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.

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