The Magic Of Finding Owls

We're having our third straight weird winter in Minnesota. A third winter of unpredictable weather patters. February used to be my guaranteed snow shoe hike month and for the past three winters I've had to just call them hikes or cancel them because thaw cycles of turned the trails to ice. This past week like the rest of the country we experienced insane highs in the 50s - 60.

I'm not going to panic about it, but I am going to take advantage of a weird spring like day to go bike riding, it's one of the things I enjoy almost as much as birding. And it's a perfect combo when I can combine them both. I often listen to movie soundtracks while biking to make my ride more fun. 

The other day I was biking and listening to The Force Awakens, specifically the Jedi Steps part at the end of the movie. As I biked along, something suddenly got my attention. "Wow, that's a lot of poop."

Look at all those pellets!

Look at all those pellets!

Because it was a thick clump of cedars I immediately assumed it was a saw-whet owl roost. I noticed about four spots where the bird had spent lots of time and dropped lots of pellets. I gingerly walked around to try and look up in hopes of not flushing the bird (with that ruddy mysterious music playing through my headphones). The first two spots had no owl above, then I got to the spot in the above photo. I looked up and less than two feet from my head was an old robin's nest with a gray phase eastern screech-owl perched on it (just as the music swelled when it revealed Luke Skywalker in the movie). I immediately said, "Holy shit," crouched low to put as much space between us and backed away, hoping against hope that I wouldn't accidentally flush it. I was not expecting that bird to be that low...or in a robin's nest. It stayed in its spot and I wondered if felt a little bad ass, "Well, I showed that human!"

The next day I took Non Birding Bill with me to see the bird and try to digiscope it. The branch it chose is perfect for hiding. It's on the lowest and thickest branch and the branch curves, creating a tent over the owl. I flattened my tripod as low as it would go, crawling on the ground to get a view as far away from the owl as I could. I found one window through the needles to get a glimpse and snapped a few photos for my own documentation.

This owl maybe low, but it has figured out a great hiding spot. 

This owl maybe low, but it has figured out a great hiding spot. 

I've never found a screech-owl roosting in cedars in winter. I've mostly seen them in natural cavities or nest boxes. And as always when I find an owl, I wonder how many I've passed because I assumed they wouldn't hide in a particular spot. 

I like this photo because the owl turned away from me. It no longer saw me as threat enough to stare down. All in all we were there three minutes getting pictures and grabbing a few more pellets. 

I like this photo because the owl turned away from me. It no longer saw me as threat enough to stare down. All in all we were there three minutes getting pictures and grabbing a few more pellets. 

And for now this owl will be left alone. If it stays warm I'll bike past but I won't stop except to collect a pellet or two. I'm going to have try and hit that area in March at dusk to see if I can hear any screech-owl trilling. 

Drunk Birds

I can now add "sober ride for drunk birds" to my resume. hungover waxwing

I usually do not answer my phone while bike riding, but I could tell by the ringtone that it was my neighbor Zoe. She doesn’t spend her social time foolishly, so I knew if she called, she had something important to say.

“I’m on Hennepin and there’s a bird that can’t fly,” she said. “It’s kind of flapping, but it looks like it’s trying to push its beak in the ground and kind of spinning in circles.”

Generally, when people contact me, I encourage them to type in the words, “find a wildlife rehabber near you” into the search engine of their choice and a very helpful website pops up that connects you with the nearest licensed wildlife doctor to you. This also keeps me from becoming a full time bird ambulance during nesting season when everyone finds a baby bird.

However, I was biking and only a few blocks from Zoe and I thought I might as well head over. Also, my neighbor only said the word, “bird” not “pigeon” or “sparrow.” Chances were it was  something interesting.

I headed over and five minutes later found my neighbor and a stranger she bonded with as they stood vigil over of the soft brown ball of feathers flopping on the ground. I immediately identified it as a Cedar Waxwing.

