Hart's Basin (Part One)

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While I was home visiting Colorado, I took a little drive over to Fruitgrower's Reservoir (more commonly known as Hart's Basin) in Orchard City to check out some birds. This place is known for being a prominent landmark in the Sandhill Crane migration. I was a few weeks late for that but no matter, Hart's Basin never disappoints when it comes to water birds, raptors, songbirds and lizards, actually. Loads of lizards all over the place. I had just gotten a new camera before I went so, admittedly, I went buck wild taking pictures of birds and various other things. So many, in fact, that I'm splitting this blog into two parts. One for the water birds (this one) and one for the other fellows who like water but not really for swimming. Just hydration. I'm very excited to take credit for all the photos on these blogs because generally I'm pirating off of google, as you all well know.

First contestant: Western Grebe. In nice terms, this bird looks like a geometrically elegant "S" on the water, pleasantly split into black(ish) and white plumage. In honest terms, he looks like a skinny hipster swan. And yes, the eyes are naturally inferno red which makes them a biggie for identifying this species if you've never seen it before. While Western Grebes may look like ducks, they aren't. They're kicking it stag in their own category. Here are some of those beauties:

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You would think that all grebes look somewhat similar but instead, they comprise a pretty diverse continuum of shapes and sizes. The Black-necked Grebe was also present in numbers. Excellent hairstyle on these guys if you ask me.

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The American Coot also looks like a duck but is not one. To me, this guy is very easy to distinguish because of his white bill (uncommon in ducks) and stubby little butt. He doesn't have ornate tail feathers (retrices) like a Northern Pintail or curls on the tail like Mallards. Just straight, short feathers. With all the sensible ways that I could have organized these birds (i.e. chronologically, phylogenetically), I chose to organize them by eye color. Keeping with the tradition, the American Coot also has naturally red eyes.

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Finally, a duck. I've only seen this duck one other time so I was quite pleased to see it again (if it's the same one, I'll be damned). This Ruddy Duck is either a juvenile, an adult female or an adult male in summer non-breeding plumage. Look up the adult male if you feel like seeing a duck with a sky blue bill. Beautiful. To answer your next question, yes, his/her tail is supposed to look all scraggly.

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I think I have mentioned this before but American White Pelicans are sort of special to me. They are both a fond memory from birding during my undergrad and a surprising spectacle every time I see them. I could watch them fish for hours, patience I don't even have for my own lake fishing attempts.

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I'm going to throw the Ring-billed Gull in with water birds for obvious reasons. They are a very common species in North America and I see them all summer long in Newfoundland as well.

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And what kind of birder would I be if I had been to this reservoir and not seen a Great Blue Heron or three. I love the plumage on these birds. Pink feathers on the neck which serve (probably) no other purpose than making the birds sexy to mates. A rat-tail like hairdo off the back of the head. And hello, the bird is actually blue (or grey in some lights, shh). How cool is this guy?!

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NEW BIRD SIGHTING ALERT. I've never seen White-faced Ibises before. Just about couldn't contain myself when I saw this sweet couple. It would be hard to say what color they actually are because they're iridescent all over and so look red at times, purple at other times and sometimes just brown. Check out that bill. The tip is innervated for finding food underwater.

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Stay tuned for other birds I saw in Hart's Basin!

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Somebody needs a GPS

I found an interesting specimen whilst quickly perusing the banks of Quidi Vidi Lake this afternoon. He or she is pretty far north, even for migration according to both of my most trusted field guides. An American Coot! The American Coot is not a rare species in North America but it isn't seen as often in Newfoundland as it is everywhere else. It looked pretty natural swimming among the Mallards and the Northern Pintail until I noticed the short, round little bum bobbing like a cork and said Hey, one of these things is not like the others.

By the way, my favorite field guide both in general and for North America is The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. I love everything about it. I love the illustrations, the layout and the fact that it is both a thorough reference and not too heavy (some will disagree) to carry while birdwatching. This is what it looks like:

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The other field guide that I use often is The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald and Lillian Stokes. I like this one because it uses photos instead of illustrations so that if you just can't decipher your bird with Sibley's, you can have a look at a real picture of the bird. I highly recommend both guides.

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As an end note, I'll leave you with the list of birds I saw at QV in the half hour I was there:

American Coot, Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon), Greater Scaup, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Black-headed Gull (first time I've ever seen them!), Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Great Cormorant (a juvenile by himself diving for fish, maybe my favorite find today).

 

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