Sunday, September 26, 2010

White-tailed Tropicbird

It seemed like that at every waterfall we visited (which were many) while in the Hawaiian Islands, there were these gorgious white birds with long tails circling the the sky above waterfalls. They were in constant motion and always at heights that were impossible to get a good photo (Below - a bad attempt at photographing  one). When I asked a local the name of these birds I was told "White Tropicbird."  At first I though they were pulling my leg - that would be like calling a blue bird we see in the Rocky Mountains, a Blue Mountainbird or a Mountain Bluebird ... oh.

This is the best photo I captured of the perpetually in-motion White-tailed Tropicbird at Wailua Falls, which was the waterfall used in the opening scene of the old television show "Fantasy Island."; Kauai, Hawaii; 7/11/08.

Wailua Falls on the Island of Kauai was used in the opening scene of the old TV show, "Fantasy Island."; Hawaii; 7/11/08.
Well the true name is indeed, a White-tailed Tropicbird. The Tropicbird is a large white bird  with a long black bar on upperwing coverts, and a black loral mask which extends through and past its eye. Its bill is yellow to orange and its unique trait is its extremely long white tail streamers that can be up to seventeen inches long. Its legs and feet are yellowish, with black webbing on the toes. These birds breed on windward sea cliffs on oceanic islands throughout the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans as well as the Caribbean. (Below - for a better view of this beautiful bird - not my photo)

A better view of a White-tailed Tropcbird; Google Images.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Red-billed Leiothrix

Red-billed Leiothrix
The Red-billed Leiothrix is a beautifully marked bird with bright coloring. The adults have bright red bills and a dull yellow ring around their eyes. Their backs are dull olive green and have a bright yellow-orange throat with a yellow chin. They have forked tails. Female Leiothrix are similar to males but with a duller shade. Juveniles have black bills and gray coats. This Leiothrix is also known for its loud melodious songs. We ran across one on the Judd-Nuuanu Trail on Oahu (Above).

Red-billed Leiothrix are native to Southern Asia and are now found on most of the Hawaiian Islands with the exception of Kauai, which ironically it was first introduced to in 1918. Sometime later, these birds were introduced to the other islands. Leiothrix prefer to inhabit underbrush's at all elevations with a cover of dense vegetation near the ground. Some birds have been found at elevations of 9,000 feet. Flocks of Leiothrix's have been known to fly up to elevations of 13,500 feet for a short period of time. These birds favor areas with at least 40 inches of rain.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Common Waxbill

A small flock of Common Waxbills at Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii; 6/25/08.
The Common Waxbill is another bird that we observed only on the island of Oahu; indeed, doing some research it has only been seen in a couple of specific locations only on Oahu (and not found on the other Hawaiian Islands). We saw a small flock (Above) of these birds while exploring Hanauma Bay on Oahu's Southeast corner. They are a very pretty member of the Finch family with gray-brown upperparts and lower breast, and bellyline - also sporting very fine barring on back, wings, sides, lower breast, belly, and tail. What gives Waxbills a striking look is its Red beak, eyes and mask surrounded by white cheeks, throat, and upper breast (Below). Some have a rosy-pink patch on the belly.

A Common Waxbill sporting its bright red mask and beak; Oahu, Hawaii; 6/25/08.
Common Waxbills are usually observed pecking at the ground - on lawns, grassland, and cultivated fields. Sometimes they will be found in clearings of forests and marshes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Red-vented Bulbul

This Red-vented Bulbul was very aggressive toward other birds as they competed for birdseed on the grounds of the Bed & Breakfast we stayed at in Oahu, Hawaii; 6/25/08.

We saw several Red-vented Bulbuls (Above) while on Oahu. It is a Blue Jay sized bird with dark brown body, black head with a crest, a white rump and red vent (under the tail behind the legs). They are considered an invasive pest on the island of Oahu. Apparently they haven't found their way onto Maui or Kauai, but there have been limited sightings on the Big Island. They are considered a pest because they are not native to the Hawaiian Islands, and cause considerable damage to Hawaii's fruit orchards and orchid Farms. They not only eat and destroy fruits and vegetables, but also eat the petals and bulbs off of very rare and expensive orchids. They were introduced from India, and are relatively common throughout Asia from China to Pakistan. Bulbuls also are very aggressive to other birds, chasing them away and taking over their habitats.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

White-rumped Shama

White-rumped Shama; Oahu, Hawaii; 6/27/08.
The White-rumped Shama (Above) is a beautiful songbird with a long tail that is common in the forests of the Hawaiian Islands. We heard and saw them often on the island of Oahu. They were imported from Asia and were originally a captive bird used as pets, but eventually escaped captivity and have established a healthy wild population. They are very territorial, and the size of the tail may determine the size of the territory, with larger tailed birds (Below) having larger territories. Territories include a male and female pair during the breeding season with the males defending the territory. The White-rumped Shama is a famous songbird with wide-ranging songs and notes which are loud, melodious and shrill. They are known to imitate the calls of other birds. We always enjoyed hearing them sing while hiking through the forests of Hawaii.

