On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
I think I’m going to try shaking things up a tiny bit for On the Road. Albatrossity and Bill will still be our anchors in the morning, but whenever possible, I’ll try to put up posts from new submitters the week after they submit their first set.
Another thing I am going to try is keeping 3-part submissions together in a single week. For more than 3 parts, they will get spaced out in the same way that they are now.
Tomorrow we have a special submission from ema, which I bumped to the head of the pack because it’s a tribute to Rosie and Bixby. Billin was kind enough to give up his slot to accommodate that and a 3-part OTR
from new person who submitted asfrom long-time lurkers and occasional commenters Athenaze and Ariobarzanes.
I’m always open to feedback, so if you have any thoughts, put them in the comments or send me email.
Week 6 of Spring in Flyover Country and we are getting fewer migrants and more summertime resident breeding birds. Here are a few of those from earlier in May of this year.
Migrant warblers are a somewhat rare treat in my part of the country; numbers and diversity go up substantially just 100 miles east of here. But it was generally a good year for migrants here, and one of the treats was a nice flight of American Redstarts (Setophaga ruticilla). These are flashy birds; even the females are somewhat colorful. Here’s a nice male on his way north.
Female American Redstart, she is unmistakable with that bright yellow in the tail and the yellow base to the secondaries. I only wish all female warblers were this easy to ID!
We had an abundance of Swainson’s Thrushes (Catharus ustulatus) coming through this spring as well. I do wish that these guys stayed around for the summer; their fluting song is one of the best sounds of summer in the north woods. Interestingly you can hear these in summer in parts of the Appalachians, in the Rockies, and along the west coast of the USA; if you live in one of those places, I am envious of your summer bird songscape.
Here’s a bird that would be very exciting for any birder to see along the east or west coast, the Franklin’s Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan). It is a truism that birders cringe when someone identifies a bird as a “seagull”, and it is particularly cringeworthy in this case. These are birds of the prairie pothole region, eating lots more insects than fish, but the sight of a flock of them cruising over a wind-swept prairie is oddly reminiscent of the sight of a flock of gulls at sea. They are also the only gull in the world with two complete molts per year, so they always look fresh and spiffy.
Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularius) are an underappreciated bird, found across much of North America along lakes and small streams, especially those with rocky shores. These two were having a discussion about real estate and who owned what parcel. Their teetering walk and stiff-winged flight pattern make them easily identifiable no matter where you find them.
Our local Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea) were busy building nests in early May. This is a female, who took some time out from gathering bark strips for the nest to watch me. These are spunky and territorial warblers, and I have often been scolded by them for getting in their space a bit more than they approve of.
Northern Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are easily seen and heard in much of the country, but for some reason they are not fond of the prairies and pastures we have around here. In recent years, perhaps as a consequence of increased acreage of trees and shrubs, they have become more common and are local but expected year-round residents. This one serenaded me for a while with some song phrases that I mostly did not recognize other than a Dickcissel imitation which was pretty much perfect!
American Kestrels (Falco sparverius) seem to have increased in abundance in recent years, again perhaps because an increase in tree coverage means that they have more nesting cavities to choose from. This handsome male was hunting along a country road, but I suspect that he had babies in a nest somewhere nearby.
Since I love to take pictures of birds in flight, and since swallows are almost always in flight, I worked for a while getting pictures of flying swallows this spring. These are speedy fliers, and herky-jerky when they are foraging for flying insects, so a lot of pictures get deleted from the camera card for every one that is acceptable. This Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) was foraging over a small cove flying into a pretty stiff northerly breeze, so that at some times it was almost stationary, but it was still a challenge to get a decent shot!
Female Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) in her second summer, foraging in the same spot as the Cliff Swallow.
My cat was sleeping next to me when I played the song of the Swaison’s Thrush. Wow, did that wake him up! Great photos, as always.
On a family vacation when I was a youngster, we stopped at a state/provincial park on one of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior iirc. The winds were really strong that day, coming from offshore. I remember watching the swallows flying out and back into a picnic shelter at near super sonic speeds. They weren’t feeding, just riding the winds for the sheer joy of it.
