Tuesday, March 12, 2019

March 11, 2019

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) stealing fish from
Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis)

Today I got another chance to check out the Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at Milford Lake. I was surprised at first to see the eagles just sitting on the ice among a flock of Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis), mostly because I couldn't believe that the gulls were brave enough to share the ice with such a predator. Then I realized what was going on. The gulls would catch a fish and were able to eat on it for a little while, but then the Bald Eagles would come over and take the fish as their own. Another behavior that I had read about but never seen in eagles.

Thieving is a common way for Bald Eagles to obtain their food. Eagles have even been known to harass other raptors while they are hunting until they drop their catch. This takes away from the majesty of these wonderful birds a little bit, but everyone has to eat somehow.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

March 10, 2019

Today I recorded my first ever counts of Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). My life list now totals 195, only five away from my goal of 200 species before the end of the semester. I ended up seeing the two more common goose species in Kansas as well, the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) and the Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens).

As I was walking back to the car a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) caught my attention. I was trying to see the junco when I heard a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) chipping. The junco had become quiet so I thought I would try to find the warbler. Just when I was coming through the trees and still looking for the warbler, I noticed a raptor soaring out of the corner of my eye. I pulled up my binoculars to see what it was, first thinking that it was one of the two Red-tailed Hawks that I had seen earlier.

I was hoping to get some really close views of one of these Red-tails, but this raptor turned out to be a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). I haven't been seeing many eagles at this particular spot this winter so it was nice to see one again.

I wanted to check one more area of the park before I left so I headed down the hill towards the boat ramps. Just as I got to the bottom near where I wanted to sit and watch for waterfowl, I noticed some ducks lift off the river and fly over me. These birds were Northern Pintails (Anas acuta). I don't usually see more than a couple of this species at a time, but there was a group of five and a group of four today. They are one of the most beautiful waterfowl species in my opinion.

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Sidenote: The Back Porch Birding podcast now has the first two episodes available. We can be found on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or at backporchbirdingpodcast.com. Also, I have finally created a logo for the Journals of a Naturalist blog, but I'm asking for your help to choose the color. Head over to my Twitter (@AustinRoe12) to cast your vote for the best of the four colors. Lastly, I am making a new website for this blog. Not sure when it will be active yet, but I will keep you all updated. Be ready for a new look.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

March 2, 2019

Photo by Cole Allen

I want to preface this post by mentioning that there will be some graphic images near the end, so please proceed with caution. This post is also going to be much longer than usual.

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Today I went birding at Milford Lake with a friend that works on the Konza Prairie with me. We weren't sure how the day was going to go but armed with our binoculars and cameras, we headed out to experience nature.

The day started a little slow with only one Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), one American Robin (Turdus migratorius), and a few American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). We found a wildlife viewing blind hidden in a treeline of Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) where we viewed these species and attempted to take a few photos, but the birds just weren't feeling this area.

After deciding to leave, we began walking down Eagle Ridge Trail. We kept trying to get some pictures of perched Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus), but the little guys just move too fast. As we continued down the trail, we noticed a large black bird soaring in the distance. When we got our binoculars on the form, we quickly realized that it was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and it was holding onto something.

We watched the Bald Eagle for a little while and noticed that instead of just one, there were four, three of which were juveniles. The mature one, with the presumed fish in its clutches, started to gain some elevation to get away from the juveniles when it dropped whatever it was holding onto. The juveniles quickly dove for the dropped food. I had heard of this behavior in eagles before but had never observed it for myself.

Photo by Cole Allen. Juvenile Bald Eagle.

Soon, we found another blind that we thought we would check out. While walking to it an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) caught our attention. We tried to find it to get some photos, but there's a reason that this particular one hadn't been captured by Coyotes (Canis latrans) yet. Between camouflage and speed, we just couldn't quite capture him.

As we got closer to the blind, we noticed a few Black-capped Chickadees in the Cedars again, but this time they seemed to be posing for us. They were perching and sitting and in perfect light. We thought that we had gotten some really good photos, but upon closer inspection saw that they were just a bit blurry.

We finally got to the blind and opened it up. The wind had just begun blowing and it was coming in the blind, directly in our faces. So we just looked at the pictures we had taken up to this point, closed up the blind, and moved on.

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Further down the trail, we found ourselves in a more wooded area. Here we were hearing Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) and a Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor). We just couldn't seem to find the Tufted Titmouse, but the Juncos came out and perched in some trees for us. They didn't stay for very long.

Photo by Cole Allen. Dark-eyed Junco.

