Friday, January 30, 2009

Still alive, still birding!

Despite our ridiculously low temps (in the teens and single digits), I've still managed to log a few birding adventures in the past week. Last Saturday, Laurie and I went to the duck pond near Centre Furnace Mansion, hoping to see two snow geese that--according to the local listserv--had been visiting the pond on a fairly regular basis for the last week or so. As I've never seen a snow goose, I was excited. Here's what we saw:Um--those are ducks. Domestic, albeit perhaps not from someone's farm, ducks. Quacking along with the other ducks. Hmph. I know that the people who'd reported seeing the snow geese are good birders, so my guess is that Earl Cootie's Bird Goddess decided to play a little trick on me. She's like that.

She did grant me a couple of treats, however. If you look closely at that white duck photo, you'll see an interestingly shaped duck silhouette on the upper left.

It came a little closer:And then a little closer:A WOOD DUCK! Granted, not exactly a breeding-plumaged male or anything, but still a wood duck! I always used to try to get photos of these guys back on the marsh, but I would spook them before I could get a decent shot. Yay me! I'm guessing this is a female, what with the white eye ring, but her plumage is still beautiful. Here's another shot:Isn't she beautiful? I didn't see her hubby anywhere; perhaps she was single and lookin'?

UPDATE!--my eagle-eyed commenters pointed out that I got both the drake and the hen wood ducks in that dark picture of the white ducks! here's a crop:

We then walked a little to try to see some ducks farther out on the pond:That's a bufflehead waaaay across there. I've only ever seen those when I took the ferry from Lewes to Cape May a few years ago. I tried to get a better shot, but I ended up falling on some ice. (If you're on Facebook, you'll know that I fell THREE TIMES last weekend. This was my first fall.)

Here's a crop:I really like birds with funky-shaped heads, like wood ducks and buffleheads and mergansers. Anyway--it was neat to see one of these again, especially right here in town.

And here's one of those crazy-ass Muscovy ducks, probably an escapee (perhaps from the same place as those white ducks) who's "gone native," as they say:Check out the talons on those feet! I'd hate to have to scrap with this guy. His plumage was a beautiful emerald-black, though it's probably not visible here (it was getting late). And look at the bare patch of red skin, along with that big old wart thingie, on his face. Is that technically a wattle if it's on top of his bill? Oh--Peterson calls it a "knob."

I also saw a duck I'm a little unsure about:I know it's not a female mallard, as the bill is white/orange, it's darker and less streaky than they are, and the wingspot is a different color. Here's a comparison collage:That is definitely not a female mallard. The bill reminds me of the wood duck's bill, but the head isn't right. I just checked my Peterson's and I think I'm gonna go with my initial guess, made pond-side: that's an American Black Duck, isn't it? Not a lifer, but it's my first photo of one!

That's enough of the duck pond. Here's a pic of a recent sunset:It may be freezing here, but we still get some nice sunsets.

(By the way, for those who are keeping score at home, I fell a second time at the bowling alley where I was working part-time for moving money, and then a third time on some stairs at my friend Joche's house--but I think I told you about that one. My concussed noggin is feeling better, though my shoulder is still very stiff and sore.)

My next birdy adventure happened yesterday. Despite the irruption of white-winged crossbills in the state, I've yet to see one, so when I saw a report of some crossbills right on the Penn State campus, I had to check it out! However, the Bird Goddess was in a bad mood again, and I didn't see anything but a few noisy crows. Oh well.

Today, I saw some reports of redheads out there yesterday, but Gretchen and I are leaving right after work for Pittsburgh, where we'll be visiting THE NATIONAL AVIARY! so I won't get to go out there and see them. I hope they're still around next week, as that would be another lifer for me.

When I get back to my computer on Monday, I hope to knock you all outta your seats with some kick-ass photos of all kinds of groovy birds from the Aviary. I know they don't count on my lifelist, but it's going to be such a thrill to see these birds live, not just on The Life of Birds or whatever. Gretchen and I are both so pumped to go, plus we'll be watching the last disk of The Life of Birds as well as Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I've been shepherding Gretchen through all the seasons, and we're finally to Season 7.)

