It’s Not a Ba Ba Ba Ba Barn Swallow

I’ll start out this post with a great big SIGH.  When it comes to birds, I’ve developed some tricks over the years that help me out in the identification phase.  These aids include capturing as many angles as I can, focusing on any unusual characteristics it might possesses and making sure to take a few snaps at any birds in the vicinity.  Generally one of these will get me in the right ballpark and then it is just a matter of a little reading to narrow the two or three options to the right one… or rather the one I’m going with – ID are never guaranteed around here at LifeIntrigued and always graciously  welcome a discussion should a reader come up with a differing opinion.  Today’s post happens to be one of those situations where most of the tricks FAILED to deliver a quick  answer.  In fact, most of this month has been spent debating back and forth between all the reference manuals on my library shelf and any bird sites on the Internet that had something to say on the subject.  No reason to keep this a mystery any longer.  Again, heralding out of Henderson Nevada’s Bird Viewing Preserve we bring you a new bird to blog.

This particular bird does have some unique features that should have made it very easy to identify.  First and foremost, the long black beak seems like it should have narrowed the field significantly in itself.    Turns out there a few birds that fit this characteristic.

  • Common Sandpiper
  • Green Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Eastern Willet
  • Western Willet
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • Short Billed Dowitcher
  • Long Billed Dowitcher
  • Yellowlegs
  • Dunlin
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Barn Swallow

I was not expecting a starting list this long.  Realizing this was not going to be as easy as expected, I settled into processing mode.  Okay, sticking with the bill, there is a definite downward curvature that should provide some list thinning

Hit the jump to continue following along with the identification process.. and see more pics!

Continue reading It’s Not a Ba Ba Ba Ba Barn Swallow

A Pied Surprise

I’m fresh off another successful Bix@6! I wasn’t exactly feeling at the top of my game at the start, but made it through at a fairly good time for a training run (2 minutes faster than usual). Typically I come in 4 to 5 minutes slower than I do on actual race day. Always seemed a little odd to me but this year I figured out why – I took the phone with me this year (sans headphones – it isn’t really a closed course – no reason to take unnecessary risks), so the RunKeeper app kept me (and everyone around me hehehe) informed of the pace and distance. To my surprise, the 6-course is LONG. Not by a mile like the Chicago Marathon, but a few tenths enough to explain some of the time difference. I’m sure the rest of the time is due to adrenaline from being out there with 17K plus others. Not sure what to expect at the moment from the actual race, but the faster Bix@6 might just be a good sign – now if I can just get the cloud gods to cooperate again!

Are you getting the picture (pun intended) the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve is quite awesome when it comes to the diversity of birds available for photographing? At this point it is a little hard to rank this spot as my favorite thanks to the number of checks it has given me on the bird list or instead a lagoon in Florida where we were able to see less variety, but the larger species. Note, there is more to come of the Florida shoot but for now let’s spend some time with ANOTHER new bird from Henderson.

Anybody want to take a stab at what this interesting little waterfowl might be? No cheating by image hovering, but the post title might give a hint. Honestly, I thought this bird was simply a juvi of one of the other birds that were near it, but upon further research believe this to be a species unto its own. Better yet, a species that I can now check off my bird list. With the aid of the Stokes Field Guide, I was able to match the first two pictures with the adult Winter plumage of the Pied-Billed Grebe. The region matches up perfectly with our location and time frame so pretty confident the classification is correct.  True to the old adage, I got the water beading up on the duck’s (er Grebe’s) back.  Not to mention I was able to put a cross body shot in the tin as well.

Hit the jump to read a few interesting facts about this chicken beaked Grebe

Continue reading A Pied Surprise

A Bad Day to be a Shoveler

Greetings everyone. I am currently under the influence of my new deep tissue foot massager I just purchased with my 2nd place finish gift certificate (link here). As a result, I cannot be held accountable for the contents of this post because quite frankly, this feels quite yummy and might just dose off from time to time. Honestly, this thing is awesome! My main hope is it will help relieve some heel pain I’ve been dealing with since the Steamboat Race. A fellow runner at work recommended it so figured I’d give it a go00…zzzzzzzz … Sorry, dozed a bit.

