Redpolls and Raptors at Montrose

A friend and I went for a walk in the early hours last Saturday around the Magic Hedge and the Montrose Dunes. We weren't early enough to catch the Short-eared Owl that was seen earlier that day but the hedge was alive with Chickadees and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Even on this chilly and brief visit I managed another life bird, a small flock of Common Redpolls in the clearing.

We ambled out to the end of the pier before returning carefully in the shadows behind the hedge hoping to find some secret shaded spot sheltering an owl. No such luck. We did however notice a young Red-tailed Hawk that had garnered the attention of a few photographers so we made our way to join the small group of onlookers.

It relocated to another branch but miscalculated and came up a bit short resulting in this lovely awkward moment.

Once it decided to leave it gave a few head bobs and allowed me to catch a moment I don't photograph very often, a Redtail in full crouch, spring-loading those legs with its wings just beginning to unfurl.

Branches in the way meant tucking in the left wing until...

finally clear of the obstructions the hawk flew right at us.

It perched in a spot with a better view of the park and several more escape/hunting options. This raised the ire of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk who materialized out from those same shady areas we had just walked through and silently mobbed the oblivious young Redtail.

The Coop eventually got fed up and tore off toward the south triggering a small wave of alarm calls from the bushes below as it departed.

The Redtail soon left and made a half-hearted stoop on some foraging squirrels. Unlike the Cooper's Hawk though, it flew in a wide circle around the park looking for other opportunities. I heard a local photographer mention he had seen this young bird in the area for at least a week if not more. Perhaps we shall meet again.

A Slow Autumn Day at Montrose

I got out to the bird sanctuary around 8:45 and things started off quite promising with an immediate Sharp-shinned Hawk tucked high into the bare branches of a tree. It took off and high pitched alarm calls spread in a wave through the undergrowth.

Moments later a Cape May Warbler (life bird) appeared and was very cooperative although distant.

As the sun rose higher the birds retreated into the shadows but the butterflies put on a show.

I crept into the trees and clouds of thousand of mosquitos filled the air. A few moments later it was clear they weren't biting and I settled in with a lovely bird who foraged around me for 5 minutes. Later I learned it was a first winter female Blackburnian Warbler (life bird). She was the stuff mosquito nightmares are made of.

This photo shows the pale stripes on her back which are distinctive among warblers.

This photo shows the pale stripes on her back which are distinctive among warblers.

Behind the Magic Hedge were more bugs and more birds feasting in the shadows. This female Black-throated Green Warbler (life bird) was among them. For a slow day to still offer 3 lifers is why Montrose is great, and why being new to an area is even better.

Female Black-throated Green Warbler

Female Black-throated Green Warbler

Chicago from Montrose Point

Chicago from Montrose Point

A visit to Montrose Point

It is finally spring in Chicago and the migrants are flowing north following the coast of Lake Michigan. A popular stopover is the Magic Hedge at Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. I visited the other day and chalked up some life birds and tried to get to know the place a bit better. It will be a regular stopover for BirdLightWind as well so stay tuned for a lot more from the Magic Hedge.

Sometimes the common birds are overlooked but these glorious Mallards decided to put on a show.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows confront one another on the beach.

Rough-wings are about as beautiful as a brown bird can get. It is a fun challenge to photograph these little jet fighters in flight.

Red-winged Blackbirds were on duty fiercely protecting their territories.

Left: Returning after chasing off an intruder. Right: I love this pose as the tail hits the rope just before the feet.

I had never seen an Ovenbird before but there were about 10 of them around.

Tail held high with a high-stepping gate. These little birds are charmers.

This bird was so busy foraging that it walked right up to me as I lay flat on the trail.

Ovenbird with teeny tiny prey.

Some closer view of a fascinating little bird.

Robins and Grackles are busy nest building. Their nest sites are quickly getting obscured by new leaves and flowers as the arrival of spring transforms the landscape.

The surprise of the day and a new life bird came in the form of the American Woodcock and its partner who held court in the shadows.

Birthday Birding Bliss in San Blas

My wife surprised me with a birthday birding trip during our honeymoon on the west coast of Mexico. Here are the highlights from the trip in one mega-post. Click the images to see them in better detail.

