Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Yard bird #51!

Taking a break from (1) cleaning and (2) bringing down our last items for loading into the cars tonight to brag about the Eastern Phoebe who showed up yesterday in the yard while our mover guys were loading our ReloCubes!

Sigh. Today is gonna be another long day, but it'll be my last full day in Pennsylvania! Tomorrow, I will become a new Mainer -- which is to say that I'll be "from away." Apparently, one has to be in Maine for several generations before one is truly a Mainer and not "from away." Still, I'm happy to start the tradition, and Cornelius is definitely looking forward to it:
See? Total excitement.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

RIP, Phyllis Diller

You were the first comedian I ever saw on TV, and you always made me laugh. Rest in peace, dear.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

BIG TRIP 2012 Day I don't know what!!: The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone!

Somehow I skipped some days in my posting, so here's the two days we spent at Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone! The photos of the mountains didn't turn out all that well, given that the haze of the Idaho wildfires had arrived with us in the park. I was hoping for butane-blue skies and crisp white snow against stark black rocks, but this is the best I got.

Li'l Nib was brave the whole time, knowing I'd protect him from bears, bison, and bugs:
We camped at the Gros Ventre Campgrounds and, though it was a bit cold, we had a good night there.

We also saw a few birds! Lifer Western Wood-pewee!
I wasn't sure on this ID but just got an email confirming from some local guys, so WOW! Note the dusky sides, the lack of eyering. 

Also present at the campground: Mountain Bluebird!
Totally awesome! We would end up seeing so many of these that we started joking, "trash bird!"

There was also this little flycatcher:

Note the bi-colored bill, the two thin wingbars, the VERY faint yellow belly, and the white spectacles. Is this a Dusky Flycatcher? My sources say YES! LIFER!

In the morning of Day 9, we had breakfast and kept hearing a high-pitched trilling noise and seeing hummingbirds racing through the air. The trilling gave them away: Broad-tailed Hummingbirds! The bird Gretchen and I had waited and waited to see in Texas in February! Turns out they were hitting some feeders at Moose Junction at the Dornan's cabins office:

While I was busy snapping photos of this male, an unexpected visitor showed up to nibble (gobble) on the cottonwoods!

HOLY MOLY -- LIFER MOOSE! As it says in all the park literature, I sllooowwwwllyyy backed away, but by the time I noticed him he was like ten feet away! I was half-terrified and half-thrilled! Someone shouted, "that's not someone's pet!" like I was the one who'd gotten all up in the moose's grill! I said, "Hey, HE came to ME!" and kept backing up. He finally stripped all the low branches bare and moved on, giving way to this lovely Rufous Hummingbird:

Sweet! I wish my focus had been better on these hummer shots, but they were in the shade and I was still a little terrified from the moose encounter, I think. Read: shaking!

We visited the Chapel of the Transfiguration to get a photo for a friend:
 This little chapel has quite a view from the window behind the sacristy:

And he wanted a photo take from inside the chapel, looking out the window. I felt a little funny about it, but I walked up (after genuflecting -- Catholic habit!) and took another right at the window:

Here again, the photos are diminished a bit by the smoky haze that covered the mountains. Still, it was an amazing view.

We went up to the lakes and walked a little at Jenny Lake:

 which was really pretty, if a little hazy.
I found this interesting rock (a little larger than a softball) with this formation on it:
I don't think it's a fossil, but who knows? Maybe the entire rock was a giant prehistoric snail? I resisted the temptation to collect said rock and we moved on.

We headed north after that, out of the park, and toward Yellowstone. Not a lot of birding happened at Yellowstone, but I did get photos of a Violet-green Swallow -- LIFER!

This is a horrible photo, shot almost straight up into the air of a partly cloudy sky, but note the white extending from under the chin to over the eyes: Violet-green Swallow!

Of course we saw Old Faithful, which was kind enough to erupt within five minutes of our arrival:
I got video too, but it's sideways because I flipped my camera. Fail.

Here's Nib and I at the sign:
I really dig the arrowhead NPS symbol, but I couldn't help feeling like it was a direct reflection of the fact that most of our western national parks are built on lands we stole from Native Americans. I was conflicted the whole trip about this fact.

