Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fresh frog meal

I spotted this Great Kiskadee catching this small frog not far from the visitor center at the Estero Llano Grande State Park today. Right after I took this pic the kiskadee raised it's head skyward and swallowed the frog in one quick move. This is a good pic to enlarge--just double-click on it to get a ringside view. SeEtta

Government suing Nature Conservancy

No matter one's position about illegal immigration, this horrible border wall is not only an ineffective waste of taxpayer dollars but horribly destructive to the unique ecosystem along the Rio Grande River in south Texas. It is being pushed through with great speed in order to have almost all of it built before Obama takes office. Now they are suing the Nature Conservancy so they can destroy the integrity of their preserve. This makes me sick. SeEtta

"McALLEN — The Homeland Security Department has sued The Nature Conservancy to condemn land in a South Texas nature preserve for the border fence.

The conservancy’s Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, which includes more than 1,000 acres along the Rio Grande near Brownsville, is home to a rare grove of native sabal palms, a South Texas native plant nursery for reforestation projects and habitat for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi."
Read the full aricle

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sickle-winged Skipper butterfly

This is a Sickle-winged Skipper, it's wings being shaped somewhat like a sickle. The top edges of it's wings fold over onto themselves, as though they were curled. This is one of many butterflies that seem to fly all the time at the Estero Llano Grande State Park, especially along the path that goes from the parking area to the visitor center. I was told that all the plants are in the park are native and planted when the park was established. It certainly has wonderful habitat for butterflies as well as birds.I learned this and more on a butterfly walk with one of the park's staff naturalist's, John, one of the great staff and volunteer naturalists at this location. He was not only highly skilled at identifying butterflies but birds as he also led a bird walk I attended earlier that day. SeEtta

Mockingbird view

A common species in the Rio Grande Valley, Northern Mockingbirds are rather handsome. This is another bird at Estero Llano Grande State Park that allowed close-up photos. I found that this park not only had very good species diversity, but excellent viewing opportunities. I was especially impressed with the number of birds that were out and about in the rather high winds during the Christmas Bird Count. This area also had great butterflies, but that's the next post.SeEtta

Monday, December 29, 2008

Great Kiskadee

Though these members of the flycatcher family are almost 10 inches in length and bright yellow, they are masters of blending into their habitat, betrayed only by their loud calls that sound to many like they are saying "kiskadee". As we were returning to the Estero Llano Grande State Park Visitor Center towards the end of the Christmas Bird Count day before yesterday, this fearless Great Kiskadee perched on a post over the trail and it wasn't giving up it's trail to human interlopers. The photo was enhanced by the fact that I was using a borrowed 400 mm Canon telephoto lens with my 1.4 extender. though some of it becomes a little blurry, you can double click on the bottom pic for an extreme close-up view that provides some great detail) The results were great (you can see the individual feathers on this bird) so now of course I want one of these expensive lens.
I found the staff and volunteers at Estero Llano Grande State Park to be exceptionally helpful and friendly. I spent most of the count with volunteer naturalists Shellie and her husband Johnathon (it was his telephoto lens that got these super close-ups), and we had a good time. SeEtta

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mexican visitor--Crimson-collaredGrosbeak

Today I birded at the Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco, TX. Though a cold front has moved through and dropped the temps from yesterday's record 90 to the upper 60's, birding was quite hot in the fantastic wooded area at this great preserve. There were a good number of birders there today, most chasing the vagrant birds from Mexico--the female Crimson-collared Grosbeak and the female Blue Bunting. Though the bunting was seen several times today I didn't see her. However, I did see the Crimson-collared Grosbeak and got these two pics of her. She was sitting about 25 feet away, perched in the middle of the heavy vegetation so I was happy to get these pics. SeEtta

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hot Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Christmas Bird Count at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, Tx today and it was hot--both in terms of the birds and the temperature. In fact the high temperature of 90 degrees was a record for Weslaco for this date. With the strong winds that blew much of the day, and the high humidity, it was challenging though very different from the Christmas Bird Counts I usually go to in Colorado. The Common Pauraque in this pic was one of the great birds I saw at this state park that is one of the World Birding Center designated sites. Common Paurague's are found in the U.S. only in southern Texas. This bird, like others of it's species, sleeps during the day. As seen in the pic the bird's eye is open a bit. It was like that when we first saw it so I think it may sleep that way, possibly in order to be aware of predators. SeEtta

Friday, December 26, 2008

Raptor greetings


Though I saw this nice Crested Caracara just a little south of the Falfurrias Rest Stop, I saw 5-6 Crested Caracaras as I drove a county road just northeast of the rest stop and 2 of them were engaged in an aerial manuevers. This could be siblings engaged in play according to the Birds of North America online which states that siblings of this species "are frequently seen conducting aerial manuevers, chasing each other."

