Thursday, June 20, 2013

Idaho Bird Surveys

Eric writes: Greetings from Grangeville, ID

For the past couple weeks I have been doing bird counts throughout Idaho.  The birds and scenery have been amazing and the change from the heat of Arizona to the cool north woods has been great.

Some of the bird/wildlife highlights have been:
Amazing looks at a Dusky Grouse.
Lots of Evening Grosbeaks.
A nesting Barred Owl.
A female Common Merganser with 8-9 babies
A quick look at a Spruce Grouse.
A Black Bear, 2 Moose, and Elk on the same day.
A pair of Long-eared Owls calling back and forth.

Just a few pictures from today . . .

The transect was on the other side of this river; it was a very cold start
to the morning.

Snow at the higher elevations was a surprise to me
as I ascended the mountains

Just another snow picture.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The West Baden Springs Hotel

Rob writes: Last week, Stephanie and I traveled to southern Indiana and the West Baden Springs Hotel so that I could lead a bird hike at a board retreat that the Indiana Hospital Association was holding. Now, you might be thinking that it sure doesn't sound like that organization has anything to do with birds, and you would be right – technically. One of the vice presidents of that organization, Brian Tabor, happens to be a birder, and he had talked about birding so much around the office that everyone agreed that it would be a fun activity to offer for the guests of the board members.

A view of the hotel from the sunken garden.
I had never birded in the area before, so we made sure to arrive early the evening before the hike so I could scout out a route to take and see what birds we might be able to find. The second I walked out the front doors of the hotel, I knew that the hike would be awesome! The grounds and the hotel are absolutely beautiful. The hotel was originally built in 1902 and at the time had the world's largest free-span dome (a record that actually held that distinction until the Houston Astrodome was built). It had fallen into disrepair until billionaire Bill Cook started a restoration project in 1999. He spent almost $100 million to restore the property, and it certainly shows! Plus, since the property has been mostly protected since 1902, the wildlife that occurs close to the hotel is amazing.

Some of the rooms look out over the open atrium. As cool as this would have been, I was glad to have a room looking over the pool and forest surrounding the property.
The very top of the dome. When lit up at night, it changes colors!
From the beautiful front veranda, there were hummingbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and nesting House Finches. After just a 30 second walk across the street to the sunken gardens, the birding picked up even more. Gray Catbirds are everywhere, and Brown Thrashers come out in the open on the lawn to feed. Cedar Waxwings feed on the many trees with berries, and you can hear both Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Wood-Pewee singing away. Within a five minute walk, there is a bridge with at least 50 Cliff Swallows nesting underneath it. There are always a number of Turkey Vultures overhead, and if you look closely it is easy to pick out a couple Black Vultures mixed in. But, the bird of the day was found by one of the participants that had hardly been birding outside of her backyard. She found a red bird and knew it wasn't a cardinal but didn't really know what else it could be. It turned out to be a Summer Tanager, and everyone in the group got great looks before it flew off!

Between my scouting and the hike, I birded for a total of about 3 hours and found 49 species! I know that there are nesting Worm-eating Warblers on the property, and if I had time to look around more I would guess that I would find both Hooded and Kentucky Warblers as well. Even with all of those great species, birders rarely visit the area. Now it may not be as good for birding as Goose Pond or the Indiana Dunes, but I can't think of a better spot to spend a few days in Indiana, especially if you have a spouse or significant other that is not a birder. Both West Baden Springs and the French Lick Springs Hotels are historic landmarks that you can spend a lot of time exploring, the properties offer access to 4 golf courses, there are wonderful spas at both properties, and there is a large casino attached to the French Lick property.

The re-opening of West Baden Springs has also had a huge effect on the town of French Lick. While talking with the owner of Micki's Deli and Sweet (you must stop in here is you are in the area - the food is awesome and the sweets are even better), we learned that the town likely would have faded away into a memory had the Cook family not restored the hotels. While it is still a slow process of attracting people back to the area, you can certainly see the growth in town. Buildings are being restored and many new stores and restaurants are opening up.

One of the many awards that the hotel has won since being restored. Wouldn't it be nice to have an award like this for conserving bird habitat and having a positive impact on communities through birding tourism?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #173 - Wandering Tattler

We had a lot of answers to our first bird quiz for June and almost everyone was able to figure out what the species was!

