Friday, March 31, 2006

Desert National Wildlife Refuge - Corn Creek Field Station

This morning Josh and I took a ride out to Corn Creek which is a field station in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. This is largest national wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states. It is about 30 minutes from where we live in Las Vegas.

On the way in we got some great looks of horned larks, (we were close enough to see their "horns" :), sage thrasher, savannah sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, western meadowlark, american kestrel and common ravens.

Walking around the field station itself, we saw house finches, american robins, ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers (beautiful males in breeding plumage), a song sparrow and a verdin.

The "bird of the day" was a momma long-eared owl and her three or four (we couldn't tell about the fourth for sure or not) nestlings. They were a sight! Grey, fluffy balls cuddled all around their mom. They are tucked inside this tree in the Y. You'll have to take my word for it as our camera does not zoom in.

We didn't stay long as it was very windy and cold but the trip out there was well worth it in just seeing these nestlings with their momma :)

Birding Basics

I have often heard people comment that they would love to begin birding but just don't know where to start. Little do they realize they probably already have been birding or what some strict birders would call "birdwatching". Most everyone I know birdwatches at least if nothing else. You see a bird or two in your neighborhood and acknowledge them. You hear a birdcall and stop to appreciate it. That alone is birdwatching. Now, birding, is usually defined as the practice of going out with the intention of seeing birds, sometimes specific birds. Our family has done both, more just "birdwatching" in the beginning and then more intense "birding" as we continued along this wonderful journey. There are great benefits to both. Birdwatching is an excellent avenue to get in touch with a wonderful part of God's creation. Josh, who just turned 12, has within this past year (which by the way was his first year of doing this) turned an interest into a passion and brought mom and dad along for the ride. Doesn't matter that he is 12. Shoot! He passed his dad and I in the ability department longgg ago lol. He has met many adults, through being out and about and birding and through specific Audubon field trips, that are blown away by him. I just shrug and laugh. I don't think he could deny this new passion if he wanted to. Birding has become a part of him. When we started all of this none of us knew much. We all learned as we went along, some of us like Josh, faster than the others, ie his dad and mom :)

To get started you don't have to go farther than your own back or front yard. Look. Pay attention. ALL of us have birds where we live even here in the desert of Las Vegas! (That was something I wasn't so sure of when we thought of moving here. Boy was I wrong!)

If you feel a need to do more; get a few feeders, put out some water for the birds (nothing fancy is required, a bowl will do).

If you are still feeling an itch that isn't enough: borrow a field guide from your library or buy one at the local bookstore (Josh now has 6 different ones), get a pair of binoculars (cheap ones can be found at the pawn shop or local KMart or such), begin keeping a list of what you see (again simplicity is OK - a homemade notebook will do fine). Don't worry about making identification mistakes. The most experienced birder friend we know and a fantastic lady told Josh that even the best make mistakes as we learn ALL the time. No one knows everything.
I guarantee you if you have gotten to this point you have probably been bitten by the bug or should I say "bird". :) Enjoy!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Our park walk this morning

Yellow-rumped Warbler- Myrtle Subspecies
Picture from All About Birds

This morning Josh and I took our usual walk up to our park to bird. It is a beautiful spring day here in Las Vegas and the birds it seemed agreed with this as they were out and about and singing! Josh looked at me at one point during our walk and said to me, "Is it just me or does everything seem to be in pairs?" Ahhh, Spring indeed :)

During each walk we are blessed to see something of nature that speaks to our hearts as well as our minds. This morning our hearts went out to two special birds, one a great-tailed grackle and the other a gambel's quail. Watching the two at different times and places, we noticed as they were hopping on the ground, each had a broken foot. We brightened when we were also able to see each of them fly off with strong wings. I was reminded of this post by Dawn on her blog, By Sun and Candlelight.

We also watched three verdins in the wash, two of them very loud and on the ground in what seemed a wrestling match. Josh concluded they were either two males fighting over a female or the two were a male and female mating. I did say it was Spring didn't I?

We saw our first sighting of tree swallows for this year as they swooped and dived over the wash. Our "bird of the day" as Josh likes to call it though was a myrtle subspecies of the yellow-rumped warbler, the bird in the picture at the top of this post. Beautiful bird!

Here's a list of the species we saw today and recorded in our Bird Log:

house sparrow
house finch
northern mockingbird
tree swallows
says phoebes
brewers blackbirds
great-tailed grackle
gambel's quail
white-crowned sparrows
rock wren
american kestrel
european starling
rock pigeon
anna's hummingbird
savannah sparrows
myrtle subspecies of yellow-rumped warbler

Saturday, March 25, 2006

God's blessings are truly amazing and they come in so many different ways. This tree is in our front yard. It is one of our favorite blessings that he has given us.

This morning as I sat on our computer looking out two verdins flew in and sat for awhile amongts it's branches flitting about every so often.

The other day, I came running as Josh excitedly called to me to come quick. There flying from branch to branch was a beautiful female yellow-rumped warbler. She was close enough that with my binoculars and even with Josh's young eyes unaided, we say the yellow on her face and on her sides. She even flashed us a nice view of her yellow rump which gives her the name. Josh identified her as a female because she had duller coloring on the rest of her body. The males are brighter. I took this picture as she sat on a branch. You can't see her markings though unfortunately as our camera does not zoom much. Here is where you can see a male. All About Birds, the web site I just linked is a fantastic site to see pictures and get great information on birds if you are interested.

We'd love to hear about any of your blessings.

The Death of Socrates and the Removal of a Tree with a Nest

Mar. 16, 2006 -

Today was a really hard day for Josh and I. He has been sick with a stomach bug this week and as a result, today was the first time we have been able to take our usual walk to the park.

