Monday, March 29, 2010

Florida Trip

I have not posted much lately. Not that I have not done any exciting birding, though. The whole family went last month (mm I mean february) in Florida, in Fort Myers Beach, to relax a little bit, get some warmth in the middle of the michigan winter, watch birds, and even chase a lifer or 2 (I did not expect that, considering we had a baby with us.
As usual, Esterego Lagoon had a great quantity of waders, ospreys, shorebirds, terns and gulls, as well as quite a few Palm Warblers (I will never get tired of seeing those birds hoping on the sandbeach), Ospreys, Brown Pelicans, etc. Overall, only one lifer on the beach during the 4 days of the trip (red knot), but I had a great time experimenting with my fz28+TCON17.

Osprey in Fort Myers Beach

There were also quite a few local "long lens" photographers, which is quite an interesting mammal species to study by itself.
In particular, I always find amazing that, on a beach where you can potentially find 6 species of plovers (I did not get the snowy this year, but piping, semipalmated, blackbellied, killdeer, wilsons were quite common), plus willets, turnstones, least sandpipers, the long lens photographers seems to be exclusively interested in waders and terns.

I mean, sure enough, a snowy egret in breeding plumage is nice, but why not taking advantage of having a $10,000 (maybe I am underestimating here) lens and take pictures of the cute little ones?

Another point that I find odd with those people, is their tendency to have EXTREMELY noisy shutter noise. "CLICK" "CLICK" "CLICK". dozens, hundreds of times. On my point and shot, you can very easily turn off the sound, so I would be surprised if you could not do it with those DSLR. OR maybe they did not read the manual......

But enough said about the lucky ones with their dream cameras (maybe I am just getting jaleous here). Let's go back to the birds...
Let's take care of the lifer. This was a red knot, bird that is quite rare in Michigan, let alone in Washtenaw county (we have no coast line with any of the great lakes)
Red Knot

I felt sorry for the bird as I discovered that it was missing part of its left leg....(does it still count as a full tick on my life list?) Another nice bird I found on the beach was an American Avocet, despite the relatively long distance, the picture turned out to be ok.....

Red Knot, missing part of its left leg

American Avocet

I was also lucky enough to find a reddish Egret, white morph (about 20% of the reddish Egret in Florida), which I initially misidentified to be a juvenile little blue heron (and for a moment, I was an "ashamed reddish cheeked birder")

Reddish Egret, White Morph

Weather was rather windy and cold (at least for Florida), and a semipalm plover is sheltering behind a Piping Plover. If you ask me, it's easy to see why the semipalm is a common bird, and the piping is endangered! In any case it was great to see them side to side, if only for the size comparison. I always assumed that the piping was smaller, probably because it is so cute, but I was wrong on this one. This bird was still in winter plumage, while many others were molting

Wilson's Plover

We also managed to make a side trip to Venice, where we managed to score a Florida Scrub Jay, bird we did not manage to score during our previous trip, one year ago. With the Red Knot, it was ABA lifer #321 and 322

Florida Scrub Jay

Another nice side trip we did was a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp. I suspect the main reason why Diane wanted to visit the swamp was because of the painted bunting that is fairly reliable other there. I was, too, quite excited to the idea to get a close picture of this little fellow. Just as we started the boardwalk tour, the volonteer for the refuge told me that a Shiny Cowbird had been reported in this area, so I spend a little bit of time looking for this potential lifer, while Diane went to the bird feeder, looking at the Bunting. Well, I did not see the cowbird, AND managed to miss the Bunting at the feeder (Diane, of course, saw the bunting). I still managed a long distance shot of a Bunting, but the quality is obviously not that great.

Incidentally, the french name for this bird is the "passerin non pareil", which could be translated , in jochen style, by "unlike anything else passerine". I think it is quite a nice name!

Painted Bunting

A common bird in Florida : the white Ibis.

Another side trip we did was to go at the 6 miles cypress park in the city of Fort Myers. The park is, to some extend, very similar to the corskrew swamp : a long board walk in the middle of a wooded swamps. Birds are certainly less numerous, but wintering warblers and vireo were common, and a nice challenge for the would be photographer.