Last Week's Quiz:

How to Identify:

The bird in this photo is quickly identifiable as a shorebird species. The plain gray back, chest and wings, bright yellow legs, and slight white eyebrow, should help us identify this as a Wandering Tattler.

Next Quiz:

The next quiz has been posted. You can find it here,

Birding Magee Marsh in the Summer

Rob writes: A couple of weeks ago, I was in northwest Ohio for a Black Swamp Bird Observatory board meeting. When I got in on Saturday evening, I headed straight to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh to do a little birding and photography. I had never birded there in the summer and it was totally different than what you see in the spring. Yes, I knew most of the warblers would be gone but I did not realize how much vegetation would have grown up and how hard it would be to actually find birds. The nice thing is that there is almost no one around and that allowed me to work with each species that I did find to get good photos.

While many people overlook the many Yellow Warblers on the boardwalk during May, I spent a lot of my time watching and photographing this species during my walk. They were extremely cooperative and I got some of the best photos I have ever taken of this species. There were several Prothonotary Warblers around but none of them were cooperative but it was fun to watch them anyway. The most surprising find of the day was a very late Magnolia Warbler!

While it may not be the same as a May visit, I always have a great time on the boardwalk not matter what season it is!

The best photo of the very late Magnolia Warbler that I was able to get.
There are a bunch of Eastern Phoebes on the boardwalk in June!
Yellow Warblers are the most common warbler species on the boardwalk in June.
Another shot of one of the many Yellow Warblers on the boardwalk.
This Black-crowned Night-Heron was being chased around by a Red-winged Blackbird for several minutes.
As I was driving out of the parking lot, I noticed this Eastern Kingbird perched up on a post!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review of the Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope and TLS APO Digiscoping Adapter

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to test out the new Swarovski ATX Spotting Scope. Quite simply, the scope is an amazing piece of birding equipment. It was late in the afternoon by the time I got home from work and got the scope all set up on the day it arrived, so my first experience was looking at the feeders and the pond behind my house. What struck me the most was the amount of light that the scope collected in low light conditions when compared to my scope that I usually use (Vortex Razor HD). As you would expect from Swarovski, the picture is crystal clear and extremely sharp from the center of the image all the way to the edges.

Swarovski also sent me the TLS APO Digiscoping Adapter to test out. Again, I couldn't wait to try it, so I took some photos at my feeders. It takes some time to get the hang of, but overall it is extremely easy to use and I would consider it to be the best digiscoping adapter that I have ever worked with. The adapter has a metal bracket that easily snaps onto the scope's eyepiece as well as a metal plate that allows the adapter to attach to a DSLR camera. Once the camera is attached to the adapter, you slip the adapter onto the metal plate and you are ready to shoot. It is incredibly quick and easy to attach. As an added bonus, when your camera and adapter are not on the scope, the metal plate can remain on the scope and does not get in the way of normal use.

One of my first shots with the new setup. This Downy Woodpecker was happy to pose for me.
This female House Finch spent a lot of time at my feeders and was rather cooperative.
I was very anxious to get out birding with the scope and to practice with the digiscope setup but had to wait almost a week before I was able to go to Eagle Creek. Unfortunately, it ended up raining for almost the whole morning. Finally around 11am, the skies cleared and I was able to spend just a little time using the digiscoping setup. The birds were not overly cooperative but I did end up with a pretty good shot of a Ring-billed Gull.

This shot of a Ring-billed Gull is my favorite photo that I took with the digiscoping adapter.
Swarvski has introduced a completely new design that has so many advantages over the traditional scope design. This is the world's first modular scope. You can chose between two eyepieces, angled (ATX) or straight (STX), as well as three objective lenses - 65mm, 85mm, and 95mm. This allows you to have one eyepiece and multiple objective lenses that will offer different weights and zooms. The 65mm lens offers 25x-60x zoom while the 95mm lens offers 30x-70x zoom. The scope comes apart in the middle very easily, like changing lenses on a camera. Since the scope comes apart, it is much easier to travel with then any other scope I have seen. You can learn more about the technical aspects and many other things by visiting the Swarovski Optik website.

