Had an extremely productive night tonight. Ron was able to stop by on his way back to Chicago and help me out with some Halloween animatronics I’ve been working on for this year’s haunted trail. He was able to improve the sound on my Clown in the Box from last year (link here) and helped work out the kinks on my latest project Nightwing. This new one uses a linear actuator and some fairly complicated linkages. Also have some other new props in the works – shaping up to be another fun trail this year. Since it is going to be a bit hectic around here as the month progresses, figured I’d go ahead and get the second post of the Gander Mountain series out of the way. Going to start with the prize find from our first visit to Gander back in May of this year.
Mr. Red-Eye represents a +1 to my list. That colorful eye, white undertail feathers and the black downward curved bill indicates this medium sized bird is a Black-Billed Cuckoo. These birds generally range in the eastern half of the US expanding a bit into Canada and then down into the eastern half of South America. A fairly broad range for a bird I’ve only seen twice now. Even Cornell mentions how elusive and secluded this species is. You might be able to hear them foraging through the tree branches looking for Caterpillars – getting eyes on and much less a focus point is a difficult task at best. My first encounter was up at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (or as I call it the bunker prairie link here). I was able to get a few shots in the tin back then, but those pictures still need to be processed – those were really far away and not likely to yield better shots. Instead, using this encounter as my official +1. The shot below gives a little better view of the white under tail and that ominous blood red eye. This Cuckoo should be named the official mascot of late night bingers.
Since this is the first time this bird has appeared here, wanted to grab an interesting tidbit as a takeaway. These Cuckoos love them spiny Caterpillars – see the first shot for proof. Most predators are deterred by those spines, however Cuckoos gobble them up like Peeps during Easter (maybe that analogy only applies to me). Cornell states that those spines end up sticking to their stomach lining. Periodically, the Cuckoo will resolve this discomfort by coughing up their stomach lining in one giant pellet. My apologies if you are having breakfast while reading this – nature be crazy ha.
Hit the jump to see more items from the tin that day.
That was it for the new birds on that visit. Birding was still good that day. Like last post, simply going to give a rundown of the interesting encounters. Next up, the Eastern Kingbird. I’ve featured the Western variety a number of times due to their rareness in the Midwest (link here and here). What we do have is a lot of the Eastern variety. This particular one was hanging out at the top of the tree canopy singing its lungs out.
Next up the more elusive of the Orioles. In the breeding season you are likely to see a Baltimore Oriole on any birding excursion. Their bright orange plumage is easy to spot against the lush greens. The duller coloring of the Orchard Oriole is a little harder to detect and thus may be one of the reasons they often go unchecked in the field. Note, they do have a similar breeding region to the Baltimore.
The next bird falls into that class of subjects that rarely get correctly identified in the field. When it comes to little brown jobbers, determining the exact species without being able to study the nuances is nearly impossible – if it is a juvi, then start hunting for companions that might be a bit older or you are in for some long nights with the nose in reference books. Sometimes you get lucking and their song will give them away (if they are willing to share in your presence). This Sparrow chose not sing for us and thus had to enlist the aid of Ron to help identify it after processing in the digital darkroom.
Per Ron, ” The white eyeing, chestnut crown, round head, long tail, whitish throat with chestnut side tinges, buff breast, two weak wing stripes and pink conical bill are distinctive”. That description puts it in the Field Sparrow category. Their song is easily identified in the field – simply listen for the sound of a ping pong ball being dropped on a table. Until looking at these latest shots I didn’t realize how much chestnut they really have in their feathers – something to tuck away for maybe a better ID in the field.
Next in line, another bird with a red eye – unfortunately, these pictures do not really show it as well as the Cuckoo shots above. This one was hanging out on the right side of the main loop trail intent on tracking down some food. I wasted a lot of digital storage trying to get a decent picture in the tin. The canopy was killing the light and forcing the ISO up. Usually not a problem, but this Red-Eyed Vireo had two bowls of Sugar Pops in the morning and wouldn’t sit still.
You can see a hint of the red in the eye in the following shot. Had to drive the exposure up enough to get that view. It is possible this is a juvi – their eyes do not get their red tint until entering adulthood. The reference books do mention this feature is hard to detect from afar – might want to add it can be tough seeing it when trying to photograph an ultra hyper specimen.
The angles above did not reveal one of their key features – if granted the proper view, you will see a small hook on the end of their bill. This is handy when trying to distinguish the Red-Eyed Vireo from the similar colored Warbler Vireo. Our subject also had its crown up which I rarely get to experience in the field.
Thanks to a foreground leaf that went unnoticed due to the big glass piercing through it, this additional shot suffered some discoloration on the tail. I just thought the pose from the branch up was really cute … and shots with birds without tails tend to look weird.
Like the Viero above, this Great Crested Flycatcher was not playing friendly with the camera. Not the best shot for sure, but this one does show the key features you look for in the field. The crown is distinctive when it is up where the yellow breast topped with the gray neck is easily seen (as long as you are to seeing it from the front, otherwise you will need to look for the less distinctive rusty primaries). They too possess a hook like the Vireo. You might be curious about the eyelines.
Those are not real markings, rather shadows from the nearby twigs. Pretty cool effect nonetheless. Including the remaining shots just to complete the bird checks for the day. These pictures do not do the bird’s justice compared to how brilliant they look in the field – my apologies for the poor execution. Friend to the blog Brian over at Butterflies to Dragsters recently introduced me to the Eurasian variety – which I happen to now like more than our American Goldfinch variety pictured below. Maybe just a case of familiarity since these bright yellow spots are extremely common in our parts where I have obviously never had the chance to seen the Eurasian version.
The Scarlet Tanager is a special find in the field. Again primarily an eastern US bird, however, they are very elusive even with their brightly colored markings. One of those birds I am always looking for and 99% of the time come up empty. This one flew by and landed on a nearby tree while we were taking pictures of the Vireo. Attention immediately diverted to the Scarlet. Now that we had found it, the problem was getting it in the tin. The spot it landed in was on the other side of the trail which was significantly denser and the light was a premium. Had to grain up to get something in the tin.
One gorgeous bird (one poor picture ha). Although even poorer execution, adding this in just to give you a feel for how the Scarlet comes down the back to the tail feathers.
“Hey, you stop looking at my ass!” Seems like a fitting image to end this two part post on our Gander Mountain excursion. Hope you enjoyed seeing all checks for the day. Also a good reminder to Ron and I how good the birding can be there in stark contrast to how BAD it was last weekend – we did see a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo a few minutes into that recent visit – absolutely nothing after that beyond hordes of mosquitoes and 7′ weeds engulfing the trails. Take it easy everyone, I need to get back to my Halloween decorations.