The bird indeed was trying unsuccessfully to fly and pushing its head into the ground. It was unable to stand and lurched around in a circle. I’ve volunteered for a couple of bird hospitals and know enough to when a bird is in serious trouble. I picked it up and felt around for broken bones and all felt intact. I blew on the waxwing’s breast, spreading the feathers apart to look at its transparent skin and get an idea of its physical state. The bird was robust with healthy muscle tissue, it was not starving and surviving well enough to find plenty to eat during our cold wet spring.

“What do you think is wrong with it,” Zoe asked.

“I think we have a drunk bird,” I answered.

drunk waxwing

Above is a picture of our little drunkard. Love all the colors on the waxwing, the soft brown and gray, highlight by bright red waxy tips and yellow tail band. In spring, frugivorous birds like waxwings and robins will sometimes feed on berries from the previous summer which have had months to lose moisture and allow the sugars to ferment. As the birds feed in a frenzy, the berries may not get digested right away and those fast metabolisms process the berries and voila, you get drunk birds. Sometimes the results are quite tragic as the intoxicated birds fly impaired and slam into windows. They are also highly susceptible to predators like Cooper’s hawks.

While it was possible that this particular bird could have been poisoned in a yard, waxwings are well known for getting intoxicated. If it had been poisoned, its chances of recovery were low, whereas if it was just drunk, it needed a quiet, dark place to sober up and then could be released right away.

Drunken Waxwing

I said, “I think it just needs to sleep it off away from the street, I will take it home and see what it’s like in a few hours."

I carefully placed the waxwing in my empty bike satchel, giving the weary and confused bird a soft spot to rest, but not allow it to move too much and risk damaging its feathers. The blitzed bird gave me that all too familiar glare we’ve seen many a drunk friend do. The look that says, “Look man, just turn off the lights and leave (bleep) me alone.”

waxwing threw up

At home, I set the satchel in the kitchen. Two hours later I peaked in. The waxwing had thrown up and was now at least standing. Ah, we really aren’t that much different from wildlife are we? A good hard puke after too alcohol and we feel a bit better.

cedar waxwing

I lifted the waxwing out of the bag, it stared unsteadily back at me. I realized that our little drunken bird was going to spend the night.

We took a pet carrier, fashioned a sort of perch for the waxwing and set it in. I also put in a very shallow dish of water and I chopped up some cherries in case it got well enough to eat on its own and set the carrier on the futon.

waxwing sleepover

The next morning, the waxwing was sleepy and though hopping around, seemed a bit slow. This bird clearly needed a hangover breakfast and hydration. I opened the door and took a few drops of the water and set one drop on the very tip of its closed beak. It took a taste and you could see the lightbulb turn on, “Yes, more of that, please.”

Never underestimate the value of hydration when intoxicated.

hangover breakfast

I picked up a piece of cherry and slowly brought it to the bird’s beak. It opened it’s beak and took the proffered food. It held on to it for a moment, then swallowed. I tried again and got the same result. As cool as I thought it was to hand feed a Cedar Waxwing, I was highly concerned that it was so readily letting me hand feed it. By the third piece, it was as if realization set in and it flew to the back of the carrier in fear.

An hour later as the bird looked a bit more perky, I thought we would take it for a test flight outside. We went behind our apartment building and opened the door, the waxwing flew away to a branch in a hackberry tree high above. When we went back to our second floor apartment, I could easily watch our hungover house guest out the kitchen window. It preened and readjusted its feathers.  Then it rubbed its head on a branch, as if thinking, “I can’t believe how blitzed I was last night! I'm never doing that ever again. How embarrassing.”

Then the waxwing went to sleep and I worried that I released it too soon. As I was questioning myself, I heard the high trilly whistle of a flock of waxwings flying over. The hung over bird immediately woke up, called back and did the flight of shame right into the flock. Whew.

Party on, dude.

