Last summer my husband and I were able to take a 3 month trip from Texas to Alaska. We spent most of our time in New Mexico and Colorado, in May, and both of those states provided some amazing birding.
Salida, Colorado was a birding bonanza: Frantz Lake along the Arkansas River and the nearby Sands Lake (in the next post).
County road 154 is a birding spot in itself. Mountain bluebirds and tree swallows nest in the birdhouses that have been erected along the road. Canada geese and mule deer abound. *Click on the first image below and scroll to the right to view a larger image and see captions.*
Frantz Lake itself is a nice little turquoise-tinted reservoir next to the Arkansas River. Here I found 2 grebes, a western and a pied-billed, common mergansers, and white-faced ibises (a first!). Along with Canada geese, blackbirds and mallards.
A little ways away, by the Arkansas River, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and white-crowned sparrows were foraging and flitting around on the dirt trail.
(Some of these images are sized 1920×1080 so can be used for that size monitor, I kept the copyright small. I like desktop wallpaper with a lot of blank space so it doesn’t feel cluttered and a couple of these photos work well for that.)
It snowed while we were in Salida in the middle of May – it’s at 7000 feet – but that was the day we were leaving and the sun came out just a bit later, so no harm done. 🙂 Thanks for looking!
A few years ago I went with my husband up the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. We stopped a few different places including a storage yard and former state camp called Happy Valley where I found one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever happened upon… a raven’s nest in a mounted rack of moose antlers with two babies in it!
There are tons of wild turkeys on the Big Island of Hawaii! They roam the golf courses and lava rock fields searching for insects, lizards, seeds, berries and anything else that’s edible and relatively small. It’s a lovely thing to see.
The Wild Turkey evolved in America and was domesticated by Native Americans. In the early 1500s turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs were taken to Europe and interestingly enough, their descendants were brought back to America by the pilgrims who soon found out their indigenous neighbors were raising them too.
They spread to China and in 1788 they were introduced from there to the Hawaiian islands. Over the years, more have been released, whether purposely or not, by ranches and farms and perhaps by people who wanted to hunt them. Currently you can hunt them on the island along with pheasant, doves, francolin, quail, as well as introduced mammals such as goats, sheep and boar.
Turkeys especially prosper on the Big Island because of it’s dry grassy sloping landscapes, and as you can see, they seem right at home.
I made this little animation to show how this poor chickadee was being bothered by its beak deformity. Every so often it would rub its beak against the edge of the bird feeder like this. It appeared relatively healthy so it must have been able to eat satisfactorily, but apparently this deformity causes it to be obsessive about trying to scrape off the excess beak.
I saw a snow bunting once before, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. In its summer garb. But this one I spied on a gravel road in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in its winter plumage. My husband and I were in the middle of a 6 week long road trip that started and ended at our home in Fairbanks, Alaska, but that took us through 4 Canadian provinces and at least 14 states. And of all the amazing times we had this snow bunting was actually pretty special because it was one of the few close encounters with birds that I had over the whole 6 weeks.
Michigan’s scenery, little did I know, is astoundingly beautiful! I had no idea there were sand dunes in the Midwest! Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (on left) is a must-see part of North America.
As is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can see red-orange sandstone that is 500 million years old in the photo on the right. This cliff has been beautifully sculpted by the waters of Lake Superior. The interesting part is that even though the rock that makes up the landform is hundreds of millions of years old, the cliff itself that you see jutting out into the water is only a few thousands of years old. No landform around this area could be older than 12,000 years old because that’s when glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. But this land is rising. It has risen far enough up since then, and been sculpted by the forces of erosion, to give us a spectacular view of rock formations that used to be buried.
So as my husband and I are visiting this most scenic of places, this snow bunting is pick pick picking at bits of something along a gravel road, letting me get closer and closer with my camera.
He must have just arrived from more northerly climes, smartly getting busy eating as many seeds and insects that he can before the coming winter. Snow buntings spend the summer in Alaska and northern Canada and before winter fly to the Midwest of America, southern Canada, and the coastlines of Alaska. Males have darker heads in the winter and more black on their wings, like this little guy.
I know all this about snow buntings now because I have my handy birding books around me. But when I was taking the photos I thought maybe it was a sparrow of some kind. To my delight, when I finally got home and looked it up I found out it was a snow bunting which is not a sparrow. I would have never recognized it because the one I saw in Prudhoe Bay was in it’s June breeding plumage which is mostly white. Moral of the story: take at least one birding book with you on your road trip!
The Sandhill Crane has a lot of personality. From their rattling call to their long legs and red banded eyes, you can’t mistake one. Especially given it’s statuesque 4 foot height… good thing they don’t want to get too close to us because they would probably be quite intimidating!
The one on the left popped up at a pond my husband and I like to visit near our house. In May, full of mosquitoes, but an unexpected sweet birding spot. This bird wanted us to remove ourselves quickly. I presume it was spreading its wings in an attempt to make itself look bigger and more menacing. It was having a private moment, who are we to interrupt!? So we snapped a couple shots and skedaddled. (Although I don’t know that this would be a safe place to make a nest because of neighborhood dogs or other wandering animals like foxes.)
