Friday, May 30, 2008

Bird License Plates

I got my new personalized plates (Montana has front and back license plates) today. They used to be my friend Jeff Marks license plates on his red Isuzu. The only good thing about Jeff moving out of the state was that the plates became available to someone else (me!).

I am going to start a collection of photos of bird related license plates and if anyone would like to send me photos of either their plates or ones they have observed in the parking lot of their favorite birding place I will add them to the collection and post them on my blog. So far I have my new one, my Dad's plates, and a plate I took a photo of in Arizona late last July on a Wisconsin vehicle parked at the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast parking lot where we were looking at a Lucifer Hummingbird.

My new plates.

Dad's plates.

Anyone want to claim this one?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blue Emergence

This Lazuli Bunting has taken up residence in the neighborhood. The drab grayish green tips of his feathers are slowly wearing off revealing the blue bird underneath.
He usually slips in to the feeder in the front of the house when the grackles have moved off somewhere else.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mourning Warbler

Like Bill of the Birds, I am hosting a male Mourning Warbler in my backyard. He showed up about a week ago and I am assuming that the bird still hanging around has been the same individual. I have been trying to get a photo of him since he arrived but the light has not been the best until the last couple of days. Today when I got home from work he was foraging in the open a bit more and the sun was out for a bit. I was able to catch up to him for a few photos.

Mourning Warblers are rare but regular migrants in Northeastern Montana. It was one of the few rather rare but regular warblers I was able to find so far this spring. It is even more unusual to have one hang out for this long. Usually it is a matter of minutes before most of the warblers move through the yard on their way someplace else.

New Kids in the Neighborhood

After watching the adults trade incubation shifts for a while it appears that we have some new baby Hairy Woodpeckers in the backyard. This evening while tending to the barbecue I noticed both parents delivering food to the nest hole. The photo below shows the female delivering a grub of some sort to the cavity. Neither parent was spending much time in the cavity but both were going all the way in to deliver the food. Soon I suspect we will have little Hairy Woodpeckers peeking out of the hole and begging for food.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bird Songs of the North American Prairie

Last year about this time John Neville and his wife Heather (Neville Recording) came to Valley County. John was working on a new CD, recording bird songs of the North American Prairie and he and Heather were on their second year of recording throughout the Great Plains. I was able to spend one enjoyable day in the field with them and I was able to point them in the right direction for a number of species they were looking for. Many of those species have made it on to this CD which just became available a few weeks ago.

This CD contains recordings of 174 species. It is organized rather loosely by habitat except for the opening section which has recordings of six species mainly found on the prairies during migration. The habitat types include the all important grasslands as well as riparian wetlands; marshes, potholes, lakes, and rivers; forests; and cliffs.
I particularly enjoyed the grassland section and John has a number of very good recordings of species associated with with this habitat including McCown's Longspur, my favorite prairie songster. Also included are excellent recordings of Sprague's Pipits, Baird's Sparrows, and Chestnut-collared Longspurs.
One aspect of the recordings produced by John that I particularly like are the other birds songs in the background of the featured species. I was especially struck by how often Northern Waterthrushes were heard in the background of his Bird Songs of the Western Boreal Forest and on this CD it was, not surprisingly, the Western Meadowlark that tried to steal the show on a number of tracks. Often I find myself listening to the birds in the background on the tracks as a bit of a quiz for the coming field season.
I have to confess that I wouldn't have chosen a few of the species that John did for this CD. The most interesting example is the inclusion of the Prairie Warbler. Although the name of this species suggests it should warrant inclusion into a CD of this name, this species of shrubby habitats was woefully misnamed and is very rarely found further west than Iowa.
Overall this is a great collection of bird songs that finally brings together the majority of the species anyone would expect to find in most of the states and provinces of the Great Plains.
The recording of the Chimney Swift is particularly enjoyable for me to listen too. I watched John and Heather record it across the street from my parents house in Fort Peck as the birds were circling the chimney of my old grade school.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Memorial Day weekend usually is the high time for spring migration in Northeastern Montana. This year the weekend was shaping up to be a good one to observe large numbers of a wide variety of species, particularly warblers, as they head north. It looked to be a good weekend because we had about four days of strong winds from the east, which tends to push birds that would normally migrate further east into Fort Peck. It was also raining and the rain tends to keep the birds from migrating over us. It looked good. It wasn't.
I remember when weather like this would have produced lots of birds, particularly thrushes and warblers. But the number and variety of birds I anticipated just didn't show up.
Maybe because the birds didn't get caught in this system or maybe they just stayed further east. But even more depressing is that maybe there just aren't that many birds around anymore and the edges of the flyways or migration routes are where the lack of birds will be noticed first.
There were some very rare warblers observed last week though. My Dad had a Prothonotary Warbler and a Golden-winged Warbler in his yard - both with less than 3 records each for Montana. The Prothonotary (or another one!) was found again yesterday by Ed Harper and a group of birders from California about 2 miles from Mom and Dad's yard. I got to see that one.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow-breasted Chat

"Myrtle" Yellow-rumped Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Marsh Wren

This morning I went down along the river to a small drainage where I found a Marsh Wren building a nest yesterday. Yesterday my assistant demanded we leave before I got to spend much time watching the nest building. Today I was by myself and I spent a couple of hours watching him work.

