Archive for Recent Sightings
They’re stately, dignified, even slightly pompous birds. But when the spirit is upon them, even greater prairie-chickens can lose control, as these two did this past week in the Sandhills of Nebraska.
Yes, it’s the season of love and battle on the prairies.
My Nebraska tour is off to a great start — and with a great group, which makes me look forward even more to the rest of the week.
We started yesterday afternoon with some waterfowl watching near the airport, relishing close-up views of lesser scaup and redheads. I’d been worried that the fancy gulls of the day before might be gone, but sure enough, one of the first we saw on approaching the bleak marina at Dodge Park was an adult lesser black-backed gull, squabbling with the abundant ring-billed gulls over surprisingly large but obviously tasty dead fish. The day’s first bald eagles were here, too, perched impassive over the whole scene.
After an early supper at La Mesa, we moved across to Lake Manawa, where many thousands of gulls were streaming in to roost. Another adult lesser black-backed joined the flock, and most of us caught at least glimpses of three or four Franklin’s gulls out there in the horde; I’m hoping for more and closer views of this most handsome of North American larids.
The coloring of the skies reminded us that it would soon be woodcock time. We took our places in a traditionally good spot and watched the creatures of the night emerge, among them a few white-tailed deer and what I imagine will turn out to be the tour’s first great horned owl. Promptly at eight came the first nearby buzzings, and a few minutes later half a dozen birds were peenting and skydancing all around us. Several flashed right through the group as they took off in display flight — happily, no puncture wounds from the big-nosed lovebirds.
Best of all? Standing in the evening light without a coat. Spring on the Great Plains: you can never tell!
Not that long ago, a lesser black-backed gull was red-letter news in eastern Nebraska. No more: this snazzy adult was only one of two individuals at N.P. Dodge Park this afternoon. The other was the first first-cycle bird I’d seen in the state (and even less obliging in matters photographic).
Plenty of bald eagles out there, too, but disappointingly low waterfowl numbers.
Our tour begins tomorrow, and if these gulls stick around, it will be a great start.
Maybe it doesn’t look like it. Even after a day and a half of afternoon melting, the snow still lies heavy on all but the most open of southern exposures, and the sidewalks still have their treacherous stretches for those like me who don’t pay much attention to their feet.
It was wonderful to step out of the car just before sunrise this morning and find that I could do without a hat — and that the red-bellied woodpeckers and tufted titmice were already tuning up for the morning song. A few herring and ring-billed gulls passed over on their way to feed inland, and American robins were chuckling and tsleeting from the tree tops.
Then spring arrived. A distant ascending wheeze announced the arrival of a small flock of male common grackles, followed by another, followed by another…. My total in just over an hour was only about 60 birds, hardly massive numbers judged by what is to come, but 60 more than had been hanging out in the neighborhood for the last several months.
It’s harder to know whether the noisy blue jays were arrivals or still some of the many that spent the winter with us this year. I followed one little flock through the park, hoping for a glimpse of an owl or raccoon or yeti, but all I saw was the local red-tailed hawk pair, looking pained as they kept their heads down and their profiles low.
A couple of weeks from now, a morning’s list of 20 species will be a disappointment. Today, though, it’s a happy sign of things just around the corner.
Grackles now, blackpolls soon!
Fifty-five minutes in to my twenty-minute drive, I remembered why I don’t bird Liberty State Park that often.
Ten minutes in to my two-hour walk, I remembered why I should.
There weren’t all that many birds, and any rarities that might have been hanging around managed to avoid detection, but even on a cold, dank, breezy morning, I always found something to look at, from harbor seals out in the water to American tree and song sparrows taking advantage of the snow plow’s imprecisions.
I should be seeing plenty more tree sparrows in Nebraska in a couple of weeks, but here in New Jersey, they will disappear with the snow cover — a fact that creates more than a bit of psychic tension in birders, like me, who wouldn’t half mind seeing the ground again sometime soon.
There was a nice little flock of 35 horned larks in the parking lot when I arrived. They stayed just long enough to confirm that they were alone; I’d expected snow buntings, and hoped for longspurs or pipits.
I didn’t walk far enough to see if the usual wintering gang of ruddy ducks was in residence. On glimpsing a distant flock of scaup, though, I did venture out onto the open fields for a closer look. The great hope is always that an Aythya flock contain at least three species, and this one did. Not, unfortunately, the tufted duck I’d been crossing my freezing fingers for, but a drake redhead, a nice enough find by local standards.
I’ve had a good winter for redheads here in New Jersey; I think today was the third day this calendar year I’d seen the species in the state– not quite like “the old days” of the 1980s, when you could almost count on finding redheads on the North Shore ponds. I often wonder, when I do run across these handsome ducks nowadays, whether the decline of winterers here in New Jersey is perhaps connected with the end of the New York introduction program, begun, if rightly I remember, in the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s.
After a couple of hours outside, the cold got to me; but I justified my early departure by the chance of running into even worse traffic on the way home. I didn’t. So maybe I’ll forget what a bear that drive can be, and try Liberty again one of these days.