I was also delighted to spot a White-tailed Hawk flying near the road as well as several Harris' Hawks, specialties of the Rio Grande Valley along with Crested Caracara. It was quite a nice welcome to the area for me as during prior trips here I have missed some of these species. SeEtta

Happy holidays from the Rio Grande Valley,TX

I haven't been posting as I left the day after my last post on my road trip to the Rio Grande Valley in the far south of Texas. This Black-and-White Warbler was one of the first birds I found as I entered South Texas, finding it and lots of other goodies (like several each Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers) at the Falfurrias Rest Stop, a well known birding hotspot just south of the town of Falfurrias. It was so birdy I had to drag myself away to continue on my trip. SeEtta

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Greater White-fronted Geese

This pic shows some of the flock of 12 Greater White-fronted Geese that are wintering in Canon City. The second goose from the left is one that arrived still in juvenal plumage but that has transitioned into 1st Basic as evidenced by the small amount of white feathers around it's mandible. Note the amount of white around the mandibles of the other geese. SeEtta

Sap sipping sapsuckers

Today we got blasted by a significant snow storm that hit the Canon City area with moderately heavy snow and brutal cold. As the roads were too treacherous for me to begin my trip to Texas, I took advantage and visited both Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that have been in Canon City. And both were busy sipping sap as the snow fell around them. I thought I would post photos of both in this post so their field marks can be easily compared.The top sapsucker is the female that is working the pine trees at the Holy Cross Abbey. Her red crown and forehead are barely visible but her white throat, characteristic of females, is clearly seen. Though only a small portion is visible, the red throat of the male in the bottom pic still stands out. That bottom pic also shows the white baring on the back of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Both pics show the distinctive black framing of their throats that distinguishes them from Red-naped Sapsuckers. SeEtta

Smallest but most colorful falcon

Though only 9 inches in length, American Kestrals make up for their small size by having the most colorful (at least in the males of this species) of all the North American falcon family. I found this kestral in Canon City, CO and was fortunate to catch it in flight. SeEtta

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More bluebirds

These bluebirds were so striking with their chestnut and blue feathers contrasting with the snow, I couldn't help but take a bunch of pics.
The bird in the bottom pic has a whitish colored berry in it's bill that it just plucked from the tree (berries are generally blue colored). SeEtta

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bluebirds and snow

There is nothing like a snowstorm to bring out the bluebirds, they seem to materialize from nowhere when the flakes fall. We had our first real snowstorm in Canon City this season, with 5-6 inches of wet snow falling overnight and into yesterday morning.
These were a few of the two dozen Western Bluebirds I watched as they picked berries from some tall juniper trees.
Sometimes a bluebird would just perch on top of a small pile of snow on a branch as though sitting on a soft pillow. They would also hover as they picked off the berries inside the foliage. SeEtta

Another Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

This male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has been drilling sapwells in the pine trees at Centennial Park in Canon City. His bright red crown and throat are quite striking. The broad white patch on the wing is barely visible in this pic. View the field marks up close by double-clicking on pic. SeEtta

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cassin's Finch, finally

Cassin's Finch usually breed in conifer forests in Colorado at high elevation then do migrate to lower elevation foothills and nearby plains in fall and winter. I usually see at least a few at my feeders in Canon City, but I haven't had much interest even by more common feeder birds since I filled my feeders several weeks ago (I don't feed in summer or early fall) let alone any of the mountain species like Cassin's Finch that often visit. So I was delighted today to find a male and several female Cassin's Finch including the one in this pic in the Royal Gorge Park just west of town.

I was also delighted to spot a flock of Pinyon Jays. Unfortunately they were on private property in the area and flying away but so I just got to hear their distinctive calls for brief period. I also saw a Canyon Wren, a species that overwinters in this area, near the Royal Gorge canyon (though it was actually flying in and out of a wheel well on a pick-up truck--go figure). Though I checked the expensive commercial Royal Gorge Park (I have a season pass that is offered at a reasonable fee to local residents but otherwise it costs a lot), I didn't find any birds there. All of these birds were in the city owned and free sections or adjacent areas. SeEtta

