A Rusty Visitor from Central America

Today we are back at my new favorite South Dakota birding spot.  If you recall, I have had a number of posts already from Lake Andes thanks to the very successful birding outing we had there while making a brief stop on our way to Yellowstone National Park.  As mentioned numerous times before, for a spot that had zero people visiting while we were there and little to no advertising in or around this specific location but for a small sign in the parking lot, this location provided a wealth of new fodder for the blog and numerous ticks on the Bird Life List.  Pretty much the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve equivalent of the South Dakotas!

With that, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of my birding list, the Orchard Oriole.

Orchard Oriole, Lake Andes, South Dakota

Truth be told, I had no idea what species this bird was while out in the field snapping the shots.  Initial guess was a molting Oriole only because it was similar to the Baltimore Orioles I’ve seen, but a lot duller.  The Baltimores wear a brilliant shade of orange compared to this specimen.  It did sport that daunting dagger of a bill found on Orioles and quite frankly was as flighty as those more colorful versions.  Up, down, left, right, near, far … the damn thing wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to get a good angle on it.  It is a miracle the Beast was able to catch it, much less get all the critical angles to help identify it in the digital darkroom.  Although it would have been ideal to get more of the bill in the next shot, it is still my favorite of the lot since it gives a nice view of the markings making it super easy to identify.

Orchard Oriole, Lake Andes, South Dakota

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this interesting bird.

Continue reading A Rusty Visitor from Central America

Redstart at Spearfish

I was sitting in my den watching some NCAA Tournament basketball doing some decompression after a stressful day at work when it occurred to me I could be doing something more productive .. while still watching some NCAA Tournament basketball.  Let’s see, we could finish up a really cool LEGO project that David and Dr. G. gave me (uber cool, but we’ll just save that for a future post!).  There’s that Build 3-D Wonders of the World project that scares the crap out of me every time I take the lid off of it or possibly put that new computer together that is filling up half my den with Amazon boxes.  Unfortunately, all those would require me to get off my chair hmmmm what to do, what to do.  Oh, how about ANOTHER bonus post.  Now we’re soaking the Kingsford bricks with starting fluid.  Add the spark that it is a post on a new bird to the Bird Life List and we are in jeopardy of singeing (talk about a tough word to spell) our eyebrows off.

Without further delay, introducing the American Redstart!
American Redstart at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

The unique coloring on this tiny bird puts it high on my favorites bird list.  The black in the base layer turned out blue in a number of my shots due to the different angles in the sun.  The colored patches high and on the side of the breast are actually a brighter, more reddish hue of orange than the pumpkin orange on the wings and tail highlights.  Black, blue, red orange and straight orange – quite the distinctive bird.  It is this range of coloring that allowed me to spot the little guy darting through the thick branches at Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota.  We were on our way to Yellowstone National Park back in May, 2013 and had made our usual stop at the canyon to photograph their wonderful waterfalls.  Well, Linda photographs the waterfalls, I spend the time scanning the woods looking for something more difficult to shoot (hehehehe – I’ll pay for that, but at least I’ll know when she bothers to read my blog).  We had just made the trek back from one of their falls and started putting our stuff in the car when the ears picked up a high pitched whistling on the other side of the parking lot.  Back out came the Beast and the hunt was on.  It took awhile to locate the source due to thickness of the branches and the fact it was constantly moving.  Eventually the coloring gave it away as it popped out for a brief moment.  So brief that by the time the Beast zeroed in on it, it was gone again.  This game went on quite awhile to the point Linda had the car going and was pulling out of the parking lot (see what I have to deal with people! … kidding, she is usually fairly patient with me unless she’s hungry or her T.B. kicks in.)  The branches were playing havoc with the Beast focus so most of the shots came out less than stellar – the first image was the best of the lot which gives you a hint on how bad the rest of the shots were.  The following one was included just to give you a look at the side coloring of the bird (and the hint of blueness on the head that was mentioned previously).

American Redstart at Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota

It took me quite awhile to properly ID this dude thanks to the assumption it was in the Oriole family.  The Redstart is actually part of the Warbler family.  Google managed to come through with a basic black and orange small bird query (you let me down Cornell – you would think that a similar bird search on the Oriole page would have this bird included for those of us not familiar with the different species).

