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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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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Birding Your 5 Mile Radius

I love looking at birds. I love getting outside, going for a walk, spying that tiny ball of feathers nearly invisible in the bushes or hiding in the grasses. On a really good day, I even have the thrill of adding a new species to my life list. But now that I’ve been birding for 16 years, I find myself looking for an additional challenge.

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Social Distanced Birding

Aiken Birders_ClearSpringRanch-COS-CO_LAH_0549

The medical experts are telling us to keep our social distance. No hugs. No handshakes. No large gatherings. Events are cancelled. In many places, schools, churches, and other large venues are closed. We’re stuck at home staring at the TV—or are we? We may need to keep our distance from other people, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out. We just have to choose places where we’re not in a crowd. Continue reading “Social Distanced Birding”

A Bird by Any other Name…

Green-winged Teal_ColusaNWR-CA_LAH_1469
Green-winged Teal, California

I was walking along a lake, part of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in New Delhi, India, when I spied a familiar duck. Could that be a Green-winged Teal? But after looking through my field guide, I discovered that Green-winged Teal wasn’t one of the options. There was, however, an illustration of a Common Teal that looked similar, so I jotted down the name and, for insurance, snapped a photo of the bird:

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Birding in Winter

Common Merganser_Winter Bird Count_FCNC-CO_LAH_2471-001

I have a tendency to be a fair-weather birder. Give me warm, sunny days, balmy breezes, and sparkling blue ponds and lakes. Trees are full of leaves, bugs, and birds. With all the summer migrants in town, trip lists run long. Singing males are easier to spot, and the rituals of mating and raising young, offering additional opportunities for the wildlife photographer.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate winter birding. Temperatures dip below freezing and it may snow. Roads can be treacherous, providing unwanted excitement just getting to the birding destination. Many birds have heeded to call to migrate, and those left behind tend to be drab, matching the winter landscape. And then there’s the silence. I hear no songs, not even much chirping. Yes, there are birds out there, but where?

And yet…

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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…

Red-tailed Hawk_ElPasoCo_LAH_9836r

I thumbed through the field guide. Let’s see… a Red-tailed Hawk is 19 inches, head to tail, with a wingspan of 49 inches. A Rough-legged Hawk is a couple of inches longer, 21 inches tall with a 53 inch wingspan. And a Ferruginous Hawk is larger still, 23 inches tall and 56 inches across.  Or, it could be a Northern Harrier, checking in at 18 inches by 43 inches. So which hawk was it sitting on that pole, silhouetted against the sky? I was glad that there were only a few real options in eastern Colorado at this time of year.  I flipped the page to a Golden Eagle, 30 inches in height, wingspan of 79 inches. No, surely I’d be able to tell if the bird was that large! It had to be a hawk.

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Enigmatic Empids

ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_8746

It was a fruitful trip out to Chico Basin Ranch, east of Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and one of the best birding spots in the country. With fall migration in full swing, we ticked off well over 50 birds, including a Common Nighthawk, which I tend to miss as they match the branch they’re sitting on, and both Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos—good birds for Colorado. There’s nothing like birding with a very experienced guide, and John Drummond definitely qualifies. I learn so much when he leads a trip.

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