Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Blog Feature

I decided that I want to show a bunch of my favorite photos, both old and new so I created a photo of the week spot on my sidebar.

Birding has been slow the last few days although the transition between winter birds and spring birds has been pretty evident in the back yard as the Common Redpolls are gradually being replaced with Dark-eyed Juncos. Two days ago my first Red-winged Blackbirds showed up in the backyard. Although their arrival in the area was nothing out of the ordinary at this date, this is the earliest I have seen them in my backyard in the 4 years I have been here by about 3 weeks.

The weather here was very nice this past weekend and we were able to get our windows cleaned for the spring. Benton helped by making sure the flies didn't come in the window when we had them removed.

The weather has deteriorated the rest of the week and we just missed the precipitation that was called for. All we got out of the deal was the wind - from all directions this week and blowing hard. I could see the snow line just to the south about 4 miles on my way to work this morning. One Franklin's Gull was with a bunch of California gulls in an empty field in Glasgow this morning. Tomorrow I am up early for my first Greater Sage-grouse lek survey of the year at a reported new lek.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday Fort Peck Birding

This morning the boys, the dogs, and I headed down to the banks of the Missouri River for a walk. We had a good time making wailing sounds from the new green grass blades stuck between our thumbs (well, I was able to do it). Benton (4 years old) made a good imitation with his own voice while holding a blade of grass to his mouth and Crean (1.5) made funny sounds while holding an old cattail blade in his hands. We looked at the resident beaver dam, threw sticks into the water for Addie, our Flat-Coated Retriever, and the tried to avoid the shower when she shook near us after bringing the stick back. We saw the first Painted Turtle of the spring basking on the edge of the pond. We also were able to watch a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings come to water at a small clearing along the trail. The boys and I were able to crouch near the edge of the water and have the waxwing come in all around us. There is a good bunch of waxwings around the area right now - probably at least a couple thousand. Many of them were flycatching from the tops of the Cottonwoods this morning and the sky was full of swallow-like waxwings. We also saw our first Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer of the spring.

Back home for lunch for all of us, a nap for Crean and a dinosaur movie for Benton. Dad gets to work on his computer!

More Photos from Chile

Torres Sunrise
Beach Forest Undergrowth
Correndera Pipit
Southern Lapwing

Zorro Chilla
Southern House Wren

Friday, March 23, 2007

More Antarctic photos

Black-browed Albatross
Adelie Penguins
Baily Head Rocks
Sleeping Chinstrap Penguin
Chinstrap Pollock
Antarctic yacht

Grasslands Thoughts and Recent Birding

Steve Bodio recently posted a link and short quote from a Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine article concerning burning and the ecology of grassland systems by Randy Rogers. This is an excellent overview of grassland systems and the challenge of managing to mimic historic disturbance patterns that prairie inhabitants have evolved with. As Mr. Rogers states:

"At least since the last ice age, the prairies and prairie wildlife of the Great Plains adapted to a cycle of perpetual change. Of course, this included sharp variations in weather — daily, seasonally, annually, and even over decades. But probably the key driving force to which prairies have adapted was what ecologists call the fire–grazing interaction. "

I might argue the relative importance of these disturbances depending on where you happen to be on the North American prairie, but these certainly are the main disturbances that shape these grasslands. I would also add the Rocky Mountain Locust to the traditional Bison as an important grazer that shaped the grasslands.

As we move into spring and my thoughts start turning to upcoming grassland bird surveys, one of the blog entries that that keeps coming to the top of the stew of ideas is a discussion on the grassland bird surveys that we have been doing in northern Valley County for the last five years and broader thoughts on grasslands, grassland management, and the disturbances that have shaped and some that continue to shape what is left of our North American grasslands.
This post would also include a short digression on grassland conservation (or lack thereof) in North America and my thoughts on a recent proposal to reintroduce Pleistocene mammal surrogates into the North American plains (we can't even find enough room for prairie dogs and Sprague's Pipits or Bison, let alone a camel or elephant - what we have left isn't as big as many seem to think). Check back.

Anyway, birding has been picking up as temperatures have warmed up and ice starts to come off the water. Northern Pintails have been moving through and the bulk of them have moved further north already.

