Project Chekov: Cedar Waxwing and Cardinal

We have reached day three of Project Chekov and to switch it up just a little we have two birds featured today (yeah!).  To be completely honest, the second one was kind of thrown in because I figured it was a good way to get them out of the way quickly.  But let’s get to that in a minute and get right into the featured bird.  I Actually thought this would be a new bird to the blog, however, a quick verification through the blog search capability proved differently.  The Cedar Waxwing actually made its presence known back in Nov 2012 (link here).  Those previous shots were not exactly the best execution and even coined the term crispiless to acknowledge that they were on the fuzzy side (I still like that word).  These first few turned out a lot better in my humble opinion.

The above one is clearly my favorite with the berry in the beak.  These are one of the easier birds to identify thanks to their thick black eye eyeliner and cropped back Mohawk.  Just call them the punk rockers of the birding world.  There are actually two types of these birds, one being Cedar and the other the Bohemian.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a shot showing their back coloring or it would be very obvious since the Bohemian has more colorful highlights.  The Bohemian also hangs out predominantly in the Northwest where the Cedar has a much broader range.

Pretty confident this is the Cedar based on where it was taken (Midwest) and I would have noted it if I saw the prettier highlights so I could make the extra check mark in the bird list.  These are pretty cool birds

Hit the jump to see more shots of the Waxwing and a more common bird to the area

Continue reading Project Chekov: Cedar Waxwing and Cardinal

Project Chekov: Brown-Headed Cowbird

Welcome to the second day of 2014.  Only a couple of days into the new year and I’ve already found a great way to force myself to concentrate on the new running mechanics.  Simply go out and run on ICE.  Nothing forces you to keep your foot plant underneath your body like knowing too much heal strike or less likely too much lean will put you on your ass.  Yesterday got to practice my windmilling a couple of times, but zero outright falls so mechanics starting to make its way into muscle memory.  Figured I’d bring out a new bird to the blog as the second installment of Project Chekov.  This isn’t a rare bird so to speak and in fact it has shown up at our feeders from time to time during the summer months, but all the other birds in the queue kept trumping it.  Time to correct that – introducing the Brown-Headed Cowbird.

This birds falls into the category of “Named by an Unoriginal Person”.  I can image how that first encounter went “Hey, look at that bird over there – the one with the brown head the color of a cow.  Never seen one of dem der winged thingies looken like dat before.  I shall call it Brown-Headed Cowbird and it shall be mine”  Honestly, is this the best the founder could have done?  Oh well, it is what it is and probably should be grateful it is this easy to identify – at least the males.

I tried to pull the shadows out of the RAWs on the two above, but just not enough there to distinguish the deep brown from the surrounding eye shadows.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of the male and likely the female

Continue reading Project Chekov: Brown-Headed Cowbird

Project Chekov: American Coot

Welcome to the new year everyone!  Always nice to get to the end of something so you can start afresh with new goals and challenges.  I’m definitely a goal proponent and will be taking the next couple of weeks to determine what those should be.   You never want to rush in to these things and recommend NEVER making them under the influence of alcohol – so New Year’s is pretty much out for setting new goals.  Enjoy the festivities and leave the challenge setting for at least a couple of days.   Now, there is one looming issue that does have to be addressed and that is finding a way to get caught up with the picture backlog.   This has been on my mind all holiday vacation while toiling away in the digital darkroom.  The only solution that seems viable at this point is to get on the ball and brute force it (something that I’m fairly good at).

So, strap yourself in, it is going to be a fast ride.  Probably won’t be a lot of text and customary fact sharing, but you’ll get a healthy dose of shots for sure.  Just hope you like birds hehehehe.  Mr. Chekov, plot a course to success…

For starters, let’s bring back an old friend to the Blog, The American Coot.

I’ve always considered this bird to be the classroom joker in the lot.  First of all, it looks like a chicken which is funny in itself, but this bird has a passion for photobombing every chance it gets (link here).  Secondly, they have the funniest feet of any water fowl I’ve had the pleasure of coming across – just look at them…

Looks like snakes on a yellow stick (shiver) or possibly wearing toe-socks which are up there on my top 10 creepiest things to see someone wear list.  Note, the above shot is a little soft, but I really liked how the composition turned out.  Kind of looks like the Coot stepped on something sharp and was looking back at the small stick as if it was the culprit.  Baaaad Stick … Verry Bad Stick!  Here is a more formal looking composition for those that like the more stoic look – although a stoic Coot is a bit of an oxymoron.

