Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Birds of Spring

If there is one family of birds that defines spring for me, it has to be the Wood-Warblers.  These brightly-colored (mostly) sweetly-singing (usually) little gems that migrate back here from warmer climes as winter releases is icy grasp on us (usually, seems the last year or so it has been rather reluctant to let go), are often what gets birder's hearts pumping.  We look and listen for those regulars like old friends, as well as hope for that rare or uncommon one to cross our paths.  I am also spending a bit more time trying to improve my photography, and although nowhere near the level of some of the pros out there, I like to think that I am getting a bit better.  Honestly, I would rather make a good photo of a more common bird than go chasing a rarity and come up with a bad one.  Some folks might think that I am less of a birder because of it, but I beg to differ.  This in fact, forces me to slow down a bit and spend more time watching and studying a bird - to learn its behaviors and patterns a bit more so that I am prepared to take the photo when the opportunity is right, rather than just blasting away when something crosses my path (yes I still do that too) and then running to find the next bird.  One down side to this is that I seem to have less of a variety of species that I have photographed this year (or at least that I am happy with). Nevertheless, Spring migration is a great time for photography, as there is a great variety of subjects, not to mention some beautiful settings if you can force yourself to widen your view beyond just the bird.  Here are a few photos that I am relatively happy with from the last few weeks.  Is there room for improvement? Hell yes! But I am continually learning and hope that you'll keep on checking back in occasionally to see how I'm doing.

Nashville Warbler - Vermivora ruficapilla

Black-Throated Green Warbler - Dendroica virens

Magnolia Warbler - Dendroica magnolia

Black-and-White Warbler - Mniotilta varia

Northern Parula - Parula americana

Prairie Warbler - Dendroica discolor

 Chestnut-sided Warbler - Dendroica pensylvanica

And although not a warbler, this Rose-breasted Grosbeak definitely deserves his place among the colorful migrant songbirds.  I had the great fortune of watching this male attend a female while she was collecting nesting material (and driving away another rather persistent male who was trying to get in on his action)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Pheucticus lodovicianus

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Prairie Warblers are back

Each year, I spend a few evenings trying to photograph the Prairie Warblers that nest just a mile or so from where we live. This afternoon, I think I had my best "sitting" yet with these bright little warblers.

"Prairie Warbler - Dendroica discolor

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

And to see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk

While the writing and posting here at the ol' PicusBlog has been slow lately, the birding (thankfully) hasn't been.  Spring is now in full swing here in eastern Massachusetts, with a lot of early migrants lighting up the list-servs like so many colorful christmas tree lights.  Warblers that we don't expect to see for a few more weeks are already being seen in many places, and I hope to have lots of posts over the next few weeks of birds seen and photographed.

BUT, I simply could not let this go more than 24 hours without posting.  Yesterday afternoon I finally caught up with an individual bird that I've been hoping to see for some time now, and was lucky to even get off a few photos. I've seen reports of a leucisitc Red-tailed Hawk posted in our area occasionally over the last few years - usually somebody who has seen the bird soaring just out of sight as they are cruising down Rt 95/128.  Not too long ago, I received a tip that a large white bird had been seen somewhat regularly near a small swampy area in an office park a few miles down the road from where I work.  I figured it HAD to be this same bird. Interestingly, this is a location I visited a lot in the last two years as I can usually see Eastern Kingbirds, Tree Swallows, Kingfishers, Great Blue and Green Heron, as well as a number of dragonflies.  So I've started going back in the last two weeks when I have some time after work or if I was able to get away from the office for an hour.  And I finally saw her yesterday.  I'll definitely be heading back more hoping to get better photos - hopefully a bit closer (pics are pretty heavily cropped) and in better light, but for now, I really wanted to share these.  I hope you like them!

I've been asked already a few questions from Facebook friends and family about this bird (easy to post to FB right away).  Questions like - how do you know it's a Red-tailed Hawk, how do you know it is female, and what does leucistic mean?  Even draining away the typical color on a Red-tailed Hawk, once you've seen a large number of them (and honestly, I see them easily over 300 days a year while traveling the highways of the area), you can pretty quickly ID them by size and shape.  In the raptor world where this is sometimes little to no sexual dimorphism (i.e. males and females look the same), and particularly in hawks and falcons, the females are bigger than the males, and this particular bird struck me as quite big and bulky, so I am presuming a female.  And finally, what is leucism (and why isn't this an albino)?  To answer that I go to Cornell Lab of Ornithology for a more scientific explanation (click the lin kfor a fuller explanation and examples.) My non-scientific summary of this is that both leucism and albinism are genetic mutations that affect the way an individual bird looks.  In albinism, the mutation prevents the production of melanin (which is needed to create the darker colored feathers in the bird) and these individuals show pink in bare skin areas like legs and usually have light or pink eyes.  In leucistic birds, the melanin is produced but the mutation prevents it from being deposited properly in the feathers. Therefore, sometimes you get "partially leucistic" birds that might have white patches, or birds that are almost all white as with the hawk above, or anywhere in between where the bird looks pale or "bleached."