Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bird a Day: Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is the largest and most common Heron found in North America. They stand around 4 ft. tall and have a wingspan of 6 ft. They fly with slow deep wing beats. (a good quality for photographers!)

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Herons will eat many kinds of animals, including mice, but they prefer fish. Because of this, they will often be found along the edges of a body of water. They are considered to be expert fishers. One of the most interesting things about Great Blue Herons, is the way they catch their fish. They stand or move very slowly through the water until they see their prey, then they stab it with their long sharp bills. (I have only witnessed this a few times and ultimately hope to capture it with my camera someday). They then swallow the fish whole. Herons have been known to choke to death trying to swallow prey that is too large.

Great Blues nest in colonies, usually called Heron rookeries. They will often have a few trees with several different Heron families. Their nests are made of sticks and both sexes take turns incubating the eggs for 25-29 days. Since they are in such close proximity to other Herons, they do not defend their nesting territory, but are very territorial with their feeding areas.

Great Blue Heron

I found a statement in a book entitled, Birding: The bestselling guide to the birds of North America, that I found humorous. “ If disturbed, the Great Blue takes off heavily and flies away with slow deep wing beats, often giving a deep, throaty call as it goes.” I find this funny because it is so true. I believe they hear me, even before I am aware of their presence. I always feel like they’re irritated that I disturbed them.

If you have never observed a Great Blue Heron in the Louisville area, you would be sure to see them at Falls of the Ohio during the summer. They love to fish in the shallow water on the fossil beds close to the dam.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Bird a Day: Ring-billed Gull

This is my last bird a day, Karen will be finishing the month out tomorrow for me.  It has been fun finding all these birds and sharing them with you this month.  It was a lot of work but it got me out and taking pictures I otherwise wouldn't have been able to get.  Thanks so much for reading along all month.  :)

A common visitor in the winter but less so this time of year is the Herring Gull.  These birds spend the winter in Louisville but fly to the arctic to breed.  This bird must be getting a late start to its migration.  The Herring Gull is a part of a complex of large, white-headed gulls that are spread across the northern hemisphere.  Some people consider this complex all one species while others recognize 10 or more distinct species.  The discrepancy comes from their tendency to interbreed and intermediate variations between the recognized species.   

Ring-billed Gull

Identification of gulls is notoriously difficult.  Gulls go through several plumages as they age and look different from one year to the next.  Add on top of that the similarities already seen between species and it can be quite hard to tell them apart.  The Herring Gull above looks to be an adult bird based on the bright white and uniform gray in the plumage.  Younger birds are more mottled and "dirty" looking than adults.  Herring Gulls are medium sized gulls and are larger than the similar Ring-billed Gull.  They also differ in that the Herring Gull has a red spot on the tip of the bill and the Ring-billed has a solid black bar on the tip of its bill.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bird a Day: Song Sparrow

I'm getting low on bird pictures so today I present you with the commonest of the common birds, the Song Sparrow.  These little sparrows are here year round and they are everywhere.  Go in your backyard and there will be one singing from the bushes.  Take a walk in the park and you're bound to hear several.  Going on a arctic vacation this summer?  You'll hear them there too.  In fact it is tough to find a place you won't hear Song Sparrows, here is a list of just some of the habitats they can be found in: tidal marshes,desert scrub, pinyon pine forests, aspen parklands, prairie shelterbelts, Pacific rain forest, chaparral, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, freshwater marsh and lake edges, forest edges, and suburbs.  Quite an extensive list for sure!  But just because they are common doesn't mean they are uninteresting.  Did you know that a single male can have 20 different songs he will sing along with over 1000 improvised variations?  Young males learn the songs of other males nearby and quietly sing to themselves to get their tune just right before they perform for females in the spring.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows have highly variable plumage across their range.  The eastern form which is in our area has a gray face, gray back with brown streaking, and a streaky back.  They are one of a handful of sparrow species with a dark central chest spot.  They also have a dark "mustache" on the side of the face that can be used to differentiate them from other sparrows.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bird a Day: House Wren

Now here is a bird with Napolean Syndrome.  House Wrens are small, only around 5 inches and weighing less than half an ounce, but they think they are the biggest baddest bird of them all.   Backyard birders have a love-hate relationship with House Wrens.  They are a drab small but endearing bird because of their big voice, which is why they are loved.  They have a habit of destroying the nests of and even killing adult Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and chickadees, making them unwelcome to the backyard birder.  House Wrens will search out nearby nests and punch holes in the eggs to prevent other House Wrens and birds of any species from successfully breeding.  It is thought they do this because it decreases their competition for food resources to feed their chicks.

