Sunday, December 27, 2009

Water Ouzel - American Dipper - a Secret, solitary bird.

Yesterday afternoon I drove to Chester Dam for some birding and photography.  As the sun was setting, I noticed a small grayish black bird diving and surfacing is the dimming light.  I recognized the antiques of the Water Ouzel or American Dipper, John Muir's favorite bird.  The pictures are not as good as I would like but they show the secretive bird that feeds and plays in water when the air temperature is below zero.  I will search for this bird duirng the day for some better pictures.

The Water Ouzel usually spends its time in swift clear running water in the high mountains, but is forced down to the lowlands during the winter.  It is an indicator species requiring pure water with insect larvae to survive.

Its specialized body is covered with extremely thick feathers and have oil sacks at the base of their tail which they use to to coat their feathers with the oil.  This protects the skin from the freezing water and air temperatures.

They dive for their food, even swimming or flying under water to catch some of their food.  They have a membrane that is pulled over the eyes while under water.  Scales also close the nostrils as they search for food under the water.  Here the bird searches for food by putting its head under water before diving.

Here the water Ouzel dives after locating some food on the bottom.

Here it surfaces head first after being under water for about a minute.

Walking back to the shallow water, the American Dipper surveys the water before another dive.

The evening is capped off by the temperature dropping below zero and the fading light baithing the Teton Peaks in a beautiful alpen glow.

Just another ordinary day experience in the wildness of Idaho.  I hope you enjoy this interesting little bird.  When I find it again and I get better pictures, I will share them with you.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our family to you.  The joy of family is the greatest gift for me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

SkyWatch Friday - Finally

After surgery on Monday and two days locked by recovery in the house, it was time to get outside.  With zero temperatures and low clouds everything was covered with frost.  Here the sun makes a futile effort to peek out of the clouds.

With the cold, most birds were fuffed up and nestled in the trees also waiting for the sun to warm them.  This American Goldfinch appears not enjoying the cold.

While my favorites, the Black-capped chickadees, continued to flit and flutter as I fed them.  A very bright spot on a gloomy day.

Landing and taking off, hiding seeds for later, and brightening my Christmas Eve.

Just another boring wild day in Idaho.  Have a Blessed Christmas Day and may you have joy that will warm you at this sacred time.  Check other pictures of the sky on SkyWatch Friday.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Henrys Fork

In a freezing rain I braved the roads to look for a few birds before I went with family to watch the "Nutcracker."  I did find a few birds braving the elements.  Geese, ducks, Trumpeter swan were all on the river with some of the Henrys Fork frozen over.  This swan had a blue neck collar.

My favorite sighting was a flock of about 100 Cedar waxwings with about 30 robins and starlings mixed in.

The "Nutcracker" was excellent.  I had several student in it as dancers and I loved trading some wildness for an afternoon watching it with two four-year old granddaughters.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SkyWatch Friday - Sunset over South Fork of the Snake River

Between snow storms this week, I was able to capture the setting sun west of the Menan Buttes near the South Fork of the Snake River.

Just another wild evening of color in Idaho.
See more beautiful SkyWatch Friday photos.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Henrys Fork birds

Late this afternoon I ran up to the Henrys Fork between St. Anthony and the Vernon Bridge to see if I could see a few birds.  It was cloudy with some misty rain/snow falling most of the time so I did not think I would get any quality pictures.  But you never know what you will see or get a chance to photograph.  Here are a few of the highlights of the day.
A Blue Heron was available.

There were hundreds of Trumpeter swan, Canada Geese, and ducks.  Here are some swan and ducks resting on an ice flow.

I also saw 14 Bald eagles, seven of them sitting in some trees, but too far away for some good pictures.  But a few flew close enough for some shots.

Swan kept coming in to me until it was almost too dark to shot pictures.

But my favorite picture of the day was of a Red-tailed hawk that came into my preditor call and realized that I was just too large to harvest.


