Google Drive: A New, Easy Way to Embed Photos in an eBird Checklist

It is once again that time of year when the birding has slowed waaaay down.  Virtual tumbleweeds are rolling through cyberspace that was once occupied with fast and furious listserv postings and backlogged blog posts.  Once again, I find myself trying to fill that virtual void by doing some tech project to help my fellow birders.  Last year it was the creation of birdingacrossamerica.com.  This year it is something far less ambitious – this post is a simple tutorial on a new way to add bird photos to eBird checklists. Photos add to the richness of the reports we birders submit.  They make them just a tad juicier than the others.  We can’t resist clicking the lists with that glorious little icon.

boreal

Which eBird checklist would you click on first?

There’s nothing better than opening that icon and BAM! you’re staring at a good, large photo of a great bird like the Northern Hawk Owl.

NHOW eBird list

And when you report birds, it’s always nice to provide photo proof of a good bird or birds you saw.  Additionally, photos can make it a lot easier for the local eBird moderator to approve your rarity.

aitkin

Embedding photos in eBird checklists has never been a user-friendly task, but hopefully this tutorial will take away the mystery and complication of the process for you.  Though minimal html coding is still involved (don’t let that freak you out — you can copy off my paper :) ), I’m offering an alternative solution to eBird’s prescribed use of photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa!  I had used neither of those before I got into eBird, and personaly I didn’t want another #$%#&! account with another ^%$#@ password where I have a few @ and a couple % sprinkled in that password.  Enough is enough, so I found my own path using something I, and probably you, already have – Google Drive. Many of us have been using Drive for some time now to collaborate with colleagues or store files of all types for easy retrieval.  Never use it? Well, the probability is high that you have a Google account of some kind already, so therefore you can sign in to Google Drive with your same Google account and password.  However, this tutorial is geared toward those with a rudimentary understanding of uploading files to Drive.

Let’s get started.

After you upload your image, you should see a window like the one below.  Click ‘Share’.

new upload

You should then see this window.  Click ‘Get shareable link.’

get shareable link

After you do that, you will see the link has been activated (notice it is green below).  You will also see a URL for the image highlighted below.

share link on

Copy and paste that URL in a new browser window. Notice how I highlighted the photo’s ID number in the URL.  You will need this soon.

new window

Now open up your already-completed eBird checklist in a new browser window. Click ‘Edit Species List’ and put your cursor in the comments section of the bird for which you want to display a photo.

Next, copy the line of code below and paste it into your comments for that species. Pay attention to the blue text below as you will be replacing it.

<a href=”https://docs.google.com”><img src=”https://docs.google.com/uc?id&#61;0B9Tq0WV1ARL2bTg4ZG11WTFkRXM” /></a>

owl checklist

Now, unless you want this picture of that sweet Snowy in your checklist where a crushing photo of a Ruff should be, you need to do this final step.  Locate your photo’s ID number in the URL that I referenced earlier.

snowy corner

Then paste that ID in the place of the blue text in the line of code you pasted in your eBird checklist.  Make sure the old ID number is gone.

That’s it! So go and make eBird a more beautiful place to visit with all your fabulous photos.  After all, winter gets long for some of us, and we need some cool bird photos to check out when we’re not prowling for owls.

cellie

In memory of Jim Halvorson, district technology coordinator and fellow math teacher, who passed away unexpectedly this past week.  Jim worked tirelessly and patiently to enhance our craft through technology and its advances.  More important than that, he was an all-around great, friendly guy who will be sorely missed.

Back to Basics – Birding Lake Vermilion

In late August we headed home to northern Minnesota to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday.  It was to be a casual affair with just my family and my brother’s family in attendance; understandably, my sister just couldn’t make it from Nigeria.  Nonetheless, it was still a good excuse for us Minnesotans to gather together.

One of the things my mom insisted on doing was taking everybody out for a pontoon ride on Lake Vermilion.  She had her own target bird that she wanted to show us all. Apparently my folks had been out on the lake recently and ran into a whole pile of Bald Eagles, dozens of them all in one tree.  Secretly I wasn’t too excited about Bald Eagles. The allure has long worn off as I have frequent run-ins with this bird that has now become ubiquitous.  We birders can become quite snobbish about our bird species. Nevertheless, the kids would certainly enjoy getting out on a boat. Though I grew up on the water, they do not get this kind of opportunity very often.  So a pontooning we would go.

We launched at Peterson landing and set out across Wakemup Bay to the cluster of islands around the larger Taylors Island.

Melissa Marin Evan

Here, the small channels between the islands provided relief from the wind, and many birds seemed to thrive in the smaller waters.  One of the birds fishing in the calm water was none other than our state bird, the Common Loon.  I will argue that we have the best state bird in the nation.  Its beauty, its haunting call in the middle of a calm night, and its affinity for our scenic lakes make it a fantastic choice for our state’s bird ambassador.

Common Loon AKA "loon" to Minnesotans

Common Loon, a.k.a.  just a “loon” to Minnesotans

We saw several loons, a bird that is even more common on our waters than the Bald Eagle. But it didn’t take long for mom’s target bird to dominate the show.  We spotted a nice mature bird in a White Pine.

Bald Eagle on Lake Vermilion

Bald Eagle on Lake Vermilion

And we kept seeing them and seeing them.  Some preferred White Pines, some preferred the Red variety.

Bald Eagle

We cruised right along the shorelines of the islands and passed right under many of these birds as they watched from above.  Some would take flight; many others did not care.  The kids were, by far, the best and most enthusiastic about spotting our national bird.

Evan and cousin Iris scanning the trees for Bald Eagles

Evan and cousin Iris scanning the trees for Bald Eagles

They were so good at finding them that I hardly had a chance to find my own.  They would be pointing and yelling.  Just as my eyes would find that one, they’d pick out another one hiding high in the boughs of some pine.  Each time I wondered how such massive, obvious birds were evading my eyesight.  Even Grandma (mom) was on to them.  Now my birder pride was on the line.

Sandi Marin

They were absolutely everywhere.  In fact, I lost count but I’m guessing we saw close to 20 Bald Eagles, only one of which was an immature.  I was able to finally spot one or two myself.

Bald Eagle

The birds were so plentiful that I never asked Dad to stop the boat so I could take pictures.  All of the above were taken while in motion.  Had we stopped for pictures, we would have been navigating Lake Vermilion in the dark!