The large tail of this White-rumped Shama may suggest that it rules a larger territory than another Shama with a smaller tail; Oahu, Hawaii; 6/28/08.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Common Mynah

The Common Mynah was imported from Asia, and is quite widespread in Pacific Islands and Australia. In the U.S. there are pockets in Southern Florida where it is rather common.

Common Mynah, Oahu, Hawaii; 6/25/08.
A couple of summers ago, Val and I had the fortunate oppurtunity to spend a couple weeks in the Hawaiian Islands.  Not surprising, the Islands are a host of many birds that are not seen (or at least not very frequently) in North America. Now that I have become more interested in bird photography, I regret not being more of a birder while I was there, and I did not capitalize on some great opportunities, but in the next couple weekends I will highlight some of the birds I did manage to capture.

One of the birds that is a common sight (especially on Oahu) in the Islands is the Common Mynah Bird (Above) which might be compared to our Starling or American Crow - some people would consider a nuiscance and a noisy beggar residing in urban areas thriving on human handouts and garbage.  However, the Mynah is quite striking in appearance with its black head, brown body and bright yellow beak and cheek, which gives it a look of having a perpetual scowl.  When in flight (Below), the Mynah's bold white markings on the wings and tail contrast brilliantly with its dark body. I wish that I had a better photo to capture its flashy feathers in flight.
The Common Mynah coming in for a landing; Oahu, Hawaii; 6/25/08.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

NOTE: Now that I am busy with school again, I will probably be posting to this blog only on weekends. It's been a great summer. Hope you enjoyed my summer blog about birds - pass it on to friends if you enjoyed it - let me know what's good about it and what's not good, so I may improve.

Ruby-throats are the only hummingbirds in this part of the country, and last summer I caught a glimpse of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flitting in and out of our petunias now and then, so this summer I put up a hummingbird feeder with the hopes of attracting them to be a regular visitor to the house. I really didn't see the level of the hummingbird nectar in the feeder going down much during June and July, so I figured that the summer heat spoiled the nectar and the hummingbirds were not interested. A month ago I cleaned out the feeder and put in a fresh supply of nectar , but only a small amount so that it would not be in the feeder very long. Sure enough, within the day a pair of Ruby-throats became regular visitors - several times a day, and now I replace the nectar each week as it gets depleted. Now that they are visiting frequently, my goal is to get a good photograph, before they take off for their winter homes in the Tropics.

Below are photos I took of Ruby-throats when we spent a Memorial weekend in a cabin in Upper Michigan near Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior back in 2007.

A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird on the back deck of a cabin in the north woods of Upper Michigan near Lake Superior; 5/27/07.

The angle of light creates the glow of the "ruby" throat; 5/27/07.

A female Ruby-throated Hummingbird lacks the "ruby" throat of its male counterpart; Upper Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; 5/27/07.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yellow-eyed Junco (#4)

Another Junco that I feel fortunate to have photographed is the Yellow-eyed Junco. They have a very limited range and in the U.S. can only be found in the higher altitudes of Southeast Arizona and south into the Mexican mountain ranges. Indeed, it was last winter while we were expoloring the Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area near Tuscon, AZ, is where I saw this little guy scratching in the snow at the base of the Mt. Lemmon Ski hill (yes, that's right there is a ski hill in Southern Arizona). Like its name, this is the only Junco species that does not have dark eyes. He looks very similar to the Gray-headed Junco except for the yellow eyes, and bit more red in its wing feathers.

A Yellow-eyed Junco; Mt. Lemmon, AZ; 12-28-09.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco (#3)

A Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco on the Dewey Pt Trail, Yosemite Nat. park, CA; 6-17-09.
One of the prettier of the Juncoes is the Oregon Junco, another variety of the Dark-eyed species. We saw lots of these while hiking in Yosemite National Park in the summer of 2009. Again at the time I photgraphed them, I didn't know they were a Junco until I looked it up after the trip. Their complete black head set off by their reddish brown body, while retaining the white belly of the Slate-colored variety, is a very striking combination. In summer, they are quite common along the West Coast of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia and inland into the higher altitude Sierra Nevada and Cascades Mt Ranges. During winter they are widespread as far east as Nebraska and Kansas and south into Mexico.

