Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler...Closer Sustained Look

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) hasn't arrived here in western Montana just yet. In your part of the country they may be around and building in spring numbers. Yellow-rumps are numerous in migration just about everywhere making it a good species to observe regularly and really get to know. I took a yellow-rump photo out my window (Bitterroot Valley of western Montana) three years ago during May. I came across this photo recently and recognized its value, i.e. what subspecies is this and why? I admit to being lax at examining birds as well as should be done, in this case down to subspecies. If you are a novice birder, knowing common birds well is a key behavior to advance field identification skills. Here's the photo for a simple challenge or review, enjoy :-)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Monday, April 14, 2014

2nd, 3rd, 4th Wildflower Species of 2014

First field trip today (Mondays are my day off and conditions were sunny and 60 F as a high) for wildflowers. A bit early in the season, been cool and not too conducive for plant development. But wasn't disappointed at Waterworks Hill in Missoula, a conservation easement/open space bond issue adopted by forward thinking community members. A steep aerobic climb and one is on the east/west ridgetop. Douglasia (Douglasia montana) was the target, several dozen plants were in bright pink flower (early season color beyond brown...wahoo!). Not only did I find them, but so did four or so Checkered White (Pontia protodice) butterfly (nice unexpected bonus for me). On the way back down captured a photos of Yellow Bell (Fritillaria pudica) and Few-flower Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum).
You folks that live back east should be able find Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa) or perhaps Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) in flower. Take a walk in the wild spot of your neighborhood...development doesn't always get all the wild spots. Get your daily Vitamin D this way, the sunshine vitamin...a lack thereof may be linked to heart disease.

Douglasia and Checkered White

Few-flower Shootingstar

Yellow Bell

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Migration - Junco "Fall Out"

Forth day of Spring, by calendar, and a group of migrant Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis oreganus) landed in our part of the neighborhood (Lolo, Montana) to refuel. Or maybe the overnight snow made them stop flying, true to their nickname of "snowbirds". I estimate 75 birds involved. Lucky to get a couple photos of some of the birds flocked up getting grit on the road shoulder.

Probable that they are somewhere in your area during this period of March. These birds are common coast-to-coast during migration. The subspecies differ enough at times, places to assign a subspecific identification...a real fun birding challenge (my "call to action" for you), especially for those of you living in the American West. A recent G+ post on this subject.

Failed to get video of the action...birds were actively singing/calling. Watched the action from kitchen window as I sporadically washed dishes...good show :-) An American Robin (Turdus migratorius) expressed how the morning was going (bottom photo).

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon form)

Junco picking up grit on road shoulder

American Robin foraging in snow

Monday, March 17, 2014

Moss...Wildlife-Wise a Bit O' Green for St. Patrick's Day

Instead of creating a traditional door wreath of moss...I photographed moss for my wee bit of Irish heritage. Went to Fort Fizzle (Lolo National Forest) and immediately found the clumps of green (moss) exposed from the receding snow.
Moss form and color is somewhat variable along with the substrate (rock, wood, soil) moss grows on. Taken together the elements are great subject material for macrophotography. From a biological point of view moss is difficult to identify. In many cases, one needs a compound microscope to view leaf tips (they are only one cell thick, wow!!!) to discern cell pattern. Alternatively, moss produce spores (very small also) from capsules which may also render an identification. No matter, they are beautiful in form and color. The photos below are all unidentified moss (for now) that caught my eye. Enjoy, Happy St. Patrick's Day...

"May the best day of your past
Be the worst day of your future
(posted from http://goo.gl/2VAzMq).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Exploring and the 1st Butterflies for 2014

Sixty One degrees Fahrenheit and partly sunny today; first warm day (wahoo!!!) this spring. To celebrate I took a wildlife watching trip to Bass Creek NRA to find birds, butterflies, lichen, moss, wildflower (in no particular order though I strongly felt some butterflies could be on the wing). My objectives: a) to use my cameras and  b) be an explorer because " everything is interesting" (check out this great book, How To Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith).

Arrived to find much snow still on the ground (immediate photo below) in shaded areas, but south facing slopes had large patches of exposed ground. Advanced up the trail and found my special spot, yep where several trees have "sap wells" (2nd photo below) a magnet for early season leps. No sap and no butterflies (lone Steller's Jay [Cyanocitta stelleri "sheking" up a storm]), so I retreated to the sunny slopes near the trailhead. Within a couple of minutes spied two Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) on "scat" (bottom photo). Great find for me, 15 days ahead of last years first-of-year sighings.  Working slope further flushed a Comma, likely a Green. Finished off my exploration with photos of 3 different mosses, may take quite a while to identify (rookie status).  It was great fun...try it for yourself :-) 
Bass Creek NRA trail in March, snow blanketing ground
Bass Creek NRA landscape

Early Season Food Source for Butterflies
Sap Wells
Mourning Cloak Utilizing Scat for Early Season Food/Minerals
Mourning Cloak on Scat

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Birding...Practice the Craft, It's Not Mystical

You don't need all day to bird or wildlife watch...how about 15 minutes of your lunch hour. I stepped outside yesterday for lunch looking for diurnal raptors (intuition made me do it) perched on poles or treetops. Within minutes I had 2 Golden Eagle (FOY adult, immature), 3 Red-tailed (1 Harlan's type), Rough-legged, and immature Bald Eagle soaring closely overhead. Check out the photos below. 