Today we are back at the Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve, but this time our primary subject doesn’t come with feathers or a beak. Turns out we were greeted with another resident in the area, one we were admittedly not expecting in the least.

Surprise! This Coyote crept up on us mid-morning while we were heading out to an observation platform built on one of the Henderson ponds. We were checking out some birds hanging out on one side of the raised walkway oblivious to the fact this natural born killer was stalking us from the other side. The color palette of this creature blended perfectly into the surroundings and if it wouldn’t have moved slightly I would have likely never seen it. Before the Beast could draw a bead on it (and thanks to taking the time to excitedly explain my find to Linda), the Coyote slinked back into the brush. Curious we started tracking it from the platform where it eventually popped into view again having traversed directly under it. Probably less than 20 yards away, it turned back at us – standing its ground against our unappreciated intrusion.

As you can tell, it seemed truly pissed off! A quick look around confirmed we were the only ones out in preserve at the time which gets you to wondering if you were “take out” that day. This was going to be a little difficult if that was the intent because it didn’t appear to be “packing” – as in there wasn’t any other pack mates in the vicinity and it wasn’t sporting a holster we could see. In my excitement I failed to really take in the composition of the shot. 5 feet to the left would have helped the shots tremendously – note to self, composition, composition composition. This Coyote would walk a few feet, look back at us, walk a few feet, look back at us, veer off in a different direction, look back, return to the original direction and look back. This was getting pretty weird. Eventually it found its way behind a thick brush concealing most of what it was doing. All we could tell was that it was digging in the ground. A few minutes later it revealed its motivation.

Hit the jump to reveal the mystery

Continue reading A Bad Day to be a Shoveler

A Noncommittal Diver

Happy 4th of July everyone!  Hopefully you live in a state that trusts it’s serfs to know how to handle fire and thus can enjoy the holiday as it was meant to be – as opposed to some of us who are subject to state administrations that is more worried about someone lighting a firecracker than they are passing a budget that keeps the state out of debt — but I digress.  In celebration of our independence from an oppressive government (hmmm starting to sound ironically familiar)… I bring you another great find at the Henderson Nevada Wildlife Viewing Preserve.  This bird immediately brings to mind all the festive colors we typically associate with our proud country.

Ummm okay, maybe not.  Actually it doesn’t even seem to be that well associated to Independence Day now that I take another gander at it.  Well, it sounded good anyway (editor’s note, for the record, it does look like it is “independent” in the since that it is alone – that way if I was for some reason to be called in front of a Congressional hearing I can say I was telling the truth unlike the Head of Intelligence who conveniently claims he “forgot” about the Patriot Act as his excuse for lying under oath – sorry, more digression).  So, you are probably thinking this specimen is a Redhead Duck because that is exactly what I thought it was when I came up on it enjoying one of the ponds.  It wasn’t until a few minutes ago that I realized that initial assumption was wrong.  Based on validation with all my references, I have changed my classification to … a Canvasback.  The Redhead and the Canvasback have almost identical color schemes – brownish heads and black highlighting at the same locations, but they differ in  few key areas.  First of all, the Redhead has a body feathering that is more gray contrasted with the Canvasback which has a much brighter/whiter coloring.  A closer look at the beak also show differences with the Canvasback being pointier and darker instead of the blunter and more stylized bill sported by the other duck.  They do have nearly identical region maps, but based on the other factors my money is on a Canvasback.  For the detailed oriented people out there, the Canvasback is about 2 inches longer and a little larger weight wise, but that is impossible to distinguish in the field.

Hit the jump read more about the Canvasback!

Continue reading A Noncommittal Diver

Girl Power

Just so I don’t forget to mention this like I did in the last post, the following topic is another product from our Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve shoot we went on towards the end of last year.  Another difference from last post is this one  is not as picture scarce.  Oh, and indeed there is another major difference but we’ll get to that in a second.  With that lead in out of the way, please give a grand welcome to yet another new bird to the blog.