As we searched the area for more birds, we found a dead Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) on the ground (pictures posted at the end). We had to go take a look because it's not very often that you get the chance to be so close to such an amazing bird. Something had been eating on the body of this hawk, but we couldn't determine what. We also attempted to figure out what had killed this beautiful bird. the best that we could come up with was a Bald Eagle or an owl, either way, this kill seemed to be fairly fresh.

We snapped a few pictures of the interesting details that aren't normally seen so close and were about to move on when an American Robin caught our attention. Cole had told me not long before that he had never seen a Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) and I figured that this might be his chance. We searched for waxwings among the robins, but couldn't see any. We were turning to leave when we flushed a few waxwings from a nearby treetop. We had just missed them.

I tried to take a look at them anyway and noticed a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) in the tree where the Cedar Waxwings had just been. I pointed it out to Cole and he began snapping pictures. This was just one of many butter butts that we would see today. I later found out that Cole had also never seen Yellow-rumps before, so at least he got to see one new species.

Photo by Cole Allen. Yellow-rumped Warbler.
We got to what would be the end of the trail for us today when we spotted a mixed flock of sparrows. Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows (Spizelloides arborea) were perched in a bush and foraging on the ground ahead of us. I hate to disturb the little birds when they are so peaceful and being so cooperative for photos, so we decided to head back to our cars, taking the road this time.

Photo by Cole Allen. Mixed flock of Sparrows.

On our way back we attempted to be a little artsy with our photography and snapped a few landscape photos. One of these photos is at the beginning of this post. The other is one of my favorite of the day.

Photo by Cole Allen.

Before going back to our vehicles, we decided to take another trail where I had seen Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) the year before. We came around a corner and I saw some movement through the trees. At first, I thought it was just someone with their dog, but then we saw more of them. A group of about five Coyotes was crossing the trail just ahead of us. We attempted to find them and get some photos, but the best we could do was some tracks.

Photo by Cole Allen. Coyote track.

We didn't find any sapsuckers or waxwings, but we did decide to take our vehicles down to the lake to try and see some waterfowl. There we saw some ducks, but they were too far away for us to tell what species they were. There were at least seven Bald Eagles on the ice and circling above our heads, but the highlight had to be the hundreds, if not thousands, of Snow Geese flying in their giant group.

Photos by Cole Allen. Snow Geese.
This brought an end to a great birding day. I'm so glad that Cole came out to join me and share the experience. It may not have been such a great birding day if he hadn't come along.

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More notable pictures follow.

Photo by Cole Allen. Red-tailed Hawk soaring.

Foot of the dead Red-tailed Hawk.

The hooked bill of a Red-tailed Hawk used to rip up prey.

Red-tailed Hawk tail feather.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

February 19, 2019

I used to think that American Robins (Turdus migratorius) migrated for the winter. Just a couple of years ago I found out that they just move into more wooded areas and gather in large flocks. They become harder to spot when they cluster like this because their camouflage helps them to hide among the treetops and in the dark places on the ground. They don't sing in the winter which can also make them hard to spot. If you don't know they are in the area then how are you supposed to look for them?

Mixed into the flock of Robins was a group of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). I often hear this species but never find the birds making the sound. Their song can easily be overlooked because of how subtle it is. I wasn't surprised to find them mixed in with a flock of American Robins. Both species eat a lot of the same things and utilize similar habitats, especially in the winter.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

February 17, 2019

This month can't seem to decide whether it wants to be spring or winter. One day it's warm and in the fifties, the next it's freezing and we're getting four inches of snow. The birds also seem to be caught in the in-between of seasons as well with the activity seeming to slow down a bit as the winter species prepare to migrate back to their breeding grounds. This American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea) was in a mixed flock of sparrows foraging along a small embankment. It wasn't paying much attention to me as I got within what I considered a good distance and began snapping shots. Other species included Dark-eyed Junco's (Junco hyemalis) and Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla). The Field Sparrow is very similar in looks, differing slightly in the coloration of the head and with a fully pink bill instead of the bicolored (pink and black) of the Tree Sparrow. This just points out how important it is to stop and really look at the birds before reporting because there are many similar species out there with very subtle differences.

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Side note: I will soon be co-hosting a podcast with Tim Harris (@timharrisphotog on Twitter) called Back Porch Birding. We will discuss our weekly birding checklists, identification tips, fun avian science, and some quick hacks to enhance your birding experience.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

January 27, 2019

Proof that I can photograph more than just birds. This Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) must have been frightened by my approach and began climbing a tree to hide. While it was making a get-away, it was making a lot of noise and making me second guess whether I should take the path that I was on. I then remembered that there isn't really anything in Kansas that I should be afraid of (bears and/or mountain lions) so I trudged on and found this little guy. Of course, I had to take a ton of pictures. This is the first Virginia Opossum that I have ever experienced in the wild. I usually only see them in town near dumpsters. I began to feel that I was causing unnecessary stress by being in the area, so I continued my hike and allowed him to go about his day.

