Monday, May 24, 2010

A-traveling we will go!

My niece Bronte will be graduating from high school June 9, so I'll be making a special trip to Texas for a week! I'll be there from June 7-12, and sister-pal Mary will be taking the week off too, so you can bet there will be LOTS of Texas birding to be done! I might see that Golden-Cheeked Warbler yet!

Before that, though, AB and I will be driving up to New Paltz, NY, to stay in a vacation rental home with her parents and her sister and brother-in-law on the weekend before I go to Texas, so there will be more out-of-PA birding to do there! AB's mom is a big hiker and wildflower lover, so I'm hoping to see lots of photo-worthy sights!

In the meantime, I'll be squeezing in some birding whenever I can.

This past weekend, I walked in a fundraising walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. My friend Amy's daughter Zoe was diagnosed before she turned 2, and another friend's son was diagnosed at age 5. I also have a friend named Molly whose daughter Lucy was diagnosed. All these kids were young and active, otherwise healthy, until suddenly they weren't anymore. Once doctors figured out what was wrong, their lives have been better, but they deal with daily "I've gotta check your sugar" requests, finger-sticks, insulin shots/pumps, and dietary control. So walking a couple of laps around Beaver Stadium and raising some money was the least I could do. Speaking of which...

Thank you, Susan of the blog Lake Life, one of the original Flock members! for your online donation! And to my old Domino's Pizza pal and Facebook friend Chris Stant for your online donation! (I worked at Domino's Pizza for a year before moving up to PA back in 2003.)

So--vacation plans are firming up, my new job at MegaCorp is going well (9 sales for the month so far, which is really good!), and life is sweet with Niblet and the kitties. By the way, think good thoughts for little Owen, who's spending the night at the vet in preparation for having his teeth cleaned and a bad tooth removed tomorrow. I know just how he feels.

Here's a pic of all three babies in happier times:That's Owen, looking cool for the camera in the gray, Maya on the left -- no doubt headed for the food bowl -- and Nib working on some fresh timothy in the back.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Digiscoping brainstorm!

What if, instead of using a spotting scope for digiscoping, you used a monocular? Admittedly, the zoom capabilities would be lessened; for instance, if you used a 10x25 monocular, you wouldn't get the same zoom capacity as if you used a typical zoom setting of between 20 and 30x (the lower end of a spotting scope's ability, as recommended by digiscoping god Mike McDowell). Still, it might be a viable (not to mention low-cost) alternative to the big spotting scopes.

Oh wait... what about mounting to a tripod? Perhaps there is something that could be done to join the monocular--or WAIT! the camera!--to the tripod! Of course!

I love thinking out loud on my bloggy because everyone offers great advice! So please feel free to offer some advice.

The monoculars I'm considering. Note the large eyepiece lens on the cheaper one--critical for alignment of camera lens for digiscoping.

The digiscoping adapter I'm considering.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 20, 2010


After work this evening, I speed-birded a couple of spots today: the Scotia Barrens and the Julian Wetlands. I only had twenty minutes to a half-hour in each place, so it was pretty quick.

I went back to Julian because people have seen as many as four Red-necked Phalaropes there in the last few days! That would mark the last phalarope for my lifelist, having seen the Red Phalarope in Texas and the Wilson's here at Julian--in my opinion, the most striking of the three. I didn't see the phalarope, but I did get some good pics at both places.

I Birdjammed a Brown Creeper! Look:
See him there, on that diagonal slash-scar on the bark near the middle of the tree? No?

How about now? I realize it's just a blurry bird-shape, but I was working the Birdjam and the camera at the same time, and it was evening light. Here's a little hint:
I'm just glad I got him. (That IS the bird, right? it's not just a branch?) I know it was the actual bird; I called him in, watched him flit from trunk to trunk, traded little call phrases with him. It was awesome!

I also saw some nice flowers:
No idea what this flowering tree is, but the flowers smelled just like orange blossoms.

Forget-me-nots at the Julian Wetlands

Wild Geranium (I think)at the Barrens

Barren Strawberry! (I think) The leaves and flower type/color match.

And look at this little guy, a (I think) Long Dash Skipper

One of the things I love about being in the woods is seeing young trees, just starting their lives, fighting for sun and water and life:
young aspen

young maple

young oak

I also saw this little couple, pondering the future of their family:I wonder what they're thinking about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two additional lifers

Well, it seems that the powers that be in South Texas have decided that my Song Sparrow was really a Lincoln's. I guess I see their point; with all that gray on his sides, he makes an odd Song Sparrow.

I feel a little strange about calling the Lincoln's a lifer, kinda like I was hesitant to call the American Pipit I photographed but couldn't necessarily ID a lifer. But I've changed my mind, thanks in part to Beth in NYC's comment that just because I couldn't ID a bird right off doesn't change the fact that I saw it. God knows my ID skills are those of a relative beginner when compared with guys like John at A DC Birding Blog or my major birdy hero Julie Zickefoose.

