Monday, January 28, 2008

A tale of Two Flycatchers.

The First Flycatcher
Little Gray and Brown Bird

This past weekend was the Winter Louisiana Ornithological Society Meeting. The location was Alexandria, in central Louisiana. The standard protocol for the meetings include a reception and program Friday night, field trips on Saturday, and a banquet on Saturday night. Sometimes there are organized trips on Sunday morning as well. This particular meeting had several organized field trips with assigned guides -- actually more organization than I recall at other LOS meetings I've attended. So we signed up for Sat morning and afternoon and Sunday morning trips. And then the Gray Flycatcher came to town.

In the week before the LOS meeting, some astute birders in north Louisiana happened to notice a little Empidonax flycatcher that didn't quite fit the mold. Pictures were taken, discussion was had, and the conclusion was that this was a new State bird! A record--first Gray Flycatcher ever recorded in the state! The bird was located outside of Bossier City in north LA -- two hours beyond Alexandria for those of from Baton Rouge. How could we pass up the opportunity to see this bird?

Well, we couldn't. So my compadre Lainie and I headed out to see the bird on Sat morning -- foregoing the organized field trip. Took about 2 hrs to get there, and we spent another 2 hours locating the bird, filming the bird, and noting the other birds in the vicinity for the Winter Bird Atlas. Filming the bird involved entering the cow pasture, complete with suspicious cows, lots of cow patties and very damp fields. (I'm not sure permission has been obtained by birders to enter the property, so if you do, exercise caution and, whatever you do, don't leave the gate open!) The bird tends to work a short treeline -- sallying back and forth between small trees and even out to the field to perch on twiggy growth. He's being harrassed by Phoebes and Mockingbirds, but I saw him go after the Phoebe too, so it's a two way street!

Here's a link to a series of photos taken by the Boslers when they found the bird this weekend: Bosler's pics of Gray Flycatcher

I was also able to obtain some video of the bird. Now, something I failed to mention about the Saturday that we chased the bird was that it was COLD -- a very chilly, gray day. The landscape was very gray and brown...which made it very tough to photograph a little gray and brown bird! The camera doesn't seem to be able to distinguish the bird from its surroundings and focus on the bird. So...the videos are not great. There's one 2-second stretch near the end when the bird was only about 20 feet from me that's probably the best.

Video of Gray Flycatcher

The Second Flycatcher
A Bright Vermilion Bird!

The color vermilion is not used a whole lot. I'm sure people have trouble spelling it, and why use "vermilion" when "red" will do? Well, this little bird gives one a reason to use the word vermilion! There were dozens of Northern Cardinals in the immediate area of this bird, and I bet if he hadn't been there, people would have been impressed by the red birds. But the Vermilion Flycatcher puts them to shame -- he seems to just glow and reflect light! In fact, the homeowner who lives just across the street from the location he's chosen to over-winter remarked that she thought she'd been seeing a bit of contractor tape caught in the shrubs!

While this is not a rare bird, it's much more common in the southwest corner of Louisiana. According to the folks that found this bird, Vermilion Flycatchers have been found to overwinter in Central LA in small numbers. This one hadn't been reported yet though. If you want directions to find the bird, send me an email and I'll help you out...

And now...enjoy the
Video of Vermilion Flycatcher

And more finches!

I tried my new birdcam to capture pics of the Goldfinches. I made a couple of strategic errors. I now have 1908 pictures of Goldfinches from just over 1 day of photography! There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Lessons learned:

If you know you're going to get lots of pics (and I pretty much expected that they'd be there till the Thistle ran out!) don't set the exposure for every 10 seconds! The camera gives the flexibility for longer intervals...use it.

10 seconds is not really 10 seconds. It seems to take a pic every 12-15 seconds as evidenced by the timestamp. Interesting. Is it detecting the motion and then waiting 2 seconds to click the shutter? Or after it clicks, does it wait 2 seconds to reset its timer? Don't know how I'll figure that one out.

1900 pictures is a LOT of pictures to have to look through to find the "good" ones!!