Want to take a shot as to what it is?  Hint, it is NOT what I had mistaken it for while out in the field.  For some reason I crossed this particular duck up with the Dufflebag,  Well, it really isn’t a Dufflebag, but that is what I’ve always called the Bufflehead.  Ever have one of those bizarre associations that popped in your head at the second it entered long term memory?  No matter how hard you try it just never gets corrected in the gray matter so EVERY time you see it, that is the first thing your brain’s Google engine conjures up.  Not knowing at the time that this was a wrong identification, I snapped a few and went on my merry way.  This classification error was discovered while hunting down the reference material to post on the blog.  Our friend the Dufflebag has the white markings shifted up to the 4th quadrant.. and has a completely different body feather palette, but let’s not get nitpicky.

No worries, this pattern is pretty unique so a few more minutes in the duck reference should clear this mystery right up.  10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes … later and I’m asking myself what the hell is this bird.  Eventually, the Stokes’ guide came through.  The problem is, the bird that caught my attention is not a male.  Nope, everyone one of the shots in this post are of the female which, for the record, are traditionally harder to identify than the normally more colorful males.  The fact these females have a unique coloring threw me off.

Hit the jump to see more pictures of this duck and maybe even confirm your guess as to what it is

Continue reading Girl Power

Pin the Tail

I’ll tell you right up front, this particular blog post is going to cheat you a bit on your viewing pleasure.  Normally I try my best to give a healthy dose of pictures with each of my offerings.  When it comes to birds the goal is to give you a variety of poses or angles that help provide a good perspective of the featured species just in case you happen to live in one of those obnoxiously big cities and think birds just get in the view of the pretty skyscrapers.  Today.. not so much.  To be honest, I cannot recall what the issue was, but there was really only two picture taken of this bird – surprising since this was another NEW bird to check off the list.

The only hope is there are more shots of the Northern Pintail from the second day of shooting – which hasn’t been processed yet.  If I find more while in the digital darkroom for the those I’ll be sure and post them to make up for the sparsity here.  There is a correction for the long term readers of this blog.  Back on June 5th 2010 I suggested one of the bird shots on that post was a Pintail (although skeptical even then – link here).  Clearly it didn’t possess the twin tails of real Pintails as clearly seen in these shots.

This day began in one of those “Small World” experiences.  It was a little cool that day so I was sporting my Illini pullover.  While walking up to the entrance of the Preserve, a man came out and noticed the coat and asked me if I had gone to Illinois.  Always seems surreal to head out thousands of miles from home and then come across someone that lives a few hundred miles from your hometown.  He actually was the individual who alerted us to the presence of the Pintail.  Based on his excitement at the time it appears that was not a common sighting on the ponds.  A quick look at the regions indicates they do Winter there in that region, but since this was August that does seem pretty early.  From an artistic perspective, I find the color palette on these ducks to be gorgeous which is only enhanced by the sleek profile.  In case you are wondering, these two are both males.

How about some interesting facts to complete the post.  First off they are very abundant and therefore have a conservation status of Least Concern – follow up research indicates they are in a large decline so this may actually change in the future (sad).  They also happen to be a very popular game duck due to (and I quote Wikipedia) “speed, agility, and excellent eating qualities”.  Hey, look ad that purdy eyegil burrd leck’s put led in itz ass.  They are classed as dabbling ducks or simply those ducks that feed off the water’s surface instead of diving.  They are primarily plant eating animals with the exception of when the female is nesting.  During that time,  it changes to invertebrates likes insects – wonder if that is similar to us humans which tend to switch to ice cream and pickle juice during our “nesting” period.  Interesting.. another site indicates they are the first ducks to begin their Winter migration.  I think we can personally confirm that now!  And lastly, the ducks organization website indicates that Northern Pintails have a circumpolar breeding pattern.  Know what that means?  … ‘cuz I have no clue hehehe.  Current guess is they only have sex when circling a polar bear.  Trust me, I’m an Eggspert on dem der wingy things.

That’s all folks – my apologies again for the lack of pictures – good news is you could read the whole post without a jump.