Here's the vomit the bird left behind...at least it's far cleaner than any puke a drunk human has left behind.

waxwing pellet

New York Birds and Art

I meet people all the time and some you can tell right away are going to be companions who are either fun to work with or good for a visit. Frequently, people will say, “Oh, I have a place in this city or country, you should visit me.” proposition statue

I’m the sort of person who takes you up on that…careful what you invite me to. Chances are very good that I’ll show up. Especially if you live in New York City--I love visiting New York! Even the statues proposition you! That thing totally looks like he's saying, "Heeeey, sexy laaaady, you wanna party?"

My friend Kimberly Butler is a professional photographer, she’s been inducted into the Smithsonian and even worked for People Magazine for years—back before it was mostly a tabloid. I knew she had a studio apartment in Manhattan…what didn’t realize she meant is she has a beautiful apartment that also includes her photography studio. I was so grateful to stay with her because no matter what topic you bring up—she has a story of some crazy adventure she went on and she’s in walking distance of three of my favorite things in New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park and the Museum of Modern Art.

mid photobomb

After going to Los Angeles, I flew to Connecticut to speak then headed up into New York City. My original plan was to film a video, but one of the people essential to the video ended up being out of town and I chose instead to use it as opportunity to visit Kim, go see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and go do some photobombing around 30 Rock (that’s what I’m doing in the above photo).

the scream

I’m a fan of art (that I can understand) and being a teenager, I was especially fond of Munch when I discovered his work. Google some of his stuff, you can see why a teenager might fall in love with it.  MOMA had an actual The Scream, Munch most favorite work on display.  They actually had versions of the scream. I had the woodcut version as a shirt with the caption “President Quayle” written underneath it. But as iconic as the scream is, I was more excited to have a chance to see some of his other works like the Madonna and the Storm.

the embrace

This is one of my all time favorites. It’s been mistranslated to be titled The Vampire, but it was originally titled The Embrace (because what else would a redhead be doing to a guy buy biting his neck and sucking his blood). But it’s one that has always, always appealed, rivaled in my love only by Munch’s The Kiss.

starry night

But part of the fun of visiting these museums is not only having a chance to see a special exhibit, but running into celebrity art like the above Starry Night.  I’d completely forgot that Van Gogh’s Starry Night was there and what a bonus to run into it…and a welcome respite after Munch’s darkness. There’s no way I can visually and emotionally comprehend all the artwork in a large museum. I try to go in with a goal for a specific artist and then discover what I can on the way out. On my down the stairs, there was a special exhibit where a current artist got to curate an exhibit. I was surprised to see some familiar photographs.

wood thrush

Trisha Donnelly chose to include a room full of Eliot Porter bird photographs as part of installation.  These are incredible if you consider Porter was using photography equipment from the 1940 – 1970s to get bird shots. Some you may even recognize from older bird books. She chose to include his works because, “though Porter’s abundant body of work has often been relegated to the genre of nature photography, his reflects a deep interest in the underlying structures of the universe. He uses the act of close looking associated with the medium of photography to create studies in chaos.”

alder flycatcher

Are you kidding me? I came all the way to New York City to enjoy some modern art and I run into to freaking alder flycatcher?  Empidonax flycatchers—my nemesis, trying to identify an alder flycatcher from a willow flycatcher certainly is a study in chaos!

meadowlark

I was trying to see what Donnelly saw in the work. I can appreciate what Porter had to do in order to get these shots and I thought of the equipment today and some of the really beautiful and in many cases artistic shots people can get of birds now. They would outshine the works of Porter easily. Perhaps this is a nod to the popularity of photo apps that distort the natural beauty of nature that modern nature photographers work to achieve. To not only get a crisp and true color image of a bird, but to capture that bird in a particularly iconic moment. Surely Porters work would pale in comparison to some of the other photos out there?

barn swallow

But you couldn’t deny that in some, there was chaotic beauty, like the above barn swallow. It was fascinating and I was glad I ran into it.

