Skywatch Friday Florida

It's Skywatch Friday! You can create a blog post with a photo of sky and then link on over to their site and share in the magic. The above photo is from the pelagic birding trip offered at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. We were heading out on the boat to see some seabirds. We started at dawn and as our boat headed out to see we started dropping some chum and whirlwind of laughing gulls and herring gulls followed our boat.

I had another fun moment at Space Coast. While co-leading a trip to Viera Wetlands, a man approached our groups and asked me, "Are you Birdchick?" I said that I was and he introduced himself as Klaus--one of the guys behind Skywatch Fridays. I geeked, but only a little.

So, head on over to Skywatch Friday and check out all the forms of sky people have submitted this week.

SkyWatch Friday: Celestial Frownie Face

I just took the following photos moments ago, but think I'm going to have to submit this to SkyWatch Friday!

What happens when you combine Venus, Jupiter, and a sliver of Moon:

You get a Celestial Frownie Face! I was putting nuts out on our apartment window ledge for the nocturnal flying squirrels when I noticed Venus and Jupiter next to the Moon. The Moon was just a sliver and the whole thing looked like an upside down frownie face.

I went outside and as good of photo as I could get with a point and shoot camera, but it didn't turn out too badly. I cropped and rotated it to get that first photo. Perhaps the cause of the frown is too much ambient light interrupting our night sky view in urban areas?

Skywatch Friday: Night Dragon

It's Skywatch Friday time again! It's a site you can visit and follow links to people's pages to look at different photos of sky.

Check out the dragon! I took this photo at last weekend's bonfire party during the fireworks portion of the evening. Non Birding Bill was helping set off fireworks and this image came from something called "Bad To The Bone." I wasn't expecting to get anything, but when I downloaded photos the next morning, this showed up as a big dragon. If you follow the link, you can watch a video of Bad to the Bone does. I don't know how I got a dragon out of it, but it was cool!

Skywatch Friday, In Transit From Texas

It's Skywatch Friday again! If you have a blog with a photo of sky, you can link your post up to Skywatch Friday and share the beauty. I thought I'd share one of my "in transit" days.

I never cease to be amazed at the ability to change time and temperature with our ability of global travel. I marvel at my Monday this week. I woke up in south Texas, in Harlingen, near the border. I'm surrounded by warm weather and exotic species.

Not just blue jays here, no, crazy birds like green jays (above), curlews and kiskadees. When I boarded my plane in the morning, it was sunny, windy, and temperatures were in the 80s.

The view of the sky from the plane was an intense palette of blue and white. The sky, so clear and so blue, pushing down on a thin layer of clouds.

Take in that blue for a moment.

The clouds had some fluff but were mostly thin. It's so strange and such a privilege to get to see clouds from above. I try to concentrate on them as opposed to my fear of flying (or rather, crashing) in a plane.

As the clouds gave way, I could see some of Minnesota below, my final destination. The land had been dusted with snow. How strange to start a morning with humidity and 80 degree temps and then end the afternoon in 30 degrees with snow. I never get tired at the wonder of travel and where you can find yourself in a day.

Skywatch Friday, Cape May, NJ Style

It's Skywatch Friday again! I think I may actually be getting it in on time this week. I'm very confused because it's called Skywatch Friday, but apparently, it begins on Thursday where I live.

This is a view of one of my favorite places that I've been blogging about this week. It's called The Meadows and it's an area run by The Nature Conservancy. I think when people think of New Jersey, they may often think of maybe the opening to The Sopranos with Tony driving over the bridge and you see a lot of factories and industry. Believe it or not, you can find places where you are in a remote area.

While at the Cape May Autumn Weekend, I spent a lot of time at The Meadows, some for workshops, some just on my own. I had a magical Sunday morning there when I was surrounded by tree swallows. All weekend I could see huge flocks of them feeding on bayberries. Tree Swallows have already moved out of Minnesota, so seeing huge flocks in Cape May was a treat. They can afford to be later migrants because unlike most swallows that eat only insects, these will also eat berries, helping them to survive the late migration should they find a lack of insects.

