Category Archives: Lab Posts

Birding with my dogs

This blog post is late, but earlier this week I went birding in my backyard.  I was drawn outside because my dogs were avidly watching birds and circling our feeders (side note: they’re actually only interested in the squirrels).  However, they drew my attention to the abundance of birds calling and flying in my yard!  It was cold (40s) and raining so I wasn’t able to take many pictures at the risk of my phone surviving.

A view of my yard where you can see both of my dogs

Here are some of the birds I heard/saw:

Female Northern Cardinal: Identified by “pew pew” laser call as well as her color (light red/orange).

Yellow Rumped Warbler: I could clearly make out the yellow wing patches on this bird and identified it as a yellow pumped.  I was never able to see the rump, but I feel confident in this ID!

Black Vulture:  The vulture was circling around the woods of my yard.  I was able to see that it had small lighter-colored feather patches which were restricted to the very tip of the wing, therefore ruling out the turkey vulture.

Bird I couldn’t ID: This bird passed over quickly and I was unable to tell what it was.  I don’t know if any one can help based on my terrible picture!

Red-headed Woodpecker: I was so excited to see this guy on our suet feeder!  I believe he is the first one in our yard this year.  His head was a beautiful shade of red and it was awesome to see him.

House Sparrow: This particular house sparrow was a breeding male.  He had the typical grey crown and black bib, which contrasted well against his white patches on the sides of his neck.  He was seen below the feeder eating amongst the fallen seed.

Gray Catbird: I believe this bird was a gray catbird.  It was hard for me to see at first and he bounced around between our suet feeder and branches in the nearby trees.  As the name insinuates, he was entirely gray and had black eyes with a black beak.

Gray catbird on the suet feeder

Spring is here!

4/23/18

2:00 PM to 3:25 PM

Swan Lake. Richmond, VA.

Temperature: Mid-high 50s

Weather conditions: High chance of rain, cloudy

Habitat: Open area in park with large lake and many trees

Lots of activity today here at Swan Lake. I think the birds were more erratic because of the impending storm but saw lots of different birds

Babies!

Northern Flicker

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As I was walking around I kept hearing a call that sound familiar. I followed the sound and found this bird in a nearby tree.

My best guess would be a White-breasted Nuthatch. It was tough to see it’s markings because it’s feathers were really puffed up. It had a bit of rusty brown on its underbelly with a white chest/breast. It also has a black stripe on the crown of it’s head.

I captured this vocalization and it supported my observation of the WBNU…I think!

 

Thanks for reading!

Catch-Up: 3/25/18 Blue Jay

Date: 4/18/18

Time: 2:00 PM

Weather: 69°F

Location: Richmond

As I was walking back to my apartment from a friends house I was stopped by a ‘strange’ bird vocalization. The vocalization sound like a cross between a crow and a hawk. Using my phone as a scope (I did not have my binoculars at the time) I was able to zoom in onto the bird.

Visually I was able to identify it as a Blue Jay, however I needed to look at my reference materials to vocally recognize it. The bird also vocalized frequently, which I would imagine to be annoying for the people in the houses near by.

I found the sighting interesting because I never expected to see a Blue Jay in the city. It seems likely that the bird was around the area for food, as it was a quiet residential neighborhood which I’m guessing had a bird feeder somewhere. It could also be possible that the bird was there because of some territorial claim, however I am not sure if Blue Jays prefer anthropologically altered areas such as the City. Perhaps the individual was lost or just passing through, or that I’m over thinking it and Blue Jays are a common sighting in the City. All in all still a cool find in my opinion.

Catch-Up: 3/18/18 Trip to Hollywood Cemetery

Date: 4/17/18

Time: 7:00 AM

Weather: 39°F

Location: Hollywood Cemetery

 

Early Tuesday morning I joined Professor Bullock and a group of classmates on a trip to Hollywood Cemetery. The trip last roughly 1 hour and consisted of both visual and vocal identification of birds, mainly vocalizations though. We were able to witness American Robins fighting each other, vocalizations from white-throated sparrows, a group of cedar wax wings, among other things. One other interesting find was a grackle, which I heard vocalizing on my walk to the Cemetery.

Image result for common grackle

(image from google)

The vocalization of the grackle can be described as a ‘shrill’ screech, which is the reason why I noticed it while walking to the cemetery. The call is very harsh and ‘assaulting’ that I find it very distinguishable from most other birds.

