quality and quantity of desired species. These semi-miraculous events, occurring roughly in equal measure to the days of despair and drought, compensate for all the misses and dips. So, all in all, perhaps there is justice indeed in Birding! Take heart, ye brave and gritty birding soul! 

Having reported in this blog on many species of the distinctive New World family of songbirds that are the Thrashers -- species such as Long-billed Thrasher, Crissal Thrasher, Curve-billed Thrasher, California Thrasher, and, Brown Thrasher -- this blogger was hoping to add another thrasher (and Lifer) -- the Sage Thrasher -- to this list. The hope for this Lifer arose as a result of a quick trip to Boulder, Colorado -- however, not one Sage Thrasher was seen -- instead, dozens were! As the old adage goes, "when it rains, the birder's cup spilleth over" ....[or something like that].

The venue for these observations is a delightful hotspot in Boulder County -- Rabbit Mountain -- where the full list of species observed included:
  • Sage Thrasher
  • Bullock's Oriole
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Say's Phoebe
  • Golden Eagle
  • Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
We start with the Thrasher:

Sage Thrasher is our smallest thrasher and, like all our thrashers (but one), is found in the West. Were it not for the pronounced streaking on the breast, one could be forgiven in casual misidentification with Northern Mockingbird. As its name implies, it is a specialist of sagebrush habitat and generally forages on the ground, feasting on insects.

Next up, Bullock's Oriole -- a beautiful female was sighted feeding on seeds. This is to the West what Baltimore Oriole is in the Eastern US. If you're wondering about the male of the species, here's one reported in this blog from earlier.

Rabbit Mountain provides a mixture of habitat -- dominated by grasses and brush -- perfect for sparrows as well as Blue Grosbeak:

Both sexes were sighted (the female in the latter photos).

In the parking lot itself, a Say's Phoebe took an elevated vantage point on a post:

This is a common flycatcher of the West.

Another lifer was Golden Eagle -- although the photographic quality risks attracting criticism, it is nevertheless an imposing raptor that deserves mention in this blog. The underwing pattern implies that this is a juvenile.

Finally, our most widespread Gnatcatcher -- the Blue-Grey:

Although this post starts with a somewhat rhetorical question, those with ample experience in the field will know that every excursion, rich or poor in sightings, will offer learnings and insights to the enterprising birder.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Michigan Breeding Warbler Survey 2015

[Michigan. Summer 2015]

How the mighty have fallen! From a spectacular show in Spring that can only be described as pyrotechnics in plumes, Fall migration brings a parade of drab, chromatically-challenged warblers. 

Ghosts of their past breeding brilliance; these warblers are now draped in bland tones of the inconspicuous and the cryptic -- verily, a shadow of their peak condition in Summer.

But must we let Summer slip so easily out of our birding memory? Shall we not savor, one last time, what Nature has brought to the pinnacle of avian perfection? And so, in celebration of this year's breeding season, we are pleased to review the breeding warbler species sighted in Michigan by this blogger in 2015:
  1. Cerulean Warbler
  2. Blackburnian Warbler
  3. Canada Warbler
  4. Mourning Warbler
  5. Kirtland's Warbler
  6. Black-throated Green Warbler
  7. Black-and-white Warbler
  8. Northern Waterthrush
  9. Pine Warbler
  10. American Redstart
  11. Ovenbird
  12. Hooded Warbler
  13. Common Yellowthroat
  14. Blue-winged Warbler
  15. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  16. Yellow Warbler 
  17. Nashville Warbler
  18. Lawrence's Warbler [hybrid]
  19. Brewster's Warbler [hybrid]
1. We start with the matchless Cerulean Warbler (seen at Port Huron SGA) -- this songbird is the very definition of avian aesthetics in the natural world:

2. Blackburnian Warbler -- Seen in Kalkaska County, this is one of four warblers named after a woman:

3. Canada Warbler; noteworthy as a "flash" breeder, this warbler is the last to arrive at, and the first to depart from, its breeding grounds. Seen here in Kalkaska Co.:

4. Mourning Warbler -- callously named, this warbler brings nothing but joy to those who behold it; seen here in Port Huron SGA:

5. Kirtland's Warbler -- our rarest warbler and a true Michigan specialty (seen near Grayling):

6. Black-throated Green Warbler (seen at Port Huron and Hartwick Pines SP) -- a warbler with an unmistakable song:

7. Black-and-white Warbler (seen in Kalkaska Co.) -- sporting an elegant look:

8.  Northern Waterthrush -- belting out its loud song (seen in Kalkaska)

9. Pine Warbler -- this is a warbler we can enjoy year-round in the US. Seen at Port Huron SGA.

10.  American Redstart -- this beautiful warbler reminded Europeans of the Old World flycatcher family Redstarts; here seen at Lapeer SGA:

