Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hawk encounters

On the way out to the wetlands adjacent to our south Florida home, at about 6:30 AM (15 minutes before sunrise) I saw a Cooper's Hawk fly from one tree to another along the path. It was too dark for photos. I recognized the species by its overall size and shape. A member of the genus  Accipiter or "true" hawks, it has a cylindrical body with a long tail and rather short wings, adaptations for pursuing small to medium-sized birds. About the size of a crow, it is bigger and a bit bulkier than the similar Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The skies brightened, and altocumulus clouds marched above the lake like a flock of sheep:

Morning light HDR 20150803

On the way back about 1 1/2 hour later, I heard Blue Jays mobbing up ahead. I finally saw not one, but two immature Cooper's Hawks almost hidden in the dense foliage of a Locust tree. (Look closely to see them both):

Two Cooper's Hawks in tree 20150802

I put the camera in AI (Automatic Intelligence) Servo mode, hoping for a flight shot. Sure enough, both hawks emerged and flew to a palm along the road:

Cooper's Hawk 02-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 04-20150802

When I approached they flew again,with the jays still pestering them every time they landed. They separated and I found one perched high in a tree.

Cooper's Hawk 05-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 01-20150802

Cooper's Hawk 07-20150802

  This time it flew far down the path behind me, out of sight:

 Cooper's Hawk 08-20150802

The next morning, at almost the same spot along the road, a Red-shouldered Hawk was roosting in its usual spot atop an abandoned utility pole. Its broad wings and short tail identify it as a smaller member of the Buteo or buzzard family. As often happens, Blue Jays and mockingbirds were harassing it. The hawk decided to relocate and flew over my head to a power line on the other side of the gravel path. 

Red-shouldered hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 2-20150803

A Northern Mockingbird kept making passes at it and a Loggerhead Shrike was scolding it. The hawk started calling and flew right past me, back to its original roost.

Mockingbird attacks hawk 2-20150803

Mockingbird attacks hawk 20150803

Loggerhead Shrike scolding hawk 20150803

Red-shouldered hawk 3-20150803

Red-shouldered hawk takes flight 20150803

While the Red-shouldered Hawk preys mostly on snakes and small mammals, the Cooper's Hawks could have easily dispatched the Blue Jays that were harassing them. Indeed, smaller birds usually fall silent when there is a Cooper's Hawk in the vicinity. These encounters brought to mind the time when, in New Mexico, I observed a Merlin being mobbed by a mixed flock which included Mountain Chickadees, nuthatches, Scrub Jays and Clark's Nutcrackers. They must derive some safety in numbers. 

Two days later, we once again got out before sunrise. Saharan dust blowing across the Atlantic from Africa added orange and then pink to the predawn sky. Color tones changed from minute to minute as the sun reached the upper cloud layers:

Pre-dawn sky to east 20150808

Pink Dawn HDR 20150808

Pink Saharan Dusty Dawn 20150808

 A slight rustling in the grass along the path alerted me to the presence of a Florida Box Turtle, which cautiously thrust out its head for my only macro photo of the day:

Florida Box Turtle 20150805

As I was photographing the turtle, a family of Raccoons scampered across the gravel road. The protective mother waited, watching me until her five youngsters disappeared safely into the roadside brush:

Young Raccoons 20150805

Mother Raccoon 20150805

Turning my attention back to the lake, I watched as herons were enjoying a feast. Decreasing water levels had trapped fish in a pond along the lake margin. A Great Egret saw a disturbance on the surface of the water and hurried over:

 Great Egret landing 20150802

It flew past another egret and a smaller white immature Little Blue Heron:

 Great Egrets and Little Blue 20150802

The egret's activism paid off, and it captured a medium-sized exotic Mayan Cichlid: 

 Great Egret with fish 20150802

A Great Blue Heron joined the competition:

Great Blue Heron 20150802

Great Blue Heron with Great Egret 20150802

A Pileated Woodpecker made an unexpected appearance. They are generally confined to the wooded north end of the patch. This female followed the power distribution poles nearly a mile south down the gravel road to the edge of the populated area:

Pileated Woodpecker female 20150805

It then flew to the abandoned power pole, the customary roost of the Red-shouldered Hawk, ascending to within a few feet of the raptor, which looked down at it, inquisitively:

Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 2-20150805

 Red-shouldered Hawk and Pileated WP 20150805

For the better part of a half hour, the woodpecker foraged all around the pole but never got any closer to the hawk. I tired of watching and resumed walking home.