Hefner Would Be Proud

Admittedly, when things get tight I go to my ace in the hole.  Lucky for me, I was able to finish processing all the shots from our first day at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.  If you recall, on our trip to Nevada last year we stopped in to that gem of a preserve.  Per previous posts, this area already provided two blog posts for brand new birds to my collection – specifically, the Green-Winged Teal (link here) and the Greater Roadrunner (link here).   Here’s a little secret.  Those were not the only two new birds this shoot produced!  I was able to add another new check in the bird list with today’s blog entry.

Anyone want to take a guess on what this might be?  Really take a guess – a little validation would help me at this point.  This little bird took me some extra time to eventually come to a consensus on what it was… or actually what I think it is.  To accomplish this I employed my brand new bird reference guide I picked up while out in Yellowstone.  While perusing the various gift shops in the park, The Stokes Field Guide To The Birds of North America caught my eye.  It isn’t often a book on birds shows up I do not already have, much less ever seen.  The key aspect of this particular reference was the ABUNDANCE of pictures.  None of the books on my shelves come close to  having the quantity of actual photographs contained in this book – in particular the fact it has shots of the female, the male, the juvenile and even seasonal and regional differences.  Truly awesome and it was instantly “mine” – didn’t hurt we got a discount being Yellowstone Association members but truth be told I would have gladly paid full price (shhhh don’t tell anyone).  After about 40 minutes of thumbing through the book I decided to go with … drum roll .. a Verdin.  The only concern was the region but a closer look (need a brush up on my state shapes) shows that it does venture into Southern Nevada.  A friend at work (thanks John!) helped me verify the region today so thinking that concern is past me.  As with any bird post at Lifeintrigued – you are more than welcome to debate any identification.  So for now were going with a Verdin.  This bird is especially cool since it doesn’t come anywhere near where I live making the trip that much more fruitful.

According to Stokes, this bird prefers desert scrub along washes and streams.  The desert part was dead on and it was alongside one of their ponds which kinda fits the water reference.  That is about the sum total of info I got out of the book.  Again, that was purchased to help identify the bird, I have our friends over at Wikipedia and an abundance of info on the web to fill the data gap – finding out what the hell it is the real battle.  Another site did mention they like thorny scrub – based on the shot above and the one below, this one was right at home.

Hit the jump to read more about this cool looking bird.

Continue reading Hefner Would Be Proud

One Fast Cuckoo

Another day, another post!  Guessing the doubters are starting to get a little concerned (hehehe).  I’m not out of the woods completely, but as each post rolls out through the publishing pipeline the stress ratchets down another notch.  The good news in all of this is I was able to get started on another vacation’s worth of shots from last year.  The great news is it looks like the topic hopper will be full for an extended period of time based on activities that has transpired as of late.  Of course, this does have the downside of erasing all the gains made on the already overflowing topic queue.  A very good problem to have when all your peeps have such high expectations.

Speaking of queues, next pop from the stack places us back in Henderson Nevada, home of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve discussed a couple of posts back (link here).  If you recall, that post introduced a new bird to the blog.  Let’s continue that streak with still another new species.

Most people will recognize this bird thanks to the numerous references over the years.  If you are struggling, imagine it as a highly clever bird painted in blue and yellow.  No help?  How about Beep Beep?  If that didn’t trigger the name, then clearly you did not watch enough cartoons as a kid.  Just in case the suspense is too high, this is a Greater Roadrunner.  That day in Henderson officially marked the first time I’ve ever seen a live one of these and to say I was elated is an understatement.  After shooting the Green-Winged Teal, a blur of brown and white caught my eye dashing across the shoreline of an adjacent pond.  Intrigued,  I immediately headed over there and tried to get a decent shot.  Let it be known that the amazing speed of these birds is confirmed.  It could flat out move making focus tracking nearly impossible.  Left, right, under brush, out of brush, to the water, back to the shore – it never seemed to stop.  To get the shots here required some high shutter speeds combined with just a smidgen of luck.  Tracking brown colored birds against a brown backdrop makes for interesting times with the Beast, but when you get it… you generally get it.

