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Trumpeter Swan

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, Jackson Hole WYI’ve been waiting and hoping to encounter a new species to blog about, but I didn’t have much luck in November.  December wasn’t starting out too well, either, with terrible winds and no snow making it difficult to spend much time outdoors.  In an attempt to follow the winter, I took a short trip out to Jackson in the western part of the state and saw my first ever trumpeter swans, Cygnus buccinator.

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, National Elk Refuge, WY

E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan was one of my favorite books as a kid, but I had never managed to spot one of these guys in the wild.  While watching them yesterday, I didn’t hear any extensive trumpeting (and no one seemed to be playing any extra musical instruments), but they did humor me with few cute honks.  I thought these birds were endangered, but apparently, their numbers are doing much better, and they are a fairly common sight along Flat Creek at Jackson’s National Elk Refuge just outside of the town.

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, with mallards, National Elk Refuge Jackson HoleThe trumpeter swan is the largest swan in the world, and these big white beauties were quite impressive.  A handful of these large birds were floating in the icy water alongside dozens of mallards.  They were feeding, in cute duck style, with their bottoms straight up in the air.  Their pretty white heads and necks were a little stained from dabbling, or as whatbird.com says, “from contact with ferrous minerals in wetland soils.”

Thanks, Jackson Hole, for giving me at least one more new blog post for 2012, not to mention the chance for a little skiing and snowshoeing!

Swan (Trumpeter), Cygnus buccinator, Flat Creek, Jackson Hole

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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Nature

 

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Pine Grosbeak

Due to time constraints and the onset of harsh winter weather that tends to hide species from view (it is snowing as I type), I have decided to cut back on my daily blogging.  I will try to continue to post whenever I encounter a new species.  I don’t expect to find any more Wyoming wildflowers this year, but perhaps there are a few more birds and mammals that I can yet blog about.

For instance:  the pine grosbeak, Pinicola enucleator.  On a recent, surprisingly warm, snowless hike in the Snowy Range I saw a flash of red fly into a nearby spruce tree.  At first I thought it was a red crossbill, but I managed to snap a photo of the bright bird and on closer inspection it appears to have the large, finchy bill and white wingbars of the pine grosbeak.

While the males have distinctive red plumage–sort of like extra-large house finches—females and juveniles are more subdued with yellow, orange or even olive green touches.  The photo of the female to the left was also taken in the Snowy Range, but during the summer.  I have also encountered grosbeaks in Glacier National Park, MT.

These birds can sometimes appear fairly tame, allowing people to come quite close.  The female that I encountered did not seem very concerned about me taking pictures.  Pine grosbeaks can often be easily overlooked since they can remain very still instead of drawing attention to themselves by abruptly flying up.

This is another hardy species that stays in Wyoming year round.  One more bird to look for on winter excursions!

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Nature

 

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Chipping Sparrow

Chipping sparrows, Spizella passerina, have been gathering into larger groups for the autumn.  These little brown jobs can be difficult to distinguish from other sparrows this time of year, especially clay-colored sparrows (Spizella pallida, which have a mustache and white central crown stripe) or American tree sparrows (Spizella arborea, which have reddish eye stripe and dark spot center chest) .

S. passerina males in the breeding plumage have a reddish cap that contrasts with their black eye liner and makes them look very distinctive in the summer.  As we head into fall, they are mostly identifiable by the unstreaked gray neck and chest and longish tail.

These birds often are found foraging on the ground and seem to especially like open areas near protective trees.  They can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada during the summer, and they migrate to the southern U.S. or Mexico for the winter.

The name chipping sparrow derives from their song, which sounds a bit like “chip-chip-chip-chip-chip” at full speed.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Nature

 

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MacGillivray’s Warbler

Today, I had another migratory warbler sighting:  one MacGillivray’s warbler, Geothlypis tolmiei.  A quick, little guy scooted through my backyard while I was filling up the birdbath.  He checked out a few of the shrubs and was gone.  He was too quick to allow for a photograph, so I am attaching a picture of one that I took last May at Vedauwoo east of town.

