Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Nemesis is Shot...

So, some people chase birds, twitchers they're called; some folks just keep their eyes open and get really lucky. My friends Paul and Polly Wren are just such people. Last week another friend, Deb, brought a birding-group down for the day; planning to visit my place for the Rosy-Finches, Paul & Polly's home for Pinyon Jays and to drive around the area looking for other delicious goodies we might find. But you heard all about that in my previous post. Unfortunately, Paul and Polly Wren were not with us when Leslie spotted the tiny Northern Pygmy-Owl; owls are a nemesis for Polly, she says.
However, their work takes them back and forth along the same road where we saw the tiny owl; and of course both keep their eyes peeled. While at first wondering what a pine-cone was doing in a deciduous tree (you know how the mind works); it turns out they found a Northern Pygmy-Owl! Some say 're-located', some say found...neither of us care except to say that maybe Polly Wren has lost her nemesis and finally saw a tiny owl close to home.

[Addendum: Can you imagine how hard it is to spot a tiny bird, much smaller than a robin, while driving down the highway?]
But, speaking of luck, they were some nine miles from home and without cameras. They raced home and back and could not believe their continued luck as the gorgeous little owl was still there 20 minutes later... and stayed for another 20 minutes while they photographed it. It was a new Huerfano County bird for both of them... and they've shared their pictures with us.

If you want to look for the owl, please exercise caution. It was perched directly over Hwy 12 close to mile marker 13. This can be a very busy road that some enjoy driving quite fast. It was on a "blind corner" so they parked a little further beyond in a wide spot near a drive-way and walked back to shoot the bird. Of course, they only hunt with cameras!

As an aside, I thought I'd post this lovely, intimate shot of one of the local deer and her growing youngster... a sweet moment. These two images are from Jeannie Mitchell.

I can't believe I'm posting this...I've gotten so blasted fat and next to slim-trim Polly Wren, I look huge. I don't suppose I can blame it on being closer to the camera, huh? Jeannie took the shot as we were leaving Polly's house; we'd been tromping through knee-deep snow drifts, Polly had been at home snug as a bug in a sandals.

Photos: Northern Pygmy-Owl by P. Neldner, deer and Polly & me by Jeannie Mitchell

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One Lifer and One New Yardbird

Today, I hosted a couple groups of folks to my home and to my neighbor's Polly Wren and Paul's home, and a ride up Hwy 12 for Lewis's Woodpeckers. I'll write more later, but just had to post these beautiful shots from one of my guests: Jeannie Mitchell. She graciously sent me these stunning shots as soon as she got home from what must have been a very long day: two hours down, eight ours in the field and two hours back! But what a day we had...

Northern Pygmy Owl; a lifer for me

I think that tiny owl looks like a sweet, little plush toy. We found it on Hwy 12, not far outside of La Veta (Huerfano Co), in an area past the Devil's Stair-steps popular with Lewis's Woodpeckers.

American Dipper

The Dipper can almost be guaranteed on Hwy 12 not far outside of of La Veta..under the only bridge outside of town with year-round running water.

A beautiful Song Sparrow.
He had been singing his heart out earlier when Mark Peterson noted how rufus this little guy was; Jeannie's shot captured the reddish-coloring in this shot.

Spotted Towhee! I've tried for over a year to entice this bird to my yard! It took Mark visit earlier in the day to spot him near the Blue Spruce. Jeannie got these beautiful shots, including the one where he shows off his lovely white spots & streaks.

While Jeannie got several shots of the Rosy-Finches, I particularly liked this Black...posed up off the seed-strewn snow. She also got a shot that perfectly shows off the Hepburn's sub-species of Rosy-Finch; showing just how much gray is in this Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. In that it has been days since the last snow, only a few of the 600+ Rosies that usually come in bad weather and most were gone by nine o'clock. Especially after the Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed in and quickly took a Junco. Crows have been thick and would have stolen his prize, given a chance!

Above seven photos by Jeannie Mitchell

More stunning pics, this time by Leslie Holzmann, another friend who's been down a time or two...and a blogger to boot. Check her out here: Mountain Plover Not only does Leslie take beautiful photos; she's a Master Gardner; her blog is awesome.

Here are a couple of pink-butts she got in my yard Saturday: a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch...the only one with no grey on da head. Colorado is one of the very few places to see this finch; they're endemic here and breed above tree-line, like all the Rosy-Finches do.

The other is a stunning shot of one getting ready to land on the phone wire. Those lovely wings are pure silver underneath...contributing to the 'school of fishes' look when flying in perfect synchronization overhead.

Leslie got another shot of the pretty little Song Sparrow that's been visiting my yard. He sang his heart out all morning...

