Friday, November 27, 2009

Wood Duck

I had the BEST birthday! Bill and I went down to Pueblo and found a pond with the most beautiful ducks I have ever seen - Wood Ducks.

I took hundreds of pictures and it was difficult picking just a few to publish. Enjoy!

This is the female Wood Duck - also a beautiful bird.

Just look at those colors! We were there late in the day as the sun was going down.

The reflections on the water are almost as pretty as the duck.

Great ducks - great day! Life is good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Birds, Ducks and a Muskrat!

The other day I heard someone knocking - but there was no one at the door. Bill told me to check the roof. I was hoping to find Santa, but instead I found this Northern Flicker pecking on our wood shingles.

I discouraged that behavior - but not before I took a picture ...or two ...or three.

I'm not sure why we still have a Robin in the yard - I thought they migrated. Isn't he wonderful?

This is Quail Lake, part of a small, 113 acre park in Colorado Springs. There is a mile long walking trail around the lake, a boat launch for non-motorized boats, a children's playground and family picnic area and two viewing platforms. Apparently, the fishing is good as we saw several fisher-people - but we were there hoping to see a variety of ducks.

We saw the usual variety of Canadian Geese, Mallards and a few Goldeneye before spotting something new; this is an American Wigeon drake. The black-tipped bill and iridescent bright green eye patch is the key to identification.

This, I believe, is either an immature drake (male) Wigeon or a male with "eclipse plumage." I had to look that term up and learned that after breeding season in the late summer and fall most male ducks molt (lose their feathers) and change from the bright and colorful breeding plumage into a drab, female-like “eclipse plumage.” This one has the eye patch - but it was dull grey. Boy do all these variations make identification tough!

And this one is the female American Wigeon - no eye patch. This family must be just passing by on their way south as, according to my books, they do not stay in this part of the country.

The House Finch is a very common bird around here - but I liked this picture with the pine cones.

House Sparrows are also very common - but this female was posing so nicely that I couldn't resist taking her picture.

These are, of course, the very easy-to-identify male Mallards. Look at their tails and the way the hind feathers curl up.

Bill tells me these are the "trophy feathers" - and duck hunters like to show them off by putting them in their hat bands. They are also used to make fishing flies.

What are Sea Gulls doing swimming on a Colorado Lake?

I named the white duck Baby Huey. He is actually a Pekin Duck, and I learned that he is a domesticated breed used primarily for egg and meat production. It was bred from the Mallard in China and brought to the United States in the late 1800's. Due to its friendly nature, many people keep them as pets. It is widely believed that Donald Duck is modeled after a Pekin duck and the mascot of the insurance company Aflac is a Pekin duck. Baby Huey was probably some one's pet that was released in the park.

Baby Huey is trying to fit in with his distant cousins.

After leaving Quail Lake we headed back to Fountain Creek Regional Park. We were greeted by a group of Pied-billed Grebes diving for food.

The male Hooded Merganser is spectacular! I took so many pictures of the Mergansers, I exhausted the battery in my camera and filled my 4 GB disk.

We don't usually see a Great Blue Heron in a tree!

He looks much more at home wading in the shallow water looking for supper.

More Goldeneye Ducks.

And this was a surprise: a Muskrat! I don't think I've ever seen one before. He looked like a big rat with webbed feet.

Bill and I have been cooking today - making side dishes to take to Thanksgiving dinner at his daughter's. The house smells delicious. I made two pumpkin pies, some cranberry relish and a sweet potato casserole. Bill is making the ham and scalloped corn casserole. His son-in-law, Tim is making the turkey with dressing - and we can't wait!

I wish you all a Thanksgiving filled with family, good food and wonderful blessings.

Beautiful Jays

I've always loved Blue Jays - but the Jays here in Colorado are even more spectacular then those I remember in Pennsylvania - where I lived for my first 50 years.

This pair of jays look much lighter than other jays I've seen - especially the one in the front. Normally, Blue Jays have much more blue on their necks - above the "necklace" and light grey on their chests.

Maybe he's a juvenile who doesn't have his coloring yet - but one of my books pictures two color variations - and I think this is the lighter of the two.

This jay is slightly darker on his back, but still lacks the blue chin - and look how white his belly is.

This isn't a Blue Jay - he's a Western Scrub Jay who seems to have made a friend in my garden.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bird-hive of Activity

Before we left Florida, Bill crashed his T-28 RC plane when his radio malfunctioned. He looked so sad and forlorn when he came home holding the pieces that I didn't have the heart to say - "Hold on for just a second while I get pictures." He had to send his radio back to the factory for repairs so has not been able to fly here in Colorado - and I have not been able to get him out of my hair long enough to blog. Today he is off for the whole morning - so I am playing catch up!