So I'm going to count these birds, the Lincoln's Sparrow and the American Pipit, and I'm going to hope that I recognize them right off the next time I see them. That brings my ABA lifelist number to a whopping 269, which really pleases me.

But you know what?

I'd love to have to see a lot of those 269 birds over again--especially the ones I don't see every day. I'm gonna try to get in some early morning birding this week or weekend because I'd really like to see some warblers. I've been focused a lot on wetland/shorebirds, and my warbler skills have suffered.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Birding with AB

AB and I drove around to some old birding haunts today and had such a wonderful time! We went out to Penns Valley, though we didn't stop at the old marsh (which was still choked with purple loosestrife).

We drove to Long Road, a place I used to bird a lot, and found a very willing Chipping Sparrow:We also saw Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, an Eastern Kingbird, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, a Killdeer, American Crows, Turkey Vultures, Common Grackles, and European Starlings, though the bright midday sun made photography difficult.

We then went out to the Coburn Rail Trail and saw some more Song Sparrows, a couple of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Baltimore Oriole, and a bunch of American Redstarts like this one:AB had a great time with the BirdJam, keeping the bird close while I snapped photos. Again, the midday sun created some terrible backlighting, so this was the best picture I got. We also followed a Red-eyed Vireo but didn't get photos; AB is still learning how to use the binocs, and she was getting a bad case of Warbler Neck. Still, it was a lovely time; we heard Wood Thrushes, Eastern Wood Pewees, and Eastern Phoebes too.

Strangely, we also saw this little brown bat, in the middle of the day!I thought they only flew around at night, but this one was flying over Penns Creek for several minutes, hawking for insects.

A few more photos:
Sorry this pic isn't better, but what is this strange sort of fly?

There were dozens of Red Admirals everywhere.

Yarrow (I think)

There are so many kinds of violets; I think this one is a Sweet White Violet, according to my studies of my copy (a gift from AB) of A Guide to Common Pennsylvania Wildflowers and my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers (Eastern Region).

Swamp Dewberry (pretty sure)

a lovely swallowtail (pretty bitten up, though) on some Dame's Rocket

Greater Celandine, featuring the bright yellow-orange "ink" from its stem forming a D on the back of AB's hand

Black or Field Mustard (I think)

some strangely variegated Dame's Rocket

Golden-Alexander! I confirmed with the leaves on this one:

American Dog Violet (I think--again, violets are tough)

Daisy Fleabane

It's so much fun showing AB some of my favorite places and birds; she loves being outside and in the woods, and she's such a good sport, getting enjoyment out of my excitement over birds.

Monday, May 10, 2010


This past Saturday was our state's official migratory count day, so Gretchen and I went out with my friend Roana and a couple of other great birders to nearby Scotia Barrens, an Important Birding Area on the north side of State College.The highlights for me were this Pileated Woodpecker, spotted by Gretchen, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler I spotted but didn't get a picture of. Roana and Jim, one of the pro-level birders on the team, heard and counted about fifty million species for the count, but Gretchen and I were more content to just slow down and observe the birds we saw. Gretch saw her first female Wood Duck, who had 12 (yeah, 12!) babies in tow; we also saw a Greater Yellowlegs, which I've now come to regard as a no-big-deal bird because I've seen them every time I go out to Julian Wetlands.

We also saw a beautiful little American Redstart, but again I wasn't fast enough with the camera. I think those weeks without the camera (not to mention the long winter with too little birding) have made me a little slower photographer. I'll just have to practice more.

The day was pretty terrible, with very strong winds and low temperatures, so Baby G and I left Roana to the count and went to Julian. Sadly, we saw no Wilson's Phalarope--and the winds were even stronger out there. We lasted about fifteen minutes before it was just too much weather. We're supposed to get temps in the TWENTIES tonight (WTF, May?), so I don't know how the birding will be over the next few days.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Friday Night Nibble in advance

Hey Nib! Check out this weird dandelion flower!
See how it has two heads on the same stem? Crazy!

Oh--hey wait! No!

Oh gees, Nib! There's nothing left!
I think you have pollen on your nose, little piggy bun...

But how could I ever be mad at you?Love you, Nib!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Update on Update

So the eBird folks say I had a Lincoln's Sparrow in the disputed Sparrow School photographs (see a couple posts ago). Their comment: "Thanks much, it's a Lincoln's Sparrow. The ground color of the breast is buffy, it lacks the central large dot of a Song Sparrow. Lincoln's Sparrows are common here in winter."