...and one of the dozen or so Cassin's Finches that have exploded into my yard. Those bright red top-knots look like the glowing embers of a hard-drawn cigarette...hopping all over the snow. Even the females have that feisty, spiky, top-knot...but without that incredible red color. Once you 'have' them, you'll see their patterned faces, with the white cresent shapes curling against their cheeks, are easy to tell from a House Finch.

There were probably 50-60 Evening Grosbeaks adorning the yard; I like to leave my windows cracked just to hear their cheery peeps mixed in with the constant calls of the Dark-eyed Juncos. Sweet sounds...

Pinyon Jay

Over at Paul and Polly Wren Neldner's place...we were treated to 60 or more of these beautiful (blue) jays. One can stand on their porch and hear even more, calling loudly in their maniacal laugh... making themselves known to all around: Da Pin-yon are he-ah!

White-winged Dove

Okay, so this was NOT taken in my back-yard...but this IS a photo by Leslie Holzmann and it's the most stunning photo of a dove I've ever seen. Yes, that blue around the eye is real; it is an un-feathered patch of skin showing...such a beautiful little dove. Thanks Leslie; for showing why I feel lucky to have this bird in my yard. Besides, this dove offers a real coo-ing call as opposed to the coughing-cat noise the EUDOs make.

Seven photos just above are by Leslie Holzmann

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Early February Around La Veta

Yesterday, I was visited by Lisa from Palmer Lake and David from Washington DC, two birders who’d planned to come see the Rosy-Finches in my yard and nearly ran into each other on the highway where even more Rosy-Finches were enjoying road-salt. At first, it’s hard to realize those are Rosy-Finches out there and not more of the Horned Larks who are also along roads in large numbers. It should be understood, Rosy-Finches are not just in my backyard…it’s just that my back yard is easier and more reliable(perhaps because I go through 50# of seed this time of year.)

Dave, as an Easterner, came loaded with a wish-list that he cut down by nearly half a dozen just in my yard. We got lots of all three Rosy-Finches, a dozen Cassin’s Finch, the White-winged Dove, and several sub-species of Junco he doesn’t see back East and a red-shafted Northern Flicker. Like me, he enjoyed all the Black-billed Magpies (flying Orcas, I call them) that come to my feeders with the Blue Jays (and some Starlings, as I got the wrong brand of kibble that’s small enough for them to eat). He seemed especially delighted with both the Pine Siskins and Am.Goldfinches that use feeders right up against my ‘viewing window’; inches from our faces.

We were lucky to have Lisa with us, as she’s clearly a more experienced birder and explained what to look for in specific birds. By the end of it, he could pick out even female Cassin’s from the House Finches as fast as I can. We were so engrossed in the finches; I think we totally forgot to watch for the chickadees and nuthatches! It’s stunning to watch all the dark gold and yellow Evening Grosbeaks that feed with the hot-pink-splashed Rosy-Finches.

I generally try to include a visit to Paul and Polly Wren Neldner’s place when folks come out, as they do mine when people go to theirs. I’d called and left a message that we were on our way; the two of them met us as we arrived. Right off the bat, we observed both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and a couple White-breasted Nuthatches.

They have a couple ‘different’ Downies that hang around; one with a pure white belly and the other with a creamier look. We decided one is likely to be a Pacific sub-species…but I forgot which. Sheeshhh… Above are similar shots of female woodpeckers. The Hairy Woodpecker, on the right is actually about a third bigger than the Downy Woodpecker on the right. Still, it is easy to tell the birds apart, regardless of how close or far, because the Hairy's bill is as long as its head is wide; huge compared to the Downy's is quite diminutive bill.

While peering out the Neldner’s ‘viewing window’, Dave excitedly exclaimed “Mtn. Chickadee!” yet another lifer for him. Shortly after that, their Harris’s Sparrow made an appearance as did the Spotted Towhee; two more lifers for David. We had to wait a bit for the Pinyon Jays, who can be quite fickle, but when 30 or so came by several came down into the yard and showed of their stunning blueness.. We all went out on the covered porch to listen to their maniacal laughter as David crossed another off his 'want list'. He was also tickled with all the ravens, crows and RR Black-birds we have; who doesn't like Corvids?

Here are a couple of beautiful shots; the red-eyed Spotted Towhee and the young Harris's Sparrow.

Eventually we piled into a couple cars to find the Lewis’s Woodpeckers for David and hopefully a Clark’s Nutcracker for Lisa. We drove up the road past Cuchara and into mountain sub-division where at least one home is feeding birds (thanks Leon!) We missed the nutcracker, but got half a dozen of both Lewis’s Woodpeckers and Steller’s Jays in several locations as well as a bunch of Pygmy Nuthatches and lots more chickadees…both kinds. That's a Pygmy Nuthatch to the right.

