Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hudson Gardens Front Rang Birding Walk 30 Aug 2014

A small group of us (including fifth grader, Reilly) had a great walk Saturday morning at Hudson Gardens (see species list below).  Even though the breeding season is pretty much done, there are a number of on-going avian tales to be told.  One of these has to do with "eclipse" plumage.  This occurs most notably with ducks, and happens right after the breeding season, at the end of the summer, when ducks undergo a complete body molt.  When male ducks acquire "eclipse" plumage they tend to become so dull looking that for a brief time they superficially resemble their female partners - this is a good "strategy" because they are flightless for a few weeks and could therefore use a little camouflage.
So, look at this photo.  How many species are there, and what sex are they?  This is almost exactly what we were seeing on Saturday. There are four male Mallards in this picture -  the ones with the yellow bills.  Two are in the dull "eclipse" plumage, and two have re-acquired most of their regular breeding plumage.  The duck on the far left with the mottled orange and gray bill is a female Mallard.  The final, smaller duck is a male Wood Duck in "eclipse" plumage - again, look at the color of the bill.
Here's a closer look at a male Wood Duck in "eclipse" plumage.  Note the faint, but easily visible, white head stripes, and the bill color.
So, we had quite an "eclipse" plumage seminar on Saturday.
We, also, spent quite a bit of time looking at plumage in Cooper's Hawks, but I won't go into that here.
Our rare bird(s) for the day were three Hooded Mergansers.  If you look at your field guide, which I know you still have out because you were just looking at Mallards and Wood Ducks, you'll notice that Hooded Mergansers are not shown breeding in Colorado.   This is a developing story, but for some reason, just in the past few years there has been some very rare breeding activity, and hence there are birds around in the summer, and we were fortunate enough to get to see a few.  I wish we had gotten photos, because I'm not sure whether we actually had a female and two juveniles, or a female and two "eclipse" plumage males.  You just have to get used to not being able to identify every bird precisely, right?
I hope to see you all on a future Front Range Birding Company walk.
Best regards,
Hudson Gardens, Arapahoe, US-CO
Aug 30, 2014 8:10 AM - 11:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.4 mile(s)
Comments:     Front Range Birding Company
31 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  34
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  4
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  23
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  3
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  4
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  1
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  1
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)  3
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  1
Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria)  1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  3
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  6
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  4
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  1
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)  3
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)  1
Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)  1
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  2
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  18
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  6
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis)  1
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)  1
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  30
Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)  1
Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)  2
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)  8
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)  4
Spinus sp. (goldfinch sp.) (Spinus sp. (goldfinch sp.))  1
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  5

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Field Guides

Many people come to the store asking us what the best field guide is, and I really find that it varies from person to person. I personally love Sibley's while other may prefer Petersons. In this post I hope to give some good pro's and cons of each of the most popular field guides. I also tend to recommend different guides for different levels of knowledge. For instance those that come having never noticed a bird in their life but are interested in starting I will recommend a guide that has photos, but mention that as they get farther along they should come back and consider a Sibley's or Petersons. Photo guides are (sometimes) more simple than say Sibley's where there are 6 different drawings for one individual bird.

 I'll start with the two that have hand drawn illustrations.

I love the Sibley guide for a number of reasons but mainly its the amazing illustrations and the variation he captures in different individual birds. He draws multiple plates for each bird flight from above, flight from bellow and perched. He gives details on habitat, voice and behavior. He draws and point out difference between males and females as well and similarities between species. At the beginning of each section he has a page with all the female or juvenile birds of that section. This way you can glance at that page and narrow it down by comparing all the field marks to similar species and then jump directly to that species page. I have found this especially useful for the warblers and the Calidris sandpipers. The second edition of the Sibley guide came out less than a week ago and I have read very mixed reviews about it. Mostly that the drawings are printed too darkly, but it seems some like it and other don't. We'll see.

Range maps in the Sibley guide are terrible. I can hardly see them and where the cut off are. I don't recommend solely using the range maps in any guide. None are accurate enough as ranges tend to fluctuate. I prefer places like ebird to find more accurate range maps, but there is no range map that is 100% accurate.

