25 July, 2011


Scientific Name: Catharus fuscescens

Population Estimate: 14M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Full migrant from damp forests of northern US and southern Canada in summer to most of central northern South America in winter.

Field Notes: Medium-sized thrush, plain brown upperparts, no eye ring, minimal brown spotting on otherwise white underparts. Swainson's Thrush with distinct pale spectacles and more extensive spotting on breast.

Personal Notes: First seen in beautiful Spearfish Canyon, SD. Later found closer to home in Hok-Si-La Park in Lake City, MN.

Common Starling

Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris

Population Estimate: 310M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Year-round in urban areas throughout the US and all but northernmost Canada, introduced from Europe. Similar habitat throughout Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Also introduced to Australia and New Zealand.

Field Notes: Stocky, medium-sized songbird with short tail. Overall glossy black, with iridescent purple and green. Pale spots on back and brownish wings.

Personal Notes: These birds are EVERYWHERE in the US and yet we waited until 3 weeks before our departure for New Zealand to get a photo for the blog.... Also known as European Starling.

19 July, 2011

Prairie Falcon

Scientific Name: Falco mexicanus

Population Estimate: 40K, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Year round in grasslands of the American West. Extends up some into Canada and more extensively into Mexico.

Field Notes: Large for a falcon, medium-sized for a hawk. Fairly uniform pale brown back. Whitish chest with brown spots and bars. White supercilicary, dark mustache mark on face, dark ear patch. In flight, all light underneath except for dark "armpits," no tail stripes.

Personal Notes: A surprise find while hiking Painted Rock Canyon (looking for the elusive Canyon Wren) in Wyoming, then we saw a pair the following week at Devil's Tower. The top photo was from a nesting site on Deseret Ranch in Utah. 

Black Rosy Finch

Scientific Name: Leucosticte atrata

Population Estimate: 20K

Range / Habitat: A bird of the high mountain tundra of the American West. Nests above tree-line at 3000-4300M. Often the bird on the highest elevation on a particular mountain.

Field Notes: Dark brown / black on back, breast, neck, and face. Grey patch wrapping around back of head. Black forehead, white tuft at base of bill. Pink on belly, rump, and in wings. Grey-crowned Rosy Finch with more grey on head. Brown-capped Rosy Finch without the grey on head.

Personal Notes: A wonderful surprise find while summiting an unnamed 12K foot peak in the Big Horn Mountains.

18 July, 2011


Scientific Name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus

Population Estimate: 11M

Range / Habitat: Full migrant found almost exclusively in grasslands. Summers / breeding in upper US and into Canada, excluding the far west. Winters in the middle of South America.

Field Notes: Typical blackbird size / shape. Male in breeding plumage has black face, bill, and underparts, white on back and wings, yellow half-hood. Female and non-breeding male with yellow underparts, brown tail and wings, black eyestripe and streak on top of head, yellow superciliary, pale bill.

Personal Notes: We finally got to see this species (with the help of the Wyoming bird list serve) on a gravel road between Fort Phil Kearney and Story, Wyoming. We were quite excited to find him later in St. Paul MN at Kaposia Landing, a former superfund site. 

11 July, 2011

Red-eyed Vireo

Scientific Name: Vireo olivaceus

Population Estimate: 140M, Least Concern status

Range / Habitat: Lowland forest of the US and Canada, excluding the far American West, in summer. Full migrant to forests of northern and eastern South America.

Field Notes: Small drab bird with olive back and white underneath. Crown grey, eyebrow white with thin black eye stripe. Eyes dark red. Song distinctive, a series of broken, slurred phrases alternating upswing and downswing.

Personal Notes: We've probably heard and even seen this common bird before our first confirmed sighting in the Spearfish, South Dakota city park. We later found this bird in migration at the El Rey ruins in Cancun, Mexico. Then, finally, at home in Minnesota. 

Upland Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Bartramia longicauda

Population Estimate: 350K

Range / Habitat: Grasslands in the upper half of US, excluding far West, up into Canada and interior Alaska in summer. Full migrant to grasslands of southeastern South America in winter.

Field Notes: Medium sized sandpiper with long neck, small head, short yellow bill, yellow legs. Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs have grey, not brown backs, and longer dark bills.