Once at Yellowstone, we took the lower loop and went west/northwest, arriving at the Midway Geyser Basin. In a word, BEAUTIFUL:
The super-blue water is made that way by the bacteria in the water. Blue means it's SUPER hot, hotter than the other colors.

The Grand Prismatic Pool:
It's tough to do justice to this pool without being up in the air, which is how most of the online/postcard photos are taken. Still, it's a huge deep-blue pool surrounded by cooler orange. It's odd to think that hotter=blue and cooler=orange; seems counterintuitive, no?

Just an amazing place; steamy and beautiful and mind-boggling. So much heat!

Then we went to the Great Fountain Geyser, which we waited on for an hour:

Nearby Fountain Paint Pot, which erupted in the distance three times while we waited for the above geyser.

The whole time, I was wanting to see bubbling mud pools and smell sulphur! My prayers were answered when we hit the Artists' Paint Pots area:

This area was like being in a prehistoric landscape: steamy bubbling springs and bubbling mud pots and crazy-colored areas everywhere.

Amazing! Check out this video of a mud pot:
This time I kept the camera right! The sounds were so loud, as the earth bubbled up. It's hard not to remember all those shows I've seen about how Yellowstone is really just a giant supervolcano, waiting to erupt and destroy the entire western United States! We were in the caldera!

After this geology and vulcanology lesson, we drove out of the east exit of the park. By now it was getting late in the afternoon, and certain mammals were getting really active!
This guy was just walking up the hill, putting one hoof in front of the other and heading for a bison meeting.

Monday, August 20, 2012

BIG TRIP 2012 Day 10: the vast grasslands of Wyoming

After Craters of the Moon, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone, it felt like we were driving down out of the high country; every town out there has its elevation on its city limits sign -- that's something I'm not really used to! Anyway, Day 10 had us leaving Cody, WY, and driving toward the Thunder Basin National Grasslands; I had Burrowing Owls and grouse on the brain!

Between Meeteetse and Thermopolis, WY, we stopped at the Gooseberry Creek Rest Area; my luck with lifers in such random areas as rest areas and gas station parking lots is well-documented, and we were weren't disappointed at this rest area!

First, I just saw my old friend the Black-billed Magpie:
I also got better looks at Rock Wren; look at this ridiculous beak!
I couldn't believe the schnozz on this guy. While watching him flit around and perch on walls and eat grasshoppers, I noticed a colorful sparrow:
LARK SPARROW! Yes! Lifer! My gosh, what a beautiful bird. He really showed me his field marks, too, making my ID immediate and confident.
 I've always wanted to see one of these! I had scored a lifer at a rest stop once again. I kept looking around, being mindful of the many warnings about Prairie Rattlesnakes (eek). I then saw this little guy:

As much as I wanted him to be a Sprague's Pipit, I knew in an instant that he was the cute little Vesper Sparrow. I was happy to get such good pics of him, though, for my lifebirds photo folder. I saw another familiar face:
Eastern Kingbird. Here's one with flaps on full:
I love these birds; still, I was hoping to get a Western Kingbird on this trip, something that hadn't happened yet. I noted that Eastern, however, is the only kingbird with a white breast; the rest have yellow breast feathers. You'd think I would've realized this fact earlier, seeing as how I've seen Cassin's, Tropical, Couch's, and Eastern, but this was the first time it dawned on me that (duh) all of them have the yellow except our Eastern. And all the yellow-breasted ones are western/southwestern birds. Interesting.

After Thermopolis, we drove on through Wind River Canyon, a beautiful drive:
As I snapped this photo, I noticed this little sign:
That's right: they have signs pointing out their geologic formations and how old they are. TOTALLY COOL! Check out these Cambrian formations:

Just think of it; these cliffs were formed BEFORE the dinosaurs, before the continents as we know them, when the absolute earliest lifeforms scuttled around the seafloor! I was pretty much blown away.