How about some quick facts (Cornell redeems themselves).  To aid in hunting, the Redstart will flash the bright coloring on their feathers to startle insects into flight – very similar to clowns who use their horrific face coloring to scare children into running from their hiding places.  These males are polygamous but go that extra mile to make sure their mistress is set up in their own condo in another territory across town (up to a quarter mile away).  Males do not get their full coloring until their second fall (so this one is at least two years old).  They actually split up their chicks for feeding duties with the male taking certain ones and the female taking the other.  My guess is they know they will get divorced when the female finds out about the hottie across town so this just alleviate that whole custody battle thing.

Well, it looks like Iowa has pulled it out and the Badgers are in control of their game so the Big Ten is still putting up a fight – unlike my crappy Illini that lost in the FIRST round of the NIT a couple of days ago – pathetic not to mention they have the nerve to ask me to write our governor to tell them how awful it is that their funding is getting trimmed – no Chief no money, suck it up.

A Brush of Color

Continuing the bonus posts this month, thought I’d bring you a few shots that will help you think about Spring … as if you were not already in the mood after Mother Nature put up a whopping 77 degree day this week already (yeah).  Nothing represents a change in seasons .. oh sorry, guess I should use climate change instead .. than seeing the dull Winter feathers give way to beautiful color.
House Finch

The Purple Finch vs House Finch has always been a tough identification.  My go to characteristic is the streaking on the belly.  The House has very defined streaks where the Purple for the most part lacks the same definition.  The purple also has a more pinkish hue in my opinion.  Based on that, my choice for the shot above is the House.  Opinions to the contrary are always welcome.

Next up on the color spectrum is yellow.  Specifically, the American Goldfinch all decked out in its banana costume.  This image makes me chuckle every time I see it.  Chillin’ on a branch, shades on, hat pulled low – Raptors have nothing on this dude in the cool factor category.

American Goldfinch

If there is one bird that can rival the brilliance of the Goldfinch, it has to be the Indigo Bunting.  I swear that blue can be seen in the dead of night.  Over the last couple of years, these Buntings have been increasing their presence at my feeders and usually spot one or two on each of my runs in the Jubilee Park.

Indigo Bunting

Hit the jump to see a couple more crayons in the box.

Continue reading A Brush of Color

A Cautious Kestrel

We are once again in bonus time for the month boys and girls or maybe that should be birdmen and birdettes.  Having met the quota, once again, early in the month I can focus bit more on getting through the backlog of shots.  This particular post is really more of an update for the North American Bird List Gallery than a post on its own.  If you recall, the list rules require a few things before an image can make it on the gallery:

  • I have to visually see the bird
  • A picture has to be taken sufficient enough to tell what it is from the picture alone
  • Properly identify the bird
  • Any cleanup required in the digital darkroom must be completed
  • The image must appear on my blog (this is the bottleneck in the process)

So today’s bird post is focused on adding/updating the gallery shots of the Common Kestrel.  If you recall, this particular bird debuted back on December 13th (link here).

American Kestrel

This specimen was actually taken while out on our Yellowstone trip back in June 2013.  The location was actually in the Grand Teton National Park which we visited on the trek back on the Denver leg.   Kudos to Linda for remembering where this particular location was – I could describe the little dam, the long white rock road to the parking area by the river and of course the large tree in the entrance this Kestrel was hanging out in.  Based on the map we were looking at the consensus was we were near Moose Junction, WY along the Snake River.  Admittedly, beyond this Kestrel hanging out in the tree at the entrance, there really was nothing worthy of taking a picture of.  I tracked a large bird flying around near the far banks, fought like crazy to get a shot of it in focus only to find out it was not a Hawk as first suspected – nope, just a Turkey Vulture and with the amount of those that hang out in my backyard, no reason to spend any more time on it.

American Kestrel

As you can tell from the shots, this particular Kestrel wanted to keep tabs on me.  It would take a glance over at the Beast to make sure it hadn’t moved and then go back to scanning the fields for lunch… check the glass, scan the field, check the glass, scan the field to the point the exact timing of when it was going to look towards the camera was quite predictable.  Clearly this composition fits into my signature style of head across body (if you haven’t figured that out yet, you must not be looking at many of my pictures ha).  Based on the lack of slate grey across the wings and the dominant barring across the back we are likely looking at a female or possibly a juvi.  My money is on the former based on the size of this particular specimen.  Hard to tell from the shot itself, but this specimen was pretty large for a Kestrel compared to the smaller stature of the juvies.

