Trumpeter Swans Up Close

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans (with Mallard)

It is always exciting when swans decide to winter in Oklahoma. Birders on the OKBirds listserv keep everyone aware of swan sightings and the birds sometimes find Oklahoma ponds a welcome place to spend at least part of the winter months. Tundra Swans are the most rare of the swan species to visit the state and I haven’t yet had my first sighting. I’ve photographed Trumpeter Swans only twice: once at the Great Salt Plains and the other on a farm pond near Lawton.

This winter, I am fortunate that a group of 8 Trumpeter Swans was spotted on a housing developing lake in Norman, Oklahoma during the Cleveland County Christmas Bird Count. A Christmas blizzard and other weather woes kept me from checking them out until last weekend. They’re only 30 miles away so I was happy that: 1) the small lake was free of ice and 2) the swans were still there.

These birds were very cooperative and swam right up to the shoreline. It didn’t hurt that the wind was strong and cold and where I was standing was sheltered!   I had a great time watching and photographing the swans — one of which is an immature (first time I’ve seen a juvie).

There is a Mute Swan on a local lake. It is not considered a wild bird although it flies quite well.  This species of swan is what is commonly found at parks and small city ponds.  I put two “head shots” in the photo below: an adult Trumpeter and an adult Mute Swan. They are distinguished by the head/bill… their bodies are very similar when seen on the water.

Trumpeter Swan, Mute Swan

Trumpeter Swan (left), Mute Swan (right)

Snow Geese on Ice

Snow Geese, Canada Geese

What is a frozen lake good for? Well, when the record-setting cold came through this month (low of 6; high of 18) for several days, Lake Hefner froze almost completely.  The lake is my favorite, close to home birding spot and I’m there at least 5 days a week looking for birds to photograph.

Frigid temps don’t make for easy birding but a frozen lake?!  How was I going to find the loons and ducks?  Wow! What a wonderful surprise when I found that Canada Geese seem to really like standing on a frozen lake. And while I was watching and photographing a flock of >400 Canadas, a magnificent flock of Snow Geese dropped down to join them!   I’m still going through the other photos I took to see if I can ID any Ross’s Geese in the flock.

I grabbed this pic while they were still landing. Such a beautiful sight — plus the sound of all the geese was like mother nature’s chorus.  Seriously!

It isn’t often that I get to see Snow Geese so my joy was magnified by their numbers.  And I got to see all of this because the lake was frozen…

Rosy, the Rufous Hummingbird

It’s very unusual for hummingbirds to hang around during winters in Oklahoma. Typically the Ruby-throated or Black-chinned Hummingbirds (the ones most frequently seen in the state) leave by late September.  On occasion, a hummer will show up at feeders well past the time to migrate.  And on these rare occasions, the hummer is sometimes a rarity.

Rufuous Hummingbird, female

Rufuous Hummingbird, female

That’s the great good-fortune my friend Terri has had this year. A Rufous Hummingbird showed up at her Edmond, Oklahoma home in October and has remained even through a record-setting blizzard.

There is a hope that at some point, one of these Rufous Hummingbirds that over-winter in Oklahoma will turn out to be the rare Allen’s Hummingbird. The two species are very difficult to differentiate and it often requires capturing the bird.

In hopes of either confirming the ID as a Rufous or documenting a state record Allen’s, Dr. Chris Butler from the University of Central Oklahoma first attempted to capture and band Terri’s hummingbird in early October. The bird would not cooperate and a second — successful — attempt occurred December 23, 2009.  Terri and Chris collaborated on the banding and Terri produced a wonderful video of the process. (Terri has several excellent videos of the bird at the feeder on YouTube)

Dr. Butler initially described the bird while “in hand” as a hatch year male Allen’s Hummingbird. However, input from other banding experts and feedback from the Oklahoma Birds Records Committee indicate the bird is a female Rufous.  Terri had been calling the bird “Rusty” so the gender change called for a new moniker:  Rosy.

I enjoyed getting to photograph the hummingbird at Terri’s home on November 6th and hope to get more photos this winter.  This week Terri spotted a second hummingbird — we’re all still hoping for that elusive state-record Allen’s!

Thanksgiving with Mountain Bluebirds

Mountai Bluebird, female

On 2009’s Thanksgiving Day I spent the afternoon at the Wichita Mountains Nat’l Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. It’s my favorite place in Oklahoma for day trips because the scenery is stunning even when the birding might not be.

It was a beautiful clear day and, as I had hoped, most people were at home doing traditional Thanksgiving dinner so I had almost 60,000 acres to myself! The bird activity wasn’t spectacular but I found a flock of about 30 Mountain Bluebirds that gave me a memorable photography experience.

The bluebirds were active in a juniper and feeding on the blue seed/berries. They were so intent on feeding that I was able to get close enough for detail shots of their plummage. Almost all of the birds were females so I didn’t have the opportunity to get shots of the stunning blue of the males. But this was the closest — and best photos — I’ve gotten of Mountain Bluebirds.