He spent a good deal of time singing from the cattails in the vicinity. Occasionally he would fly across the path I was sitting on and into the neighbors territory. Then the neighbor would do the same thing back. They would make these short loops through each others territory two or three times with no singing or other interaction other than the invasion of airspace and then they would each get back to the business at hand - nest building and singing.

Nest building centered around gathering two types of nesting materials. First was the fluff from year old cattail heads. This was the most fun to watch. He would dart from the nest area up to the cattail heads and then back to the nest with a mouth full of fluff.

Sometimes I wondered how he could see to get back to the nest.

The other source of nest building materials was the old soggy cattail remnants floating on the water. He would fly down to the base of the cattails and pull these long noodles out of the water then muscle them back to the nest location and pull them into the the mass of standing dead cattails where the nest was being constructed. You can just see the wren pulling the dark soggy cattail in the center of the photo.

More fluff. He would alternate nest materials with about 3 trips per each material before switching.

More singing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Neighbors

A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers has taken up residence in the crabapple tree in our backyard. We first noticed it when a pile of sawdust showed up on the ground below the tree which seemed a bit odd since we hadn't been doing any tree trimming or other woodwork on the backyard. We soon noticed the small hole about 3 1/2 feet from the ground in the dead side of the tree.
The male appeared to do all of the excavation and once he had it all framed and sheet rocked she showed up to direct the painting and interior decorating. When he first started I wasn't even sure he had a mate. Now they are taking turns disappearing into the hole and I suspect they are incubating. We should have chicks in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Night Watch

I am exhausted. I have been up most of the night listening to my son breath. No, not some sappy infatuation with the innocent hushed whispers of a recharging child but because of a vulgar metronome of rattling inhales and wheezing exhales.
He woke in a panic of constricted breathing from a croup that returns at the initiation of each cold and then is gone after one night.
There is not much I can do. We have sat in the bathroom with the a hot shower letting the humidity work and I calmed his panic. Now I listen while he labors in and out in his sleep. I mark the time with each round of air moving through his lungs. I can't stop. I can't sleep. I know he will be alright but he is now on the short couch in the living room and I am next to him on the long couch. He is sleeping. I am not.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

I am not sure where to start. What words can express the level of appreciation, love, and respect I have for someone who has done so much for me and continues to do so much for my family. Mom has been there for me whenever I needed her and above and beyond that she is also one of my best friends. I am so glad that I live near both her and my Dad so we can be a part of each others lives.
I didn't fully appreciate how much work she did raising me and my sisters until we began raising two boys in our house. Which leads me to the second mother in my life, my wife - mother of my two sons. She is great and a wonderful Mom to her boys. This week she got a great Mother's Day present. She has 3 days by herself at meetings across the state. I hope you enjoy your time by yourself Laura! Today we had Mom and Dad over to our house and I made breakfast. After Laura left my Mom was watching the boys tussle in the living room and she commented that if we had a girl in the house she would have to be tough. My response was "she is".
I also have two wonderful sisters who are also great Mothers as well. They each have two kids and we really enjoy the times we get to visit. They are also great friends too and I am sorry they are not closer.
I really appreciate having these women in my life. They are all great ladies and have made such a positive difference in my life. Hope you had a great day Jean, Laura, Chris and Cathy. Love you - John

Saturday, May 10, 2008


I have received a number of very nice comments over the last few weeks that I just haven't responded to and I would like to do so now. I would like to thank all of you who provided kind words on my writing and photos. There are a few that need a bit more of a response than a thank you though. I apologize right now if I miss anyone. In no particular order:

Trixie - The orchids are doing fine right now with some fairly humid (for Eastern Montana) weather and long hours of daylight. We'll see how well it goes through the coming winter with the extreme dryness and reduced light.

Kiggavik - I have thought about a tower but not for very long! The top of the house will have to do for now.

Beverly - Thanks for the inquiry. You made me blush a bit but sorry, no brothers. I have two wonderful sisters.

Dr Hypercube - No, not Stickley but certainly a step up to something nice for us.

Clare - Thanks for all the comments. I hope the new Moleskins look nice. I still haven't worked up a design but hope to do so soon.

Thanks too to all of you who stop by to see what I have posted without commenting.

Friday, May 9, 2008

No Comment

Although this is a very interesting story in it's own right you just can't beat the headline. Thankfully we call them chickadees around here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Last Sage-Grouse Morning

This morning was my last early morning for sage-grouse surveys. Next it is breeding bird surveys but at least I have a few weeks before the early mornings start again. This morning I visited two leks - one had the same number of displaying males as the last time I visited and all the birds had been flushed from the second lek before I got there. I collected a pile of feathers from the second lek while the coyotes yipped at me from the ridges to the west. An antelope buck snorted at me for a while, trying to figure out why I was wondering around in circles staring at the ground and occasionally picking things from the cactus but then he gave up and wandered away. Probably shaking his head.

A few of the birds I found this morning.

Horned Lark

McCown's Longspur parachute display

Short-eared owl from the same place as the dueling owls.

Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

Western Grebe

Common Tern

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More Backyard Birds

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow