Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Wildlife Watching

Weather was beautiful on December 23, 2012 for a wildlife watching field trip. Lolo Creek Campground west of Lolo, MT by 15 miles along Highway 12 was the destination. Target species for the trip were: chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile rufescens), gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), Steller's jay (Cyanocitta stelleri), and a host of macrolichen using bark as a substrate. Habitat here somewhat described in previous blog posting. Found the forest quiet for most of field trip...only few common raven (Corvus corax) calling. However, did find and photograph three life lichen species, small and beautiful:

Ophioparma rubricosa
Pacific Bloodspot (Ophioparma rubricosa)
Ochrolechia oregonensis
Double-rim Saucer Lichen (Ochrolechia oregonensis)
Calicium viride
Green Stubble Lichen (Calicium viride)
To get a flavor of the conditions and experience, below is a video...a multimedia field notebook. Field Notes on Science and Nature is a book to motivate you to record your own wildlife sightings in the more traditional format. Most importantly, get outside and find something great!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of N.A...Wow

I just got around to purchasing Stokes Field Guide, published in October, 2010. This is my 16th field guide (conservative count) to birds of North America! Why? Simply put each contributes different knowledge on which to profit (continuing evolution of bird identification).
The Stokes Guide is no different: covers 854 species (wow); 3,400 color photos; and emphasis on "quantitative shape" as the identification tool. Don and Lillian Stokes maintain that this publication is "factually and visually superior to any other field guide." Is it?
Well, the photos (more of them and bigger in size compared to Kaufman, National Wildlife Federation, and Smithsonian field guides) are stunning (ala +HQSP Birds +Birds4All  +Bird Poker ). I can say I've never seen many bird species through binoculars, as well as the photographs portray them in this field guide. Using a DSLR for other critters, I can appreciate the excellence and the standard of these photos; maybe just the reason for bird photographers to acquire this book (sorry I don't own Richard Crossley field guide for comparison...waiting for the western edition to be published). I also like the emphasis on "quantitative shape" akin to G.I.S. (General Impression and Shape) that accents body parts proportional relationships, e.g. Greater Scaup (horizontal head shape) versus Lesser Scaup (vertical head shape).
This field guide is not really for ones pocket, but ideal for the reference library. Of course, there is no 'the one'. All the field guides have pluses and minuses, use your public library to find ones that fit your identification process/style. Most importantly, get outside and find something great!
American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tough Morphology ID's of Lichen

My usual modus operandi in identifying lichens is to take multiple macro photographs of an unknown species. Then upload digital photos to computer where they can be zoomed in to reveal diagnostic morphological characteristics. Works fairly well with macro lichens...with crustose lichens it can be wishful thinking. Here's a case study of sorts:

I 'justified' identification by descriptions from Lichens of North America. Really should use chemistry for definitive ID. Making my way slowly to this action. Check out +The Lichen Page or +Dan Bowden on Google+ for more lichen dialogue/photos.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

70th posted Lichen Species...this is fun :-)

Just uploaded a photo of broad wrinkle-lichen (Tuckermannopsis platyphylla) to my Flickr set of lichens; this marks the 70th species identified via photographic record. It has been great fun. Lichens fill a slow time of the year for wildlife watching in Montana, late fall through winter. These organisms are beautiful, if you note them, as they are small and somewhat inconspicuous. Identifying can be a bear; many times chemical tests are required for a definitive answer. I have not gone there...yet. Have relied on my Canon T1i and 100 mm macro lens instead. Learning by trial and error the entire way...the best way to go, truly fulfilling and empowering. Here's a photo of the scree/rock slope of Kim Williams Nature Trail in Missoula,'s all lichen habitat!
Kim Williams Nature Trail
Yep, rocks, soil, tree, shrub, bark, dead wood all substrate for lichen species. Discovery is everywhere...bring a camera on your next neighborhood hike/wildlife watching field trip :-)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bohemian Waxwing...Back in the Neighborhood

Bohemian (Bombycilla garrulus) and smaller numbers of cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedorum) descended on our yard to ingest chokecherry berries. These birds are reliably seen every fall through spring because of many accent plantings of fruit bearing trees and shrubs. A Eurasian cultivar, mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), seems to be the commonest yard planting here in Montana urban landscapes and a favorite of waxwings. Here's a video of these birds in action on what I believe is a crabapple in February:

Identification is straightforward: bulky, gray chest/upperbody along with the burnt orange undertail coverts. Vocalizations are distinct. Mr. Swarth describes (1922, from Life Histories of North American Wagtails, Shrikes, Vireos, and their Allies; author-Cleveland Arthur Bent, reprint from Dover 1965) the voice of the Bohemian as a " a series of slightly separated notes". And yes, they are 'garrulus' calling most of the time from flight or day-time roost.

Invariably, because of their flock size and vocalizations, merlin (Falco columbarius) isn't far away.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Getting video and photographs is difficult at times because the birds are skittish. However, it is a minor challenge when considering how accessible this wildlife is...right out the front door of our home. Stake out some berry-laden plantings in or near your neighborhood this fall/winter and see what you discover.