These bluebirds are slightly larger than our resident Eastern Bluebirds and are seen only during winter in western Oklahoma when the food supply or weather in New Mexico and Colorado doesn’t meet their needs.

When work gets in the way


I’m delighted to be back with this updated version of my Backyard Bird Cam blog!  It’s been more than a year since my last post and I’ve been grateful that people continued to visit this site and on occasion leave a great message.

A lot of priorities were shifted in the fall of 2008 when the economy sank. My work as a web designer and developer became even more precious to me and I was blessed with many new clients but updating this blog and the Photo Gallery on the BirdCam site really took a back seat.

While I don’t want my business to slow down (!!), I do want to return to the fun I have with my bird photography so I’m making something of a pre-New Year’s Resolution (on Christmas Eve) to not let work get in the way of being active again on my site.

It Isn't Always What It Seems

I had a great lesson this spring in bird identification: don’t assume that you’ve correctly identified the bird you are observing, just because it looks like and acts like a familiar bird. Here’s what happened… A friend called me one Saturday morning and said she had an immature Barred Owl on the lawn in her very developed suburban Oklahoma City neighborhood. Well it’s possible, I thought, and of course I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see an owl… any owl… so I headed her way. When I got there, the owl was hiding in a 4″ pipe that served as a drain for her neighbor’s french drain system. (Top photo) Although several inches back from the opening, it was visible with binoculars, I could tell that the bird was smaller than an immature Barred Owl and had yellow eyes, which ruled out the Barred completely. So what owl might be seen in a residential neighborhood, sitting in a pipe, and have yellow eyes? It was one of those “looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck moments.” And so I proclaimed with great authority that this was an Eastern Screech-Owl and told her how fortunate she was to have one hanging around — perhaps it was an immature because, as my friend reported, it didn’t have great flying skills.

The little owl never came out of the drain while I was there so I made the ID based on a few characteristics. I made another trip to the neighborhood the next evening and this time the owl was sitting along the curb, in front of the drain pipe (second photo). I was excited to get better pictures and the little owl even stayed still while I drove within a few feet of it. I’d never seen a Screech-Owl sitting in the road but I really hadn’t seen too many of them at all so this qualified as a great Screech-Owl opportunity!

The bird disappeared the next day so I sent a photo to my friend (she’s a big fan of my photos, bless her!) and we had fun remembering the cute owl. It was only days later that I wondered why the owl had almost bare legs. Did immature Screech-Owls have only slight feathering on the legs? I didn’t have a clue that my assumption on the bird ID was wrong! I just kept “knowin’ what I knew.”

Because I like to list the photos in my Photo Gallery by age, gender and plumage when possible, I sent a photo to my very patient bird ID mentor, Jim Arterburn asking if I was correct in noticing that immature Screech-Owls have somewhat legs. Was I
surprised — and was he gracious — when he wrote back saying I was wrong — it was a Burrowing Owl, a rare sighting for Oklahoma City, especially in a
residential area, and that I needed to document it for the Oklahoma Bird Records Committee.

I’ve seen and photographed Burrowing Owls in prairie dog villages at theWichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. But I don’t think I’m going to be the birder who’s going to see something different — so I just didn’t allow myself to think outside of that too-often-clichéd box to think that I was seeing an unexpected bird. If I hadn’t contacted Jim, I’d still be happy with my screech-owl sighting but missed the opportunity to get hit between the eyes with the reality that in bird identification, IT ISN’T ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS.

PS. You’d think I’d learned my lesson? Not so– I just learned that a swan that showed up a few weeks ago at Lake Hefner isn’t a “run of the mill Mute Swan” even though I’ve photographed it several times and thought I’d confirmed it in Sibley’s (after all it was tame and that’s what tame swans at city lakes are). No! It’s a Trumpeter Swan… I have no idea what a tame Trumpeter is doing at our lake but there you have it, another lesson ’cause I’m still making assumptions based on what I expect the bird to be. Will I ever learn?!!

Testing new backyard bird camera

It’s been a busy spring and this po’ blog has sure taken a backseat to projects for my clients (yes, having to make $$) and spring migration, when more than 120 bird species pass through or arrive in Oklahoma. Busy, I have been! And I have two bird experiences I’d especially like to share in the next few days. But I’ve also been a bit busy with some new tech-toys / bargains that I’ve run across and that’s what today’s post is about. I bought a new camera for my bird photography… I’ve replaced my Panasonic FZ30 (8MP) with the FZ50 (10MP) and have taken 5,000 photos in 3 months! I splurged on a TomTom GPS system (found a refurb for under $100) and also a new camera to add to my Backyard BirdCam system! The newest camera (Camera #3) is a Trendnet TV-IP100W that’s wireless and I’m hoping will allow me to move it around the yard and showcase some of the birds that rarely get to appear on the main BirdCams. The goldfinch are gone for the summer but it would have been great to have a camera I could easily point at the thistle feeders. I look forward to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arriving at my feeders in August and plan to put this camera close to that action. At least that’s the plan! For now, I have the camera on the main birdbath in the backyard to see if it can catch some of the birds, like the robins and wrens that don’t use the feeders. I have a small bird-pond and a fountain, so the birdbath isn’t the only water feature in the yard but it is often a popular spot. In the upper right corner you’ll see the feeders that are on Camera #1 and when the wind is blowing and the skinny desert willow at the birdbath bends, you’ll see a small sunflower seed feeder that the Carolina Chickadees really enjoy.

