Monday, March 29, 2010

Freezout Lake Snow Geese

Last weekend our family headed west to the annual staging of migrant Snow Geese at Freezeout Lake in western Montana, between Fairfield and Choteau.

It was a great weekend watching the clouds of Snow Geese moving in from surrounding fields or after an overnight flight from California. Saturday morning started out with about 20,000 birds on the lake and by the time the birds headed out to the surrounding barley fields for their evening meal, there were about 60,000 birds. Flocks were falling from the sky to join the mass on the water all day long. I spent most of Saturday at the boat launch just watching geese come in. Some from the fields came in low and fast, tipping and flipping to lose what little altitude they had as they headed towards a mid-day loafing site on the lake. Others, presumably new arrivals, descended from much higher up in slow twisting flocks.

I enjoyed the birds and wound up with lots of photos. I also spent a good deal of time just watching the birds come in and the flock on the lake swell with the additional geese.

The birds wound up just off the boat dock area and as the day progressed the flock spread out a bit and many of the birds spent a lot of time with their heads tucked under their wings, taking a nap.

Once, for some unknown reason, the entire flock rose from the water in a roaring clamor before settling back to the water.

The next morning we were back at sunrise to watch the birds that remained overnight leave the lake to feed in the fields. We parked in a designated area just off the highway and as the sun came up we could see two large white blobs in the lake. Just after 7:00 the blob began to disintegrate as small groups of geese, then larger groups of geese, rose from the lake and flew directly over us.

The rising sun also illuminated large flocks moving along the entire eastern skyline.

One flock chose to feed in the field just across the highway from the parking area. Many people lined the fenceline and the geese slowly fed slowly towards us. Something spooked the birds from behind and the flock rose from the field towards us and we soon had a blanket of snow geese about 100 feet above us as they wheeled around and headed back to the same spot they just left.

One of my favorite goose behaviors is "maple leafing" where the birds rapidly loose altitude by turning sideways or completely upside down. I have blogged about it here with Canada Geese and last weekend I got to watch the Snow Geese do the same thing. The Snow Geese seem to move much quicker and not spend as much time out of normal flying position but it was still fun to watch the birds slip and slide through the air as they descended to the lake.

I have a number of falling bird photos that I will post over the next few days.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arizona Weekend - Rufous-capped Warbler

Last weekend I took an opportunistic weekend of birding while I was in Arizona. I visited my friend Mark in Sierra Vista and he accompanied me on a weekend jaunt around southeastern Arizona. In addition to seeing a pile of birds I hadn't seen for a long time, I was interested in finding a few species I had not observed before.
One of the species that rose to the top of the list was a Rufous-capped Warbler that had recently been observed in Florida Wash. This is a bird that is very localized in the U.S., barely coming across the border from Mexico where it is more common. We had some discussions about directions to head on Saturday morning but after visiting a bit we decided to head to Florida Wash with a stop at the Patagonia Rest Area to see if we could also find a Black-chinned Sparrow along the way. We were running late by that point so we didn't think to look for any further directions to the warbler.
After a quick stop to find the sparrow (which we did), we headed off to Florida Wash, an area that Mark had not visited either. We found the parking lot at the research station ok, and headed up the main trail according to the directions from the list serve as we remembered them. We found another group of 3 people also looking for the warbler, but they actually had written directions. After consulting with them we confirmed our recollection that the bird had been found around the base of a lone Sycamore tree just past the dam. As we headed up the stream there were a number of small dams across the stream and a lone Sycamore. But no warbler. There were other markers right at the lone Sycamore that were conspicuously absent in the directions, like a large water tank, making us suspect that maybe there was another lone Sycamore further up the trail. After a moderate hike up some switchbacks it became very apparent that we were way beyond anyplace that looked remotely suspicious of being warbler habitat. We headed back down the trial and returned to the last Sycamore to try there again. No luck.
As we got down to the junction with the other drainage coming in from the right only a short distance above the parking area. Mark did a little exploring and suggested we head up the right fork. After a short jaunt we realized rather quickly that it was where we should have gone in the first place. There was the dam, the lone Sycamore, and a rather extensive patch of desert cotton (Gossypium thurberi) that appeared to have responded quite well to a fairly recent fire in that area. Perhaps most telling was the rather large lens and three humans perched on a rock overlooking the area. Apparently we just missed the bird by a half an hour. We hung around for a while but never found the bird.
I returned early on Monday morning on my was back to Phoenix and this time, armed with my past experience to find the place, was at the right spot fairly quickly after parking the car. And the bird showed up in the company of a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets shortly after I arrived. I was able to get a couple of other birders who showed up after me on the bird as well. They soon left and I spent the next 20 minutes or so watching the bird as it foraged through the cotton downstream. It was very unconcerned by my presence and foraged remarkable close to me.

These were the best photos of the bunch. Most of them looked like this:

I want to thank Mark and Jackie for their hospitality and letting me spend the weekend with them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

Happy Birthday Mom. One of your favorites and another red bird for you.