Category Archives: Beyond Bounds

Happy New Year!

Augur buzzard (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

May your new year be filled with beautiful birds!

This beauty looks like a red-tailed hawk but he’s from Africa. His tail is red but he doesn’t have the telltale “belly band” of dashes on his chest.

This is an augur buzzard (Buteo augur) from Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Click on the photo caption to see the original featured photo on Wikimedia Commons.

p.s. Augur buzzards have charcoal gray backs and very hooked beaks, but you can’t see those features in this photo.

(featured photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Who’s On The Wire?

Bird on a wire at Carrizo Plain, CA (photo from BLM via Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s a bird you won’t see in Pennsylvania.  He was photographed at Carrizo Plain National Monument, 100 miles (as the crow flies) northwest of Los Angeles, California.

Quiz:  Who is this on the wire? … Notice his long legs.

(photo by Bob Wick, BLM via Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)

Open Wide!

Wire-tailed swallow bringing food to juvenile (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This beautiful swallow, native to sub-Saharan Africa and southern and southeast Asia, is very similar to our barn swallow except for its two wire-like tail feathers and its preference to live near water.

The wire-tailed swallow’s (Hirundo smithii) family life is similar, too.  When the fledglings beg for food, the parents deliver it on the wing.

Open wide!

Wire-tailed swallow delivering food to young (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos by Manojiritty on Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Spoonbills Here and There

Eurasian spoonbill (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)
Eurasian spoonbill in the Netherlands (photo by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons)

A bird this unusual must surely be from the tropics, but not this one.

The Eurasian spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) is a large white wading bird with black legs and a spatulate bill that’s black with a yellow tip.  In breeding plumage they have feather crests and yellow chins. Click here for another view.

Spoonbills live in fresh and saltwater wetlands where they hunt for prey by sweeping their long bills side to side below the surface, snapping them shut when they feel prey close by.

Amazingly this spoonbill nests in both temperate and tropical zones.  Though they’re sparse in Europe, their range extends to Africa and wide swaths of Asia (see map).  Four hundred years ago Eurasian spoonbills disappeared from the British Isles. Happily, they returned to breed in the marshes of Norfolk County in 2010.

Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)
Breeding range of Eurasian spoonbill in Europe (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Of the six spoonbill species on Earth, all but one are white.  The pink one lives in our hemisphere, the roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja).

Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)
Roseate Spoonbill (photo by Steve Gosser)

 

Click here to see the six species of spoonbills, Platalea.  Ours is the one with “A ha ha!” in his name:  Platalea ajaja!

 

(photo credits:
Eurasian spoonbill by Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.net, via Wikimedia Commons
map of European breeding range from Wikimedia Commons; click on the map to see the original
Roseate spoonbill by Steve Gosser
)

Phoebe in Black

Black phoebe (photo by Steve Valasek)
Black phoebe (photo by Steve Valasek)

North America’s western birds are often similar to their eastern cousins.

Based on color you might mistake this black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) for a very dark junco but his body shape and habits match the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe).

Notice his flycatcher beak (not a seed-eating beak) and slightly angular head.  Like the eastern phoebe he perches prominently and upright.  If we could see him in motion, he’d be fly catching.  Right now he has a message for hikers.  😉

You’ll have to go west if you want to see this bird. Native to southwestern Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and southwest Texas, the black phoebe barely migrates.  You can find him year round in Central and South America, too.

Click here for his range map.

 

(photo by Steve Valasek)

Super Hummingbirds Next Week

screenshot from Super Hummingbirds video by PBS NATURE
screenshot from Super Hummingbirds video by PBS NATURE

Tiny and jewel-like, hummingbirds are “super-birds.”  They beat their wings 80 times per second and fly backwards and upside down.  And that’s only the start.

Next Wednesday we’ll get to see these super birds at their best on PBS NATURE’s season premiere: Super Hummingbirds.

Filmed in Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica, the program showcases surprising information about hummingbirds’ lives.

  • Their tongues open lengthwise to gather nectar using unique forked tips.
  • Many live high-speed lives in thin air at 16,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.
  • Male long-billed hermit hummingbirds in Costa Rica gather in leks to sing for a mate.

A side trip to Arizona captured the Costa’s hummingbird courtship ritual.  During the male’s sky dance he splays out his purple gorget to impress his potential mate.  The screenshot below is just a hint at his beauty.  He’s amazing in the video.

Male Costa's hummingbird sky-dances for a female (screenshot from PBS NATURE's Super Hummingbirds)
Male Costa’s hummingbird sky-dances for a female (screenshot from PBS NATURE’s Super Hummingbirds)

Watch Super Hummingbirds next Wednesday, October 12, 2016 on PBS NATURE at 8pm (Eastern time). In Pittsburgh, it’s on WQED.

And while you’re waiting for next Wednesday, get your “hummingbird fix” at Cornell Lab’s West Texas Hummingbird Cam near Fort Davis, Texas. Click here to watch.

 

(Super Hummingbirds video and screenshot from PBS NATURE)

Practice Makes Perfect

Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John's cellphone)
Eastern screech-owl, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio,11 May 2016 (photo snapped by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John’s cellphone)

Back in May I saw an eastern screech-owl snoozing in a nestbox at Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio. His photo, above, is on my cellphone but I can’t take credit for its beauty.

I have all the tools to create this photo — a bird scope and a cellphone — but I don’t have the skill yet.  I watched bird guide Carlos Bethancourt set my cellphone on the scope (without a scope adapter), manipulate the screen, and take three beautiful pictures.

Carlos made it look easy but I can’t get my cellphone to behave. My two best attempts at photographing a robins’ nest look like this.

Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Closeup of baby robins in a nest, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

One baby robin, partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)
Baby robin in a nest partially obscured by leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

 

I need a lot more practice to make it perfect.

 

(owl photo by Carlos Bethancourt using Kate St. John’s cellphone, robins’ photos by Kate St. John)

Best Birds in Montana

Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)
Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

When my friend Chuck Tague led an outing he’d ask us at the end, “What was your Best Bird?”  Now that I’m back from Montana I’ve made a list. (The photos are from Wikimedia Commons.)

Best of the Best: Mountain bluebird.  While standing next to a short spruce at Logan Pass, I saw a Life Bird(*) fly in and perch just above me.  This bluest Bird of Happiness completes the trio of bluebird species in North America: eastern, western and mountain.

Two of my Best Birds were named for explorers, Lewis and Clark.

I’d seen a Lewis’s woodpecker fly by the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch on October 20, 2002 (very unusual!) but in Missoula I was hungry to see more.  My friend Keith Kuhn asked a resident if we could walk across her property to the shore of the Bitterroot River where they’d been reported the day before.  She was very accommodating when he said “Lewis’s woodpecker.” The birds come to her suet feeder.    It was a thrill to see three pink-bellied woodpeckers fly-catching over the river.

Lewis's Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)
Lewis’s Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Clark’s nutcracker resembles a woodpecker but he’s actually a Corvid who stores and eats pine nuts.  We saw a pair of them fly over Logan Pass, calling and chasing each other.

Clark's nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)
Clark’s nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I was afraid I wouldn’t see an American dipper but I shouldn’t have worried. Because they were nesting we saw adult dippers gathering food and a fledgling waiting for its next meal at St. Mary’s Falls.  Very good looks! (Click here to see one swim.)

American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

In only eight days I saw 105 species and 11 Life Birds in western Montana.  It was hard to pick just four of the Best!

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

(*) A “Life Bird” is a species you see for the first time in your life.