Another Dark-eyed "Oregon" Junco, McGirk Meadows Trail, Yosemite Nat. Park, CA, 6-17-09.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dark-eyed Gray-headed Junco (#2)

A Dark-eyed Gray-headed Junco, Lily Pad lakes Trail, CO, 7-6-10.
A Junco that I had never before heard of until I captured it on a picture this summer in Colorado is the Dark-eyed Gray-headed Junco.  After the trip while scanning the images on my memory stick, I thought it looked juncoish, but wasn't sure of its identity until I looked up Juncoes in The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, and sure enough there he was (Above).  I feel lucky to have seen and photographed this little guy because these types of Juncoes are only found in a very limited range - in summer only in the Colorado and Northern New Mexico Rockies at 7,000' to treeline and into high altitude sections of Utah and Nevada.  In winter they migrate a bit south into Arizona, the southern half of New Mexico and the Mountains of Mexico.

Once I was able to identify this little fellah, I thought he looked similar to a pair of birds (Below) that I photographed on the Colorado trip (a couple of days later) that was in my "unknown bird" file.

Juvenile Dark-eyed Gray-headed Juncoes, Deer mountain Tr., Rocky Mountain Nat. Park; 7-8-10.
The spotty stripes on the flanks of these birds had me confused for some time, until I was able to determine that they were juvenile Dark-eyed Gray-headed Juncoes.  They have all the characteristics except for those unusual flank stripes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco (Junco #1)

Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco sitting on a log on top of Mt. LeConte, Great Smoky Mts. Nat. Park, Tennessee; 6-11-10. A reliable identifier of this Junco is its white stomach in a striking contrast to its slate gray breast and head.

Last week I featured sparrows that I have photographed, so it seems fitting that I spend a few days highlighting a closely related species - the Juncoes. Juncoes, like sparrows are relatively small ground birds with short conical bills. Sparrows and Juncoes switch their diet according to season. In the summer, they mostly scratch the ground looking for insects and larvae, then in the winter when these are not available, they turn to mostly seeds.

 In the last couple of years I have been able to photograph four different types of Juncoes, the one that I see the most and identified several years ago is a Junco that visits Northern Illinois each winter and is quite a regular at bird feeders all winter long (Below). The Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco is a ground forager and quite often will spend its time scratching the ground underneath bird feeders looking for the spilled seed. Otherwise it spends its summer in the northern reaches of Canada and Northeast U.S.  However, as I noticed this summer, they are also very common in the higher altitudes of the Appalaichians, as I saw and heard lots of them while hiking up Mt. LeConte in Great Smoky Mt. Nat. Park. (Above)

A female Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco waiting its turn at a bird feeder; Rockford, IL; 1-3-09. Females are less slate gray and have more brown on their head, back and flanks than their male counterparts, but retain the white belly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Northern Flickers: Yellow-shafted & Red-shafted

Northern "Yellow-shafted" Flicker at Rowe Sanctuary, Nebraska; 7-11-10.
We also saw several Northern Flickers at the Rowe Sanctuary, the Eastern version, or the "Yellow-shafted" Flicker.  Unfortunately I didn't get a great picture of the male (Above) with its prominent black malar (the stripe between the throat and the mustache line). He always seemed to be behind a branch, too far away, or in a shadow. Good identifying features of a Northern Flicker are its black malar, spotted belly, a red crescent on its nape, a black breast band, its white rump, and when it's in flight the underwings are yellow.

The photo (Below) of the same Flicker was in the shadow of a branch that made him appear as if he was wearing a black cap. Initially when I first looked at the photo I didn't even recognize it as a Flicker.
The shadow on the top of this Northern "Yellow-shafted" Flicker made it look like he was wearing a black cap and hood surrounding a reddish face.  This lighting confused my identification, made it look some kind of a weird cross between a wild turkey and a tree perching bird. If I didn't also have the photo (At Top), I still might have stuck it in my "unknown bird" file.

It's black-spotted belly and breast is a sure give-away that it's a Flicker, as no other woodpecker type bird has such definite spotted markings. Other woodpeckers markings on the belly are more of a barred shaped or plain. The photo (Below) is the female Yellow-shafted Flicker. It's identical to the male except without the black malar.  On this photo you can see the red crescent on its nape and its white rump.
Female Yellow-shafted Flicker showing off its red crescent on its nape and white rump which is identical to the male, but does not sport the black malar.
The Western version of the Northern Flicker is the Red-shafted Flicker (Below). It is identical to the Yellow-shafted Flicker except its malar is bright red instead of black and it doesn't sport the red crescent on the nape. Also in flight, its underwings are more reddish-orange instead of yellow. It seems that most of the time when I see a Red-shafted Flicker, it's uually foraging on the ground, but when I see a Yellow-shafted Flicker, it's usually clinging to a dead branch up high in a tree.
A female Red-shafted Flicker; Rocky Mountain Nat. Park, CO; 7-8-10.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Is it a Northern, a Baltimore, or an Orchard Oriole?