Just a quick one today folks – hope you enjoyed!

The Art of Denver Botanical Garden

Happy Pi Day everyone!  As promised in the last post, today’s featured topic has absolutely nothing to do with birds, maybe a fish, but definitely not birds.  Think I just heard a collective sigh of relief across the blogosphere.  The following set of images were taken at the Denver Botanical Gardens.  To be honest, I am not overly excited with plants but more than willing to spend the day letting Linda work her craft among the pretty flowers.  The reality is, I have no problem hanging out at botanical gardens because I know they usually have a bunch of these:
Art at Denver Botanical Gardens

Maybe not a cool looking fish with a gorgeous backdrop but they generally have a large collection of ornate statues that keep me entertained for long periods of time.  From an “art” perspective, I still consider Allerton Park the best shooting location for the interesting and the bizarre. (link here).  Indianapolis Botanical Garden was another wonderful place to photograph odd statues (link here).   Now I get to add Denver to that list.  The art selector in the gardens we have visited in the past tend to be more abstract based which makes the next very concrete (sorry for the pun) piece really stand out among the overall collection.  Very fluid lines and perfect proportions – nicely done.

Art at Denver Botanical Gardens

Hit the break to see a number of other displays at the Denver Botanical Gardens

Continue reading The Art of Denver Botanical Garden

What About Bob?

I’m going to apologize right now for bringing out ANOTHER post featuring a bird.  The hate mail is already piling up:

If you post one more bird shot this month I’m going to force you to watch the beginning of John Wick until you are left balling in a fetal position in your basement”

I can’t take it anymore – bird after bird after bird – you’d think nothing intrigues you unless it has feathers on it – damn you birdman”

Maybe a disease will wipe every one of the species out and I’ll be the only one who has a picture of it”

Oh wait, that last one came from my trash talking brother who just scored a new bird I didn’t have…. and you thought I was the competitive one.  To appease both sides of the table, I promise to not feature a bird on the next post and on the bird competition front, this bird is a new check on my list – back at ya buddy hehehe.
Bobolink shot at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota

Pretty cool bird eh?  I am proud to say this bird was in the top echelon of my wish list.  The reason for this high position is the unique coloring of the creature and how common it supposedly is in the region where I live.  It always amazes me when I read about a bird that has such a footprint around me and I’ve never seen it even once – nada, zippo and nofer.  Combine that with the fact it is far from a sparrow as you can get when it comes to difficulty to identify and you have a situation where it has to be at least in your top 5.  Technically this bird was fourth on the list last year, but picked off three of them already  (the Snowy and two mystery one I haven’t revealed yet) but missed the Painted Bunting when I had a chance (4 out of the top 5 in the tin was pretty impressive last year).  Especially annoying was my brother already had on of these.

Bobolink shot at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this bird!

Continue reading What About Bob?

A Yellow Fellow

Today’s featured subject is hot off the presses, but unlike the previous post on the Wood Duck, this one is hot off the “processing” press.  The images were actually shot in South Dakota on our way to Yellowstone National Park back in May of 2013.  I know, I know I’m running way behind.  The good news is the birding competition between my brother Ron and I is accelerating my work in the digital darkroom (he’s cranking out new species in Chicago almost daily and even leaving his car to do it hehehe).  In an effort to keep up I present to you the latest entry in my Birding Life List of North America:
Common Yellowthroat from South Dakota

Can you see it?  The yellow is pretty much a dead giveaway if you happen to actually spot it moving in the branches.  The shot above was left in because this was the photography conditions I was fighting just trying to get this specimen in the tin.  It really didn’t want to leave the safety of the branches which were making the Beast focus walk all over the place trying to fight through the numerous focus opportunities.  I’d shuffle to the left to get a clearer shot, it would move to the right, shuffle back to the right and drop down it would fly up and back left… this ridiculous ballet went on way to long but it looked unique enough of a bird at the time to continue the pursuit.  Eventually this flighty bird moved into a less dense area revealing what it was.

Common Yellowthroat from South Dakota

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this cute feathered specimen.