House Wren

House Wrens are the smallest wren in Kentucky during this time of year (in winter the similar Winter Wren is present and is even smaller).  This time of year though the presence of House Wrens are most easily located by their song.  Other identification features are the long decurved beak, short wings, a barred brown back, and a pale eyebrow.  House Wrens also have the habit of cocking their tail straight up so that is a behavior to look for as well.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bird a Day: Hooded Merganser

We're getting close to the end of the month and bird a day is almost over!  Good thing because I'm running out of pictures to share.  Today's bird is the Hooded Merganser.  It is one of the few species of waterfowl that breed in our area, along with Mallard and Wood Ducks (and I guess the parking lot variety of the Canada Goose too).  They nest in tree cavities like the Wood Duck with several females sometimes laying in one nest.  They have a serrated bill like all mergansers that they use to catch fish underwater.  Hooded Mergansers dive underwater and use their nictating membrane (third eyelid) like goggles so they can see underwater.

Hooded Merganser

Above is a female Hooded Merganser and she is much more drab than the male.  Both sexes have a long serrated bill and a hood on the back of the head, though it is much more pronounced in the males.  Here is a picture of the male courtesy of my friend Bob over at Texas Tweeties.  You can see the contrasting black and white facial pattern and the large white hood make this bird unmistakable in summer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bird a Day: Great Egret

The most widespread egret in the world, the Great Egret was first named the American Egret, but this was hardly appropriate since the bird is found worldwide.  In the late 19th century, these birds and other herons and egrets were hunted extensively for their feathers.  Most herons and egrets have long plumes on their heads that they use in courtship, but they not only attracted other birds, but humans as well.  It was the style to have one of these long plumes adorned on hats and the population of these birds were reduced dramatically.  Public opinion started to turn against plume hunting and Teddy Roosevelt established the first Federal Bird Reservation at Pelican Island specifically to protect birds from plume hunters.  He went on to create 50 more bird reserves during his presidency.  This protection allowed the Great Egret population to recover and they are now a very common bird in the south and here in Kentucky.

Great Egret

Great Egret

Great Egrets are easy birds to identify.  They are the only large all white heron in our area.  They have a long neck and large bright orange bill that they use to stab fish.  They have black legs and feet which set them apart from the smaller Snowy Egret which have yellow feet.  They are common around the edges of ponds, streams, and other wetlands.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bird a Day: Clay-colored Sparrow

Clay-colored Sparrow

The Clay-Colored Sparrow is a small, five inch bird with black streaked brown upperparts and buff underparts. The face is pale with a finely streaked crown, brown cheek patch, white eye stripe and a gray nape. Their song is a series of three to five identical raspy buzzes.
They can usually be found breeding from north-central Canada & Great Lakes region south to Colorado and Michigan. They spend winter from the southern tip of Texas to points south. Very rarely would they be seen in Kentucky! However, I had a very lucky encounter with one of these sparrows on Mother’s Day! I went to Shippingport Island to check on the Ospreys, and saw this little guy foraging around very close to where I was standing. I snapped a few pictures and went on my way, not realizing how rare of a sight I had just witnessed.
I was unsuccessful identifying this sparrow on my own, so while on a field trip with Beckham Bird Club, I showed the picture to Eddie Huber, who was leading the trip. He and some of the other members felt certain it was a Clay-Colored Sparrow. I sent the picture on to Brainard Palmer-Ball to complete the confirmation.

Clay-colored Sparrow

I only wish I had known what I was seeing so I could have posted it on BirdKY. It would’ve been nice if other birders could have observed him as well. I guess that is one of the pitfalls of being a newbie bird watcher.

Clay-colored Sparrow

I have done some research on the Clay-Colored Sparrow, and discovered a few things I would like to share.
- Clay-Colored Sparrows tend to forage outside of their nesting area, which gives them a smaller area to defend. This is unusual behavior, as most birds defend a larger area that includes their feeding grounds.
- Brown-Headed Cowbirds frequently parasitize Clay-Colored Sparrow nests. They will sometimes abandon the nest, but often stay and raise the Cowbird young. This can be problematic since the Cowbird young are larger than the sparrow babies and tend to monopolize the food brought by the foster parents. Very often some of the sparrow babies do not survive.
- Clay-Colored Sparrows can often be found in large flocks of various other birds, including Brewers Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows and Lark Buntings.