Just another couple of wild hours in Idaho.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chickadees - talking

Area birders are getting ready for the 110th annual Christmas Bird Count.  It is an enjoyable activity - if the weather is not too cold - where groups of people are assigned to count all the birds in an area that they see in a given time.  One of my favorite winter birds is the Black-capped Chickadee as they are so much fun to watch.  Right now I have about 10 visiting my feeders.  Here is an article I had published several years ago about the "Talking Chickadees."  I hope you enjoy some wildness of Idaho.

“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee,” said a black-capped chickadee as a cat strolled across the lawn toward the feeder where several species of birds were feeding. They all flew off in a hurry.

The chickadee was soon back at the feeder, alone, feeding until a flock of blackbirds showed up hording the feeder again.

After a few minutes setting on a limb above the blackbirds, the chickadee again sounded the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee.” The larger birds quickly left the feeder leaving the chickadee to enjoy the black oil sunflower seeds.

A recent study conducted by Christopher Templeton of the University of Washington and Erick Green of the University of Montana, found that black-capped chickadees has a complex language. Their study found the chickadee’s call may contain as many as 15 “dees” and the tone of the call indicates to other species what kind of predator is present.

In the study, Templeton and Green, examined the relationship between chick-a-dees and nuthatches by recording thousands of calls and how the birds reacted to them.

“In winter months, chickadees are faced with a wide variety of predators that vary tremendously in the amount of risk they pose,” said Templeton. “The nuthatch is able to discriminate the information from each call.”

The chickadee call has four types of syllables and can be uttered in different tones. When chickadees sees a predator, a warning call of a soft “seet” indicates a flying predator while a loud prolonged “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” warns of a perched hawk, owl or falcon said the study.

Templeton recorded the different calls of the chickadees to see how nuthatches would react to them. One of the defense maneuvers nuthatches have is of mobbing.

He attached speakers to trees where nuthatches lived, but where there were no chickadees so their actions would not tip off the nuthatches. The recorded alarm calls caused the nuthatches to form into mobs and attack the speakers.

The nuthatches acted accordingly to each distress call that was played.

“Their mobbing is not enough to kill you, but it is enough to make you want to go somewhere else,” said Templeton.

Another interesting phenomenon that black-capped chickadees have is their ability to hide, store and remember where they place hundreds of seeds. When food is abundant they will collect the food placing it behind pieces of bark, in cracks in trees and fill small crevices and cavities.

With the ability of warning other competitors about dangers, chickadees can send the false alarm causing larger birds to fly away, leaving the cheating chickadees to enjoy the food for themselves.

Birds in general respond to alarm calls of others, but the black-capped chickadee has apparently learned that “chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee” will help it keep an adequate food supply.

I wonder if the bird world has a “wolf, wolf” story also.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

DC trip.

Back home out of the Urban Concrete Jungle.  Flying was a mess.  Delays, missed flights, crowded planes, people who had eaten garlic or gotten drunk the night before - or both sitting next to me.  Lovely experience in the wildness of humans.  Spending four nights alone in a hotel room without a loved one with me - I can hardly wait to go back to required meetings.

But........... on the brighter side, I visited the Holocaust Museum and I saw four species of birds - not counting all the "chicks" running to catch the subway.  Boy was that exciting.

First I saw pigeons, but the most interesting was pigion feathers systematically falling from a high building.  Something was picking the feathers off a hapless bird, but I did not find out what it was.  I thought it might be a falcon - but was probably a DC rat or a homeless person.

I did see a House sparrow.

Nearby I saw a Starling, picking crumbs off the street.

But then I found an owl with a birdwatcher in Chinatown observing the wildlife in Washington DC!!!!

I am glad to be back in Idaho where the wildness of the weather does not cause me frustration.  By the way, these pictures were taken with my wife's point and shoot camera - I left my big one home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Washington DC - Here I come.

Tomorrow morning I will be heading for Washington DC for meetings the rest of the week.  Hopefully I will be able to find some wildlife and some outdoor activities there.  In the meantime enjoy another Great Horned owl and some trumpeter swans that flew over my back yard.

Just another wild day in Idaho.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fishing-Birding at Mud Lake.

The fishing was horrible at Mud Lake - but if a fishing trip is a failure it is your own darn fault.  The wind and no fish did not stop the beautiful sunrise over the frozen lake.

And after two hours in the freezing north wind, I decided to hit some of the Russian Olive groves looking for birds and animals.  Two moose flushed as well as about 20 Northern Flickers.  But the find of the morning was an onery Great Horned owl.

And a beautiful Downy Woodpecker, that would get a Russian olive and then pound it against a branch or a tree to open it up.

I did go to Roberts Pond on the way home and caught some perch and some little trout.  So I did not get skunked.

Then on the way home, I found an old potato field with over 200 trumpeter swans feeding and resting.

Not a bad way to spend another wild day in Idaho.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

SkyWatch Friday

Sunset over Moody Creek 
View other great pictures of the sky at SkyWatch Friday.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trash and trashy essay

Janie wrote a blog about finding trash on the trails that she and Steve travel along.  Her beautiful depiction of trash and trashers reminded me of an essay I wrote several years ago.  I do have pictures of used "love peelings" but I will not post them.  I will let your imagination picture them.  This essay was actually printed in a newspaper so I hope it is appropriate here.  Enjoy.

Love Peelings

Sometimes we really don’t think of others when we leave things lying around where we shouldn’t; things that may be harmful to others or just scare the crap out of them. One day while motoring across Henrys Lake, my motor cut out and killed. I thought that the engine had blown and I was not a happy fisherman. After getting it started and moving again, it killed again as I put it in gear. A friend was fishing nearby and we checked the prop and found it bound up with mono fishing line. What a mess someone had left to scare the “holy Toledo” out of me.

An acquaintance of mine told me on their way to Island Park “nature” called on one of the family members so they stopped on top of Ashton Hill to get a little relief. They have a couple of young children and let them out to stretch their legs while nature’s call was answered. When it was time to get back into the car the two youngsters showed their parents some “balloons” they couldn’t get to blow up and asked Dad to help!!!

Dad and Mom were shocked to see that the kids had picked up some used “love peelings” thinking they were balloons. Mom had a fit and could be heard in Idaho Falls wailing while Dad immediately relieved the kids of their new found toys. The area was searched and a total of eight used “love peelings” were discovered and disposed of. It appeared that a couple had been using the turn-off on Anderson Mill Road as a passion place. The parents were more than a little concerned about the health of their two children.

What a way for two children to be introduced to those kind of protectors - they will probably have a phobia for many years and may even need counseling before they can discuss such things!! Who knows who or what the peelings were used to protect!!!! I thought about trying to catch the lovers, scare the jeepers out of them and then set them down and tell them what mental anguish they put a set of parents thru’! I decided not as it might cause mental problems for the couple. It is probably a couple of teenagers practicing their sex education knowledge!

Two lessons should be learned from this experience: first - if your passion produces peelings, dispose of them correctly - don’t leave them laying around to cause a mother to have a mental breakdown; secondly - check the areas your small children will be using, destroy anything like rattlesnakes, fishing line and hooks or “passion peelings” that may hurt them.

I once saw a bull frog that looked like he had swallowed a “love peeling”, but it turned out to be the way he was made - he was just sounding off.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Grandson trip

Saturday afternoon, my grandson and I decided to go for a trip in the mountains and look for my elk.  We did not find the elk, but did have a wonderful experience.  First we found four mule deer bounding through the sagebrush.  Then after a long walk, we flushed a Great Grey owl.  It was his first.

As we were headed home we watched the Alpenglow as it colored the mountains pink as the sun was setting.

Not much further, but after the sun had set, we saw 14 head of mule deer feeding on the CRP ground with dry grass as high as the deer.

