Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crean's Mid-Summer Birthday

Waiting for "Happy Birthday" to finish

Big inhale.

Big exhale.

Waiting for the cake to be served.

Monday, July 26, 2010

PAD 24 - Western Willet

Western Willet. Valley County, MT June, 19, 2010.

PAD 23 - Got Milk?

I came across this calf a few days ago. He was nursing but pulled away from his meal to glance at me when I drove by him and his mother. He had a milk mustache that went from his forehead to his chin. It gave me a good chuckle because he reminded me of the eating habits of a couple of other little boys I know and I backed up because I just had to get a photo.
Valley County, Montana. July 22, 2010.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010


This fall I hope to see another Southern Ground Hornbill like the one I took a photo of last year at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO. Except this time I hope to see it where it belongs - the plains of Tanzania.

I have been selected to join a team of nine other biologist-types to assist five community based Wildlife Management Areas with their biological inventory and monitoring programs. We will be split up into teams of two, one team for each management area, with the task of initiating or modifying existing monitoring programs with area specific methods. The monitoring must be meaningful and sustainable in places with limited resources such as electricity. These sideboards certainly provides focus on what can and should be done in these areas.

I am currently getting all my paperwork and immunizations in order. One of the first items I purchased was Birds of East Africa by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe. Even better, many of the illustrations were painted by one of my favorite artists, John Gale as well as Jonathan Kingdon's Pocket Guide to African Mammals. Once I figure out which WMA I will be working at I may wind up bringing Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania by Zimmerman, Turner, and Pearson.

I am really looking forward to this experience, hopefully making at least a meaningful contribution to wildlife conservation, as well as just being in Africa. I have been reviewing my field guide, trying to at least get a handle on what the birds look like and where I might find them in the field guide when I am trying to figure out which Cisticola I am looking at (yeah right). Hornbills, Sunbirds, Weavers, Starlings (the really great African species), Lions, Leopards, and Hippos, oh my.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What is this bird?

This is more of a pet peeve post than a real ID question. This is a McCown's Longspur. Not a McCowan's Longspur.
For some reason the "McCowan's" spelling has shown up in a number of different places recently and it is driving me nuts. The worst was in a special advertisement section for birding in Montana printed in a recent Audubon Magazine.
Great way to draw birders to Montana - they don't even know how to spell the birds name correctly - do they know anything about what is written in the article?
At least it isn't as embarrassing as a recent bird trail publication produced by the Custer Country travel region in Montana. Despite a number of people commenting on the plethora of errors in the publication, ranging from misspelled bird names and other bird name mistakes - you can find a "Roufous-sided and Spotted towhee" at numerous places (they are different names for the same bird). At Mikoshika State Park you can apparently find Lappet-faced Vulture from Africa based on the photo used for this site. It is supposed to depict a Turkey Vulture! See it for yourself here (even better - rather than fix the mistakes that were pointed out to them numerous times, they reproduced in online for everyone to see).
Travel Montana really doesn't have to do much help bird related tourism in Montana. The birds found here could sell this place almost by themselves, but for some reason the tourism people have not only not consulted with the people most interested in helping them, but they have outright ignored the expertise in this state, resulting in a number of rather embarrassing errors. If I was using this information for some other state it would suggest to me that the people really had no idea what they were talking about and I would question the validity of all the information provided.
It's not that I am driven to turn the birds and habitats I care about into a tourist destination, its just that I hope that these habitats and birds that inhabit them can be thought of as more than wastelands only worth grazing and hunting. If we could demonstrate some income from other uses perhaps thoughts and concerns of conservation would follow. I really believe that communities (or at least the right people in a community) need to have an interest in conservation or it will not work or will continue to be a source continued conflict. Perhaps the values provided by birding related income is a way to help that along.
Well, this certainly wandered away from a spelling pet peeve!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sprague's Pipit or Horned Lark?

For most of the year this is a rather straightforward question.

Horned Larks show their distinctive black horns as well as a black mask, malar patch and throat.