By the way, for the curious, this was taken at Banner Marsh in Banner IL.  Quite a lot of Coots hang out there if someone needs a Coot for their birding list.

So that’s it, short, sweet and to the point to start off 2014!  Now, Mr. Sulu put it in warp drive to our next destination – meanwhile it’s time to hit the hay – looks like tomorrow’s run is going to be in the snow if our weathermen finally have the model right.

Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Today’s topic seemed a perfect fit for today’s blog for a number of reasons.  For starters we just finished up our latest bird shoot down in Texas.  Although that trip was somewhat exhausting (7 days, 7 different hotels) we did manage to shoot what we went there to find.  Which, by the way, is absolutely awesome and can’t wait to post the results here.  I was able to finish up not one, but two more phases of Project Auuunnooold.  It’s the end of the month and lastly, the final wrap on our first two visits to the ,  Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.  This comes as a bitter-sweet event.  Bitter in the sense that this shoot produced an amazing number of new checkmarks and interesting photos.  The Sweet part is it will allow me to move on to the other shoots that have been piling up in the queue – and trust me, there is a LOT in the hopper at this particular point in time.

Let’s recap why the Henderson Preserve was such an amazing birding location!

Overall Posts Pertaining to Henderson: 22

Number of New Birds to the Blog: 21

Number of Birds Featured: 32

Number of non-Bird Posts: 2 (The Coyote and the Jack Rabbit)

No other place has come close to being this productive from a non-captive environment perspective.  In closing this shoot out, I just wanted to provide a few more shots that caught my eye when closing out the catalog from the digital darkroom.  First off is a few more of the Northern Harrier that was hunting in the area.  This bird of prey must have known we were there since it would drift his hunting circles away from us every time we came close.  It is hard enough to keep The Beast on target with something close, but downright nightmare trying to keep the focus on something that doesn’t even fill the focus point.

As a result, there are “plenty” of blurred shots that hit the cutting room floor, but some turned out decent enough to process.   Not as crisp as the previous set (link here), but definitely closer so you can make out the features better.

The next one could use a little more lightening in the dark room – likely pushed the shutter speed in favor of keeping the blur down.  Mainly putting it here because the composition looked nice in the frame.

Hit the jump to see the last of the Henderson shots.

Continue reading Henderson – It’s a Wrap

Angels of the Ponds

Big day today, finally completed a project I’ve been working on for several months.  This is actually a double benefit since not only can I set my sights on a new endeavor, there’s one more post topic in the hopper.  Now only need to process the 20o pictures and get them ready for the blog .. don’t panic, probably won’t subject you to all of them … or maaaayybbee hehehe.    Until then, figured I’d try to wrap up the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve visit.   Other photo shoots are starting to back up in the queue and need to get at least a few of them out of the way to make room for the new year.  You may recall there was a post earlier in the month on the Great Egret (link here).  We were lucky enough to have multiple encounters with various Egrets and at one point they decided to put on a show!

I really like this shot for a number of reasons.  Clearly the birds themselves were captured in similarly unique poses which shows off how pretty these birds are.  The large one is the Great Egret and based on what I can tell of the bill from this angle, the smaller one is a Little Egret – possibly Snowy but the neck seems a little long for that.  They reminded me of Guardian Angels with their pure white wings raised up like that.  After a little bit you tend to get curious and your eyes start to wander.  Following the Little Egret you notice some Grebes passing by – wonder if the Egret was trying to scare them away from their feeding area.  They were coasting by without alarm so doubt the Grebes cared much.  Still searching you start looking at what has the Great Egret’s attention.  That leads to the American Coot somewhat hidden in the dark colors.  Turns out that Coot also has its wings out basically taunting them – I have already documented how those Coots like to mock their pond mates (link here).  Some of you may have already seen this shot a little earlier – accidentally put it up on Birding Across America site (link here) before remembering it had not debuted here yet – oops.

Not wanting to be left out, another Egret decided to join the festivities.  Can really see the span of those huge white wings on the Great Egret from this angle.

Hit the jump to learn why these Egrets were so annoyed!

