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 webpage about their habitat or nesting habits.

According to, 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.

    Sunday, September 16, 2018

    Sunday Summary: September 10-September 16, 2018

    As the semester continues, I realize that I will not be able to make it out most days to bird. This will be reflected in the coming Sunday Summaries to come. Sadly, I am missing one of the greatest times of the year, fall migration. I have noticed more shorebirds lately, but I seem to be missing the warblers that others have spotted.

    I was able to submit four checklists this week with a total of 27 species. No birds were added to my life list, but I was able to add three to my Pottawatomie County, Kansas list. Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea), Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan), and Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus). This brings my Pottawatomie County list to 36 species.

    My most observed species this week was the Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) with 70 individuals. It's always fun to see them roosting in their large groups. I usually count one large group and think that they are all accounted for only to turn a corner to find another group of even more.

    Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) stepping off after the two ahead
    of it, disappearing into the tall grass.
    The picture of the week this week is a Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) as it scurried away from me. I stopped on the road because I saw a head poking out of the grass and wanted to be sure that it was in fact a Northern Bobwhite. Not only did I confirm the one that I originally spotted, but there were two others that followed as I shuffled around for my camera. This is a species that I have been wanting to get a shot of for a long time now, and I was able to just barely catch the third before it disappeared into the tall grass and cedar trees.

    My highlight of the week is from Saturday morning. I was at Fancy Creek State Park dong a little fishing (surprisingly not a birding focused trip), and I heard a high-pitched whinnying noise coming from behind me. I knew it was an owl, but wasn't 100% sure what species. Using my Merlin app, I was able to identify it as an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio). As I went to the car to get my binoculars to see if it was close, a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) landed on a log not far from shore where I was standing. I was able to snap a few pictures, but the lighting wasn't very good and they all came out blurry. I didn't ever find the owl.

    How is fall migration going for you? I would love to hear any stories about the migrants you have been able to observe so far. 

    Friday, September 14, 2018

    Friday Field Notes: September 14, 2018

    Form September 14, 2018

    The pollinators are on their last push it seems before the Fall season begins and the flowers are gone. It's interesting to think that they use the nectar from flowers to provide enough energy to survive through the Winter and be able to go back out the next Spring to collect it all again. The more I think about it, the more amazing this seems.

    Not only do the pollinators amaze me, but the fact that flowers have developed such a system to help them reproduce. Through evolution, the flowers easily could have developed ways to self pollinate, but instead this mutual relationship between the flowers and the pollinators has remained their mode of choice. The bees get their food and the flowers are able to reproduce. But bees aren't the only pollinators.

    Many people don't think of the other pollinators of this world much. When asked to name one, most people go straight for the bees, but why don't butterflies get as much love? Better yet, why not hummingbirds, or bats. Yes, Fruit Bats do help to pollinate flowers. Again it's a mutual relationship with the flowers. The bats get the nectar, the flower gets pollinated and becomes a fruit, the bat eats the fruit, the seed is released allowing it to become another fruit tree that can support more bats.

    The systems of nature fascinate me so much. To think of all the ways in which things in nature are interconnected, I don't believe it is possible. This just goes to support the notion that a small change can make a big difference. We as humans need to take this into consideration when we decide to develop lands to fit our needs. What could we be taking away from nature? What systems are we interrupting? How can we help to support the systems that we are destroying once we do? These are just some of the questions that I want answered. This planet isn't only ours. We are just a small part of a very large system.

    *   *   *   *

    Grey Hairstreak Butterfly (Strymon melinus) collecting it's nectar from
    a Dotted Gayfeather (Liatris punctata Hook).

    Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) wallowing in the
    inflorescence of a Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum (L.) Spreng). 

    Wednesday, September 12, 2018

    Wednesday Bird of the Week: September 12, 2018

    American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) preening on a log
    floating in Tuttle Creek Lake.
    The bird of the week this week has been the most observed species in my weekly reports multiple times in the last couple of months, but has always been too far for me to get pictures of until yesterday. The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is not the coastal pelican that most might think of. It spends time more in the middle states during migration.

    The American White Pelican is a large, white bird, found near large bodies of water. When in flight, they display their black primaries, which are mostly hidden while they are floating or perched. They have large orange/yellow bills and during breeding season the adults grow a  horn shaped plate on their upper bill. This species is of low conservation concern.

    American White Pelican displaying black primaries during flight.
    Since the main habitat of the American White Pelican is lakes and ponds, it is no surprise that their diet consists of mainly fish. Sometimes large groups of these birds will even work together to herd small fish into the shallows. They  can dip their large, pouched bills into the water and scoop out fish, or they may even dip their whole bodies under water like a diving duck.

