On the Trail of Oregon

Ahhhh, my first day of the holiday season vacation!   Of course, this just means I swap career work items for honey do work items but it sure feels great to be able to sleep in a bit.  Knowing all the things I have to get done over this break, figured it would be prudent to get some December posts out of the way.  So, I bring you today’s featured feathered friend.
Oregon Junco - Nevada

I took this while out hiking the Red Rock Canyon in Nevada (outside of Las Vegas).  We’ve been there a couple of times now and based on the previous posts and some that are still in the hopper, I must say it has produced a surprising number of checks in the bird list – add in the marks gained from Henderson and Nevada has been very very good to me – they obviously have better wildlife than they do politicians.   For those not aware, this particular specimen comes from the Dark-Eyed Junco family.  Their long black hood is pretty distinctive in the birding arena.  The Dark-Eyed Juncos have been featured on the blog a number of times now (links here, here and here).  Because of they are relatively common (they show up in droves here every Winter).  I usually don’t get too excited about capturing them but as a rule, “never pass up a bird shot”.  Once again this principle has likely led to a new mark in the bird list.

Oregon Junco - Nevada

If you look at the specimens in the links above or live in the Midwest you are familiar with one variation of the Dark-Eyed Junco – the Slate Colored group.  They are aptly named in that they are pretty much dark gray colored from head and top feathering through to the tail. Typically they have a white underbelly with some variation in gender.  There is a White-Winged group, a Gray-Headed group and a Pink-Sided group to name a few, but none of those variations have the distinctive executioner hood.  It is this specific feature that led me to the determination that this is an Oregon group Dark-Eyed Junco.

Hit the jump to see a couple more pictures of the Junco (a different one to be specific) and learn a few facts about this little bird.

Continue reading On the Trail of Oregon

Project Chekov: Junco

It’s been all about deconstructing Xmas around here as of late.  The 13′ tree went down today along with most of the interior decorations.  Not sure which is more work, running a half marathon or hauling all the boxes up and down the stairs!  The good news for me is today’s post is pretty short.  This is mainly due to only having two pictures to show off from our featured bird of the day.  Usually, I have a number of pictures to wade through to find my favorite poses, check for crispness etc.  Not the case with this set, basically processed the entire set of pictures taken of the Dark-Eyed Junco.

We have a lot of these around the house over the Winter months so likely didn’t give them much attention while out in the field.  There are a number of different variations of this particular bird with many regional differences.  I generally do not tend to further classify these birds beyond the standard Dark-Eyed level.  This is the same approach I take to their family as a whole since they are members of the Sparrow family and those are nearly impossible to identify with any certainty.  They Summer in Canada and Winter all across the US.   The Junco is not new to the blog having been introduced twice in 2010 (link here and here).  However, this post probably has the clearest shots of them.

These birds tend to stay on or near the ground foraging for seed and insects (yes) although not sure how many insects are hanging around here in the Winter months (especially with the abundance of snow that has fallen as of late).  Where I see them the most is directly under our feeders foraging for any fallen sunflower seeds.  I always throw a little on the ground to make it easy for them – can’t remember once ever seeing them actually on the feeders themselves.  Chickadees are on the top of the list for least afraid birds around here.  They will hit the feeders as soon as get them cranked up on the pole.  Juncos are second when it comes to boldness.  Whenever I finish filling the feeders I always take about 4 steps back and see which bird is going to be the brave one of the day.  The Chickadee will try some quick test flights in to see if you react at all and then go directly for seed and then proceed to fly off into the nearby trees to eat – they never eat at the feeder.  Juncos will jump out next but forgo the reaction tests.  Juncos do make for a great seasonal Calendar.  When they arrive it is Winter time and you can tell when the Winter is over when you see the last of them at the feeders.  Guessing they flock back to Canada as soon as it’s warm enough for them – that or they just really hate to be around Hummingbirds (they take off about the same time the Hummers arrive).  Not much else to really say about these birds.  Very identifiable in the field, just keep looking near the forest floor – now getting a picture is a pain since they are always jumping around and when they do stop it’s usually in the middle of shrubs and branches making it impossible to get a clean focus.

Looks like our Polar Vortex has retreated – may have to break out the suntan oil!  See you again soon!

Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

As promised previously, I’m cranking through the remaining photo shots from last year’s vacation.  This year’s vacation is closing fast and since we are headed to a state I’ve never been, the assumption is the shutters will be snapping non-stop.  I have already picked up that region’s field guide and perusing it from time to time in order to set my wildlife checklist.  Last year almost all the animals on the list were checked off, with the exception of the Wolf and Mountain Goat.  Time is short today so I better get to this set of birds.  The first image is of a Chickadee that is fairly common both around my house and apparently out there.