The photos on the right are from Creamer’s Field, an awesome place in Fairbanks to see migrating cranes, geese, and ducks. (I’ll do a post on it in the future.) The pair on the right must be a parent and offspring, since the one hasn’t attained adult coloring of gray and red face. If you want to see a short video of this pair click here, but if you do, keep an eye peeled for the Canada Geese in the background waddling through the grass.
The splendid artwork on the left was found driving through North Dakota or thereabouts, and if I remember right they were celebrating a crane festival. Apparently, I’m not the only one who finds Sandhill Cranes to be extraordinary creatures! —————————
Remember, you can click on any of these images to see their maximum size, and then click the “back” button to get back to this page. And, if you need the font size to be bigger on this or any webpage, press Ctrl at the same time as the + sign.
First seen in the winter of 1991-92, Black-Capped Chickadee beak deformities are now quite common, according to the Alaska Science Center. To date, there have been over 2100 reports of chickadee beak deformities in Alaska, and only 31 outside of Alaska. In the photo above, you can see that the chickadee’s beak is at least twice as long as it should be, and the bottom part is crossed and curved up.
The Northwestern Crow suffers from this malady as well, with an astounding 17% of adult birds in Alaska exhibiting some level of beak deformity (as opposed to 6-10% of adult Black-Capped Chickadees).
Other birds with reported beak deformities are the Black-Billed Magpie, Red-Breasted Nuthatch, and Stellar’s Jay – although none of these reports come anywhere close to the high number of sightings of the Black-Capped Chickadee. Other species of chickadee have been seen with the problem too but they number under 10 total. Whatever the source of the problem, Black-Caps are especially vulnerable to it.
This map (from alaska.usgs.gov) shows locations of Black-Capped Chickadee beak deformity sightings. At first they were centered around Bristol Bay and the Mat-Su Valley but they soon spread to Fairbanks (where I live) and elsewhere. There are plenty of sightings in remote locations so the problem does not exist only in populated areas.
The poor creatures with deformed beaks often have a very hard time eating – it’s actually kind of amazing that they do get by at all. The one on the right kept rubbing the elongated portion of its beak on the wood of our feeder, as if attempting to rub it off. No doubt feeders and even garbage help to keep them alive but mortality is undoubtedly higher among them. Normal preening is greatly disrupted. And though many of them do find a mate and breed, fewer eggs hatch to a pair in which the female is deformed and fewer young survive when the male is deformed.
Possible causes are contaminants, nutritional deficiencies, disease, genetic abnormalities and parasites. Read more about those at http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/landbirds/beak_deformity/causes.html
On the left is an example of a normal beak.
In February 2011 my husband and I were able to make a 5 day visit to the Hawaiian island of Kauai and one thing that amazed us was the existence of chickens all over the place. They seemed to have an uncanny ability to avoid getting hit by vehicles! I’m sure it happens but we saw no evidence of chicken roadkill, even while they are constantly seen pecking and preening alongside nearly every single roadway. Survival of the smartest, I guess.
Turns out they are called Red Junglefowl. The Hawaiian name is Moa and according to the Hawaii Audubon Society wild populations exist only on Kauai. It’s hard to know where the actual Junglefowl begins and the domestic chicken ends though, since they have interbred to the point of total confusion.
My guess, after a small amount of research, is that the dark brown chicken on the left is closer to true Junglefowl, and the one on the right is more of a domesticated chicken. Both of these photos were taken at Brennecke’s Beach in Poipu, where they intermingled with the tourists. (If you click on the photos you will get a lot more detail.)
Moa were brought to the Hawaiian islands by Polynesian colonists. The birds pictured here would not be considered the truly wild Junglefowl that were once widespread on the islands. In 1883 the mongoose was foolishly introduced to several Hawaiian islands, and although one dead mongoose was found alongside a road in Kauai in 1976, and other sightings have been reported, it seems not to have affected the Kauai population of Junglefowl. Let’s hope that continues.
Lucky these chickens that live free lives. They could have just as likely been born into a factory and lived out their lives in 8×10 cages with their beaks cut off. Sorry to be gruesome but this is what our industrial food system has brought to our planet. (Please consider not eating factory chicken!)
After all, the chicken is the nearest living relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex! Give them a little respect!
My most recent “new bird” was the Pine Grosbeak, which came to the sunflower seed hearts laid out on our deck railing on October 13th 2011. When you first start being interested in birds it’s like every one you see is a “new bird” to you. And though Pine Grosbeaks are not uncommon here in Fairbanks, I never came across one until now even after 6 or 7 years of birding.
This one is either a female or immature male; adult males are bright red. Their vocalizations are quite melodious. This species is not endangered – it is somewhat common in northern coniferous forests. It does venture down into the midwest and eastern states in winter sometimes.
Pine Grosbeaks are generally monogamous, forming pairs before arriving at their breeding grounds. The female builds a nest, lays 3 or 4 eggs, and the male brings her food while she sits on them for about 2 weeks. When they hatch, both parents feed them for another couple of weeks while in the nest, but they continue to beg for food even after leaving the nest. I’m guessing this one is a young male, possibly searching for a flock to join because except for during breeding time they are usually seen in large flocks. My husband and I enjoyed seeing this bird during an early snow with a dollop of snow on the tip of its beak. Hope it found some friends!