Sunday, May 3, 2015

A robust robin and a little king

Two days after we left the fair skies of Florida behind. we arrived at our second home in NE Illinois.

Sunburst over the back gate:

 Sunburst HDR 20150416

 Clouds over the Everglades:

 Clouds over Everglades HDR 20150417

We were harshly greeted by cold, windy and wet weather. We ventured afield briefly in near-freezing temperatures and found that the dark skies and high winds rendered birding and photography nearly impossible. Staying in or near the car, my first shots were of a group of Northern Shovelers in a roadside pond.

Northern Shovelers 3-20150421

A Red-tailed Hawk kited motionless in the sky against the sharp headwind, with gusts over 40 MPH:

 Red-tailed Hawk 20150421

The buildings also stood still for the camera:

Barn Albumen 20150421  Barn2 Albumen 20150421 

After a sub-freezing night with snow flurries, the next day dawned bright, but the winds persisted. We got out to nearby Fabyan Park in Geneva, Illinois to see the nest of a Great Horned Owl with three owlets. 

Only two showed their faces:

 Great Horned Owls 20150422

Great Horned Owl 2 of 3 owlets 20150422

American Robins were special to me as a youngster in New Jersey, for they stirred hope that spring would soon arrive. They usually came in early March, but I still remember their early arrival on February 12, 1949, bird #18 on my first formal life list. On that same day I saw my first Redpoll, a species I would not see again until a trip to Alaska in 2011  :

We rarely see robins in our south Florida neighborhood. They may appear sporadically some winters for a few days as small bands or even huge migratory flocks, but they sometimes do not appear at all. Fabyan Park was full of them. This male was a particularly robust individual:

American Robin HDR 201500422

A colorful Yellow-rumped Warbler foraged on the path ahead of us:   

 Yellow-rumped Warbler 3-20150422

Our granddaughter helped me stock their backyard feeders, and they instantly attracted colorful Northern Cardinals...

Northern Cardinal 3-20150422

...joined by a male House Finch:

Northern Cardinal and House Finch 20150422

House Finch male 20150422

Red-winged Blackbirds and a Common Grackle quickly helped deplete the seed:

Red-winged Blackbird 20150422

Common Grackle 20150422

Rain was predicted again, but we got out early to Lippold Park, where another Red-tailed Hawk soared above in circles:

Red-tailed Hawk 2-20150423

Stopping to photograph wildflowers, I had fallen behind Mary Lou. She called me excitedly to report her sighting of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with its bright head feathers extended. When I caught up to her, the kinglet's head was no longer adorned:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 6-20150423

I took over a dozen photos, trying to catch at least a glimpse of its signature crown as it weaved through the understory, to no avail until suddenly it rewarded me!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3-20150423

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 20150423

During the past week the trees have started leafing out and wildflowers have appeared. Among the early flowers--

Bluebells -  Mertensia virginica 2-20150427

Blue Violets:

Blue Violet 20150427

Blue and White Violets:

Blue and white Violet 2-20150427

Spring Beauty:

Spring Beauty - Claytonia virginica 2-20150423

Cutrleaf Toothwort:

Cutleaf Toothwort - Dentaria laciniata 20150423

White Trout Lily:

White Trout Lily - Erythronium albidum

And fittingly, a Wake Robin:

Wake Robin 20150429

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance

Central Winds Park
Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance
Sandhill Cranes are magnificent creatures. Many migrate down to Florida during the winter from their breeding grounds up north, but some nonmigratory birds stay here in Florida all year round.  So we have the privilege of witnessing their beautiful courtship dance.

Central Winds Park
Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance
Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and they can be seen doing this courtship dance primarily during breeding season (though sometimes you can see it at other times of year as well). The dance involves the flapping of their wings, bowing their heads low, jumping into the air, and even throwing sticks they might find on the ground.

Central Winds Park
Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance
Earlier this month I saw a pair at my favorite local warbler spot, Central Winds Park. I thought it would be fun to share a few photos of this extraordinary creature.

Central Winds Park
Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance
Central Winds Park
Sandhill Crane Courtship Dance

Monday, April 20, 2015

Birding Lake Atitlan

Rufous-browed Peppershrike
 Greetings all!  We continue our Guatemalan trek into a beautiful area known as Lake Atitlan or El Lago Atitlan.  There are wonderful accommodations here for a birder to explore, relax and go shopping:)  It's a great place to visit.  And it's a great place to find cool birds!

Dusky-capped Flycatcher
 We arrived at the launch pad to get to our hotel(Casa Del Mundo). There were so many stairs to climb:)  It was a gorgeous place on a hillside overlooking the lake and forested areas.  And it's where we stayed for 4 days and set up camp.

