Grand Junction Audubon Society birders

Follow local birders in pursuit of their life lists. For more visit audubongv.org.

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MASTER PISH THEATER (Spring Bird Walks Anyone?)

By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

     I stole the title of this post from a competition once held at a convention of the Colorado Field Ornithologists (cfobirds.org). Yes, it was a “pishing contest.” You can read into that anything you want.


    The truth is, birders do “pish.” I do it by pursing my lips together and blowing out gently giving a psshhhh sound. Others, by moving their tongue slightly, create a sound like air escaping a balloon—ppsssss. It is done repetitively as in psshhhh, psshhhh, psshhhh.  We do this because some birds are curious about who or what would make such a silly sound and either pop into view or approach the pisher. An example is the mountain chickadee. I was walking on a trail a few days ago and heard birds chirping high in some spruce trees. Not seeing them and not having binoculars, I resorted to pishing, and out popped a couple of mountain chickadees. (Note, these are closely related, but not the same species as the more familiar black-capped chickadee:http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/leaders-of-the-pack).
 

PHOTO BY JACKSON TRAPPETT

 

Chickadees, if it is not nesting season, are often curious and will fly quite close.

Another reliable “pishee” is the song sparrow. The latter live in deep thickets along streams, but they will reliably pop up when pished. 

 PHOTO BY JACKSON TRAPPETT

    It is important that we not overlook the matter of pishing etiquette. Let’s say you are a beginning birder. Maybe you have come to one of Grand Valley Audubon Society’s spring bird walks. (Keep an eye on audubongv.org and the Grand Valley Audubon Society Facebook page because times and locations will vary.). So, there you are, among a group of birders, and you are asking yourself. “Should I pish?” The answer is “No.” Pishing is left for leaders. Too many people making sounds will drive birds away not attract them. Besides, a number of birds are not attracted to pishing and might be frightened if you don’t know what you are pishing for.

     Fortunately, few beginning birders would be tempted to “pish.” There really isn’t much more to birding etiquette besides listening to your leader, being quiet, and not wearing bright or noisy clothing. An excellent reference on the subject is “Good Birders Don’t Wear White: 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders.” But, better than reading the book (which is mostly common sense), is going birding.

    Join one of Grand Valley Audubon’s Spring Bird Walks--every Wednesday and Saturday beginning March 29 at 8AM at the Connected Lakes Entrance Kiosk. A Parks Pass is needed.  The April 2 walk will meet at 9AM at the beginning of the Audubon Trail in the parking lot near Albertson's.   Walks are free to everyone. There will be "loaner" binoculars for beginners and the leader will go over a checklist of birds seen following the walk.  Expect the walk to take 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  . Follow the GVAS Facebook page, the website (audubongv.org) or send an email to audubongv@gmail.com to find out where to go and when to meet for the other walks. You will learn a lot and have an enjoyable beginning to your day.  This post was provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. To ask questions or suggest blog topics, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com).
 

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MEXICAN HAIKU

By Nic.Korte
Friday, March 7, 2014

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dry Leaves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Flycatcher, Flammulated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chachalacas Chuckling


     While on the staff at the University of Arizona, too many years ago, I worked for a major professor who was nearing retirement. In his spare time, he wrote Haiku about the Sonoran Desert. (Haiku is a form of poetry favored by the Japanese http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku ) He even published a book (Roadrunner: American Haiku of the Desert Southwest). I haven’t written poetry since my lovesick adolescence but a few weeks ago, I was in Jalisco, Mexico chasing a flammulated flycatcher in a dry forest. In the background, chachalacas were calling back and forth.

     Haiku that works, instantly puts me in a “place.” It can be a physical place or a very specific state of mind. What is remarkable is how the transformation can occur with such an economy of words.


     My attempt at haiku, except for colleagues who accompanied me to Jalisco, probably needs some explanation. First, it helps explain why I am a birder. My hobby can take me to exotic places and sights. This trip, a fund-raiser for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (www.rmbo.org), was designed to find as many endemics (birds found nowhere else in the world) as possible. Our trip leaders were making a valiant effort to give everyone a look at an elusive flammulated flycatcher. The bird was located by its distinctive call, but it is somewhat nondescript and likes to perch in the understory. That was the problem. We would see it move, find it, not get a good look, hunt for it, find it again, lose it. This went on for nearly an hour until all of us had sufficient, if not completely satisfying, views. Sneaking around in the brush also introduced a few chiggers —and in my case—a tick—which latched on several hours later. (The bite still itches.) But, it was worth it to see a new species—a species that can only be seen by journeying to this specific area in Western Mexico.

     While we searched for the flycatcher, chachalacas were calling. 

