Saturday, April 22, 2017

Adventure Birding

In Colorado. Loveland Pass to be specific.

We didn't see any skiers, backcountry or otherwise. Snowboarders aplenty, but no skiers. None concerned with the possibility of friendly fire*.

We were here to see the White-tailed Ptarmigan. Which is a bit of a curious name as the entire bird is white. Which makes for excellent camouflage as it lives on the snow covered mountain tops.

Spoiler alert: we saw it. But it took a while. And by the time the snowboarders spooked one over the hill to our side everyone except your's truly and Chris** our guide were back in the van out of the cold and wind.

If you look closely at the lower left hand corner of the image above you can see the vans of the birding groups in the parking area. You can also see a curiously elongated truck, an artifact of the panorama feature of my iPhone.

And you can see there is no one else up on the hill with me searching for the bird. Chris had headed even further up the hill to get a different vantage point. And by "hill" I mean mountain. Where I was standing was 12,000 feet above sea level (the pass is officially at 11,990 ft).

But before the mass retreat to the van we saw the bird above, a Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, a life bird for me (I now have seen the complete set of North American rosy-finches- woo hoo!).

But back to the Ptarmigan. I was scanning the mountain side with a scope. This mountainside:

And what do you notice about this mountain side (other than that bright white comet shaped object)? It is mostly snow covered, white.

So to set the scene, I'm alone on the side of a mountain looking for an all white bird the size of an American football***, that is far enough away that I need a telescope, in 20° F weather with a steady breeze.

And I found it. It was on the peak at the top left. A couple of snowboarders had climbed up and over that peak, and the bird came flying over. Chris, who was up the side of the hill saw it first and when I noticed him jumping up and down to get my attention I quickly started scanning that area.

And here it is:

Right smack dab in the center of the image (as always, click to bigafy, although in this case it won't help all that much).

Here's the view in the scope (the bird has moved a bit from the prior image):

I yelled down to the parking area and was soon joined by thirty or so other people, inducing the rest of our group, getting good looks at this bird. A bird that once it showed up was surprisingly easy to see.

Good but not great looks. A couple of days later our friend Linda of Philly Bird Nerd fame got great looks, as she writes about on her blog. Go look.


* No snowflakes were harmed in the making of this blog post.

** If this guiding gig doesn't work out there is always Cirque du Soleil.

*** As four of the eight people on the trip were originally from England this was an important distinction. Two now reside in South Africa and the other two in South Carolina. They were not the only folks form South Carolina there, as several other members of their bird club were up on that hill with us. Small world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Quételet Scattering

As I was driving along one recent morning I spotted this.

Well not exactly, as I made the video after turning around and going back to drive by again. I then pulled over and walked back to take some pictures (no surprise there huh?).

Above is what I saw while driving up.

It wasn't obvious from the video, but as we can see in the images, the colors were pretty intense as they flashed by.

The images below give a hint to what's going on (as always, click on an image to bigafy it).

Look closely and you'll see a layer of dust on the water surface.

This dust scatters the light such that some is scattered prior to reflecting off the water surface and some is scattered after reflecting off the water surface. The light rays are thus out of phase resulting in interference which manifests to our eyes as colors.

Of course, the Atmospheric Optics site has a full explanation, complete with diagrams. And you might enjoy learning about Adolphe Quételet, who figured this out, as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


This week's yard bird is the Pileated Woodpecker, aka "Woody".

A regular if infrequent visitor to Piney Place. And particularly difficult one to photograph.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Planet ...

... are we trying to save here?

If you've spent any time in a hotel in the past decade or so you've no doubt come across a placard like this one. And it makes sense. Why waste water to clean a towel that can easily be used again? The same for bed clothes. You don't change the sheets everyday in your house, so why in a hotel? And it saves the hotel plenty of money in water, detergent, electricity, and in compensation for the cleaning staff.

But take a close look at the illustration of the globe. What happened to Alaska? What is sticking out of the top of Canada? Where did Greenland go? And is that Europe and Africa off the west coast of North America?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Birdsong ID Puzzler

Patty was working in the yard a couple of weekends ago and she kept hearing a birdsong she couldn't quite identify. She said she couldn't tell if it was a Chipping Sparrow or a Pine Warbler (the names link to the songs for each bird). She was rather puzzled.

I was working from home the following Monday and saw this:

The image above is a Chipping Sparrow and the one below is a Pine Warbler.

Puzzle solved. 🙂

Saturday, April 1, 2017

He's Back (Again)!

The last time we saw the Eastern Screech Owl peaking out of the box was on February 15th, a month and a half ago. I wonder if he has been here all along, and we just haven't been looking at the right time.

Patty first spotted the owl this morning and then again this afternoon. I was lucky enough to see it the second time (but not the first). But both times it poked its head out for a quick look see and then went back in the box.

At sunset our friend Barb came over, bearing wine, and we looked for the owl. It took a while but finally Patty announced, "it's here!". And I was able to get a few shots. It was a bit more active, looking this way and that. We waited on the deck and were rewarded with views of it flying off. Very cool.

While we waited woodcock were calling and turkeys gobbling off in the woods, and a rabbit was calmly eating just below us. We then retired to the living room (much warmer!) and while enjoying the wine watched the flying squirrels, opossum, and raccoon in our garden.

A nice way to end the day.