Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Somewhat Un-birdy Day

I visited the park today around 12:15 in the afternoon. I had been out of town yesterday visiting some MN State Parks in the Alexandria area. In all the hiking I did on Saturday I saw very few birds so I was anxious to get to PLP and hopefully see some more. But much like the larger State Parks, today was very slow for birdwatching. In fact I think I had only seen about 10 birds –not 10 species– but 10 birds total by the time I was 4/5ths of the way around. Then finally near Shingle Creek on the south side I spotted a bit of movement. There were 2 Eastern Phoebes skimming the water here in search of insects. I had many opportunities to photograph them as this particular species is just not very skittish of people at all. Phoebes are known for constantly flicking their tail and also for "hawking" for insects, meaning they will often fly out from their perch after an insect and then land in the exact same spot again. One more reason they are easier to photograph than many other birds. Just a few minutes earlier I had spotted a group of about 40-50 Coots out in the lake near here. They are the first Coots I've seen at the park this fall but they were a little too far away for any good photos. But while sitting on the banks of the creek watching the Phoebes, one lone coot came swimming down the creek nearly in front of me. I took advantage before he scared off and at this close distance I could see his red colored eyes. I was hoping others might come in towards me too but for some reason it was just the one. Eventually he turned around and headed back out towards his group. Also here I spotted a Pied-billed Grebe, another FOF (first of fall) for the park. He too quickly headed out into the larger area of the lake. Other sightings for the day included; American Robin, Song Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Mallard, Wood Duck, Ring-billed Gull and one single Yellow-rumped Warbler. Near the end of my walk I noticed that the miniature Maple Tree on the east side was in nearly full fall color. There is NOT a lot of colorful foliage to be seen at Palmer Lake Park in the fall, but this particular tree turns a brilliant red every year about this time. I recently had a friend tell me that this tree was a Maple variety from China. I have a hard time remembering but I'm fairly certain he said it was an "Amur Maple" synonymous with the Amur River in China. Reading a bit about it now led me to the MN DNR's website that lists it under their "invasive species" section! I guess I shouldn't be too shocked as I've been coming to realize just how many non-native and other invasives are present within this park.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Still Some Good Birds!

It was warm this Sunday in early October but I did not make it to the park until late afternoon around 4:30pm. Daylight runs out quick these days so I knew I only had a limited time to find some birds today. I started out by hiking across the field just east of the creek on the north side. It is still full of tall grass but most of it is laying down now making it a little easier to see. Here and there I was scaring up sparrows and they would fly to the next withering bush just out of range. But finally I caught up with a small group of them and began taking photos. I could tell right away that they weren't "common" sparrows like maybe a Song or White-throated Sparrow. These showed more rusty-red coloring on their wings which is usually indicative of a Swamp Sparrow. I had to get clarification on this photo to be sure but indeed it IS a Swamp Sparrow! I only just learned this species earlier this spring so I was happy to see one again and even happier to get a decent photo! I kept creeping through the grass which led me to the edge of the woods on the other side of the field. Here I found kind of a neat area that I've only maybe walked through one other time. It is an interesting part of the park with a bit of diverse habitat. Here I started to see other birds flying about and I quickly picked up on one that I've been trying to find again since last week –a Swainson's Thrush. By this time the evening sun was casting an warm, orange glow on everything which to me is ideal light for photographs. I tried and tried and tried to get close to the Thrush but he would quickly move further away from me each time, so I had to settle on this photo which is quite cropped. I didn't actually see his backside or tail which is the best way to differentiate the various species of Thrush. I can't be 100% but since my good birder friend pointed out a Swainson's Thrush to me only yesterday, odds are best that this is also a Swainson's. In this same area I was seeing some even smaller birds flitting about, some moving quickly which would usually indicate a Warbler. Indeed, I spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler and then suddenly a flash of bright yellow appeared. This was too bright for a Kinglet so it also had to be some kind of Warbler. To my surprise it was a Nashville Warbler as indicated by it's gray "hood" and sharp white eye-ring. I think I saw more Nahsville's this year in the park than in all previous years. But I think my identification skills are getting better too. Or at least I hope they are! Regardless, this was one pretty bird to see yet nearly one week into the month of October.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Two Visits and Another FOF