     There are 15 species of chachalaca. The Plain Chachalaca, whose range includes South Texas, has a call that sounds to some like CHA-cha-LA-ca----Cha-cha-La-ca. The variety I was listening to, the West Mexican Chachalaca (a West-Mexican Endemic), makes a different sound—not exactly like a turkey’s gobble, not exactly like quail chattering-- more of a rolling chuckle. That’s what inspired my haiku.


     While we hunted for endemics, most of the birds we saw were Neotropical migrants such as this McGillivray’s warbler who may spend next summer in an aspen grove on Grand Mesa.

     Here we compare the 2nd and 3rd smallest birds in the world. The one with the blue gorget (2nd smallest) is a Bumblebee Hummingbird—a West Mexican endemic.

     The other is a Calliope Hummingbird--an uncommon but regular Neotropical migrant in the Grand Valley.  One little guy stays home; the other is the smallest, long-distance avian migrant in the world. 

    Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) and their colleagues in Mexico are doing some important work. Their mist netting and banding program is a small part of their efforts to examine the life histories of species such as these.  Clearly, protecting the habitat of Mexican Endemics also protects "our" migrants.  You can learn about and support RMBO's activities through their website (www.rmbo.org). Maybe you can go to Mexico next year and see a flammulated flycatcher while the chachalacas chuckle. This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook.



 

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EVEN ED ABBEY COULD IDENTIFY A WAXWING

By Nic.Korte
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Edward Abbey famously wrote that the only birds he could identify were pigeons, buzzards, and fried chicken. I suspect, however, he could identify Cedar Waxwings. According to one source, Cedar Waxwings are a shiny mixture of “brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant-red wax droplets on the wing feathers.

Most winters, our backyard has flocks of cedar waxwings feeding on the red berries of our two Hawthorn trees. Their feeding habits are interesting. One of our Hawthorns is ~25 ft. tall and the other half that height. The waxwings begin at the top of the tallest tree and strip all the berries until they reach the height of the smaller tree. They also omit the branches that brush against our bedroom window. But, when only those are left, they will strip the smaller tree and finish off the berries outside our window—often within two feet of someone looking from the inside. It is a treat to see such a beautiful bird so close.

      Last week, I counted 68 in the same tree. They flutter like so many butterflies from the fruit trees, to tall trees nearby if something scares them. I also noticed them flying en masse to the roof of our house. I realized there is a shady corner providing melting snow for an easy drink. So, they have a perfect triangle of food, water, and cover—the three things a bird needs to thrive.
      As my photos show, waxwing plumage appears soft and silky. But note the tips to the wing feathers and tail.

     These tips appeared to early observers as sealing wax, hence the common name of waxwing. Cedar waxwings nest nearby in mid-elevation riparian areas. In late spring and early summer, when native fruits are ripening, look for them in wet areas with tall trees at elevations of 6000-8000 feet or so. Their diet is mostly fruit, but later in the summer, I often see them perched on high dead limbs from which they sally into the air to feed on flying insects.
     During courtship, waxwings are known to pass berries back and forth. I vividly recall, as a small boy, seeing several sitting on a wire passing a berry from one to the next. Seeing such beautiful and apparently polite behavior was an early inspiration for my interest in birds.


    My photos are misleading because Cedar Waxwings are tiny—as I’m sadly reminded most years as one or more crash into one of our windows trying to escape a marauding hawk. They are only 7 inches long. Their crest, relatively long tail, and pointed wings give the appearance of a larger and more robust bird. They actually weigh less than the common sparrows and finches.
    A characteristic of waxwings is their flocking and wandering behavior. Frequently, I will be watching 20 or more in my tree and suddenly, they are gone—spooked by a loud sound, a gust of wind, or maybe a hawk who would dine on them. The flocks wander erratically depending, apparently, on where they happen to find food, and, perhaps, on the weather. Such behavior is termed "irruptive," a fancy way of saying, "now you see them, now you don't."   This is typified by what I see in my yard. Perhaps half the time, they find my trees early and strip every berry by mid-December. One year in four, they show up late, as this year—and the other year in four, I don’t see them at all. So, watch for a lot of activity in any berry-laded bushes still remaining in the valley.  You may see one of North America's most beautiful birds.
To keep up with the activities of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to audubongv@gmail.com
 

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LET’S GO TO TUMACANBAC!

By Nic.Korte
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sorry, this isn’t an invitation to travel somewhere exotic and warm. It’s an invitation to take a February weekend day and drive or ride “to Mack and back” searching for raptors. The combination of cold and winter’s length usually combine to give the Grand Valley its highest population of birds-of-prey in mid-to-late February.
Tumacanbac has long been Grand Valley Audubon’s most popular field trip so it is run on four days to keep groups relatively small. Information for signing up is at the bottom of this post.