As part of a make up quiz we were also tested on the identification of a European Starling, which I got wrong on the quiz. Given the allotted time to identify the bird I was hesitant in calling it a European Starling, which I answered as an American Crow instead. We were also given vocalizations as a hint which did not help me as I was unfamiliar with the Starlings call.

European Starling Breeding adult

As I spent some time looking into more about the starling I brushed up on its diagnostic features. European Starlings have dark (purple-green) iridescent feathers and a long-narrow yellow bill. Their wings are also short and pointed when in flight (something I was actually able to notice when it flew away during the quiz, thus making me hesitant in calling it a crow). During the quiz I was also able to see its yellow colored bill. Either out of tiredness or ‘who knows what?’ I did not identify the quiz bird as a starling, even though it was so obvious (looking back at it now).

 

Catch-Up: 3/11/18 Fish Crow or American Crow?

Date: 4/16/18

Time: 2:00 PM

Weather:55°F

Location: Richmond (MCV Campus)

Monday afternoon, returning from my volunteer work at the Main Street Hospital, I witnessed a group of crows in a grass lot across the bus stop. Noting that this would be an excellent time for a bird observation I watched the crows during my 15 minute bus wait. I was able to count 5 birds aggregating on the grass lot. The birds were flying in and out of a trash bin that had its lid removed. As they searched the bin one crow was able to find a decently sized piece of bread (presumably). The other crows, upon seeing the bread, started to ‘attack’ the crow holding it (the assault looked visually similar to a game of tag). One crow managed to take the bread from the original crow and flew of with it.

Seemingly the victor, the crow imaged above was able to enjoy his meal peacefully. Humorously I also saw one of the other crows fly away further of into the distance. As it moved further I was able to capture an image of it ‘walking away’, reminiscent of a ‘walk of shame’.

When trying to identify the birds I was unable to decide if they were American Crows or Fish Crows. Looking up a diagnostic for both species, they seem to share remarkably similar physical features. Although the Fish Crow is sometimes seen with brown plumage. Given the slimmer body physique of the crows displayed above I want to say that they are indeed fish crows. Looking at the ‘murder’ of crows during the bread altercation I would not be surprised if it was a mixed group consisting of both fish and american crows.  Given the amount of construction work being done right next to the bus stop I was not able to hear their calls clearly. Vocalizations would have helped greatly in trying to identify them, fish crows have a ‘nasally cawing’ sound and american crows have a more pronounced ‘CAW’ sound.

Flood Wall Birding

Time: 2:45 – 4:00pm –  4/16/2018

Location: Flood Wall, Hull St. Richmond, VA

Weather: 60°F – windy, partly cloudy

Species Observed but Not Recorded: Red-winged Blackbird (O: Passeriformes, F: Icteridae), Canada Geese (O: Anseriformes), Rock Pigeon (O: Columbiformes), American Crow (O: Passeriformes, F: Corvidae), Common Grackle (O: Passeriformes, F: Icteridae), Turkey Vulture (O: Accipitriformes).

I decided to visit the Flood Walk this time for my blog post and was a little let down by high winds not allowing many song birds to be out, but instead saw many large and charismatic birds at the river. I saw many of some of my favorites as well: Ospreys.

Northern Mockingbird (O: Passeriformes, F: Mimidae): I initially heard this individual before I saw it, but I kept hearing the varying 5-repeat calls of different birds, echoed from the same place over and over. I searched quickly and noticed this Mockingbird sitting in a young tree, singing its heart out. It was distinctive with its straight tail, dull grayish coloration, and the call/song I was describing before.

Osprey (O: Accipitriformes): I saw many Ospreys on this trip (8 – 10 total), and observed many various habits. Ospreys are a large raptor with diagnostic brown and white colorations. Brown usually coats their back and wings while they have white underbellies and white markings on their face. Their legs are typically blue/grey and they can be found near waterways, as this is their primary food source.

I observed high soaring, most likely to get up above the harsher winds found above the water.

This individual kept swooping low to make attempted predations, but never actually pulled the trigger on any dives. As it dove down, it would quickly catch wind it its wings right before it hit the water to stall out and gain more altitude.

The last individual was seen soaring low as well, and vocalizing loudly above me. I then saw it dive and make a predation attempt, and was actually successful. These photos were taken right before the dive was made, and right after the dive, the Osprey was seen carrying the fish “torpedo-style” to go devour at it’s nest most likely.

