Fall Frustrations

While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.

But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!

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Where’s the Bird?

Birds are sometimes amazing at disguising themselves, but we birders can rise to the challenge and spot them anyway. Just for fun, I think it’s time for a little quiz. No, not an ID quiz—this one is simply “Can you find the bird?”

Easy, right? Here we go…

White-tailed Ptarmigan female_RMNP-CO_LAH_9130
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

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ID-ing Tan Shorebirds

Western Sandpipers_ShorelinePark-MtnView-CA_LAH_8921

We’re gearing up for a long-awaited road trip to Washington state. I can’t wait to see the grandkids (and their parents) and, since we’re driving, of course I can’t pass up the opportunity to bird somewhere that isn’t home.

We had wanted to go this past spring, but we all know how that turned out. I don’t often get the opportunity to bird the coasts, so I was eager to finally see shorebirds heading north in their easy-to-ID breeding plumage. Now, all those birds have morphed into migrants heading the other way in drab white and tan. Still, we’ve included several days at wildlife refuges known for vast numbers of migrating sandpipers, and in the meantime, I’m brushing up on my sandpiper ID skills.

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Birding the Summer Prairie

Western Kingbird_SE-EPC-CO_LAH_5308-001

There’s a rhythm to birding in Colorado. At this time of year, many birders head to the mountains for the cooler temperatures and gorgeous scenery. Seasonal campgrounds and picnic spots that are inaccessible during the winter are currently full of wildflowers and nesting alpine birds, not to mention people hiking, fishing, or simply hanging around relaxing. While I love seeing people out enjoying nature, at times, the more popular spots get too crowded.

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AOU Updates, 2020 Edition

 

Northwestern Crow with dead fish_FedWayWA_20090920_LAH_0904

We’re approaching mid-summer, the time that nestlings fledge, birders wilt, and ornithologists announce updates to lists of North American birds. As is common in these days of DNA analysis, most of the changes involve taxonomic reordering and changes in genus. That’s fascinating for those interested in taxonomy, but for most birders, it’s the lumps and splits that claim our attention. When species are lumped, we stand to lose a lifer. When subspecies are split into two or more full species, we can celebrate a longer list. There are three changes this year that will affect our North American life list totals.

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Feeding the Kids

If spring brings mating displays and nest building, then summer is sure to be filled with baby birds. Lately, everywhere I look I see frazzled parents bringing food to their ravenous offspring. No sooner have they stuffed the moth or grasshopper or beetle or dragonfly down that bottomless gullet than they’re off looking for the next morsel.

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ID-ing Baby Birds

 

American Coot

Summer is just around the corner and with the warmer weather comes a new birding challenge—and a photographer’s dream—baby birds. As a photographer, I’m delighted to document the new generation. Who can resist this adorable American Coot begging for food, or a newly-hatched plover wobbling on long, spindly legs?

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