Sunday, July 18, 2010

Feeling fall fever already! Updated with disappointment

Obvious pandering to get you to stay on my page...

Already there are signs that the fall migration is beginning, and it's only July! I've noticed large flocks of Common Grackles and European Starlings, flying around in tube-like formations, which to me signals that they're getting ready to go. I might be mistaken, but it seems like I only see this behavior, the long "tubes" of flying birds, before the fall migration begins.

I've also seen some more definitive signs, namely a juvenile White Ibis flying near the Julian Wetlands the other day. I didn't have my camera, but luckily I had my scope and was able to really check out field marks and the curved bill. I put it out on our listserv, saying that I just HAD to be wrong, because what would such a bird be doing up here? But sure enough, someone showed me a link to a site documenting juvenile White Ibises in PA, and I saw a photo that convinced me that I wasn't just dreaming. Crazy, huh? Today, someone on the listserv noted that they'd seen a juvenile Little Blue Heron at a local birding hotspot too! What are these younglings doing so far north? Is this migration confusion on the part of birds too young to know they should be headed south?

Today, I spent a couple of hours in the field exploring a spot I've been checking out on my way home every day; I finally had time to stop and take a look around. Right off the bat, I heard the distinctive calls of Indigo Buntings, though I wasn't completely sure what the heck I was hearing until I saw this little flash of blue:They were everywhere, calling and taunting me, sneaking through the trees and not giving me too many looks. But that color--wow!

I also saw a lot of Barn and Cliff Swallows, as well as these little Cliff Swallow homes on the underside of a highway bridge:

Very cool. I managed to get this terrible photo of one of the Cliff Swallows flying away from the first clump of mud huts above:It was a great spot I picked, on Hwy 550 between Stormstown and Bellefonte, at the point where the new I-99 crosses over 550. There was a big hillside and a lot of trees and stuff, and as I mentioned about a million Indigo Buntings.

I also saw this bird, and though I was slow to admit it, realized that it was just a House Sparrow. It was odd, though; I didn't see any males out there:

I say that perhaps I didn't want to know the ID because it's just a female or young House Sparrow. As I said, though, I didn't see any male House Sparrows, which are easy to ID--so I was hopeful it was something more exotic. Hmph.

I believe this is the same type of bird:Stupid blameless House Sparrows. I know they're just trying to survive and had no say in their import from Europe, so I don't really favor killing them or anything. But still... They are everywhere.

It's so frustrating NOT to be able to positively and confidently ID such a boring little bird; it's always something super easy, and yet I just can't decide what it is. I feel like I've learned a lot of warblers, shorebirds (at least the big non-peep ones), and such, and yet this little brown bird stumps me. Frustrating. I know that part of it is mental blocks that arise from too-wishful thinking, hoping for a wayward Baird's Sparrow or something ridiculous like that. But still. I should've just said HOSP and moved on.

I've been thinking a lot about spending the bucks to attend Cape May's autumn migration weekend again this year. It's been a while since I've gone birding with the Flock, or even with a group of people. I went birding with bird guru Roana and Gretchen for our had that one morning in the Toftrees State Game Lands, but otherwise I've been birding all by myself. For someone like me, who has very limited knowledge of bird songs and all but the most common birds, birding alone can be very frustrating. I know there are lots of birds I'm missing, because I just can't remember (or even isolate) all those songs among the many sounds out there. I know I could've gotten a lot more birds in California and in Texas had I been with someone who really knew those birds. I mean, I'm having trouble with that sparrow-looking little plain bird above; how can I expect to spot a really interesting bird or hear and ID its song?

I've been trying to study a lot lately too, though it's tough with my work schedule. On a silver-lining-on-the-cloud angle, I've had insomnia lately and have been using the awake time to pore over my guides and lists and stuff. I'm also re-reading (for about the fiftieth time) Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, a book that always inspires me so much. I wish I'd gotten into birds at such a young age; think how much more I'd know now! Maybe I would've majored in ornithology instead of English, or gotten a job as a forest ranger instead of a teacher. Who knows? I always loved birds, but I had nothing like Kaufman's obsession and drive and thirst for knowledge.

Ah, the road not taken.

Anyway, I also saw some beautiful cloud formations as a huge thunderstorm system blew into the area:

I saw some butterflies:One of these butterflies was flying around with the other paler one still attached! Ouch.


Is this a butterfly or a moth:?I think it's a butterfly, but I just don't know. John from A D.C. Birding Blog says it's a dusky-winged skipper of some sort. I figured it was a skipper, but -- like with birds -- I am never satisfied with my first impression. I overthink it.

So when I left the field, I had to drive right into the storm; before I knew it, visibility went to about to ten feet and I began to worry about tornadoes. The rain slowed after about ten minutes, though the flooding was rough:
There were tornado watches, but nothing formed. Otherwise, that would've been Tornado #7 I've driven near. Crazy, huh? I've been in my car for six tornadoes so far in my life; the closest I came to the actual funnel was the 2000 Fort Worth tornado, during which I skirted the debris cloud of office paper and detritus as the funnel passed within about 800 yards of me. I didn't know! I couldn't see it for the rain! But when I saw the debris blowing around me, I knew.

But I digress.

So--have you seen any early signs of the fall migration? (I'll add that it's still hotter than blazes here, and humid to top it off.)


Rabbits' Guy said...

Babies are still on the nests - we have not yet started summer out here in the far NW!

Rabbits' Guy said...

Oh - my guide says female house sparrow ....

John said...

Your mystery bird is a House Sparrow. I would lean towards juvenile since the supercilium is more distinct in that plumage than in adult females, but the two ages are very similar.

The butterfly/moth is a butterfly. It's one of the duskywing skippers – small dark skippers. It might be a Horace's Duskywing, but I'm not sure about that. Wild Indigo and Juvenal's Duskywings are very similar.

bunnygirl said...

I love that indigo bunting - such an amazing color. But even better are your stackable housepets. I'm always glad to see a new Niblet pic!

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Lisa said...

There is so much good stuff in this post! The photos, the stories, the information.

And lucky! You saw a Bunting!

Susan Gets Native said...

I talked to Laura about Cape May and she brought up that hotel we stayed in the first year. That would be doable.
Wouldn't it be FAB to do it this year? Three of the originals... :)

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dguzman said...

Rabbits' Guy--Well, you guys are three hours behind us, you know. ;-) And I just KNEW it was a HOSP. Dangit.

John--oh well. Thanks for the butterfly info--I figured it was a skipper. Cool!

Bunnygirl--always happy to feature my babies, and they're all hams.

Lisa--thanks, glad you enjoyed it! You know a thing or two about tornadoes, huh?

Susan--just what I was thinking as far as hotels! And today I asked off for the Thurs and Fri before the weekend. Yay! Maybe Susan M will come too!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have some great pictures here! I love that Indigo Bunting - I've never seen one before, although apparently we do get there where I am (Toronto, Canada). I agree the sparrow is a juvenile house sparrow. But don't be bummed out, that's a great one you got of her digging in her breast. (Also the bunk-bedding pic of the pets is, of course, adorable ;) I haven't seen signs of fall migration yet; last week we had house finches, but so far no goldfinches, or juncos (but those generally come late fall anyway).