Monday, July 28, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Nebraska does not disappoint, as far as birds are concerned.
If you ever find yourself in the farthest northeast corner of Nebraska for any period of time, be sure and investigate the 1,400 acre State Park named Ponca. If the rest of the state leaves a person with one particular impression of what the majority of it is like, then Ponca, turns that on its head. There are barely enough ways to describe the versatile ecosystems that seem to have all congregated in this one area; Dense woodlands, prairie hilltops, the mighty Missouri river, and a plethora of tree species. I could sit here on this blog and re-describe the beauty and variety of the natural wonder that is Ponca, but I'm not going to. Check the link for the park and read all there is to read if you so choose, I (on the other hand) will merely scratch the surface of possibilities that the park has to offer in the next few paragraphs, regarding the many species of birds that inhabit (and visit) this grand oasis. Oh, and there's also a city named "Ponca" so you don't get confused...
Our campsite in Turkey Ridge offered us the special opportunity to watch the constant feedings and attention given to a new family of Baltimore Orioles be attended to by the male. Boysenberries seemed to be plentiful, and the doting father flew back and forth to the pendulous nest with a beak-full for his eagerly awaiting brood of chicks. The feedings went on all evening and resumed in the morning at dawn.
The view of the Missouri River from the lookout is stunning so make sure you check it out. The park has all the beauty and charm of one of the finest I have had the fortune to encounter. The birdlife all around was spectacular. My early morning walk to catch Ponca's unique dawn chorus yielded many species; Western and Eastern Meadowlark, Red-shafted Flicker, Downey Woodpecker, Eastern Wood Pewee, Baltimore Oriole, American Redstart, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Robin, Ring-necked Pheasant, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Common Grackle, Brewer's Blackbird, Blue jay, Chipping Sparrow and my first Lark Sparrow ever!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The grade near the tracks rose dramatically upward so I leaned forward, stayed low and trudged towards the railroad bed. From the top of the summit I could see across the prairie field to the west. Loosely shaped gray-black clouds hung in the sky with the threat of additional precipitation, undeterred I plunged into the waist-high wet grass. Birds flew in and out of the vegetation as I approached a central pile of dead tree trunks. A smallish blue bird alighted atop an upended treestump and began its staccato song as I spun bringing up my binoculars. No, it can't be! - It IS...a Lazuli Bunting, my first! As I watched my "lifelist prize" flit to and from its preferred perch, numerous other colorful winged creatures dissapeared into the surrounding greenery. Being too far from the speeding darting birds to do a positive ID, I waded closer to the deadfalls to get a better look. It was then I looked around at the "grass" I was moving my shorts-clad legs through and stopped dead in horror. NETTLES! and I had almost blundered straight into them. Good thing I had paid attention to the leaf pattern instead of my lightning-fast quarry, because if you have ever had the extreme displeasure of getting intimate with this toxic serrated-edged demon of the woods, you know what I mean. The burning sensation that follows exposure is maddening and painful. BUT, did that dissuage me in the slightest from my quest? NO! I gingerly picked my way through the non-infested areas until I could gain purchase onto the nearest link in the deadwood pile chain. Crawling low and slow, I was able to traverse the entire length of the "Pick-up Stix" arrangement to reach the best vantage point.
These particular birds were flying sorties back and forth from the tall grass and nettles with some important mission on their bird brains. "Just what were they?," I mused to myself as I repositioned myself on the logs so as not to topple off into the stinging masses below. Orioles! - yes definitely orioles, but WHICH orioles? I looked through the Bushnells again and again as they came and went, ignoring my attempts to ID them. (The Nerve!) Baltimore? - No too yellow...Bullocks? - No, wrong area of the country. Finally, after checking two different field guides, I had it. - Hooded...Yes, Hooded...BING! another lifebird for the Birdstud! Males and females were grabbing insects down in the grass and flying off to feed their young in the nearby trees on the ridge. Wow, this was sooo cool!
Some have said that it doesn't take much to impress me, and there's some truth to that, but heck, I don't care. I get pretty darn "jazzed-up" by the immense beauty and sheer variety of God's creations, and I make no apologies. There is much I don't know and have yet to see (and learn) so onward I go toward the unknown and unseen with my head held high and my binoculars at the ready...watching out for nettles.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The reckless adventurer in me, made me do it. (honest!)
A day trip to the Midway Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, WY located on the Firehole River between the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins was the perfect destination for the day's activities. Home to the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser, it was definitely worth the drive from our home base in Canyon Village. The Grand Prismatic Spring is by far the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is thought to be the third largest in the world. In 1871, the Hayden Expedition named this spring as such because of its beauty, and artist Thomas Moran created water-color sketches mirroring its "rainbow-like" colors. Now, a geyser basin isn't exactly where a person is going to find a cornucopia of bird species, let alone any living creature other than the numerous boardwalk shuffling, deluxe motor coach disembarking, tourist. I took a chance anyway and strapped on the old Bushnells, and slung the Fuji Finepix 5200 around one shoulder, hoping for a chance to capture an image or two of a "frequent flyer
Other than the occasional Raven of which their were few, hopping along the tall grass next to the Firehole river bank and an overfly of an American Robin, apparently birds had no reason to visit the barren, boiling, roiling, landscape. I was lamenting this fact while traveling the plank pathway when things got interesting. Up ahead standing in the center of a loop of walkway two furry behemoths stood. The heat from the nearby spring and the smell of sulphur clashed with the bucolic backdrop against which the mighty bison are usually seen and photographed. "What the heck," I thought. "Why not take a couple of photos myself and maybe even a video, after all, I was not seeing any birds, and they were just standing there..."
The rest of my family (and anyone else within my reach) seemed to have vacated the immediate area for the opposite side of the loop from the drooling, snuffling, leviathans. I however did not see the mass human exodus as I was busy peering into the viewfinder of my camera at one of the beasts. I had set the device for a digital movie and was dutifully training the lens on an approaching bison. The dark brown, hoofed giant clip-clopped its way up onto, then lumbered slowly across the boardwalk as I panned. An excited warning shout from several family members barely registered in my head as I reasoned I had maintained plenty of distance from the subject of my feature film. I did too, from THAT bison. I had nearly forgotten its "buddy" and what it may have decided to do at that moment. before I knew it, too stunned to move I swung the camera around into the (far too near) face of the copy-cat friend as up onto the wood it clambered and across, it bulldozed to the other side as the high pitched squeals from the witnesses to my near-miss collision, sounded the alarm in my preoccupied brain. "Whew, that was close!" exclaimed someone. "He's nuts!" echoed somebody else. I'm thinking; "That was dumb, Joe."
Yeah, I guess that proves the old axiom; Better to be lucky than good!
Birdstud Takes Charge!
Monday, July 7, 2008
The drive out (all 1400 miles pulling the camper) provided some great birding. In fact, I had an awesome series of treks onto the wild prairie while in South Dakota and Nebraska. (More to come on that)