The Neldners and I have seen sapsuckers up that way and hard as I did to try to ‘scoop’ SeEtta (cuz I like her and she’s such a good birder, who will be birding with David Sunday morning), we didn’t see a single one…just evidence of their wells. That's what I get for being such a stinker, I'm sure. I’m sure she’ll get him several more lifers.

Lastly, on the way back down to La Veta, we stopped at the bridge closest to town where the water runs reliably all winter and found an Am Dipper; yet another lifer for David! Polly told us to look for the white-wash on rocks in the river and you'll surely find a Dipper.

Back in town we all enjoyed the best bowl of soup I’ve had in a long time, with salad and home-made bread at the Ryus Street Bakery. Thanks Neldner’s…Adrian does have the best place in town! And such good people; the place was full but a large table with two lovely people invited the five of us to join them. La Veta is just awesome.

All in all, a good day was had by all. Today, even with another foot of snow last night, it’s still snowing, and the Rosies are back in huge numbers, as I imagine they will be all week (dare I say month?) with winter finally settling in. Now we just have to make sure Huerfano County keeps enough Black-oil Sunflower seed in stock for Polly Wren and me; they’re out till Tuesday! Ack…

[Addendum] Just now, a Western Meadowlark showed up. It looks as bedraggled as this one that visited last year.

Photos by P. Neldner (as noted), Wikipedia and this last one by me.
Now ya know why I like to use the work of others! LOL

Saturday, February 5, 2011

La Veta's Lovely Rosies

Okay, after the post (Wuzza Blackbird) earlier today, I thought I should leave you with something more sweet to dream about: Rosy-Finches! I really don't think one can post too many shots of these rare beauties. Again, all these photos are by my friend and neighbor: Polly Wren Neldner. (Yes, Polly Wren is her given name)

Lordy, how could a bird be so beautiful. That pink is hot as hot-pink gets.

Oddly, I've got more Cassin's Finch in my yard than ever before; about a dozen are hanging around. I love their pale, pale breasts and (usually) spiky, red top-knots. I finally figured out how to 'see' the females; their brown top-knots are spiky, too.

This year I seem to be getting more Blacks than usual, too...aren't they just stunning!

Okay, as not to play favorites, here are several Brown-capped Rosy-Finches...stunning in their own right. No, silly...not the Gray-crowned right in front; but the beautiful Browns on either side.

Here, Polly got all the brands of Rosy-Finch there are: Blacks (which have no brown on them), Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (a brown bird with grey cap) and it's sub-species the Hepburn's which sports a whole head-full of beautiful silver) and of course the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch who's cap is dark brown and not gray at all.

I can't help it...I am partial to the Blacks. Perhaps it's because, usually, there are so few of them mixed in the flocks that come down to visit.

Part of the allure these birds have for me is their flight-pattern and their beautiful, silver under-wings. They fly like schools of fish; totally synchronized. Those wings just add to their beauty as I look up at the clouds that come and go. They are quite tame, so you hear and feel them all take off together, just a couple feet away. It's a beautiful sound and a delightful sensation.

All photos by Polly Wren Neldner, whose work you can see here. Click to imbiggen.

Wuzza Blackbird...

Well, it is kinda gruesome, but I was fascinated by how precise the predator was. That rib-cage is clean as a whistle; every bit of meat is gone...only the epaulets are left! It must have taken the drumsticks home for a snack.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rosy-pics from Polly Wren

Hmmmmmmmm... Perhaps I should by less bird-seed and invest in some paint! Oh my...

Do click on these pictures, they look so much better 'imbiggened'.

The Rosies 'stage' on my roof. They start in the huge trees around the yard and come in long ribbons to the phone wires and finally land in one of 3-4 places I spread seed.

This is one spot they like. In amongst the pink you can see a few yellow omni-browed Evening Grosbeaks. While they let ya walk right up to them, I don't think they like the noise camera's make when snapping photos or moving lenses.

I messed-up the one up trying to enlarge and center it here...but it still looks good, when you click to enlarge.

Here are a couple more: seems to have been an inordinate number of blacks this time. Lucky me! I'm sure you can see all three species: Brown-capped, Gray-crowned and Black. The grays include several Hepburn's, too.

Polly was on her way to the store and stopped by on a lark... without her bins! And with glasses that automatically get very dark outside...she couldn't see what she was shooting. I'd say she got some pretty impressive photos!

I just noticed; did Polly Wren get one of each on the roof peak? Is that, left to right, a Black Rosy-Finch, a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch? Too cool...

Just look at that pink! Surely you can see why I call them Pink-butts! I just love these birds...

I think we both like the last one here the best
...if only because it's so hard to get one alone!

All photos in this piece are by my friend & neighbor (the one who has all the Pinyon Jays!) Polly Wren Neldner. Polly Wren shares many of her wonderful photos here.

Do visit her page...she has even more Rosy pics.
Thanks so much, Polly!!!