Tuesday, December 25, 2018


2018 has been an amazing year in birding for me. I really got to see the effects of the studying that I have done and all of the tips that I have gotten from people much more experienced than me. I submitted a total of 255 checklists, documenting 179 species across seven states. 100 of these species are new to my life list, with 73 being added to my Kansas list alone.

I photographed 43 species. My highlight photo is between the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) displaying when I was near the nest, or the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) that landed in the tree right above me.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) landed right above me and sat
still long enough for me to snap a photo.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) displaying as I neared the nest.
My best photo of the year, voted on by my Twitter followers, was the Great Blue Heron through the sunflowers, a photo that I am calling Sunflower Heron.
Sunflower Heron (Ardea herodias).
I am ending the year strong with the Manhattan, KS Christmas Bird Count and bird banding with Dr. Alice Boyle on Konza Prairie. The birds were a bit slow for the count this year, but we were able to find a group of Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) in a small tree-line. Our few days of banding produced the first Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) caught for this project on Konza Prairie and helped me to see how much I learned while helping last year as well.

I hope that everyone has had as great of a year in birding as I have and that next year will be even greater for us all. I plan to post even more next year, as I take Ornithology during my spring semester.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Summary: November 12-November 18, 2018

It has been a while since I have posted a Sunday Summary, or anything else on this blog for that matter. I apologize for the long break, but I have been very busy with classes and haven't been able to get out and do much birding to report to you all. Luckily, Kansas State gives a whole week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, which will allow me to catch up on some much needed birding and blogging.

Since my last Sunday Summary, I have added four birds to my Riley County list, bringing my total to 112 species observed. New species are as follows: Golden-Crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), and Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens). The Snow Goose also added t my life list, bringing that total to 190 species. I have again reached my pre-winter goal, and will be setting my new goal to 125 species in Riley County before winter.

My most observed species this week was the Snow Goose with 100 individuals observed. I was lucky enough to spot this group as they flew in their nice V above me just when I arrived at Fancy Creek this afternoon. It was nice to finally see this species while conducting a bird count.

There is no picture of the week this week. With the leaves having fallen and the cold weather species moved in, it is becoming harder and harder to spot birds that I am able to get good pictures of. Most of the species that I observe are in dense clusters of Eastern Red Cedar trees, making it almost impossible to tell that there is even a bird in the picture sometimes.

My highlight of the week is between getting to observe the Golden-crowned Kinglets and seeing a group of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) getting a drink from the puddle of a melting icicle under a picnic shelter. The Golden-crowned Kinglets always make my day when I see them because they are such tiny little birds that seem to have so much energy. The Cedar Waxwings were the largest group of this species that I have observed in Kansas at one time and it was great to see them taking advantage of the melting ice pooling in the shelter.

I would like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. To get rid of that feeling in your gut after the big meal, may I suggest taking a nice peaceful birding walk. Who knows, maybe you'll spot a Wild Turkey.

Also, if you would like to read more from me with a focus less on birding and more on nature as a whole, check out my new blog Journals of a Naturalist at https://journalsofanaturalist.blogspot.com/.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sunday Summary: October 8-October 14, 2018

I finally have a weekly summary that is worth writing about. Although it was rainy and could covered for most of the week, I was able to get out five days and report checklists. Before I get into that, a little update on stats that I haven't yet posted.

Since my last Sunday Summary, I was able to reach my goal of 100 species in Riley County, Kansas before winter. On September 29 I added four new species to this list; Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum), Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), and Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors). These four brought my total to 101, allowing me to make a new goal of seeing 110 species before winter. On the October 7, I added another three species; Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla), and Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) bringing my total to 104.

This past week, I was able to add another four species, making my new total for Riley County, Kansas 108; Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus), Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), American Coot (Fulica americana), and Wood Duck (Aix sponsa). Only two species left to reach my new goal. The Broad-winged Hawk, Pied-billed Grebe and American Coot were also additions to my overall life list, bringing the total there to 189 species. I can't wait until that number is at 200.

My most observed species this week was the American Coot, with 140 individuals observed over three days. I went from never seeing a single American Coot in my life to seeing them in groups of up to 65 at a time. I have really enjoyed observing them over the last few days, especially since they are about the only waterfowl that seem to be around this area right now.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perched against the beautiful leaves
of fall.
The picture of the week this week is of a perched Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I had been observing this female for a few days near the same spot and got a great picture of her at a distance, but could never catch a clear image when she moved closer. Then, while out with my brother-in-law, Anthony, she flew right over us and perched in a branch very near to where we were standing. I fumbled around with the camera for a little bit, due to excitement, and was fortunate enough to get this image on my first shot. I love the fall leaves in the background and I always seem to like pictures that I have had to work for more than those that come easy.

My highlight from the week was taking Anthony birding. He is an Ag teacher at the Blue Valley High School and is developing a new wildlife management course for his students to take. I am fortunate enough that he is allowing me to assist in the development of his curriculum for the course. His students are currently entering their ornithology unit and I have been trying to help him by showing him good places to take kids on field trips and giving tips on how to identify and learn to identify the birds that they observe. Without Anthony there sharing the moment of the Kingfisher I don't thin it would have been quite as special.

I hope that everyone is having a great fall so far (although it is more like winter here with all of the snow).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Friday Field Notes: October 12, 2018

From October 12, 2018

Finally sunny after about a week of rain I am able to get out and enjoy some time birding. Luckily the birds seem to like the sunshine as well. All of the American Coots (Fulica americana) wading up the flooded road and the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) happily hunting from the trees along the bank.

