Thursday, July 29, 2010

Marsh madness

All right, folks. I am not a shorebird genius! I saw a bunch of birds at Julian Wetlands today and I need help! These are almost all the same bird, and all of them were the same size and displayed the same bobbing-head behavior:

My feeling--based on size, length of bill compared to head size, leg color, and behavior--is Lesser Yellowlegs. But I might be wrong!

So I tried to digiscope...A few field marks of note: the complete white eye ring says Solitary Sandpiper. But even here, you can tell the legs are kinda yellow; a Solitary Sandpiper's legs are olive.

It's possible that I saw both Solitary Sandpipers AND Lesser Yellowlegs. HELP!

I saw other, more easily identifiable birds too:Eastern Kingbirds everywhere.

A young Chipping Sparrow trilled away and then posed for me.

This long tall gentleman was joined by two of his friends:
The two herons sailed over my head from behind me and gracefully landed near the first heron. It was beautiful.

I was out there for a couple of hours, a reward for making two big sales today. At one point, all the little Killdeer and Solitary Yellowlegpipers started flying around crazy. Then I saw it: A NORTHERN HARRIER! He glided around, landing low in the grass, watching the pond, though I didn't see him take any prey. I saw the white rump patch, the low flight and low perching; the dark brown coloring indicated a female. I watched through my bins for a long time and didn't get a photo until she was too far away.

When I filled out my eBird list, I had to click on "Rare Species" to put a "1" in the NOHA box. According to my range maps, they're found year-round here, though. So why the special thing?

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I saw some great birds during my workday on Thursday! It may be hot and humid outside, which makes my days pretty rough, but at least I get to "work-bird" as I walk around neighborhoods set in the heavily wooded country of Central PA.

Here was the highlight:

I heard this Red-tailed Hawk crying in some pines behind the neighborhood I was walking, so I pulled over and went looking for him. Turned out, there were two -- calling to one another, and perhaps screaming at me for invading their turf. More than once, this guy looked down at me and screamed, so I took some quick picks, giggled with glee, and got out of there.

Also present were Black-capped Chickadees, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, Song Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and Tufted Titmice. It was a nice little break from work.

Notice the light reddish-brown coloring of this RTHA (I don't think my photos captured just how light this bird's coloring was). At first I wondered if it was a juvenile Northern Harrier; it was that lightly rufous-colored. However, the bird's call and markings were distinctly those of a RTHA--the belly band, the "backpack" (which I noted when the second hawk flew away), the screaming associated with Bald Eagles in movies and on TV! A juvie NOHA would've had a solid rufous breast and the white rump-patch. Still, I haven't seen a RTHA this color around here; I always see the normal dark-brown color. In my field guide, the rufous morph is more of a Western race, yet here is this guy.

Is my ID of RTHA wrong?

P.S.--I know I had some photos and a post of a normal-colored RTHA on my blog once; I just can't find them! This is the only one I found for comparison:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Feeling fall fever already! Updated with disappointment

Obvious pandering to get you to stay on my page...

Already there are signs that the fall migration is beginning, and it's only July! I've noticed large flocks of Common Grackles and European Starlings, flying around in tube-like formations, which to me signals that they're getting ready to go. I might be mistaken, but it seems like I only see this behavior, the long "tubes" of flying birds, before the fall migration begins.

I've also seen some more definitive signs, namely a juvenile White Ibis flying near the Julian Wetlands the other day. I didn't have my camera, but luckily I had my scope and was able to really check out field marks and the curved bill. I put it out on our listserv, saying that I just HAD to be wrong, because what would such a bird be doing up here? But sure enough, someone showed me a link to a site documenting juvenile White Ibises in PA, and I saw a photo that convinced me that I wasn't just dreaming. Crazy, huh? Today, someone on the listserv noted that they'd seen a juvenile Little Blue Heron at a local birding hotspot too! What are these younglings doing so far north? Is this migration confusion on the part of birds too young to know they should be headed south?

Today, I spent a couple of hours in the field exploring a spot I've been checking out on my way home every day; I finally had time to stop and take a look around. Right off the bat, I heard the distinctive calls of Indigo Buntings, though I wasn't completely sure what the heck I was hearing until I saw this little flash of blue:They were everywhere, calling and taunting me, sneaking through the trees and not giving me too many looks. But that color--wow!

I also saw a lot of Barn and Cliff Swallows, as well as these little Cliff Swallow homes on the underside of a highway bridge:

Very cool. I managed to get this terrible photo of one of the Cliff Swallows flying away from the first clump of mud huts above:It was a great spot I picked, on Hwy 550 between Stormstown and Bellefonte, at the point where the new I-99 crosses over 550. There was a big hillside and a lot of trees and stuff, and as I mentioned about a million Indigo Buntings.

I also saw this bird, and though I was slow to admit it, realized that it was just a House Sparrow. It was odd, though; I didn't see any males out there:

I say that perhaps I didn't want to know the ID because it's just a female or young House Sparrow. As I said, though, I didn't see any male House Sparrows, which are easy to ID--so I was hopeful it was something more exotic. Hmph.

I believe this is the same type of bird:Stupid blameless House Sparrows. I know they're just trying to survive and had no say in their import from Europe, so I don't really favor killing them or anything. But still... They are everywhere.

