Saturday, June 20, 2009

Williamson's Sapsucker in Colorado!

Length: 23 cm (9").
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On Jun 5/09 I was in Rocky Mountain National Park near the Upper Beaver Meadow trailhead where I was able to catch this shot of a male Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) at its nest hole! In most woodpeckers, the sexes have very similar coloring; but in this sapsucker, the male and female plumages are so different that they were once thought to be separate species! I waited awhile to get a picture of his mate, but It was already midafternoon and the sky was clouding over. I knew I would have to come back another day!
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About a week later (Jun 13/09) I was in the Park again and got this photo of the female Williamson's Sapsucker about to enter the nesthole with an insect! Note her brown head and the upperparts entirely barred black and brown. Very unusual!
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But before she could go in, he would have to come out! Note his beautiful jet black plumage, white face stripes, and bright red throat! Both sexes have the yellow belly. While I waited for a few more digiscoped pictures, I was able to watch these busy parents coming and going. They seemed to spend most of their day taking turns either foraging for prey or attending to the young inside their tree-trunk home!
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Williamson's Sapsucker occurs in the coniferous forests of the mountains in the western United States and is not common. It is reputed to be wary and shy, but this pair was nesting in a tree right beside a well-used park trail and did not seem to be disturbed by me or the hikers that came by quite frequently.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Great Horned Owl Family in Colorado!

Length: 46-63 cm (18-25"). Wingspan: 91-152 cm (36-60").
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Last Saturday (Jun 13/09) my wife Paula and I decided to go up to Rocky Mountain National Park for the day. Though it is only a 90-minute drive from our home in Westminster, we rarely treat ourselves to the fantastic beauty to be seen along Trail Ridge Road all year round!
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Spring, however, is the season for birding in the Park! In the Endovalley region, for example, where many park visitors were picnicking, we happened to notice a group of birders straining to get a better look at something high in the pines...
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...it was a male Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) that had just been spotted, sitting by itself. Though widespread across most of North America, this large owl species is not very common and is always an attraction...
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...especially if its mate is not too far away...
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...and even more so, if their two fluffy young are in the same tree as their mother! This youngster was in a specially good position to be photographed! (All owl photos were digiscoped using my Nikon P5100 and 30X Fieldscope.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Little Bee-Eater in Liberia!

Length: 15-17 cm (6.0-6.5"); no streamers.
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The Little Bee-Eater (Merops pusillus) is a fairly common (though irregularly distributed) breeding visitor to Liberia's coastal savanna belt during the dry season (Nov-May). It prefers quiet roadsides or semi-open grassy areas, often not far from water. Pairs or small groups are often encountered perched close to the ground, watching for passing insects in typical bee-eater style. It burrows into sandy roadside banks or even into nearly flat ground to make its nest.
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On my visit to Liberia two years ago, this picture taken at Fendel (Jan 11/07) was the best photo I was able to get of the Little Bee-Eater with my primitive digiscoping set-up (see my earlier posts about the Black Bee-Eater)! There had been a controlled grass fire in the area, and this pair was on a snag out in the open where I should have been able to get a better shot. I promised to do better the next time!
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This year I visited Fendel again (Jan 19/09) with my Nikon P5100 and got these digiscoped shots of the Little Bee-Eater near dense swamp vegetation. A long grass stem is one of its favorite perches. The green upperparts of this bird blend it in so well with its verdant habitat that occasionally I have been startled when a pair of these bee-eaters, resting quietly as I approach, has suddenly taken flight!
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Though the underside of the Little Bee-Eater is mostly bright yellow with rich shades of orange and brown, the dark neck band and the extension of the eye-line forward into the long black bill tend to break up the profile of this bird in the field, making it surprisingly difficult to see!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Orange Weavers... in Motion!

Length: 15 cm (6").
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This is the male Orange Weaver (Ploceus aurantius), hanging on the underside of its nest and displaying to the female inside with ritualized body-twisting and wing-flapping! Watch the video clip below...
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This short (40-sec) video (recorded using the "movie mode" on my Nikon P5100) shows the Orange Weavers at their nest, which is supported by reeds over a slow-moving stream. I digiscoped it at Buchanan (Jan 14/09), alongside what I thought at first was just another quiet dirt road on the edge of town! But as you watch, try to disregard the noisy motorcycle that came by! Apparently this species is not seriously threatened by human activity near its breeding area! (I apologize for the low resolution, which was further reduced when I uploaded this video to Blogger.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Orange Weavers in Liberia... at their Nest!

Length: 15 cm (6").
.The Orange Weaver (Ploceus aurantius) builds its nest low over water, weaving it from the narrow green leaf "ribbons" it has stripped from the branches of nearby oil palms. This male and its mate (which flew in and out of the opening on the underside of the nest) were part of a small colony of these birds that I happened across while out birding the back roads of Buchanan (Jan 14/09). This species is locally common on the edges of lagoons, swamps, and streams in the coastal zone of West Africa, from Sierra Leone eastward, and inland along some major rivers.
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The female Orange Weaver, seen here exiting the nest, is a drab olive-gray above and whitish below, with a pale yellow wash around only its head and face. The male, by contrast, truly lives up to its name! Its jet-black bill and eye-stripe contrast beautifully with its rich yellow-orange head and bright yellow underparts.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The White-throated Bee-Eater Revisited!

Length: 19-21 cm (7.5-8.3") + streamers up to 12 cm (4.7").

This photo of a White-throated Bee-Eater (Merops albicollis) was taken on the same day (Jan 6/07) and at the same location as the pictures in my earlier post (see "The White-throated Bee-Eater in Liberia!", on May 25, 2009). This individual has the very long central tail feathers characteristic of the species. (Sorry, this is the best shot I've got showing the tail streamers!)
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The White-throated Bee-Eater doesn't normally perch this close to the ground, but here sits this cute pair in the early morning sunshine (Jan 6/09), ever watchful for a passing bite of insect "breakfast"! (I don't think the automatic white balance on my little point-and-shoot camera was working very well when I digiscoped this shot, but I've tried to color-correct it the best I can!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater in Liberia!

Length: 24-26 cm (9.5-10.0") + streamers up to 10.5 cm (4.0").
. The Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater (Merops persicus) is an intra-African and palearctic migrant visitor (Dec-July) to coastal regions of Liberia (particularly from Monrovia westward). Most do not breed in Liberia. I found this species at several locations north of Monrovia between Fendel and Bentol; this individual was digiscoped at Bentol (Jan 20/09). The blue cheeks are barely visible and, like most of the other individuals I saw on my short January visit to Liberia, it lacks the long central tail streamers generally characteristic of this species. Perhaps the streamers tend to grow later in the dry season, just before the birds return northward to their desert-edge breeding grounds in Mauritania and elsewhere. However...
.I found this Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater 5 days earlier, further "doun the coast" at Buchanan (Jan 15/09). Though it was a considerable distance from me, on a power line over rank marshy vegetation, this digiscoped shot clearly shows the field characteristics, including the long central tail feathers!

In this photo taken at Bentol (Jan 20/09), the blue feathers--both above the eye and on the cheek below the eye--can be seen more clearly.