The Peterson guide was my first illustrate field guide and I used it for quite some time before I was gifted the Western Sibley. The illustrations in Peterson are very beautiful but sometimes lack the life-like aspect that Sibley gives us. I find some of the birds to be somewhat disproportioned and there are much fewer examples of each species. I was misled for years about the identification of the Empidonax flycatchers because of the extreme variation he draws between species, but he also draws them over their specific habitat which, when I discovered exactly how similar they do look, to be very useful, he also has simple little lines that visualize the calls of the flycatchers which I have also found very useful.

And now for photographic guides.

Stokes was the first guide I ever bought and I loved it until both front and back covers had torn off. It has good photos and each page is consistent with is organization, photos at the top text at the bottom. Unlike the other guides which are a little more helter-skelter with drawings sorta spread about and grouped with similar species for comparison etc. The stokes is great for a beginner whose main focus is to identify the bird at hand and not compare it to its regional subspecies or strange variants that may exist elsewhere.

I love the Crossley guide for its strange page layout. It has close ups of each bird at the front of the page in different positions and then as they go back they get smaller and they are positioned in a large variety of ways. All the photos are cut out and places very nicely over a natural photo background. It really helps give a good comparison of all angles and variations. Its sort of surreal looking at a photograph with 20+ Brown Pelicans all in some strange position. I find this book especially useful for identifying gulls because it has so many photos of each one. Especially in tandem with sibley.

The downsides on this one is its size. Its is very large and doesn't make a very good field guide. I use it mainly has a reference book when I return from a trip.
Also only and eastern guide is available!

To be honest I've never really used Kaufmans because I've always been very turned off to it by its strange Peterson-like placement of photos on the right page and text on the right. This has always been annoying to me because it is sometimes difficult to correspond the right bird to the correct text when there are say 8 birds on one page and a solid page of text on the other.
That being said each bird is well represented in terms of information and photographs. Important field marks are pointed out and the photos are clear, focused and generally well lit. This isn't a bad book in any sense and I would trust it and use it in the field.

I think all these books are useful to have on a bookshelf and I strongly believe that they can all be used in tandem to help expand ones knowledge of habitat, behavior, and field and identification.
And if not it is an excuse to buy another book!

*Disclaimer-these are all my personal views and thoughts. You are all welcome to your own.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Landowners and Conservation

For my English class I wrote an essay about the cooperation between biologists and landowners when it comes to conservation. Below is sort of a summary of the essay.
Burrowing Owl
     Conservation is very important for the future of humans and the well being of the planet. Often times conservation becomes an argument between biologist and landowners, but it doesn't have to be. There are many organizations who have created partnerships with landowners, helping them understand that conservation doesn't mean a loss of profit. These organization offer incentive based programs for landowners that encourage them to practice good grazing techniques and keep portions of their property true to native habitats.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hudson Gardens 9-14-2013

Todays hike at Hudson Gardens was a great success! We had a large flock of mixed sparrows about a fourth of the way into the walk and no matter how hard we tried we couldn't get a great view of all them. They were constantly flitting up and down and left and right and back and fourth. The good looks we did get turned up several Song Sparrows, a few Vesper Sparrows, a Lincoln's Sparrow and the most exciting a Clay-colored Sparrow! Several other species went unidentified because of brief glimpses. One we thought perhaps was a Field Sparrow because it showed some rusty red on its head, a grey nape, as well as a strong eyering, no one ever got a good enough look however so it is going uncalled.

We also had another great opportunity of observe Mallard in their eclipse plumage. Now why look at Mallards you say? If you know the common birds like the back of your hand your less likely to misidentify them as something else when they change into winter or non-breeding plumage.
Male Mallards in eclipse plumage look a lot like the females but pay attention to the color of the beak and the feet and also the males will have a much darker breast than the females but often without a female right next to the male it can be hard to tell the difference. Remember female Mallards match, they have a orange (and black) beak and orange feet. While male Mallards don't match they have a yellow beak and orange feet.