It's so frustrating NOT to be able to positively and confidently ID such a boring little bird; it's always something super easy, and yet I just can't decide what it is. I feel like I've learned a lot of warblers, shorebirds (at least the big non-peep ones), and such, and yet this little brown bird stumps me. Frustrating. I know that part of it is mental blocks that arise from too-wishful thinking, hoping for a wayward Baird's Sparrow or something ridiculous like that. But still. I should've just said HOSP and moved on.

I've been thinking a lot about spending the bucks to attend Cape May's autumn migration weekend again this year. It's been a while since I've gone birding with the Flock, or even with a group of people. I went birding with bird guru Roana and Gretchen for our had that one morning in the Toftrees State Game Lands, but otherwise I've been birding all by myself. For someone like me, who has very limited knowledge of bird songs and all but the most common birds, birding alone can be very frustrating. I know there are lots of birds I'm missing, because I just can't remember (or even isolate) all those songs among the many sounds out there. I know I could've gotten a lot more birds in California and in Texas had I been with someone who really knew those birds. I mean, I'm having trouble with that sparrow-looking little plain bird above; how can I expect to spot a really interesting bird or hear and ID its song?

I've been trying to study a lot lately too, though it's tough with my work schedule. On a silver-lining-on-the-cloud angle, I've had insomnia lately and have been using the awake time to pore over my guides and lists and stuff. I'm also re-reading (for about the fiftieth time) Kenn Kaufman's Kingbird Highway, a book that always inspires me so much. I wish I'd gotten into birds at such a young age; think how much more I'd know now! Maybe I would've majored in ornithology instead of English, or gotten a job as a forest ranger instead of a teacher. Who knows? I always loved birds, but I had nothing like Kaufman's obsession and drive and thirst for knowledge.

Ah, the road not taken.

Anyway, I also saw some beautiful cloud formations as a huge thunderstorm system blew into the area:

I saw some butterflies:One of these butterflies was flying around with the other paler one still attached! Ouch.


Is this a butterfly or a moth:?I think it's a butterfly, but I just don't know. John from A D.C. Birding Blog says it's a dusky-winged skipper of some sort. I figured it was a skipper, but -- like with birds -- I am never satisfied with my first impression. I overthink it.

So when I left the field, I had to drive right into the storm; before I knew it, visibility went to about to ten feet and I began to worry about tornadoes. The rain slowed after about ten minutes, though the flooding was rough:
There were tornado watches, but nothing formed. Otherwise, that would've been Tornado #7 I've driven near. Crazy, huh? I've been in my car for six tornadoes so far in my life; the closest I came to the actual funnel was the 2000 Fort Worth tornado, during which I skirted the debris cloud of office paper and detritus as the funnel passed within about 800 yards of me. I didn't know! I couldn't see it for the rain! But when I saw the debris blowing around me, I knew.

But I digress.

So--have you seen any early signs of the fall migration? (I'll add that it's still hotter than blazes here, and humid to top it off.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Photo blitz! Updated with mothtastic IDs

I've been collecting some good photos here and there on my travels, so I wanted to show you what I've been seeing lately.

I spent some time looking at moths, though I haven't had time to ID them:
John from A D.C. Birding Blog thinks this is a Red Twin-Spot, or Xanthorhoe ferrugata:I concur.

This one looks like a sand painting that you do with layers of colored sand in a jar, but I believe it's a member of the Geometroidae family:

Two photos of the same moth, which I think is a Smaller Parasa, or Parasa chloris:

Look at those muscle-y looking arms! It's actually little hairs. This guy, who may be some type of either Tussock or Prominent moth, was also pumped-up:

This one appears to be in heat:
Whoa, man, keep it in your pants. Or, er, your wings.

I think this is the muscle-bound one from above, seen in a bit of a tizzy:

I saved the prettiest one for last, a Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) (thanks for the ID help, John! I'm updating just as you're commenting!):

Look at this beautiful butterfly I saw; I think it's from the Speyeria genus:

I've also been watching young birds, seeing a mama Wood Duck with her six adolescent young (no picture, sorry) and these young Euro Starlings -- thanks, Patrick -- they were with a bunch of RWBLs and I got confused!) --

Monday, July 05, 2010

The ones that got away

My niece Bronte graduated from high school in June, which is the reason I went to Texas. I already showed you some of the great birds we saw but while Mary and I were birding, my brother Ricardo took his daughter Olivia and Bronte and her sister (and junior birder) Lilia to a little inlet for some fishing.

Here's Bronte, patiently trolling for the big one:

The fisher-kids and fisherman at work:

When Mary and I returned, sans a Painted Bunting sighting, we found the girls in a state of extreme upset!
Turns out, all three of the girls had caught fish; each had caught a 17-18" drum (which Ricardo said was a good fish), but Ricardo had jerry-rigged a piece of rope to keep the fish alive in the shallow water, but the fish had outsmarted him and wriggled free! They were back in the Gulf, swimming free:

The girls were upset, Ricardo was upset, but Mary and I were just happy we'd seen some good birds:

Here's my handsome brother, still trying to catch the ones that got away.

P.S. Forgot to add that all photos in this post were taken by Mary.