    American White Pelicans nest on the ground, laying a clutch of one to three eggs. They prefer flat sites on gravel, sand, or soil near other pelicans.

    Although the American White Pelican likes to perch on floating logs, they are fairly clumsy. They use their wings to try and keep balance, but often fall off of their log into the water. Most of the time they seem to just play it off as though they intended to take a little swim anyway.

    Next time you are near a large body of water, keep a lookout for these large birds. They are quite fascinating to observe, especially in flight.

    Monday, September 10, 2018

    Sunday Summary: September 3-September 9, 2018

    This week was very sad from a birding standpoint for me. I was only able to get out two days and submit checklists. With all of the rain that we have been getting and the change in schedule with school, there just wasn't much time.

    I was still able to add three species to my Riley County and life lists. The Black Tern (Chlidonias niger), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), and Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) were all new birds for me. I have never really gotten out to a wetland area during the fall migration before, but am hoping to be able to get out more this week to hopefully add even more diversity to my list. My new list totals are now; Riley County, 97, Life list, 186. Only three away from my goal of 100 species for Riley County before winter.

    My most observed species was the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) with 46 individuals. I also observed what seemed to be a migrating flock of this species over the Kansas State University campus this week, but was not able to report it.

    Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) wading in the river, through a sunflower
    The picture of the week this week is of a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) through some sunflowers. This bird was hanging out near the boat ramp at Fancy Creek State Park as I was leaving Tuesday. It stood still and allowed me to capture a few great images before slowly turning and walking off to where I could no longer get a clear shot.

    My highlight of the week was finding the Caspian Tern and Black Terns. I spotted the Caspian Tern while observing the feeding behaviors of the Ring-billed Gulls (). The Tern just happened to fly in front of the Gull that I was observing, catching my attention with its bright orange bill and black cap. The Black Tern was flying around in the area, but I struggled for a long time to figure out what it actually was. They were not displaying their breeding colors, so most of my manuals were not the most helpful. Luckily the Sibley Guide has many different plumage variations for each species and I was able to determine from there that they were either juveniles, non-breeding adults, or some combination of both.

    Friday, September 7, 2018

    Friday Field Notes: September 7, 2018

    Notes taken September 3, 2018

    We got a pretty heavy rain last night and there's a threat of rain looming over us this morning. The water at Fancy Creek is up over the bridge where I have been taking m notes. I am calling that Frog Bridge now due to the bullfrogs that always seem to hang out there.

    I am writing this now from what I am calling Low-water Bridge because the water is always much lower here than at Frog Bridge. The sound of the water running over the rocks reminds me of my time in Wisconsin at Amnicon Falls. Of course, there was much more water at Amnicon than there is here.

    I could sit and watch water flow all day. I am reminded of something I was once told and I can't remember who told me, but if you stare at one point of a river, you'll never see the same water twice.

    It's so relaxing to listen to and watch the water and then think of all the benefits that come from it. The plants need it to grow. The animals eat the plants. Other animals eat those animals. They drink the water. It creates new landscapes. Those are just a few of the benefits.

    It's nice to finally have flowing water after such a long Summer of drought.

    The creek at Low-water Bridge.

    Wednesday, September 5, 2018

    Wednesday Bird of the Week: September 5, 2018

    Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) showing off
    the namesake red head.

    This bird of the week isn't the most common woodpecker species of this area, but it is definitely my favorite. There's no wondering why this beautiful bird is called red-headed. With such a bright red head they can be hard to miss.

    One of the seven woodpecker species found in Kansas, the Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) isn't around for the whole year. During the winter they make a trip to parts of Texas and southern Louisiana, returning to breed in the Spring.
    Picking at the tree a little before taking off.
    Sadly, this year I haven't seen as many as I have in past years, which should be of no surprise for a species that is under conservation watch as a declining species. This is likely due to a loss in nut bearing trees all over the range of this great species and the cutting down of dead trees which they use for nesting and food storage.

    The Red-headed Woodpecker, much like most other woodpecker species, are cavity nesters. They like creating holes in the tops of dead trees and telephone poles. They can have a clutch ranging from three to ten eggs and can have two broods per year. 

     These birds are fairly easy to distinguish from other woodpecker species. They have a very distinct red head and a beautiful black and white feather pattern on their backs. Being quite chatty is another characteristic of this species that I really enjoy. They definitely like to make their presence known and defend the trees that they have claimed very fiercely from other birds.