Continue reading A Yellow Fellow

Got Wood

I’m going to break from tradition of FIFO for a bit and execute a LIFO on my photography queue.  My brother is becoming quite the birding competitor requiring me to step up my game on the bird list front.  In the face of this stiff competition I’m forced to break from protocol and feature a recent addition to the North American Bird List Collection

Wood Duck at Washington Park in Springfield IL

This beautiful duck was shot in Washington Park in Springfield IL.  I was down there dealing with some family medical concerns and had the chance to head over to that park for a quick 10 mile training run.  Turns out the rolling hills in that park seemed to have grown in size since my last trips there as a kid.  By the time the 9th mile came the legs were considering an all out rebellion.  The last mile became a quest to find a distraction sufficient enough overcome the loud screams of torture at each footfall.  Opportunity knocks at the most interesting of times.

Wood Duck at Washington Park in Springfield IL

While crossing over a bridge I noticed a crap load of ducks and allies enjoying a small ice free area of a large frozen pond.  In the brief time they were in view it appeared that the occupants were predominantly Mallards and Canada Geese, but it looked like there were some outliers which are prime fodder for birders.  There was another mile to hammer out so unfortunately no time for a detailed scan.

Wood Duck at Washington Park in Springfield IL

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this ornate Duck.

Continue reading Got Wood

The Land Inhabitants at the Chain O’ Lakes

And we are back with another bird post!  hehehe I’ll assume that collective groan heard across the expanse of the Internet was a cry for submission.  Since I’m all about that bas[s]e ’bout that bas[s]e… as in fan base I’ll relent and give you a break from the feathers.  What to do, what to do.  Oh, how about one of these.

Deer at Chain O' Lakes State Park

If you recall, the last time I brought you these common Midwest creatures we were up in the Porcupine Mountains (link here).  We are a long ways from there and a lot closer to home with this set of White Tailed Deer.   The hoofed ones you see here were taken while up at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park up in Spring Grove IL.  You would think with a name like that the topic of choice would be …. fish.  Truth be told, I’ve never been fishing there.  I did see one flop out of the water once but didn’t think that would be exciting enough to cover a whole post.

Deer at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Hit the jump to see a few more pictures of the White Tailed Deer!

Continue reading The Land Inhabitants at the Chain O’ Lakes

Duck Duck No Luck

It’s a new month which means the blog count has been moved back to zero and that number just makes me look lazy.  So, here we are with the first post for March.   My brother is busy harvesting birds for his life list and putting some serious pressure on me to keep doing the same to mine.  The last couple of posts have been more of an “update cycle” allowing me to replace some crappy pictures that were used for the initial load of the list but a tad embarrassing on the photography skills front.  This post is a little of the same improvement process, but there is a new duck here that I have been unable to identify that may turn out to be a new entry – if anyone can help me with that task.  We’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s get the image improvement part out of the way.

Denver Bufflehead

These shots were taken in Denver on our way back from Yellowstone.  To be honest I had forgotten all about this shoot until they were popped off the queue in the digital darkroom.  As mentioned, this is not a new bird, but at least now you can actually see what these ducks look like – the other posting taken out in Yellowstone were pretty poor due to the distance (link here).  They also didn’t show the pretty iridescence these ducks possess which can be clearly seen in these shots.  This particular specimen was just wandering around in some fairly nasty green water that ended up providing a beautiful backdrop once the Beast softened it up.  The bright coloring and stark contrast with the white markings classify this one as a breeding male.

Denver Bufflehead

For the record, these two shots are some of my favorite overall duck shots and looking forward to seeing how they look in full print.  Hoping the coloring in the head is maintained through the printing process.  A few quick facts for my loyal readers.  These ducks pretty much call all of North America home.  Wintering in the Americas and breeding (as in Summering in Canada).  Unlike a lot of the ducks I’ve researched, the Bufflehead actually nest out of the water in tree cavities – per Cornell’s site this mainly includes old Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker holes).  They are the smallest of the North American diving ducks (and thus their ability to use the small Flicker cavities).  The are monogamous and they have a Conservation Status of Least Concern (crowd goes wild).  Not a whole lot more on these flamboyant ducks, so will move onto the second featured duck….

Hit the jump to see the second featured duck of the post

Continue reading Duck Duck No Luck