Blue Headed Vireo

But the most exciting bird we saw that day was a Great Blue Heron who managed to pick a fight with a local snake (I wish I could ID the snake). The fight lasted for a good 5 minutes, and ended with a clear victory for the bird, who celebrated by eating his opponent!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A few pictures with the TCON17

I got one year older last week (my age is now a prime it not exciting?, the next time it will happen will be in 4 years.....any guess?), as a result my beloved wife bought me a TCON17, which allows me to multiply my fz28 zoom by 1.7. While I did not expect any miracle from this, I thought it was a great (I mean cheap) way to get better ID shots, and once a while, a cool picture or two to print.

Light was really bad last week, but I could not help trying my new toy in the local park....

A white throated sparrow was my first target, and he was quite cooperative. Despite the terrible light, I managed a couple of acceptable (not by the National Geographic, though!) picture of this cute bird.

In similar light, a surprisingly bright goldfinch

A Tree Sparrow, in much better light. I could not come as close as I wished, but the pictures came out ok.

House finch, in bright light at my work place

I will try to post a more scientific post on the TCON17 in the near future, but so far, I was quite pleased with the results.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

8 reasons to spend the winter in michigan..

1) You learn quite a bit about how to convert Farenheit into Celsius, because of the Arborland mall sign

2) Nobody will steal your car during the night, because it would be just too much work

Which one is mine anyway?

3) Winter keeps you in good shape :

Long Jump to get across the snow piles, in order juste to get food. The alternative is a quarter mile walk around it, on the parking lot.

A little warm up before to go to work in the morning

4) You have the beaches of lake michigan all for yourself (go figure..)

5) You can learn quite a bit of unusual sciences

Strength of material testing (on ice)

6) What's about a snowshoe hike in Waterloo Recreation Area, looking for crossbills?

Can't think about a better place to be, on a sunny day
7) All things considered, there is still a lot more sun in Michigan than in the north of Europe

Not the best place in the US, but still about 2400 hours of sun a year

I grew up in a city located between Paris and Lille....less than 1750 hours of sun a year!

8) Spring eventually replaces winter, and that feels sooo good!

It does not mean there is no snow (picture taken in mid April)!

Monday, January 11, 2010

snow buntings (lots of them)!!!

Bonne Annee!!!!!

Happy new year!!!!

Back from europe, I did not do much birding lately. Mostly took care of my feeder, where I picked up a nice variety of birds on January 1st (12), always a nice way to start the year!! I finally managed to pass the 200 bird for the year in december, in the least glamourous way. I was checking my notes from 2007, and realized I forgot to report a ruffed grouse I flushed while I was orienteering during the spring 2007, in the waterloo recreation area. This forgotten bird was enough to make me reach the 200 mark for the county, which had been my goal for the year 2010.

Yesterday I managed to join the washtenaw audubon society for a field trip, with the goal to pick up a few winter birds for my year list. Redpolls and Pine Siskins have been proven to be totally absent from the south east side of the state this year, so we reported our hopes into snow buntings, lapland longspurs, and possibly a norther shrike that had been reported during the previous week. Another possibility was a freak mockingbird who decided to winter in our county , feeding on frozen berries.

Weather was quite cold as we met on the parking lot of the mall (5-6 Fahrenheit), but the wind shill made it even worst when we reached the most popular winter destination of the county, named Vreeland Road in Superior Township.

The trip started nicely with a HUGE flock of tree sparrows (200-300 of them!!) next to the conservation farm. Too far for a shot, but I took one anyway, on the road....

But everyone forgot about the cold as we reached the best spot...

SNOW BUNTINGS....dozens, hundreds of them, flying around in flock, landing for a few bites of the putrefied pumpkins. We counted at least 300 of them, spotting amoung them a few horned larks and at least 6 lapland longspurs.

The mockingbird and the shrike were nowhere to be seen, but a sharpie was a nice consolation price. That was three birds I did not list last year in the county, so that's a great start for the year!