I still have a fairly large number of Common Redpolls coming to the feeder and the American Robins are staking out territories in the back yard.
I also have a number of Antarctic photos I will be posting and at least one story to two left yet to post.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Today's other photos - Portrait and Place

Chinstrap Penguin portrait - Deception Island

Rim of Baily Head - Deception Island

Today's photo - Patterns

Glacier Ice and Volcanic dust. Deception Island, Antarctica

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chile, January 2007

I am going to start filling in a few blanks of my recent trip to Chile with photos and commentary. I began some post while I was in Chile here. The next few posts will fill take off from there. I will begin with a photo of a waterfowl taken at the hotel pool in Santaigo.

We also did a quick tour of Santiago on Sunday January 15th. I always have enjoyed the ornate stonework on a number of the buildings in Santiago. This was taken across the street from the Presidential Palace.

All of the 17 guests that will be going with me to Torres Del Paine National Park arrived this morning and joined the city tour. That evening we have a wonderful dinner at the hotel where we discussed my expectations for the tour (for them to enjoy themselves) and also what they expected for the next few days.
The following morning, January 16, we were up early and on our way to the airport for the next leg of our trip. We boarded a commercial LAN flight to Punta Arenas with a short stop in Puerto Montt. We arrived in Punta Arenas and it was blowing (imagine that!) and we boarded our bus for a drive to Puerto Natales, where we would spend the night.

That night we had another great dinner at the hotel and this photo shows most of us gathered around the table with some good Chilean wine waiting for our dinner.

The weather reports did not look good and the next morning had me fearing that we would spend the next 3 days in rainy windy misery at Torres. It was a overcast and windy with brief rain showers during a quick walk along the waterfront. By the time we started into the park however the clouds were beginning to break and we could see sunlight on the mountains (and actually see the mountains themselves!) This photo is an Austral Thrush taken on a walk near the hosteria Las Torres in the park.

This Black-faced Ibis was photographed on the same walk.

By the time we got into the park it had cleared up and was mostly sunny but the wind was still very evident

This is a composite photo of Las Torres, the hotel we stayed at while in the park. More soon.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Because He Can

Blogged Down

I finally have gotten around to another post. Since coming back from Antarctica the first week in February I have been traveling every week except for one. This week was no different and according to my schedule I will be traveling pretty much every week until the end of April. I do need to eliminate a few things in April as that is Greater Sage-grouse month. I have a number of leks to monitor and I have a graduate student, Jason Tack from the University of Montana, trapping a number of hens for the beginning of a study examining habitat use and movement of a population that is considered endangered in Canada and extends into the northern part Valley, Phillips and Blaine counties in Montana. This population is unique because it is associated with Silver Sage. This landscape does not look like typical Great Basin sagebrush country and is properly classified as a grassland rather than sage system. Anyway, trapping birds and censusing leks requires very early mornings in April and is one of the more fun (and important) parts of my job so I need to be sure to clear calendar time for that.

This week I took a short trip to Chinook, MT for a planning meeting (I am the lead biologist for a planning effort that spans much of northern MT from the continental divide in Glacier National Park to the western boundary of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, south to the Missouri River (more or less) and north to the border with Canada). We drove to Chinook on Tuesday morning through the fog and I didn't notice much different in the bird life along the way. It was still late winter and not much was observed. The drive back on Wednesday afternoon was much different. We had two days of 50+ degree weather and the Canada Geese were taking advantage of it. There were long strings and short bunches of geese heading up the Milk River drainage the whole way back to Glasgow. I think there wasn't any time during the two hour drive to Glasgow that I wasn't able to find at least one bunch of geese northwest up the river.

On Tuesday night I walked around Chinook a bit in the evening and the most common bird I observed was the Eurasian Collared Dove. I posted the observation to our Montana birding listserve and pondered when observations of this species will be so commonplace that I no longer think them notable enough to warrant mentioning. Probably not too much longer at this rate (the first observation for this species in Montana occurred less than 10 years ago).

This morning I had two male robins in the yard for the first time this spring and it was nice to hear them calling amongst the buzzy Common Redpoll songs as I put more feed out for the horde of redpolls now coming to the feeder. There is at least one Hoary Redpoll in the area. It has been coming fairly regularly to my parents feeder a few blocks away but I haven't been able to add it to my yard list yet this year.

So anyway, one of my goals for this weekend other than getting out and enjoying our first blast of spring and getting my boys and dogs out of the house for a while, is to finally get another Chile/Antarctica post with photos done so please check back. I will leave with a photo of a Wood Duck from a recent trip to Boise, ID.