It was late in the day, almost 7 PM when I took this photograph in Custer State Park in South Dakota earlier this month. The Bison is backlit but I really like the effect of the rim lighting from the setting sun on the Bison’s fur as well as the fact that she is looking into my lens. I always love that direct connection when the critter looks straight into the camera.
This is a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. Wait! Is it? It’s a ground squirrel all right but maybe it is a Mexican Ground Squirrel. When I took this photograph near the Rio Grande in South Texas in May, I thought it was a Thirteen-lined Squirrel, a type of ground squirrel I recognized from seeing it elsewhere, including in South Dakota. A couple of days later, someone pointed out that the area also has Mexican Ground Squirrels and they look almost identical to the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel. I suppose there is a way to tell the difference but a quick look into their ranges shows that they overlap in Texas so short of an expert’s opinion, I’ll probably never know. I’m actually leaning toward Mexican Ground Squirrel because we were so close to Mexico and the location I shot this image was in the middle of that squirrel’s range. So, what’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what is the name, let alone why the name.
The male Bronzed Cowbird, native to South Texas, has iridescent feathers and a distinctive red eye. This blackbird has a fascinating mating display but it is also a parasitic bird that lays its eggs in the nests of unsuspecting birds who then raise the young.
It’s impossible to know what this Kodiak Brown Bear might have been thinking when it stuck its tongue out at us when we were photographing it last month in Alaska. Its mouth agape, with a look somewhere between rudeness, disgust, or maybe just a Gene Simmons impersonation it stared at us with its tongue lolling out of its mouth for a few seconds, then it got up and strolled down the beach.
Watching raptors from blinds at the Santa Clara Ranch in South Texas a few weeks ago gave us lots of opportunities to photograph the action. There was plenty of competition among the several raptor species that visited the area. By the numbers, Crested Caracara were the most common visitors but Harris’s Hawks and Black Vultures also competed and even a few Turkey Vultures. It was a real challenge to recognize the patterns so we’d know when the birds were going to leave their perches in order to get the best flight shots. This shot shows off the bird’s wing structure and the patterns of the feathers as it leaves the perch.
In 1927, state legislatures began to designate state birds following a campaign to do so by a large confederation of women’s organizations. Texas and Florida were among the first several states to do so that year, each designating the Northern Mockingbird as its state bird. To date, I have photographed birds that have been chosen by 44 states (many states share a bird) but I have photographed only three of those birds within their respective states: the Nene in Hawaii, the Cactus Wren in Arizona, and the Northern Mockingbird in Texas. I’ve photographed many birds in Florida, but never a Northern Mockingbird there. Five states have designated the Northern Mockingbird as their state bird. Here is a link to a list of all state birds. I think it’s fascinating that the Northern Mockingbird was chosen by so many states (the Northern Cardinal is the choice of 7 states and the Western Meadowlark of 6) when I have seen and photographed so many other types of birds, especially in Texas and Florida, that are unique to those places. Ironically, I have yet to photograph a California Quail, in California or anywhere.
A few wispy white clouds were scattered in the skies above Kachemak Bay in Homer, Alaska in May, a few weeks ago. Some Bald Eagles were soaring above our small boat, giving us a chance to capture a few photographs of them in the air. Their intense, fixed stare is always fascinating to me. It gives them such an imposing but majestic appearance.
This is the third in a series of posts about why a bird’s name includes a particular characteristic. I certainly don’t have answers and am now completely confused after coming across this photograph of a Long-billed Thrasher. To me, the bill looks curved and it doesn’t appear any longer than that of the Curve-billed Thrasher. The birds are most notably distinguished not by the difference in their bills but by the differences in their feather coloration and patterns, especially on their breasts. I now understand why I used the look of their breast feathers to identify the thrashers, not the length or curvature of their bills.
Pyrrhuloxia. It’s easier to say its Latin name: Cardinalis Sinuatus. The Pyrrhuloxia is the Desert Cardinal, closely related to the Northern Cardinal, cardinalis cardinalis. Pyrrhuloxia seems to be such an odd name for a bird, especially when its Latin name is so much simpler and easier to pronounce. The name Pyrrhuloxia comes from the Greek terms describing its coloration, pyrrhos (reddish or orange) and the shape of its bill loxos (oblique). So there you have it. I’m not sure how Pyrrhuloxia became the preferred common name over Desert Cardinal. But, now that I can pronounce it, peer-uh-LOX-ee-a, I’m good with it!
Sometimes it’s hard to tell why a bird was so-named but it is clear in this photograph that the Curve-billed Thrasher was appropriately named. In South Texas near the Rio Grande where I took this photograph in May, there are Curve-billed Thrashers and Long-billed Thrashers. Most of the time, it was easier for me to tell the difference between these two species, both of which visited the water features there, by the distinctively different colorations on their breasts, not the differences in their bills. But in this photograph, to me, the curved bill is so obvious I wonder why that characteristic didn’t jump out at me when I was there. I guess the difference is that then, the birds came and went so quickly and erratically that identification of the more subtle characteristics like the curvature of the bill, was difficult for me and I paid attention to the more obvious differences.