Tuesday, September 28, 2010

State of the lifelist address

I was just entering my latest observations from the past few days' incidental and purposeful birding, when it occurred to me to see how many birds I've seen this year. This is the state of my lifelist/yearlist thus far:

Birds seen so far in 2010: 190
Lifers seen so far in 2010: 48
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Mottled Duck
Cinnamon Teal
Neotropic Cormorant
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
White-tailed Kite
Harris's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Common Moorhen
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson's Plover
Baird's Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
American Woodcock
Wilson's Phalarope
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Common Pauraque
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Couch's Kingbird
Green Jay
Cliff Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-crested Titmouse
Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
American Pipit
Cape May Warbler
Olive Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Altamira Oriole
Lesser Goldfinch

Not too shabby a list for this year, both total and the number of lifers. Many of the lifers were seen in Texas. Some people go to Costa Rica or Belize; I just go to my parents' house. It's cheaper!

I'm really looking forward to our Maine trip, and I can't believe we're leaving Thursday. So far, the birding plans involve a trip to Plum Island in New Hampshire with AB's parents, as well as some stops along the southern Maine coast. AB's mom sent us some potential places that we might consider:
Webhannet River Marsh, Wells
Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, Wells
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Wells
Vaughns Island Preserve, Kennebunkport (this is only accessible at low tide)
East Point Sanctuary, Biddeford Pool
Prouts Neck Bird Sanctuary, Scarborough (no parking; they suggest you bike there)
Scarborough Marsh, Scarborough

I don't know how much biking or low-tide accessibility we'll have. For that matter, we're only supposed to bird for part of the day and go to the L.L. Bean in Freeport (aka The Mother Ship, per AB) to get me a new coat and some rain pants for Cape May (as well as for work--it's always raining, and I sell door-to-door). So we'll probably hit the most accessible places. Does anyone have suggestions for a must-see place in that area between Portsmouth NH and Freeport ME? Scarborough Marsh apparently has an Audubon center. We may go there.

After all that birding and driving, we'll be going to AB's hometown of Bethel ME, to see all her old haunts and her grandma.

I wonder if we'll see any Atlantic Puffins. Their range appears to be a bit farther north, and I think they're fairly pelagic during non-breeding time.

I'm really excited to see the rocky coastline. We're coming back via I-91 to see the fall foliage, and we're stopping in Greenfield to look around that area (a potential place to go after AB's done with grad school). It's going to be a whirlwind trip, but it'll be fun!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Best video ever!

Julie Zickefoose's monarch caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly photos, made into a video by NPR.

This video is beautiful. It reminds me the chrysalis I watched one year. Remember? Pure magic.

Now, I always look on milkweed plants, hoping to find another chrysalis to watch. I've never found another one, though.

They've been posting a lot on the Cape May site about the thousands of monarchs they're getting there right now. I wish I were there!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Testing, testing 1-2-3

Early this evening, I saw this Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree by the road and thought I'd test out my new camera. I was hoping to get him while he perched, illuminated by the last rays of the setting sun but, as always happens, he heard and saw me coming (though I was way down at the bottom of a hill and he was on a tree up top) and took off. The thing is, I always think, "there's no way this big predator will even notice me down here!" but raptors are far more skittish than I give them credit for. I've learned to turn on the camera before I even get close to these roadside raptors so they don't hear it coming on, but perhaps I need to zoom before as well. Still, I was able to catch this dark silhouette; I really like the beak profile.

Later, I headed to Bald Eagle State Park after work to see if I could spot some migrating geese or anything overhead in the fast-fading light. I figured there'd be nothing in the water, as we've had absolutely beeeeyoootiful days lately so no birds would be forced down by the rain and cloud cover. I've seen and heard a few Vs of Canada Geese in the last few days.

As predicted, there wasn't one bird on the lake; overhead, nothing. I chose as my vantage point a pull-off that overlooks the majority of the lake and the marina. I've seen Common Loons at the marina before, but tonight there were none. No mergansers; no Mallards even. Nothing. I heard the mewling of a Gray Catbird and the chipping call of a Northern Cardinal. The only other sound was the roar of passing cars.

Still, the evening wasn't a total loss:
The full moon shines on the 23rd, but this is pretty close to full. I put the camera on my tripod and played around with several of the modes on the camera, from Night Portrait to Starry Sky. Starry Sky mode was actually an adjustable long-exposure setting, with 15-, 30-, and 60-second settings. Here's what the moonlight flecks on the water looked like on fairly fast exposure:Here's what it looks like with 15 seconds of exposure:
I'm wondering if that's the setting that one would use to catch moving water, like a waterfall, with that blurry motion effect.