I reported my sighting on eBird and they have confirmed the identification, as well. I also have the privilege of having one of my photos in the eBird rarity flickr group. This group can be accessed here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bird a Day: Eastern Wood Pewee

The Eastern Wood Pewee is a fairly common bird in the deciduous forests of eastern North America.  They belong to the flycatcher family Tyrannidae.  This bird was living up to his name when I found him.  There were many small gnats flying in swarms in the air and this pewee was flying quick out into the swarms, doing some acrobatics to catch a gnat, and then coming back to another branch and doing it all over again.  They are one of many birds that were named after the song they sing.  The Eastern Wood Pewee's song is a rising "pe-ah-wee" followed by a downward "wee-ur".  Eastern Wood Pewee's are declining in eastern forests and it may be due to the overpopulation of White-tailed Deer.  Deer are over-browsing the understory and intermediate canopy, leaving little habitat for this bird and many other species of animals.

Eastern Wood Peewee

Eastern Wood Peewee

Identification of the Eastern Wood Pewee can be tough for those unfamiliar with the flycatchers.  Most flycatchers are the same dull brownish-gray color, but the pewee is larger than other similar flycatchers like the Acadian and Least.  The pewee has two whitish wing bars, a dark wash on the sides under the wings, and no eyering.  You most likely would be able to identify it by song before you even saw the bird anyway, which is a good reason to brush up on your bird songs.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bird a Day: House Finch

I was going to try to avoid the most common birds for my Bird a Day posts, but the bad weather we've been having isn't good for taking pictures so I'll have to use what I have.  This little House Finch male was taken at my parent's house.  This is the male that has a nest on the porch above the outdoor speaker.  My cat was lying near the nest and he came down close to tell her he didn't think that was a good idea.

So, a little about House Finches.  Many people may not know that House Finches are actually an introduced species, in the eastern U.S. anyway.  House Finches historically ranged from Texas to Montana and west to California.  It wasn't until the 1940's when pet finches were turned loose in New York and they quickly spread across the east and have now almost reached as far west as their original range.  They were introduced into Hawaii as well some 70 years earlier and have taken over the Hawaiian Islands as well.  They suffer from a disease known as mycoplasmal conjunctivitis that causes swollen eyes, feather loss, and respiratory problems.  It is thought this disease is so common in House Finches because of the small founding population in the east and with such a small gene pool they are more susceptible to disease.

House Finch

If you want to know what a House Finch looks like, look out your window, there is probably one on your deck or in the trees around your house.  The name House Finch comes from their affinity for nesting around human development.  The males as you can see are a bright strawberry red on the head and most of the body.  They have brown streaking along the sides and breast.  Females lack most of the red and are very plain and also have the streaking on the sides and breast.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bird a Day: Black-crowned Night Heron

The most geographically widespread heron, appearing on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, is the Black-crowned Night Heron.  They have a tongue twister of a scientific name Nycticorax nycticorax, meaning night raven.  They are most often seen along the banks of rivers and streams sitting motionless, waiting for a fish to swim by.  Unlike the Great Blue Heron they don't use their bill to stab prey, instead they grasp it.  They eat fish but also a variety of other foods like frogs, snakes, rodents, invertebrates, and eggs.  In Kentucky they are migrants, showing up in spring and leaving in the fall.  

Bleck-crowned Night Heron

A simple heron to identify, the Black-crowned Night Heron can only be confused with the similar Yellow-crowned Night Heron.  Both birds are roughly the same size and both have red eyes, but the Black-crowned has a black cap and back.  The wings are gray and underparts are white.  Sexes are the same but the immature is a mottled brown with much streaking on the breast and belly and a yellow eye instead of red.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bird a Day: Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Here is a common bird many of you may not know about.  Most people know Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows, but few may be familiar with the Rough-winged Swallow.  They are very common swallows across North America and Canada.  They nest in a variety of places like rocky gorges, shale banks (more on that here), and old kingfisher holes.  But they also like man-made structures such as drainpipes, cracks in buildings, bridges, and tunnels.  They like open habitats like hay fields and lakes for foraging.  They fly low over the land or water and scoop bugs out of the air and swallow them in flight, rarely landing.  They get their name from the rough barbed primary feathers on the male.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