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A real water bird

American Dippers spend their lives in and around water. They feed almost entirely on aquatic insects and "occasionally other invertebrates, small fish, fish eggs, and flying insects" according to "Birds Of North America" online.This dipper has been in and near the Arkansas River on my friend' place just east of Canon City, a location where 1-2 dippers have wintered the past several years. Last week this dipper flew towards me as it chased another dipper, likely in a territorial dispute. As it chased the other dipper, it sang some of a melodic tune then launched into it's rattle-call (similar though higher pitched than the rattle of Belted Kingfishers) Double-click on the pic for a closer view. SeEtta

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cooper's Hawk at sunrise


Yesterday morning I got out in the cold (lower 20's) to do some birding before sunrise. I caught this adult female Cooper's Hawk in the warm glow of the dawn sunlight.
I included the bottom pic because it shows the head profile--squarish appearance of head that is distinctive from rounded smallish head on Sharp-shinned Hawks. Other field marks not apparent in pics but were visible in the field. Double-click on pics to enlarge them. SeEtta

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers return for winter

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a woodpecker usually found in the eastern United States, have been wintering in Canon City every year since November, 2003. They have also wintered in Pueblo for a number of years beginning before this. Subsequently they have been found wintering at the Lakeside Cemetery and Centennial Park most years, and in a few other locations in the Canon City area occasionally. Most members of this species migrate south to the southeastern quarter of the United States, southward to Panama and the West Indies in the winter with females generally migrating further south.

The top pic shows most of the field marks for this species: relatively narrow black stripes on head; complete black border framing the throat; broad white stripe crossing upper part of nape; large white wing patch; red forehead and crown with black border; black bib on upper breast; and extensive white barring on back. Females like this bird have all white throats. The middle pic provides a less commonly seen underside of this species. The bottom pic shows the upperside of their tail feathers. Pics can be enlarge for close-up views by double-clicking on them.


Sapsuckers drill holes, called "sap wells", in trees to drink sap and to eat the cambium of the tree. They also eat arthropods (a group made up of insects, arachnids, and crustaceans) and some fruit. In Canon City I find most sap wells in pine trees, especially Scots pine which appears to be a favorite of not only Yellow-bellied but also Red-naped and Williamsons Sapsuckers which also winter here. SeEtta

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Birds, bats and wind energy

Though a number of species conservation groups including the National Audubon Society are supportive of wind energy, it is important that wind farms be built with proper consideration of impacts to birds and bats which can be negatively impacted by windmills, transmission lines and the increased roads to support them. The American Bird Conservancy has this short video that explains the issues. Just click on the arrow to start it. SeEtta

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More ? felid pics

This cat always moved in a stealthy manner as though it was stalking prey when it moved in the field; however, it did not appear to be after any prey. It appeared to be avoiding me by walking away from me as surreptitiously as possible. SeEtta

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Maybe escaped exotic cat


Today I talked to Justin Krall, the wildlife officer assigned to the Westcliffe area. He said that there is someone who owns exotic cats that lives in the Westcliffe area. He thinks they own either servals or savannah cats. He said that these cats have gotten loose and have roamed as far as the Arkansas River which is ten or so miles from their home. He added that these cats have been neutered so they cannot breed with local animals.
Justin said he would check with the owner of the exotic cats and see if any have wandered off. SeEtta

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Comments shut down

Due to someone breaching security I had to shut down comments on my blog. It is most unfortunate that some person gets their kicks in such ways.

So far 2 persons have said they believe the cat is just a domestic cat and 2 believe it is a melanistic bobcat. SeEtta

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unusual felid (large house or ? cat)

While birding in the Wet Mountain Valley of southeast Colorado I saw this black wild felid (member of the cat family)--it was appered more than twice the size of a large domestic cat, about 3 feet in length. It was exceptionally wary. I watched it through my binoculars and 60 X spotting scope for more than 10 minutes. Though I stayed in my car, it stopped it's slinky movements to hide in the tall grass and watch me. It was dusk and getting dark so the pics I got are not diagnostic but they do provide some clues about this cat's charateristics. I called DOW and they have had a number of calls in past several years about a cat they think may be an escaped pet ocelot. Unless it is a melanistic ocelot, that is not this cat. I checked the internet and there have been melanistic ocelots but there have also been melanistic bobcats. At this point I wouldn't venture a guess. The middle pic is just an enlargement of the top pic. The cat was between 125 and 175 feet when I took these pics. The third pic shows a enlargement of the cat sitting and watching me (reflection of eyes due to flash on my camera) and looking very much like a cat. Compare to bottom pic of ocelot from Life magazine.