All in all, the camera performed quite well in the low light. I was pleased with the fast focusing and shutter speed on the raptor photo; the backlighting was inevitable, given where the bird flew and the time of day. I'm feeling more comfortable with the camera too. I need to learn more about the different modes and what works best for what scenarios, but the automatic mode pretty much rocked.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Morning birding at Scotia IBA

I got out to the Barrens this morning around 7:45 or so, though the birds were quiet until the sun hit the trees around 8:30 or so. I had the pleasure of birding with a local listserv guy named Drew, which was nice as he helped ID many more birds than I could've done on my own. It's funny; I appreciate the help of other birders because I am able to key in on and see more birds that way. But at the same time, I often wonder how many I could've ID'd or even seen on my own. It's like taking a test when someone's whispering the answers; you appreciate the help but you know it's still cheating! But it's hard to bird alone at an IBA like Scotia Barrens; everyone's out there to see the warblers that are sweeping through right now.

So my list was improved quite a lot with Drew's help, but I tried to hold my own and spotted the Chimney Swift, Red-bellied and Downy woodpeckers, and Song Sparrow. I also ID'd my first Cape May Warbler just before I met Drew. Here's my list:
Wild Turkey 8
Cooper's Hawk 1
Chimney Swift 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 5
Blue Jay X
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee X
Tufted Titmouse 5
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
American Robin 10
Gray Catbird X
Cedar Waxwing 12
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 2
Cape May Warbler 4
Hooded Warbler 2
Eastern Towhee 5
Song Sparrow 2
Scarlet Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 1
American Goldfinch X
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

I didn't list any bird I didn't actually see myself; Drew called a Black-and-White, a Black-throated Green, and a Blackburnian as well as some Purple Finches that I either missed completely or just saw as dark silhouettes against the cloudy sky (he heard the chipping calls of the PUFIs and BTGW). The rest I got decent looks at, but no photos. Trying to shoot warblers with a familiar camera is tough enough; trying it with a new camera that I'm not familiar with was impossible.

This was the only pic I got:It's not good to see a feral (I presume) cat out at an important birding area, but the cat didn't really move from this spot the whole morning. I didn't see him chasing any birds or anything.

We seem to be having a banner year for Cape May Warblers, based on the listserv buzz. Last year we had a lot of crossbills but I never saw them (always missed them by minutes, it seemed), so I'm glad I've seen so many CMWAs. It's interesting how we seem to get irruptions here every year; we've had a Snowy Owl year (my first year of birding here; never saw one), phalarope years (with Wilson's and Red-necked this year), and now the CMWAs. We've also had some great Horned Lark/Larkspur spp. years.

In non-birding Sunday news: my Cowboys lost AGAIN. And played like crap AGAIN. Hmph.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's coming!

Previews of coming attractions:

First, I finally pulled the trigger on getting a new camera (again). You'll remember I took the Nikon back and now am awaiting a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35. I am hoping it's the camera of my dreams; I'm very excited. Thanks to John for his advice and emails about it.

Second, I'm also excited to say I FINALLY got a butterfly guide! AB got me the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies! She also got me RTP's All Things Reconsidered, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Everything, and Jeffrey Glassberg's Butterflies of North America. (In case you're wondering, it's my birthday tomorrow.) I'm super-pumped about these books and will fill you in on their greatness as I read them. She said she wasn't sure about whether I'd like the Glassberg guide or the Audubon guide better; I'm thinking the Audubon one is far more complete. But both are beautiful! I may trade the Glassberg guide for a moths guide! (although that's a lot of different stuff to ID!)

Finally, our trip to Maine is a lock; we'll be driving up to the southern Maine coast to do some birding (I just want to see an Eider or a Oldsquaw or something!), then up to her grandma's house, then over to her parents' house in New Hampshire. Then we'll be coming back down at peak fall-foliage time. Cool!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Fall warbling

I awoke this morning before even the ever-present House Sparrows had begun to twitter: 5:55 a.m. This is not a good time for me, but I wanted to go along on a local birding club field tour of the Scotia Barrens, an IBA near State College. The trip was led by Joe Verica, a really nice guy and an excellent birder.