Continue reading Angels of the Ponds

Revisiting the Great Egret – This Time With Foot Zoom

I can’t believe it is November already.  2013 has flown by WAAAAY too quick.  This generally means I’ve been keeping pretty busy and that is a good thing.  Unfortunately, my to-do list doesn’t look one bit smaller as a result – rate added is exceeding rate completed.  The good news is Phase 5 of Project Auuuunoooold is completed and another project is nearly done .. translated… look for upcoming posts!  In case you were not keeping track (although I know you do), 4 of last month’s 6 posts were not about birds.  Seemed like a break was in order from all the bird posts that were coming at you.  With the new month that ratio will likely swing back a little – really need to get through the Henderson trip so we can get to the other vacations we’ve taken since then.  Hell, there was even another Henderson trip since then and our friends who went with us to Yellowstone this year are already wondering when the pictures will be coming.  So how about a bird post!

What a fantastic idea.    Seems I have a few shots from the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve in Nevada lying around so let’s dust those off (I know I know .. not much of a surprise there).  Today’s featured bird is a revisit of sorts from the first time we covered it back in Nov 2011.  The Great Egret (link here) photographed back then was quite a ways off and pretty hard to make out the details.  This was not the case at the ponds in Henderson.

We were able to get relatively close – close enough at least for the reach of the Beast.  This particular specimen was busy fishing the edges of the pond.  It seemed to be aware we were there and would throw a glance in the direction of the big glass every once in awhile, but beyond that pretty much stay focused on what sustenance the water had to offer.  It has been mentioned many times in this blog that Egrets and Herons are excellent photography subjects thanks to how calm/still they remain while hunting.  Quite handy when the light isn’t optimum since you can open up the aperture or extend the shutter if needed and most of the time the bird will stay stationary long enough to compensate for it.

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this majestic bird!

Continue reading Revisiting the Great Egret – This Time With Foot Zoom

A Juvi or a Bittern – Tough to Tell

Looks like today I can report the tale of two lists.  First off, thanks to confirmation from Ron I can now add two more check marks to my birding list.  This is definitely one of those very pleasing moments when I can make that mark next to another entry, but when you actually get to make two marks at once .. through the roof.  If you recall, a few posts ago (link here), I had made some speculation on some bird identifications that were stumping me.  Figured the suggested identifications were my best guesses, but looks like Ron was in agreement with both of them – SWEET!  That Yang and the Um thingy once again makes its presence known around here.  With the good of the bird checks comes the equally bad entry on The List.  Those who know me, know you never ever want to make it on that list since it signifies a personal lifetime ban.  Surprisingly, I was able to locate an old copy of it online (link here).  I have to admit that Best Buy made its way off the list thanks to Circuit City closing leaving no other competition in the area.  There are some other additions, but today’s add is Eddie Vedder and of coarse ANYTHING he is affiliated with.

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Ten

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden fan when I bought Temple of the Dog

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Vs

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Vitalogy

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Yield

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Ten for Rockband

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought their guitar sheet music for Ten

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Eddie Vedder fan when I wisely chose not to buy his craptastic solo album

… and now this fuck wishes bad things to happen to me (link here).  I wonder exactly what this asshole would think if someone went after his First Amendment rights?  It isn’t worth wasting anymore time on this topic – the money saved on not buying his latest album will nicely offset the cost of the ammunition spent while substituting those CDs for targets.  Welcome to The List.

Cleansing breadth … crap Kozma is sucking it up at the plate for the Cardinals tonight… cleansing breadth.

There, much better.  On to the real topic of this post.  The last plea for bird identification help worked out so well, figured it was worth trying it again.  Once again there’s another bird shot the second day of the Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve that has me in a quandary.  What seems to be the norm these days, the expectations going into the identification phase were high due to the key features this particular bird possesses.

Stocky frame, dark coloring palette and takes the standard Heron/Egret form in flight.  No problem right.. this has to be a Green Hero… uh, hmm uh.. let me look at those reference books again.  From the reference images, the Green Heron tends to have a rustier neck and a little more yellow on the bill.  They are also a lot more stockier than the specimen here.  Hold on, there should have been a post on one.  Yes, yes, here it is (link here).  Now it is coming back to me – that bird found at Jubilee Park looked a lot different than this one – mainly again due to the stockiness and the varying yet pronounced colors.  This next shot doesn’t show a whole lot more, but does provide some clues to the neck coloring.