I mainly added this picture because I liked how the little one was tucked inside the evergreen branches.  The field guide actually claims this is a Mountain Chickadee, but to be honest it looks exactly like the ones outside my window as I type this blog.  It does say the habitat is coniferous forests.  Based on this photo, they nailed it.  Wow, as I looked out the window to verify with a chickadee on my feeder, I spotted a raccoon holding onto a branch above my feeder and paw over paw pulling up my bird feeder over the squirrel baffle.  Please hold while I deal with this evil spawn.  …….  the problem is solved.  Geesh, it’s 5:44pm in the afternoon, they are definitely getting bolder.

The next set of photos is from a small pond we stopped at because it had a ton of creatures flying out and diving under a bridge next to the road.  They were flying so fast I couldn’t really tell what they were, so I decided to get out and try to figure it out.  The first consideration of bats were thrown out pretty quick due to the coloring, which led to some type of swallow.  Although I clipped this one, it did show the coloring pattern that led to the identification.  Nothing like trying to look through the viewer and try to get one of these bullets in your field of shot.

I was in the process of putting the lens cap back on the camera and closing up shop when all of a sudden one of the swallows fell completely out of the sky and landed on the water.  Finding this odd, I ended up taking the cap back off in order to use the zoom to get a better view of the scene.  There the bird remained motionless just floating on the water for what must have been at least 3 minutes.

The assumption was it was dead for what reason remained a mystery.  Eventually the little guy stirred a bit and began to come to life.  Slowly it started to beat the wings to build up momentum to escape the water.

Likely due to the extra weight from the wet wings, it was quite a struggle before it was able to gain flight again.  This shot is actually one of my favorites as it was taken just a split second after reaching freedom.

I am hoping it is just a shadow, but the shot actually looks like it might have left some blood where it landed.  Based on the amount of birds flying around at break neck speeds, the odds are it collided with another swallow and lost consciousness for a little bit.  It looked fine as it gained altitude, but eventually I lost it in the swirling mass so best wishes.

Please hit the jump to see the rest of the set.

Continue reading Just About a Wrap on Vacation Birds

It’s There, I Just Can’t See It

Things I am thankful for at the moment:

  • Voters in Massachusetts
  • My Chiropractors (unless  he is unable to get the feeling back into my four right toes thanks to a nasty snowboard crash a couple of weeks ago)
  • Burton product managers (just upgraded my snowboard boots and bindings to the latest advancements – can’t have any more of those crashes now can we?)
  • My parents made it down to Florida before the huge storm
  • All my blog readers out there (slather on the butter)
  • And most importantly that there are 31 days in January – and I needed every one of them to get 6 posts in this month

I am going to close out this month’s set of posts with a bird that posed a challenge for me in a couple of ways.  While out on our Yellowstone vacation, we took a short hike up a trail.  While taking in the beautiful scenery, I heard an interesting bird song coming from a set of trees.  It was a rather unique sound, but the point of origin was difficult to pinpoint.  Slowly the sound was vectored in and it slowly revealed itself.  What was this sneaky bird?  Well, it was this one:

The challenge of actually seeing this bird was matched by the difficulties in actually identifying it in my multiple bird books.  Turns out there are at least 6 variations of this Junco with varying coloring contrasts.  Some have a darker head, some have a larger brown spot on their back.  To be honest, at the time it looked like a shrunken robin without the bright orange belly.  Based on the picture above, it is obvious he had no trouble locating me.

This shot gives a better perspective of the side and belly feathers.  The belly t is a dull orange which lead to the robin reference.  From a photo perspective, I do like how these close up shots came out.  The coloring of the bird coordinated well with the bark of the back trees and the wisps of greenery give a nice depth perspective.  Here is another one that I probably like the best of all of them.  To his credit, even though I was moving around to get different angles he did not get concerned enough to seek safety in the deeper brush.

I hate the fact I have to reduce and compress the images for this website.  The full size raws look significantly better than the smaller versions used for the blog posts.  I might actually look into leveraging a photo service website to use as a repository for the larger images.  That way I could provide links to the full versions if you wanted to see those.

Unlike our friend the Mountain Bluebird the Junco blends in quite nicely with their habitat.  Based on the various pictures of the 6+ variations they all look like the colorings would hide it nicely among the limbs and brush common in the forest.  To demonstrate this, here are a couple of examples consisting of full scenes (reduced for space).  Try your hand at Where’s Waldo.

Now that you know what you are looking for it makes it a tad easier compared my struggle trying pinpoint the source of the chirp.  In case you did have some problems, here is a zoom of it:

I pulled a slight switcharoo on you.  This is actually one of the other variations that has a slightly lighter brown patch on the back.  How about another try:

It’s there, trust me.

Let’s hope they don’t figure out how to use that stealth trait against us. They would probably team up with the Ravens and wreak considerable havoc.  I recommend not making them angry!

Whew, that was a close one.  Wiping the sweat from my brow, I close out the 6th and final post of the month.