This is the best photo of this species that I have in my collection because these guys often shyly hide in the underbrush and refuse to have their portraits taken!  The website Birds of the Rocky Mountains states, “Keeping to the densest and most impenetrable shrubs in the Rockies, the MacGillivray’s Warbler is a very difficult bird to observe. To get a clear view you must often crouch down, peer deep into dark bushes and strain your neck in rapid response to the bird’s faintly perceptible actions. A hard-earned glimpse of this bird is often satisfying, however, because the male MacGillivray’s Warbler is certainly one of the most beautiful warblers in the Rockies.”

This is not a bird that I have seen very often, though they can be at least occasionally found in the area from late-May through this time of year.  They are quite recognizable with their yellow bellies, green backs and wings, and grey hoods, as well as their distinct black eye stripe cutting through their white eye ring.  Their coloring is similar to the mourning warbler, Geothlypis philadelphia, of eastern North America.  William MacGillivray, by the way, was a Scottish naturalist (an Aberdeen man!) and friend of John James Audubon, who gave this bird its common name.

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Nature

 

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It’s a Mystery

I spent quite some time this afternoon watching a flock of birds swoop to and from the trees of a local city park.  They were very busy–I thought flying after insects–and returning to large conifers to perch for short periods of time.  Even with photo evidence, though, I cannot tell what type of birds these are.

One possibility is that they are olive-sided flycatchers, Contopus cooperi, because of the grey and white markings on the chest that look like a vest and their enjoyment of perching on the top of trees.  But the bill might not be large enough.

And then there’s that yellowish belly.

I thought these might be the western wood-peewees that I saw the other day (if that ID was even correct!), but these birds don’t seem to have the exact same coloring and seem to lack a crest.   Wood-peewees are described as somewhat unsocial and today’s group was definitely a flock.

They could be willow flycatchers, Empidonax trallii.  Or western kingbirds, Tyrannus verticalis.

As you can see, I’m at a loss.  If anyone can identify these birds from these photos, I would be very interested and grateful!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Nature

 

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatches, Sitta canadensis, are passing through town, making their presence known with their loud duck-turned-songbird noise.  Allaboutbirds.org describes this call as a “nasal yank-yank-yank song”, but listen for yourself to deside whether ir sounds like a yank, a quack or a haaak.

These guys are related to the white-breasted nuthatches that spent the winter around my house and the pygmy nuthatches that I encountered in early spring, and are about in between those other two species in size.

Though I have been familiar with these guys for years, and feel confident in my identification more so than many other species (they have a red breast, as the name suggests, and a dark eye stripe), I have yet to be able to get a decent photo of them.  They are quick — always on the move and often upside down — are aren’t very interested in posing.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Nature

 

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American Coot

Also noted at Meerboer Lake west of Laramie yesterday:  a plucked goose.  That’s what I thought this little guy looked like.  I kept saying what is that?  That’s one funky bird.  Thankfully, he let me take his picture, which allowed me to match him up on the internet with other photos of juvenile American coots, Fulica americana.

I have seen coots at various times in the past, and there were several adults at Meerboer Lake (athough this little guy was not close to any of them, making him even harder to identify), but I had never before seen one in this in-between, gray, almost bald-looking phase.  The adults are dark gray to black with a large white beak.

 

 

I’ve always liked coots for their ugly charm.  They retain a bit of the dinosaur about them, and their feet are super cool.  Their glangly legs and toes look like skeleton bones, and instead of webs, they have folded lobes that lets them be at home on water or land, though they do look rather awkward out of the water.  Coots are not related to ducks but to rails.

 

 

The chicks, which I have never yet had the chance to see, are supposedly even weirder looking, with bald bits and orange fluff.  Check out 10000 Bird’s amusing post on ugly babies.

I have also encountered coots on the east coast of South Carolina.  Those guys were nice enough to let me get a closeup photo to show the red eyes and upper beak.  Must be that Southern hospitality.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Nature

 

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