Hit the jump to read more about this runner’s friend

Continue reading One Fast Cuckoo

Goslings Lounging

Looks like our wonderful 67 degree weather day is going to transition to rain pretty soon.  Good thing I got my run in earlier.  if you recall, I’m in the midst of a Project Austin and today marked the first time on the road since three visits to Accelerated Performance.  Today was all about working on the list of things I need to change in my running form (and that list is long).  The good news is the tweaks resulted in very little pain in the hamstring – definitely a plus since that area usually flairs up during every run.  Maybe those torture deep tissue messages are going to pay off or it is simply terrified that if it makes its presence known it will get the hell gouged out of it again.  With the good news is a little bit of bad news.  Apparently these changes are engaging a different set of muscles that have been neglected due to the injury compensating.  At about mile 4 started feeling the effects and ended up backing down to only 5.5 miles today.  This wasn’t meant to be a quick journey so not concerned yet – real test will be next week to see how quick those neglected muscles are going to take before they kick in.  For now it’s just all about the rest.

Speaking of resting, that is the theme of today’s post.  Apparently my last post scared some of our readers (okay, some being ONE but she has some power over me).  Who wouldn’t want to curl up next to a badger? all fluffy for comfort and you know, NO ONE will mess with you if you are sleeping next to a BADGER (especially a Honey Badger because those are just bad-ass).  Instead I get a plea for a more pleasant looking animals.  Sigh, figured I get kudos for bringing something new and intriguing but instead I get a fear response – not unlike when your lovely wife finds a mouse in the car.  Fortunately, the badger wasn’t the only wildlife we captured that day.  Rifling through the shoot I decided on something more cute and plushy but added some contrast to it by taking it in an icky setting.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured Canada Goose goslings here at LifeIntrigued (link here) but this is probably the nastiest setting I’ve bothered taking them in.  We had just arrived at the park and was caught off guard by the crowd of visitors.  Generally there is not problem parking in the close lots, but that day we were parked way out on a back road.  On our trek to the entrance these goslings caught my eye – yes, I did say goslingS!

Hit the jump to read more about these cuties

Continue reading Goslings Lounging

A Moving Icon

For the obvious reason, February is the bane of all bloggers with a quota. Rather than take the extra time for the prep on some projects I’ve been working on, figured we’d just close out this short month with the last set of Indianapolis Zoo birds. Don’t think you are out of the woods (err the zoo) yet. There’s one post left based on some elemental mammal experimentation, but for now… let’s go with the pinks.

There is no mistaking these birds and I’m pretty sure they are universally known. They can be seen at a majority of zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and even Vegas if you look hard enough.  They have even been known to show up in the yards of unsuspecting new homeowners. In case you have your head in the sand, we’re talking about the Flamingo.  These aren’t just your everyday Flamingos either.  No sir, these are Flamingos that have been shot in harsh light.  That would be a clever way of stating these shots are not going to be making it into competition anytime soon.  I threw all the recovery I could at it, but the conditions were just not the greatest when we made our way to their little pond.  The thing about shooting Flamingos is they are relatively skinny and can be very long.  Good characteristics for a model, but this forces some creative composition decision.  You can choose to go close and draw out detail in the head by cropping down as in the image above.  Rather than just throw a decapitated head out there I kept some of the body to provide a foundation for the shot – see, I’m learning from all those composition questions I keep asking you about.  I actually like how that shot turned out – yeah, I followed the rules of thirds which is pretty common for me.  In truth it is more about giving the subject room to breath in the frame – tight crops put a virtual cage around animals which tends to grate on us wildlife photographers.

If you are feeling a little cruel, you can relax your composition a bit to provide a sense of height.  Pulling back a bit you can incorporate some of the leg structure into the shot.  Now you have more of a visualization on the tall stature of the bird, but at a cost.  You lose some detail in the face and it starts to get lost in the vastness of the surroundings.  The other downside… is it essentially whacks off the rest of the bird’s legs.  The unwritten rule is you never crop a person’s legs above the knee – trust me, it just looks wrong. Although this is not as severe, it still bothers me a bit.  I will say, having a small part of the knee helps some.

Hit the jump to read more about this pink birds … and you get a BONUS!

Continue reading A Moving Icon