Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wrapping up October and Beginning November

Isn't migration wonderful?

Comparing notes from last year will be difficult. I didn't move to Guntersville until December, and only got to the causeway a couple of times a week.

However, last year, I didn't have my first Loon sighting until October 23rd. This year, it would come three days sooner.

I also didn't have my first double digit count last year (12) until November 8th. This year, it would come on October 28th (11). Numbers would fluctuate between 0-13 from the 20th through the 31st, but the 31st would have the most birds with 13.

November has held steady, with 9-12 birds each day. Fly-ins aren't commonly seen, but I usually have at least one each day, with three being my highest fly-in numbers so far. But, if I go by last year's records, I have a good week before I'll start seeing numbers above 20, and two more weeks before they're in the dozens.

So far, it seems that they are coming in larger numbers than last year; that or I'm just paying closer attention this year. Either way, it's shaping out to be a productive winter for research and wintering populations. Time will tell.

I'll try to blog periodically about my findings. I must admit, though, it's hard to find the time.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015


This is just a quick update that I found my first of the season Loons at the causeway today. Four, in fact. They were about 100 yards out, so my pictures are not worth posting. I was just happy to see that they are back.

Within the next 2-3 weeks, numbers should spike, and I'm looking forward to photographing and observing these birds again.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

So It Begins...

I made a short trip to Birmingham area to track down two Trumpeter Swans that a friend of mine reported seeing. I'm pretty sure they're captive birds, but there's a slight chance they aren't,  as he's never seen them in this location before. Here's a photo of one:

But, that's not terribly important. What is important is what the eBird rare bird alert said when I returned home. Two Common Loons were found at the lake by a birder I am acquainted with (and is a reliable source). Go figure my first day not checking the causeway would result in one being seen.

And so it begins..... I will be out bright and early in the mornings to find Loons and track their movements. Last year, my first Loon sighting was on October 23rd (two birds). It didn't take long for those counts to rise in number.

I'm so excited to get back into my Loon research. I have missed these birds so much!

So, I'll be stationed at the causeway, D600+500mm lens in hand, to capture photos, record behaviors, and take notes on counts. This is why I love winter in Alabama.


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Loon That Started It All

As October draws near, when I begin to see the return of the Loons from the north, I reflect about what got me interested in studying these birds to begin with.

This is the first banded bird I would encounter at the causeway last year. I found this bird on December 29th. After contacting several folks, including Dr. Spitzer, the bands would be tracked to Kevin Kenow, a biologist in Wisconsin who studies Loons and their migration patterns.

Here's a link to this year's Loon Migration Data.

Hearing back from Mr. Kenow, I would find out that this bird was banded on July 16, 2013 on Clearwater Lake in Crow Wing County, Minnesota.

How exciting! I have found banded birds in the past, but never a loon.... and once I started talking to Dr. Spitzer about the lack of research on Loons in the southeast, I thought- well, why not? I live at a major wintering spot for them. The information I could get would be extremely useful.

So, begin a new adventure.

The male above was not the only banded bird I would locate. This is another bird that I would find in my photos that I didn't realize was banded when I took the pictures:

I would find out that this was another bird banded by Mr. Kenow. A male banded on August 23, 2011 on West Fox Lake in Crow Wing County, Minnesota- the same county the first bird was banded in.

Now I'm hooked.

Talking to Dr. Spitzer about doing research was also very encouraging. I have always had an interest in Loons and knowing that I could contribute to their conservation was enough for me to put forth my free time for this.

So, these were the two male Loons that started the passion. I hope they pass through again this year to say hello.

I hope to blog throughout the winter this year about the data I am collecting and what I am learning about these magnificent birds.

Until next time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Stop-Over Time

I FINALLY have the time to sit down and blog about my Loon observations... but it seems silly to try to write about the entire winter in one post. So, I'll start from the present, and just sort of write about what I've learned along the way.

On the 18th, I noticed Loon numbers were low at the highway 69 causeway. Normally, throughout the winter, I have counted between 100-200 birds at any given time. But, it's mid-March, and it's time for my lovelies to make their way back north. All of the birds have their flight feathers intact, and at least half (if not more) are in alternate plumage. I count no more than 43 birds.

May I break for a minute to just say that there is not a single bird, to me, prettier than a Common Loon in alternate plumage. When the sun hits their feathers just right, it's nothing short of breathtaking. I feel a definite privilege to have the opportunity to observe these birds from such a close range.

Back on track now.

I go back on the 20th, and numbers are still low. 48 birds that day. One flyover, which was promising. I know there will come a point where the numbers should spike as the Loons from the Gulf stop over to rest on Guntersville Lake.

That point would come yesterday. I count 83 birds, plus 6 flyovers. The bridge area still holds the most activity at this point, and rafts are low in number. Each only consisting of a handful of birds. I decide to come back today (the 24th) to see if numbers have improved, and to get better photos since the day was forecast to be sunny and warm.

I arrive at 8 AM, and immediately notice large rafts in the distance. I scan with my camera and see a large raft on the north end consisting of 62 birds. A few birds are within 50 yards of the bridge.

I then cross the four-lane highway to check the south side of the causeway, and find a raft of 69 birds at about 75 yards out. More birds are around the bridge on this side, and I climb down the steep grade of rock to get to the water's edge and get on the level of the birds.

My total count would be 152 birds, with zero flyovers. It's stop-over time!

As I sit patiently, surrounded by fishermen who look at me as though they think me laying on the rocks with my large camera makes me some sort of crazy- I notice a pair of Loons displaying courtship behavior out near the large raft. Too far for clear photos, so I just watch through my camera for a minute.

For the most part, the Loons around the bridge dive frequently, and often emerge with fish. Today it would be Freshwater Drum and Yellow/Striped Bass. Here's one almost losing its catch:

Normally I shoot photos from the bridge, which is about 15 feet up from the water. Shooting from water level is far more challenging, and the lighting is not near as good as when I can move around to position myself in the best possible way. There's a lot of trial and error, but I have the time to sit and watch and figure it all out.

So, I observe for about an hour or so on the south side, before this one decides to pop up for some great photos:

Now, I walk under the bridge to do my observations at the north side, since the sun is now starting to get harsh towards the south. I get the same count I got an hour before, so the number (152) remains accurate. Over here, the Loons are a little further out, but I get a couple good shots. I'm pretty sure the molting Loon is the same one I photographed weeks ago, and I now have hanging on my living room wall:

So, with the help of Dr. Paul Spitzer, I am focusing on observing these birds at the lake, and gathering information on their behaviors and duration of their stay here in Guntersville. I do have my fingers crossed for finding more banded birds. I may even make a trip to Minnesota in late spring-early summer to visit them in their breeding grounds.

I wish I had the time to write more, but I will be updating again soon with some other Loon information I've learned this winter.

Happy birding.