Seeing all these birds was an experience the whole family got caught up in.  To add a little more bird flavor to the outing, many exclamations were made over Great Blue Herons hunting from the shorelines and Turkey Vultures gliding effortlessly overhead. Personally I found dozens of migrating Common Nighthawks to be the most exciting. Even the cooler, elder Bro took notice of a low-flying vulture and said, “That’s pretty cool.”

Jason

The more eagles we saw, the less jaded I became to them.  It truly was an amazing experience to see such an abundance of them.  The kids’ enthusiasm was quite appropriate.  It was fun to see Evan excited over this bird even though he’s seen it plenty.  He doesn’t get fired up over little brown lifers like Winter Wrens, but he still takes childish delight in the birds that are just plain awesome. And rightly so.

Inwardly I was remarking about what a comeback the Bald Eagle has made. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were only 487 nesting pairs in 1963.  Dad, a wildlife biologist during the 1970s, was telling us how the widespread use of DDT got into waterways and poisoned the birds’ food supply, causing them to have weak eggshells and ruining their nesting efforts.  Of course the shooting of eagles and lead poisoning also contributed to their drastic decline.

Rick Wallestad, Birthday Boy and former wildlife biologist for the Montana Fish and Game Department

Rick Wallestad – Birthday Boy and former wildlife biologist for the Montana Fish and Game Department

Though the bird had been listed as endangered by 1978 in all but a few of the lower 48 states, it was only ever classified as threatened in Minnesota.  Even still, they were regarded with special concern and protection here – Melissa remembers camping at Bear Head Lake State Park with her parents in the mid 1980s and seeing the entire beach area roped off to keep people away from a nesting pair.

The Bald Eagle has made a remarkable comeback reaching nearly 10,000 nesting pairs and thus being removed from the list of threatened and endangered species in 2007. Here we were witnessing the fruit of this wildlife management success story.  Ok, Mom, Bald Eagles are cool. Really cool.

Bald Eagle

Considering the Bald Eagle’s history, it was fitting that three generations were enjoying this bird together.  The past. The future.  Certainly lessons learned by previous generations coupled with memorable, childhood experiences of the newest generation will lead to a strong future for the Bald Eagle and the multitude of other bird species that are on the brink of disaster like the Bald Eagle once was.  I’ve had the good fortune to see such species, like the Cerulean Warbler or the state endangered Chestnut-collared Longspur.  Some day I hope we are swimming in them like we were on this day.

Mom Iris

Melissa Evan

It was time to make our way back across the lake.  The kids watched the waves.

Evan Marin Mom Iris

I kept vigil for birds.  Finally I found one that made me ask Dad to turn the boat around and stop.  I needed a picture of a Herring Gull for my photo collection.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

A couple years ago I couldn’t imagine that my spark for the Bald Eagle would have to be reignited or that I’d be photographing a gull (a type of bird I didn’t care for in my early birding days).  Yet here I was doing both.  And here Evan, along with the rest, were excited about birds again.  The tree of birding had been refreshed with the feathers of eagles, herons, loons, and such.  It was good to get back to the basics.

Summer’s Grand Finale

When summer began I had a list of resident birds that had eluded me for over two years. Migrations and periods of summer residency came and went with no sign of these birds that live here at home in Kandiyohi County during the summer months.  General laziness and greenhorn status is certainly a part but not the entirety of the cause.  No, this list of birds reads like the Who’s Who of the most evasive and elusive birds on the continent. They were dismissed in my early birding days because they are rag-tag bunch of drab and frumpy-looking earth-toned birds.  They didn’t bring the ‘wow’ factor like a Scarlet Tanager or a Blue-headed Vireo.  Little did I know that this ‘playing hard-to-get’ quality would make them some of the most desirable birds around.  So here they are with their current status indicated.

Wood Thrush: Heard Only – the worst way to get a lifer (is that even a lifer?)

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo: Conquered –  twice over with some crummy photos to boot!

American Bittern – Heard Only/Possibly Seen

Least Bittern

Black-crowned Night Heron Seen – but a pale juvenile far, far away. Sigh.

Henslow’s Sparrow – Heard Only?

Sora – Heard Only successfully converted to Flash Sighting

Virginia Rail - Ditto the Sora

So I guess I was fairly successful since I made contact with all but two on my list.  Even still, with nary a decent photo to show for my efforts, my work was anything but satisfactory. There’s no other way to put it – these birds are all just buggers, the whole bunch.  Given this C- performance on my wish list and the recent Least Tern fiasco, I’m happy to report that we’d have the last laugh over one of the species on this list and put it to rest photographically speaking.  It was a Life Bird thumping with unobstructed views requiring no binoculars.  And the icing on the cake was the cool way it all went down. Read on.

With a bathroom project choking out my time and the new school year looming on the horizon, summer birding season pretty much had all but the last nail in the coffin.  Part of my back-to-school agenda included a three-day training in downtown St. Paul.  On the surface, the Cities may not seem like a birding destination.  But I have seen some amazing birds in the Cities because the pockets and puddles of habitat are prowled and scoured by an army of metro birders.   And lately they were turning up one very cooperative and photogenic bird from my list.  Throngs of people were going to see this bird.  My Facebook feed was spammed up with countless photos of this bird in various lights and poses.  It was ridiculous how easy people were adding this bird to their life and photo lists.  It was cheap. It was unfair.  And I wanted a piece of that action.

So what bird could garner such attention?  It was none other than the Least Bittern, a couple of them in fact.  They were being seen daily from a boardwalk through a marsh at the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield.  Being in the Cities at the zenith of this Least Bittern mania was a beautiful coincidence.  The whole family accompanied me to the Cities.  I got trained while hey had fun with their Science Museums, Childrens’ Museums, swimming pools, and such.  But the Least Bittern fun would be a family affair.

We got to Wood Lake Nature Center that first night with about an hour of daylight to spare and quickly huffed our way to the boardwalk that cuts right through the middle of the marsh.  I wasn’t worried about the time element; I knew there would be other birders there.  We just had to look for them and that’s where the bird would be.  Sure enough there was guy with a camera as long as my leg and a lady sporting some fancy binos. We were where we needed to be.  Of course there were no irrelevant introductions, but rather my first words were to inquire if the bird was present.  The answer was no. Before too long the lady went further down the boardwalk to look while the guy stayed put.  I have a tough time sitting still when birds are not being seen, so I started in the direction of the lady.  That’s when Mr. Camera whistled at us and motioned excitedly with his hand for us to join him.  He had it.  Evan and I raced down there, and I caught a mere glimpse of bird’s butt disappearing into the reeds. Mr. Camera showed me a lovely photo of the non-butt parts of the Least Bittern that he took just seconds ago.  The aggravation!