I hope this camera will prove to be as durable as the Axis 2100 cameras that have been operational 24x7x365 for the past 6+ years. It was cheaper so I’m not sure if it’s just the decreasing price of technology that made it so affordable or if I paid less for less quality. Nothing like testing in the “field” to learn about equipment!

Let’s see if the birds will cooperate and enjoy being “on-cam”!

Lesser Goldfinch

Wouldn’t you just hate to be called “lesser”? It seems that most birds are named for famous people (Lewis’s Woodpecker, Meriwether Lewis or Clark’s Nutcracker, William Clark), for the bird’s behavior or location (Eastern Flycatcher) or for physical attributes (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher). Most birds have ended up with beautiful or useful names. But what happened to the Lesser Goldfinch? It’s been assigned a rather insulting name simply because of it’s size. They weren’t interested in being politically corrected when they handed out this bird’s name!

The Lesser Goldfinch is indeed small… it is the smallest of the North American goldfinches at 4.5″ compared with the slightly larger Lawrence’s (nice name) and the American Goldfinch (patriotic name!) at 5″.

I observed my first Lesser Goldfinches yesterday — a male and female — and found them to be beautiful and fascinating birds. The birds are usually found in the southwestern and interior western states but on rare occasions, Lessers have been found in two areas of Oklahoma: Comanche County is the southwest part of the state, and the panhandle. I was fortunate to join my birding friend Terri Underhill on a quick trip to our friends Kurt & Sharon Meisenzahl’s home in Lawton in hopes of seeing a pair that’s been hanging out at their backyard feeders. The birds didn’t disappoint even with 35+ mph winds! They arrived shortly after we did and I was able to get photos of both the male and female (male is pictured). I’m never really pleased with most of my photos and these are no exception but they are a beginning! We just need to get invited back and I can try for better pictures :-)

And, by the way, another bird that’s been stuck with a diminutive name is the Lesser Prairie-Chicken… a bird that is as sought after by birders because it’s become so rare as its cousin the Greater Prairie-Chicken. So let’s hear it for these marvelous “Lessers”!!

Ice Storm Woes

The ice storm that stayed over Oklahoma for several days finally took the Backyard BirdCams out of service! A downed power line in the neighborhood on Monday evening, mean that power had to be cut to my home and those surrounding me. Thanks to a very generous sister and brother-in-law who have not been affected by a power outtage, I am getting electrical power form a generator… just enough though to keep me warm and online for a few hours a day. I won’t be able to power the cameras themselves until full power is restored. The massive power failures are affecting 400,000 homes in Oklahoma so it may be up to 7 days before things return to normal. The birds are still here — but they don’t like the generator in their yard!

Here’s hoping to have live BirdCam images very soon!

Thanks for your patience!

Inca Dove joins range expansion

The phenomenal expansion of the Eurasian Collared-Dove across the southern US in the past decade, since its arrival from the Bahamas, has been fascinating to watch. In 2001, we had two at our backyard feeders and the sighting was noteworthy. Today, I easily count 60 collared-doves at the feeders at one time. (Visitors to my site have probably seen the doves crowd the feeders.)

Also in 2001, we had a rare visit from a White-winged Dove, another dove making moves to expand its range, although certainly not at the explosive rate of the collared-doves. That dove, a native of south Texas, has expanded into central and western Oklahoma over the past six years, becoming a year-round resident even through the winter months.

Well, there is a third dove species that is making the move northward from Texas into Oklahoma although it is not present in the numbers of the other “range-expanding”doves. It’s the small and elegant Inca Dove! (pictured here) Where these doves seem to be present for long periods of time, they appear in sizable groups. In Lawton, Oklahoma, birders report up to 12 Inca Doves at feeders; in Norman (just 30 miles south of Oklahoma City), the Inca has also been seen in large numbers. But they are still a rare sighting in Oklahoma City and most other areas.

I’ve had brief sightings — as in gone after 30 seconds — of Inca Doves in my yard in 2002 and 2004. But the appearance of one Inca this year during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was very rewarding because the bird stayed for three days. It seemed to fit in with the flock of collared-doves, although it was out-sized and out-numbered! This little bird is only 8.5″ while the collared-dove is 13″. The Inca is pale gray in color but has dark edging on its feathers which make it look a bit like a rock when it’s sitting still, don’t you think?