It’s a favorite memory of mine.
You get a real sense of birdy personalities in this set–and the flight photos are just amazing.
gorgeous photos! I need to find a good bird identification book for Connecticut
I get a lot of cool looking birds in my yard but can not identify most of them
Athenaze here. Ariobarzanes is my spouse. We’re both long-time readers, mostly lurkers, although we have both commented at random moments in the past.
@EmbraceYourInnerCrone: There are state-level bird ID guides for most states, but sometime in the future you might want to travel again. So I’d recommend broadening that horizon when you get a field guide. Book-wise I personally think that the best one is the National Geographic guide; it is through (covers plumages and behaviors) and also has the range maps on the same page as the bird images and text. It can be confusing looking through a guide for all the birds of North America, but you will also find some birds that will make you go “Oooh, I’d really like to see that one! I guess I’ll have to go to Oregon (or Virginia, or Kansas) to see it someday!”
There are also a lot of bird ID apps. I use the Sibley app; there are lots of others and most of them are available in an Android version or an iPhone version. Here’s a review of some of those from 2020, authored by a friend who is a world-class birder. The neat thing about the phone apps is that you get audio files and can start to work on IDing birds from their songs as well.
@EmbraceYourInnerCrone: Have you tried the Merlin app from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology? It’s free, authoritative, and easy to use. From four items you select (location, size, color, behavior) it generates a list of the possibilities with photos and descriptions.
@Athenaze: Good morning. Always glad to start the day with these amazing bird photos.
@Athenaze: So glad you sent in your photos!
edit: I updated the note up top.
@Betsy: Yes, the Merlin app is great, and now they have added sound ID to it (record the bird call and feed the recording into the app for a list of possible IDs). It’s great for situations where you just want to ID one bird. But nothing beats a book if you just want to browse and learn about all the birds in your area.
Mike S (Now with a Democratic Congressperson!)
All of them are beautiful! I love Franklin’s Gulls and the jousting Spotted sandpipers are great too! But may fav’s are the flying swallows. They are both wonderful!
Albatrossity – it’s high time I popped in to say how much I enjoy your bird photos. I’m a birder myself – but not a photographer, I don’t have a clue – in southern Ontario. I recognize most of your birds right away, but not a lot of the western species. I have travelled many kilometers to see a lone Franklin’s Gull, I have never seen more than one at a time!
I love every one of these photos — and I am always in awe of your ability to take photos of birds in flight — but those Franklin’s Gulls are just magnificent.
Cliff swallows nest outside my windows, and on the barn. Their guttural chatter is a hallmark of springtime for me.They’re the nearest thing I have to pets of my own — very low maintenance!
I’ve tried to take pictures of them and quite predictably gotten nothing but blurs, so I’m extra grateful to Albatrossity for the one in this set.
@JoyceCB: Thanks! Yes, Franklin’s Gulls are usually rare and single anywhere outside the center of the continent; I have friends in California who travel from LA or Riverside to see one when it shows up at the Salton Sea. Come here in October sometime if you want to see them in huge flocks. My local reservoir hosts anywhere from 100,000 to 800,000 that month; here’s a video of some of them from last fall.
We camped at the Oregon coast last week and the birds were great, some familiar, many not and some beautiful songs too. The cheeky Stellars Jay flew into our circle and perched on a camp chair back to give us all a good look over. We saw a bald eagle watching the pounding surf, waiting for the tide to deliver more crab carcasses.
J R in WV
You again! Yay!!!
Thanks, always great photos of fascinating birbs!!! Such a great role model for all photographers who ever visit the Balloon Juice blog!
I gotta send some photos in to Watergurl, by procrastinating so much, now I have a ton of spring and summer photos…
We’ve had a Barred Owl who roosts behind the house up on the ridge in those great old twisty forest giant trees, he blows past the house in like a fraction of a second, if you’re looking out the east windows when he rockets past. Once, just once, he stopped just outside the kitchen on a branch, to observe what was going on in the funny white box…
I do much better with plants, who usually stand still for the portraits.
Thanks again, Albatrossity!!