Birds of Dry Creek

008

Mourning Dove

Over a period of years I have attempted to capture the birds that we see at the feeders, in the meadows, perched in trees and flying overhead.  It is a tough assignment as anyone who attempts to photograph birds can attest.  Rarely do they sit still or pose for you with the possible exception of owls.  I had to comb my photo files dating back to 2012 when I received my first digital camera and dared to keep snapping away knowing I could just delete my wasted shots and retain a few (very few) good ones.

I do not believe we see the volume of birds that I recall from my childhood.  Early mornings then would be filled with a cacophony of melodious bird song coming from the cotton wood trees that could literally awaken the household with the clamor of competing birds.  The cotton wood trees remain, but the roar of birdsong has subsided.  This is not a scientific appraisal, just my personal testimony to the state of birds along Dry Creek.

I chose my favorite bird to begin this series–one which my mother favored–the Mourning Dove.  A “hollow, mournful coah, cooo, cooo, coo” could be heard high in the cottonwoods above the old ranch house and used to be quite soothing as we lay down to nap on a hot summer day.  (My mother did the napping, I would sneak outside and find something interesting to do.)  These birds will always remind me of Mother.

IMG_8738.JPG

Crested Blue Jay

We don’t see many of these showy, noisy jays.  The white spots on wings and tail, and the black necklace differentiate it from Stellar’s Jay.  They are widespread throughout eastern Rockies and according to my bird book, expanding northwestward and hybridizing with Stellar’s Jay.  Whatever brought him to the old elm stump in the yard only he knows for sure.  We would love to see more of them.

IMG_8689.JPG

Blue Grouse

Locally known as “fool hens,” these gentle, trusting birds show no signs of fear and can be easily approached.  I photographed this female at my brother’s cabin in the Big Horns and included her in my collection because I admired her so.

IMG_8540.JPG

Turkey Vulture

The Rodney Dangerfield of birds, vultures clean up the remains of dead animals and for this they get no respect.  They have a wing span nearly as large as an eagle (6 feet) and roost up high in the cottonwood trees.  Their small red head, somewhat similar to a turkey, must be how they earned their name.

IMG_8311.JPG

Turkey Vultures

This gathering of vultures overhead one evening was quite unusual.  Typically we have two to three roosting on a continual basis over the summer and the congregation of these big birds was startling.  What did they know?  Was there a massive die-off somewhere nearby?  It remains a mystery.

IMG_8623.JPG

Pyrrhuloxia?

Another mystery is this bird sitting above the feeder one day.  It sent us to the bird book and we still haven’t figured out precisely what it is.  Our best guess is the Pyrrhuloxia.  The grey back, buff breast and touch of red in the wings and crest separate it from the female Cardinal which has a black patch at the base of its bill and around the eyes.

IMG_8632.JPG

Pyrrhuloxia vs. Northern Cardinal??

IMG_0232-001.JPG

Rough Legged Hawk

We were walking and came upon this hawk in the grass.  He seemed stunned and uncoordinated, as though he had struck a branch overhead and fallen to the ground.  He is very similar to a Ferruginous Hawk and may very well be one.  We left him and when we came back to check on him, he was gone.  Whatever his ailment, he apparently overcame it and was back in flight. We see many hawks sitting atop fence posts and power line poles.  Their habitat is prairie and plains.

043

Yellow Warbler

More yellow than other warblers, this female has olive coloring across her back and lacks the rusty  breast streaks of the male.  Her song is a bright, cheerful tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee-titi-wee and caught my attention.  I finally located her and she remained still for a few moments, long enough for me to catch a so-so photo of her.

IMG_7074.JPG

Black-Headed Grosbeak

My brother’s old camping skillets laid around for years until we decided they would make a nice perch for the birds.  Seeds drop from the feeders above and the skillets make a great place to open sunflower seeds or catch a nap.  These two male Grosbeaks appear to be juvenile birds just out for a good time.  Their breast, collar and rump are dull orange and they can be recognized by their prominent broad bill.

IMG_7064

Rufous-Sided Towhee

Easily confused with a grosbeak, this towhee’s head and tail are black, sides Robin-red, belly white, back heavily spotted with white and eyes fiery red.  Arriving in early spring, the towhee rummages in dead leaves and hangs around the feeders.

IMG_6728 (2)

Ring-Necked Pheasant

These handsome gamecock-like birds get all the breaks.  The females are mottled brown and have none of the splendor of color or exotic markings these guys enjoy.  I know, I know, it is to camouflage them from predators while nesting and caring for their young but the ladies like to have fun too!

062 (2).JPG

American Gold Finch

Typically seen in groups on the lawn (they like dandelions) they gather in the spring and are a colorful sight.  They are distinguished from Warblers by their short, conical bills.  They frequent the feeders and entertain us with their song and bright color.

045

American Gold Finch

048

American Gold Finch

Perched in the grass, on the fence or at the feeders, these pretty little birds arrive in spring to brighten our day.