NRWS's are a plain bird without any real field marks.  They are very similar to the Bank Swallow, but lack the breast band of the Bank.  There isn't much to say about their identification except that they are a brown nondescript bird with long swept back wings, a small bill, and a pale brown throat.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bird a Day: Bell's Vireo

A very uncommon visitor east of the Mississippi River, the Bell's Vireo is a small vireo that forages and nests along riparian habitat.  They are usually found in the Great Plains in the summer and winter in Mexico.  The Least Bell's Vireo is an endangered subspecies in southern California.  The encroachment of grassland and parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds are the main reasons for its endangerment.  The song of the Bell's Vireo is a distinct loud, jerky, unmusical set of phrases and notes.  I was able to get a recording of his song you can hear at the bottom of this post.

Bell's Vireo

Bell's Vireo

The Bell's Vireo has a gray head with faint white spectacles, yellow-green on the back, and a yellow wash to the belly.  They also have one prominent wing bar and a slightly fainter one above it.  This bird was found at the landfill and this is the third year in a row that one has been seen out there.  I'm not sure why they keep showing up out there but I'm glad they do.  :)

***UPDATE*** - He was back again today and I was able to get some audio of him singing.  Try to tune out the Song Sparrow and trucks in the background.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bird a Day: Wood Duck

Wood Ducks are small, beautiful ducks that range over much of the eastern part of North America and parts of the pacific coast.  They are unique in that they nest in tree cavities or nest boxes, sometimes as far away as a mile from the nearest water.  When the ducklings hatch they leap from the tree cavity and plunge to the ground (watch this video from the Planet Earth series).  It is quite a way to make your entrance into the world.  They are common in many habitats like bottomland forests, swamps, and beaver ponds.

Wood Ducks

The male Wood Duck looks like something out of a painting with various shades of greens and chestnut.  His feathers are iridescent and shimmer when the sun strikes them at the right angle.  His bill is bright orange-red and his eyes are bright red as well.  The female is less colorful but is still beautiful.  She is streaked brown underneath and a gray-blue on her head.  Her beak is similarly colored and the outstanding field mark for female Wood Ducks is the white teardrop around the eye.  This pair was seen at McNeely Lake on Saturday when I was birding for the Birdathon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Birdathon: Part Two

Moving on to part two of the Birdathon posts.  After looking for birds at the landfill I stopped by my parent's to see what they had moving in the trees.  I had been hearing several species of birds singing on their property like Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and many more.  By Friday night things had slowed down some and not as many birds were singing.  Perhaps the best bird to be seen was the male Cape May Warbler below.

Cape May Warbler

There were other more common birds making themselves obvious.  This Brown Thrasher was doing just that, thrashing around in the leaves under the neighbors evergreen tree.  I watched him for a while and observed that he was collecting dead sticks and branches.  He was either building or redecorating his nest as he kept coming back for more and more.  He took a break and hopped up on the fence where I was waiting with my camera.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The House Finches were any and everywhere as usual.  There are several pairs breeding on the porch and in the gutters.  They go about their day flying to and from the nest, feeding chicks, and seemingly talking back and forth.  They really come together when the cat is sitting on the porch.  They land within a couple feet of her and scold her for being so close to their nest.

House Finch

House Finch

Saturday wasn't quite as good a day for birding as I was hoping it would be.  I went on the Beckham Bird Club field trip to Floyds Fork Park because it is usually a great trip for seeing warblers and migrants.  Not so much on Saturday.  We heard several species of common birds but seeing them was a different story.  The overcast sky made it almost impossible to take a picture.  Nevertheless we tried anyway.

At the onset we were hearing Eastern Wood Peewee, Prairie Warbler, and White-eyed Vireo from the parking lot.  We had very little luck finding any of them however.  We got a brief glimpse of a Yellow-breasted Chat by the soccer fields.  There used to be a lot of habitat for these birds but it all got mowed several years ago and now there are only a few chats around.  We made it to Floyds Fork and walked down the road that goes along it.  Again we heard much but saw very little.  A Warbling Vireo was singing, as were Alder Flycatcher and Scarlet Tanager.  Towards the end of the road we saw two Great-crested Flycatchers that most likely have a nest in the Sycamore tree.

Finally I had had enough of not seeing any birds so we played back the song of a Prairie Warbler.  The one that was singing nearby zoomed right toward us.  He got real close and gave us good looks, but with the gray sky the picture below was the best I could do.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

On the way back to the car, this Eastern Kingbird was flying around the parking lot.  These guys are becoming my favorite birds because they are so photogenic.

