Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

More Kruger Adventures

By and large, Kruger National Park has really good roads. The local wildlife seems to like the roads as well. They often block the road and dont feel the need to move out of the way of vehicles. Kruger NP enforces slow speed limits to avoid road kill.
To quote from my trip journal, "In the late morning, Tom and I drove back to Letaba Rest Camp. On the way there we saw some Long-tailed, (Magpie) Shrikes. One of them allowed me to take a few decent photos".
"Our next bird was a Rufous-crowned, (Purple) Roller. Very impressive, our fourth species of roller for the trip". Note the other bird in the photo. I never knew it was there at the time I shot this photo. I'm not sure what it is.
"We had to return to the rest camp in order to book another night's lodging. While we were there we saw a man looking up into a tree over the parking lot. We looked too, and saw a Brown-headed Parrot, about 8" in length. It was alone and sat quietly. It had a two-toned beak, dark on top, and yellow on the lower half"
 It turned out to be the only species of parrot that we saw in South Africa.

"In the back of the rest camp, there was a small water feature that attracted many birds. One of the first birds I photographed was a Grey Go-away Bird....."

"Out of the rest camp, we saw some more Ostriches, and lots of Zebras and Wildebeests".
"An abundant bird that we saw daily, were the sometimes noisy, Helmeted Guineafowl".
"Some African Firefinches allowed me to get very close. I concentrated on the more colorful male".
"I photographed a soaring buteo-like raptor. It was a dark morph bird. We really had to study our field guides to figure it out. We know that it is a relative of the Common Buzzard. Probably a Steppe Buzzard, or Long-legged Buzzard. Apparently, dark morph birds of those two species are rare. I'm calling it a Steppe Buzzard".
"Further on, there was another raptor. We saw a Secretary Bird crossing the road. It was panting in the heat. These strange raptors are uncommon, with declining populations in most places".
'Today was brutally hot. We drove across some wide open spaces with no shade for miles. Eventually we came to a spot with a windmill that pumped water into an upper, and lower tank.
The runoff water formed a small marsh where we saw at least fifty White storks down in the rank vegetation. Soon we noticed an elephant coming to the upper tank. It walked through the middle of the flock. The storks moved aside but did not fly.
I was a little nervous because we were away from the car, but the large elephant only wanted water, and ignored us."

"Just past the forested hillside, there was a side road leading up to the adjacent ridge. We drove up the road and soon came upon a tiny antelope at the side of the road. It was about 14" tall, and stood it's ground. Tom said it was a Sharpe's Grysbok. I want one. It let me get some photos at least, then took off".

Friday, February 24, 2012

Best Day, Grand Finale

In Seward last Saturday, some of the first birds we saw were a group of Northwestern Crows, and Glaucous-winged Gulls on the beach.
Someone had thrown out some freezer burned fish, and that drew a crowd. The gulls were dominate over the crows. A Bald Eagle was the big boss, but it left when we showed up.

The eagle then took up a vigilant watch over the boat harbor from the mast of a fishing boat.
Other than Bald Eagles, there tends to be very few raptors in Alaska during the winter months. We were happy to see this distant Merlin.
To add to our delight, we spotted this Sharp-shinned Hawk nearby. It's been years since I've seen a sharpie in Alaska. There was a house with bird feeders nearby, and that is what drew in the raptors, (lots of small birds for dinner).
A behavior that I've never noticed before was the way that woodpeckers froze when they saw the raptors. There were six woodpeckers near the bird feeders. They all became utterly still for minutes at a time. This is a female, Hairy Woodpecker.
Another petrified woodpecker, a male, Downy Woodpecker. I only wish that the light was a little stronger so that I could have gotten sharper photos.
Another frozen, Hairy Woodpecker.
This bird allowed me to get very close, and never even blinked.
This Steller's Jay not only froze, but attempted to hide as well.
At another bird feeder, I got my second new species of 2012, Gray-crowned Rosy Finches.
There are not many places in North America where birders can go to see Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. Some of the islands off the coast of Alaska are a sure bet for seeing them. They are very hit or miss on the mainland. I know, I have missed them for 15 years.
So I pretty much quadrupled my yearly list of birds on that day.
My latest painting of a Canada Lynx, Cool Cat, 16x20". Lynx's are hard for me to paint. I have started many lynx paintings and abandoned them because it is so difficult to make these lanky, fuzzy cats look natural. I am personally pleased with this one. As usual the photo does'nt do the painting justice.
A detail of the cat. It's probably my best lynx painting. Now I'm off to my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best Day, part 2