redtail with pigeon

I did see some actual birds while in New York.  I got the obligatory look at a red-tailed hawk with a pigeon near the nest of Pale Male. I don't think it was the actual Pale Male.  When it landed it didn't look pale. Perhaps it was his mate for this year, Octavia?

cardinal paparazzi

Every time a cardinal popped up, several people would stop to get a photo.  I saw this happen at least three times. And like any street performer with a great act, the male cardinals would readily pose.

wtsp

I got to catch some early migrants like the above white—throated sparrow eating dog poop.  Yep, that’s what I typed, that bird was eating dog poop.

white-throated sparrow

Here’s a better photo of it. I’m now at 85 species for my Digiscoping Big Half Year!  All hell is about to break loose on that.  I’m actually typing this blog entry while on a flight down to McAllen, Texas to be a speaker at Quinta Mazatlan on Thursday night. I’m willing to bet that I’ll easily add 25 species while there, if not more.

Gertrude Stein

And I finish with this photo.  This little Gertrude Stein statue was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I visited last year. She was part of an exhibit that showed chunks that Stein and her brother had owned: it was crazy to be in rooms chock full of so much Matisse and Picasso. She was a frequent subject for many of her artist friends and I thought this statue of her as a sort of Buddha was adorable. She’s now residing in Bryant Park (along with a few woodcocks).

I've  had at least 2 people ask who is on the end of the extendable leash in my hands...

Marley

Marley, one of Kim's two dogs.  He and I got along very well. Her dogs are hilarious.  One morning I standing in the kitchen and her dog Max (not pictured started barking) and then Marley joined in and began spinning wildly.  The looked at me expectantly.  Kim came in and said, "Oh, it's time for treats!"

Which turned out to be their vitamins.  I've never seen dogs beg for vitamins before.  She later showed me how they love to eat bananas, to the point she peeled one, held it to the dogs and they ate it like an every day thing. I have to get her to YouTube that.

Bunny Murder Mystery

WARNING: Some people may find a photo in here gross...especially if you are of the Disapproving Rabbits persuasion.

I know this may shock some of you, but it's December and we got SNOW in Minnesota! In the Twin Cities we got roughly 12" from Winter Storm Caesar. Much to the chagrin of the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel has started naming winter storms. On the one hand that seems silly, but on the other, in this day and age of social media and climate change bring about more extreme weather and storm systems, it makes sense.  We can't call every snow storm Snomaggeddon or SnOMG.

But we got our first real snow of the season in the form of 12" and not the expect 4 " - 6" that usually is our first dusting. It was beautiful snow if you didn't have anywhere to be and was warm enough that a walk through the neighborhood yield gorgeous views like at Lakewood Cemetery yesterday. Not much in the way of bird action, but I imagine birds had staked out feeders and thick bushes to wait out the storm.

As I was walking home, a lump on the unshoveled but well trampled sidewalk caught my attention. At a distance I wondered if someone had lost a scarf or as is becoming all too common in my neighborhood, a wayward hair weave.

Closer inspection revealed it to be the remains of an eastern cottontail rabbit. A few nudges with my boot showed the carcass to be fresh and malleable, not stiff and several hours old. Hm.  I, of course, had to study the surrounding tracks.  I noticed right away boot prints and crow tracks and was wondering if someone's dog got the bunny and the crows came in for the ample food source (we're withing five miles of a large crow roost). But I couldn't find dog paw prints with the bunny prints.

Then I found what I was looking for, rabbit tracks with wing prints. What struck my attention was how the wing prints seemed short next to the rabbit tracks and that the rabbit tracks didn't stop.  I would expect that a red-tailed hawk would be the raptor going after a rabbit in my neighborhood (we have a few urban residents). And when red-tails nail a rabbit, the bunny track usually stops.

