Yellowstone National Park is a magical place. Back in the summer of 2006, Yellowstone was my introduction to the west. Just before my senior year of college, some friends and I packed our bags for a road trip to the nation’s first national park. This was the first time I had been further west than Tennessee, and what an introduction it was! Since then, Yellowstone has held a special place in my heart and I always wish I could visit more often.
This past weekend was my third trip to the park, this time with a lucky group of 5/6th graders from Boise who were awarded a grant to spend the weekend in the Lamar Valley. We had a great 4-days and while on a hike Sunday we flushed up a Dusky Grouse along a Douglas Fir/Sagebrush forest edge. While pointing out the bird to the kiddos I grabbed a few photos as the female Dusky tried to stay completely still in the middle branches of the Doug Fir. She was hoping I didn’t see her…
Female Dusky Grouse, Yellowstone National Park. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Did you know that a group of Turkey Vultures is called a “venue” and that Turkey Vultures circling in the air are known as a “kettle”? A group of birds can have many different names, with my personal favorites being a “charm” of Hummingbirds and a “murder” of Crows. This venue of Turkey Vultures was circling at sunset in the Owyhee Mountains last week.
When I spent two years working with California Condors, I witnessed condors soaring in the evenings many times. There seemed to be no other reason for them to be flying than for the sheer joy and social-ness of the occasion. They would have already fed and eaten food that day, and could have easily not flown and just picked a roosting spot. But they always flew in great numbers right before it got dark, providing often brilliant scenes of 30-40 condors flying against the sunset sky. These Turkey Vultures seemed to be doing the same thing, flying around the same area for almost an hour when they could have easily bedded down for the night. Perhaps this is where some of their dominance hierarchy is established. They eventually flew until it was nearly too dark to see, and then disappeared over the horizon to a find roosting place for the night.
Turkey Vultures at sunset. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Summertime is starting to creep into the remote Owyhee Mountains of southwest Idaho. At sunset, one might see a “venue” of Turkey Vultures soaring on the last air currents of the day before settling down to roost for the night. Mornings are still relatively bereft of birdsong, but if one listens closely enough, they might be able to pick out the song of an early Black-throated Gray Warbler or Vesper Sparrow. More difficult still is the quiet, unassuming song of the Mountain Bluebird, which sings vigorously well before sunrise, but only for a short period. Once daybreak comes though, the spectacular sight that is the male Mountain Bluebird shines through above all else. These birds are truly spectacular, and I for one don’t think Idaho could have chosen a better state bird!
Male Mountain Bluebird. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
The North American Bluebird Society could not have chosen a better ambassador to represent the struggles of all secondary-cavity nesting birds. Fellow Bluebird Manproducer Matthew Podolsky and myself spent last Wednesday night and Thursday filming in the Owyhee Mountains for the movie which we hope can inspire future generations of cavity-nesting-conservationists. We hope you don’t tire of seeing pictures of these sky-blue birds of the west. We know the subject of our film, Al Larson, hasn’t tired of it as he is entering his 36th year of bluebird nestbox monitoring!
This weeks post is a double-whammy! Not only is today Wednesday, when I post my weekly bird photograph, but it is also the first of May when I post the monthly highlight reel from April. We’ll start with this weeks photograph:
While in British Columbia filming Western Bluebirds for Bluebird Man we had the opportunity to see many other secondary cavity nesting birds. Secondary cavity nesting birds are birds that require another animal or bird to create a cavity for them to nest in; they cannot build their own nests. Most secondary cavity nesters use old woodpecker holes to nest in, but by providing bluebird boxes to these birds, we can increase the amount of nesting habitat available to them. Many other species will use and nest in bluebird boxes including Chickadees, Nuthatches, Swallows, Flycatchers, and Wrens. Of the swallows, we saw both Tree and Violet-Green Swallows in British Columbia. We wanted to capture both these species on film as representatives of other non-bluebird cavity nesters, and also get some photos as well. This female Tree Swallow was particular cooperative.
Female Tree Swallow. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
British Columbia was our best chance to see and film Western Bluebirds on a consistent basis, and we captured a lot of great footage of birds setting up their nest boxes and territories. This months highlight reel features some of the footage we captured of Western Bluebirds during our time up north. We wanted to capture both the males and female around nest boxes preparing for the mating season. As we’ve mentioned before, we also had the privilege of assisting PhD student Catherine Dale in trapping two male Western Bluebirds. Enjoy this preview of some of our bluebird footage from BC.
I figured since we are in British Columbia shooting for our new film Bluebird Man, that this weeks photo should reflect our experiences. We spent most of the last two days with North American Bluebird Society president Sherry Linn, who has a small bluebird trail on her property. While we were mostly filming, I still wanted to capture a few photos for this weeks blog post. Here is a beautiful male Western Bluebird nesting on Sherry’s property.
Week 16 photo: Male Western Bluebird. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Obtaining the NABS perspective on bluebird conservation was very important to us, and Sherry is truly a great ambassador for the organization. We were able to follow Sherry around on her bluebird trail near the Okanagan Valley of south-central British Columbia on Monday. Tuesday morning was also spent on Sherry’s property following around her bluebirds. We got great footage of male and female Western Bluebirds going in-and-out of nest boxes with nesting material, and Sherry even had one pair of bluebirds already incubating 6 eggs!