IMG_7073.JPG

Lazuli Bunting

Prettier than its cousin the Indigo Bunting, this little turquoise-colored finch visits us in the spring and can be seen at the feeders or in the meadow.  The two white wing bars distinguish it from a Bluebird.  It migrates to Mexico for the winter.

IMG_5052.JPG

Prairie Falcon

Similar to a Peregrine Falcon, this handsome bird was sitting on a post overlooking the vegetable garden and appeared to be taking its time to survey the grounds.  I ran for the camera expecting it to take flight before I could capture it, but it just sat quite still for me.  I have never seen another hawk or falcon perch in the yard, and this was a special treat.  Prairie Falcons range in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico and are found in mountainous grasslands, open hills, plains and prairies.

IMG_0692 (2)

Cassin’s Finch

Crowned with a square of red that contrasts with the brown of his nape, this finch is often mistaken for a house finch or purple finch but is not as red in color.  Differences in the shape of his bill also set him apart.

IMG_5861.JPG

Baby Great Horned Owls

Each spring we have been delighted by the arrival of baby owls.  Nests usually have two babies, but one year there were three, which did not end well.  One of the babies fell from the nest (or was pushed?) and languished on the ground for a couple of days.  It was heartbreaking for us to watch and we knew we could not interfere.  We prayed that the parents would care for it and help it back into the nest, but we saw no indication that they attempted to come to its aid.

IMG_4707.JPG

Sad little owl baby

The little owl stayed close to where he fell, huddled up in his downy feathered coat and awaited his fate.  I did a search for a bird rescue facility but came up with nothing within a day’s drive.  We could do nothing to save the little creature.

IMG_4793.JPG

Time to fly

On this occasion, we watched as the mother owl leads the fledgling to a perch for its first flight.  She seems to be saying “watch me, you can do this.”  They would do touch and go flights over to a nearby hill where they would rest, explore, and then fly back to the nest.  This goes on for a couple weeks, and then the family moves on to a greater range of tree tops nearby.  We spent many evenings listening to the juvenile owls call out to the parents from the tree tops.

IMG_5737.JPG

Female Downy Woodpecker

The male Downy Woodpecker has a red patch on the back of his head, which this female lacks.

803

Downy Woodpecker

It is a delight to capture these colorful little birds, which do not visit that often.  Their range extends  from Alaska and the western U. S.  Quite similar to the Hairy Woodpecker.

IMG_5971.JPG

Meadowlark

Wyoming’s state bird, the Meadowlark, is my other favorite of all the birds we experience here on Dry Creek.  Their melodious song of 7-10 flutelike notes is a welcome to springtime.  They can usually be seen sitting on fence posts as they sing, typically in the morning or evening and what a wonder it is to listen!

IMG_9058.JPG

Blue Heron

This is a rare sighting of a Blue Heron on our pond.  We occasionally see them on the North Fork of Powder River a couple of miles south of us, but it is unusual to catch them here.  They stand about 4 feet tall, so it is hard to miss them!  We have tried adding minnows and even goldfish to the pond and likely that would bring a few more of our feathered friends to stop in for lunch.

086.JPG

Black Bird Babies

About six babies were in this hole in a Cottonwood tree, all vying for attention and tumbling over each other.  The adults appeared to be common, or Brewer’s Blackbirds and are tireless parents.  Feeding this hungry group is a full-time job!

IMG_8717.JPG

Black Birds

IMG_0682 (2)

Sharp-Tailed Grouse

Just as their name implies, these grouse have long, pointed tails.  They are similar in coloration to prairie chickens, with pale chest and speckled brown backs.  During breeding season the male displays a purplish neck sack.  These grouse have been spotted in a row of Russian Olive trees along our driveway and we believe they hang out in a pasture nearby.  I am hoping to get a better shot of them.

IMG_8082

Brown-capped Rosie-Finch

About six of these little roley-poleys landed in the snow underneath the feeders one recent winter day.  They were puffed up against the cold, but appear to be broad-chested naturally.  We have searched the bird reference guide, but the answer came from a friend – thanks, Marilyn!

IMG_4992

Bald Eagle

America’s national bird, the Bald Eagle migrates from Canada and Alaska to winter in our area.  They can be spotted throughout the year, but their numbers increase during winter.  They are a massive bird, with a wing span of 7-8 feet.  The mature Bald Eagles have a white head and tail.  We see them along the highway, usually with a cluster of ravens, lunching on road kill deer, rabbit or other unfortunate animal.  They perch high in the bare branches of  trees for a vantage point to spot prairie dogs, rabbits, voles and whatever else they can make a meal of, including spring lambs which make them unpopular with local sheep ranchers.

074 - Copy

Golden Eagle

Try as I might, I can never get these giant birds to sit still for a photo.  Taken while we were doing the eagle survey for the Bureau of Land Management, he saw our Jeep arrive and soon took flight from his perch on a power pole.  Oh well, next time!