We entered through tunnels cut into the mangroves and headed upstream toward the hills and away from the tidal influence of the sea.

One of the first things we saw was a young Crocodile basking in the increasing heat of the day.

Then this incredible beast, about 6 feet long, and looking for all the world like a log until it slipped into the water.

This Great-tailed Grackle, or Zanate Mayor, was opening a frog's mouth with its bill and pulling out the goodies inside... gross but cool.

Here is a more placid view of this charismatic and boisterous bird.

Green Herons, or las Garza Verde, were everywhere. I'd never seen so many and it felt like we were traveling through their homeland.

Among the most special creatures we encountered were the Boat billed Herons (Garza Cucharón). Beautiful eyes, great poise, distinctive vocalizations. We wandered into a nesting colony and the birds were alert but didn't look too disturbed.

The river was beautiful, if murky and funky due to the rains. There were surprises around every bend.

Sometimes the process of decay can be quite lovely.

The Limpkin, or Carrao, is a strange and wonderful denizen of this riparian habitat.

Tropical Kingbirds, los Tirano Tropical, were also abundant. including the lovely nest below on the lee side of a snag in the river.

Common Potoo, or Nictibio Urataú, sitting in a pose that doesn't make the best use of its camouflage skills, but is still makes it pretty difficult to pick out at 40 yards. 

A Snail Kite floats toward its mate. It was nesting season in coastal Mexico.

Earlier the same kite had delivered a snail to its partner.

We heard a sound that sounded like the grumbling of a nearby cow. Our guide asked if I was making the noise, then realized it was likely a Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Sure enough, around the next bend we found this exquisite bird.

This bird has some ludicrously beautiful plumage.

It wasn't too pleased with the sound of the boat and so it elegantly relocated to some other trees. In the distance we could hear its mate calling.

Overhead, White Ibis, Ibis Blanco, floated by in the bright overcast sky. 

A Green Kingfisher, Martin Pescador-Verde, affirmed my theory that kingfishers need to learn trust. It barely stood still long enough for me to get this image. They are a wary bunch.

Iguanas have never been very interesting to me until I saw one in the wild. In their natural home they are thoroughly badass.

Fish at the local crocodile preserve come in to investigate our shadows.

This Elegant Trogon, Trogon Elegante, was a nice surprise as we turned the boat around at lunchtime. It was a bit shy and this is a long distance shot.

At this point we wandered back into the mangroves and the boat trip came to an end. Below, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron takes a break from eating beetles at the boat dock.

In the distance, a Common Black Hawk, Aguililla Negra Menor (the first I'd ever seen) flew toward the mountains with a freshly caught snake.

I waited for the Egret to get to these power lines in the hope it would make for a nice composition.

Speaking of power lines, these held a Gray Hawk, Aguililla Gris, a bird I'd hoped to see but hadn't had any luck with until the drive home.

It is a gorgeous raptor and I hope to see one a bit better someday, perhaps on a motorcycle trip through Mexico. It seemed like bird watching was done for the day as we dozed in the back seat, exhausted from the day.

We awoke with a start when Vidal, our guide, called out "Pygmy Owl!" as we passed some mango trees at 50 mph. I was a little incredulous but grabbed the camera and stumbled out of the car to find a little brown lump perched deep in a tree in the shade. I'll be damned. It was a fantastic way to close out an extraordinary birthday trip. Thanks to the charming and knowledgable Vidal Prado of for a great day getting to know the birds of San Blas and Nayarit. If you are going to be in the area you should get in touch with Vidal.

These are 27 life birds I saw in 2 days in Sayulita... there were a couple more I'm sure but these are confirmed.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
White Ibis
Common Black Hawk
Gray Hawk
Purple Gallinule
Inca Dove
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Groove-billed Ani
Pygmy Owl
Cinammon Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Green Kingfisher
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Sinaloa Crow
Grayish Saltator


P.S. the picture of the Pygmy Owl with the mango in the foreground is a blend of 2 images from the same camera position, one focused on the bird, the other on the foreground mango and leaves. I never post collaged images or illustrations without a reason and an explanation. In this case it was to show you how I was seeing the bird in real life, tucked into a mango tree. That's partly why I didn't try to hide the cues that reveal it's a collaged image.

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