Thursday, May 26, 2011

Online birding

Fickle weather is one reliable aspect of a Midwest spring migration. Since March, we've seen cold, heat, cold again, heat again and now cold once more. My birding this spring has been inconsistent, too, in terms of number of species and the number of days I've spent in the field. One constant has been my enjoyment of eBird, the real-time online checklist program. EBird makes it easy to keep track of birds, and ensures that sightings are added to the scientific record. Birders can compare their sightings with other birders in their community and sort their lists by hotspot and species. So I know I've seen 91 total species this year while submitting 13 lists. I'm tied for 50th in Cook County with 77 species.

Among the highlights this spring: three singing blue-winged warblers at Indiana Dunes' Heron Rookery Trail (above). No Swainson's thrush and nary a vireo all spring, but nice sightings of orchard oriole, tennessee warbler and black-throated blue warbler. And two more species for the yard list: least flycatcher and american goldfinch. And in a non-avian note, I saw a white-tailed deer at Montrose this week, a first for me there.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bahamian birds

It's been a lot of fun to learn more about the birds of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Island geography limits the number of species, though there are several birds that are only found on Eleuthera and a few other islands that stretch to Cuba. Most are distinct from the birds found in Florida a couple hundred miles away. I've seen about 60 species on Eleuthera; it's possible to see 60 species in a day regularly on the American mainland.

On this trip, we found two birds that were not supposed to be in Eleuthera according to bird guides. First, two brown pelicans in the harbor at Governor's Harbour and another flying over the ocean at the house; second, a red-legged thrush, above, which inhabits other Bahamian islands but not Eleuthera. Last trip, also contrary to the guides, we saw an anhinga that spent several days on Darnot's Pond.

A nice find also last month was a Cuban pewee along Banks Road. It's readily identifiable by its call, which is a cheery whistle not unlike an Empidonax flycatcher. The tiny pewee also is known as the crescent-eyed pewee for its thick white eye ring. It inhabits just a few Bahamian islands and pockets of Cuba.

Many species look a little different in the Bahamas and the Caribbean than on the mainland. This juvenile osprey, being harassed by a mockingbird, has much more white on its head and neck than a mainland osprey. (Great views of this youngster from the deck.)

Other firsts on the trip were: white-cheeked pintails, a pair on Darnot's Pond; and a LaSagra's flycatcher, with nesting material, on Banks Road. The pintails' range stretches from the Bahamas to the Caribbean, South America and the Galapagos Islands. The flycatcher only some islands of the Bahamas, Grand Cayman and Cuba.

April was a little lighter on migrants, particularly shorebirds and waders, than our last trip in March--the total trip tally this time was 33 species.