Twofer Tuesday: feathered friends

This Red-winged Blackbird and Mourning Dove shared a tree as the sun went down on our first day of camping in Moby, the Great White campervan, in late April. We were walking around Lake Hasty (John Martin Reservoir State Park) at the end of a lovely day when I spotted them.

April 28, 2021

We receive many doves (Mourning and Eurasian-collared) here at our backyard feeder, but Red-winged Blackbird sightings are more rare. I have childhood memories of them singing their beautiful song as they perched on cattails along the train tracks.

I’m posting this picture to commemorate the end of our camping season. Yesterday we unloaded Moby in preparation for a trip to the shop to have a pop-top installed. Next year, we’ll be able to stand up inside. Can’t wait to get back out there to bask in the glories of the natural world.

Twofer Tuesday: Eagle eye edition

My friend spotted a large bird in a tree off in the distance as we walked around the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge last month. Was it a hawk? Too big. What was it?

We slowly and quietly moved closer to the tree. This not-great quality photo was taken from quite a ways away.

August 20, 2021

My friend thought maybe a Golden Eagle, which seemed like a very good guess. We very carefully moved a bit farther on the trail until we were on the other side of the tree.

Hello there, regal raptor with the sharp beak and talons! Thank you for allowing us to gawk.

When I returned home and got the photos up on my computer screen, Zippy suggested it wasn’t a Golden Eagle, but a juvenile Bald Eagle. After a little more research, we decided he was correct.

I recently wrote a work-for-hire book about birds around the world and was limited to 100 birds. I didn’t include the Bald Eagle in the Birds of Prey section because I figured kids were already pretty familiar with them. Apparently, the editor felt differently because when my author copies arrived, there was a Bald Eagle on the cover. I checked inside and discovered the Black-thighed Falconet, which weighs 1.23 ounces and is one of the smallest birds of prey in the world, had been replaced by the mighty Bald Eagle. I admit to being disappointed by that switch.

However, I was not at all disappointed by this Bald Eagle sighting. Also? My friend could not have spotted a sparrow-sized falconet from that distance. Amateur birders such as ourselves definitely benefit when the sightings weigh in at close to 14 pounds of pure fierceness.

Wordful Wednesday

I photographed this Black-billed Magpie at the beginning of the pandemic when I escaped to the open space with a blanket, binoculars, and my camera. It’s not a particularly good photo, but it captures the elegance of a magpie’s flight feathers. I remember the emotional boost I experienced while watching and listening to this bird and the other magpies. They were so raucous that day and I felt honored when several gathered in a tree close to my blanket, squawking and carrying on.

April 1, 2020

Yesterday, I shared some sad magpie news. Today I’m filled with sorrow over that senseless death, but also gratitude for my many magpie sightings, visits, and interactions over the years. They never fail to enchant.

Twofer Tuesday: perching birds

We spent one night at Jackson Lake State Park in late May and were gifted with many bird sightings. This male Bullock’s Oriole patiently posed on  a post while I took photos, turning this way and that, allowing a complete view of his plumage.

There were several swallow species flying about and I took many photos of them in flight, none of which turned out well. This Barn Swallow was very considerate and graciously perched on a roof.

Later, as Zippy and I walked along a trail, we spotted a flash of red up ahead. He studied the bird through the binoculars and said, “Wow, it’s some really big red bird” and then passed the binoculars to me. I also briefly thought it was some unknown big, red species, and then my brain kicked in: we were looking at a House Finch, a species we see every single day in our yard. Yes, it was an unusually red male. But was it truly a large bird? No! It only appeared that way because of the binoculars. You know, that tool we use to help see things better via  magnification?

Birding. The gift that keeps on giving.

Monday mishmash

Ever since I ran on the trails Saturday, looking in vain for blooming thistles amongst all the brown and mostly-dead foliage, I keep thinking back to the thistles’ prickly displays in June. So, today I’m posting one from that beautiful day when the open space was ablaze with colors.