Is this a male Baltimore or Orchard Oriole? Baltimore traits: orange/yellow coloring, long beak, yellow on its tail feathers;
Orchard traits: black tail, shorter beak, chestnut/orange and black coloring;
 Rowe Sanctuary, Nebraska; 7-11-10.

I saw lots of Orioles at the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary last summer. Now, whether they were Northern, Baltimore or Orchard Orioles is what I wasn't quite sure about.  If I don't hear them sing or call, I can't really tell them apart ... yet ... I hope I get better at it. 

Okay, first things first. I grew up with the only Oriole in my vocabulary was the Baltimore Oriole. After all a baseball team (Below) is named after them, so it must be accurate. Well not so fast.  Ornithologists determined that Baltimore Orioles (the bird from the Eastern 1/2 of the country, not a baseball player) routinely crossbred with the Bullock's Orioles from the Western 1/2 of the country - where their ranges overlapped. The two Orioles and their hybridized offspring were then considered the same species and renamed as the Northern Orioles. And guess what - Nebraska is on the border of both of their ranges. The Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary is in Nebraska - so now I am completely confused. But wait! Through recent molecular studies of DNA shows that the two species are really not very closely related at all and were subsequently separated as two species again - The Baltimore Orioles from the East and the Bullocks Orioles from the West. 

The Baltimore Orioles Baseball team are not really made up of birds.
Some baseball analysts might suggest they are not baseball players either.
Notice the tail on the bird in the logo has orange on it - the artist must have been a birder.
Now whether or not the Baltimore Oriole baseball players crossbreed with baseball players from the West (let's see, St. Louis Cardinals? nope - Midwest; Toronto Blue Jays? nope- Northeast) I am not at able to say. I couldn't find research on the subject. But baseball analysts might say it's a good thing that there are no Western Baseball teams with bird names for the Orioles to breed with since they have been so bad lately. We would not want to spread bad baseball genes. Okay sorry Oriole fans; I got off the topic. My Milwaukee Brewers aren't much better.

The yellow tail suggests that this male oriole is a Baltimore Oriole; Rowe Sanctuary; Neb. 7-11-10.
Back to birding...they (the males) are very similar with a few subtle differences (or perhaps not so subtle if you are an expert): The Baltimore Oriole (8.75" long) is a good 1.5 inches longer and with a wider wingspan than the Orchard Oriole. But for novice birders like me, I need more experience in the field with both species present for me to learn to use this as a certain identifying trait. I would have to have them both in my hand with a ruler to be sure. The color seems to be a good indicator as the Orchard Oriole is more of a darker chestnut orange than the lighter yellowish orange of the Baltimore. Again for me, unless they were side by side in the same light, these colors would not be an automatic identifying trait.  A third trait would be the Baltimore's beak is a bit longer than the the Orchard's. Again...if they were side by side...yadayadayada.  So how do I know? 

A male Baltimore Oriole at Rowe Sanctuary? 7-11-10.
So far I can see the difference between the juvenile Orchards (Below top and middle) and Baltimores, because of the obvious black throat and lores on the young Orchard (during their 1st year before they grow their black and orange feathers during their 2nd year), which are yellow on the Baltimore (Below bottom). Other than that, I try to look at the tail feathers. It seems that the Orchard's tail feathers are more often than not -  all black; whereas, the Baltimore's tail feathers have extensive yellow/orange outer tail feathers (Top two pics). But again I have Googled Orchard Oriole images and have seen some pics labelled as Orchards with orange tail feathers - I am hoping that they were just misidentified. If they weren't, then that shoots my tail feather identifier to pieces.

A juvenile male Orchard Oriole: yellow body with black throat and lores; Rowe Sanctuary, Neb.; 7-11-10

Another juvenile male Orchard Oriole; Rowe Sanctuary, Neb.; 7-11-10.

Is this a juvenile male or a female Baltimore Oriole?  I would lean toward it being a juvie male with its yellow breast. The female Baltimore would have more white on its breast. On the other hand it could be a female Orchard Oriole which also has a yellowish breast and stomach. So is the color of the Oriole in this photo yellowish/green ( like a female Orchard) or yellowish/orange (like a female Baltimore)?
Now distinguishing between female Orchards and Baltimores are entirely a different matter. Looking at pics or drawings in guide books show the female Baltimore with more white on its stomach and the head and back being a dirtier yellow (brownish grayish); whereas, the female Orchard has more yellow all the way around - head, back and stomach.  The Orchard female is described as being more green/yellow, while the female Baltimore is described as being more orange/yellow.  Again, light plays an important role in whether I seeing yellow/green or yellow/orange. (Above pic)

These look like a pair of young Baltimore Orioles; at left a juvie male and at right a female with its whiter breast;
 Rowe Sanctuary; 7-11-10.

In the end, if I am still not sure which is which, I'd have to give the Baltimore Oriole the benefit of the doubt because it is more common and widespread than the Orchard Oriole.