Journal archives for February 2016

February 03, 2016

First Guided Afternoon Bird Walk

The first afternoon bird walk I led this Wednesday was a success! 8 people came out and we birded Centennial Woods from 2 to 4pm. Before we had even reached Centennial, we came across a flock of about a dozen robins in the crabapple trees lining the sidewalk near the windmill. We stopped to watch these for a while as they carefully flew around the trees and tried to tear off pieces of the small red fruits. I kept an eye out for another winter fruit eater, the Cedar Waxwing, but none were found mixed in with the flock.

Once we had made it down to the entrance, we stopped to admire a small flock of about half a dozen Dark-eyed Juncos moving around the edge of the woods. They were foraging in the tall grasses and making high-pitched contact calls until we spooked them walking down the trail into the woods. Not much was seen walking through the first part of Centennial, but a flurry of activity near the large open marshy area let us know that we were close to one of the bird feeders! Several Black-capped Chickadees and a White-breasted Nuthatch were hanging around the feeder, we watched as the chickadees would fly in, grab a single sunflower seed, and fly away to a perch where they could methodically hammer away at the seed until they reached the tasty center. While we were distracted by the activity at the feeder, two circling Red-tailed Hawks snuck up on us, only to start riding thermals directly above our heads for our viewing pleasure. We watched as they circled for a few minutes until both tucked in their wings and left the thermal to search for another one.

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, until we came across the second feeder on our way out of the woods. There was also a lot of chickadee activity here, as well as some more White-breasted Nuthatches and a few Tufted Titmice as well. The star of the show at the second feeder however was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers that put on quite a show for everyone in the group. They seemed almost fearless, flying around within a few feet of the group, allowing us to get a good look at the bright red patch on the back of the males head, as well as some of the field marks that can be used to differentiate between Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. This second bird-rich area was a great ending to this Centennial trip and a great chance for the group to practice bird ID. I'm looking forward to next weeks trip!

Posted on February 03, 2016 16:38 by nsharp nsharp | 13 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 19, 2016

Waxwing Heaven

In this week's journal I will be recounting an incredible experience I had last week with some of winter's most beautiful birds. Last Tuesday, I threw on a few layers and my biggest pair of boots and prepared to lead my second bird walk. Perhaps it was the snow on the ground or the chill in the air, but no one showed, and I didn't blame them! Rather than go back to my room, I decided to swing by Centennial and see if any birds were out braving the cold. Before I could even make it to the entrance, I saw the distinctive shape and heard the high-pitched 'seeee' of a Waxwing diving headlong into the crabapples that lined the sidewalk.

I had been hearing a few reports and seeing eBird checklists and knew that Bohemians were a possibility at the time, so I went closer to investigate. Originally, I only spotted the one Cedar Waxwing, perched in a crabapple utterly ignoring my presence. When I put my binoculars up its lemon yellow sides and elegant black mask filled the entire frame. I knew waxwings didn't tend to travel alone, so I wasn't surprised when a few yards further down the path I found a small flock of Cedar Waxwings huddled together in the gray birches near the windmill. Upon closer examination however, I realized that a separate group of waxwings was hidden deep in the birches, and these were much larger and grayer!

It has always been a dream of mine to get a colorful, up-close shot of one of these winter beauties, so I weighed my options and decided that if I were to run home and grab my camera the waxwings would still be there waiting for me. I made a beeline through the snow to get back to UHeights, ran up the stairs, grabbed my camera and 300mm lens and was back outside under the birches in minutes. After getting a few unsatisfactory shots of Waxwing butts about 30ft up in the tree, both the Bohemians and the Cedars took off and flew (almost) out of sight. Chasing the group across the street and onto what I hoped wasn't private property, I found a mixed flock of European Starlings, American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings all surrounding a grove of shrubby fruit trees. I knew that this was my chance, and got comfortable in a snow bank and locked my lens onto the Bohemians. For the next 45 minutes, I snapped away at Bohemians, Cedars, and very photogenic robins as I slowly lost feeling in my legs. Once the fruit had been picked clean, the flock departed and I decided it was time to go home, warm up, and see if I did indeed get the shot that I had been hoping for.

Posted on February 19, 2016 01:38 by nsharp nsharp | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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