Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bulletin #64 – Sarasota FL #1 - raptors

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
January 29, 2009

Bulletin #64 – Sarasota Florida raptors

Hello friends,

I spent a week on Longboat Key in the Sarasota Florida area.

I used a guide here for a couple of mornings. His name is Rick Greenspun. His web site is..

This is a great area for wading birds, wintering sparrows, and raptors including Bald Eagles.

Florida if you are not aware has more Bald Eagles than any other state except Alaska.

I found this adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) on a telephone post. It takes the eagles 4-5 years to reach full adult plumage with the pure white head and tail. There is no question of the ID of this magnificent bird.

He took off as I approached. Here he is from above as he soared.

And from below.

Another day we found a third year bird. He has the white head, but still has a lot of brown in the tail.

Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus) are hawks that fly just above fields and marshes looking for rodents. They have white rumps and thus are easy to identify from a distance. The females are brown and the males are gray. We seem to have mostly females on the upper Texas coast. In fact I have seen the males probably less than 10 times and females literally hundreds of times. This is the first photo I have taken of a male.

There was a park just south of Longboat Key that has a roost of some parakeets that I wanted to photograph. I went there about 4 times and waited for the parakeets to appear, and while waiting on one occasion, this adult Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flew into a tree right above me.

The most exciting find was this Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). My guide knew of a bird that winters on Siesta Key on 8 story condo building. We went by and the bird was present on a small shelf about 4-5 stories off the ground. He stated that the bird has been coming to the same location for the past 9 years. It appears to be a female and most Peregrines in Florida summer in Greenland!

Peregrines as you know are the fastest animals in the world. They can dive to capture other birds at 180-200 mph. If the Bald Eagle is the regal symbol of the USA, the Peregrine surely is the king of the air.

I put on the 2x extender, so was shooting at 1400mm effective lens. She was at first sitting with her back to me. The bird is identified by the black sideburns.

Next she walked along the shelf and turned to walk back.

Then she turned and perched as if to take off. What a ferocious looking bird!

Lastly, I enjoy watching Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). There are lots of these birds along the Florida coast where they nest on trees, nesting platforms etc. While waiting to find the parakeets in the park as I mentioned above, I watched a pair of Ospreys that had a nest on a radio tower, perhaps 60’ off the ground.

Here is one of them carrying a large stick to the nest. They cannot fly straight up to the nest, but have to spiral up. Thus they circled around the tower 5 or 6 times as they ascended to the nest. This allowed multiple photographs.

There was also a pole abut 20 feet off the ground where they would roost or eat their fish.

Once, I watched one of the pair eat part of a fish on the pole, and then fly with the rest of the fish up to the nest and give it to his mate. Here it is with the fish in his talons and the tail fanned out nicely as it spiraled upwards to the nest.

Lastly, in some of the photos when I got home and looked at them, I caught one of the birds in a private moment. Luckily I wasn’t directly underneath the bird! Here are 2 photos 1/3 second apart. This bulletin is already too long, so look at the images on my web site. click ‘next’ once

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2009 David McDonald

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bulletin #63 – Misc. TX birds

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
January 15, 2009

Bulletin #63 – Misc. Texas birds

Hello friends,

I have really had some photographic excitement to start 2009. On Saturday Jan 3rd, the Texas birding website (Texbirds) had a post that a Mexican species was discovered south of San Antonio, in Choke Canyon State Park. The bird was a Pine Flycatcher. This was the first time this species had been found in the USA. I looked on Google maps for the location of the park and estimated driving distance. I guess I misread the mileage as I thought it said 204 miles. I figured out a more direct route that I thought would decrease the distance by 25 miles. So I decided to go on Sunday morning the 4th to try and see the bird and photograph it. I knew there would be a few others there looking for it, so it might already be spotted when I arrived. Well, the distance turned out to be 250 miles, so Google maps must have said 304 miles! I probably would not have gone if I knew the actual distance.

Anyway, when I arrived about 10:15am, there were perhaps a dozen birders there and they had seen the bird. The weather was foggy and gray, but by 12:00 noon, the bird had showed up and I got some reasonable photos of the bird in a leafless bush. I returned home.

I processed the photos and posted them on Texbirds. Additionally, I sent them to the Houston Audubon Society webmaster, as HAS also maintains the NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) website. The photos were put up on NARBA Sunday evening.

On Monday, I received an email from the American Birding Association asking to use the photos in their newsletters and on their web site. I sent them the photos. scroll down to Jan 3rd.

But the real fun started on Thursday 7th, when I received a call from the Associated Press (AP) in Dallas. They were going to put out a story on this rare bird and asked if they could use some photos. I sent them Thursday night as I had to complete them to their size specifications. I was told the story would go out on the newswire on Friday.

All day Friday I checked the AP web site for a story about a Pine Flycatcher in Texas – nothing. Finally at 4:30 in the afternoon, there it was. It made the web sites of many papers, TV stations, radio stations across the USA. Here is one of them – Monterey CA.

The next day, it made the major web sites – Yahoo, MSNBC, AOL, USA Today etc. I even found it on a Taiwan newspaper web site! However, the funniest one is this.

This was a life bird for me. However, it is very similar in appearance to several USA birds, and there is some skepticism whether the ID of the bird is correct. I’m sure the experts will be debating this bird all year.

So, here are my Pine Flycatcher (Empidonax affinis) photos that were sent and seen around the world.

The Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilla yucatanensis) at my home is still present and it is a real treat to have such a beautiful bird as a winter visitor. I thought it would be interesting to put up a back-drop for the photos. I had a bright yellow piece of poster board and here are a couple of photos. In the first photo, I noticed that the bird had a band on his right leg. One of the bird banders contacted me to attempt to catch the bird to read the band and discover where he had been banded. They came to my house on New Year’s Day, but the bird was too smart to go into the trap. We may try again later with a different type of trap.

Just northwest of Houston, a lady posted on Texbirds that she had 2 winter hummingbirds coming to feeders in her yard. I went to see them on Dec 28th.

The first is a male Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). This bird is similar to the common Ruby-throated Hummingbird of eastern North America, but has some rufous on his tail feathers. If you look closely, you can see it on the outermost tail feather.

The other was a female Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). She is the same genus as the previous bird but has much more rufous coloration.

In this picture, you can see the band on her right leg and even read the number ‘92’ on the band. These bands for hummingbirds are about 1/3 inch in length, so I was amazed to be able to read it!

I made several trips to Brazos Bend State Park, southwest of Houston. The best bird was a life bird for me, the Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus). It is a typical blackbird, but in winter plumage turns a rusty brown. It also has a yellow eye.

This bird is a woodland species that feeds in bogs in the forest, eating insects, snails etc. It summers in the boreal forests of North America from Alaska to Newfoundland and winters in the southeast USA. It is becoming rare, with the population estimated to have plummeted 90% since the 1970s. No one is quite sure why it is declining and studies are being undertaken to find out why. Here is an article on the Smithsonian web site.

The first photo is an adult male. He just has a little rust on him.

The next photo is of a 1st year male. He is considerably browner.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2008-09 David McDonald