Bella Vista Creek

Welcome to Bird of the Day!

You might notice some recent changes to the blog. For one, the banner image above has changed from Mustang Island on the Gulf coast to a picture of a local birding spot near my house. Likewise, I plan to focus many of the upcoming posts on birding that area. On the right hand side of the page you will also see the addition of a new gadget that lists what birds have been seen in that area in the last 30 days. Further below, there is a link to ebird for more historic information about the birds seen at Bella Vista Creek. Feel free and contact me on the blog about what you think. Click on images to enlarge. (All photos by gbmcclure)

Aug 22, 2010

The Guessing Game

This past Friday I went birding with a group of friends from work and the topic of GISS (general impression of size and shape) came up. After careful field guide study of what birds may be present in an area at certain times of year, the next best method to identifying birds is GISS. By using this method you can quickly narrow the possibilities. Many species of birds are unique enough in appearance that they can be identified right off the bat, but others are more confusing. If you're lucky the bird may sit in the open long enough for in depth study through binoculars, but this still may not be enough. Given changing conditions of age, sex, and molt, bird identification can still be difficult to impossible even with photographs. At some point all you can do is guess.

A clear example of this was a bird we saw toward the end of the outing on Friday.


Using GISS, my first thought when I saw this bird was a Yellow Warbler. I knew they ad been spotted recently in the area during their fall migration. At the time it seemed like the right size and color, but the ID did not sit easily. When looking at the (poor) picture later, and discussing it with other birders, a consensus could still not be reached. While some thought it might be a female Summer Tanager or Baltimore Oriole, I am guessing it was a female Orchard Oriole. What's your guess?

Aug 12, 2010

Beyond Birding

Clearly, the main attraction to birding is being out looking for, and seeing, birds. A very close second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.), however, is the field guide study before, and the identification and listing afterward. The process of listing is a big enough topic for a book, not a blog. In fact, an excellent book was written about the topic titled The Big Year. Unfortunately or not, they are about to release a movie adaptation of it starring Jennifer Aniston or some such nonsense. But I digress...

The point is that I recently came across a fantastic book called The Birdwatcher's Companion to North American Birdlife, by Christopher Leahy. At just under 5 lbs. you won't find many people carrying it in the field, but its become one of my favorite books on the shelf.

For example, I was out birding Sunday morning, and although it was a very slow day, I did see this Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

yellow-billed cuckoo

This is a neat bird, but not rare or unexpected. Even so, it was Sunday's BOTD. Now here's the post-birding fun? I was talking about. The Birdwatcher's Companion tells us this under the entry for Cuckoo:

"The name, of course, comes from the song of the Common Cuckoo of Eurasia and first appears in English in the famous anonymous poem that begins: 'Summer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu.' It is the origin of the word 'cuckold' in reference to the species fame as a brood parasite, even though neither the male cuckoo nor the male of the host pair has been cuckolded."

It should be added that although cuckoos will lay eggs in another birds nest, they do not do this habitually.

Aug 1, 2010

Last Day of Summer (well vacation that is)!

As it was my last weekend before going back to work, I decided to go birding one last time. This doesn't really make that much sense because I birded weekends more often during periods when I was not on vacation.

I stopped first at the shallow ponds at Hornsby Bend for a look at the shore birds that might be present. Along with the Least and Spotted Sandpipers was this Little Blue Heron.

Little Blue Heron on the wing

On the other side of the pond a juvenile LBH was poking around. Juvenile LBH's are distinct from their parents because they have white plumage. Easy, right! Except Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets are also white and about the same size. Hmmm. So next you go to the bill. Cattle Egrets have yellow bills so that helps, but from a distance both LBH and Snowies have similar, longer, darker bills. Luckily, Snowies have yellow feet--a dead giveaway. Here is a picture of a Snowy I took later that same morning (thankfully with his feet out of the water).

Snowy Egret 2

Another noticeable creature in the ponds was not a bird. This guy was poking through the water with a bunch of turtles.


I decided to leave the ponds and head for the safety of the woods. Before I got there this Green Heron flew into the tree right in front of the car. I was close enough to get this nice portrait. I even had to back down on the zoom a tad.

Green Heron portrait

As I was walking in the woods, I once again noticed the large amount of Orb Weavers that were present. As I was watching one, a giant grasshopper became tangled in its web. Quickly, the spider (about equal size to the grasshopper) began to let out more web from its spinnerets and wrap up the catch. Although the grasshopper kicked for a minute it soon lost the battle. Here is a picture with a good look at the spider using the webbing. Click here to see a series of these photos.

Orb Weaver vs. grasshopper 3

I saw quite a few birds in the woods, and in the field on the other side saw what I am calling a juvenile Dickcissel--though I'll listen to any arguments.


Happy Trails, now back to work!