In Resurrection Bay last Saturday, we saw many seabirds well offshore. I guess we all could have piled into a boat to get closer to them, but nobody had organized a boat ride. The photo above shows some of the closest birds. Most of them were out of photo range.
There were mostly Surf Scoters, also White-winged, and Black  Scoters, Harlequin, and Long-tailed Ducks. All three North American Merganser species, one Greater Scaup, some Marbled Murrelets, Pelagic Cormorants, and lots of Common Murres.
Eventually, some things drifted in closer to shore, like these are Surf Scoters.
There were also a couple of Horned Grebes in winter plummage.
We saw three species of loon, Common, Pacific, and my first lifer of 2012, Yellow-billed Loon.
This bird is in winter plummage. The Yellow-billed Loon is the largest loon species. It nests in a few largish bodies of water on the north slope. It is very sensitive to human disturbance, and is considered to be a vulnerable species.
There were a few Common Goldeneyes, like the male in the photo above, and more Barrow's Goldeneyes. The gulls are Glaucous-winged Gulls. There were also Mew, and Herring Gulls, and a Black-legged Kittiwake.
A female Common Goldeneye came in closer to us than the males. For some reason, this tameness is typical of many female ducks.
These are some Common Murres. They breed in great numbers and occasionally have large die-offs when fish numbers drop. This year is a big die-off year for murres in Resurrection Bay. The local Bald Eagles are having a windfall of easy prey. It all seems to be part of some natural cycle in the far north.
A couple of the Common Murres came to check us out when the Sea Otter was visiting us. I imagine that they were hoping for some food as well. I would have tried to get hold of a bucket of chum, and fish parts if I would have thought about it in time. We could have brought in all those birds as close as this murre.
I think this guy did find some small morsel to eat. I can only hope that this one makes it through the winter. I could not believe how close to shore this bird came. They usually remain well offshore.
Much of Seward's boat harbor was frozen over. I was incredibly fortunate to get photos of this Common Murre breaking up through the ice. I was so close, what a shot.
The murre plopped out onto the ice to rest. It was very vulnerable to the local Bald Eagle that hangs out in the harbor. The eagle did'nt pounce, probably because it was already completely satiated on murre meat.
Next post will be about some of the great land birds that we saw in Seward, including my second lifer of the year.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Best Day of the Year, part 1

I'll be taking a break from the South Africa trip for the next several posts to catch up on more current events.
Anchorage Audubon Society conducts an annual field trip to Seward every February. The weather  for yesterday, Saturday the 18th was predicted to be stormy and windy. Aaron, our field trip chairman decided to wait until the last minute before deciding whether to cancel the trip or not.
Friday night, it looked like the predicted storm was not going to amount to much, so the trip was a go. Some cautious birders backed out, but I'm not one of them, so we headed out. It's a long 125 miles each way between Anchorage and Seward, but the highway was not too icy.
Up until yesterday, my complete list of birds seen in 2012 was,
Common Raven
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Hairy Woodpecker
Bohemian Waxwing
Pine Grosbeak
Bald Eagle
and Saw-whet Owl
I really wanted to go to Seward because I knew I was bound to get many good birds to add to my year list.
We made it to Seward without incident. As you can see in the photo, the sea on Resurrection Bay was dead calm. No wind, just a smattering of snow falling. The temperature was several degrees above freezing. Ideal conditions.
The Anchorage birders were joined by several local Seward birders who had scouted out the locations of all the best birds beforehand. This is only about half the group in the above photo. It's the most that I've ever seen on a Seward, winter field trip.
We crossed to the opposite side of the bay to observe seabirds from a stone jetty. While everyone else was scoping out the many distant seabirds, I noticed a sea creature coming up from behind us. The Loch Ness Monster perhaps? Yeah right.
Can you tell what it is? It was about 5 or 6 feet in length.
Is it a Beaver in salt water? Maybe a giant Muskrat? I called to the other birders as it steadily came closer to us.
It came right up to us and dove under water. Have you identified it yet?
It soon resurfaced. Now you know what it is, right? It's a delightful, SEA OTTER. All the Sea Otters that I have photographed in the past were out on choppy seas. It was hard to get decent photos from a rocking boat. This guy let me get dozens of good photos of it. I have never noticed the odd way that they splay their back legs to the side before.
This young Sea Otter swam back and forth at our feet. It was either very curious, or more likely, hoping for a handout. It did'nt get one.
Older Sea Otters develop white or blonde fur on their heads as they age. It is so strange to see these guys swim and float on their backs most of the time. I have seen them climb up on rocks also, but they spend almost all of their time in the water. They eat mostly shellfish, crustaceans, and mollusks of various kinds.
Now I have lots of good reference photos for future paintings. Sea Otters are very popular creatures around these parts.
This photo of a Common Murre resting on the ice in the boat harbor is just a taste of what is to come in the next post. I never dreamed that I would be able to get such close photos of many good things on that day.