I came back to myself, though, when I saw these:
Common Mergansers, hanging out in the Wind River. Cool. Also present:
Looks like a Double-crested Cormorant on the right, as least as well as I could tell. I can't imagine there would be any other corms here. But what about the one on the left? I know they have Anhinga here; perhaps that's an Anhinga? Not a lifer, but amazing! I'd only ever seen them in Texas. He is so much smaller than the DCCO, and his beak is more like an Anhinga. Tough to tell from this blurry pic, taken from about 100-150 yards above.

Sometimes, AB's crazy-mad bird skillz amaze me. She was driving, going around 80mph, and she stood on the brakes and said, "BIG BIRD!" We whipped around and found a Golden Eagle, perched majestically on a rocky cliff on the roadside! Unfortunately, he took off before I could snap a photo, so this was the only evidence:
 He was HUGE. I'd only seen a Golden once before, at a hawk watch, so I had no idea how big they are in person, especially at like 20 yards. I wish I'd gotten him perched, but at least I got to see him in the bins for a few seconds to confirm the ID and appreciate his golden beauty.

Later, AB showed her skillz again when she saw this raptor perched upon an old tin barn:

He never turned around to face us, but you can kinda see how he danced a little with his wings up, floating and then landing and then dancing some more. I swear, my raptor ID skills stink out loud. I'm confused and more than a little gunshy on IDing this as anything other than a red-tail. I am certain it's a buteo, so my options are limited. (Unless I'm wrong about that!) Note the dark brown tail with the thin strip of white on the tips. That's no red-tail tail, right? (Work with me here; help me think it through.) Okay -- even Harlan's, the dark-morph variant of Red-tailed Hawk, doesn't appear to have the white tail tips, and his tail is supposed to be a warm reddish brown.This guy's is a dark brown.

Okay--I'm thinking it's either a Rough-legged Hawk or something else. But rough-legs have a white tail with a black band. Plus rough-legs winter in Wyoming, and it was only early August. This isn't a rough-leg, right?

On to Swainson's but the face is wrong. Swainson's would have white above and below the beak.

WHAT THE HECK!??? Help! I bet it's just a freaking color variant of Red-tailed, and I'm over-thinking. Or under-thinking. Or focusing on too few details. I don't know! I'm not looking for a lifer here; I just want to improve my raptor skills. They get rusty so freakin' fast. I've been so focused on songbirds that raptors are just not that important for me. Still, they frustrate me!

Hmph. Speaking of songbirds, there was a little yellow-colored warbler there as well:

This was the only photo I got before he flitted off, completely oblivious to the raptor. No telling what he was, though there are several possibilities. This was the middle of the Wyoming plains, no boreal habitat for miles.

Finally, we arrived -- with no signs or other notice -- in the Thunder Basin National Grasslands. I was expecting something like the Pawnee National Grasslands, uninhabited and undeveloped: pure prairie. I didn't get that. It was a lot of ranches, oil drilling, and coal mining. I was really disappointed.

There were TONS of Pronghorned Antelope:
And at one point, after hanging a right from Hwy 59 northbound onto Hwy 450 east toward Newcastle (our destination for the night), I saw a sign and a dirt road entrance for the grasslands, so we drove about 200 yards in, away from the road, and I got out and looked around.

My expectations were ridiculously high; for some reason, I thought I was going to see a big sign that said, "Burrowing Owl: 30 yards east, hang a right at the pronghorn, can't miss it!" What I saw, however, was miles of prairie and small hills, always interrupted by mines or drilling or ranch houses. I was so bummed out. It was just so developed.

Still, I did see this little Horned Lark:
for about a second before he flew off and disappeared. You know how tricky these little guys are. You hear their peeping, see a little flash, and then NOTHING. I was lucky to get this crappy photo.

I also saw this:

Some pronghorn had a bad day. Coyotes? Wolves? People? Who knows.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I saw was this:
 Minutes before, someone had taken a potty break! The ground was still obviously wet, and in this dry climate, it wouldn't have lasted more than ten or fifteen minutes, tops.

The unspoiled part:
Game trails, either pronghorns or deer or sheep (lots of ranching here):

So we finally got to Newcastle that night, and we began the next phase of our trip: Bikers and Birds and Badlands. More on that next time.