A short time later the lady came walking back to all of us and told us she had another Least Bittern further down.  Mr. Camera was amazingly mobile with his massive apparatus and got down there just as fast as we did.  And there we saw a glorious Least Bittern unobstructed just 6 feet off the boardwalk.  It was awesome.

Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield

Least Bittern at Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield

 We got to watch this Bittern nab a minnow from time to time.  I was never ready with the camera.  I usually caught it just before or after such a shot.

Least Bittern

It was incredibly fun to watch.  Here Evan is waiting for it to reappear after one of its many disappearances into the reeds.

EvanEven Melissa and Marin enjoyed seeing this mysterious, petite bird.  But a potential screaming fit caused the two of them to go off on their own birding venture to look at Mallards and such. All of us, from different vantage points, saw this Osprey come sailing over clutching a fat, little meal from someone’s Koi pond.

IMG_0605

We never had to wait long on the Least Bittern to show up again.

Least Bittern

Least BitternLeast BitternEvan was captivated by this bird.  He never watches birds through binoculars, so he often misses just how cool some birds can be.  Here he needed none to enjoy the bird.  I wanted to capture him in this state, and Mr. Camera and his camera added some birding flavor to the background of the image.  Plus he and Evan were visiting about birds as the guy was asking him questions and teaching him things.  He was an incredibly friendly guy. Moments after I took this shot, the lady birder pulled me aside and whispered that Mr. Camera was Stan Tekiela, the famed author/photographer of the popular state-by-state birding field guides and other nature guide books!

Evan watching a Least Bittern with Stan Tekiela.

I recognized Stan’s name instantly but had trouble recalling where I had seen his name before.  Then I remembered a book from Evan’s library of field guides and nature books.

Stan Tekiela

The lady birder implored me to take a picture of my kid alongside Mr. Tekiela.  The look in her eye and the tone of her hushed voice indicated this was a big, big deal – so much so that if she had a kid (which she didn’t) she’d definitely get a picture of the two of them together.

It was cool to bump into Mr. Tekiela.  But what was really neat was to listen in on the natural conversation between Mr. Tekiela and Evan about all things natural.  He truly was an educator who genuinely enjoyed sharing nature with others.  Here is a snippet of conversation I overheard:

Mr. Tekiela: “There’s another bird that looks like this that’s a lot bigger.”

Evan: “Yeah, I know.”

Mr. Tekiela: “Do you know what it’s called?”

Evan: “The, uh, uh, American Bittern.  We’ve never seen one. We’ve only heard one at my Grandpa’s house.”

Mr. Tekiela: “Do you know what they sound like?”

Evan: “Like…someone throwing rocks in a pond.”

Mr. Tekiela: “That’s right, that’s right! They are called the Slough-Pumper because they sound like an old pump pumping the water out of a slough.”

Mr. Tekiela was quite social and amicable with everyone around.  He and I visited for a bit and it came up that Evan had his field guide for Arizona birds. So we visited about Arizona and all his fascinating work in making field guides for that state.  He told me for the Arizona mammals book they had to trap all the smaller rodents and photograph them in captivity and then carefully replace each one in the exact same spot they found it in.  Another fun story he shared with us was a call he got from law enforcement in the Twin Cities area about an Eastern Coral Snake someone found in the Cities!  Mr. Tekiela never was able to relocate the snake, but he showed us a picture of it on his cell phone that the police had sent him.

It was a very fun encounter.  But weren’t we looking at a bird?  Our visiting never scared it off…maybe it was hanging around listening to Mr. Tekiela’s cool stories…

Least BitternLeast Bittern

After dozens of Least Bittern photos which was still probably less than 5% of the number Mr. Tekiela had, we decided to keep walking the boardwalk to look for some of the abundant Virginia Rails people had been reporting.  Evan had never seen one, and I needed a photo.  At one point we were walking back toward where Mr. Tekiela was when he motioned wildly and whisper-yelled, “Evan, come here!”  We hustled up there just in time for Mr. Tekiela to point out a Racoon that was creeping out from the reeds and coming to the water’s edge.  Evan’s response was “Cool!”

After lingering a bit longer, the rain started to come down.  Evan and I took off running to join the girls and get back to the car as Mr. Tekiela chided, “C’mon, you fair-weather birders!”  We smiled back and kept running.  Once we were under the canopy of the woods and slowed down, I finally told Evan who he was birding and visiting with.  His eyes got as big as dinner plates.

It was one heck of a bird to end the summer with and one memorable birder encounter. That’s what I love about this game – you never know what will happen. And most importantly, everybody in the whole family had a genuine good time on this little outing.  It was the best way to wrap up the summer birding season.  It was perfect.

A Tern for the Worse – One Screwed-Up Trip

More often than not you come to this blog to read about our great birding triumphs.  But we are also fully transparent and are thus required to document our most epic and comical failures.  Anyone who has birded for any length of time knows that failure to produce is all part of this game and such missteps or miserable attempts can be just as memorable as the glorious moments.  It is in that spirit that I will tell the story.

A little over a week ago an interesting report came in of a Least Tern down in Luverne in Rock County.  I generally don’t get too excited about terns, gulls, or even shorebirds – at least not to the point of going on a lengthy chase.  Luverne was nearly three hours away; it definitely was not happening.  Then I learned that the Least Tern is considered a “casual” species in Minnesota and that there are very few records of it here.  Furthermore, to see one elsewhere, I’d have to visit someplace like the Florida coast in the summer.  Now the bird was becoming more appealing.  I looked up the picture and noticed that the Least Tern is quite distinctive with its yellow bill.  Even more appealing.  But then I heard that this particular Least Tern was a juvenile – definitely an attribute for the “con” column.   A long trip for an immature bird that might not stick around?  Forget it.

The reports kept coming though.  The tern was hanging on and something very interesting happened.  One birder reported that there were now two Least Terns and that one was a breeding plumaged adult!  And the birds were hanging out all day. Now I was interested. Phone calls and texts were exchanged with local birding buddies, but ultimately three of us ended up going down separately in three vehicles.  I opted to go alone so I could turn the chase into an overnight camping trip with the kids at Blue Mounds State Park.