Virginia Opossums are the only naturally occurring marsupial in North America and have the most teeth (50) of any mammal in Kansas. They are one of my favorite animals. Although they have a reputation for being dirty animals, they are immune to rabies and Lyme's disease, with ticks being a good portion of their diet. Their fur is really soft and their tail is scaly and mostly hairless.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

January 26, 2018

The Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) was the only thing giving good looks today. The sun has finally come out these last few days and today was even a warm one. Ice was remelting on the lake again and the fish seemed to be enjoying it. I was a bit surprised to not see the Belted Kingfisher today. Weather like this gets me excited for spring although it is still a while before the threat of snow will be completely gone.

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Side-note: I will be attending the Kansas Natural Resources Conference in Manhattan, Kansas this year. This will be my first time attending and I am very excited. Dylan Smith is giving a presentation on his drought project from this past summer that I have helped to collect insect data for.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

January 24, 2018

It has been quite cold the last few days in the Flint Hills, which is why I was surprised to find this male Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) paddling around an open patch of water this afternoon. It can be determined that this Mallard is male by the distinctly green head, females are completely brown overall. There was another spot that I wanted to check for Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus), but I didn't want to disturb the Mallard, so I kept my distance and walked a different loop that is much more productive for birding in the spring and summer.

Monday, January 14, 2019

January 14, 2019

Yesterday I came home to find my suet feeder had been knocked to the ground. Today I found out who had done it. A flock of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) has apparently been visiting my back yard for a while now. Not only did they manage to knock my suet feeder to the ground, but they have also been dumping my mealworm feeder and demolishing all of the suet cakes. This is the first time that I have ever seen crows at a feeder though and it gave me a great opportunity to watch how they interact with each other. I've read about how social Corvids can be but have never watched their behaviors as closely as I did today. They definitely have a hierarchy system that I haven't quite figured out and they seem to assign a few as a watch crew for incoming threats to their colony. Hopefully, I will be able to watch them more throughout the rest of the winter and capture some great pictures or videos of their interactions.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

January 13, 2019

Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) always look so much better when snow is around. All of the birds seemed to be more active today in the cold than they have been in the warmer spring-like weather that we've been having lately. I really enjoyed watching the Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) pick at the seed heads of the remaining grass and quickly dart off to a nearby tree. I saw my first Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) and a Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) in a new area that I had always wanted to explore. There is a nice little pond left behind by the flooding of Tuttle Creek Lake in the late fall that has attracted some good waterfowl species and gulls. Needless to say, I will be returning to this area for more birding.

January 11, 2019

I love waking up the morning after a big snow. When It's still fresh and untouched it makes the world seem so perfect. Throughout the day little footprints may appear, ruining the perfect appearance but revealing who your wild neighbors may be. You don't have to sit and watch all day when there's snow because it takes a sort of snapshot of who has been there. I enjoy watching the animals going through the treetops as well, clearing all of the snow that has accumulated on the branches. What once seemed like a perfect, untouched world, by the end of the day seems to be in ruins, but reveals so much about the world around us.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

January 9, 2019

I love my job! I work for the Konza Prairie Long Term Ecological Research station in Manhattan, Kansas and I love it so much. Today, I learned how to take water samples. As we turned to go to the last stream of the day we saw three White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) running off through a small patch of trees. When we got closer to the sample site, we noticed that the Bison (Bison bison) were right near where we needed to work.

There only being two of us, we had one person watch out for the Bison as the other collected the water sample. We worked as quickly as possible to get out of the area without disturbing the wonderful animals. Once back in the truck, we noticed the Deer that we had seen previously walking just below the crest of the hill. To see the Deer and Bison living in the same area was quite amazing. We sat for a little while taking it all in until the Deer left the area.

It's amazing to work in an ecosystem that has been preserved to mostly natural conditions. On the prairie you get to see things that some people never get to experience in their lives. You get to experience animals interacting with each other the way that they did before Europeans settled the area and decimated their populations. Being a conservationist is the best life decision that I have ever made (besides marrying my amazing wife of course).

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

January 8, 2019

I was greeted today by howling Coyotes (Canis latrans) as I got out of my car. I then spotted a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) soaring off to a treetop. As I started to walk down the driftwood covered lane, I heard a crashing sound further ahead and in the creek. When I looked to see what it was, hoping for one of the Coyotes, I saw three White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) running off to disappear in a nearby field.