Black Vulture (O: Accipitriformes): I saw many Black Vultures, as we usually do outside, but I did not feel that anything they were doing was out of the ordinary. But then I saw this one sitting by itself on a rock, which I thought was odd, since it was not above the water kettling with all of the other vultures. I observed the black head of this bird and determined it was a Black Vulture.

Great Blue Heron (O: Pelecaniformes): I saw 5 total Great Blue Herons on the walk, and the first that I saw were these three standing together on an island in the middle of the river. The birds are a characteristic blue-grey color and have long feathers that are characteristic of powder-down. They have long necks and long legs and can be seen wading in shallow water hunting their favorite prey. These three birds could have possibly been watching over nests in the rookery.

Here is another individual looking for a meal by itself in a different section of the river.

Lastly, on my way out, I saw one last GBH flying over me. It was easy to identify due to its long trailing legs and its curled neck in flight.

Double Crested Cormorant (O: Pelecaniformes): The most populated bird at the river this day was the Double Crested Cormorant. These birds are seen flying with their long necks straight out and flapping their wings similarly to a duck. They are dark black and actually their beak is quite colorful in orange and blue around and inside the mouth. They are great divers and can be seen underwater for over a minute or so. This first individual pictured was having a good time surfing the rapids and diving down attempting to get some food. I did not see this bird get any food, but I saw one later get a fish and swallow it whole.

Here is a large colony of Cormorants huddling together. Again, you can see the long necks and dark bodies. These birds do not float as well as ducks so they will appear half way out of the water while swimming/floating.

Mallard Duck (O: Anseriformes): The last bird that I saw on my way out, besides Common Grackles, was this male Mallard. I observed him off to the side of the river where the water was much calmer, and I watched him dabbling over and over trying to forage in front of me. He was easy to identify by his bright green head/yellow bill, drab body, and blue/purple bar on the wing.

Flood Wall Birding

Time: 2:45 – 4:00pm –  4/16/2018

Location: Flood Wall, Hull St. Richmond, VA

Weather: 60°F – windy, partly cloudy

Species Observed but Not Recorded: Red-winged Blackbird (O: Passeriformes, F: Icteridae), Canada Geese (O: Anseriformes), Rock Pigeon (O: Columbiformes), American Crow (O: Passeriformes, F: Corvidae), Common Grackle (O: Passeriformes, F: Icteridae), Turkey Vulture (O: Accipitriformes).

I decided to visit the Flood Walk this time for my blog post and was a little let down by high winds not allowing many song birds to be out, but instead saw many large and charismatic birds at the river. I saw many of some of my favorites as well: Ospreys.

Northern Mockingbird (O: Passeriformes, F: Mimidae): I initially heard this individual before I saw it, but I kept hearing the varying 5-repeat calls of different birds, echoed from the same place over and over. I searched quickly and noticed this Mockingbird sitting in a young tree, singing its heart out. It was distinctive with its straight tail, dull grayish coloration, and the call/song I was describing before.

Osprey (O: Accipitriformes): I saw many Ospreys on this trip (8 – 10 total), and observed many various habits. Ospreys are a large raptor with diagnostic brown and white colorations. Brown usually coats their back and wings while they have white underbellies and white markings on their face. Their legs are typically blue/grey and they can be found near waterways, as this is their primary food source.

I observed high soaring, most likely to get up above the harsher winds found above the water.

This individual kept swooping low to make attempted predations, but never actually pulled the trigger on any dives. As it dove down, it would quickly catch wind it its wings right before it hit the water to stall out and gain more altitude.

The last individual was seen soaring low as well, and vocalizing loudly above me. I then saw it dive and make a predation attempt, and was actually successful. These photos were taken right before the dive was made, and right after the dive, the Osprey was seen carrying the fish “torpedo-style” to go devour at it’s nest most likely.

Black Vulture (O: Accipitriformes): I saw many Black Vultures, as we usually do outside, but I did not feel that anything they were doing was out of the ordinary. But then I saw this one sitting by itself on a rock, which I thought was odd, since it was not above the water kettling with all of the other vultures. I observed the black head of this bird and determined it was a Black Vulture.