These tracks went all over from the sidewalk to the yard, you could even see where the rabbit tried to turn around.  Based on the short width of the wings and the tracks, I wondered if what killed the rabbit was a Cooper's hawk?  That's a very common hawk in our neighborhood too and yes they are large and can go for rabbits, they do not have feet suited for dispatching a bunny quickly.  They have skinny toes meant for crushing songbirds and pigeons, not the big beefy toes of a red-tail. That rabbit wouldn't have gone gently into that goodnight.

The corner where I found the bunny carcass and evidence is well traveled and close to a coffee shop.  I suspect once the Cooper's got the rabbit, it couldn't eat that much as there would be people walking by, flushing it.  The several crow prints makes me wonder if they got more of the bunny than the hawk.

Survival continues even in the most urban of neighborhoods.

Common Nighthawk Freakout

So we've had a common nighthawk completely freaking out in our ally the last week.  I'm not sure what's going on, I'd almost think it would be nesting, but these guys should be about to migrate from our neck of the woods.  But it started when Non Birding Bill noticed it.

Yes, I know, stop the presses: Non Birding Bill noticed one of the browniest birds out there.  Above is what a common nighthawk looks like. In some areas they are a common city bird in the summer but in Minneapolis they have had a dramatic decline. We've had only one pair successfully fledge a chick in the 14 years we have lived in our neighborhood. This summer we had a nighthawk displaying and it seemed he found a mate but then he started displaying about three weeks ago and I wondered if he was attempting to re-nest and if a crow had gotten the chick.

Sunday NBB came in after pilfering some green tomatoes from an accommodating neighbor's garden and asked, "Nighthawks are brown, right?"

"Yes," I said.

"And when they fly they have those white wing stripes?"

"Yes..."

"I just saw one in the ally and it was making this strange kind of chatter sound.  I got video of it. It landed on the wire above my head but sat along the wire," he said while trying to load his video.

"That's what they do when they perch," I said, intrigued that a nighthawk would be active in the morning daylight hours.  While NBB searched for his video, I played common nighthawk's "alarm calls near nest UT" on my Sibley app and he said, "Yeah that's the sound!"

And we've heard it two or three more times this week. One night I was soaking in the tub and I heard it, so I got out and went searching for the nighthawk.

The nighthawk alternately landed on our neighbor's driveway or circled the ally as it chittered in agitation.  I never saw a chick or heard one begging so I'm not quite sure what is causing the nighthawk freak out.  Perhaps we had an owl in the vicinity?

Here's what it sounds like (the video is terrible because it was dark out, but you can sure hear that bird):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU2hk24pjJQ&feature=youtu.be

Barred Owl On The Bike Trail

On Saturday Non Birding Bill and I were taking advantage of the beautiful weather and the Twin Cities bike trail system.  We passed into a neighborhood and hear blue jays, cardinals and nuthatches going bonkers.  I took a quick glance but figured since NBB was with me, I might as well ignore whatever was being mobbed by birds.  Then I heard NBB say, "Got it! Owl!" I stopped, pulled over and saw NBB behind me pointing to a tree.  "Great horned?"

"No," he said, "I think it's  barred owl."

It sure was.  We finished our circuit and on the way back found the owl in the same spot but it was no longer being mobbed.  When we heard the blue jays earlier, they some sounded young and I wondered if the adults were using the owl as a chance to teach mobbing behavior.  Did the young ones lose interest when the owl didn't do anything?

When we got home, I debated about biking back to get a scope.  I have a system for packing up my Swarovski scope and camera, but the owl was in a residential neighborhood and I don't like to take my scope in those areas if I don't have to.  Plus, my thighs were putting up a bit of a protest.  I decided to go for it and figured the worse case scenario would be that the owl was gone and I'd get a little more exercise on a gorgeous summer day.

As I suspected, the owl was still there.  This is a well used neighborhood for bike riders, joggers and walkers.  This owl was used to roosting over people and not a lot was going to make it flush.