As is our usual routine, we walked around the park to where Socrates' den is, upon first arriving at the park. We didn't see him but weren't concerned as this is a hit or miss occurrence each time we venture up to the park. Josh asked to walk the wash going our backward route. As he headed up and around a corner he stopped abruptly and cried out. There on the ground was Socrates, face down, dead. Upon closer inspection we saw that a juvenile desert cottontail was also dead underneath one of Socrates' wings that was still spread out. I was amazed at the size of the rabbit he had obviously killed for food. Our best guess is that the rabbit was too heavy for him and somehow after killing it and trying to fly with it he ended up crashing to the ground as we could tell upon turning him over that his beak had been smashed.

Joshua was and still is heartbroken. He knows that death is a part of life and we were blessed to have Socrates as a part of our own lives for the time we did. This bird brought amazing joy into our birding experiences and for that we are forever grateful.

Saddened we continued our walk only to see heavy equipment "maintaining" another part of the wash. These washes are used for runoff during the heavy rains of the monsoon season and are supposed to be kept free of any hindering vegetation etc. Policy that makes sense except for the fact that this is only the second time in 4 years they have actually done it. The killdeer that are in the wash were flying around very agitated as the digging was going on in an area where they have been lately.

We dealt with this same "operation" last year when they removed shrubs and such that had grown up for the past 3 years and had nests in at migration time. Shaking our heads we decided to just walk the path and go home. As we came upon the bridge area where the verdin's nest was in the process of being built, we saw nothing! NO nest, NO tree even. It had been removed! We have no idea why this tree was taken out.

Some hard life lessons, both from nature and from man, have left us with some heavy hearts today. We feel very thankful we at least have had the experiences we did and even have pictures as memories.

Spring, Two Veridns and a Nest

On Valentine's Day I made this post.

We had noticed this nest a few days before and thinking out loud said, "Hang on just a minute, that had NOT been here during the winter!" Excited we have been watching it ever since knowing that this is a nest of 2 verdins for laying their eggs this spring. Yesterday, Josh and I sighted both the birds going to and from the nest.

You can see a picture I took yesterday of one of the verdins here.

Such great fun to watch and such a blessing that even in suburbia, life in nature continues in spite of us "Big Ones".

Mar. 10, 2006

We would like to introduce you to Socrates, the resident burrowing owl in the wash in our neighborhood park, so named by Josh who felt that he should be called something other than 'the burrowing owl'.

You can see a close up of this picture here and be able to see him better. In the beginning when we first began to see him we often overlooked him mistaking him for just another rock. We have gotten much better at detecting him.

Yesterday as we came upon the area we usually see him (which has been just about every day now) we became concerned. There is construction going on in an area of the wash; a major project of condos, offices, retail shops. Well, they have begun using a back access road to get into the site. This is just across from where Socrates has moved in after being evicted from the other section of the wash by this very construction.

Josh spotted him right away though and he just sat there looking around and probably wondering what in the world these Big Ones were up to.

We are hoping that he does not get agitated and decide to move somewhere else for we would surely miss this wonderful fellow.

Great Backyard Bird Count II

Feb. 25, 2006

Great Backyard Bird Count

Josh and I birded our neighborhood park for all four days of this count (well he did, I missed one day) and his dad was able to join us for 3 of those days. We birded at different times to try and get a feel for the population at different times of the day. Josh and his dad birded on the third day without me and were worried that it wouldn't go as well as we had been doing. Boy were they wrong! lol It was a much colder and greyer day than we had been having (we have been in the low 70's at times in weeks past with ALWAYS plentiful sunshine as our weatherman says) and we even had some snow flurries that morning. Well they saw a few species we hadn't seen, saw species we had seen but this time in higher numbers and finally sighted the Burrowing Owl that is a resident (albeit a shy one) of our wash! :)

Each day we sent in our results online and always in excitement looked at the results for our area as well as the rest of the country. We were surprised to see that we were the only count in Nevada to list having seen a burrowing owl :)

So, drumroll please, here is the total count:

- Four days of birding for a total of 5 hours
- 365 total number of birds seen
- 25 different species sighted which included the following:

Red-tailed hawk
Great-tailed grackle
European starling
Northern mockingbird
Mourning dove
Rock pigeon
Gamble's quail
White-crowned sparrow
Prairie falcon
Say's phoebe
Northern flicker
Anna's hummingbird
American pipits
Brewer's blackbird
House finch
House sparrow
American kestrel
Rock wren
Ruby-crowned kinglet
Burrowing owl
Western meadowlark
Abert's towhee
Common raven

We are looking forward to hearing about other families Great Backyard Bird count experiences.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Feb. 17, 2006

Great Backyard Bird Count
As avid birders now for almost a year, we were very excited to find out about this wonderful program.

Sponsored by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, the information from this annual bird count across the country is gathered by people just like you and me and then used by scientists to further understand bird population, habits, patterns, etc. You don't have to be an experienced birder to participate and it only takes as little as 15 minutes on one day to help out.

Josh and I are birding our neighborhood, our neighborhood park and the desert wash adjacent to the park. We will do this for the four days that the count covers. We are going to vary the time we bird to see the differnce in how many and which types of birds are out during various times of the day.This is something we do almost daily anyway. The difference being we will keep count of how many of each species we are seeing.

Today we birded for just a little over an hour, from 2:30 pm - 3:36 pm. Here is our tally for that time:

1 red-tailed hawk
19 great-tailed grackle
2 killdeer
29 european starling
4 northern mockingbird
13 mourning dove
13 rock dove (pigeon)
12 gamble's quail
5 white-crowned sparrow
1 prarie falcon
4 verdin
2 say's phoebe
1 northern flicker
1 anna's hummingbird
20 american pipits
3 brewer's blackbirds
2 house finch