The "civilized" side of the canal, bordered by the standard fences required by our homeowners association, seemed to hold a flock of ducks and geese, but the only living critter was an Anhinga:

SW 176th Ave Canal to south HDR 20150808

Look more closely, as the rest are decoys which function as floats for the intakes of yard irrigation systems:

 SW 176th Ave Canal 20150808

The Anhinga flew over to a small tree on the "wild" side of the canal, which defines the eastern border of the Water Conservation Area that we call our birding patch:

Anhinga 2-20150808

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Canada Rockies by rail

A train trip into the Canadian Rockies has long been on my Bucket List. Mary Lou was rather reluctant as she thought that sitting on a train for two straight days could be difficult. Twice on trips to Alaska we took an observation car ride on the Alaska Railway from Denali to Anchorage and enjoyed it immensely. I finally convinced her that, since we would be staying at hotels each night there would be ample time for us to get some exercise.

This was not a "wildlife tour," though it held the promise of possible sightings of bears, deer, elk, Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats. I did not expect that there would be much time for birding. Much of our time would be spent on moving trains and tour buses. 

In the interest of portability and convenience I decided not to pack my big camera rig (Canon EOS 60D 18 MP Digital SLR Camera with 420 MM lens system: Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM telephoto Lens with 1.4X extender). Instead, I carried only my pocket camera, a Canon SX700 HS with 30X optical zoom. This turned out to be a wise choice.

We departed at 6:00 AM from Fort Lauderdale and flew to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where we connected with the flight to Vancouver. Each leg was about 3 1/2 hours.We gained 3 hours on the clock, arriving at our hotel at about 1:00 PM, so it was a very long day. We took advantage of the daylight by ascending the Vancouver Lookout Tower, where we captured nice views of the city and the harbor.

Vancouver Harbor 20150614

The sun was still bright at about 8:30 PM, providing some interesting REFLECTIONS:

Vancouver reflections 20150614

Vancouver reflections 2-20150614 

We boarded the Rocky Mountaineer train early the next morning, moving through Vancouver's extensive freight yards. Remotely-controlled switching engines scurried about. Flashing red lights warned that no humans were aboard. Reflections from the car's windows and the movement of the train ruined almost all the photos I took the first day. 

As bad as this photo turned out, I liked the sense of motion and the reflections of my camera and the passengers instead of the lake, my intended target, in the background:

Reflections 20150615

Soon we were following the Fraser River, which widened to form several beautiful lakes.

 Curve with reflection 20150615

 Lake HDR 20150615

As the river entered Fraser Canyon the stream narrowed and created Hell's Gate, a tremendous torrent which few boats are able to cross. If the video fails to load in the space below, please click HERE

After a night in Kamloops, we resumed the journey, continuing along the Thompson River.

Now I took photos from the observation deck. Despite the movement of the train, some came out very nicely.

 Lake2 HDR 20150616

Lake HDR 20150616

In contrast with the hundreds of skies and reflective lakes, contacts with "CRITTERS" were few and far between. On our bus trip on the Icefield Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper, we startled a Black Bear that was eating dandelions along the road. I had to shoot through the curved windshield from the opposite side of the vehicle, and this distorted the only image I obtained:

 Black Bear 20150619

A pair of young Bighorn Sheep blocked the highway, allowing me to get a few shots as well as a video:

 Bighorn Sheep in Road 4-20150619

BIRDS presented few photo opportunities. Black-billed Magpies posed on the hotel grounds at Lake Louise:

Black-billed Magpies 20150618

Another Corvid species, Clark's Nutcrackers, were also noisy visitors around the hotel:

Clark's Nutcrackers 20150618

My closest approximation of a MACRO photo during the Canada trip is one that shows colorful river rocks with Victoria Mountain and Glacier in the background, at Lake Louise:

 Lake Louise reflections 2-20150620

This bona fide macro was taken back in Florida, showing a tiny clump of flowers, about 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide, taken from a distance of only about 3 inches (8 cm) with my PowerShot. It turned out looking like a huge bouquet:

Tiny flower MACRO 20150802

My FENCE photos are both from the Columbia Ice Field glacier area. Here is Mary Lou in the wind and rain with the Athabascan Glacier in the background. We subsequently walked up on the glacier.

