Friday, June 29, 2012

It's fall already

I had my first sniff of fall migration in the place of 2 Willets at Tiscornia and a 3rd that Tim spotted at Silver.  All of the birds were adults, presumably failed or non-breeders this year.  This is the Silver bird, flying out to join the other two over the lake:

Since actually it's still obviously summer (and the Allied invasion of Tiscornia preparations closed the beach) I pretty quickly shifted to ode mode.

This is a female Eastern Forktail damselfly which has captured a teneral (freshly emerged) damselfly of some sort.  It slowly chewed its victim's head off leaving it dangling before starting in on the thorax.  I guess acetone isn't really such a bad way to go in comparison...
Here's the male; in a lot of odes the female is bulkier to make egg formation less taxing.

Saddlebags dragonflies are fairly common right now, the overwhelming majority are Black, a few are (lower-case) red (both the more expected Carolina as well as Red Saddlebags are red). 
I'm fairly sure this is Carolina Saddlebags based on the purple frons (nose) and the shape of the pale notch in the colored part of the wing, but the photos of this rapidly flying creature aren't sharp enough to say for sure what's going on with the distribution of black on the tip of the abdomen.

The saddlebags are large, aggressive, and relentless in their patrols of their strip or patch of water.  I've never seen one land.  They frequently interact with other species (especially the larger ones) to chase them off.  I actually caught a Black Saddlebags by accident a week or so ago when I was late in my swing at the Slaty Skimmer it was chasing.  Of course since it was the first Black Saddlebags I'd seen and I hadn't seen a Widow Skimmer that day (a sooner emerging one also with black patches in the wings, though admittedly with a way different distribution of color) I let it go thinking it was a Widow Skimmer, which wasn't needed for Berrien.  Oops.  At least they're common (though hard to catch) and I re-bagged one this morning.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Odes of orange

A couple of orange dragonflies have made decent photo opportunities lately.  These are mating Halloween Pennants in nice early morning light.

I'm not sure what these next ones are.  I'm sure they're meadowhawks, but I'm not sure what one.  Ruby, White-faced, and Cherry-faced can all apparently be very similar.  This is a female I spotted recently at Riverview Park (with a hint of a white face?):
As I was taking its picture Hazel spotted a second one and netted it with her first pass, it's a little paler than the first one:
White-faced is supposed to have black legs, this female's hind legs certainly aren't black at the base of the "thighs," but perhaps that's also due to immaturity.

I went back today and netted a male. I was hoping by today they'd be redder and closer to adult appearance; no such luck.
Each of these three individuals has a bit of orange at the base of the wings.  Per Paulson, Cherry-faced has this the farther west you go, as does Ruby in similar ranges.  White-faced "may" have this, but he doesn't mention any specific locale.
Finally a montage of pics of their small parts; I didn't have a ton of luck matching the photo to the diagrams in the book.
I'm not sure if the fact that they're not red means that they're still working on their genitalia as well, or if they're ID-able in this stage to more experienced eyes.  To me the male looks closest to Cherry-faced and the female to Ruby.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A new world ... Odes

I was really surprised by this book.
Honestly, I didn't really want it, Tim wanted it so I said I'd review it for the free copy and give it to him.  We-ell, I liked it enough I had to buy one for myself.  I had no idea Dragonflies (and their smaller cousins the Damselflies) were more colorful than butterflies.  I've been converted, especially during the lazy summer when the odds of encountering interesting birds amongst the local breeders is a lot less.  Realize though, that even with a good book, you can't identify everything in the field.  A lot just move too fast to get a good look at, or require careful examination of the clasping organs to identify with certainty.  As with bird, immatures and females can also be frequently more confusing than adult males.

When Odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) mate, the male uses claspers at the end of the abdomen to latch onto the female by grabbing the back of the head, the female then arches her abdomen forward to bring the genitalia into contact (these Pondhawks are from yesterday):
The interface between male end of the abdomen and female back of the head is somewhat of a species unique lock-and-key so there're some species that you have to use a magnifying glass to evaluate adequately, which takes experience.  I've gotten a lot better in just a few months getting a sense of where generally in the book I'm looking for a specific bug (which I think is my biggest critique of the book, I wish there was a beginning section that explained what makes, for example, something a dasher vs a sprite vs a forktail - they're all just blue damselflies to me); I'm frequently reduced to leafing through page by page), and it will take more experience to get a better comparative sense of the claspers as the differences often are nuanced and minute.  That being said, most species do not require a magnifying glass; a photograph (or good look) will usually be enough.  (Though not for the powers-that-be, first ode records for any geographic area require a specimen due to integradation and hybridization.  And unless you live in Washtenaw or Wayne, you'll find a lot of species that have never been vouchered by specimen.  Here in Berrien only about a third of what should occur here has been vouchered).

But to prove my point about the colors, here's photos I've shot of Odes this spring (and summer)...

Red (Variegated Meadowhawk in mid-April):

Orange (Halloween Pennant yesterday):

Yellow - (Midland Clubtail in a jar destined to be a specimen):

Green - (Swamp (or less likely Elegant) Spreadwing damselfly):

Blue (Blue Dasher):

Indigo (Spatterdock Darner):

Violet (Slaty Skimmer - ok kind of a stretch, you'll just have to wait until I get a Variable Damselfly)

Basically, I'm now taking a net with me whenever I go birding (that ratio of only about a third vouchered holds for the above group for sure, I've collected one of most of them though the meadowhawk and spreadwing eluded me.  Only the dasher and the clubtail have been captured in Berrien before and clubtails are really hard so I kept it too.)  Right now at least, I'm actually targeting Odes more than birds!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"A bird surprise."

The kids were very happy when I got home from work today so they could give me the Father's Day present they created:
Hazel (now 6) said it was my Bird surprise.  Hannah will turn 5 next month.

Here's a close-up.  Hazel said it's a Robin with a beard:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Yosemite sampling

Ginger and I took the occasion of our 10th anniversary to visit Yosemite, a place neither of us has ever been.  It was certainly a very scenic place and never having been to that section of the country certainly did provide some new birds.

I think this is the first time in my adult life I've come across a Dipper.
This was a peculiar bird I've never had a chance to study.  Honestly in behaviour, flight style, and call it most reminded me of a Spotted Sandpiper.
The bird has quite short wings, probably due to its underwater walking (note the long toes and nails as well).  Most of the pics (though not these ones) show the scapulars and breast feathers virtually covering the wings, likely to keep them dryer, though that's my speculation.
The long flat (almost beaver-like) tail probably also helps it maneuver underwater.

I had a hard time finding birds low enough to get decent shots of.  Stellar's Jays and Oregon Juncos in the picnic areas were probably the most notable exceptions.

The juncos seemed to be what Sibley terms a pale-bodied type; the head certainly contrasted strongly with the rest of the body.

White-headed Woodpecker had somewhat of the inverse look going on, this was a new bird for me, and I think the only lifer I was able to photograph...

One of the reasons for that is that the trees were kind of big.  My life Hermit Warbler was in the midstory level which normally would be in reasonable range.  Like in a normal pine stand.  The Hermit Warbler wasn't in a pine stand, it was in the Giant Sequoia grove.  Giant Sequoias, you may be aware, are freaking huge, only the largest tree on the planet.  The 300mm lens isn't really ideal for capturing that sense though.
As long as I'm doing the picturesque thing, here's 3 of the 5 waterfalls visible from the Captain's Overlook.

From the great to the small, in closing a Belding's Ground Squirrel, of which I guess all I have to say is well, because it can.
Thanks to Tim for loaning me a camera, mine chose an opportune time to go kaput a few days before leaving.  It would have been a shame not to be able to freeze in time moments like that last one.