Lesser Goldfinch
We hiked around several Mayan villages and jumped on board several boats to get to a couple areas that were difficult to explore. 

And quite honestly, the birding was best at our hotel. I monitored the area day and night discovering that our birds went by somewhat regular schedules.  

American Coots! 
Atitlan is famous for the massages and spiritual centers.  It also has several reserves. The one we went to visit was near the town of Panajachel.  It's a beautiful hike full of hummingbirds and other critters.

Prevost's ground sparrow
Imagine having your coffee out on the veranda with these views each day! 

It was a strange experience finding desert birds that I normally see mixed in with all the tropical ones. Once again, it reinforced the idea that birds have no borders.  What happens in one place affects the other.  And we are all interconnected.

The walks are wonderful but be mindful of the area.  Many of the people are very kind.  However, it is always best to go with another person.  A person can even hire a local guide to show them all the wonderful things that Atitlan has to offer. 

Yellow-winged Tanager-um....this bird is cool BUT a dash of yellow makes it a Yellow-winged Tanager?  This is one of those bird names that doesn't really work for me:)
The boat rides can be wonderful or scary:)  Atitlan can be calm and sunny one minute only to be followed by a massive lightning storm a half hour later.  Keep your eyes open at the ever changing weather patterns.  But have fun!  It's an awesome place!

Here are some interesting facts.  El lago is rising every year.  They are not certain why this is happening but many properties that were along the edge of the lake are now swallowed up by the lake.  In some areas, it looks like you are floating over the remains of Atlantis.

And I must share this tragic story. Every birder should hear it. Birds.  We love them very much.  Sadly, an endemic grebe lived here once and was known as the Atitlán Grebe.  Most of us reading this today were alive when this grebe went extinct. Did anyone see this bird before they disappeared?

The extinct Atitlán Grebe
 The decline of this grebe began in 1958 when smallmouth and largemouth bass were introduced into the lake. The populaton of the Atitlán grebe declined from 200 individuals in 1960 to 80 in 1965. Thanks to the conservation efforts of Anne LaBastille, in 1966 a refuge was established where this species was able to rebound.  The population recovered to 210 in 1973.  Then in 1976, an earthquake hit the area and the lake bed fractured.  An underwater drain led to a fall of the water level and decimated the grebe population.  By the late 80's, two birds were left and after they disappeared, the Atitlán grebe was declared officially extinct. So. Man caused the issue, but ultimately nature determined the fate of this species.  How many other bird species are at risk?  If one tsunami hit the coast of Southern California, the Channel Islands could stand to lose several of their endemic species like the Island Scrub-Jay.  

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
This life we live can be quite fascinating.  Birds make me happy and they elevate me to learn more and do better.  What an awesome adventure it all is!

Rain forest photography is tricky.  The clouds, the rain and dark canopy make photo captures extremely difficult.

After climbing the 500 some stairs along the hillsides, my legs began to develop some muscle.  I discovered my first Rufous-capped Warbler, Brown-backed Solitaire, and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird! And this was just the start!

Boat-billed Flycatcher
There are 7 main villages that line the shores of Lake Atitlan. Panajachel is the main village where you can shop and have a really nice dinner.  You will also probably need to grab a boat from the main boat launch to get to your destinations. The reserve is nearby this town.

A little Spanish lesson:)
 San Pedro is a great place to have a drink with a friend and walk around the town.  Just keep your eyes on the belongings. This is also a great place for you to learn Spanish!

San Marcos is my favorite.  Meditate, get an amazing massage or just.....relax.  I have so much stress from my job that I enjoy finding places where I can lose myself in the silence. 

Grayish Saltator
Santiago is another place to buy souvenirs bird.  Look for the hummingbird feeders around the neighborhood:)

Santa Cruz is a place for people to relax and take Spanish classes. Your loved one can dive here while you look for the Boat-billed Flycatcher.

Jaibalito is another great place to relax.  The sunsets are spectacular!

Santa Catarina Palopo is a nice town away from the tourist track so if you are like me, it's a good place to immerse yourself away from the gringos.

Birding around Lake Atitlan has its challenges.  Boats frequently stop at the boat launches around a relaxed schedule.  We always had to be aware of when the last boat launch would leave for the day.  OR watch for bad weather.  The lake can quickly go from calm to extremely choppy and dangerous within minutes.  When that happens, boats will stop operating!

If it does happen, just relax:)  Each town has its charms and there's always a place to chill out and wait until the storm passes.

When that sun comes back out, it'll be time to hit the trails again.  Until next time.....