June 13, 2006


134 little blue heron

It can take weeks to sort through my LBY fan mail, so apologies for not replying to a question about how many life birds I've seen this year. As a matter of fact, the day's little blue heron is just the latest. Seven of them (one a blotchy white juvenile) stalked their prey in a grassy pool at Eagle Bluffs, in the vicinity of a dozen or so great egrets and great blue herons.

Kingfishers also came out in force to angle the pools. One showed perfect hovering form crossing the water: three separate times during its flight it ascended to a hover and peered down at the water before moving on. On the next trip across it hovered again and plunged for a small fish.

Non-birds included my second bobcat in a month (head and shoulders poking from tall grass), a muskrat (swimming), and a four-foot-long black rat snake slowly winding up a tree, probably in search of a bird's nest.

I'm not sure how many life birds I have in 2006, since for some I can't remember if I've made past identifications. My best guess is 14: little blue heron, red-shouldered hawk, rough-legged hawk, solitary sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, Hudsonian godwit, Caspian tern, great crested flycatcher, warbling vireo, Swainson's thrush, worm-eating warbler, chipping sparrow, Savannah sparrow, great-tailed grackle.

June 05, 2006

Friendly chat

133 yellow-breasted chat

At first glance I see, high in a cottonwood in a shrubby field at Grindstone, a common yellowthroat. At second glance, not. The bird is too musical, too large, and lacks certain features on the head. On the third look—including a check of my field guide—it becomes a yellow-breasted chat. I didn't realize the chat is also something of a mimic like the mockingbird. One of its calls sounds like a blue jay.

Window birds

132 merlin

During my afternoon work commute, a small falcon slices across the highway view, gray and tawny-red. A male merlin, and it's about time—my first commuting bird of the year! At today's gas prices, this single species cost me several hundred dollars.

Listening to bird CDs means I'm familiar with more songs, but I may be losing command of the ones I know. One morning outside my window I hear four familiar notes but can't place them. Later I realize it's a Carolina chickadee—or is it? Columbia is in the contact area between black-capped and Carolina chickadees, which are almost identical in appearance. From Birds in Missouri and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

It may be impossible to identify the species of an individual chickadee by plumage or song near the contact zone.

Where the two species ranges come in contact, the Carolina and Black-capped chickadees occasionally hybridize. Hybrids can sing the songs of either species, or might sing something intermediate.

Fortunately, what this also means is that any chickadee I see beyond 100 or so miles south has to be a Carolina, so I'm sure to add it to my list.