Welcome to May everyone! So far it has basically been one rainy day after another – in fact, April was downright rainy as well. I know some of you in the southwest are pretty dry, wish there was a way to get some of our run-off down to you. Read yesterday that Lake Mead is so low they are finding bodies. The positive in all this is our wells should be fully charged. Unfortunately, the “Average Year” efforts are in a stumble with the Dauphin trip cancellation. I have been able to get a few adds .. in between the rains of course.
How is that for an absolutely craptastic shot!?! That particular image is the “best” of about a hundred attempts to tin one of these caffeine junkies in flight. For a majority of birds, their flights are fairly predictable. Note position A, then B and you can pretty much assume where C is going to end up along that trajectory. Focus lock the bird at position B and pan with it to estimated point C while engaging continues shutter mode – easy peasy. Even hyper Flycatchers can be mitigated knowing 83.6% of the time they return to the same branch after a quick sortie. (Note, 91.82% of statistics are made up on the fly.. and while at it, 103% of political poll numbers are bullshit. hehehe.) When it comes to Swallows you are probably better off just randomly pressing the shutter at a random spot at a random distance and pray one of them spots a bug in the vicinity. I tried everything short of throwing the kitchen sink in hopes of knocking one out of the sky and the best I could do is the shot above. 30 minutes into it my arms were like spaghetti and had used up all my colorful swear words. Screw these birds in flight (BiFs)!!
Frustrated, I brought The Beast down and gave my arms a rest. Started scanning the nearby trees in a last ditch effort to come away with a shot worthy of the +1 for the Average Year. Well, hello there bird on stick (BoSs)! As I was hoping, these Northern Rough-Winged Swallows were staging on a tree next to the bank we were standing on. Now that is muuuuuch easier on the arms.
Did I mention it was really windy that day?
Hit the jump to read about other finds from the Swallow family.
First, some background on our outing that produced these shots. I’ve been spending time in Forsyth, IL. lately… more like a LOT of time there. To reduce the back and forth waste, we brought the RV down to Weldon Springs State Park. Technically in Clinton, this park cuts over 2 hours of drive time. Beyond that advantage, it also provides a great opportunity to get some trail runs in and obviously some birding.
On this particular outing, Ron was able to join me so see if we could prop up our Average Year tallies. On one of my runs I spotted several birds Ron had not checked off yet and a couple that I needed as well. The Rough-Wing Swallows got the outing off to a good start. I will say, Ron did a much better job of getting some flying specimens in the tin (definitely aided with a lighter rig). While on the scouting run, noticed there were a few Tree Swallows milling about. Tried picking a few of what I thought were greener in the flying swarm – it would be a stretch to claim that +1 based solely on the blurs that ended up in the tin,
Lucked out when we headed back to that spot a couple of hours later. There was ONE Tree Sparrow BoS not too far from where the two Northerns were perched in the shots above. We’ll take it!
When I planned out my prior training run, I purposely charted a course taking me by two Purple Martin houses situated in the northwest corner of the Park. We found these on a previous trip last year (link here). There was definitely some activity in that area. After a couple more unexpected +1s we headed out to the houses for the easy +1 and discovered absolutely NOTHING THERE!
I was dumbfounded and apologized to Ron for dragging him all the way out there. Astute birders might be asking themselves “He claims no Purple Martins, yet he has images of them – what kind of shenanigans is is he trying to pull on us?”.
Truth is this shots were taken 2 days later at the exact same spot. The day before Ron decided to make another attempt at tinning the Purple (I wasn’t able to go). Sure enough, they were there giving him the leg up on me .. along with a tasty find of a Solitaire Sandpiper which I do not even have on my lifer list.
Knowing now, that I wasn’t hallucinating on my long run – yes, still confident there is 6′ Rabbit roaming the woods where I do most of my ultra training. I headed back out to the houses before heading down to Raven’s national agility runs in St. Louis.
.. and there they were. No explanation of the occupancy gap – there were couples already putting deposits down on condos and a line of U-Hauls parked on the ground below.
Being members of the Swallow family, the Purples are equally adept in complex aerial maneuvers. They actually get all their nutrition “on the wing” as they say. Prey are snapped out of mid-air and they’ll skim bodies of water to scoop up a gulp in their lower bill – sounds reminiscence of the way Black Skimmers hunt (link here).
They are bit more predictable than the other Swallows allowing me to get a couple decent shots in the tin. It was more overcast that day which raised the ISO and cost me some badly needed shutter speed. Lost a lot of the feather detail and their beautiful purple sheen.
Eventually gave up on getting any better BiFs and focused on a few specimens moving their boxes into the condos. This particular female was acting overly excited, flapping its wings and vocalizing.
Began to think there was some king of landlord squabble going on. “There’s a Tree Swallow squatting in my condo!”
“You better not be stinking up the place you moldy Swallow!”
Next thing I know, she’s pointing to hole and stomping up and down. “Get that stinky Tree out of my condo pronto or I’m calling the exterminator MYSELF”
Remind me never to piss off a female Purple Martin – quite the attitude they go there. Eventually the landlord noticed the dust up and came in for a look see. “Are you saying there is a Tree Swallow in that hole … right there?” “Yep!” “I see nothing other than that strange looking 6′ Rabbit standing in the woods over there”
Harvey dove off into the woods before I could get a shot of him. Wait until I tell Ron i wasn’t seeing things. Thought I would relay one other interesting tidbit before I let you go. According to Cornell, the Purples will form up into huge flocks once the chicks have left the condo. These flocks can be so large they show up on weather radar as an expanding donut.
Hope you enjoyed seeing the collection of Swallows Ron and I found at Weldon Springs State Park. For those in the area, that park is a very nice place to bird with a variety of habitats to entice a number of species. Prior to our Dauphin Island trip last year, Weldon held the top spot for highest number of unique species on a single outing.
Take care everyone, will likely have a chance to get another post out soon.