June 24, 2021

Yesterday evening, I met outdoors with Sunrise Movement friends whom I hadn’t seen since an action last summer outside (now Senator) Hickenlooper’s house. It was both lovely and bittersweet because another friend who was supposed to also be there had to remain in Minnesota to wait for her friend to get out of jail after being arrested (along with ~69 others) for protesting the Line 3 pipeline.  We had all sorts of emotions around that because the friend who was supposed to join us AND her arrested friend had been jailed in Denver with us in January 2020 (shout-out to M for continuing to be so fierce!)

Rather than go the conventional route and post people pics from our gathering, I’ll share not-great photos of the Great Horned Owl that serenaded us as we sat in the middle of an elementary school field. (I know how that sounds, but it was actually a pretty good setting, right up until the sprinklers came on and sprayed me and my stuff.)

Not sure whether the white patch in the photo above is a mouse dangling from the owl’s beak or just part of the groovy blurring effects.

And so I don’t leave on a carnivorous note, here’s one more random image for Monday Mishmash of the dandelion puffball Zippy brought inside for me today.

Wishing everyone a good week . . .

 

Twofer Tuesday: cormorant edition

As we walked along the shore of Lake Ladora at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge last week, my friend interrupted to point and say, “Watch the water right over there. Something’s going to pop up.”

She was correct.  A Double-crested Cormorant emerged and then went underwater again, only to reappear next to the lone cormorant I’d been calling The Sentinel.

August 20, 2021

The Sentinel had been perched alone on that rock while a sunning** of approximately 15 cormorants gathered on a cluster of large rocks about thirty feet away and I wondered whether the swimming cormorant was making a play for the sentinel role by loudly splashing with its flapping wings. Or, maybe the lone cormorant wasn’t keeping watch at all. Maybe that particular water bird is like me and requires time alone to recharge. Perhaps a better name would be The Introvert.

Confession: I’m taking especial delight in not only having a photo of two cormorants for this edition of Twofer Tuesday, but also the fact that they’re Double-crested. 🙂

** collective nouns for cormorants also include a “flight,” “gulp,” “rookery,”  and “swim.”

Thankful Thursday: improved outlook

Two hours ago, my innards were a mass of writhing anxiety and I (briefly) considered cancelling out on a zoom call with some local activists. I’d signed up to learn about the coalition they’re putting together to help the most vulnerable in our community, but felt so overwhelmed I thought it might be best to bail rather than run the risk of falling apart onscreen in front of strangers.

Fortunately, I joined the call and am now feeling much better. Possibly as stellar as this Steller’s Jay. (sorry, not sorry!)

Photo by Zippy. August 6, 2021

Seriously, the folks I met with are doing good work and I’m excited to join their efforts. The current global reality is layered with multiple ongoing traumas and much of it is outside my control. But this local effort stands a very good chance of actually making a difference in people’s lives.

I’m grateful that today I, once again, learned it’s much healthier for me to choose taking action over wallowing in debilitating anxiety.

A sparrow in four acts

Last month we camped at Cow Creek South Campground along the shores of Green Mountain Reservoir. Apparently, it’s wonderful habitat for White-crowned Sparrows but not so much other species (I don’t remember seeing anything else). We heard and saw these dapper sparrows an awful lot and I was positive their lovely songs/calls would be forever bonded in my memory. Alas, I couldn’t tell you now what they sound like. But I loved listening to them and had a wonderful time photographing them.

My first attempt didn’t yield a great photo:

July 9, 2021

 

My next attempt yielded better lighting, but this one seemed determined to hide its identity.

A moment later, I was rewarded with a lovely shot.

This may or may not be the same bird, but it clearly had had enough of the paparazzi and fled my camera range.

 

—————————————————
From All About Birds (text below + recordings from New Mexico):
SONGS
The song of the White-crowned Sparrow Is one of the most-studied sounds in all of animal behavior. Different subspecies across the country sing clearly different songs, but they’re all recognizable by the sweet, whistling introduction, a succession of jumbled whistles, and a buzz or trill near the end. Songs last 2-3 seconds. Females sing only rarely.

