Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Is Birding Easy or Hard?

Over on the ABA blog there's an article about how the longer you do birding, the harder it gets. I get what this article is talking about. Nothing drives me nuttier than a bird that deviates just a little bit from the norm.

The most memorable experience I've had misidentifying a bird (so far) happened while in High School. In December, shortly before Christmas break of my Junior year, I found a dead Swift on campus. I don't know how many thousands of Chimney swifts I'd seen at this time, but I knew I had something different in my hand. The Peterson field guide showed that a field mark for the Vaux Swift as a white throat, and in my hand I held a swift with a VERY WHITE THROAT. The guide even said they'd been spotted in Louisiana before, so I even thought that I had a good case for a vagrant swift. When I considered what I thought I had, I also had to consider, the bird was dead. It would never fly again. It didn't die because it was a pest, or because somebody wanted or needed to eat it. It struck a window. There's a lesson in there for another time.

 I turned to the local birding expert, one of my teachers, to help me confirm the id. Dr. Hall has been involved in the Louisiana breeding bird census in the past, and has lead birding field trips around the area during what my high school called "special projects week". Our excitement bubbled, but he did give one word of caution. This would not just be highly unusual, this would be "third bird of its kind" in the state unusual. Our identification would have to be exact!

All I had was the Peterson, but he had something more, and after cross checking references, noting the fact that chimney swifts were definitely heard overhead at the same time this dead bird was discovered, Dr Hall broke the bad news to me. This was a Chimney swift. Yes, it had a whiter throat than normal, but it was still within acceptable variation. Also, the odds of only one particular kind of swift out of a whole flock of another kind of swift, striking a window and turning up dead were high.

Id redacted, the bird was still dead.

I still look for Vaux's swifts to fly by every now and again though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Short Field Trip

I asked my oldest if she would like to go do something special with me as a mini-celebration for making the honor roll this nine weeks, and to my surprise, she wanted to go to Circle B Bar Reservation to look at birds. Then she wanted to go to Lake Hollingsworth to watch birds, then to Lake Morton. Then she thought about it for a second, and settled on going to Circle B. I'm not going to complain about her indecisiveness, I'm just glad she wants to go watch birds!

The trip was easy enough, we started out by looking straight up and noticing both black and turkey vultures circling off to the . We had especially good looks at the black vultures' white patches toward the ends of the wing. Then we began walking along the trail/maintenance road to Heron Hideout. Along this trail, we heard birds, and tried to find them, but never saw them. Once we got to Heron Hideout, we looked up again, and found lots of different birds! We spent some time looking at flying Ospreys, taking note of their wing patches. We also found many of the herons and egrets we saw, as well as some Ibises.
On a bald cypress, two Bald Eagles rested in the shade. I was especially proud of Katie, because the second bird wasn't very visible, but she knew it was a Bald Eagle because of "It's overall brown body and white tail" sure field marks that looked exactly like bird perched next to it that was in full view!
After making a right onto marsh rabbit run, we walked a little ways, and a green heron flew out of the marsh on our left, and gave us a good look over as it flew about at our eye level, between us. Not long after we turned around, and walked back to the car, pausing a few moments to look at a double crested cormorant and anhinga perched in another bald cypress. As we got done walking Heron Hideout, something called in the brush behind, best we could figure, it was a bobcat. Not a bad end to a short trip!

Next time we'll take more pictures, we did keep an official list of birds, here it is:

Official List:

21 Species.

Wood Stork
Double-crested Cormorant
American White Pelican
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Green Heron
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Common Gallinule
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird