Mammatus and other oddities

October 31, 2016 at 5:00 am (Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Wichita Mountains NWR) ()

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the image to enlarge it and read the text better.

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All photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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When dragons fly

October 30, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the image to enlarge it and read the text better.

dragons-fly

All photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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October 29, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. I saw some scissortails yesterday but they will be gone south very soon!

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All photographs copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Dove bars for da boids

October 28, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the image to enlarge it and read it easier.

Read it here too.

FORT SILL, Okla., July 21, 2016 — Doves love birdseed. But they don’t fit too well on tube bird feeders because the perches are too narrow. So I scatter seed on the ground for them, and at times I’ll have eight white-winged doves happily pecking at the “bar” below while the sparrows and finches, the cardinals and an occasional tufted titmouse or Carolina chickadee, gorge themselves from the hanging feeders. Once I had mourning and Eurasian collared doves with them, and twice I’ve seen a lone Inca dove.

Incas are a mainly southwestern dove, smaller than the white-winged, with thin black bills. One unique attribute is the way their body feathers are darker colored at the edges, giving them a scaly look. It’s really quite lovely.

Inca doves are known for creating little pyramids of themselves to keep warm, or maybe just to be extra friendly. I’ve seen this at Big Bend National Park in Texas. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says these pyramids can be three layers high and consist of up to 12 birds. We are at the northeastern edge of their range, according to the Audubon bird map, and they prefer suburban yards and urban parks.

Mourning doves are one of the most widespread in the 48 states, found year-round in all but a few north-central states which host them only in summer. They have long pointed tails and are often seen perched on utility wires or fences.

In my yard, however, they are outnumbered by the white-winged doves, which do not even show up on the Audubon map for southern Oklahoma. Hmmm.

They are large silky brown birds with bright red legs, red eyes and blue eye shadow. Of course, the most notable field mark for sitting birds is the white crescent at the edge of the wing, which shows dramatically in flight contrasting with the dark primary feathers, and complemented by the white edges of the fanned-out tail. As doves go, they are striking.

The Eurasian collared dove, as you might gather from its name, is an immigrant, arriving in Florida in 1980s and spreading to about two-thirds of the continental United States. They are a chalky gray, paler than the other three, with a black collar that extends around the back of the neck.

The four doves can be readily distinguished by their calls. The mourning dove’s sounds like a lament, hence its name. (Ooh aah ooooh ooooh ooooh). The white-winged asks “who cooks for youuuu?” and the collared dove has “hoo hooo hoo” on repeat. The two-note “coo-coo” of the Inca dove can be read as “no hope.”

Feeding birds is a popular hobby in America, and even if you don’t want to spend money on birdfeeders, just scattering seed on the ground will attract a wide variety of avian citizens. Keep the “bar” stocked, add some cracked corn and peanuts, and the squirrels will join the sideshow. You can enjoy your own Dove Bar while you watch.

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Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Mississippi kites

October 27, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. The kites have migrated south now, and I await their return in May. Double click on the image to enlarge it.

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Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Kill-deer! Translating birdsong into English

October 26, 2016 at 5:00 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the images to enlarge them and read the text better.

You can also read it here:

FORT SILL, Okla., March 17, 2016 — For people who are musically inclined, it might not be so difficult remembering all the different bird songs, especially those of species here only part of the year. But for some of us, the only way we can remember them is to translate them into English.

Birds such as the killdeer, a very common plover in this area, make it easy. They call out their own names. “Kill-deer! Kill-deer!” Well, sort of.

The eastern phoebe conveniently identifies itself. “Phee BEE!” Bobbing its tail as it perches is another way to separate the phoebe from other flycatchers.

I’ve lived all over the country, and I can tell you with some degree of authority that birds, like people, have regional accents. I remember hearing a robin in Arizona sounding very different from ones I heard in Seattle, and the robins in Maine were different from both. Robins generally sing, “Wake up, cheer up, cheery up, wake up!” Or something along those lines.

Take the cardinal, official bird of seven states. Growing up in Louisiana, I heard the male cardinal distinctly call out, “cheer, cheer, what? what? what? what?” But here in Oklahoma, it might just be “cheer, cheer, cheer.”

The chestnut-sided warbler, which we might see migrating through soon, greets us with “pleased pleased pleased to meet yoooouuuu.”

The mockingbird, which five states have claimed as THEIR state bird, not only has a delightful repertoire of its own, it frequently incorporates other bird songs seamlessly into its aria. Mocking them as it were.

Some of the larger flycatchers seem to be crying out for “beer,” or “three beers.”

A plain brown sparrow in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Ga., the endangered Bachman’s sparrow, makes itself pretty scarce most of the year. But during breeding season it sits atop a stem or branch and sings out, “here kitty kitty kitty” three times, each phrase in a different octave.

The black-capped chickadee’s song is “hey, sweetie” but its call does distinctly sound like “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” The Carolina chickadee has a four-note song “phee, beee, phee, bay” with the first and third notes pitched higher. Its “chickadee” call is more rapid and harsh than its cousin’s.
The white-throated sparrow sings, “oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada.” Even if it’s born in the U.S.A.

An easy website to learn birds and their songs is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s AllAboutBirds.org website. Various apps for your smart phone can replace a bird book and help identify songs in the field. iBird is my favorite. The Lite version is free but the more robust version costs money. The free National Audubon Society’s Merlin is geared for beginners.