Don't try to cheat and get too much on camera. I have two sets of thistle feeders and a hum feeder within view of the camera. Thought if I set it up to see all 3 (even tho I thought hum feeder was too far away for clear focus...and it is) I'd get some interesting shots. Instead I have 1900 shots that I wish were better composed. You can see most of one thistle sock on left clearly....and some of more distant socks on of frame is blurry hum feeder and a safflower feeders. I need to make up my mind where I want to aim the camera and don't get greedy!

Goldfinches start early and end early! They arrive shortly after dawn, but seem to quit feeding by mid-afternoon. The last pic with birds in it on Fri was at about 3:20pm. There was still plenty of light for another 2 hours (those feeders are on the west side of the house) but there were no pics. Things picked up again on Sat morning at 7:06a.m.

Goldfinches can go through a lot of thistle! Lots debris on the it Thistle hulls or whole seeds? Overflow birds will pick through it, so I suppose there's whole seed. Lots of waste. Thistle is pretty expensive, so I'm kinda glad I'm not feeding them this way year round!

I liked this picture because unlike most of the others, the goldfinches are all looking at the camera!

My new toy -- NovaBird bird cam

I got a new toy for Christmas. I actually got one for my dad, then decided he couldn't have all the fun, so ordered one for myself as well.

It's a 3MP camera mounted inside a waterproof housing with a motion-sensitive trigger. It also has nice features like a counter, the ability to date/time stamp your photos (or not, as you wish), a weatherproof battery pack, and a tripod mount. It does not come with an SD card, so you have to add your own. I'm sure that help keeps their cost down. I priced and compared motion-detection wildlife cameras (used mainly by hunters) with this and this was a good value for the money.

So...once you get it, you charge the battery pack for 24 hours. This is probably one of its detracting features...each time you recharge it's recommended you do so for 24 hours. Of course their solution is to buy a second battery pack. You set the time and date (instructions are pretty straightforward) and insert the SD card and turn it on. You also have some control over how often it takes pictures...10 seconds is the default but there are toggle switches for about 8 different settings.

For ease of moving the camera around, I mounted it on an extra tripod I had. I set it up the first time near one of my hummer feeders. Because the hum feeder was on a hook that swayed in the breeze, I got quite a few pics of an empty feeder. I deleted those, so I'll spare you :-) I then moved a feeder to the top of a pole and pointed the camera at that. Still got some "empty" pictures, but got a few good ones too. This is a series, so the bird stayed quite a few seconds to be photographed multiple times. Click on each picture to see the real detail!

Monday, January 21, 2008


Goldfinches have arrived! I've had a trickle for the past month or two. One thistle feeder was sufficient, and it barely got any action. But this past week -- look out! They must have exhausted all the natural food supplies and started looking in people's yards. I added two new feeders. I like the thistle socks better -- easier to fill and can accommodate more birds as they just jostle for position. Unfortunately they also lose a lot of thistle, and it's not cheap! I'd like to say the doves do cleanup, but they must have better things to do around here, because the thistle on the ground appears to be going to waste...

My neighbors a mere half a block away have had Purple Finches in their yard at least the past 2 years. This year they reported the numbers of PUFI had gone up. Well, they found my yard. If you look closely in the picture you can see the Purple Finches on the plate type feeder hanging on the right. There are a couple of males, but mostly females. (Click on the picture to see a larger image)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Eye-talian Birds!

My daughter Adrienne and I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy. We picked up a rental car in Rome, drove to Florence, Venice, and Bologna and then back to Roma, with 2 or 3 night stays at B&B's in each city. Nice way to see the country. I think we got to do pretty much everything on our agenda. It occurred to me too late to try to do some birding while I was there. I found an Italian birding guide in the Venice area and contacted him about going on a field trip. Unfortunately I would have had to dedicate a whole day to it, and we just didn't have the time to spare. However, I did take a pair of binoculars with me and if I just *happened* to see a bird, well I did my best to make note of it and try to ID it. So I probably have a European bird list of 20-25 birds. I haven't figured them all out yet, but when I do, I'll list them here.

If you look closely here (lower left) you can see some ducks...Italian Mallards!