Bird brained stories!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Bird in groups, photograph alone

This weekend is the annual Mississippi Flyway Birding Festival. Other commitments made it impossible for me to participate in the seminars and social events, but I did get up early to meet about 30 birders gathered at the entrance to the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge for an "intermediate/advanced" trip. The last time I'd been here, I was all alone, on cross country skis, and the basic shape of the land was the same, but it looked very different.

Greeting us at our gathering spot was a nice view of an Orchard Oriole. As we moved to split up into two groups, right across from the parking lot we could hear the hiccup of a Henslow's Sparrow. After searching in the sand prairie grasses, he was spotted and scoped, and everyone enjoyed a good look at him throwing his head back, mouth open wide in that wheezy little song of his. Nearby was a Grasshopper Sparrow. Sparrow heaven.

We moved a little further down the road to find the Clay Colored Sparrows, and though we could hear them seemingly at our feet, they were hard to spot. It would be at least two more stops before we got a positive id on one.

Though the morning started out with that beautiful light, it wasn't long before dark skies and an impending cold front threatened to move in. We pressed on. Bald eagles sitting on nest were clearly visible, though it didn't appear that there were any young ones there.

One of the members of our group wanted to see a Red-Headed Woodpecker, which would be a lifer for her. In fact, she had coffee and rhubarb cake in her car for celebration if she saw it, so our eyes were peeled. Anytime someone spotted a woodpecker, all eyes would search. There was one that might have been, and the woman who spotted it didn't want to commit. Laughing, I said, "Just say it's a RedHead!" with everyone laughing in agreement.

As we worked our way through the varied habitat of the refuge, various birds were spotted and tallied. American White Pelicans soared overhead, looking like small bomber squadrons of brilliant white reflecting in the sun. All types of swallow native to our area could be seen at once soaring over the river, since it was too cold to find insects anywhere else! A member of our group spotted a Western Grebe from the refuge observation deck, and scoping it out for all to see, we all had a new life bird, this one far out of its normal range. That catch earned Jim, the spotter, a giant sized Snickers bar for best bird!

I remember reading once, perhaps in the bird photography book by Arthur Morris, that bird spotting is best done in groups, with many pairs of eyes searching for the greatest number of birds, but that photography is a solo sport. I must agree with this observation. This morning, there were any number of times, were I out there alone, I'd have been stopping and waiting out birds, like the Eastern Meadowlark perched high in the grass with the morning sun. Since I was traveling in a group, I couldn't do that. Hence, no nice photos today. Still, I had three new life birds, the Henslow's Sparrow, the Orchard Oriole and the Western Grebe. This was my morning to be sociable and learn from all of the collective experience of those in my group. Next time, armed with such knowledge, I can go it alone with camera in hand, crawling through the grass or thickets. Birding is a wonderful activity in this way, allowing a time and place for both my extrovert self and introvert self to play.

Birds seen in this four hour hike included--

Grasshopper Sparrow Clay Colored Sparrow Henslow's Sparrow Field Sparrow Song Sparrow
Yellow Rumped Warbler Palm Warbler Yellow Warbler Northern Waterthrush
Orchard Oriole Northern Oriole Eastern Meadowlark
Brown Headed Cowbird Red Winged Blackbird
Yellow bellied Sapsucker Downy Woodpecker White Breasted Nuthatch
Bank Swallow Cliff Swallow Barn Swallow Tree Swallow Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
Chimney Swift Belted Kingfisher
Bald Eagle Red Tailed Hawk
Black Tern Forsters Tern Western Grebe Common Loon Cormorant Great Blue Heron
Sandhill Crane American White Pelican
Goldfinch Blue Grey Gnatcatcher Warbling Vireo Great Crested Flycatcher
Brown Thrasher American Robin Eastern Kingbird Phoebe
Yellow Billed Cuckoo (heard only) Catbird Eastern Bluebird


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