Our backyard has been a bird-hive of activity - under the watchful, ever-present eye of Mr. Squirrel. We've seen several color variations of Black-eyed Junco, Blue Jay, Scrub Jay, House Sparrow, Robin, House Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-billed Magpie, European Starling, American Crow, Black-capped and Mountain Chickadee, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, American Tree Sparrow, and, I'm sure, other birds that we haven't identified. They like the berries in the bushes, the feeders and the seed that drops on the ground (unless, of course, Mr. Squirrel is having his supper).

The Western Scrub Jays are noisy, but beautiful birds.

On one of our walks in Palmer Park, I could not resist taking yet another picture of beautiful Pikes Peak. We did not see too many birds, and could not walk on my favorite trail because of the snow and mud - but had a nice (but cold) outing anyway.

Another Scrub Jay keeping a watchful eye on the surrounding open spaces in the park. We saw lots of other walkers - and lots of dogs - out in the sun and cold air. One large dog in particular took one look at me and came running and barking. I, of course, froze in terror. The owner couldn't imagine what happened - her dog NEVER acted that way. Once she got hold of him, I explained that I was afraid of dogs and they instinctively sense my fear. His reaction is common around me - unfortunately.

Back at the house, the Starlings were waiting for the perfect opportunity to raid the bird feeders. They may be nasty, piggy-eaters - but look at how their feathers shine in the sun!

This guy was enjoying the blue berries on the tree - but looked up long enough for me to get this picture.

The Downy Woodpeckers are here year-round - unlike Bill and I who are looking forward to our migration back to sunny Florida next week.

Duck, Duck, Duck, GEESE!

It's too cold. We've had snow flurries and frigid winds making it even more miserable - but we've still kept busy spending time with family and friends and managed to get in some great bird watching and duck hunting adventures along the way. We visited Kettle Lakes at the Air Force Academy, Fountain Creek Regional Park just south of Colorado Springs and Denver's Washington Park.

This is mama Mallard - common as mud, but still beautiful in her own way. She is often under appreciated because the male Mallards are so striking. She swam over to us as we were walking in Washington Park - a wonderful, upscale and well-used urban park in south central Denver. I've never been there when I haven't seen dozens of strollers, joggers and dog-walkers enjoying the outdoors in this active, well-kept neighborhood - no matter what the weather is like.

In another smaller, more secluded pond, we found a group of Northern Shovelers. The male has the broad black bill while his mate looks more like mama Mallard - until you see her large, spatula-shaped bill. I took dozens of pictures of headless birds - tails in the air - as they spend most of their time with their heads in the water straining out small organisms with the comblike edges of their bills. This is the first time I've identified Northern Shovelers in Colorado - maybe because I've never seen their heads before!

Mama Mallard and her handsome mate. This pair was swimming at Kettle Creek - a secret group of small lakes and noisy open spaces nestled between the traffic of busy I-25 and glider practice at the Air Force Academy. This time of year, we don't see more than the occasional fisher-person during our walks. This is the same place we saw the Brown Bear last June (see blog entry, June 1, 2009).

There was lots to see at Fountain Creek Regional Park - a real gem with well-marked trails that weave through rustic open spaces and small lakes. There are viewing blinds to aid bird-watchers while not disturbing the wildlife. This magnificent pair of ducks are Hooded Mergansers. The male is on the left and one of his ladies is on the right.

It was interesting watching this flashy male as he stayed close to the opposite side - hidden in the brush. He only occasionally swam out far enough for me to get a decent picture. My camera was on full zoom and this image is cropped more than usual - but he was certainly worth the wait!

This is the female Hooded Merganser, who would swim back and forth from the male to the open water usually in a small group of sisters.

Another gorgeous duck - a Green-winged Teal. There were several at Fountain Creek.

This, along with the next two pictures, are of Common Goldeneye - obviously named for their bright yellow eye.

The male Goldeneye has more white on the body, darker head and a white spot between his eye and bill. The placement of this spot is important in identification.

The female is darker overall with a white collar and brown head. We saw Common Goldeneye at all of the lakes we visited.

A lone Double-crested Cormorant at Kettle Lake. He's there every time we visit. I love the golden colors of the sun reflecting on the water around the Cormorant.

This is a female Bufflehead. Notice the white oval-shaped spot BEHIND the eye. We saw her at Kettle Creek Lake - and would have loved to see her mate - but he was nowhere to be found.

The ever-present Canadian Geese. I see them - lots of them - mostly in urban parks and open spaces. They are nice to look at but where ever they are - they leave mounds of slimy, ugly green droppings - everywhere! But, to their credit, they are amazing to watch when flocks of them fly in and land together on the water. They announce their arrival with loud honks and seeing them is, to me, synonymous with the upcoming Holiday Season. I almost expect to see red ribbons around their necks - until I step in yet more poop - when I want to see something else around their necks.