I saw a huge flock off in the distance. This photo really doesn't do it justice. I may look like light blue paper sprinkled with fine ground pepper, but these are all tree swallows. I watched them wheeling and spinning in the air, just enjoying the spectacle. I wondered if I could walk towards the flock, but before I could take the first step, I noticed the flock formed a large cylinder and was heading my way.

Within seconds, I had swallows zooming overhead and whizzing on either side of me. I tried to take photos, but realized quickly that it was in vain, they were moving too quickly. There were thousands of them, a groups so loud, they sheer number of dainty wings flapping was an audible rushing sound. The tree swallows dipped down towards the water and took sips, then zipped over the grasses searching for insects. It was an intense, magical experience and my reverie was broken only when a nearby mute swan gave off it's farty sounding call (yes, that beautiful exotic species that rips up nesting habitat of our native ducks, also sounds like flatulence when it calls).

When the swallows were in the distance, I tried to take a video through my spotting scope. It's not the best video ever, but you get an idea of the the size of the flock. I would say that the birds you see through my scope is about one fourth of the entire flock. There were thousands of tree swallows:

Quite a spectacle to have all those swallows be part of the sky.

Sky Watch Friday Carver Banding

Doh, it's raining this morning, not sure I'm going banding at Carpenter. Well, I have some banding photos from last weekend and it's SkyWatch Friday, I'll work on that and see if the rain subsides:

Years ago, the summer before Non Birding Bill and I moved to Minnesota, we were on vacation with his family at Virginia Beach. We were flipping around tv channels one night and found a documentary about Minnesota--we thought this would be good prep work to watch. We had heard that we should be prepared for cold and snow year round, but beyond that, not much else. The documentary had an interview with Garrison Keillor and he said something about there are a few days in October which are perfect days (in every possible way) in Minnesota and people visit during those days and get that impression. For some reason, that was what stuck out in my mind and every October, I try to watch for that. If you are an optimist, October in Minnesota is the THE BEST. Sunny days that might require a fleece, glowing fall leaves, local farm bounties, and cool nights perfect for snuggling with your favorite person. As long as you don't think about the impending snow and cold which could easily last six months is right behind this perfect month.

Last weekend, I was going to go to Duluth to do go to Frank's hawk blind, but the wind prediction wasn't good and the sparrows were everywhere in the Twin Cities. My buddy Amber had heard that Mark was going to do some migrant banding on Saturday, so I snuck out to join them. Mark normally does banding programs every third Saturday at Lowry Nature Center. This was not a formal program, so Amber spread out a blanket near the nets, Mark set out his equipment and we banded birds in the beautiful October sun. Above is one of the many swamp sparrows moving through. It's such a pretty sparrow, it's too bad they don't visit feeders as much as house sparrows do--people would really dig 'em. I'm going to save that photo, that would be a good hair color at some point.

We got in quite a few orange-crowned warblers. This is the "drabbest of the drab" first year female orange-crowned. If you are one of the peeps going to the Rio Grande Valley Bird Fest next month, learn this bird's chip note--you'll be hearing it a lot. I know we have them in Minnesota, but I always associate them with South Texas. Speaking of which, there is still time to sign up for the bird blogger discount for the Rio Grande Fest. It's going to be awesome, some of the bird bloggers I know are coming include WildBird on the Fly, Born Again Bird Watcher, birdspot, and Mike from 10,000 Birds--oh, it's on! Looks like there's going to be a Birds and Beers too!

But I digress, back to the female orange-crowned warbler (and since it's SkyWatch Friday, pay attention to the blue sky in the back). She really doesn't have much orange to speak of, even in hand. She's a pallet of gray, drab olive, and kinda white.