I know--how can my little noodle hold all this crazy-fun-time-ness!? I'll answer that question next week. Have a great weekend!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Niblet update

FINALLY UPDATED! But not with pics from the vet--I was too busy being worried about my little Son, Moon, and Stars ™ to take pics there. But here he is the day after, running around like nothing had happened.

My prediction of an abscess (finally looked up how to spell that; I knew I had it wrong but was just too lazy to check) was correct. My baby boy and I made it to the vet on Friday, and Dr. Sayre confirmed it.

Niblet was so good and so brave throughout the exam and procedure. First, Dr. Sayre used a flea comb to pull some of the scab-crusted fur out. Niblet didn't even flinch! Then she examined the area and got a little sample of the fluid that was seeping out of the lump for microscopic examination: bacteria.

So she put a numbing gel on the area, then gave him a shot of novacaine. She then took him in the back after he'd numbed up and lanced the lump. She said she cleaned it all out. He had two tiny (1/8") incisions, and the lump was gone.

Little Nibble and I came home, and I have to dose him with antibiotics twice a day for ten days, and a pain med once a day for five days. Both are liquid, and I have to do a Steve Irwin-style jump onto Niblet so I can hold him between my knees/thighs and put a little needle-less syringe into his mouth and squirt in the meds. He doesn't much like it, of course --- but I do reward him with a baby carrot or a dried banana chip, which he does like.
You can kinda see some of the medicine stuff she put on there in this photo. By this point, he'd done a little comb-over action and you couldn't even see his bald spot.
He's still just as bouncy and energetic as before, for which I'm thankful. He's just such a brave little man-bunny. He should make a full recovery soon.

Thanks for all your good wishes for him!

Friday, January 23, 2009

New River Wishlist Post #3: Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers

In which I continue my series of posts potential lifers I might see in Virginia at the New River Bird and Nature Festival in April 2009. Much of the Flock will be staying the entire week of the festival; I will do only the second half of the week, arriving on Wednesday night in time for dinner, then birding Thursday through Sunday morning.

Thought I should combine these similarly named birds in one post, especially because the two often interbreed, resulting in the "'Brewster's and 'Lawrence's' warblers. Brewster's looks like a Blue-winged Warbler with a white chest, and Lawrence's looks like an all-yellow Golden-winged Warbler. Backcrosses of hybrids to pure parental types result in many intermediate-appearing birds." That's a lot of interbreeding; quotation courtesy of the Cornell site.

First off, let's look at the Blue-winged Warbler.Now that's a brightly colored bird! Despite this fact, the Cornell site says it's "often overlooked," perhaps because it hangs out in "shrubland and old fields." Boy, that pretty much describes Central PA; why haven't I seen one? Guess I've "overlooked" it.

The female is similarly bright:So purty.

This is, like most warblers, a tiny (4-5 inches) bird, with a yellow head and underparts, a black eye line, and gray-blue wings. Note the two white wingbars (on both male and female) as well. Black legs and feet, beak, and eye.

I love warbler beaks, especially the super-sharp ones like the BWWA's here. They look like they could fly right through you, their stabbing little beaks leading the way. Ouch!

Their call is described as a "bee-buzz." It seems to me that a lot of warblers have these high buzzy songs, you know? I guess it's a good thing they look so distinctive, especially in the spring. Of course, you'll get a mean case of Warbler Neck looking for them, given their size and activity level. However, Dave Pollard from the festival says there's a nesting pair of BWWAs outside the cabin in which most of the Flock will be staying, so this one should be a sure thing!

These birds eat insects and spiders. I am imagining this little guy coming across one of those dewdrop-covered spiderwebs in the early morning; he sticks that fine little tweezers-like bill out and snip! no more spider. My birding pal Gretchen would like that, given her fear of spiders.