Hit the jump to continue the quest to identify this bird

Continue reading A Juvi or a Bittern – Tough to Tell

To Check or Not to Check

I can’t believe it is October already!  Seems like this year is flying by way to fast – pretty soon it will be snowing in Denver.  What!?!  holy crap, it is snowing in Denver today.  Those Globull Warming dudes got some splaining to do.  I warned you on the last post we would once again be spending some time at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve  in the coming posts as I try to close out the second day of shooting there.  The good news is we are almost through that visit.. bad news is we had the opportunity to head back there a few months ago so we are far from over at that birding paradise.  To start the month off, I’m in need of some more help.  I am always amazed at how hard bird identification can be even with what I would consider unique features.  Two birds are featured here that gave me some troubles and thus not entirely sure if I have them right.  If I do, then there will be two new checks in the Bird List.  Always pleased when I can mark up the list and as you have seen in the past posts, this particular birding site was a goldmine of check marks.

First off I bring you this rather plain looking bird:

I suspect your first inclination is to ID it as an American Crow.  Pretty common bird around here so I have the advantage of seeing it just about every day.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time out in Yellowstone so I can definitely tell you how those compare to the mammoth Ravens out there.  But something just didn’t seem right about this one.  It was black (I can always get the easy ones) but the beak just didn’t seem to fit the large but blunter ones on the Crows around here.  The other part that was causing me some confusion was the tail.

It seemed to long and slender relative to the more stockier body frame of the Crow (and definitely smaller all around compared to those Ravens).  This concern sent me pouring over bird references looking for some other alternative.  Eventually I made my way to the Grackles.  Typically the Grackle is easy to distinguish due to the iridescent purple coloring when the light hits them right.  It is hard to tell in this picture due to having little sun at the moment this was taken but the shape is darn close from my perspective.  Post processing may have taken some slight shimmer out since I was thinking it was just a nicely posed Crow at the time.  The yellow eye definitely stands out which is a defining feature for the Grackle – the Crows and Ravens tend to have black on black eyes.  Now the hard part.. which Grackle.  The Common one is close but the images in the books definitely show more of a purple hue and/or more brownish than the full on black this one is sporting.  That left the Boat Tailed, but that is NO WHERE near where we were out in Nevada (more East Coast).  Could it be the Great Tailed Grackle?

To the web!

Take a gander at the set of images at AllAboutBirds.org (link here).  As mentioned, not positive, but it definitely looks similar to the Great Tailed Grackle shown there – and we can definitely dismiss the Common version. Would appreciate any help on this one.  I have no problem accepting that it is a Common Crow or possibly something I overlooked, but keep in mind that yellowish eye.  Definitely distinct.  Sorry I can’t give you any other angles, this was about the sum total of the shots.  With all the new birds there I likely didn’t spend much time on what I assumed at the time was a common bird.  Regardless of what the ID comes out as, the composition turned out nice especially with the first and this one.

The tail matched the twig angle and the head aligned with both the upper and lower branches giving a nice framing effect.  If you have time, take a stab at it and use the comments for any ideas.

Hit the jump for the second bird featured in this post!

Continue reading To Check or Not to Check

A Prized Pecker

This week I’ve been focused on avoiding ANY activity that would cause some form of injury up to and including the very painful hangnail.  That means no working on Project Auuuunooollldd, no work to shore up Serenity, no constructing the new mailbox support structure and definitely no cleaning tubs or vacuuming (long story but that one cost me major damage to the shoulder some time ago).  Oh, and doing dishes and cleaning up after myself is right out (hehehe).  What’s left with all the fun stuff banned… well, you blog.  You probably already noticed I am way ahead of schedule at the moment, but sitting and typing is about the safest activity I can pick.  Luckily, the post topic hopper is pretty full.

I promised you a break from Henderson, but that didn’t mean you were free from birds.  This post has been on my mind ever since the day before we headed out to Vegas.  That Saturday a friend of ours (John Best) put a post on Facebook that he might have heard a Pileated Woodpecker while hiking out at Forest Park Nature Preserve.  The minute Linda relayed that message to me we were headed for the car with the Beast in hand.  If you are new to the blog, the Pileated Woodpecker was on the TOP of my bird wish list.  John’s wife actually thought she had seen one at our house one day but I originally dismissed it based on the mere fact I had NEVER seen or heard one in the area from the day we bought the land.  Not to long after that I was busy apologizing to her because one flew into our yard one cold Sunday morning.  That was followed by chasing that damn bird through our entire 15 acres trying to get a decent shot .. big failure on that endeavor – did I mention I was in my jammies at the time (Linda had quite the laugh).  My only other sighting of this bird was in the Porcupine Mountains (link here .. at the bottom).  Once again unable to get it in the tin so no checkmark.   Very frustrating, but maintained hope that one day I’d be able to shoot it.