 Mary Lou at Athabasca Glacier 20150619

I was the only one brave enough to take the Jasper Glacier Skywalk, a glass walkway that looks straight down  almost 1000 feet  into the valley:

 Jasper Glacier Skywalk 4-20150619

Watch this video for a breathtaking view of the Jasper Glacier Skywalk!

= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America

Our 11 year old Illinois granddaughter texted me from the Grand Canyon while her family was visiting Arizona. She attached a picture of a bird she correctly categorized as a titmouse.

After their trip we returned to our second home in Illinois and I asked Graciela how she knew about the titmouse.

She said she wanted to write a blog about her experience, as she did after her first visit to the Grand Canyon. Maybe she will get around to it despite all her other activities, but I pinned her down and interviewed her after she told me about this book she received as a gift from her parents.

Q. How did you know about the titmouse?

A. Because of a very helpful book called the Backyard Guide to Birds of North America.

Backyard Birds Cover

Q. Isn't a backyard bird book about common birds like robins, starlings and pigeons?

A. No this isn't a simple book. It actually tells about many birds that you might never have heard of at all, like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and even some types of hawks and vultures.

Q. I'm surprised! How many birds species does it describe?

A. There are 150 species of birds, all divided into different categories on 253 pages.

Q. Is it a field guide?

A. No, it is not a field guide because a field guide would list only certain things but this book includes basically everything. It does have hints about how to tell some birds apart, but that is not all.

Backyard Birds p43 similar birds

Q. So it is not just about identifying birds?

A. It not only identifies birds by telling what they look like and similar species, but also their call, range maps, what they eat and where you could find a nest. These things are not usually in a field guide. For example, the Northern Flicker takes up two whole pages. One page has the red-shafted flicker and the other has the yellow-shafted flicker, along with paintings and photographs of each, the males and females, showing them flying, even though they are both classified as the Northern Flicker.

Q. What else might distinguish it from a field guide?

A. There are special sections like those about bird feeders, creating a bird-friendly yard, types of bird houses, and when and where you can find birds in each season. In between the bird species you can find some pages that tell about interesting things like irruptions, caching food and finding it, how long do birds live, and how they change colors and so forth. There is a gallery of warblers.

Q. When you were in the Grand Canyon you wrote to me about seeing a titmouse. Did you see  it in your book?

A. There are titmice in my book but it did not mention that certain species of titmous that I saw. It had the shape of a titmouse and looked like the Oak Titmouse. The book said that the Juniper Titmouse is a look-alike to the Oak Titmouse and you told me this is the titmouse species most likely found in the area of the Grand Canyon. The book shows where the Oak Titmouse lives, way out in California.

Backyard Birds p146 Oak Titmouse

Q. You mentioned an irruption. I guess you know what that means?

A. It is an event that happens occasionally around the fall or winter when all of a sudden a large number of birds from farther up north come to your feeders. Normally they are birds in the finch category.

Backyard Birds p234 irruptions

Q. That is pretty informative. It does not sound like purely a children's book. What ages is it directed to?

A. This book is good for anyone whether kid or adult. A child maybe down to even a seven year old child.

Thanks, Graci. With your permission I will post this as a book review in my blog, but I must give you all the credit, and thanks for asking me to use photos from my archives to illustrate it.

Here are some  photos of birds in Graciela's back yard. 

Males, Northern Cardinal and House Finch:

Northern Cardinal and House Finch 20150422

Common Grackle:

Common Grackle 20150422

Black-capped Chickadee:

Black-capped Chickadee 2-20130305

Female House Sparrow:

House Sparrow 20120517

Chipping Sparrow:

Chipping Sparrow 4-20120509

Dark-eyed Junco:

Dark-eyed Junco crop 20130223

American Tree Sparrow:

American Tree Sparrow 2-20130227

Male American Robin:

American Robin male 2-20140504

National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America (National Geographic Backyard Guides) 

Paperback – March 15, 2011
by Jonathan Alderfer (Author), Paul Hess (Author)

AMAZON.COM -- $13.65

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Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart and

Bird and Wildlife Book and App Reviews by Ken