Viewed From Afar (and a request for identification help)

First off, I’ve decided to go ahead and merge in my wildlife observations.  I was investigating the option to have a secondary blog out there just for the wildlife stuff, but then decided I really didn’t want to manage another website.  I think it still fits the overall theme of observations I see from day to day.    I will tag these as Wildlife and likely a subtag with the specific category like birds, snakes (yeah, you’re getting some of those soon), frogs, bears, deer etc.

So… keeping with the South Dakota trip theme, I thought I would start out with some birds we snapped while traveling out there.  I’ll start with a flesh eating variety call the Black Billed Magpie.  We were touring the Bear Country USA Drive Through Wildlife Park and I saw this fairly pretty blue and white bird on the side of the road.

Black Billed Magpie

I actually didn’t know what it was until I returned home and found it my brand new Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  I finally broke down and bought an updated guide, but more on that in a future post (I actually selected this book because it finally had a picture of the woodpecker I could not identify in a previous post).  As we traveled a little further, I became slightly horrified by the fact that the previously considered “cute” bird was actually a flesh eating demon.

Black Billed Magpie

I had visions of it attacking me, sticking his beak in one of my eyeballs and ripping it out of my head as it flew off into the air leaving a dangling mass of entrails oozing out of my shrieking face – hmmmm in retrospect, I might need to lay off of the late night horror movies.  Based on the description in the book, it appears to simply feed off of carrion so likely little to fear here.  Although, this shot looks like he is scraping an eyeball of his beak.

Black Billed Magpie

There is another bird (Spotted Towhee) after the jump along with a blue bird I am currently unable to properly identify.

Continue reading Viewed From Afar (and a request for identification help)

The Fluffy Twins (Part 9 of Many)

I was just sitting here watching the TapOut show on Vs and decided to go ahead and make another blog entry.  If nothing else, it will bring a little balance to my karma since I have managed to sit through two UFC shows, a WEC show before the TapOut show… okay okay, I’m a MMA junkie, but having spent a number of years on the mats and striking the bags, it tends to stick with you.  So what better way to compensate than to add an entry on my fluffy friend(s) the Downy Woodpecker.

There are two twins (one male and one female) that have been visiting my feeders from the first day I put them up.  Actually, I have had the privilege of watching them slowly mature and they feel like an adopted part of the family.  Here is a baby picture of the male:

Downy Woodpecker

Both of them are very laid back and have never been aggressive to other birds or care if there are other birds feeding at the same time.  They did struggle a little bit at first because they couldn’t figure out how to actually get at the seeds on the big feeder.  They would latch onto the side and keep pecking at the side.  The female was the first to understand how to use the openings and then eventually the male figured it out.  Here is the female as a baby really submerging herself in the feeding process:

Continue reading The Fluffy Twins (Part 9 of Many)

What The Peck Is This (Part 8 of Many)

Okay, I think it is time to hit the bookstore and find a better field guide for birds.  I keep running across birds that do not show up in my guide at all, but in this particular case, I can’t even find it using a number of field guides on the web.  Oh, and by the way, I especially liked the online guide I found today that basically made me pick the name of the bird from a drop down list in order to see what it looks like… if I knew that… nevermind.   I do have a lot of successes using the Google image search, but struck out on this latest bird.  Unfortunately, I was rushing around trying to find the camera and make it back before this bird decided to fly off.  As a result, all you get is some fuzzy pictures, but you should be able to get a good feel for what it looked like.  It has NEVER shown up again and quite frankly glad I even got one picture of it.

So now you are probably asking yourself…  “When is he going to show me the bird?”.  Well, here you go.  I’ll start with a side shot that gives a good view of the side markings.

Unknown Pecker

It is clearly clinging to the side of the tree similar to a woodpecker, but I looked through all the typical woodpeckers and nothing came close to resembling this bird.  I thought the distinctive white bars on the wing and the solid brown/tan head would be a clear giveaway… but no luck.  Here is another side view which gives a very good view of the beak shape and a little crisper on the coloring.