I was confident we’d see the tern in the morning.  The bird(s) had been around for nearly three days by this point.  Plus our chase record was strong with only one big miss on a Painted Bunting a couple years ago.  Even then, though, we managed to walk away with a consolation Purple Finch lifer.  I tend to choose chases that have a high probability of success, and this chase had the right elements for just such an outcome.  So as I rode along with two kids, a van full of camping gear, and one of my two labrador retrievers riding shotgun (she was not part of the original chase/camping plan), I was excited that in just a couple hours I’d be looking at a sparkly, brand-new bird, and a very rare bird besides.  We’d see the bird, and fifteen minutes later the kids and I would be having fun camping and swimming at the reservoir at Blue Mounds.  It was going to be perfect.

We got to the site in Luverne around 10:00 in the morning and pulled up behind Randy who had made it down there sometime within the previous hour.  Randy had mixed news for us.  He saw the bird (the juvenile) – saw it fly away not fifteen minutes earlier. My optimism was undaunted.  I was confident the bird would return.  We searched nearby wetlands with Randy to see if we could dig it up.  The kids and I returned to the original site a couple times but had no luck in locating either of the Least Terns.

One reason I thought this would be a fun trip for the kids was that I remembered the city of Luverne had a massive park down by the Rock River with multiple playgrounds.  Despite my memory, there would be no park adventure on this trip.  The entire park which was lush green in my memory was now entirely covered in black soil and roped off as crews worked feverishly to get it into park shape again.  What was going on?  Then I remembered.  This area of the state had massive flooding this spring.  Undoubtedly the grass and greenery were destroyed in the stagnating waters left behind.

So it was off to Blue Mounds to set up camp and do some swimming. We were going to have fun one way or another on this trip.  But we hit another snag when we checked in at the park office.  The park ranger asked us if we were aware of the water situation.  Uh, no. The water supply, she said, was contaminated with E. coli.  Even though that sounds utterly terrifying, it was a manageable fear since they had all the water shut off save the toilets and since they’d give us drinking water at the park office.

After we had camp set up and had checked on the Least Tern spot unsuccessfully a couple times, I decided that it was time to let the kids do some swimming at the reservoir. With kids suited up we made our way to the… mud puddle? Wait, where’s the reservoir? This place was only suitable for frogs and the few Pectoral Sandpipers poking around. The beach was hundreds of feet away from the “water.”   What was happening?  Finally I figured it out when we hiked down to the dam;  the spring flooding had overpowered the dam, knocking a gaping hole in it and depleting the reservoir.  This was turning out to be one sorry trip, and I was turning into one liar of a father.

The kids and I did do a little bit of hiking.  After all, Blue Mounds State Park is the most reliable place in the state to see Blue Grosbeaks.  Even though I had seen a gross amount of them in recent weeks, it was still fun to find six Blue Grosbeaks at Blue Mounds.  Most were near the Interpretive Center’s parking lot, but a couple were found at the north end of the prairie near the swimming area.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Mounds is also famous for Common Nighthawks that swoop over the prairie and make their booming call late in the evening or early in the morning.  It is not hard to find them perched during the day. This particular nighthawk was taking a rest in the same tree as the Blue Grosbeak above.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

Can you find the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in this photo?

Can you find the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in this photo?

Another fun bird that is not hard to find at this park is the Dickcissel.  Interestingly, this Dickcissel was perched in the same small, dead tree with the Blue Grosbeak and Common Nighthawk in the first two photos.  Apparently the two former birds don’t mind sharing territory with each other.  And the nighthawk couldn’t care less that these two birds were singing their heads off while he tried to close his eyes and dream sweet nighthawk dreams.

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

The list of uncommon birds that are not too hard to find at Blue Mounds continued with several singing Field Sparrows.  I was showing Evan this particular Field Sparrow through the LCD display on the camera and pressed the shutter button while the bird was singing. Evan thought that was pretty neat to photograph it in the act of singing, even using the phrase “epic photo.”

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Another bird we had the pleasure of viewing, when binoculars and camera were not in hand of course, was a Red-headed Woodpecker in a dead tree right by a walking path. It did not care that we were 15 feet away.  Steve has told me I’m a magnet for these birds. I’m starting to believe him.  What I am certainly a magnet for is rain at Blue Mounds State Park.  As you can see in the photos above, conditions were not optimal for photography, birding, or even camping.  Rain was setting up shop for the day, and I had a sickening feeling that this trip was going to turn into the disastrous Blue Grosbeak hunt of 2013.  But a lack of good weather, terns, playgrounds, swimming beaches, and safe drinking water did not deter these two from having a good time even though I have no idea what they were doing here.

Evan Marin

We never did see the Least Terns on any one of our dozen+ trips to the tern spot that day. Hope stayed alive for a check in the morning, but it was time to put the current day to bed and get some rest.  At least that was a sure thing.  Or so I thought.  For somebody who teaches future doctors and engineers and such, sometimes I just don’t think.  I figured the three of us in a three-man tent on a full-sized air mattress would be no problem until I put the plan into action.  The mattress was not wide enough for the three of us, so I turned the mattress sideways. What I gained in shoulder room was offset by the loss of body length I could fit on the mattress. My shorter companions had no problem, but my legs hung off the end by over a foot. Uncomfortable but fine.  But then you throw in a couple of karate-chopping sleepers and a 65 lb. lab that wants on the bed and it was a red-eyed, muscle-aching disaster.  It was topped off by a close lighting storm that had me scrambling to get two sleepy kids and a dog into the van where we would attempt to sleep the last couple hours of the night.  I didn’t care about a Least Tern by that point.  Instead I was once again thinking how the desire for a bird could cause such misery.  The new day and the trip home couldn’t come fast enough.

Dawn finally came and with it was the thought that this trip had nowhere to go but up.  I was wrong again.  You see, the previous day I noticed that my two-front tires were balding really bad.  I shouldn’t have made the trip down on them, and I certainly wasn’t going to drive home on them.  So I made arrangements at the Luverne Ford dealership to get a couple of new tires that next morning.  I figured it would be fine because the kids and dog and I could take a nice walk while we waited.  The day had a different plan.  The continuing rain forced us to wait for our van in the one-car showroom of the dealership…with a big dog.  But a 6 in. by 6 in. TV playing Sponge Bob, a couple of cookies, and one firm hand on a short leash got us through the tire change.  Actually all the folks at Luverne Ford were incredibly hospitable and friendly telling me sweet lies about how well-behaved my kids were and how nice my dog was.  The truth is that the kids and dog did very well considering the circumstances.  And it truly is better to be safe as they say.  Did I mention that on the trip down to Luverne the previous day I had to call 911 to report a semi coming into my lane?