Personal Notes: Seen en route to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. From then on he was known by the Spolts as "Pylon Plover." 

Pygmy Nuthatch

Scientific Name: Sitta pygmaea

Population Estimate: 2M

Range / Habitat: Year-round resident of montane forests in the American West and down into Mexico.

Field Notes: Stocky nuthatch with disproportionately large bill. Black eye stripe, grey head and back, white belly with subtle orange wash. Range does not overlap with Brown-headed Nuthatch. Red-breasted Nuthatch has white supercilium and red belly. White-breasted Nuthatch larger with plan white face.

Personal Notes: Seen while hiking at Devil's Tower National Monument.

Bullock's Oriole

Scientific Name: Icterus bullockii

Population Estimate: 3.8M

Range / Habitat: Open woodlands, summers in the American West, winters in Mexico not including Yucatan.

Field Notes: Male unmistakable in range with black cap and eye stripe on yellow / orange head and chest. Large white wing bar. Black back and throat. Female more drab without black markings on head / chest.

Personal Notes: The bloke in the photo above and his mate were seen while hiking just above the prairie dog 'town' at Devil's Tower National Monument. We saw him (and an eastern kingbird) get chased off a big dead Ponderosa pine by a red-headed woodpecker.

05 July, 2011

Buff-bellied Pipit

Scientific Name: Anthus rubescens

Population Estimate: 20M

Range / Habitat: Prefers open, rocky areas. During summer / breeding season found in tundra of northern Canada, most of Alaska, and into a portion of the most elevated regions of the American west. In winter, migrates to the southern US and all of Mexico.

Field Notes: Slender, drab bird. Appears similar to sparrows but thinner bill and longer tail. Has habit of bobbing head like a pigeon. Pale supercilium and lateral throat stripe. Light streaking on the breast. Dark legs compared to other pipits.

Personal Notes: Fortuitous sighting at Beartooth Pass (on the Wyoming / Montana border) on the Fourth of July. Seen again at Acadia NP, ME. Also known as American Pipit.

Western Tanager

Scientific Name: Piranga ludoviciana

Population Estimate: 8.9M

Range / Habitat: Summers in montane forest of western US and Canada. Winters throughout Mexico exclusive of Yucatan.

Field Notes: Breeding male (top photo) with red head, yellow belly and rump. Otherwise black with two yellow wing bars. Female or juvenile (bottom photo) drab olive yellow on head, rump, belly. Still with black back and two yellow wing bars.

Personal Notes: We first spotted the female outside our friend Patrick's window in Puerto Vallarta. We then spotted a male in classic plumage in the courtyard of the Grand American Hotel in Salt Lake City, UT. The top photo was taken en route to Rainbow Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana. The light was so bright that morning, the camera had a hard time with the color!

Cassin's Finch

Scientific Name: Carpodacus cassinii

Population Estimate: 1.9M, Near Threatened status

Range / Habitat: Year-round in montane pine forests of the American West. Will extend slightly into Canada in summer and throughout the mountains of Mexico in winter.

Field Notes: Somewhat large and lanky for a red American finch, the bright red crown contrasts with brownish cheeks in male. Purple Finch overlaps little but stouter with shorter beak and more uniform red. House Finch with distinct brown streaks on flanks.

Personal Notes: Seen on a lovely hike to Rainbow Lake in the Absoroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Red Lodge, Montana.

Common Nighthawk

Scientific Name: Chordeiles minor

Population Estimate: 11M

Range / Habitat: Full migrant from most of South America excluding Chile up to western Mexico, all of the US and most of Canada. Found year-round in Caribbean islands. Found in a variety of habitats, both urban and rural, but prefers grasslands for breeding.

Field Notes: Distinct nightjar shape and cryptic coloring (Sibley's phrase) as seen above. Long, dark primaries with white bar at the base (seen in flight) which distinguishes from Common Poorwill, Whip-poor-will and Chuck Will's-widow. Swift shape but larger when flying, which is primarily at dawn and dusk, catching insects.

Personal Notes: First seen feeding on bugs at dusk during a walk at Birdwing Spa in Litchfield MN. We were latter pleased to come across the above bird on a hike to Coney Lake in the Cloud Peak Wilderness in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.