Monday, January 21, 2013

Gyrfalcon...Rare Winter Visitor

As Mlodinow and O'Brien state in America's 100 Most Wanted Birds:"The falcon of kings and of birders' dreams is the Gyr". The Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) prefers open country with lots of waterfowl or pheasant as prey. Finding one even in Montana is a chore. About 15/year were seen in Idaho/western Montana during the period 1982-1993, summarized by Mlodinow et al using American Birds published records. That doesn't seem to be the case in recent times, that said recognizing pitfalls of generalizations and the cyclical nature of things.

So it was to my amazement that I found a gyr in the Mission Valley near Charlo, Montana. This is a "traditional" spot for gyrfalcon searching. The landscape is dominated by grass and agricultural stubble; power poles replace trees for perch platforms. Waterfowl and ring-necked pheasant have lands here managed for their benefit, somewhat made to order for a gyrfalcon visit. After 59 miles of "grid searching" (methodically driving on east/west roads working southward over Valley) entailing 3.5 hours I encountered this species atop a power pole.

It was great feeling finding and identifying this bird. Birding provides something I need. Can't explain it all, but I use my intellect, intuition, communication and social skills all the while experiencing thrill of the unknown and adventure. Jonathan Rosen wrote in his book The Life of the Skies-Birding at the End of Nature:  "Well, we all strive to make ourselves as whole as possible as we get older, and birdwatching helped me discover aspects of myself that had somehow been suppressed. It didn't make me a hunter, but it brought me closer to impulses clearly bound up with hunting...drawing me closer to the animal world, it did set me on a path of biological awareness". A second aspect identified by Rosen: "Birdwatching, to my mind, has an honesty that comes form the built-in acknowledgement that we must settle for fleeting natural elements that dance in on and out of view, and that the human and technological are woven through our encounter with nature." Good thoughts.
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Exploring the World (small parts anyway)

Just bought How To Be An Explorer of the World , a book by Keri Smith. It's a cute little book that could be a catalyst for you; it helps you create your own "portable life museum". Main objective is to look at the world differently by documenting or collecting what you find during your explorations. Documentation or collection is done by tools, e.g. camera, glue, bag, print making, clay impressions, scissors, et al. I've been doing something similar all these years birding. Folks were actually doing this in the late 1800's (excellent treatment by Barrow in A Passion for Birds) decorating their homes with natural history items of rocks, flowers, birds, bird nests, etc. Now that I employ a camera regularly...I can really explore :-) Here's a primitive table documenting species seen by yours truly so far this year (today's highlight-brilliant colored Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) just a sight record, no photo):

#Species Documented - 2013
Bird Lichen Mammal
60 ~12 5

Hope to do more 'exploration' blog postings...take flight and find something good for your own museum.
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Field Trip Expectations

“Home” as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial said after a lengthy adventure on Earth. For us humans one need not go far from home for an adventure discovering alien wildlife. For me a wildlife field trip is centered on reasoned expectations of what I wish to find. I think serendipity comes into play as much or more so than prediction by logic.
So, yesterday I find a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched in my neighbor’s willow overlooking his feeder stations looking out the window (serendipity). So I’m thinking, it’s my lucky day. Quickly packed my stuff and headed to Pattee Canyon (accessible high elevation site good for winter finches) early afternoon. Sunshine and 18F, walked up the snow packed Crazy Canyon trail hoping to see/hear Pine Grosbeak or Red Crossbill. Did not find either, did get video (below) of Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) foraging. So contrary my expectation, there was no significant/additional bird find for the day.

Today rolls around...and decide to “shoot the moonand again try for winter finches at Lolo Pass, a mere 32 miles from my front door. Guess what, no winter finches (no conifer seed cones might explain this), instead bumped into 6 American Dipper (Cinculus mexicanus) and a Moose (Alces alces) along Lolo Creek.

Stopped back at home for quick lunch, then to west side of Missoula to find a wintering Ferruginous Hawk. Found instead an abundance of Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) between Pulp Mill Road and Loiselle Lane. Captured one bird calling on video; that is a first for me (~30 years of wildlife watching).

Kept looking for the ferrug and intersected with a good flock of Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) containing a couple of Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) and a single Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)...again serendipitous; no matter, am really happy because they are usually difficult to expectation :-0
Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur...can you find them in the photo?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

'Jelly' Lichens...Remind you of your favorite PB&J?

Found two species of lichen similar looking and remind one of jelly, i.e. they are smooth skinned,  shiny at times, and moist and swollen when wet. Appropriately, one is named Blistered Jelly Lichen (Collema furfuraceum) and the other is Tattered Jellyskin (Leptogium lichenoides). These lichens are fairly small and inconspicuous; they share a like for growing on moss over rock. By the way, my favorite field trip snack sandwich is Franz 9-grain bread with chunky Jif and Smuckers blackberry jam:-) Living large, you can too...
Blistered Jelly Lichen
Tattered Jellyskin

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January Birding Pilgrimage for Canyon Wren

Journeyed to the Bitterroot NF - Kootenai Creek Trail (just north of Stevensville) to view/hear the resident Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus); it's a January tradition (see my Jan. 2, 2012 blog for same spot, different outcome).

Arrived at the spot (~200 yards in from the trailhead) at 1 pm with overcast, calm, no rock climbers present and 41 F...perfect conditions! Within a minute (quickest response ever...and not using playback of any kind), I heard the bird calling (my description: hollow, buzzy, metallic...not high or low pitched in tone...called note repeated 118 times over 30 minutes) from near the top lip of the rock face. A mere hour later saw the bird working a ledge just below the top of the rock face (yeahhhhhhh). This wren is ABA coded 1, but it is local here and takes some effort to check off in the Bitterroot. So the challenge, plus it's a beautiful little bird even at a distance...equal awesome birding success for great start to the year :-) Here's a pithy video of today's field trip:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy Start to the New Year...Wildlife Wise

As usual, went out to find wildlife on the first day of the new year. First stop, our deck at about daybreak (~18F); looked across the Bitterroot Valley and spied wintering Elk (Cervus elaphus) grazing on mountainside (hard to see on photo):
Daybreak at Lolo, MT
Shortly thereafter heard first bird of the year, a black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) calling. Black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) and house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) were also heard calling in the next seven minutes. Retired inside for couple of hours, then gathered gear, and drove to Missoula to find one of several ferruginous hawks 'wintering' there. No luck, but did find common redpoll (Acanthis flammea) and northern shrike (Lanius excubitor) both hunting weedy fields.
Northern Shrike

Common Redpoll
Exited stage left and stopped at Maclay Flat (USFS). Found a nice grouping of 14 pygmy nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) including white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatch on the flanks of the flock.
A second smaller flock of black-capped chickadee and golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa) flushed a Northern pygmy-owl (Glaucidium gnoma) roughly 120 yards from the parking area (typical location). On the drive home quickly pulled over with the appearance of a small, dark raptor atop power pole...yep, a merlin (Falco columbarius), probably the dark, taiga subspecies. Had incredible luck over a three-hour period of birding for the first day of the year. Hoping you also found something great :-)