Finally we were out of there.  We checked the tern spot one last time but again came up short.  It was time to head home.  I took a longer route home in an effort to do some eBird documentation for some reported Blue Grosbeaks that other birders had found far north of their usual range.  I only managed to turn up one.  I was thrilled to be able to see and document a couple more Red-headed Woodpeckers.  I was never able to get any photos, but I did see and photograph another uncommon bird, the Upland Sandpiper, another bird I’ve been seeing more of this year than in the past.

Upland Sandpiper

Upland Sandpiper

The trip had some good birds for sure, just not the new one we were hoping for.  What we didn’t have in birds, though, we made up for in stories to tell.  I will be curious to someday hear the kids’ recollections of the disastrous Least Tern chase of the summer of 2014.  The Least Tern won this battle, but another life bird would become the hero and bring a satisfactory close to the summer the next week.

The Loggerhead Shrike – Threatened in Minnesota but Living Large in Kandiyohi County

Loggerhead Shrike along Co. Rd. 118 about 2 miles east of MN Hwy 9

Though it looks a lot like its Northern Shrike cousin which can be found pretty regularly in the winter months all over Minnesota (they’ve even been in my yard couple times), the Loggerhead Shrike is a summertime bird that is tough to find in Minnesota.  Really tough. Other birders in the county often recall Loggerhead sightings in the county as a rate in birds seen per decade.  It’s a rare event indeed.  In fact, the Loggerhead Shrike is scarce throughout the state and was deemed a Minnesota threatened species by the DNR in 1984 and is now being considered as a Minnesota endangered species.  Recent surveys by the DNR have found fewer than 30 nests in the state.  This species used to be more common.  Its decline in population has been attributed to grassland habitat loss through more rural development, more intensive row-crop farming, and the encroachment of brush and shrubs on grasslands.  Additionally the increased use of pesticides may be cutting down on the shrikes’ food supply since they prey on insects.

I have had the good fortune of seeing Loggerhead Shrikes a couple times in Minnesota – twice at Felton Prairie in Clay County and once along a roadside near Herman in Grant County.  But I had been wanting to see one in Kandiyohi County.  Joel Schmidt found one earlier this spring, but it was probably just passing through because I was never able to get on it.

Jeff Weitzel also had seen one in the county by Willmar High School this spring.  I chased after that one a couple times but could never locate it.  Then, a couple weeks ago I got a text from Jeff that he saw one again at the high school and I later found out that he’d seen a shrike off and on there throughout the summer.  I went out that day several hours after I got the text and was able to get my Kandiyohi County Loggerhead.  A great bird to see anywhere in the state, but especially fun to see one just a few miles from home.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Joel Schmidt went to see the bird the next day and amazingly he found three shikes! Better yet was that two of them were juveniles.  This was an historic find because the Loggerhead Shrike has never been known to nest in Kandiyohi County before.  It was a banner day.

I went out the following day to hopefully see all these birds to document this finding for eBird.  I lucked out.  Not only did I see Joel’s three, but I found one more for a total of four birds!  The three juveniles obliged me by posing together briefly in the same tree.  How do you like that photo documentation, eBird?

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

I enjoy this bird a lot. To not only see one close so to home but also to know there is a little Loggerhead factory going on is quite special.  The habitat at the high school is ideal because there is nearly a half square mile of undeveloped prairie land interspersed with tree rows and sporadic shrubs.  Much of this land is owned by the school or is part of the Willmar Wildlife Management Area.  Because Loggerhead Shrikes have strong site fidelity when it comes to nesting and because this land will remain undeveloped, I am hoping that we will have many Loggerhead Shrikes for years to come.  The more I bird the more I have come to understand how fragile certain species are and how important conservation is for the maintenance and revival of such species.  This little success story is encouraging for future birds and birders.

This Crew Breaks for Lifers

It’s not done.  Nope.  Home improvement enthusiasts will be let down while birding aficionados will rejoice that we have not let some silly bathroom remodel stop us from birding rather than the other way around.  But I’ll throw a bone to the former group by saying that we are getting there.  Like a jigsaw puzzle nearing its completion, the bathroom’s starting to fall now with rapid, visible changes taking place daily.  The truth is that I used to enjoy such work, but now it’s a chore — a horrible, dirty, dusty, cementy, go-to-the-eye-doctor-to-remove-a-foreign-object-embedded-in-the-cornea kind of chore. Each day that I go to my little 7x7x7 cube to endure such misery, I secretly hope that call or that email will come in alerting us to a birding emergency.  Last weekend as I was getting set to start working on mudding and taping the drywall, such a call came in.  It was Joel.  He had a Black-crowned Night Heron for us.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Time to roll.

Our list of life bird needs for our area is so short that all the guys here know it fairly well. All that remain are a handful of elusive and reclusive birds as well as a few shorebirds. The Black-crowned Night Heron is one such needed lifer.  And one such needed work break.

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

The photo is not much to look at, but we were fighting some serious distance.

Evan MarinIt’s a good thing Joel came out to point it out to us.  Even with the right location, I doubt I ever would have found the heron.  Evan felt the need to point this one out to his sister. It was pretty cute.

Evan Marin

After this we went to Kandiyohi County’s main shorebird spot, Carlson’s Dairy just west of Pennock.  We were after another lifer Joel had for us, the Semipalmated Plover.  We couldn’t find one at Carlson’s though. Try as we might, we just could not turn this young Killdeer into our bird.

Juvenile Killdeer

Juvenile Killdeer

Besides the little life bird excursion, the Blue Grosbeak searches, and all the in-state and out-of-state trips, I’ve been procastinating the bathroom project by hunting locally for another would-be lifer, the Wood Thrush.  A couple weeks ago Evan and I went to a spot marked out by Joel north of Sibley State Park.  We were successful in hearing our bird, two of them actually. It was another story seeing this brush-loving understory dweller. I guess we can only count it as a heard-only lifer, an oxymoron in the language of birders.  It’s tough to be so close but so blind.  At least I knew the song well now – owned it in fact.  So much was the case that as I was sitting by Melissa on the couch that evening while she was playing Hay Day on her iPad, the background farm sounds reached out and grabbed me.  I hollered for her to turn up the volume as I put my ear to the speaker.  And there it was, clear as a bell. Mixed in with the farm animal noises was a singing Wood Thrush.  Awesome, but also very cruel to be taunted by this repetitive bird song.

Wood Thrushes must love farms because another birding friend, Brad, called me a week or so later saying he had a Wood Thrush at his farm place. Off we went instead of doing work on the bathroom.  This time, though, we neither heard nor saw the bird even though we were hot on its tail. Argh.

But this story of procrastination does have a good finish even if the bathroom does not yet have the same thing.  Randy was at Carlson’s the other day and said there were Semipalmated Plovers all over the place.  Sweet.  Evan declined to go with me — he’s been burned by this bird too many times at this spot which is nearly a half hour away.  He had a farm to build on Hay Day and Wood Thrushes to listen to.

So I went to Carlson’s solo and put the Semipalmated Plover to rest.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

As a bonus I was able to use a recording to lure in one of several calling Soras, another heard-only lifer at this point. It was magical as I watched the ditch grass move like a snake where a Sora was sprinting his way toward me.  And then, he poked his head out in a small clearing allowing me to see his bright yellow beak.  He sized me up and then quickly disappeared once again into the grasses.  Two more life birds on the books. The wish-list for local stuff is really getting short now.

I suppose, though.  It’s time to get that bathroom knocked out.  But even if I find myself distracted by going out on the roads chasing a migrant, a vagrant, or a hermit, I’m still doing bathroom research.  The ingenuity of this farmer proves I have so much more to learn.

IMG_0415

By-product Birds of a Blue Grosbeak Search

As much fun as it’s been to find Blue Grosbeaks, I’ve had some other fun bird sightings while prowling the countryside looking for those blue birds.  This is a quick post (a quick post is a fun post) where I’ll display these bonus birds in ascending order of rarity.

First up is an adult male Orchard Oriole.  Prior to this summer I had never seen a mature male.  Now I seem to run into them regularly, and this one even let me take a couple pictures before it disappeared.

Adult male Orchard Oriole

Adult male Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

What could be better-looking and more rare than an Orchard Oriole?  How about this fine Red-headed Woodpecker.  Seeing these guys never gets old.  I have to stop for every one.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

But what could possibly top a Red-headed Woodpecker? Read on, and you’ll see. Randy and I were out driving the southern part of Kandiyohi County checking out a probable Blue Grosbeak site (at least it looked that way on the satellite photos).  It turns out the site was a bust, far from Blue Grosbeak habitat.  It was a huge marsh.  All was not lost, though.  Since Randy was driving I was checking out all the hawks we’d see. Normally I don’t check hawks too closely because we basically just have Red-taileds. I’m sure glad I took the time to look up at this hawk though because it was a Swainson’s!  I couldn’t believe it.  I just saw one for the first time ever a couple weeks prior and now I see one in Minnesota, in my own county no less!  Randy can only recall seeing a Swainson’s Hawk four or five times Kandiyohi County in his 25 years of birding.  It was a magnificent sight.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

The Blue Grosbeak hunt goes on.  Finding Blue Grosbeaks has been fun, but with birds like these it’s fun even if we don’t find any.  But the Blue Grosbeak hunt isn’t the only thing that’s been going on bird-wise around here.  Coming up, we’ve even managed to squeeze in a couple lifers and document a historic nesting record for Kandiyohi County.

Investigating a Probable Range and Population Expansion of the Blue Grosbeak in Minnesota

Blue Grosbeak

Though we racked up double-digit lifers in Colorado, that trip is a distant birding memory.  The birding back home has been incredibly exciting.  More is at play than just adding a life bird or getting that beautiful photo.  Instead, there’s been some serious citizen-science going on.

Let me get to the point.  I believe that the Blue Grosbeak is expanding its range in Minnesota and growing in numbers, so I have been doing some investigating to back up my theory.  I can remember when I first became a birder how I badly wanted to see a Blue Grosbeak. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that they are a rare, regular species in the very southwestern corner of Minnesota.  Specifically, Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County is the place to see them.  That’s where we got our lifer last year.

pass_caer_AllAm_map

Range map of the Blue Grosbeak from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/blue_grosbeak/id

But then I saw them further to the northeast at Cottonwood in each of the last two years when they were discovered by Garrett Wee.  I started to get curious about this species growing in numbers when Garrett reported them two years in a row.  Additionally he found a nest this year.  The site fidelity was intriguing.

Randy Frederickson furthered my curiosity when he said he was hoping to someday find a Blue Grosbeak in Kandiyohi County.  I could hardly believe that he would think it was possible, but then he told me how he and Joel Schmidt found a family of Blue Grosbeaks in Renville County just six miles south of the Renville-Kandiyohi county line in 2012.  So last week I decided to head to this location in Renville County which was the Olivia compost site.  I wanted to see if the Blue Grosbeaks were still around a couple years later.  If they were, I wanted to document them for eBird.  Some birders have been documenting their Blue Grosbeak sightings, and it is apparent that the Blue Grosbeak has gone beyond its normal Minnesota home of Rock County, the very southwestern corner of the state.

The red dot is where we live.  Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

The red dot is where we live. Blue Grosbeaks have traditionally been found in just the very southwestern corner of Minnesota which is much less territory than what this sightings map indicates

I did not find any Blue Grosbeaks at the compost site where Randy and Joel found them two years prior.  Not wanting to waste a trip, I had scouted satellite imagery of the area ahead of time looking for any gravel pits or waste areas as Blue Grosbeaks prefer this type of habitat.  In our sea of green, these areas are habitat islands.  Unlike the arid southwest, this type of desert-wash habitat is rare here and makes for easy places to look for the Blue Grosbeak.  If they are in the area, they are going to be in one of these pockets of habitat.

Blue Grosbeak

I checked out the gravel pit pictured above just a mile from where the Blue Grosbeaks were seen in 2012.  Almost immediately upon arriving I heard a singing male Blue Grosbeak. I was absolutely thrilled, even more so when I finally got to lay eyes on it.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak at NE corner of gravel pit on west side of 300th St. just south of 840th Ave.

I was pretty pleased with the find and reported the bird to the listserv, MOU-net, so other birders could see it.  But after I was at home and studying satellite images again, I realized I didn’t fully explore the area.  It turns out that the pit I stopped at is part of about a four-mile tract of old gravel pits. I went back two days later intent to check out more of the area.  When I got to the site of the Grosbeak pictured above, I ran into Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann who had just seen the bird and were listening to a second bird nearly a mile away from the first one!  Now I was really excited to get my search underway.  I took every north-south road that intersected this tract of gravel deposits.  And on each road I found a singing male Blue Grosbeak!  With Ron and Herb’s bird, that made for five male Blue Grosbeaks. It was unbelievable yet believable because of the habitat I was exploring.