We stopped at the Songbird Gardens and watched several Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches and House Finches feed and chase each other around. As we made our way back to the gift shop we walked through the pine forest and enjoyed the scent of the various conifers. We passed a few very vocal Black-billed Magpies and came upon a lovely butterfly bush surrounded by butterflies. There was a Painted Lady, a Monarch and Fritillary Sp. all feeding at the same time.

Todays complete list of 32 species.
Canada Goose
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee
Blue Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
House Wren (heard only)
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Clay-colored Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

Thanks for reading

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Birds Parts, Terms and Uses.

Buffy malars, no primary projection, white supercillium? these are all terms heard coming from the mouth of any birder at some point in time, but what does it all mean? These are all terms for different parts of the body that may be used to point out a field mark. Below is a White-throated Sparrow, which isn't common here in Colorado but their facial patterns are nicely defined.

Primary and Wing Projection can be a confusing set of terms because they both relate to the length of the primaries but the object of comparison isn't the same. Primary projection is the length of the primaries. Some birds have shorter primaries than others. Wing projection is how far the wing goes past the tail. The long wing projection (the wing going past the end of the tail) would be one indicator of this being a Swainson's Hawk. Its also good to make note of the Cere, which is the fleshy yellow spot just above the beak. This is present on all raptors.
Feather group names can be important in certain situations. The photo bellow is an exotic species, the Mandarin Duck, spreading its wings showing us all those lovely coverts. 

The black lores on this bird tell us its a male Yellow-breasted Chat
An eye ring is a white outline around the eye.
 They can be found in some flycatchers,
 warbler, kinglets and many more.
This McGillivray's Warbler is showing a broken eye ring.

Notice the complete eye ring on this Field Sparrow
These are just a few of the really common ones if you can't read one of the photos let me know and I'll enlarge it. There are many more terms that can be applied to parts of the bird that aren't used in everyday situations but are still interesting. If anyone is interested in knowing some more specific terms I can create a part 2.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Identification Tips #1 General Tips

Least Flycatcher
I'll be using photos from a bird banding station because that way you can get an idea of size as well as a better view of an field marks
Identifying birds can be a daunting task when your flipping through you field guide trying to find a small maybe yellow-olive bird that you saw while hiking up Guannella pass. If you break down what your seeing on the bird as well as the habitat around you and the noises your hearing it can make the id process much smoother.

The book
One thing I remember doing was flipping through my favorite field guide just looking at the pictures of the birds and noticing how they are organized. This is something I recommend doing whether your a beginner or advanced. Looking through your book can give you a good idea of what your looking at in the field. but don't forget to look at the real bird while its there gather information on its plumage details and behavior, back up what you saw later looking at the book. You wouldn't want to miss views of an incredible bird looking for it in the book.

This large bird is common in urban areas and loves suet!
 Its long beak and tapered tail feathers point to woodpecker her
 red underwings/ tail spotted breast and bib point to Northern Flicker.
Her lack of a red malar (or mustache) says she's a girl
Rule out what its not/ Plumage
You can rule out what a bird isn't by many different things, plumage colors and pattern, size, shape, bill shape and size, habitat, range, behavior and time of year, once you narrow down what it isn't you can focus on the fewer option you have left.
When your looking at a bird notice its color. Is it a bright color? or a more earthy color. Notice its size. Is it larger or smaller than the typical American Robin? Does it have any noticeable features? Streaks or spots on the breast? an eye ring? light eyes, dark eyes?
If your looking at a blackbird in a parking lot with yellow eyes you have now narrowed it down to two choices! Brewer's Blackbird and Common Grackle. (unless your out east then Great-tailed Grackle is another possibility)

Different birds live and specialize in different habitats. Familiarize yourself with the various habitats in your area and the plants and bird species of those habitats.
Here are a few along the front range