Great Blue Heron (O: Pelecaniformes): I saw 5 total Great Blue Herons on the walk, and the first that I saw were these three standing together on an island in the middle of the river. The birds are a characteristic blue-grey color and have long feathers that are characteristic of powder-down. They have long necks and long legs and can be seen wading in shallow water hunting their favorite prey. These three birds could have possibly been watching over nests in the rookery.

Here is another individual looking for a meal by itself in a different section of the river.

Lastly, on my way out, I saw one last GBH flying over me. It was easy to identify due to its long trailing legs and its curled neck in flight.

Double Crested Cormorant (O: Pelecaniformes): The most populated bird at the river this day was the Double Crested Cormorant. These birds are seen flying with their long necks straight out and flapping their wings similarly to a duck. They are dark black and actually their beak is quite colorful in orange and blue around and inside the mouth. They are great divers and can be seen underwater for over a minute or so. This first individual pictured was having a good time surfing the rapids and diving down attempting to get some food. I did not see this bird get any food, but I saw one later get a fish and swallow it whole.

Here is a large colony of Cormorants huddling together. Again, you can see the long necks and dark bodies. These birds do not float as well as ducks so they will appear half way out of the water while swimming/floating.

Mallard Duck (O: Anseriformes): The last bird that I saw on my way out, besides Common Grackles, was this male Mallard. I observed him off to the side of the river where the water was much calmer, and I watched him dabbling over and over trying to forage in front of me. He was easy to identify by his bright green head/yellow bill, drab body, and blue/purple bar on the wing.

European Starlings mating

On my walk back from class I noticed these two European starlings flying/playing in close proximity to each other, which caught my attention. To my benefit, both starlings landed on a high branch and I witnessed the male climb onto the female and vey briefly exchange a “cloacal kiss” which we have learned about in class. The photos taken are only seconds after the cloacal kiss, which I was too slow to capture in the pictures.

I was intrigued by the opportunity to witness this event in nature, however I was curious as to why these birds are mating when we’ve learned that migration season is taking place currently. We have talked as a class how migration and reproduction could be counter intuitive.  I went home and found an old research paper from 1953 called the Distribution and Migration of the European Starling in North America. I found this paper interesting because this research was done only 60 years after the European starling was officially established in North America, and it concludes that while some European starlings migrate, some simply do not. The paper also explains that Starlings in NA, especially the young, have very irregular movement patterns and random selection of breeding grounds. These mechanisms could have contributed to the rapid expanse of the starling range in north america, especially those who choose to migrate and also demonstrate these irregular patterns. I feel that this paper is sufficient explanation for the mating I witnessed, and it indeed cleared my confusion.

link to article:

https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/condor/v055n02/p0049-p0067.pdf

GBH

This week when I went to Forest Hill to collect data for my project, I brought a camera with me to see what kind of birds I could photograph. I went at around 10:00. The weather was BEAUTIFUL (sunny/warm) and the birds seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was! I saw lots and lots of woodpeckers, mostly downys. I tried to attach a video that I took but it wouldn’t work for some reason.

I was watching this Great Blue Heron perched by the edge of the lake. It started flying in circles around the lake and I thought maybe it was going to dive down and catch a fish. 

It ended up landing in this tree close to the water, pretty high up. I’ve never seen a GBH perched in a tree before and I got a pretty close look at the guy.

I heard this chipping sparrow before I saw him. I heard the trill and wondered if it was a pine warbler or a chipping sparrow, so I looked around until I found the culprit! He sat here for a while and let me watch him sing. It’s funny how much his little body moves when he makes sound!

A classic morning dove perched in a tree near the parking lot.

Palm Warblers passing through Belle Isle

4/15/18

10:00 AM to 11:45 PM

Belle Isle. Richmond, VA.

Temperature: Mid-high 70s

Weather conditions: Cloudy with chance of storms

Habitat: Mixed forest throughout trails alongside the James River

Today I saw a newer species to me the Palm Warbler and Louisiana Waterthrush. These new migrants caught my eye on a hike while in James River Park. There were many water birds and very active in the woods.

I briefly saw the Palm Warbler on Wednesday during our trip but I wanted to go and try and identify on my own. I think that this is the Palm Warbler because of their olive-yellow color and brighter yellow colors on neck area in addition to it’s warbler features. What helped me distinguish this species is its reddish rusty brown cap and streaky brown on the neck area. These warblers won’t be around for breeding, they will continue to migrate to Northern America (much of Canada). Glad I caught them while they were here!

 

Thanks for reading.