The first Tumacanbac trip occurred in the 1980’s. Over the years 19 species of birds-of-prey have been seen. (Photo by Jackson Trappett) 

These include falcons, owls, eagles, and hawks such as this red-tailed hawk.

Once, participants witnessed a “kill.” A prairie falcon was being viewed when it suddenly dove, killed, and devoured a starling. We never know what we’ll find, but it is always interesting.

(Prairie falcon photo by Jackson Trappett)  

You don’t need fancy optics to enjoy this trip. There will be multiple scopes available and the birds often sit still for long periods. There are also loaner binoculars if you like. Here are the dates and trip leaders. Please register with a trip leader to keep numbers reasonable and so participants can be spread out among the trips if necessary.  Phone numbers and trip leaders are as follows. You can also send an email to audubongv@gmail.com to register for the trip of your choice. 
    February 15th Peter Robinson 250-0409
    February 16th Nic Korte 242 3779
    February 23rd Mike Henwood 720 840 5070 
    February 24th Bob Moston 242 9443 
Meet at BLM OFFICE at H Road and Horizon Drive at 9AM. Return about 3PM. Bring lunch, water, snack and binoculars. This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at www.audubongv.webs.com and “like” us on Facebook.
 

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WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU HEAR SOMEONE YELL, “GREAT TITS!”?

By Nic.Korte
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Having searched for birds in Europe, my second thought, at least, is that my birding partner has just spied a pair of common European songbirds. My European field guide says great tits are a “frequent visitor to bird tables and seed-dispensers…at times, plain audacious, may take seed from an outstretched hand.” Now we are talking! “Audacious, great tits!”

Sure, I thought up this slightly salacious title to grab your interest, but there are some important points.

Many bird names have little to do with describing the bird. Second, many of our birds’ names have an Old-World origin. One of the best examples is the American Robin. Most of us can quickly picture a robin in our mind, but go to Europe and the picture is different. The European Robin is small and brownish with a rusty-red bib. It isn't even in the same family as the American Robin.  Unfortunately, our robin reminded some early settlers of the European Robin and the misnomer soon followed. Our robin is in a family known as thrushes. A tropical close-cousin that sneaks into South Texas is called a clay-colored thrush—which is the same size and shape as our robin and is the color of a brown clay. I prefer that sort of name because it tells me a lot about the bird, in this case, color and family.

Ok, that was boring. Let’s get back to tits. My bird book of Europe lists twelve kinds including blue ones. Picture those!

One I’ve missed is the Eurasian Penduline Tit. I need to get back over there and search for that one. But, the burning question remains. Do we have tits in the US? Not exactly, although we have some closely related birds with similar names. A favorite of many wildlife watchers is the Common Bushtit.

Although I took this picture in chaparral in California, these nondescript little guys are often encountered in noisy flocks in the Grand Valley in the winter and in the PJs and aspens—often near streams—throughout the year. They often permit a very close approach as they call back and forth. This bird is actually quite common but is often overlooked because it has so few field marks. If you encounter a flock of squeaking LGBs (little gray birds) when you are out walking the river trail, it is probably these guys. Take some time with them. They often permit a very close approach.

A stranger name is the titmouse. There are five North American species and, yes, the plural is titmice. I can’t imagine what a non-birder would conjure up in their minds if they saw that word out-of-context. What the heck are titmice? Mice that live in… Never mind!

Our local representative is the Juniper Titmouse. This bird is also mostly gray, but local photographer Jackson Trappett’s photo shows it has a handsome crest. Also, as the name suggests, it is an inhabitant of our pinyon-juniper (P-J) forests.



During the summer, juniper titmice eat mostly insects, but they eat a lot of seeds in the winter. If you live near the Colorado National Monument, you may find them at your bird feeder. Common bushtits and juniper titmice are well-adapted to toughing out our cold winters and hot summers.  Indeed, we always find a few dozen on our Christmas counts—both in the Grand Valley and on the slopes of Grand Mesa. So, when you are out taking a walk and you see some little gray birds, don’t just dismiss them as LBGs. Enjoy a close look at these adaptable and distinctive year-around residents of the Grand Valley.

To keep up with the activities (such as raptor-viewing field trips February 15/16 and 22/23) of Grand Valley Audubon Society, check out our webpage at www.audubongv.webs.com and “like” us on Facebook. Please send any questions to audubongv@gmail.com. Don't forget the GVAS monthly program: 7PM 3rd Monday of the month, at 1st Presbyterian Church, corner of Cortland and 27 1/2 road. 
 

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