Thursday, September 28, 2006

500 miles. 1 bird.

Yesterday I made a trip down to Cañon City to see the Common Black-Hawk that's been reported frequently over the past few weeks. I've only seen one of this species before, in Costa Rica about 4 years ago, so I was eager to see another and to see it here in North America. The bird has been hanging out along the Arkansas River near the Mackenzie Avenue bridge (SeEtta Moss at SEColoradoBirding blog describes the situation in detail here). There'd also been Black Phoebes seen in the area too, and those weren't yet on my Colorado State Life list.

And if that weren't enough, there had also been a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reported about 30 miles east of Pueblo, at the Otero/Pueblo county line. I had visions of having another terrific Colorado birding day like the one I had several months ago, so I set out at 4:50am to make it happen. One wrinkle though - I had to pick up my brother-in-law from the Denver Airport around 2pm, so I had to be efficient and see the birds in a timely manner if I was to get them all in, especially considering the driving involved. In other words, I needed to go 120 miles to Colorado Springs, go another 40 miles to either Cañon City or Pueblo first, and get to both the Pueblo County line (far eastern Pueblo county) AND to Cañon City (in Fremont County, 50-60 miles west of there. Either way was going to be tons of driving.

I made a decision to look for the STFL first. It took 3 hours total driving to get there, and I realized that I really only had about 20-30 minutes to look for the bird before I had to leave, if I wanted to get to the Black-Hawk spot by 10am or so. It was a calculated risk, but having had success finding a STFL last May in Arizona in a short time (hey, I haven't talked about that trip yet, have I? That's a story in itself), and knowing that the bird was seen in a very limited area, and that it should be easy to spot if it's anywhere nearby, I thought it would be worth it. Well, in the end it wasn't, because the bird was nowhere to be found. By 8:40am I was back on the road steaming toward Cañon City, hoping to get there before 10.

I made it, but it was feeling late in the morning, like I'd missed the bird already. Apparently many have seen the bird around that time, so realistically it was as good a time to be looking as any. But there weren't any other birders around, so I couldn't help but think that the Black-Hawk train had left the station. In 2+ hours I did actually see the Black Phoebe, which is a great bird for Colorado of course, and even a Western Tanager flew by. But no Black-Hawk showed up, and in general the area was very quiet, except of course for the lumbering cement trucks crossing the bridge every couple minutes. By 12:20, I had to leave, and drive 100 miles or so to the airport, and from there, another 55+ miles back to Fort Collins.

So when all was said and done, I'd bagged one new state bird, and dipped on two others. Nearly 500 miles of driving, and $30+ dollars in gas. That's pretty nuts, isn't it? Especially since I'm already thinking of trying again next week!

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Friday, September 22, 2006

List tweaks

I just returned from a brief non-birding trip to Kansas, during which I curiously managed to do a fair amount of birding. Funny that. Anyway, I managed to see my first-ever Nashville Warbler, which was life bird #799. On the day I returned, neighbor Nick called and we went in the afternoon down to nearby Union Reservoir to look for recently reported Arctic and Least Terns. We didn't find them, but we did find a few Common Terns, and that too was a lifer me, #800.

And so, while updating my lists, I decided to do a little organizing of my taxonomic life list, where I break down my life sightings by family. I thought it might help if I ordered them as they are listed in the AOU list, where possible. (I realize that the truly kosher thing to do here is to list them in accordance with, say, Sibley-Monroe or some other world checklist, but I don't have such lists handy. All in due time, I'm sure.)

I came to realize that some taxonomic changes have occurred, and these have a bearing on my list. Not only that, I discovered that I had omitted a very commonly seen bird from my life totals - the Western Gull! That's right, perhaps one of the first birds I ever learned to identify never made it into my life totals until this week. Well, that immediately pushed me up to #801.

The Scarlet-rumped Tanager, a bird of the neotropics, was also split not long ago into Passerini's Tanager and Cherrie's Tanager. These new species generally occupy the eastern and western coastal areas in Costa Rica and Panama, and although my current lists record sightings for the bird in and around the Caribbean Slope, I do have very distinct recollections of the bird around Corcovado down along the southwest coast. So there's #802 - 2 new life birds, and I didn't even have to leave my couch!

But alas, not all was good news. While sequencing hummingbirds, I realized that I had mistakenly counted Magnificent Hummingbird twice - once in Costa Rica in 2002, and again this year when I saw it up close down at Beatty's Guest Ranch near Sierra Vista, Arizona. Ooops. Back to #801.

I'm mostly done with the list review, but a few other changes have been made, mostly in the arena of species' renaming, based on new splits. For example:
  • Little Hermit -> Stripe-throated Hermit
  • Crowned Woodnymph -> Violet-crowned Woodnymph
  • Gray-fronted Dove -> Gray-headed Dove
  • Pacific Dove -> West Peruvian Dove
Unlike the aforementioned Tanager case, here I've only seen one of the "new" species that was previously considered a subspecies, so no automatic list bumps.*

Also, the family of Dendrocolaptidae, or Woodcreepers, has been subsumed under Furnariidae, the Ovenbirds. Recent genetic evidence confirms their close association, and the decision has been made to put them all in one family, as opposed to keeping them as subfamilies under one family name. I've also moved a couple European members of Turdidae (Thrushes) to Muscicapidae, in accordance with recent decisions regarding the breakup of the family of Old World Warblers. Namely, these two species were moved from Turdidae to Muscicapidae:
  • Black Redstart
  • European Robin
I may find other changes to make soon as well. I also might have to make notes in my guidebooks too, especially regarding the Neotropic name changes. Guides like Skutch and Stile Costa Rica book still haven't been updated since 1989, and probably won't be for a long time.

* Some of these updates were tricky to make - I was able to find out about the Gray-fronted Dove change from AOU Supplement 46 to their 7th Edition, but the other ones involved consulting the latest info on their South American checklist Committee site, which annotates many of their species lists and name changes. Very informative, albeit time consuming.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

"huffy underpants"

My dad in Florida frequently likes to send me newspaper clippings about birds from his small town (Avon Park area). There's a regular segment in the paper called "Wild Bird Sketches", and it's written by a couple bird enthusiasts, the Kowalskis. Recently they had an article about the Northern Flicker, which featured this amusing description of the bird:
This woodpecker is about 12 inches in length, has a brownish-olive back, barred with black and a large white spot near the tail. The huffy underpants are thickly spotted with black and there is a black crescent on the breast. ...

Huffy underpants? Sounds like a great epithet for someone who gets riled up about things a little too easily! Come to think of it, flickers do sound a little crabby sometimes.

Obviously they meant to write "buffy underparts". I can imagine how this malapropism made its way into the article though, maybe if one of the Kowalskis was reading the description out of a book but didn't have his/her glasses on!

Anyway, I thought it was funny. An endearing mistake, to be sure.

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