Sunday, August 24, 2014

Going to Extremes: Golden Eagle to Calliope Hummingbird

My wife and I used a long weekend and over 1200 miles from the life of our Honda to visit three amazing national parks this past weekend. We visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We started at Bryce Canyon Thursday night, but we literally visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon between Friday morning and Saturday afternoon. That is extreme, but we had a great time. America is beautiful and we love the red-rock country of Utah and Arizona. I'll share some of the trip highlights in coming days, but what happened this evening when we returned home capped off an extreme weekend in a bird sort of way. I'll explain and share a couple of images.

I'll start on the large end of extreme, a close encounter with one of North America's largest birds, the Golden Eagle.

Rain was falling as we were approaching the small town of Panguitch, Utah last Thursday. We were about 30 minutes from Bryce Canyon NP. I was driving and keeping track of the various raptor species I was seeing on the power poles along the highway when a raptor on a distant pole set off my eagle alarm. The shape, posture on the pole, and relative size were perfect for a Golden Eagle. It shouldn't surprise my wife at this point, but she wondered what the heck I was doing when I told her I was going to do a u-turn on the small two-lane highway. After completing the maneuver (which included a second u-turn), using the car as a mobile blind to get close to the eagle, and waiting for traffic to pass, I exited the car and did my special approach to the bird. It's a way of getting close without sending threatening body language to the bird. Once I was in the right place I was able to turn toward the eagle and capture a few images. White coloring at the base of the tail feathers let me know I was observing an immature bird.

The overcast sky didn't allow me to use a high shutter speed so the flight shots didn't turn out the way I would have liked. That's a bummer because few things compare to an eagle in flight. The image below was the best of the bunch, but it didn't start out that way. I recently started shooting raw images and playing around with Adobe Lightroom. I still don't know what I'm doing with the software, but I was able to change the lighting and bring out some hidden details from the raw image. For me, a raptor nut, the trip was starting out just right.

Immature Golden Eagle Near Panguitch, UT

Now for the other extreme at the tail end of our trip, a very close-to-home encounter with North America's smallest bird, the Calliope Hummingbird.

Prior to leaving for our trip last Thursday I loaded the front and back yard hummingbird feeders with sugar water. I did that because I was hoping that migrating Calliope Hummingbirds would visit my feeders again this year. It was about this time last year when I began to see several Calliopes at my feeders. I was hopeful that they'd follow the same migration route this year and drop by my house for another visit. I figured that I'd increase my odds for drawing them in again this year if I kept the feeders busy with the typical Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds while I was gone.

I read an email from another Utah birder while I was on my trip. He emailed the local community to find out if anyone was seeing Calliopes in Utah County. His question was raised because he researched eBird, an online tool I and countless other birders use to report bird species we observe. He saw that I had reported Calliopes at my yard feeders this time last year and was wondering why no one was reporting them this year. My fingers were crossed that my loaded feeders were doing their job in my absence.

Well, we returned from our trip this afternoon and the second bird I saw at my front porch feeder was a young male Calliope. Success! He doesn't have his long sword-like gorget feathers, but he'll have them soon.

Immature Male Calliope Hummingbird in Pleasant Grove, UT
Adult males generally migrate ahead of the females and juveniles, but I'm still hopeful that an adult male will pay a visit again this month. I'd like to get some video of an adult male at the feeder. For now I'll share a clip of tonight's young male as it fed from the feeder. The image quality will be better if viewed at 1080p HD.

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