I aimed my scope, taking special care to never aim it at any windows or house and getting shots of the owl.  What a cutie--I even got to hear it call a few times.

The head feathers of the owl looked like it hadn't quite filled out with the rest of the body and there seemed to be hints of down.  Is this a young barred owl?  I took a quick look under the tree and found a pellet.  Just as a grabbed it, the person who lived in the home came out.  I hoped that I wouldn't have too much explaining to do and she smiled and asked, "Is the owl here?"

Whew--I wasn't assumed a bicycle perv but assumed to be a birder--yay!  She was really nice and told me that they had seen the owls all summer and that the babies even hung out on the porch rails when learning to fly.  Her young daughter came out and said, "The sat on the porch on my birthday!"

What an awesome birthday treat!

We talked bird a little bit and then I headed home suddenly aware that I was in my bike clothes, sweaty and stinky.  I can only imagine what my mother would say about doing sweaty stinky bird chat with strangers.

Relaxed owl toes! What a bonus for biking--a random barred owl.  I love the variety of nesting predators we have in my general neighborhood.  Birding truly can be done anywhere, even in an urban area.

Las Vegas And Urban Burrowing Owls

fanilow Las Vegas is a strange world that I cannot quite fathom.  I get the spectacle of it, I love how just as a visitor, you yourself become a part of the overall Vegas ambiance, you become part of the background of someone else's vacation.  I love that I can go into a casino and have my photo taken with parts of Barry Manilow's wardrobe (I know that looks like something Liberace would wear, but believe me, that is classic Manilow). I love that there is a store that sells nothing but Barry Manilow items--a whole store, in this economy, a whole store dedicated to Mr. Copacabana himself (a note--Donny and Marie have a case as a casino shop, but not their own store, that's how big Barry rates).  I love that I can turn my phone from a mere Blackberry to a Blackbarry Manilow.

But other parts of Las Vegas baffled me, like golf courses aka lush areas of grass made to fit in a desert landscape.

retro slots

And then there is the casino itself.  If someone wanted to torture me or if I believed in a hell, I think that my version would be in the center of a casino surrounded by slot machines and the only way out is desert heat of 105 degrees.  I'm unnerved by the number of slot machines based on my childhood like above Dukes of Hazard or Green Acres (or That Girl, and yes I mean THAT Girl or R2D2 or Indian Jones).  Standing in the middle of a place like the Flamingo surrounded by an overhead speaker pumping in Lady Gaga surrounded by blinking machines all playing a different computerized tune with no outdoor lighting totally freaked me out.  I marveled at people who think, "Yes, this is how I'm going to spend my hard earned vacation money!"

casino

I know I am not one to be putting on airs when it comes to how one should spend relaxation time, we all recharge our personal batteries in our own way.  Just as I am baffled by those who sit in the din of electronic over stimulation of a casino, I'm sure there are tons of people who would find my personal heaven of sitting in a dark box on a cold fallow farm field at the crack of dawn waiting for a hawk to fly by so we can band it equally as torturous. To each their own, I suppose.

owl beetle

Fortunately, there are plenty of birding opportunities in Vegas.  One of the best ways to take advantage of them is to contact the Red Rock Audubon Society who hooked our crew up with Rita Schlageter.  They were happy to help us find birds and suggest locations, one being a spot for one of my favorite birds, the burrowing owl (above, claiming taloned victory over a rather large beetle in the middle of a street).

urban owls

If you want to enjoy the burrowing owls in Vegas, you MUST contact Red Rock Audubon.  The members are engaged in a partnership with US Fish and Wildlife for the Urban Burrowing Owl Monitoring Project in the Las Vegas Valley.   The goals of this project are to map and monitor the location of burrows used by breeding owls and to educate the public about collecting scientific data and bird conservation.  Rita took us to owls that would be good light for filming and were also not too skittish around people.  She had a specific distance she wanted us to stay from the burrows so as not to disturb the owls.  With her help we got the best view we possibly could have and for me, these were the best looks I have had of this species.