Eastern Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird

And at McNeely Lake the Eastern Kingbirds were even more cooperative.  There is a pair nesting in a tree that is standing in the middle of an un-mowed field.  The sun had come out finally and lit this bird up perfectly, making one of the best bird photos I think I have ever taken!

Eastern Kingbird

Before leaving I had to check the lake.  There were several pairs of Mallards and farm ducks.  A beautiful pair of Wood Ducks approached from across the lake and offered some great views (check back tomorrow for pics of those guys).  They didn't have any ducklings following them yet.  Dark clouds were approaching so I did my best trying to capture the swallows flying across the lake snatching up insects.

Barn Swallow

All in all i think it was a successful birdathon. Check out the video below to see some of the footage I got of the various birds. Thanks for stopping by and thanks to those that donated!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Birdathon: Part One

I counted birds for the 2011 Beckham Bird Club Birdathon this weekend and found a total of 69 species in two days.  I planned on doing it all on Saturday the 14th but the weather was looking grim and indeed it was, so I supplemented Saturday's count by counting birds at the landfill on Friday.  My goal was to get some good pictures and video to share and I think you will enjoy what I found.

First a little about the Beckham Bird Club Birdathon.  The Birdathon is a competition held every year with the goal of raising money for bird conservation, habitat, and education.  Last year the Birdathon raised around $14,000 for groups such as Raptor Rehab, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, and Louisville Nature Center just to name a few.

So let's begin on Friday.  In this post I will focus on the birds I saw Friday at the landfill and tomorrow's post will focus on the birds I saw at Floyds Fork Park, McNeely Lake, and my parent's house.  There are a lot of good birds at the landfill and they were certainly out Friday night.  A few common birds (at the landfill anyway) are below:


Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow

Blue Grosbeak

There are always several Yellow Warblers singing along the wet ditches at the landfill.  A lot of warblers have some yellow on them, but the Yellow Warbler is completely so, only showing some red streaking on the breast and sides in males.  The bottom picture is unfortunately out of focus, but you can see the bird is carrying something big and white in its beak and it is a clue that the bird has a nest of chicks nearby.  What the bird is carrying is a fecal sac.  When the chicks poop the adults must clean it out of the nest.  They gather it all up in their beaks and carry it far away from the nest so as not to attract predators.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

The light was really nice Friday as you can see in the pictures below.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
Right before I left I decided to go down a gravel road that runs along a swampy area on the landfill.  I'm glad I did because I got to see a neat interaction between two species of birds.  I came across an immature Orchard Oriole taking a bath in a puddle in the middle of the road.  He was really going at it, splashing around like a kid in a pool.  He was so oblivious to everything else that he let me stand right next to him and take several pictures. 

Orchard Oriole

Maybe next time he shouldn't be so caught up in his bath because all of a sudden another bird dropped down out of the trees and attacked him.  The little oriole was caught unaware and desperately tried to escape as fast as his little wet wings would let him.

Orchard Oriole

Strangely enough the other bird was an immature Summer Tanager.  Adult males are entirely red, but this bird has mottling of green and yellow as well.  I think he may have mistaken the Orchard Oriole for another tanager because after he pecked at him a few times he just sat there and looked a bit puzzled, almost as if he was embarrassed for having made a mistake.

Summer Tanager

All in all it was a good day and I came away with some great pictures (and video) to share.  I didn't break it down how many birds were seen each day but the total across both days was 69.  I think I could have easily added 10-15 more species if the weather had not been so dreary last weekend.  All in all I am happy with what I saw and the pictures I was able to get.  Below is a list of all the species seen for both days.