According to the range maps, I really shouldn't be surprised to see one of these puppies, even in Pennsylvania, as their breeding range includes points north, south, east, and west of PA and WV. The same holds true for our next bird, the Golden-winged Warbler.
Pretty clear on the field marks here as well--a yellow/orange cap, a black (sometimes gray) mask surrounded by white outline, a gray body, yellow patches on the wings, and whitish underparts. The bill, eyes, and legs are black.

According to the Cornell site, the female looks similar to the male except that her mask is gray rather than black, and her wings will have either a smaller yellow patch or two bars rather than the patch. Interesting. It's not often that the female retains similar colors to the male, but hey--more power to her. Still, the USGS bird site shows her looking a little more gray-green than the gray-blue male:Kinda greeny, don't you think? A result of the yellow on gray. Note those nice white feathers on the tail edges too.

My birdJam shows that the GWWA's song is a "zee-bee-bee-bee." I have a feeling there's going to be a virtual din of zees and bees and buzzes all around us in the woods of West Va. We'll just have to keep our eyes sharp.

Speaking of eyes, I'm getting a little concerned about my vision. It seems like I can't see up close anymore without readers (and I might need more powerful ones soon), and I can't really see far away that well either. I know my eye doctor has told me that this is the result of my right eye's having a "slight" case of astigmatism, but not enough to correct for. The last few times I've gone, my contacts prescription has stayed the same, but I haven't gotten a new pair of glasses in probably six years. Maybe I should do that, just in case. It seems like I'm always having to blink and kind-of adjust my eyes a lot when distance-viewing (close-up viewing too), and they're sometimes kinda teary-feeling or even gummy-feeling (eeeww). I'd hate to miss out on a great bird or a great view because I just plain can't see it well enough. Hmmph.Another medical note: Niblet has developed some sort of lump (absess?) where his right ear used to be. The vet had always said it was healed over, but it seems like something is seeping out of there, and on Tuesday night, I noticed he had developed a sort of bollus under the skin there. I'm taking him to the doctor today, where I'm hoping they'll just say it's an absess, drain it, and give him a little shot of antibiotics. I just hope it's nothing serious. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bookish thoughts: "In Search of the IBWO"

Arthur Allen took this photo, probably in the 1930s

Or however you would abbreviate "ivory-billed woodpecker."

I finished reading Jerome A. Jackson's In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, and to be honest even I'm a little surprised at how much I liked it. I never really read many of the stories about the searches for the bird (though I don't know why), except for Birdchick's accounts of her participation in a Cornell-sponsored search (I can't find the link now--but it was back in 2005-2006, which is actually when I started reading her blog, and the rest of my birding and bird-blogging is history!).

If you like to read about birds or history, this book will satisfy both your cravings; my only problem was the incredible sadness and frustration that gripped me throughout. Greedy logging companies, chopping wood for everything from sewing machine cabinets to our WWII efforts, pretty much caused this bird's extinction (if it really is extinct). I realize that species go extinct every day thanks to humans, but learning so much about so magnificent a bird, only to be denied the chance to ever to see one--well, it was really sad for me.

Still, the book was filled not only with details about ivory-billeds but also the birding history of the United States. I found out some fun facts like these:

--in one of the quoted passages, Audubon called mating season "the love season" (tee hee)

--red-bellied woodpeckers are attracted by the sound of a pocketknife tapping against a plastic hotel key tag; downys are attracted by the sound of a metal key tapped against a quarter cupped in the palm

--Audubon once saw five IBWOs feeding together; another guy (W.E.D. Scott) saw a flock of 11 in 1905!

--the largest woodpecker in the world is Mexico's Imperial Woodpecker, which shares a common ancestor with the IBWO

--there are only five sets of "probably authentic" IBWO eggs (kept in several museums). There are a little over 400 known IBWO specimens (stuffed) in existence today. Most were collected in Florida.

--Roger Tory Peterson had a stuffed IBWO specimen he got from someone; the specimen had been collected in 1881. RTP saw two female IBWOs on May 9, 1942; it would be the last time he'd see an IBWO.

--Arthur Allen, who founded the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, thrilled when he finally saw one, saying he'd found "that which they said could not be found." He started recording bird sounds with his grad students in 1929.