Sprague's Pipits are rather a plain rich, light brown with pale legs and big eyes.

But in the summer things get a bit more tricky.

Young Sprague's Pipits look a lot like the adults with just a hint of a fleshy gape at the corner of their mouth, rather extensive buffy edges to the body feathers, pinkish bill, and big eyes.

The problem is that young Horned Larks often look very much like Sprague's Pipits (and other plain brown birds). Pyle (1996) states that "Juvs are very nondescript and might be confused with other species". He further states the the juveniles can be distinguished from "sparrows, longspurs, and other nondescript brown passerines" (probably as close as Pyle comes to saying LBJ's) by wing length, the length of the wing compared to the tail and "tasus laterally rounded (vs acute in most other species). None of these features can be readily determined in the field but one additional piece of information that Pyle provides regarding young Horned Larks is that the juveniles have "upperparts with white or silvery spots" and the bill is somewhat conical. Horned Larks molt out of the juvenile plumage by August (or earlier depending on when they hatched) and look like a very pale, washed out version of an adult for the rest of the year.

Below is a series of photos of young Horned Larks (one of these may not be my photo but I can't remember who it might belong to so if it is yours please let me know).

The two photos above depict Horned Larks in their juvenile plumage. Notice the all dark back with white specks. The top of the head and the neck have the same pattern as does the feathers at the bend of the wing. The legs are pale but not nearly as pinkish as the pipit. The bill also looks thicker at the base on the larks and one thing I have noticed in these photos is that the lark's bill looks very plain grayish brown, whereas the pipits bill has a strong pale or pink tone.

The photo above depicts a young Horned Lark later in the season, mostly molted out of the juvenile plumage into the hatch year plumage. The black with white speckled feathers on the back and wing are mostly gone, making the bird even more brown and similar to the pipit. However, the same molt has also introduced more distinctive facial markings on this bird, helping to distinguish this bird as a Horned Lark.

So what is depicted in the photo below (photos taken June 24, 2010) ?

From this angle it is certainly rather plain and brown. The legs are pale, but not bright pink. The back of the head is rather plain and dark with no streaking. Notice the color and pattern of the back. It is rather dark with white or silvery spots.

It gets a bit easier when we get a look in profile. Notice the face is beginning to develop a bit of the adult Horned Lark pattern - a dark mask, cap and malar patch. The bill is rather drab and gray with just a hint of pink. Also note the color and pattern on the pattern on the lesser and median wing coverts - dark with some spotting.

When viewed head on the horns even seem to begin to be suggested. Otherwise the bird looks very plain although the breast looks to have rather diffuse spots rather than the streaks you would find on a pipit (see the photo above).

Note the Spragues Pipit above. This is a hatch year bird with rather broad buffy borders on the back and wing feathers (as compared to the after hatch year bird singing in the photo above). The eye looks large, there is a richer brown color to the plumage (particularly on the face), the bill is strongly pink, and (although not readily apparent in this photo) the legs are bright pink, and the bill does not appear conical, but rather long and thinner than a Horned Lark.

Pyle, Peter. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds: Part 1 Columbidae to Ploceidea. Slate Creek Press. Bolinas CA.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

PAD 20 - American Pasque Flower

Prairie Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens). Valley County, Montana. April 14, 2006.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Better Out Than In" I Always Say

A couple of weeks ago I was taking photos of an Eastern Kingbird perched on a fence next to the road I was driving down.

He starting acting a bit funny, reminding me of the hunched over lurches of a dog that is going to loose his lunch in short order.

Sure enough, a ball of what appeared to be undigested insect parts showed up in the back of his mouth and was soon ejected to the ground.

In the photo above you can see the ball of insect chitin in mid-flight.

I had no idea, although in retrospect it does make sense. I am quite familiar with owl pellets of indigestible animals parts and I have spent a fair amount of time sorting through the much more disgusting Blue-eyed Shag pellets looking for identifiable fish parts so I don't know why I was surprised that a bird that that eats insects with lots of indigestible insect parts would do the same.