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Locations of where I found Blue Grosbeak males; the bottom-right marker is the bird found by Ron Erpelding and Herb Dingmann

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site

Blue Grosbeak at the Danube Brush Site just north of Danube on Co. Rd. 1

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak on 280th St. south of 840th Ave. where 280th intersects the gravel pits.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Blue Grosbeak sub-adult male on 270th St. in the trees just south of 840th Ave.

Several birders have made their way to Renville County to find some of these Blue Grosbeaks.  What has been phenomenal is that they are turning up more Blue Grosbeaks at these sites and in other counties while en route!  One was found in Chippewa County by Ron and Herb that same day, and a family of three was found by Ken Larson to the west in Lac qui Parle County.  With this volume of Blue Grosbeaks so far from Rock County, it seems that this species is definitely making its home further north and east than where it is “supposed” to be.  Any bit of suitable habitat in the southern half of the state should be investigated by Minnesota birders.  I have been studying satellite imagery for any hint of gravel or waste areas in area that is dominated by agricultural fields.  I’m particularly interested in finding one here in Kandiyohi County.  We are hopeful that one will make the jump six miles north if one hasn’t already.

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line - Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The green line is the Kandiyohi County and Renville County Line – Blue Grosbeaks are only six miles away!

The only problem, though, is that we have no gravel pits to speak of in the southern half of our county.  The best and closest habitat, a very large area of several gravel pits, is about 30 miles northeast of all these Grosbeaks.

Blue Grosbeak

We have already been getting a lot of the necessary permissions to enter these lands to begin our search.  Hopefully we can turn one up.

It has been very exciting to not only see Blue Grosbeaks, but to be a witness to a potential range expansion.  Evan asked me the other day, “What’s the big deal about the Blue Grosbeak anyway, is it because it has that red wing-patch or something?”  Yeah, something like that.

Coming up: cool by-product birds from the Blue Grosbeak searches.

Swainson’s Redemption and Nebraska’s New State Bird

All good things must come to end as they say, and this Colorado story is no different. Except this story needs to come to an end because more hard-hitting birding stories have been brewing back home since we got here.  It’s been intense. We’ll catch up on all that later, but for now we must finish the tale of birding Colorado.

Having taken four hours to get to Colorado Springs from Uncle Jon’s (a trip that takes non-birders two hours), we were now ready to hit the plains of eastern Colorado where the birds and landscape would be less inspiring and allow us to push the pedal down and get home. When driving through Colorado you learn that elevation is a big deal as it’s posted on every city’s population sign.  Undoubtedly this was the brain-child of the much cooler mountain cities, and it’s the scourge of those self-concious eastern towns who must display to the world just how elevationally-challenged they are.  The drop in the cool-factor of birds is directly correlated to the simultaneous decreases in elevation and town self esteem.  But what the eastern birds lacked, they made up for with great vigor. Case in point – Western Kingbirds.  They were everywhere and perched boldly on any kind of wire proudly displaying their awesomeness.

Cruising along on U.S. 24 I had a beautifully patterned Swainson’s Hawk come sailing high over the road.  Evan dipped on this bird in South Dakota and pouted about it since I saw it.  Because of this debacle, I kept my mouth shut when I saw one while driving through Denver earlier in the week.  But this time I couldn’t help myself, and I hollered that we had a Swainson’s.  Of course this jarred Evan out of his backseat activities, and he couldn’t get on the bird in time, setting off a fountain of tears.  Apparently he really wanted to see this hawk bad. I turned the car around to chase after it, but it had vanished.  Nuts.

Thankfully, though, that’s not how the Swainson’s saga ends.  As I drove east out of some non-descript town (sorry town, I only remember the names of the cool, high-elevation cities), a Swainson’s Hawk shot up out of nowhere from behind a grassland hill flashing his white wing linings and reddish brown chest as he soared across the road a mere 20 feet off the ground. I hollered. I couldn’t help it.  Evan was panicked.  I pulled over.  Thankfully this bird cooperated and gave Evan his sought-after lifer as it circled on thermals right by the road.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

So it took four Swainson’s Hawks before Evan finally got his lifer and I got my photo documentation.  Then a funny thing happened – or not if you are a birder: they were everywhere.  I bet we saw close to a dozen Swainson’s Hawks by the time we finished out Colorado, nicked Kansas, and then got into Nebraska.  And Nebraska? Well, when I was filling up with gas at some podunk town in the east-central part of the state, Evan was getting out of the car to go into the convenience store and he looked up and said calmly, “Hey Dad, a Swainson’s Hawk.” Sure enough another Swainson’s was cruising low over the gas station canopy!  The Swainson’s no longer had power over Evan, but it was still having an effect on me.  Gas still pumping, I reached for my camera to get try to get a shot of a Nebraska Swainson’s.

Swainson's HawkAre you sick of Swainson’s Hawk photos yet? Too bad!  It’s probably the coolest hawk I know, and there’s even more coming in a future post!

The Swainson’s Hawk alone would have made Nebraska a worthwhile state to drive through as far as birding goes, but surprisingly Nebraska put up another cool bird and lots of them.  No, it wasn’t the Western Meadowlark that holds the title of state bird in Nebraska and like a half dozen other western states (the meadowlark is a cool bird, but really the states all should have drawn bird names out of a hat).  Instead it was the Red-headed Woodpecker. Interesting side note about state birds on the trip – we didn’t see a single Ring-necked Pheasant in South Dakota and only one Lark Bunting in Colorado.

It’s kind of funny how things play out.  After spending a night in Kearney, Nebraska, I missed my road that angled to the northeast.  This forced me to have to go north and east but not northeast – something that aggravated me as a traveler and as someone well-versed in the Pythagorean Theorem.  Compounding the issue was that we hit road construction where we were stopped with a whole long line of cars waiting for the flag lady to let us have our turn to proceed.  Except there was no visible road construction for miles.  We had been waiting for quite awhile with no end in sight.  When the guy in front of me got out of his car, lit up a smoke, and leaned across his hood while jawing with the flag lady, I couldn’t take it any more.  I peeled out of the line and headed back west to go south just to be able to go east and north again.  It was awful and made worse because we were now traveling on gravel roads.  In the flat land of Nebraska, the gravel roads are laid out perfectly on a grid with an intersection every mile.  And they can really grow corn tall in Nebraska, so I was forced to stop at every intersection to avoid a collision.  The agony!