With the sun set and darkness sitting in we came upon the most exciting sight of the day - four bull moose fighting.  It was amazing to watch as they battled about a hundred yards from us.  Horns would crash, making the sound almost vibrate the truck.

In the dwindling twilight, it was difficult to stop the action without blurring everything.  At one time three of the four were all fighting together.  As one would defeat another, the victor would goose the loser in the butt to send him off as another would attack the victor.  We watched this battle for 15 minutes before they headed up through the trees.

Darn, we missed another football game on TV.  Oh well, just another wild day in Idaho.

Ice fishing Henrys Lake

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving week - I did.  All of our family was home for five days and we had a ball.  Between all the festivities and food, we ice fished Henrys Lake three times.  We were successful every day and saw some beautiful sunsets and sunrises. 
Here is Lion's Head Mountain just northeast of Henrys Lake.

Here is the sunrise on Friday while we were catching fish like mad - just had to take time for the picture.

Results of the fishing was great and we had great times together.

Darn those slippery fish - even below freezing, they are hard to hold on to.

Just three more wild days in Idaho.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  I hope and pray that all you family travel is safe and the turkey is good.  All of our kids and grandkids will be with us this year.  It will be a joyous occasion.

Yesterday we got four inches of snow and the roads were a mess.  At my bird feeders we had over a hundred wanted and unwanted guests and they emptied the feeders quickly and then moved on.  After the snow lightened a little I went out to get a few pictures.

Here is a seed pod left over from the summer.

Another picture is of a cattail with a few snow flakes falling.

The last picture is of hollyhock seed pods holding the fluffy white snow up.  Beautiful but dangerous - just like some people.

A very wild day in Idaho.  Happy Thanksgiving again.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Methuselah - The Sharp-tailed Grouse

A person quarried the other day about my header - Is it a grouse?  The two fighting cocks are Sage Grouse.  Another person asked if we have Sharp-tailed grouse.  We do and I also take thousands of picture of them each spring.
In 2006, I located a banded Sharp-tailed grouse on and lek and watched him all season.  This is the story I wrote for the newspaper about him.  These pictures are all pictures of him. 

Methuselah – beating the odds. (June 2006)

Not many game birds live longer than two to four years, but one smart Columbia sharp-tailed grouse is beating the odds.

This spring while photographing sharp-tails and sage grouse on their leks, I noticed one male with a band on its left leg. I also noticed that its habits were totally different than the other male sharpies. After several calls and research, I discovered the last banding program on sharp-tails was in the mid 1990’s.

“I believe the last sharp-tails banded in the Upper Snake River Valley were in 1994,” said Justin Naderman, a wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “I really don’t think that it would be a migrant bird. So it is either an old bird or someone has banded it without our knowledge.”

I nicknamed the bird “Methuselah” and worked hard to study his habits and to get pictures of him. Thirteen mornings were spent near his spot on the lek observing and photographing him. His habits were foreign to those of most male sharp-tails.

I would have to get there early before the birds flew to the lek. If I was a little late, other grouse would fly off the lek, only to come back a little later. Not Methuselah, he would disappear into the sagebrush he used as a roost and I would not see him again.

When I beat him to the lek, he would walk into his area, park behind the sage and wait for the sun to come up. His life seemed to be centered around a single sagebrush. Most days he would not display much and would climb up into the sage that he had shaped a bowl in the middle of. From time to time he would climb off the bush to defend his territory or to display. But most of the time he would crouch low in the sagebrush, even appearing to fall asleep there.

Most grouse when hawks would attack would fly off the lek. Not Methuselah. He would dive into the sagebrush and stay there until others returned and started displaying. Out he would come, display once or twice and climb back onto the bush. Most mornings this would happen eight or nine times.

To me the most interesting habit he had was when I was ready to leave, I would get out of the blind and he would dive into the bush. He would not flush from there until I walked by it several times, always flushing behind me after I walked past him.

Hopefully he will survive the summer, fall and next winter. (He did not.)

I would love to study him again next spring; I hope old age gets him. Long live Methuselah.