"...if you're not actively working to get better at what you do, there's a good chance you are getting worse, no matter what the quality of your initial training may have been...simply doing an activity for a long time is no guarantee that you will do it well, much less get better at it...because most of us tend to become fixed in our habits and practices, even when they're suboptimal" (Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We Are Working Isn't Working, 2010). His point being the "10,000 hour rule in becoming an expert" advanced by Malcolm Gladwell didn't recognize the research data subtleties found by Anders Ericsson, i.e. expertise comes from a "performance pulse". The performance pulse identified by studying violinist practice was a measurement of work/rest; work averaged a mere 3.5 hours/day. The work effort was intense and for no more than 90 minutes/session; deep rest followed each session. The goal of practice is to "ritualize" our skills, i.e. "self-consciousness interferes with the ability to perform any complex task". Think bird identification.

Similarly, Daniel Goleman, author of Focus The Hidden Driver of Excellence (2013) also examined the Ericsson violinist research. Fifty hours of training (looking at skiing or driving) got people to the "good enough" level where the skill becomes automatic or ritualized (like Schwartz found). Goleman describes automatic skill as "bottom-up" (cognitive science descriptor); the brain subcortex (brain bottom) informs the neocortex (top of brain) faster, automatically, always-on-state, intuitively, impulsively and habitually with the reverse direction having opposite conditions.

Want to be an expert birder? First, get your skills to the automatic level, as little as 50 hours of work...still an amateur :-) Though not as mystical as Master Po addressing "Grasshopper" in Kung Fu, you are now on the path...of expertise, that is. I recommend that you read/review the above books for more fascinating research in which to get better skilled. "Hear the water, hear the birds."

Golden Eagle (adult)

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk (Harlan's form)

Bald Eagle (immature)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Birding...Weather and Time Dependent?

Yes and no is my answer, here's my story. We're in the midst of a several days of clouds, precipitation mix; at times this makes it difficult to bird and photograph. After spending most of the day inside, I felt a need to go birding noting the immediate conditions as ugly, but not impossible for wildlife watching. As a rule not checking the weather beforehand is not smart, as unbeknownst to me, this high wind warning was coming online (jpeg below) from Weather Underground.

 Oblivious, I loaded the car with gear, a low cloud deck overhead and a smattering of rain drops...no worries :-). My main plan was simple, spend 1-2 hours outside looking at birds (mostly perched raptor and waterfowl). By outside, I mean I could bird from my car given periodic rain squalls. Arrived at Lee Metcalf NWR at 1:24 pm and parked next to Pond 6 on Wildfowl Lane. Rolled window down (note: use your vehicle as a "blind" even in good weather) and scoped out the waterfowl present. Immediately noted Gadwall (Anas strepera), a target species. Quickly grabbed my camera rig (Canon 70D with 70-300 zoom). Started capturing images from the dry, cozy interior of my Subaru. 
Gadwall pair

Birding is kind of like playing (not the game) with dominoe tiles, once you find the flock you systematically look at each individual bird checking off the identification just as if you tip over the first dominoe tile set-up in a line and they all fall in an order. Outside the usual species my next dominoe was a Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata) followed by a female Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica). Yahoo! three year species in the space of FOUR minutes (hey dominoes fall quickly :-). 
Northern Shoveler (right)

Barrow's Goldeneye

Good thing too because the wind/rain/snow went postal at about 1:45 pm. Headed home as visibility declined rapidly and birds took refuge. The video below captures the conditions at home. 

In the final analysis my birding was a success. Yes, weather and time impact birding, but only in so far as, (not strictly negative or positive) your "plan" unfolded. A 2007 published book by Chip and Dan Heath titled Made to Stick makes an interesting point of "plans/planning", especially by the military. The military has figured out that "plans are useful, in the sense that...the planning process forces people to think through the right issues." The authors boil this down: "...to succeed, the first step is this: be simple...find the core of the idea."  I followed the authors advice and core-planned 1 to 2 hours "looking at birds". It turned out great...this time. Find something great...with a plan, of course!!!