The temperature was in the mid-40s when I met the group; we'd arrived way too early to see much. Until the sun was well up around 8 or so, we basically trudged along the main road, freezing, and listening to American Crows, American Robins, and Blue Jays. Joe said that once the sun got warmer and lit up the trees, we'd see more; he also gave us an interesting tip: listen for Black-capped Chickadees, as warblers tend to move in mixed flocks. I don't know if that's a universal truth, but it turned out to be true for the Barrens.

We finally started seeing little groups of warblers, mostly the same ones over and over. I did see one lifer: Cape May Warbler! Yippee! I'd been wanting to see one of those for a while, as they are almost as beautiful as my favorite Blackburnian Warbler. Most of the individuals were already in their muted fall plumage: I noted that most of the streaky-breasted warblers only have the black streaks on the flanks; the Cape May's streaks start at the throat and go down all the way across the breast. It's hard to tell in this one, but the streaks do go across the breast.

Later, I did get to see a male who was still hanging on to his fancy breeding suit, but I didn't get a photo of him. Once again, I forgot to put the memory card into my old Kodak camera, so I didn't take too many pictures. Plus I was trying to focus on the birds themselves, trying to ID each on my own. It's been a while since I took my guide out into the field, but the Sibley is small and easy to carry and I really wanted to study each bird.

Here's the complete list:
Broad-winged Hawk - the first time I've seen one perched! Beautiful.
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher--what he was doing deep in the woods, I don't know.
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch--these guys looked especially pale today, as opposed to the blue-gray. I didn't see anything about that in Sibley, but they were definitely paler gray than I've ever seen before
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Gray Catbird--am I the only one who always wants to tell these guys to shut up so I can hear the real birds?
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler--LIFER #278!
Pine Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Canada Warbler
Eastern Towhee--their "drink your tea" was reduced to a simple "tea!" today
Rose-breasted Grosbeak--a streaky female, puffed up for warmth
Common Grackle
American Goldfinch
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)

So that was my morning. My feet and hands are still pretty cold, but it's a bit chilly in the apartment. I wonder whether, after having spent last fall and winter in south Texas, I might have some trouble this winter re-acclimating to the northern winter. Granted, today I was only wearing two layers, one short-sleeved and one long-sleeved tee. (I should've worn a sweatshirt, at least.) Still, I was just so cold! My hands were probably the worst; I just couldn't get them warm, even though I kept them in my pockets or rubbed them together constantly. It's rare that I've had to use gloves while birding, but I might invest in some thinsulate-lined gloves for my fall/winter birding. I have a couple pairs of mittens, but no gloves. Mittens while birding are kinda bulky, by the way, but warm!

...I just put on two layers of socks and some sweats--much better! Quite toasty now! Of course, it'll be hot soon. And it's going to be in the 80s again tomorrow--just in time for work.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Last day of the Nikon P100

I took the Nikon camera back today; I felt like the zoom was too much zoom to be practical. To illustrate, here's a full zoom, hand-held:The focus is just too soft. So I tried using my tripod. This image, though the subject was much closer, isn't really that much better:The details really aren't that much better even though I sharpened it a bit. Here too:See?

Also, I wasn't happy with the zoom toggle. I like the kind of zoom where you push a button on one side for zoom and the other size for unzoom. This camera has what most cameras have now: a toggle on the shutter button. I tried getting used to it, but I just don't like it. It doesn't have finesse either--I push the toggle and it goes to like halfway zoom; there's not really a "nudge" factor to the zoom. You get whoa! zoom, no matter how lightly you push the toggle. Don't like that.

So I took it back. I looked at all the other cameras again, at several different places, but I didn't find anything I liked. I'm just going to have to order one online again--which I've done both times I bought cameras before. I have good recommendations from people. I'll just have to see which one looks right.

Here are some last photos of two different Eastern Phoebes:I kinda like this one; look at those tiny skinny legs on this Eastern Phoebe. Here's another one:
The legs on this one don't look nearly as fine and fragile. Juvey vs. adult? Or just optical illusion?

Here's a list of the birds I saw today, out at Bald Eagle State Park:
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1
Osprey 2
Caspian Tern 2 (Long observation of two Caspian Terns--noted field marks: very red bill, black cap, pale gray wings with black on undersides of wing tips. Watched the two birds plunge-dive for food for several minutes. Compared in Sibley field guide to Royal Tern--certain of Caspian because wings were dark underneath, unlike mostly white underwings of Royal.)
Mourning Dove 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1
Eastern Phoebe 2
American Crow 6
Cliff Swallow 1
Gray Catbird 4
Chipping Sparrow 2
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)