My visit –or should I say visits– to the park this Saturday were memorable for a number of reasons. First when I arrived in the morning around 10:45am, I ran into another bird watcher/naturalist who has become a good friend of mine simply through bumping into each other at the park. He is much more experienced than I am and so I figured I would walk with him a bit as two pairs of eyes are always better than one. He quickly pointed out a few birds I may have missed; an Eastern Phoebe, Swainson's Thrush and then some Warblers. As we watched the Warblers from afar I identified one of them as a Magnolia, which was a great sighting for the day. We then crept closer and found some Palm Warblers who actually held still for a few photos from me. They are easily the most photogenic of all the Warblers, sometimes seeming to even pose for you. We then hiked to the culdesac on 73rd Ave where he had parked and were about to part ways when another bird watcher/naturalist friend of mine showed up. So then we hiked the remainder of the way around the park, covering twice the amount of ground in about half the time I had just gone - LOL! While I certainly enjoy the company of like minded nature lovers –and boy do I ever learn a lot from them– I often don't pause or lollygag around much when I'm with another person. And that is when I tend to get my best photographs when I'm by myself. So after coming home for a quick lunch I actually headed back to the park for a lazy afternoon of bird watching on my own. After sitting in the woods for a while and again always just missing shots of too quick Warblers, I decided to go over to the drainage pond or "Duck Pond" on the southwest corner of the park. I knew there were a few Wood Ducks around and so I thought maybe I could sneak up on one. But while walking on the wood chip trail that borders this pond I noticed a smaller sized duck with a very large bill. It was a Northern Shoveler! Only just that morning I had got into a discussion with my friend about Shovelers and we both said that neither of us had seen one at the park in Fall. And just like that, here they were, at least one male and one female swimming alongside the Mallards. I quickly took a few photos while I was close enough but each duck was kind of in the shade of the trees. They quickly scared off and took flight much like Wood Ducks do. I decided to hike around to the other side of the pond. Here there is no trail so I went through the woods and inched my way up to the edge of the water, concealing myself behind the tall grass. I had my stool with me and after sitting for a while the group of ducks would swim towards me. There again among the Mallards was not just one pair but two pairs of Shovelers! This was a much better view, with the light from behind me this time though a bit further away. I snapped many many pics hoping to get at least one decent one with both the male and female together. I went back through my blog postings later in the day to verify and yes indeed these were the first Northern Shovelers I've ever seen at the park in fall! It makes one wonder if they might even be the very same birds that I saw in April of this year. Later a few Wood Ducks eventually became comfortable with me too and moved in a little closer. The light was fantastic by this time in late afternoon and the colors of the male shown spectacularly. This one did a big old stretch and I took a photo right then which was my favorite of the day.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

End of September and a First of Fall Species

I've had high hopes for seeing fall Warblers this year especially since getting my new zoom lens. While in fact I have seen a fair amount of species moving back south, it just doesn't compare to spring and has been much more sporadic. Seeing as how the month was nearing to a close, I took my fold-up hunting stool with me to the park today and walked way back into the woods to sit and see what I could find. There were indeed a few quick moving little Warblers about as well as the even smaller and quicker Ruby-crowned Kinglets. But none of them would sit still long enough for me to get any photos. Such is the challenge of bird photography and a constant reminder of why it is so rewarding when you do get the shot. After chasing one particular little blur, I spotted something else climbing up the trunk of a wide tree. I thought maybe a Black-and-white Warbler but this was even smaller. Indeed it was a Brown Creeper, my first-of-fall or "FOF" as I've learned to call it. But to my surprise, a second Creeper was on the same trunk and a little higher up, blending perfectly into the bark of the tree. I've never actually seen two like this and I was even able to get them both in the same photo which was great. After another few minutes of chasing blurry birds I decided I'd had enough and hiked out onto the paved trails. Along the north side of the park, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak landed briefly. I swung around with my big lens and quickly took a few images while some nearby park-goers likely wondered what the heck was so interesting. I always love seeing the males but wow, this was one of the prettier looking females I've seen in some time. I was close enough to see the rusty-orange flanks and boldly striped head that make this bird so noticeable. As always it is the females that I see much more frequently than the males. Further along I picked up a Palm Warbler near the baseball fields on the east side. The behavior was in keeping with many other Palms I see whereas it was in some low hanging branches over the trail and then would dip down onto the green grass to search for insects. Many of my Palm Warbler photos are much the same and show the bird on green grass like this only feet or sometimes inches from the paved trails. Palm Warblers in the fall can look a little nondescript but have two clues that give them away. First if you are able to see them from the back or underneath, they have a warm yellow patch on the bottom side of their butt. Different from a "Butterbutt" aka as a Yellow-rumped Warbler which shows a very bright yellow patch on the top part of their butt and generally only when in flight. The other clue for a Palm Warbler is the fact that they constantly bob their tail up and down, especially while perched or even walking. This is probably the more noticeable trait. Other birds seen today included White-throated Sparrows, Bald Eagle, Mallard and Hairy Woodpecker.