IMG_0678.JPG

Wild Turkeys

I seem to recall Ben Franklin thought the Wild Turkey should become the national bird, but the turkeys lost out to the Bald Eagle.  We used to get seasonal visits from a flock of wild turkeys who would roost high up in the cottonwood trees.  Dad kept a sack of corn around to feed them and made pets of them.  For some unexplained reason they stopped coming, perhaps due to predators.  They do still thrive in the area and I photographed these recently while we were conducting our eagle survey.

020

Pygmy Nuthatch

These little birds climb down the tree headfirst and scamper around searching for bugs in the tree bark.  They are entertaining to watch as they circle around and climb up and down the tree.

IMG_5343.JPG

European Starling

Considered a garrulous creature, this unfortunate Starling flew down our chimney and raised a ruckus in the fireplace.  It took some time to sort out where the noise was emanating from or what was the cause.  Fortunately for this bird, there was no fire when it decided to make an entrance in our living room.  It created a considerable amount of chaos before we were able to capture it in a plastic bag and set it free outdoors.

002

Starling Songfest

The heated birdbath seems just right for this gathering of Starlings and they appear to be having a good time drinking, bathing and singing.

IMG_4983.JPG

Prairie Sage Grouse

Somewhat reclusive, sage grouse live in sagebrush country and Wyoming has the largest concentration of them in the western U.S.  Not long ago one flew into the yard, barely missing Michael’s head, and landed in the grass.  A hawk was in pursuit of the grouse but soared up and away once its prey escaped. The grouse was stunned and disoriented, so Michael gathered it up and set it free on the hill above the house.  We hope it made it home before the hawk returned.  In spring, the sage grouse gather at leks to mate and the males display fine plumage and make a “booming” courtship call to the females.

IMG_8112

Immature Bald Eagle

This immature eagle hasn’t reached the age for his head and tale to become white.  A keen hunter, he will wait patiently for an opportunity to materialize.

IMG_4853.JPG

Rufous Hummingbird

We hang feeders around the end of June and have quite a few little Hummingbirds pay us a visit.  I am always amazed at how many we see in the mountains early in spring when there is nothing blooming and we have so few down below with flowers and fruit trees covered in blossoms.  They migrate to Mexico in winter and for such a tiny bird to cover so great a distance is one of nature’s miracles.

IMG_4668

White Crowned Sparrow

A little undecided on this identification, but this is our best guess.  There are many types of sparrows and we get a variety at the feeders.

140

Cassin’s Finch

Very similar to the Purple Finch but less red on chest and back.  We see these fairly often at the feeders.

858

Northern Flicker

Wearing his black bib, this “Red Shafted” Flicker is a beautiful bird with a red patch under his bill and at the tip of its tail.  Brown spots along a white chest, and black stripes across a brown back lend a richness to its coat. They make their homes in tree trunks or wherever they can use their long beak to drill a hole – sometimes in the siding on a barn or house.

011

Killdeer

Named for its loud, noisy kill-deeah song, this leggy bird can be found near reservoirs, streams and, in this case, our pond.  They nest on the ground and will go to great lengths to divert any disturbance from their young, prancing down the road or path to capture your attention.  Wide ranging, they can be found  in So. Alaska, Canada, Mexico, W. Indies, also coastal Peru and, of course, Wyoming.

001

American Robin

Known for its brick-red breast, the American Robin is also a favorite.  They are the first to arrive in spring, and some winters we have sighted them as early as February.  The last bird song at the end of the day, I often walk down the creek bottom in summer to listen to their clear caroling at dusk. They signal their goodnight with sharp, staccato chirps and then it grows quiet until the owls begin their conversation.

007 1

American Robin

Robins love to bathe and will frequently jump in for a splash.

IMG_0030

Western Tanager

The first Tanager we have sighted, it was an exciting discovery underneath the feeders in July, 2019. The males are most colorful, with red heads.  My bird reference book says the red disappears in autumn and winter.  This is the only U.S. tanager with strong wing bars.

IMG_0070

Wren

Small in size, these little wrens dart quickly from branch to branch, making it hard to photograph them.  We usually hear them singing before we see them.  It is our hope they will nest in some of the bird houses we hung designed for small birds.

IMG_0641

Peacock

Whoa, what’s this?  Not the usual fowl found along Dry Creek.  This fine fellow is a visitor from next door who has not found his way home.  He has been managing to survive in the tall grasses and cover provided by Russian Olive trees.  He enjoys a snack of seeds and will allow me to come fairly close if he is truly hungry, but otherwise he is very elusive and impossible to catch without a major effort on the part of maybe half a dozen determined bird catchers.  He has survived the cold, snow and wind without shelter and refuses to go in with the chickens and guineas at night.  Hard to predict how this story will end.

There are many more birds to add to this story, and hopefully I will be able to add better photographs of some of these and find new subjects to include.