11. Ovenbird (seen in Kalkaska), the streaking on the breast and buffy olive colors show why this was formerly classified with the Waterthrushes:

12. Hooded Warbler -- seen at Port Huron SGA; this delightful warbler's Northernmost range barely extends into Michigan:

 13   Common Yellowthroat, seen at Port Huron SGA, a black mask and white forehead contrasts strongly with the bright yellow throat:

14. Blue-winged Warbler -- seen at Port Huron SGA -- this is a warbler whose range is expanding:

15. Chestnut-sided Warbler, seen at Kalkaska, this is one of our most attractive warblers; showing, bold chestnut streaking and a yellow crown:

16. Yellow Warbler, seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark; this is our only warbler with red streaks on its breast:

 17. Nashville Warbler, seen near Grayling, the prominent white eyerings are distinctive:

18. Lawrence's Warbler -- this is a hybrid of Blue-winged x Golden-winged; seen at Port Huron SGA:

19. Brewster's Warbler -- the "other" hybrid of Blue-winged x Golden-winged; seen at Port Huron SGA:

Of all our songbird species, the colorful American Wood Warblers are the "prize" that draw countless birders to our forests every Summer; and, this post, underscores 19 reasons to bird Michigan in the breeding season.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Warblers of Southeast Arizona Featuring Red-faced Warbler and Painted Redstart

[Mt. Lemmon. August 2015]

Southeast Arizona conjures up visions of saguaro cacti, arid scrubland, and deep canyons. But, it is away from the dry plains, in the "sky islands" of Arizona that some of the best birding of the area may be encountered. 

This post will, thanks to a quick trip to Mt. Lemmon and Madera Canyon, profile signature warblers of the Western US -- augmenting the scintillating Lady Warblers covered in a prior post. 

Western birders must pine for sightings of Cerulean, Blackburnian, Magnolia and other warblers that are exclusive to the East. And, while both variety and quantity of our 50-odd warblers are indeed skewed toward that region -- there are, nonetheless, some choice Western warblers that must excite envy-tinged curiosity in Eastern US birders as well -- warblers such as:
  1. Red-faced Warbler
  2. Painted Redstart
  3. Nashville Warbler
  4. Black-throated Grey Warbler
  5. Wilson's Warbler
  6. Hermit Warbler
  7. Orange-crowned Warbler
  8. Audubon's Warbler
How many of our 50-odd warbler species, bright as they are, dare to sport hues of bright red? Even American Redstart, strictly speaking, is more orange than red. Indeed, we have only two warblers in pure red: Red-faced Warbler and Painted Redstart; and both are best seen in SEAZ:

We start with Red-faced Warbler (first profiled on this blog here). This Mexican warbler barely enters US territory in Southeastern Arizona and Southern New Mexico in the breeding season (late April through early September). This is one of the few warblers that is not strongly sexually dimorphic -- females are just slightly duller than the males.

Red-faced Warbler seen at Bear Wallow, Mt. Lemmon
The Red-faced Warbler has a red face and head; the latter marked by a black bonnet. The back is grey and the undersides are pale. Seen in August at Bear Wallow, this individual is getting ready to migrate South to Mexico.

Our other red warbler is the Painted Redstart:

Painted Redstart seen at Madera Canyon
This gorgeous warbler is technically a "whitestart"; it is not related to American Redstart.

Painted Redstart seen at Rose Canyon
Other than the visual description, the blurb on Red-faced Warbler also applies equally to the Painted Redstart.

Other warblers observed included:

Nashville -- a warbler that is seen in both halves of the country. The Western race could be a candidate for a future split.

Nashville Warbler seen at Summerhaven

Nashville Warbler seen at Rose Canyon
Somewhat similar to Black-and-white Warbler, the Black-throated Grey Warbler shares the same color scheme as the former with a black mask and throat; however, the latter has a grey back and 2 yellow spots -- one in front of each eye.

Black-throated Grey Warbler seen at Mt. Lemmon

Wilson's, like Nashville, is another warbler seen across the US:

Wilson's Warbler seen at Summerhaven
A distantly observed Hermit Warbler:

Hermit Warbler seen at Summerhaven
And Orange-crowned:

Orange-crowned Warbler seen at Summerhaven
This Orange-crowned Warbler has a greyish head and therefore can be presumed to belong to the Eastern race of the species. The Western race, seen below, is much more yellow:

Orange-crowned Warbler seen at Rose Canyon

Finally,  Audubon's Warbler -- the Western race of Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Audubon's Warbler seen at Rose Canyon
The most acclaimed songbirds of our land are surely the warblers -- no other family of songbirds are as colorful or as coveted. And, while it is generally acknowledged that the Eastern distribution of warblers provides greater richness, it would be a gargantuan travesty to ignore our Western warblers -- a grouping that includes red-lettered species such as the iconic Red-faced Warbler and the incomparable Painted Redstart.