burrow owl

Burrowing owls are a crowd pleasing bird, even my husband Non Birding Bill enjoyed filming the owls.  How can you not enjoy an owl that is active during the day, are about nine inches long (with long legs), who take over old burrows or dig their own and lurk at the entrance like a little boy cautiously defending his tree fort from cootie laden little girls?

owl flight

Even though we kept our distance, the owls were not disturbed by us in the least little bit.  One burrowing owl we were watching, took off and flew with four feet of our group.  We marveled at its bouncy flight, watched it flip around, heard a faint snap and fly back to its original location.  Clay asked, "Did that bird just grab something?"

beetle chomp

Yes it did!  Some sort of ginormous beetle that was flying behind us (yuck, that's what's flying around in Vegas--EW!).  Clay estimated that the owl saw it flying in from behind us and when it came in range, made it's move.  I just enjoyed having the bird in flight so close to us, what a treat to watch its feeding behavior in action.  Rita was a distance away and was impressed by the owl's hunting technique.

mid chomp

Look at the wild look in the bird's eyes as it nom, nom, noms up that crunchy big beetle.  What great pest control for the neighborhood.  Alas, it appears to be on borrowed time.

burrowing owl spot

This is the small lot where we found the owls.  There's another one across the street and between these two lots were about a dozen owls, perhaps four family group.  Rita said that according to Red Rock's numbers, there are about 27 pair in and around Las Vegas.   These two lots are slated for development, but thanks to the recession, all construction on the two lots is currently on hold.  Once the economy bounces back, construction will begin and all of the burrowing owls will have to move on.  Where will they go? Flat open space without trees and buildings is harder and harder to find.

vegas owls

I think we got some great footage for a birding segment here.  I'm glad we had an opportunity to experience this spot chock full of cute owls.  Consider giving Red Rock a call if you are interested in seeing and learning about burrowing owls in Vegas.  Here is some raw footage of burrowing owls, I especially love the little guy lurking in the burrow.  I think you will see four individual owls in this clip.  One is eating another ginormous beetle.  Note how the burrowing owl eats it like parrot by holding it with its foot.  Also, I recommend having the volume down, there's quite a bit of wind in this footage:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-2A0AU-6Vg[/youtube]

Birding In Sunset Park, Las Vegas

sunset park Well, I don't know how I survived it, but yesterday, my buddy Clay Taylor and I (and my poor husband Non Birding Bill) went to Sunset Park in Las Vegas for a little afternoon birding...in 104 degree heat.  I was a tad moist at the end of it.  I wasn't wearing too many clothes, yet I felt about as soaked as I would working my hives in a full bee suit.

gambell's quail

We went for Crissal thrasher who hang around in the mesquite by the administrative building, which we saw but did not digiscope, but we did see tons of Gambel's quail which made NBB hum the Benny Hill theme every time they ran--too cute and too funny.  The quail loved to lurk and watch us from the brush, can't blame them for seeking shade.  As I was getting photos of the above male, something walked into the shot:

cats indoors

Oh, hello there outdoor kitty.  Fortunately for the quail, the cat was more worried about me and the scope than the intended quarry in the brush.  I looked up from my scope and the cat skulked away.

hidden quail

Clay found another critter as I was trying to get this hidden quail.  Can you see signs of another animal in this photo.  Take a quick look above.  See it?  I didn't either and would have missed it had Clay not pointed it out.  I'll give you a hint if you can't see it, the animal part is on the bottom towards the center left...see it?  It's a rabbit ear.

hare

Here I focused on the rabbit.  Look at how crazy long those ears are!  From this angle I thought that it must be some sort of hare, but it seemed to small in the body.