Here's an adult male--a little more flashy--look at that yellow. And, you can distinctly see the orange in the crown, can't ya? Please tell me I'm not hallucinating, you can see the orange too? Okay, I admit, it is hard to see, so we used the toothpick method to get a look at the orange crown:

Now you can see the orange in that crown! It's never easy to see when the bird is not in hand. I just check Birds of North America Online to find out when one can see the orange crown on the bird in the wild and found this: "Male threat or alarm display can involve elevation of head feathers to display (barely) the orange crown (Bent 1953)."

"Don't make me barely show you my orange crown!!" Maybe these small warblers have a color orange phobia, so a little is all that's needed. Although, I'm not sure what a flock of orange-crowned warbler when confronted with a male oriole. Or perhaps, those orange feathers are so powerful that too much could be lethal? So much more study to be done.

It's always so cute when an insect eating bird tries to peck your fingers--those bills are just so soft--look at that orange-crowned warbler go for Mark's thumb. Earlier, his thumb went through much worse:

Before I arrived, he and Amber got a young male cardinal in the nets. After banding it, he opened his hand to let it go. The male decided to get in one good bite before flying off and then got so into it, refused to let go and hung from his thumb for a moment. It flew off and remarkably, Mark did not need a band aid.

Ah, looks like the rain is easing up, I should hit the road.

Skywatch Friday With Migrants

Hey, have you sent in your comments regarding the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act yet? Don't let it slip away (and yes, I'm gonna be a pest about this).

Well, it's Skywatch Friday again. You can visit their site and click to all the links to every one's photos of sky and if you wish, you can participate by creating your own blog entry with a photo of sky, adding the Skywatch Friday link to your post and then adding your link to their site. As you can see, the vivid blue skies still continue to enhance the gorgeous fall colors at Carpenter Nature Center.

I tell ya', with the all the negatives adds (on all sides) of the upcoming election and news of the economy it's hard not to get down. If you are anywhere near Hastings, MN make a trip to Carpenter, the colors do not disappoint and the grounds full of birds and a few bees give you peace of mind that money just cannot buy. And if you have a few bucks, now is the time to load up on apples from their orchard--Honeycrisps are in and they have apple cider made right on site (I'm enjoying some now as I type this entry).

The bright blue sky, mixes with the changing reds and yellows of the trees to make the perfect back drop for photographing or just enjoying birds. Not that downy woodpeckers are fugly to begin with, but their black and white coloration is oh so enhanced with the fall colors. I don't know if anyone needs a cleansing downy woodpecker, but here you are.

Later, I'll blog more about the banding bonanza that we had at Carpenter today--I banded a lot of birds and I don't think I worked with the same species twice, it was a parade of sparrows, finches, and warblers and note the bird above: I took my first junco (aka snowbird) of the season out of the nets today. I call this my first junco of the season, but it really is not. I have heard there chip notes in the bushes on the bike trail and I have chosen to ignore the blatant sign of winter.

But if we are talking sky, it's only appropriate that we talk about migration and birds that are pouring out of the skies on their journey south. Carpenter was loaded with white-throated sparrows today (like the bird above) so watch for sparrows lurking under your feeders--and it wouldn't hurt to put out a bit of white millet for them. One of my favorite things about the fall are the nights up at Frank's hawk banding station in Duluth and you can hear white-throated sparrows chipping to each other overhead as large flocks head south. Some of my favorite moments in life have included listening to night migrants with friends...I remember laying on a bench in Cape May, NJ a few years ago do that same thing WildBird on the Fly. Good times.

Here's a tan morph of white-throated sparrow. Look at those gorgeous rufous feathers mixed in with other shades of brown on its back--what a classy little brown bird! Speaking of migration, blog reader Tammy sent over this news link from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about night migration:

"Right around sunrise Tuesday morning the NWS Milwaukee/Sullivan radar (MKX) showed some curious circular reflectivity returns. The echoes developed suddenly and then grew in size between 6:45 AM and 7:30 AM. The MKX staff suspects these to be birds taking off right at sunrise. Some of the echoes initially show returns as high as 30 dBZ, which would equate to a decent shower if the returns were made of rain drops. These are likely dense clusterings of geese heading out early to feed in the fields."

You can read the full story and see the radar images here.