During the time that I had the scope, I took it on two Big Days as well as to the Biggest Week in American Birding. I showed the scope to many of the participants that were on my field trips, and the response from everyone was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone agreed that it was among the best scopes that they had ever looked through!

The parts that I tested:
ATX Spotting Scope Modular Zoom Eyepiece (Angled)
ATX/STX 85mm Modular Objective Lens
TLS APO Digiscoping Adapter

ATX with 85mm Objective Lens
TLS APO Digiscoping Adapter

The scope was provided on loan from Swarovski Optik for the purposes of this review. All links are to our Amazon Affiliate Account.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Birding the Great Salt Lake

Eric writes:

Greetings from Post Falls, ID

After finishing up my work in Arizona, I started driving north to Boise.  I had enough time to spend one morning birding, so I chose the Great Salt Lake.  My first stop was Antelope Island State Park.  I had heard great things about this spot and I wasn't disappointed.  The causeway to the island is spectacular for birding and I was there at a slow time of year.  It produces many great rarities in the fall and winter.  My target bird for the area was Chukar since I had never seen one.  It was fairly easy, within 15 minutes I had great looks at one sitting out in the open on a rock.

Chukar-an species introduced to the United States

Loggerhead Shrike-the backdrop is the lake
After birding for a few hours I headed a little ways north to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.  It was spectacular!  There were more Clark's Grebes within a 5 mile stretch than I had seen in my entire life.  Western Grebes were courting, Forster's Terns were fishing, White-faced Ibis lined the roadside, and many Franklin's Gulls were swirling about above the marsh.  I can only imagine what this place would be like during peak waterfowl migration.

A Clark's Grebes-you are able to get very close to these grebes!
A Western Grebe-very similar to Clark's but notice the bill color, black
over the eye, and dark sides.

Western Grebes during their courtship rituals.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #172 - Blackburnian Warbler

We offered one bird quiz during the month of May and got a ton of submissions and almost everyone got the answer correct! Out of the 23 correct answers, Jeremy Davis from Mukilteo, WA was selected randomly as the winner of a t-shirt.

Previous Quiz:

How to Identify:

At first, it my seem that there is not much to identify this bird by. As we look closer, we notice that there are actaully several good field marks that are visable. Some of the visable marks include a large white patch on the wind, dark streaking on the side, and bright orange on the chest. The combination of these features should lead you to identify this as a Blackburnian Warbler.

Next Quiz:

We will be posting two quizzes during June. A winner will be selected from those that get the answers to both quizzes correct. The first quiz is posted at

Book Review: Backyard Birds: Looking Through the Glass

In this book, Glen Apseloff, a newer birder but experienced photographer, sets out to photograph as many birds as he can through the windows of his home and to write about his experience in Backyard Birds: Looking Through the Glass. Like many new birders, Glen at first finds it hard to believe that he can find very many species in his own backyard, but his results end up being fantastic!

By putting up feeders, Glen was able to attract a great variety of birds close to his house allowing him to get some amazing photographs. What started off as a project to create a calendar turned into a book when he found so many birds in his backyard that he could not fit them into just a 12 month calendar.

I would recommend this book for anyone that has doubts about the ability to find the natural world in their own backyards.  It's a great account of what can be seen by simply opening your eyes to the world right outside your window.

Title: Backyard Birds: Looking Through the Glass
Author: Glen Apseloff
Publisher: Ohio Distinctive Publishing
Publication Date: 2013

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bird Banding at Lucky Peak with Idaho Bird Observatory

Eric writes: Greetings from Boise, ID

After completing my last survey at Tuzigoot National Monument in the Verde Valley of Arizona, I packed up, and started driving north.  I birded for about half a day on the way north, around the Great Salt Lake (a post about that birding will be coming later) and found some great birds.  However, my destination was Lucky Peak just outside of Boise, ID.  

Here are a few photos from Lucky Peak:

A view of Boise from Lucky Peak
A second year male and an after second year male
Lazuli Bunting

A beautiful, male, Black-headed Grosbeak

Hammond's Flycatcher-notice the short bill, long
primary projection, and the appearance of a short