CALLS
White-crowned Sparrows have about 10 different calls. The most frequently heard include a sharp pink, lower-pitched than the White-throated Sparrow’s call. It’s usually made by males or as an alarm call near the nest. They also make a harsh, rasping call used by sparrows during altercations.
—————————————————–

Ah yes, now I remember: pink, pink.
I might not recognize the songs and calls next time, but I’m pretty confident I can identify this sparrow when I see it again. 🙂

 

Twofer Tuesday

I struggled to get out of bed this morning, knowing air quality was abysmal and that temperatures would (again) reach the high 90s. I finally hauled myself upright and for the second run in a row, ran inside on the treadmill. While I’m grateful to have that option, it’s unnerving to run inside during the summer.

I’ve dipped into the photo archives from the days of yore, when wildfire smoke didn’t choke the air and I could spend hours outdoors. Here are two of the many American White Pelicans I saw paddling around at Barr Lake State Park last April:

April 8, 2021

I find them quite stately despite those bumps on their bills. I hope they continue to do well, wherever they are.

Refuge

Western Scrub Jay. June 21, 2020

This isn’t a great photo, but I resonate with its vibe. Grumpy-looking scrub jay hunkered down in a hideaway sheltered by green foliage. I spent lots of my childhood seeking these same kinds of spaces, whether I was grumpy or not. Unlike this bird, I’d usually have a book and peanut butter sandwich which always made everything seem better. Unfortunately, this picture was taken a year ago so it’s too late to offer a book or snack . . .

Sunday Confessional: all birded out

I’ve about had all the bird drama I can stand for a while. There’s a scrub jay nest in our across-the-street neighbor’s pine tree and when Zippy and I returned from our run on Friday, we heard a cacophony in that yard. A fluffy white and gray cat (often seen roaming the neighborhood) was being dive-bombed by screeching scrub jays. Why? The cat had a fledgling in its mouth. I screamed and ran at the cat who dropped the baby bird and ran away. While Zippy stood guard over the stunned bird, I ran across the street to our house and looked up the closest bird rescue site. “Temporarily closed.”

I did a little more research and determined it would be okay to put on gloves to pick up the bird. So that’s what Zippy did and then placed the baby in a shoebox lined with an old t-shirt. We couldn’t spot the nest so he stuck the box up in the tree, wedged between branches, as the parents watched.

Adult Western/Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, probably one of the parental units.   June 13, 2021

A while later, the cat returned and this time I kept following it. It crossed the street, nervously checking over its shoulder, again and again, to see if the angry woman had given up. When another neighbor told me where the cat lived, I went to that house. No answer. Throughout the day, Zippy and I checked out our windows to see if the cat had returned. We didn’t see it again.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, just as Wildebeest and I returned from walking Emma, there was another raucous uproar in the neighbor’s yard. This time, the fluffy white cat sat calmly (no bird in mouth) as the parent jays dive-bombed it. Again, I ran  at the cat and chased it away. After another no-answer when I rang the cat’s home doorbell, I went home and wrote a very civil note, explaining the situation and asking that the cat be kept inside.

We haven’t seen the cat at all today. I did, however, see the fledgling on the ground presumably after testing its wings again. It seemed fine. Fast forward six hours. As I sat reading, I heard yelling and yelping. I ran outside and heard the next-door neighbor say “baby bird.”

This time, the unfortunate little fledgling had the bad luck to end up in Rainbow‘s yard.

Rainbow frolicking on December 18, 2021

The good news is that when Rainbow’s human yelled for her to drop the bird, Rainbow listened.** Zippy again donned the gloves, caught the baby who was much more feisty this time, set it in another box I’d prepared, and wedged it in the tree as the parents watched.

I’ve never wanted to be able to fly (possibly related to my fear of heights), but I’m wishing very, very hard for that little scrub jay to soar overhead. The sooner the better.

** Especially good news in light of the fact our neighbor believes she inadvertently adopted a “serial killer” when she adopted Rainbow. Recent victims include a chicken and a prairie dog.