So, keep your eyes and your ears to those fall skies!

Skywatch Friday & Carpenter Nature Center

It's Skywatch Friday again and I was out at Carpenter Nature Center this morning and thought I'd get a shot of sky. The sky was crisp and blue. And though it's a lovely shade of blue, when put in the blog, it looks more like I just placed a blue box in the post. It needs some accents. Since there were no clouds to oblige, I had to work with earthly accents.

How about some goldenrod? I think this is the start of my favorite time of year at Carpenter. In late summer and early fall the prairie comes alive with color of yellows, reds, greens...

The asters are starting to burst open to. The purple itself is fine, but add a touch of that gorgeous blue sky is all part of the pallet.

And it's not just the flowers, monarchs and swallowtails are nectaring on every blooming thing. This is a giant swallowtail on a a thistle. Note that sea of goldenrod capped off with a beautiful blue sky in the background. At Birds and Beers last night, I had a conversation with bird banders Roger and Mark about goldenrod fields and all the birds that lurk in them this time of year. They mentioned how many warblers are down in them. We had a net up in a goldenrod/sumac/dogwood field at Carpenter this morning and it was our most active net.

We got in a couple of Wilson's warblers (or WIWA according to the American Ornithologists' code) like the bird above and a Nashville...and oodles of flycatchers. Flycatchers just kind of take the wind out of my sails when banding. We get both alder and willow flycatchers in Minnesota and telling them apart this time of year (when they aren't singing) involves algebra (that's not an exaggeration). What heck kind of sadist has to ruin birding with math. I always feel like Tom Hanks in A League of their Own: "There's no math in birding! There's no math in birding!"

Here a second Wilson's. It's so buttery yellow--you can imagine how well it would hide in those goldenrod fields while gleaning insects off the flowers.

Check out the bottoms of the WIWA's foot--it's super yellow. Warblers are just cool from head to toe.

We did have a rather interesting chickadee show up-- it was missing a foot! Fortunately, not the banded foot, so we were able to find out that we banded it last fall and it was healthy and had two feet when it was first banded. Wonder what happened? Did the toes freeze off over the winter? Did the bird fly into a window, injure its foot, resulting in a severe infection that caused the toes to fall off? Did it get bumblefoot?

Another surprise was finding a goldfinch incubating two eggs this late in August. I know goldfinches nest late, but this seems really late for Minnesota. Will be interesting to watch its progress over the next few weeks.

Skywatch Friday

Between the excitement of Peregrine 568s recovery and getting ready for tomorrow's book signing, I almost forgot that today is Skywatch Friday. You create a blog with photos of sky and then you add your link to the Skywatch site. While there, you should check out everyone's photos of sky. Some of my favorites this week are at Desert Observer, Jim's Little Photo Place, and Shimmy Mom.

My entry for this week takes us back to Cape Cod for the Swarovski Blogging Event. While we were getting photos of shorebirds, we could see fog approaching us. See the low darker clouds on the horizon?

The fog never overtook the beach, but seemed a sinister dream land just off the shore. It was strange to see it just sit there out of reach of the surf.

It crept in and touched the beach, the sky coming in to touch the sand. Gulls were loafing just inside the mist.

I tried to digiscope them and the black-backed gulls sat in the fog and looked a tad expectant. What were they waiting for? Or perhaps they wondered about the group of humans on the edge of the mist observing them, wonder what it was all about.

Skywatch Friday

It's another Skywatch Friday and I'm going to contribute some North Dakota storm clouds. I love the prairie--I love birding on the prairie, when the sun is out and it's spring, nothing quite beats bird song on the prairie. However, when it's rainy and windy, nothing can be quite as brutal as birding on the prairie. There are no trees to slow the wind and the rain, but the expanse is vast and you can get a clear view of the storm about to hit you. I love the look of clouds right before a rain. I love the view of a minimum maintenance road disappearing into an approaching storm, the unknowable is ahead.

I think this is one of my favorite views in North Dakota--painted beehives under storm clouds on a prairie.