The walk was mostly uneventful. I stopped on the little walking bridge where I have been watching the minnows come back to life as the weather continues to be warm. After climbing the bank of the boat ramp and conducting a quick scan of the river in front of me, the only thing that seemed worth checking out was a small dark spot on a piece of driftwood. Upon further examination I found this black spot to be a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

As I began the walk back to the car, the sun setting quickly now, a small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) fluttered above me. All seemed to be done for the time being and I was ready to get to the car, when a female Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) began chattering to my left. I watched her come out of a group of Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) and perch on a small sapling on the bank. I observed her for a while before as she chattered, before disappearing again into the cedars for the night.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

January 6, 2019

More of the ice has cleared now at Fancy Creek and the ducks are finding this shallow inlet to be a nice place to wade around. The American Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) were jumping out of the water today. There were a lot of dead fish as well. This lone Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) was having a great time paddling around until I started coming down the bank. Luckily I saw him before he flew off. You can tell the male Mallards by their distinct green head. I was also fortunate enough to have an American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) fly over me, a bird that I had never seen before at Fancy Creek.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

January 5, 2019

I finally got a good picture of a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger), but I had to go all the way to Marysville to get it. While my wife ran on the Blue River Trail, I got to do some much needed birding. I got a few decent bird pictures, but this one of the Fox Squirrel is definitely my favorite. I've been trying to get one for a while now and this squirrel perched perfectly for me and waited while I took the shot.

January 4, 2019

The ice may be thin, but it's still beautiful. Looking out across the ice makes me wish that I knew how to skate, although the ice isn't thick enough to bear my weight. It has been odd seeing so much ice when the weather has been so warm. I know that it takes a while for the ice to melt, but it feels like spring in January.

This is an odd time of the year for a wildlife watcher. Other than birds, there isn't much to observe. The Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) still bounce around in the treetops and every once-in-a-while I see a few Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), but for the most part everything stays fairly well hidden. Soon enough it will really be spring and the landscapes will come back to life, but for now I am very much enjoying the winter birds of Kansas.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

January 3, 2019

This morning started off on the right note. As I was doing my morning journaling, around 4:45, I heard a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) outside my house. I had heard and seen Barred Owls (Strix varia) nearby before, but never the Great Horned. Now I just need to spot this beautiful bird.

The owl being in the area surprisingly didn't affect the birds coming to the feeders. The first that I saw was the Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) at the suet feeder, followed by Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) along the ground below. I didn't get do much more feeder watching throughout the day after this.

In the afternoon I got to go to Fancy Creek State Park for some wildlife watching, where I was able to snap a few photos of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum). The lake has gone down quite a bit recently. There is ice still on parts of the lake, but through a couple of small patches around the edge I was able to observe some American Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum). They kept coming to the surface, as if they were coming up for air, and laying over on their sides and floating. This behavior seemed odd to me, but I guess I would be acting weird as well if I had been trapped under some ice for about a month.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January 2, 2019

This morning, while photographing the neighborhood American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), I was greeted by an adorable Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) on the metal pillar on our front porch. It made me happy to see the Titmouse again. I hadn't seen them since early fall.

After capturing my photos of the Crows, I decided it was time to get started on my daily to-do list. While doing dishes, with such a nice view of my backyard feeders, I noticed the Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) that had been missing yesterday. Then the White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis) arrived, one at the suet feeder and the other went straight for the mealworms. They were eventually chased off from the suet by the Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), who then checked out the mealworms for the first time, seemingly only because the Nuthatches were there first.

It's amazing how a bit of sunshine can help to bring the birds back around. After a nice day of rest yesterday they are very active at the feeders today. Even the Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) were seen this morning, chewing the bark off of a few trees.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

January 1, 2019

Cold and gray to begin 2019, but I am excited to get this new year started. I am confined to the house today so there isn't a lot of wildlife to observe. That's just how it goes sometimes. This lovely Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) stops by my suet feeder most days. Unfortunately I had to capture the image through a dirty window, which explains the blurriness.

Birds enjoy the suet in the winter because it is high in calories and therefore helps to keep them warm. Not that they necessarily know anything about calories. The instincts of animals to choose the correct foods with the best nutrients amazes me.

A bit of sun pokes through the thick overcast as I write this. There haven't been many visitors to any of the feeders today. Typically I have a few Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) that scavenge for the bits of suet that the woodpeckers drop and a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) that picks through the mealworms. It must be so cold that even they don't want to leave the comforts of their little homes.