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.
It’s Albatrossity Monday, and UncleEb, TKH and Elma all continue with their series! We finish up the week with a real treat with Steve from Mendocino.
I still don’t know what you guys have all been thinking about these last few weeks :-) but this would be a good time to submit that OTR post you have been considering putting together.
Birdwatching in a midcontinent winter often consists of watching the birdfeeder from the comfort of your home, or wandering through cold fields while braving a wind chill in the “colder than Ann Coulter’s heart” range. Neither of those scenarios are ideal for photography. I have spent the last couple of winters cruising back roads looking for hawks, so you may see a lot of hawks here as winter moves in.
But first we’ll go back to a favorite bird food source here this fall, the Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana). After a couple of hard freezes, there are still a lot of fruits on the pokeberry bushes, but they have shriveled up. Pokeraisins? Pokeprunes? Take your pick! Click here for larger image.
And even though the catbirds and warblers have scooted south for the season, the winter-resident birds are still enjoying the raisins. Here are some closeups of a couple of sparrows, Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) at left and White-crowned Sparrow (Z. leucophrys) at right, with telltale traces of pokeberry pigment staining their beaks. Click here for larger image.
After the pokeberries are gone (which may be next April, since we had a bumper crop this year), the sparrows will turn their attention to the seeds of our state flower, which also are abundant this year. These sunflowers, near one of our local fishing lakes, got decorated with cattail fluff. Click here for larger image.
Here’s one final look at a fall passage migrant perched in the fall colors, a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris). A few linger here in the winter nowadays, but most will be in the Gulf Coast states or in Mexico. Click here for larger image.
As one might imagine, the influx of flocks of sparrows also means that we see some birds that like to eat sparrows. One of those is the Merlin (Falco columbarius), a feisty falcon of open country and an avid predator of small birds. These are only winter residents here, alas, but I’ve already seen several and it’s only mid-November as I write this. One intriguing sighting was a young Merlin (at left in this photo) who was sitting on a branch just minding his own business when he was accosted by an adult male American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). Merlins are pugnacious and rarely back down, but this kestrel convinced him to vacate that branch and move away. I have rarely seen Merlins successfully bullied, so this was a memorable sighting! Click here for larger image.
More Merlin! Here’s an adult female (based on the grayish, not brownish) crown feathering. Attitude personified. Click here for larger image.
And here’s an adult male. Blue-gray back and boldly banded tail. Despite their small size, these are often very accommodating subjects for photography. They really have no fear of humans, generally. Click here for larger image.
Another winter resident is the Northern Harrier (aka Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius), which primarily summers in northern marshes and comes down to Kansas for the excellent rodent populations in the winter. This is an adult female, streaky below and brown above, with the characteristic white rump patch that helps you ID this bird at a great distance. Click here for larger image.
Adult male Northern Harriers are pale and white below, gray above. The Gray Ghost of grasslands and marshes across North America. Click here for larger image.
The final bird for today is a young Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), which is quickly becoming a much more common species in my part of the country. Youngsters of this species can be confused with young Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus), but the dense streaking from chest to belly is a good field mark for Red-shouldered. And by this time of year Broad-winged Hawks should all be in Central or South America; sometimes the calendar is a good ID point as well. Click here for larger image.