I sent John's rather convincing argument for Song Sparrow back to them, but I don't know what they'll say. John's comment: "the buffy colors on the flanks and neck might suggest Lincoln's, but other aspects rule that out. The breast streaking is not as fine or as dense as one finds on a typical Lincoln's. The buffy areas are not as extensive, and the bill is too thick. The cheek patch on a typical Lincoln's is also a lot more brown than this bird's and contrasts more with the gray supercilium. Buffy flanks are a common variation in Song Sparrows; I probably see as many Songs with them as without them."

Don't know how or whether I'll get a response, but in the meantime, I have either a rare sighting (Song) or a lifer (Lincoln's). Not too bad a choice there!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


A bunch of people on the local listserv were emailing about a Wilson's Phalarope who's been hanging around the Julian Wetlands near here. Because it was on my way to my sales territory, I stopped there for lunch and saw the bird!

I didn't get pics, but a guy with a Peterson's was also there and he and I patiently observed and confirmed the Wilson's. What a thrill! I also saw and ID'd a Cliff Swallow as my second lifer of the trip.

Woohoo! Not many people will get to see one of these guys (the phalarope, I mean), especially not in PA, so I'm really glad I went and looked.

I also heard a Sora for the first time since I left the Marsh House, which by the way sold recently. I found out today, and I'm a little sad. I really loved that house. Someone's gonna get an awful lot of blood, sweat, tears, and birds out of that place, and I wish them well.

List for Julian Wetlands:
Canada Goose
Hooded Merganser
Great Blue Heron
Greater Yellowlegs
Pectoral Sandpiper
Wilson's Phalarope
Tree Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Red-winged Blackbird

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Monday, May 03, 2010

Flashback to Texas Sparrow School for an eBird request

So I got in late tonight after a hard day pounding the pavement in my sales job, and I'd received an email from an eBird volunteer -- how exciting!

First, a little backstory: Back in late January/early February, my sister Mary and I went to the Rio Grande Valley and birded at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco. What a beautiful place! If you're ever down there, don't miss this amazing place! Anyway, I had seen many sparrows (and non-sparrows which I mistook for sparrows), so I put together a post subtitled "Sparrow School" and posted a bunch of photos of sparrow-like birds I couldn't ID for sure.

If you read the comments on that post, you'll find that the second bird was ID'd as a Song Sparrow by a birder I highly respect, John from A DC Birding Blog. Another birder whose ID skills are top-notch is Hap in New Hope (who doesn't have a blog, dangit!), and he thought the bird was a Lincoln's Sparrow. Here again are the photos, for reference:

So--John argued mightily for Song Sparrow, and though it looked awfully gray and didn't seem to have a hatpin spot on the breast, I figured, hey, what the hell do I know?!

Now, as you know, I recently started entering my birding trip lists into eBird, and I thought it would be a good idea to go back and enter all my lists from 2010. When I entered my Estero Llano list, however, I had to add Song Sparrow as a "rare species." Turns out that the Rio Grande Valley is a bit farther south than the Songies like to go, even in winter.

So a volunteer, Mary Gustafson, requested that I send her the photos (I made a note regarding the "rare species" that I'd taken photos and that John had confirmed Song.

I'll let you know what happens. In the meantime, it's kinda funny to me that a Song Sparrow, such a freakin' common bird up here in PA, is causing a bit of a kerfuffle down south.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Old-school birding (kinda) and a lifer!

I am still without camera and binoculars, so I went birding old-school style today, using mostly my plain old eyes and ears as well as my spotting scope. I've determined it's tough to bird with just a spotting scope unless you're looking at water birds.

I'd been seeing local listserv reports of Vesper Sparrows out in the fields and farms south of State College, so I drove out there despite an on-and-off drizzle. A Vesper Sparrow would be a lifer for me, so I was really anxious to see one. There were also reports of American Pipits, but as I rolled along Nixon Road I heard only Northern Cardinals, American Crows, Bluejays, Killdeers, and... wait -- yes, indeed! I heard that crazy "two slurs, then a warble" (as described on the Stokes CDs)! I knew I was in the right place!

It took a while, but I was finally able to find one in the scope. This guy came right up to me, giving me gorgeous views; they're really beautiful little birds. Here's an online image I found at a beautiful site by South Dakota photographer Terry Sohl:That's lifer #265!

Here's a list of birds I saw:
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Barn Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Vesper Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

It was frustrating trying to find birds without binocs; one of my good birding friends Hillel went without binoculars for a long time, and I really don't know how he did it! Like I said, when you're checking out shorebirds or marsh birds, who stay relatively still for long periods, it's great having the scope to really zoom in. But try finding a warbler or a sparrow in a tree with a big old scope? Boy howdy, it's tough. Maybe with practice it gets easier. But I miss my Leupolds! And if I'd had my camera, I'd have gotten a great photo of that little Vesper Sparrow, posing for me and singing his little song.