Larkwire is a fee-based app with beginning to advanced versions and includes a song ID game.
Apps or websites are great for figuring out birdsongs when they can’t be translated into English

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Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Head ’em up, move ’em out

October 25, 2016 at 5:00 am (National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Oklahoma, Photography, Wichita Mountains NWR) (, )

From my MeadowLarking column in the Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on the image to enlarge and read the text better.

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Photos copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Ancient Tar Pit, Fort Sill

October 24, 2016 at 5:00 am (Nature, Oklahoma, Photography) (, )

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

I finally made it to the ancient tar pit at Fort Sill. It’s an oddity, smelling of asphalt and full of ooey gooey tar. Despite that, plants grow out of the tarry water, and frogs skitter and hop out of sight when frightened. Frogs? Why are they not covered in goo like seabirds in an ocean oil spill?

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

I will have to find someone who can answer that. I would have gotten closer to the edge of the shallow pond but I knew I would get tar on my shoes and then in my car, and that simply was not going to happen!

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

I am always fascinated with nature abstractions, and the oily slicks on the surface occupied about a half hour of my photographic wanderings.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

I got the best results with a polarizing filter, and then did some contrast enhancement and increased vibrance in Photoshop. So what you’re seeing isn’t what the eye saw.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

These swirls remind me of patterns in certain rocks seen closeup. Or curvy canyons viewed from eagle-height.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

I hoped maybe I’d see a pair of frog eyes peeping at me once I got these enlarged, but no luck.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Because you need specific ID to get onto Fort Sill, you should check out the post webpage telling you how to do so. Once you’re on post, you can visit the Field Artillery Museum and the Old Post Quadrangle with its visitor center and old military buildings. Plus you can visit Geronimo’s grave and several other Native American cemeteries, as well as the post cemetery.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Lake Elmer Thomas Park on the west side is a lovely place even though many of the amenities are closed in the off-season. And there’s Martha Songbird nature park for bird and butterfly watching, and some pretty nice drives into the open prairie where training takes place.

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

As long as you stay on the paved roads, you’re safe. A permit is needed to travel more than 100 feet (or is it yards, I can’t remember) off the main road once you’re out of the cantonment area (the “city” where the buildings are.)

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

Tar Pits, Fort Sill, Oklahoma

As far as the tar pits, my co-worker wrote about them in the Fort Sill Tribune. Here’s what she discovered.  Fossils have been illegally removed from the site over the years, which is sad. I didn’t see any myself, but then, I stayed away from the tar.

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This is what the pit looks like. It’s quite small, and definitely smells like fresh asphalt. The Oklahoman newspaper’s newsok.com website had this to say about the tar pits: “The fossil-packed Adams Hill Tar Pit, is a 250 million-year-old archaeological treasure trove. (The famed LaBrea Tar Pits of Los Angeles are babes in contrast – a mere 35 million years old.) In addition to dinosaur, mammoth and other prehistoric fossils, several sites around Fort Sill have yielded large amounts of artifacts from Oklahoma’s first residents – the Paleo-Indians.”

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Enjoy!

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Black-bellied whistling ducks

October 22, 2016 at 10:03 am (Bird photography, Birds - Oklahoma, Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Photography, Wildlife) ()

Black-bellied whistling ducks

Black-bellied whistling ducks

“Gaudy” and “boisterous” is how the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the black-bellied whistling duck.  Although they are also supposed to be nocturnal feeders, I’ve seen them in several states, happily feeding in the daytime.

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This flock of twelve is currently at Liberty Lake in Lawton, Oklahoma. They were spotted by two photographers from the Lawton Constitution newspaper, and they seem to be perfectly happy on this little lake in the middle of a tight little neighborhood.

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I first saw this bird at Patagonia Lake State Park in Arizona about 15 years ago. They were also coming to the feed trough at a Texas Hill Country farm B&B, and I saw them at Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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“They seem to readily adopt human-altered habitats, and this has helped them move north into the southern U.S. in recent decades,” says the Cornell website. Southwest Oklahoma has many characteristics of both the South and the Southwest, and it’s cool to see this bird here, as well as species such as canyon wrens which favor deserts.

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So many of the birds and plants here remind me of my year at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia. And many also remind me of Big Bend National Park in Texas or even the Mojave Desert in California. It’s a wonderful combination!

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True to their name, they actually do whistle. Mallards quack. These birds whistle. When the whole flock took to the water, they clustered around each other and kept up a sweet cacophony of whistles.

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I suspect this is a family flock, because two of them have the bright orange bills and the rest are a paler pink, which makes me think they are this year’s juveniles.

  • The whistling-ducks were formerly known as tree-ducks, but only a few, such as the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck actually perch or nest in trees. They look most like ducks, but their lack of sexual dimorphism, relatively long-term pair bonds, and lack of complex pair-forming behavior more resembles geese and swans. — Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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According to eBird, it is a rare species for this area. I did my duty and added it to my eBird citizen science observations.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

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Where the buffalo roam

October 22, 2016 at 5:00 am (National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Nature photography, Oklahoma, Wichita Mountains NWR, Wildlife)

From my MeadowLarking column in The Fort Sill Tribune. Double click on an image to enlarge it and to better read it.

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