North American Bluebird Society president Sherry Linn. photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Wednesday we will take a break from bluebirds (only briefly!) to spend the day with Lauren Meads filming Burrowing Owls. Lauren works for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of British Columbia, whose mission is to re-establish a self-sustaining population of Burrowing Owls to BC. We will be getting a tour of the captive breeding facility, as well as visiting one of the release sites for these endangered grassland owls. We’ll have a full wrap up of our time in BC once we return state-side on Friday. Until then enjoy a few more photos from the last few days of production.
Sunset over the town of Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Two of Sherry’s bluebird boxes. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Spotted Towhee. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s” Warbler. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
I stopped by Ann Morrison Park in Boise last week to practice getting some in flight shots of gulls. There were more than a few people feeding the gulls, ducks, and geese at the park, which always makes me cringe. While feeding animals and birds allows you to get close to them, it also makes those animals reliant on humans for food. If they become totally reliant on people for food, and then we stop feeding them, they may end up starving and dying. So while we think we’re providing the animals a service, it can actually harm them in the long-term to be fed by people. It also decreases the animals’ fear of people, which is never a good thing. All animal and bird species should retain a healthy level of human fear. One species that did not seem to be taking the bait were several American Widgeons floating around in the water. While the Mallards readily took food directly out of peoples hands, the Widgeons maintained a healthy distance from people. Why this difference between species? Another question for my fellow birders and biologists: It sure looks like this female American Widgeon is calling doesn’t it? Actually, she wasn’t making any noise at all, she just kept opening and closing her mouth. Any thoughts from other birds folks about why she might have been doing that?
Female American Widgeon. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
While it may be safe to say that we all find Canada Geese annoyingly abundant at times, under the right circumstances they can still be quite beautiful. This was the case earlier this week when I ventured out to Katherine Albertson’s Park along the Boise River. The number of Canada Geese inhabiting this tiny slice of land was astounding. Virtually everywhere you looked a Canada Goose (or several) could be seen. In attempting to walk closer to the shores of a few small ponds to catch glimpses of Wood Ducks and Northern Shovelers, I almost stepped on Canada Geese laying down in the grass. This happened several times!! Even when I was looking for them, a few surprised me with their presence. Geese can be quite aggressive birds, and more than once an individual agitated by my presence hissed in my direction, warning me. Most were seemingly unaware of my existence however, as they are quite used to the presence of people. This particular photo appealed to me as I liked the nice greenbackground, accompanied by another goose laying in the shrubs. As always, thanks for keeping up with the photo blog, and I look forward to seeing what next week brings!
This past weekend I found myself camping in the City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho. This is a very popular area for rock climbers, and while I managed to get in a little bit of climbing, I was even more excited to be back in the Pinyon-Juniper country of the Great Basin. This ecosystem of the intermountain west holds a special place for me as I spent the better part of two years working along the southern edge of the Great Basin in northern Arizona, and also spent the 2011 summer working in the heart of Nevada conducting songbird surveys. While the diversity of birds in the Great Basin is nothing spectacular (compared to say, a tropical rainforest!), the species that inhabit this ecosystem are quite unique, and some are not found anywhere else in North America. While it was still quite a bit early to see many of the breeding songbird species that winter further south, I did manage to see Spotted Towhees, Western Scrub Jays, Turkey Vultures, Mountain Bluebirds, Clark’s Nutcrackers, and one Sage Thrasher (although I only heard it singing). I also spotted a beautiful dark western Red-tailed Hawk on the drive in as it flew away from a roadside perch. I’m looking forward to getting out to the Great Basin again later this spring and summer to see specialists such as the Brewer’s and Sage Sparrow, and Greater Sage Grouse, among many other uniquely adapted birds.
Dark Western Red-tailed Hawk. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Spring is rapidly approaching which means all kinds of migratory birds are beginning to make their way back to their northern breeding grounds. No where is this more apparent than along the migratory route of the snow goose. These birds breed in the high arctic, but congregate in huge flocks to make the 3,000 mile trek back north from their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast. I was fortunate enough to witness this spectacle at the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area along the Oregon-Idaho border. This confluence of the Snake, Owyhee, and Boise Rivers provides the ideal habitat needed for Snow Geese to stop-over and re-fuel their fat stores. Literally thousands upon thousands of geese streamed over our heads, forming into a huge flock that would eventually touch down in a grassy field. The noise of the flock began as a low murmur in the distance, slowly growing to a deafening roar as they passed overhead. Take a watch and listen…
I am happy to announce this is the first weekly photo post since I successfully defended my Master’s thesis in the Raptor Biology department at Boise State University! Since my degree is in raptor biology, it seemed fitting that this weeks photo must be of a raptor (not that I need anymore incentive to take raptor photos). Raptors of all kinds are setting up breeding territories and beginning to lay eggs across North America, and the Cooper’s Hawks of Boise Idaho are no different. Along the riparian area of Hull’s Gulch next to the Foothills Learning Center lies a well established Cooper’s Hawk breeding territory. The male can be seen and heard daily giving his territorial call, and I have started to notice the female hanging around more in the last week. Last week, after taking some 1st through 4th graders on a “Habitat: It’s For the Birds!” hike in the foothills, I noticed one of the adults perched in one of the conifers right next to the learning center building. The bird did not seem to be bothered much by my brief presence, except for the occasional menacing glance in my direction…