Then and now

I drove Zebu to the airport this afternoon and hugged him goodbye, a parting made easier with the knowledge he’s happy to return to his new home and life in Seattle. After driving the 40 minutes back here, I resumed drafting a new scene in my work-in-progress I’ve neglected for the past four days. The scene is bumpy, but I keep reminding myself it’s impossible to revise a blank page which means ugly writing is better than no writing. I’ve set a goal to finish this draft by June 30 and then will reward myself with a printed and bound copy of the draft.

“June 30th” is my new mantra and it’s pulling me through some rough patches as I write this book. Two years ago today I was camping and photographing birds, without any notion of this latest middle grade novel.

Dark-eyed Junco, State Forest State Park. June 12, 2019

Then again, maybe the story was already beginning to simmer and I just didn’t know it. Either way, I will honor my commitment and finish this draft by June 30. I owe it to myself and the characters.

Twofer Tuesday: grackle edition

Common Grackle, Jackson Lake State Park. May 27, 2021

I spent several enjoyable minutes watching another grackle stride through the vegetation, snapping at insects it’d kicked up. While it was a very efficient process, it unfortunately didn’t seem to make a dent in the insect population.

Give me pelicans and sunshine

It’s rainy and gray outside, but I’m not complaining. The alternative was a huge snowstorm which, fortunately, the forecasters seem to be walking back. While we do need moisture, rain would be much kinder to the new leaves on trees and shrubs. I don’t want any of them destroyed by a heavy winter snowstorm; the blooming crabapple trees are currently quite lovely.

American White Pelican, Barr Lake State Park. April 8, 2021

So right now I’m content with the rainy-gray as I think back on last month’s pelican-rich day that also happened to be sunny and warm.

A perfect maiden voyage

We returned yesterday evening from our trip to John Martin Reservoir State Park.  We had a glorious time and I highly recommend visiting this park. We spent zero time at the reservoir, but explored Lake Hasty which is below the dam and also hiked the Red Shin Trail. Yesterday morning I was up at 7:00 (quite early for me) and ran around the lake (and then again in reverse). The sun was shining as the geese honked and the ducks quacked and paddled. I grinned pretty much the whole three miles.

When we’d first arrived at tree-filled Lake Hasty Campground late afternoon on Wednesday, a couple Turkey Vultures casually flew overhead. Then my attention-deficit kicked in because there were SO MANY BIRD SOUNDS. I immediately got out my binoculars and Sibley, but as soon as I began to focus on one bird/sound I was distracted by another. After a while, I began feeling overwhelmed by my ignorance ** and Zippy suggested a walk around the lake. Good call. The light was incredible and I just drank it all in.

Lake Hasty

Tons of Cliff Swallows were swooping above the water and along the shoreline. I took loads of photos, many of which were photo-bombed by swallows.

Red-winged Blackbird & Mourning Dove plus fly-by Cliff Swallow

We eventually made our way back to the campsite as a few vultures floated overhead. Then I noticed something: vultures in the trees around our site. We watched in awe as one after another floated down and into the trees, their wings sounding like crinkling paper as they touched the branches.

I count eleven Turkey Vultures in this photo.

About twenty vultures roosted above us all night. We felt honored. The next evening, we returned from our lake excursion in time for me to set up the camera and tripod. We waited quietly. Two vultures settled into a tree next to us and then . . . nothing. About three minutes later, they took off. Guess they headed off to find out where the rest of the gang was roosting. Won’t lie, it was a disappointment. But expecting two nights of turkey vultures might be a bit greedy. Best to share the wealth.

** I spent the final morning focusing on birds — sights and sounds — without worrying about the camera, and made progress. I identified a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle variation) and felt immense satisfaction. I’m now going through my many poor quality photos of ducks on the water, seeing if there’s enough detail for identifications. I’ve found a Horned Grebe and a Blue-winged Teal. Woot!

Snowy deja vu

This photo was taken exactly a year ago and I’m sharing it now because the forecast says to expect snow for the next five days.

April 13, 2020

So even though the shrubs are starting to bud out and sprout tiny green leaves, we’re going to pretend spring isn’t happening. Ah, well. I’m never going to badmouth much-needed precipitation. As the saying goes: April [snow] showers bring May flowers.