So--was this just a large black house cat?  It didn't look like one to me.
SeEtta

Wet Mountain Valley sunset

Sangre de Christo Mountains are in the background. SeEtta

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Wildlife land plans raise doubts"

The Denver Post ran an informative article on today's front page about federal plans to reduce protection for Colorado's designated "Roadless Areas." This could have serious impacts on fish and wildlife resources."The proposed rule to manage Colorado's 4.1 million acres of roadless forests raises "potentially higher risks" for wildlife and fisheries, according to a federal analysis.

The U.S. Forest Service's draft environmental-impact statement on the rule estimates there could be higher risks for wildlife in 118 of the 345 roadless areas in the state.

Natural fisheries in 44 roadless areas would also face potentially higher risks compared with a more protective rule, according to the environmental assessment.

"These areas are vital to preserving a natural resource and what is left of Colorado as it was 100 years ago," said Chris Hunt, a spokesman for Trout Unlimited, a national conservation group.

A Trout Unlimited analysis found that 75 of the 79 areas in the state with the best water quality for Colorado cutthroat trout are in roadless areas."

Read the full article. SeEtta

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Very red Red-tailed Hawk

I saw this pretty Red-tailed Hawk in the vicinity of Lake Henry, Colorado. A member of the Western subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks called calurus, with it's intermediate plumage it is sometimes referred to as a Rufous morph. SeEtta

Friday, November 7, 2008

Perching Bald Eagles

Today I birded in the La Junta, Colo area and found two adult Bald Eagles perched near Lake Holbrook. These pics are of one of those eagles. I was delighted to get these pics without disturbing the eagles. It doesn't take a skillful bird photographer to flush birds when photographing them, it does take skill to get good pics without disturbing birds.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Accomodating Yellow-billed Loon


Birding yesterday at Antero Reservoir yielded a number of interesting birds including this Yellow-billed Loon that stayed for several minutes fishing relatively close to shore (compared with many loons that I have seen as distant dots in my spotting scope) as I watched with Colorado birder, John.

Another arctic species, only juveniles like this wandered down to Colorado occasionally. Though the bottom pic is mostly duplicative, I posted it as it gives a better view of the size and shape of the loon's bill. SeEtta

Fearless Snow Bunting


This Snow Bunting was found at Antero reservoir at 8,000 feet by Colorado birders Lock and Glenn yesterday. I ran into another Colorado birder, Brandon, and we had been looking for the bird as Snow Buntings are quite rare in Colorado. As we stood talking with a fisherman who was inquiring about why so many people were looking for it, it walked between 2 boulders nearby then flew a short distance away.
We followed to take photos and this was the most fearless little bird, allowing quite close approach. I took this pic with it less than 15 feet away. After we took pics and watched it for over 5 minutes, it continued foraging along the shoreline of a fishing pier undisturbed by our close approach. SeEtta

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Presidential race & conservation

National Audubon Society published in the recent issue of Audubon Magazine the responses from McCain and Obama on their positions on conservation issues. In the introduction to comments was this intro:

"Yet despite his leadership in global warming and his affection for Teddy Roosevelt, McCain’s record is a political Rubik’s Cube. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gives McCain just a 24 percent lifetime rating. He has rejected efforts to tighten environmental and energy regulations affecting issues ranging from clean air to fuel efficiency—anything, his critics contend, that stood in the way of industry profit."

"Although McCain has consistently voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he implied that position could change, telling Audubon he doesn’t support oil drilling there “at this time.” He also backs “multiple use” in America’s wilderness areas, a loaded term in many green circles. What happens if gas reaches $7 a gallon? His full-throated reversal on offshore oil drilling (see “Squeeze Play,” Field Notes) has also earned conservationists’ displeasure."

Read McCain and Obama's comments on conservation issues. I believe the choice is clear from a conservation view. SeEtta

Saturday, October 25, 2008

White-throated Sparrow

Today I found this White-throated Sparrow on the Canon City Riverwalk around noon. Though similar to related White-crowned Sparrows (both Zonotricia genus), White-throated Sparrows have distinctive yellow lores, clearly outlined throat and rufous coloration to their wings. Also, though White-crowned Sparrows are often found in flocks, White-throated are found singly in Colorado where they are quite uncommon and generally seen during migration. This sparrow stayed inside the vegetation during the several minutes I observed it so this was the best pic I could get. Double-click on the pic for a close-up.

I also saw 2 warblers high in the cottonwoods near where I found the White-crowned and heard them give a few chip calls. I think they were likely Orange-crowned Warblers. They were moving quickly in a mixed group with Black-capped Chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch and 1-2 Hairy Woodpeckers--all foraging about 70 feet above the trail. SeEtta