desesrt hair

I adjusted my position for a better view and saw that it had more of a rabbit body than a hare body.  I quick look on the internet and I found out that it's a desert cottontail.  Rabbits use those ears for thermal regulation.  Where I live in Minnesota, the cottontails have tiny ears.  If you are in the Vegas desert, you need big ole honkin' hears to deal with the heat.  My non birding hubby was hidden under some shade marveling that Clay and I could bird and digiscope in the heat.  I walked over and told him about the rabbit and asked if he wanted to see it.  He declined but said some small yellow bird was coming down from the trees and feed a few feet away.  I waited and...

wilsons warbler 1

...down popped a Wilson's warbler.  How fun to have such a cooperative warbler!  We saw these all over in Guatemala and I see them from time to time during migration in Minnesota, but this guy was so cheerful and perky in the heat.  We also saw a butt load of mourning doves, black-tailed gnatcatchers and verdin.  Not bad for a quick afternoon spot in oppressive heat.

Distracting Cedar Waxwings

Tonight is Birds and Beers at Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park--with maybe a little bird banding.  Should be awesome with all the migrants around. Starts at 6pm. Birds and Beers is an informal gathering of birders of all abilities to mildly interested to hardcore.  It's a way to get together and talk some birds.  Normally, we meet in a pub, but migration is so awesome, we're meeting outside...and Coon Rapids does allow alcohol if you would like to BYOB.

cedar-waxwing

A huge flock of cedar waxwings have descended upon my neighborhood.  It started at dawn yesterday, I sat up in bed and Non Birding Bill asked, "What's wrong?"

"Waxwings," I groggily replied, "they're everywhere, hear them?"

"That sound is a bird?"

And they've been covering the trees and using puddles on the surrounding apartment buildings for birdbaths.  They were using the one that was further away, but I set my scope and camera over towards the pool that's closest to my window (it's the puddle that the Cooper's hawk used a couple of years ago).

cedar-waxwings

And sure enough, just as I was about to hop on my bike for a lunch meeting, all the waxwings finally came down to the puddle in good light.  I decided to be late and get a few shots--look at them, it's like a bunch of tarted up female cardinals.  I took a video and you can hear the waxwings, a robin, my cockatiel, and my fingers typing a text message to my friend telling him that I'm going to be late to our lunch because of the waxwing photo opportunity:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBBcqu1KHhk[/youtube]

I wondered why the waxwings kept avoiding this particular pond and if you noticed in the video, they all took off as if startled by something?  Well, here's the reason why:

robin

This male robin was not happy with anyone using this puddle.  He chased off house sparrows, the waxwings, and other robins.  His nest must be near it.  I'll be curious to see if he tries to chase off that Cooper's hawk if she decides to use it again.

St Patrick's Day Cooper's Hawk

Some fun odds and ends: my buddy Amber was on the Nebraska news. She was co-leading a trip to see the massive amount of sandhill cranes in Nebraska. The group came across a huge flock of snow geese...and a local Nebraska tv station. Click here and you can see this Minnesota girl give a sound bite on how awesome it can be to watch snow geese in Nebraska, go Amber!

In other news, here's another interesting link about business people sneaking in a little birding when they are in another town for work.

And speaking of sneaking in a little birding. Non Birding Bill and are currently at a St. Patrick's Day gig that our buds Lorraine and Paul. I picked up NBB from his place of work in down town Minneapolis and we headed on our way. While stopped at a traffic light--a Cooper's hawk flew right over the hood of our car! I could see in the rear view that it landed on a sidewalk nearby and whipped the car around.

There it was on outside a liquor store off of Washington Street near 35W! It stayed there until an unsuspecting driver pulled up to park next to it.

From the looks of things, it appeared to have taken a starling. It was a nice healthy looking adult, looked to be male based on size.

So, after our birding detour, we made it in plenty of time to the gig! What a fun St. Pat's animal sighting. Totally beats the giant dogs dyed green that I saw before I picked up NBB.

Oh, and speaking of St. Patrick's day, Hasty Brook sent me a link to the Irish Dancing Nuthatch. Enjoy.