Continue reading What The Peck Is This (Part 8 of Many)

King Pecker (Part 7 of Many)

It’s bird time again.  Today I bring you probably my favorite bird captured in my lens so far.  I According to my little guide, it is a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  In case you are confused, he is the larger guy on the right.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

He is the largest bird that visits my feeders and although this picture appears to contradict this statement, when he is around, most other birds stay away.  I am guessing the chickadees didn’t see him because they are a little jittery anyway and he apparently scares most of the other species.  This is an assumption, but I have never seen him be aggressive to any other bird and generally stays in his own little world.  That massive weapon of beak he has definitely commands some respect.

In case you are unsure if it is a male or female, the following shot makes it pretty clear.

Continue reading King Pecker (Part 7 of Many)

Still Seeing Red (Part 6 of Many)

Guess what?…. yep another bird post.  This one actually came out of a discussion with my brother Ron regarding the previous post (Part 4) on a red colored bird I had come upon previously.  Originally I had classified that bird as a Purple Finch, but upon further investigation we decided it was actually a Pine Grosbeak (at least we think).  While trying to determine that type of bird, I came upon some pictures I had taken that match much better to the description of the Purple Finch.

Purple Finch

In agreement with the guide description, this guy’s beak is a more tannish tone and he is sporting a pretty trendy crest.  To be honest, I really do not know much about this bird.  I snapped a few pictures when I had the chance, but I really have not been able to observe any of its interactions with other birds or feeding habits.

Continue reading Still Seeing Red (Part 6 of Many)

Crimson Pride (Part 5 of Many)

Yes, another bird post.  Trust me, I have a lot more to go.  Today’s focus is the Cardinal.


This bird has a special place in my heart for two reasons.. 1) it is my state bird (and what I didn’t know, it was apparently selected by Illinois school children back in 1928 and then made official in 1929 by the General Assembly) and 2) I accidently shot a cardinal with a BB gun (my brothers’ single cock muzzle loading Daisy) when I was a little kid.  Yes… it was an accident – I was shooting at a hedge apple when I either had my sites off or the dumb bird decided to land in the fire zone.  Whatever the reason, the bird literally locked his talons onto the branch, rolled forward until it was hanging upside down and proceeded to shoot blood out its neck right at me.   The fact that I can still remember the exact spot I was standing and every detail of the scene gives an indication of the traumatic impact that had on me as a little kid.  A beautiful (and protected) bird struck down in his prime because I wasn’t careful.  I have never set my gun sights on any form of bird to this date.  This is another reason I try to save little birds (see Part 4)- so far 1 adult accidently killed and 3 little birds saved

From an observation perspective the cardinal is pretty cautious…

Continue reading Crimson Pride (Part 5 of Many)

To Live Another Day (Part 4 of Many)

UPDATE: 5/17/08 – My brother did an investigation on this little guy and we now believe that this bird really doesn’t match up with the purple finch.  For one thing the beak is different – the purple finch has a brown/tan beak that tapers to a point, where the pictures below appear to show a bent beak at the end and clearly a darker tone – it also was a fairly stocky bird which didn’t fit well with finches.  I had originally dismissed the Pine Grosbeak due to my guide’s maps which showed it really was not an Illinois bird, but my brother found some web links which matched up pretty will with the bird images and his book indicated that at times the Grosbeak can come down south a little farther.  So until someone produces alternative reasoning, we are changing the original assessment to the Pine Grosbeak  – now back to your regularly scheduled programming

Today’s bird has a special memory for me.  A month or so back, I was taking my dog out and noticed he was pretty interested in something out in the yard.  I called him off and put him back in the house to go and investigate the cause.  As it turns out, there was a small bird just laying in the grass.  It appeared to be a young bird that had either fallen out of a nest or overestimated its mastery of flying.  In any case, it seemed distraught and clearly concerned about the predicament it was in… not to mention being hovered over by a curious human.  Fortunately, for this little guy (I guess), I’m a softie for animals in distress (no, I dislike PETA if you are wondering – any organization that puts concern for a donkey higher than a human life is no organization I want to be associated with).   I first decided to snap a few pictures since I had not seen this type of bird (especially this close).