Canada Goose    
Wood Duck    
Black Vulture    
Turkey Vulture    
Red-tailed Hawk    
American Kestrel    
Solitary Sandpiper    
Mourning Dove    
Chimney Swift    
Ruby-throated Hummingbird    
Belted Kingfisher    
Red-bellied Woodpecker    
Downy Woodpecker    
Hairy Woodpecker    
Northern Flicker    
Pileated Woodpecker    
Eastern Wood-Pewee    
Acadian Flycatcher    
Alder Flycatcher    
Willow Flycatcher    
Eastern Phoebe    
Great Crested Flycatcher    
Eastern Kingbird    
White-eyed Vireo    
Warbling Vireo     
Red-eyed Vireo    
Blue Jay    
American Crow     
Northern Rough-winged Swallow    
Barn Swallow    
Carolina Chickadee    
Tufted Titmouse    
Carolina Wren    
House Wren    
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher    
Eastern Bluebird    
Wood Thrush    
American Robin    
Gray Catbird    
Northern Mockingbird    
Brown Thrasher    
European Starling    
Cedar Waxwing    
Northern Parula   
Yellow Warbler    
Cape May Warbler    
Black-throated Green Warbler    
Prairie Warbler    
Common Yellowthroat    
Yellow-breasted Chat    
Eastern Towhee     
Field Sparrow    
Song Sparrow    
Summer Tanager    
Northern Cardinal     
Blue Grosbeak     
Indigo Bunting     
Red-winged Blackbird     
Eastern Meadowlark     
Common Grackle    
Brown-headed Cowbird     
Orchard Oriole    
Baltimore Oriole    
House Finch    
American Goldfinch     
House Sparrow

Tomorrow we will look at the birds seen at Floyds Fork Park, McNeely Lake, and my parent's house.  Stay tuned!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Canoeing Floyds Fork

I was lucky enough to join some of the folks from The Parklands of Floyds Fork for some canoeing last week. The goal was to identify interesting natural features of Floyds Fork for future interpretive programs. We started at Miles Park and canoed to Floyds Fork Park on the first day before heading to some lower sections that don't have good public access points yet. It was a nice sneak peak and, as the website says, the park is "gonna be great."

Running water, warbling vireos, tanagers, and orioles provided the sound track while we floated down the river discussing the forces that have shaped it's character and current path. Right off the bat we had a couple of pretty unusual wildlife encounters. First, we found a large northern watersnake attempting to swallow a catfish. From the look of things, it was not going well! A little bit down the river, a peculiarly shaped boulder came rolling down from 75 feet up a steep hill, and splashed into the water nearby. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a large, female red-eared slider (turtle). Apparently, she was attempting to get to a higher, sunny spot to lay some eggs and lost her footing!

We managed to catch a few critters to show the group between discussions of land-use alteration, stream characteristics, and where the creeks might have been two hundred years ago:

Nerodia sipedon (northern watersnake) eating catfish
Northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) attempting to swallow a catfish.

Graptemys geographica (common map turle)juv
A very young common map turtle (Graptemys geographica).

Plecoptera (stonefly larva)
Stonefly larva, an indicator of good water quality.

Orconectes juvenilis (Kentucky river crayfish)
Kentucky River Crayfish (Orconectes juvenilis), the most commonly found
crayfish in Floyds Fork.

Bird a Day: Dickcissel

Dickcissel are birds of grasslands and prairies and are pretty rare in Jefferson County.  There are several singing males at the landfill however and this guy approached close and was belting away his tune.  Dickcissels may not be common in our area but they amass in the thousands on their migration south to northern South America in Venezuela and Columbia.  They gather in such strong numbers in Venezuela that they are considered pests by farmers and unfortunately their roosts are crop dusted with pesticides to kill them in large numbers.  They are still a numerous bird but this is becoming such an increasingly common practice in their wintering grounds that attention is being paid to their population numbers and conservation of the species is underway. 




Male Dickcissels look like little meadowlarks.  They have a yellow breast with a dark black V below the throat.  Males have beautiful chestnut colored shouldered patch and a yellow eye stripe.  Their song is a dry dick, dick, ciss, ciss, ciss, which is where they get their name.  Females resemble female House Sparrows but with yellow on the eyes and breast. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bird a Day: Barn Swallow

I'm getting low on new birds to take pictures of, hopefully I will be able to get some new species this weekend!  Today's bird is the Barn Swallow.  Aptly named as they make their nests on the eaves of old barns, but they also will use the underside of a bridge or any structure where they can attach their nests.  I even saw a video of a Barn Swallow nesting inside a Home Depot and operating the door by flying in front of the sensor and making it open.  They use mud and their own saliva to build the nest.  When the mud hardens it holds grasses, hair, and feathers together into a cup-like structure where the eggs are laid.  The Barn Swallow below was gathering mud to build its nest.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallows are medium sized swallows with long forked tails.  The upper parts are a slatey iridescent blue and underneath they are two different shades of orange with the throat being darker than the belly.  Color in males is an indication of fitness and females choose the male with the brightest plumage.  

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