Lowland Riparian
areas of tall cotton woods and thick underbrush of chokecherry, wild plumb, and willow all along a lake, river or stream.
common birds of these areas are
Yellow Warbler
Bullock's Oriole
House Wren
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
This bird is much smaller than the flicker has a shorter bill and a striking head pattern.
 This size and "earthy" colors on this bird point to sparrow. You can see in this
 photo but he has a clear breast. (no streaks)
 the white head stripes points to White-crowned Sparrow

Scrub Oak
foothill areas covered in Gambel's Oak, juniper, Three-leaf Sumac (skunkbush) and Mountain Mahogany
often housing
Spotted Towhees
Western Scrub-Jays
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Virginia's Warbler

Emergent Wetland
marshy areas composed of mostly cattails or rushes
Marsh Wrens
Herons (many types)
Red-winged Blackbirds
Common Yellowthroat

Watching a birds behavior can also be an indicator of what species or even what family it belongs to.
If your watching a bird sitting upright on a branch and it suddenly flies out in a little circle and comes back repeatedly it is probably a flycatcher.
If your watching a small brown bird skulk around in the bushes while wildly scolding you, you may have a wren.

Time of year
Birds migrate. Warblers leave, orioles leave, most thrushes, many herons and blackbirds leave (Colorado that is) for more abundant resources down south. On the other hand many birds arrive in the winter as well. Raptors are much more abundant in the winter and ducks! Many different kinds of ducks winter in Colorado and they are all unique and very vibrant! Make sure when your considering a bird that it has a pretty good chance of being in your area at the present time of year.
In the late summer and fall juvenile birds outnumber adults. This makes for very difficult identification on some species such as sparrows. Be trying to find an ID consider the juveniles as they often look much different than the adults.

These are just a few things to consider when looking at a bird. Think about one at a time focusing on the bird while its in sight. You can later consider other things but its very important to look at the bird itself.

This bird is a little different. Its smaller than the flicker and smaller than the WC Sparrow as well. It has a long tail, thin bill, yellow throat, wing bars (messy wing bars) and a beautiful patter on the tail. The small size bill shape you lead you to warbler. It has a much thinner longer bill than the sparrow. From there you'd look for birds with mostly grey body and yellow throat. Hopefully you'd arrive at Yellow-rumped Warbler even though you can't see the yellow rump in this photo.


Thanks for reading! -Megan

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hudson Garden August 10th

On August 10th Britny, myself and 9 other people gathered at the Hudson Garden gift shop for our Saturday walk.

We saw few birds until we reached the Platte where birds activity was plentiful! Yellow Warblers are still singing and Northern Flicker's were calling from the tall cottonwoods. We made our way up the river watching the Mallards float by while discussing the males in eclipse plumage (Males with a yellow bill and orange feet while females have an orange bill and orange feet). Arriving at the bridge we glassed the water for Wood Ducks and found a single eclipsed male mixed in with 15 or some Mallards.

An adult Double-crested Cormorant sunned itself in the center of the river its jet black plumage and green eyes reflecting in the sun. While admiring this textbook adult a juvenile paddled down to a rock nearby. We noticed the overall buffy look to the juvenile compared to the adult.

We had lovely views of 3 herons species Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron and the slender Snowy Egret.
Snowy Egret

We made our way across the river to a small adjoining pond where we watched Barn Swallows and talked about how to tell the differences between the species perched and in flight. On our way back to the coffee shop we had great views of Cedar Waxwings catching insects out above the river. We ended the day with a mystery juvenile Grosbeak on the Hudson Garden's hopper feeder. Initially we thought Black-headed and it slowly turned to doubt as we noticed a stain of red on a breast as well and red under wings as it flew past us disappearing into the locust trees. We were never able to relocate the bird but we're still leaning toward Red-breasted Grosbeak. We ended the day with 25 species.

Wood Duck with her duckling

Be sure to check out more photos on our facebook page at

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-heron
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Northern Flicker
Western Wood-Pewee
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
House Wren
American Robin
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Rose-breasted/Black-headed Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Thanks for reading! -Megan