Not sure, maybe Purple Finch

Now that I am looking at the pictures up closer, he looks a little pissed.  He didn’t have any problems with me snapping a few photographs and was pretty much content to just sit there – likely pretty scared.  Here is another shot from a little sharper angle in order to get a better feel for the beak angle and reddish crown.

Continue reading To Live Another Day (Part 4 of Many)

I Bet He Gets Some Ribbing in Bird School (Part 3 of Many)

Continuing the tribute to the winged ones, today’s focus is on the titmouse.  Probably one of the stranger names for a bird since it doesn’t really resemble anything of the things that come to mind when I see that name.  I might have to track down the origin of that name out of sheer curiosity.  Based on the images in the field guide, I appear to have Tufted Titmouses (or is that Titmice?) which again is common to the region I live in.  This first picture is a tad fuzzy and dark, but I thought it was interesting because it looked a tad fat.  Due to the poor lighting I am unable to tell if it is browner than gray and thus might be a female.


Based on observation, the titmouse has to be the most skittish of all of the birds that use my feeders.  They are very timid and always land on a nearby branch first and survey the situation before eventually diving down into the larger birdfeeder (with songbird mix).

Continue reading I Bet He Gets Some Ribbing in Bird School (Part 3 of Many)

Nuts, Another The Head Rush (Part 2 of Many)

The bird posting continues.  Today’s bird topic is the nuthatch.  Based on the field guide, my guess is I have the White Breasted variety which coincides well with its popular regions.   Although a slightly fuzzy picture, here is one sitting in my old feeder.


It is always easy to distinguish the nuthatch because for some reason it prefers to face downward – my guess is he enjoys the feeling of a head rush or he is just showing off because the other birds that have visited the tree rarely take this position.  It is a little startling the first time you witness it, but the nuthatch literally runs “down” the tree.   Often times he can been seen in the following pose…

Continue reading Nuts, Another The Head Rush (Part 2 of Many)

Hang It and They Will Come (Part 1 of Many)

Two years ago, my wife and I moved further out into the country…. basically built a house on 15 acres in somewhat isolated woods.  We tried our best to limit the amount of clearing so we could enjoy the sights and sounds of nature – our little escape from the hectic stressful lives we live during the week.  The first year was focused on getting the house built and managing the new property.  Last year I finally got around to hanging a birdfeeder in a tree just outside our balcony which happens to be placed perfectly out my master bedroom window so it is the first thing I get to see in the morning (thanks to LASIK it is no longer just a bunch of fuzzy shapes).  I soon became fascinated by the daily visits of various birds and eventually evolved to trying to take pictures of as many as I could.  Now, it has been a long time since I did a lot of photography, but this has turned out to be a little challenging due to having to shoot through windows, trying to focusing on nervous birds and fighting the lighting.  There is improvement as I experiment with settings and angles but clearly a long way to go.   The side effect of all of this is I’ve become intrigued by the differences in the birds – sizes, colors, social behaviors, eating patterns and food preferences.  My wife says I am bordering on obsessive and likes to rib that is an “old” person’s hobby.  It occurred to me while going through about 400 pictures to date that this might be something interesting to blog about from time to time.  So……. you guessed it.  I do not know the frequency yet, but I there is a lot to draw from and hopefully you will enjoy see what I have the luxury of witnessing every day.   If you can help out with any naming corrections or additional input, it would get GREATLY appreciated.  So with my trusty Nikon digital camera and “Birds of North America – A Guide to Field Identification” – by Golden Field — special note, I am using the same bird guide I have had for my entire life – published in 1966

Today, I thought I would start with some quick shots of the yard and focus on the Chickadee.

Continue reading Hang It and They Will Come (Part 1 of Many)