Archive for Recent Sightings


Lonely at the Top

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These trees at the edge of Brookdale Park‘s sparrow patch are usually filled with European starlings. These past few mornings now, however, there’s been just one lonesome bird perched high in the bare twigs.


She must have offended the others somehow.

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Dark Trails, Bright Birds

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Screenshot 2015-08-21 12.00.52

Today marks the 150th birthday of George Kruck Cherrie, an Iowa boy who grew up to become “prince of tropical American bird collectors.”

But he worked inside, too. In 1891, when he was 26 years old, Cherrie discovered and described a new species of tanager in the collections of the Costa Rica National Museum. The six specimens –which seem to be no longer in San José — had been collected a few years earlier by none other than José C. Zeledón.

Screenshot 2015-08-21 12.30.15

Cherrie’s new tanager has had its taxonomic ups and downs, but Ramphocelus costaricensis is once again recognized as a full species distinct from the Passerini’s. And once again we call Cherrie’s tanager the Cherrie’s tanager.

R. costaricensis is well worthy to hold a place of honor among the song birds,

as worthy as the species’ discoverer is of his own place of honor among American collectors and ornithologists.

Categories : Famous Birders, Iowa
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A Painted Redstart Takes a Dip

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Even at 7000 feet, it was warm last week in Arizona. If you want to see how a painted redstart deals with the heat, click on the photo.

Painted redstart, Arizona, August

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Bizarre Blackbird Behavior

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The wildlife watching declines once you leave the state highways for the interstates, but it’s still easy enough to pick out the big showy things, from pronghorn to grackles.

Day before yesterday, as we were crossing southern Minnesota on Interstate 90, I spied a white-tailed deer standing in the ditch.

No big deal, as long as it stays off the road. But I did a 70-mph double-take when I realized that there was a male red-winged blackbird perched on the animal. The bird was reaching forward as if to take something from the deer’s back.

It’s not unusual to see cowbirds riding the eponymous livestock, but I can’t remember having seen red-wings on a wild ungulate. Have you?

Categories : Recent Sightings
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Sowbelly Canyon

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One of my favorite places and one of my favorite place names — but Sowbelly wasn’t especially Prius-friendly the other day after the snow. So we took just a quick, chilly walk into the top of the canyon before heading west.

Rick and Gellert, Sowbelly

It was quiet up there, a circumstance that only convinced me there were really great birds down lower; but it’s hard to complain about fences lined with mountain bluebirds and Brewer’s blackbirds.

A distant Pheucticus song was neatly identified when a male black-headed grosbeak flew in to investigate our presence; both species occur in spring on the Pine Ridge, and — confession time — I can’t consistently tell the songs apart, and these ears of mime don’t always pick up those chip notes at a distance.

Red-headed woodpecker

We were hoping for Lewis’s — it’s just time for that species to arrive — but had to content ourselves with the even more stunning red-headed woodpeckers; the bird is common all across Nebraska, wherever there are trees or fence posts, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to see it against a background of shortgrass prairie and buttes.

And even more disconcerting to look down the fence and see a Cassin’s kingbird.

Cassin's Kingbird

These no-longer-quite-so-southwestern tyrants breed in the upper canyon (and even farther north into Dakota, if I remember right), but I’d resigned myself to their late arrival when this one suddenly appeared. Who knows — this may have been the first of its species to make it to Nebraska this year. And it couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful place to land.

Categories : Nebraska
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