So, there Linda and I were standing in the park trying our best to locate a large black bird with a red head.  Look to the left, look to the right, look up, look down, walk a ways and repeat.  Nuttin’!  Beginning to think John might have been mistaken we were just about to give up when we heard a loud call ring out from atop the hill to our left.  Pileated Woodpeckers have unmistakable calls that rivals the Sandhill Crane squabbles.  I need to stop doubting the Bests, that’s for sure.  Only problem was finding a way to it.  This isn’t a free ranging park and there didn’t seem to be any paths leading up in that direction.  A huge relief when we found a winding trail further down the main path.  The hunt was on.  Halfway up we stopped for a bit to wait for another call.  5 or 10 minutes later we heard it again this time followed by a jackhammer pounding against wood.  Of course, it was coming from the top of the hill so we continued our climb up the steep hill – kudos to Linda for sticking with me. Once at the top we started a more thorough scan.  all of sudden we see movement from a large black bird…

Ladies and gentleman, I introduce you to the reason for a very prestigious check mark.  There it was in all its glory, the long sought after Pileated Woodpecker.  The tree canopy put the Beast at a disadvantage both in the lighting conditions and the amount of interference.  The ISO was jacked up to provide enough shutter speed to keep most of the blurring down and there was a lot of foot focus going on in desperate attempts to get a straight line of sight to the bird.

This guaranteed there would be no gallery shots, but definitely good enough to qualify for a check mark.  You should have seen the blurred shot I got while running around our lot in my PJs – you could tell it was black and had some reddish in it, but saying it was a bird was reach.  Linda probably thought I was a kid in a candy store running up and down the trail trying to get as many shots as I could.

Hit the jump to read more about the prized Pileated Woodpecker

Continue reading A Prized Pecker

A Long First Day in Paradise Comes to an End

Welcome to the latest offering from Life Intrigued.  I had quite the debate with myself on the topic for today’s post.  Should I go with a discussion on the results of a key bird hunt?  Maybe a summary of the various happenings while we were in Vegas (when you run a blog, there is no such thing as What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas – rather What Happens in Vegas is Another Post!).  I do have another book recollection to get to, but need to get the graphics ready for that first.  Why don’t I just close out the First Day at Henderson Series.  I promise I’ll give you a break for at least two posts before diving into day two.

To wrap things up, I’m going to throw you a hodge podge of birds.  None of these were firsts for me, but wanted to let you know that there was a nice collection of the more common birds to go along with all those new check marks.  First off is the Northern Shoveler.

To say there was a lot of these hanging out at Henderson would be an understatement.  There were actually more there than I’ve seen collectively at Havana’s Emiquon (link here).  What did catch my attention was they isolated themselves to a specific pond.  Not sure what the real attraction was, but it was one of two that had an island in the middle providing pretty good cover from the sun and Harriers circling the skies.  You almost got the sense they were keeping one eye on the water and one eye looking for danger.

Of course, they may have seen what happens when you venture too close to the shores (link here).  Fortunately, this didn’t prevent them from engaging in their unique feeding ritual.  This was observed at Havana, but only two or three of the Shovelers were involved and didn’t give the full effect.  At Henderson, they were in full whirlpool mode.

Reminds me when I was a kid and we would quickly traverse the outside edge of a neighbor’s pool to create a similar effect.  Of course, we were not doing that to make food more accessible (wow, the thought of a Baby Ruth just crossed my mind hehehe).

Although not completely positive thanks to the number of female breeds that look a like, I think the following shot is of a Shoveler coming in for a landing.  Both the water and wings were frozen in motion which is rather difficult to do with the Beast.  Our lighter 2.4 70-200 is more handy for those kind of shots being easier to hit the focus marks and most of all LIGHTER!!

Hit the jump to see more of the birds of Henderson

Continue reading A Long First Day in Paradise Comes to an End