It's nice to have such a great day to get out and be with nature for a while. I just found out that I have been dropped from the Marine Corps Reserves due to an issue with paperwork and this changes a lot of things that I had planned for the future. Although I have been trying to find the positives in the situation, a change this big can really put a strain on a person.

Since separating from active duty, I have gone through periods of depression. Topped with a slight amount of PTSD, there are many things I could have turned to trying to escape my mind. Luckily for me, I found a sense of security in birding and spending time in the outdoors away from people and my own thoughts.

Unfortunately there are lots of veterans out there who haven't found such a healthy way to deal with their depression and turn to alcohol or drugs to try and escape the pain. Currently 22 veterans each day take their own lives due to not being able to escape their own heads. If someone you know has recently separated from the military, or just suffers from depression and bad thoughts, try taking them birding with you. Showing them how to enjoy the world around them could help them to get away from themselves when they really need to.

Birding has really helped me in times of need and I hope that by sharing how it has assisted in my transition, you will share birding with another person. You never know what they might be going through and how a simple walk with nature could affect decisions that they make in the future.

*  *  *  *  *
Views like this have helped me to escape my mind.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Bird of the Week: October 10, 2018

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) perched and searching for
something to eat.
 The bird of the week this week is one of the most common woodpecker species that I observe here in Kansas. Red-bellied Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are a common woodpecker species to visit suet feeders, often chasing off other birds with their intimidating beaks. I am often asked why they are called red-bellied by non-birders. Although not super obvious, there is a bit or red mixed into the feathers on their bellies. The red cap on top of their heads can be such a bright shade of red that it almost looks orange in the right light.

Red-bellied Woodpecker displaying its beautiful red/orange cap.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers eat mostly insects, but will munch on acorns, nuts and pine cones as well. As a yard bird, I mostly see them eating from the suet, but sometimes catch them picking sunflower seeds from my trough feeder. I have even had these beautiful birds trying to impale holes into the gutters on my home, likely trying to get to some insect that was hiding in the wood just behind the thin metal. 

When it comes to woodpecker nesting, this species is no different from the others, choosing to nest in hollowed out cavities. The Red-bellied Woodpecker can lay one to three broods per year with clutches ranging in size from two to six eggs.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is of low conservation concern. Although the forests of their range (Eastern North America) have diminished, these birds seem to continue to thrive.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday Field Notes: September 28, 2018

I apologize for the week off. Sometimes life just gets in the way. With school, work and now time in the lab, it can be very hard to get out and bird consistently. I know that I keep using this excuse, but I promise that I have been trying to make time wherever I can to report the amazing birds around me and keep up with writing this blog.

That being said, this Friday Field Notes is more of an update on the new undergrad research project that I am taking on. I am very excited about having the opportunity to work in such a great lab so early in my career and hope that it leads to great things in the future.

*  *  *  *  *
Recently, I have taken on an undergraduate research project in Dr. Alice Boyle's lab at Kansas State University. It's part of a study being conducted by Dylan Smith concerning Dickcissel (Spiza americana) nesting habits during the recent Kansas drought. My part of this project is to sort and weigh insects to try and determine whether the availability of food sources affect the nesting patterns of this species.

Yesterday being my first day, I have already had a few hiccups. During the weighing of the insects I had a problem with the scale. While weighing the edible samples, the scale had some problems accurately reading the weight. The inedible samples produced a definitive weight in a matter of seconds, but after waiting over 30 minutes the edible samples was still being determined.

Luckily there is a good amount of accessibility in the Boyle Lab, and after bringing the solution up to Sarah Winnicki, one of the grad students in this lab, an email chain was quickly sent out to all involved in the project and past students who helped develop the protocols for this specific part of the project and a few suggestions on how to fix the issue have been discussed. I plan on implementing them in the future and hopefully the issue will be resolved.

*  *  *  *  *

Sorting process of insects.
Weighing the edible insects for one sample.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday Bird of the Week: September 19, 2018

Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) gracefully soaring above Tuttle Creek Lake.

The bird of the week this week is the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger). They are a migrant species that I have enjoyed observing lately. I haven't seen them in their breeding colors, but I like how they look in their non-breeding/juvenile plumage more anyway.

The Black Tern is a medium sized shorebird, slightly smaller than the Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) that I normally observe them associated with. In their non-breeding plumage, they are a mostly white bird with dark grey to black on their back and wings and a small peninsula of black behind their eye. They have black bills, legs and feet. The breeding adults sport a fully black body with only small patches of white near the vent and on the underside of the wings. The Black Tern is a common bird in steep decline.
Black Terns fighting the wind to fly in place.

Black Terns eat mostly insects and occupy freshwater marshes, where they construct floating nests. Not much information is provided on this bird species on the allaboutbirds.org webpage about their habitat or nesting habits.

According to allaboutbirds.org, the Black Tern populations in North America have been declining by about two percent per year since 1966, causing a total decline of 57% by 2014.

The Black Tern has been a great bird to observe as it flies just above the water and takes little dives every once in a while. They seem to try and use the wind to keep them in place for as long as they can fight it, by flying against the wind and just slightly altering the angle of their bodies to move around. This species is very graceful and adds nice variety to the birds that I am able to observe in my little corner of the world.