March 26, 2007

Phone call away

83 yellow-bellied sapsucker
(total on this date in 2006: 72)

I should try to think of a nicer metaphor, but today I carried out an avian hit. My friend Donna knows my list lacks the sapsucker, so she called me when a pair that hangs around her backyard every spring returned.

Confirming my target later that day, I stopped by and after a few minutes' wait the male showed up to check holes it had drilled (see typical lines of holes here).

Poking around the web for interesting sapsucker facts to disguise a disturbing trend toward content-free LBY posts, I was reminded that the yellow-bellied sapsucker is half joke-half bird. From Wikipedia: "Apparently because the name sounds amusing, yellow-bellied sapsucker is sometimes used as a comic, generic term for an unusual animal."

And from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: "most non-birders believe that the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a fictitious bird created just for the humorous name." The real thing will be in Donna's backyard for a few more weeks, or refer to this range map.

March 19, 2007


77 blue-winged teal
78 pied-billed grebe
79 ruddy duck
80 bufflehead
81 eastern phoebe
82 tree swallow
(total on this date in 2006: 69)

MARCH 19, EAGLE BLUFFS, cloudy, 60—The Missouri River corridor at Eagle Bluffs remains grand central flyway. Besides the usual passengers (mallard, shoveler, gadwall) today has a few new waterfowl travelers, and swallows are back because insects are back.

Large-bird flyovers highlight early evening: multiple great blue herons (the one above speared a fish moments later), a bald eagle nabbing a fish just in front of us, and a flock of 150 pelicans, circling at cruising altitude to find a roost for the night. The pelicans like the southernmost pool, now almost pool-less because of a fish study.

March 10, 2007

Talk the walk

73 Savannah sparrow
74 Le Conte's sparrow
75 lapland longspur
76 Smith's longspur
(total on this date in 2006: 64)

MARCH 10, BRADFORD FARM, sunny, 40-55—On a classic March morning, windy and warmer every minute, Bradford's fields were filled with calling and singing killdeer, meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds. Our team moved as systematically as a harrier cruising for rodents, and with 15 people we had extra eyes, ears, and experience—plus walkie-talkies.

Though maybe not as impressive as three short-eared owls, two sparrow species and two longspurs (lifers for me) ended up making the day. The sparrows stayed down in a weedy field and we slowly encircled them for a look.

In birding slang these are LBBs, little brown birds: they tend to be brown, streaky, and sparrow-sized (see Audubon's Savannah sparrow above).

People I bird with aren't heavy on jargon or bird nicknames, thankfully. If I ever talk about IDing by jizz, pishing out LBBs, or chasing rare peeps, you have permission to confiscate my bins.

Night of the bogsuckers

72 barred owl
(total on this date in 2006: 64)

In the birder equivalent of an evening at the movies, several of us gathered at Brad's and sat in lawn chairs by the backyard basketball court. At dusk through a rising mist we heard male woodcocks peenting in the valley, then glimpsed their wide, wing-twittering upward spirals before they coasted down to the ground to wait for admiring females. It sounded like this.

March 06, 2007

After dark

69 cackling goose
70 Wilson's snipe
71 American woodcock
(total on this date in 2006: 64)

MARCH 6, EAGLE BLUFFS, sunny, 50—This is probably a bad time for my boycott describing birds: thousands of waterfowl are feeding and resting at Eagle Bluffs, including 40 or so white pelicans. Across Missouri, entire landscapes are full of birds—half a million snow geese, for example, at Grand Pass conservation area. (They're gone now.)

Early spring is also the time for the strange woodcock's strange sunset mating flight (descriptions here and here). In brushy grass a couple hundred yards from the Missouri River I heard my first peents of the year.