Sunday, October 13, 2013

Green Jay

By Alexandria Simpson

Green Jay "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson
When thinking of jays, the color that most often comes to mind is blue.  Most people are familiar with the Blue Jay or another blue-colored jay.  Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my first Green Jay on a birding trip to Laguna Atascosa NWR in South Texas.  They are certainly green, a beautiful lime green reminiscent of parrots.
In case you still prefer some blue on your jay, the Green Jay does not disappoint: the crown and nape are bright blue.  Add some yellow-green to the bellies, and a black bib, eye line, and throat and you've created a Green Jay.  They seem very colorful but when viewed in their native semi-tropical habitat, they blend in amazingly well with the dappled sunshine and shade.  Males, females, and immatures look identical.
Green Jay and a "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson.

A few years ago, the Atascosa refuge had a very special jay.  Called the "blue variant" of the Green Jay", it was missing its yellow pigmentation and instead of being bright green, was a dull gray-blue.  When it stood next to a regular jay, the difference was stunning.  It was famous and highly photographed until it disappeared, presumably predated.

Interestingly, the Green Jay is the only common jay species in the Rio Grande Valley.  Nowhere else in the US or Canada can you find these birds; there are also populations in Mexico and South America.  The South Texas subspecies are colored somewhat differently from their South American relations, which are sometimes called Inca Jays.

Green Jays feeding.  Courtesy of A. Simpson.
Like other members of the Corvidae family, which includes jays, ravens, and crows, they are loud, aggressive, and curious birds.  The dinner table certainly never suffers from lack of conversation while the Green Jays are feeding!  A common spectacle, and one that proves their courage, is to see one or more perched atop a javelina, enjoying a free ride.  Studies have shown that Corvids are some of the most intelligent birds.  Green Jays are no exception to this and have been seen using sticks to poke insects out of tree bark.

Groups of Green Jays are called bands, parties, or scolds.  They are mostly family groups with the young from the previous year help out with this year's chicks.  Once the chicks are two years old, they are forced to leave and start a family of their own.

Green Jay perched on a Javelina.  Courtesy of A. Simpson
Green Jays are some of the most interesting birds to watch, especially when they cock their heads at you inquiringly.  Their beautiful plumage and loud, aggressive behavior provide plenty of entertainment.  If you've never had been able to view these birds in action, I hope you get the chance to someday.  They may not be blue, but they certainly are amazing birds!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Birds of the Border

By Matthias Benko

For millions of years, birds have been oblivious to national, state, provincial, and county borders. That was the case this past Saturday when the IYBC headed up to the Indiana/Illinois Lakefront to do a “little birding.” Actually, a “little birding” is quite an understatement. There was quite a lot to keep us busy------for seven straight hours.
The IYBC crew met up at Miller Beach outside of Gary, IN,  at 9 o’clock eastern time last Saturday. There was a reported Red Knot there, but before most of us could get there, it was spooked by a Cooper’s Hawk. However, the missing Red Knot was made up by a fly-by Whimbrel. After some of us had regained our breathing from the Whimbrel sighting, we decided to head over to the Whiting Park to look for migrant warblers.
We were rewarded very quickly at Whiting Park when we found a group of Nashville, Blackpoll, and Bay-breasted Warblers trying to scare off a perched Red-tailed Hawk. Some other highlights at Whiting Park after the small flock included a couple of Wilson’s Warblers,  an Ovenbird,  some American Redstarts, and a black squirrel. We finished up there and decided to go to what would be a life-changing destination for me.
The Migrant Trap is located next to the infamous Horseshoe Casino. Since the birds are very fatigued from the flight across Lake Michigan, they come here in numbers to rest.  We started at a bird feeder area with species like American Goldfinch, Gray Catbird,  Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, and Black-capped (not Indianapolis’s Carolina) Chickadee. After looking at the feeder birds for a few minutes, we started to head down the park’s only trail. Almost immediately we saw one Black-throated Green Warbler and numerous Tennessee Warblers. After the Tennessees, we started seeing lots of Blackpolls. It was getting a bit repetitive, but then I got my first life bird of the trip-------- a male Magnolia Warbler in vibrant fall plumage. It felt like there was some sort of unbreakable bond between the two of us, and I knew for a fact right then and there that the Magnolia Warbler was one of my favorite warblers. Just when it couldn't it get any better, it did. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler showed up. I don’t exactly know how to explain the feeling when I saw him, but I am sure that is what it must feel like to be star-struck. The only two new warblers that I saw on the trip became part of my top three favorite warblers. It is kind of strange how it ended up that way, but I don’t think it was a coincidence.....
At the end of The Migrant Trap, there is a little mudflat area. I saw new two lifers here------- Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. By that time, we were all hungry, thirsty, and fatigued, so we took a lunch break. After our quick refueling, we headed back to Miller Beach. I ended the day there after I saw my first American Golden Plover (in full plumage!) and my first Black-bellied Plover. All in all, it was a wonderful day for not only us, but the birds who survived their brutal flight across Lake Michigan.