But there is a silver lining to this miserable cloud that seemed to follow us on our journey home.  We spotted a couple Red-headed Woodpeckers.  It is such a pretty bird that is declining in numbers.  It’s a good day any time you see one.  As we kept driving, though, we kept seeing them! Ten in all! It was crazy and fantastic and made the miserable travel worth it.  Melissa said it best when she said this was truly the way to experience Nebraska if you have to experience Nebraska – tall corn, dusty roads, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Good save, Nebraska.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed WoodpeckerWe also saw a couple of Brown Thrashers, and I even spied a Loggerhead Shrike in a bush as we flew past.  I was too frustrated with the stop-and-go travel to make many voluntary stops for pictures, though.

So, there you have it.  We got home to Minnesota without incident, and the birding has not slowed down a bit since we got here.  Who knew that late July and August could hold such bird wonders back home of all places?  Stay tuned.

Custer’s Last Stand

As I packed the car that last morning in Colorado, the Western Tanager was weighing heavily on my mind.  Yes, I had seen it earlier in the week, but the quick looks and obscured photos were unsatisfactory. Additionally Evan wanted it too.  There would be time for one last play. But I doubted that play and felt that Custer County was going to defeat us as it had us surrounded with Western Tanager-less mountains (or so it seemed).  Custer was the last option to see WETA as we’d be heading east out of Colorado into lower elevations and windswept grasslands.

I had been debating two options for that play – back to Forest Service Road 383 by Bishop’s Castle where six WETA had been reported or back to Greenwood Road where two had been reported.  I got skunked on 383 earlier, and it just didn’t give me a good vibe overall.  I finally settled on Greenwood Road; it wasn’t as much of a detour, and I had previous success there. Statistically speaking it was the worse bet, but sometimes a birder has to follow his gut.

With that decision made, we said our goodbyes and began descending the mountain to the Wet Mountain Valley below.  As I drove away, fear of not seeing the bird mixed with doubt about my decision.  All this was churning inside when I spotted a larger bird at the top of a Ponderosa while that mountain home was still visible and looming large up on the mountain behind us.  I had quickly become acclimated to the new species at Jon and Carol’s house and this one didn’t fit any of the profiles. Even as I reached for my binoculars on the floor of my car I had a strong suspicion of what I was about to see and could hardly get those bins up fast enough.  And my suspicion was right for I was looking at a Clark’s Nutcracker! Oh yeah!

Clark's Nutcracker

Clark’s Nutcracker

Evan looked up to get his check mark while I hopped out to follow this bird around a bit and get some photos.  I had hoped I would get this bird in Colorado, but I had read it’s a high elevation bird near the timberline.  Needless to say I was quite surprised and delighted to find one at 8,300 feet.  The whole time I observed it, it made this rasping, croaking sound.  I had heard that sound the past couple days but didn’t know what was making it.

Clark's NutcrackerClark's NutcrackerThis was quite the thrill seeing this cool bird.  Every new western species I find is a double bonus – it is one more for the life list and one less vagrant to chase in Minnesota.  I missed out on a Clark’s in Minnesota just before I really got serious about birding.

Now the prospect of potentially losing out on Western Tanager was easier to stomach. We eventually left the Clark’s to do his croaking and eating in peace, and we later arrived at the Greenwood Road for the moment of truth.  This road is a few miles long with very few inhabitants.  It was a nice, quiet, birdy-kind-of-road.  Not wanting to make this trip agonizingly long for the family, I was traveling around 25 mph – slow enough to bird but not too slow to keep us from making decent progress on our way home. Melissa then told me I’d never see anything going that fast.  (Isn’t she great?) Ok, then, so I dropped it down to 5 mph.  Melissa asked me what we were looking for so she could help.  Some of you may remember that she found all five of those Aitkin County Great Gray Owls and that bevy of Burrowing Owls in Arizona.  Anyhow, I explained the red, yellow, and black pattern to her of the tanager.  I no sooner said it and she pointed and said there was a bright yellow and black bird in the pine just ahead of us.  No binoculars were needed to see we already found the Western Tanager!  Of course, Evan couldn’t see it and the pressure or exhaustion was getting to him and the tears started coming.  I hopped out to grab a photo while Melissa was able to get him on the bird.  But that sneaky WETA was using his best goldfinch disguise.  I only got this shot before it flew across the road and down to the ground.

Western Tanager

I watched and watched the spot where it flew to the ground.  What in the world? They’re supposed to be birds who prefer the tops of conifers.  Eventually I figured it out as the now soggy Western Tanager flew up to a bush after bathing in the quiet mountain stream that was running alongside the road.

Western Tanager

The bird continued to sit in one spot, preening itself.  Even though it was still, the distance was too great and the bird too wet for any remarkable photo.

Western Tanager

Eventually it flew, and I couldn’t relocate it.  It was nice to get this one for Evan.  I was also able to improve my photo of the bird just a little, so I was content.  Even still, we kept birding.  There could be more Western Tanagers around.  We saw some empids, and based on eBird reports they were probably new birds for us.  I didn’t care though.  I will fight the empid identification battle in retirement when I have more time.  Time was precious right now, and I wanted to see more Western Tanagers with our last remaining minutes in the mountains.

Evan and I searching for WETA on foot on Greenwood Road, Custer County, Colorado

Evan and I searching for Western Tanagers along Greenwood Road, Custer County, Colorado

Reaching the end of the short Greenwood Road, we turned around to drive down it and back one more time.  Good thing we did because I saw another(?) Western Tanager fly across the road.  I got one photo before it was gone for good. Not a crush, but it was enough to defeat Custer.

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

Though I was still ignoring empids and the like, there was a bird I couldn’t ignore because its size, its numbers, and its awesomeness wouldn’t allow it. From a streamside Willow Tree, a half dozen big birds flushed high into the pines above.  From the same eBird report I had read earlier, I knew these were Band-tailed Pigeons!  And they kept pouring out of that tree.  We must have seen 20.

Band-tailed Pigeons

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeon

Two big bonus lifers (three for Evan) and the number one target nailed – I think we beat you, Custer.  In the last post I had said this would be the final Colorado post, but leaving the mountains is a natural break in the story and a good place to stop.  The story of the rest of the journey home will be a short and sweet post and will truly be the last one. Colorado had one more big gift for Evan, and Nebraska surprised us.