--James Tanner, who spent lots of time in the Singer Tract area of Louisiana (which is probably a mall by now) studying IBWOs, was the last to photograph one, and the only one to photograph one in color. He even has photos of young IBWOs on his arm and his shoulder. (I'm crying a little bit at this point)

--the last person to paint an IBWO from life was Donald Eckelberry, in April of 1944. When I went looking for an IBWO image for this post, I found this one by Julie Zickefoose, and I noticed she noted "not from life" there. It made me sad.

--fellow Flocker Julie Zickefoose helped Jerome Jackson (along with Christopher Cokinos) review some of the searches for IBWOs, "chronicling the difficulties and lure of the hunt for this bird" (here's the link to Cornell's site about IBWOs)

Some not-so-fun facts I learned:
--"Birds continued to be shot for collections long after it was realized that they were in danger of extinction." The "scientists" of the day didn't have a problem with collecting IBWO specimens for "scientific" purposes; they only begrudged the "commercial rather than scientific purposes."

--the Singer Tract, where IBWOs were seen into the 1940s, was not preserved until June 1980--pretty much after every damned tree had already been cut down. This seemed to be the case with most of the habitats; many were preserved long after it was way too late and all the trees attractive to IBWOs had already been cut down

--the author has searched far and wide in America and Cuba but, aside from possibly hearing some possible IBWO calls and finding some possibly promising habitat, he never saw one. He remains hopeful that there are some still alive, and he even recommends some good potential areas for future searches, but he warns, "Don't get your hopes up."

If you haven't read this book, read it. Read it and weep.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bad bunny!

Yes, he nibbled holes in my pants this morning, while I was in the shower. I always lay out, on my bed, the clothes I want to wear for the day. Nibble jumped on the pants and even though I saw him, I just didn't think he'd do anything. Which is ridiculous because he LOVES to nibble holes in my clothing.
The worst part? I didn't notice 'til I got to work how big the holes were.

Sixy meme

More memes to clutter up these days when it's too freakin' cold to go birding...

My musical pal Beth at Cup of Coffey tagged me with Six Random Things meme. So here we go. Don't feel obligated to comment, as many of these "random" things about me are probably pretty obvious if you read the bloggy. Also, I'm not bothering to tag anyone. But then--"I'm a loner, Dotty. A rebel."

The Rules
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1. Right now, thanks to Beth's #1 thing, I have Devo's "Whip It" going through my brain.

2. In college, I thought Boy George was just the purtiest thing in the world. Perhaps I should've known then that I was gay.

3. I have one of those plantar warts on the ball of my left foot. I tried that freezy stuff you can buy at the grocery store (I believe it was called --ahem-- Wartner) but it didn't work. It's not painful. Just kinda annoying.

4. One of my pet peeves: when people make "astigmatism" into a plural thing, like "I have an astigmatism in my right eye." No, you have astigmatism, a condition, in your right eye, annoying person! BTW, I have astigmatism in my right eye, but my eye doctor tells me it's too slight to bother correcting for. However, seeing as how I can't really see close-up anymore because my contacts are so strong and I can't really see faraway anymore (for some reason), I'm wondering if maybe that astigmatism isn't so slight after all. I just plain can't SEE anymore.

5. I'm very impatient, so you'll often hear me say, "I can't wait!" about anything and everything that isn't happening right this second.

6. My work pal Niki and I are taking tomorrow off to go shopping. Of course, we're both broke, so we're just going to a bunch of stores and looking around. Anything to NOT be at work, right? We always go to places like B&N, Bed Bath and BEYOND!, Pier 1, etc. Silly fantasy shopping and fun.

I tag whoever feels like doing a little revealing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2008 in review, list-wise

Got this idea from KatDoc.

2008 was a pretty mediocre birding year for me, in that I saw few lifers. But then, I only went to Cape May for a day, and we spent most of the time just giggling. The rest of the time, I saw a lot of birds but not many lifers.

My 2008 lifers, and where and when I saw 'em:

Out on the marsh behind my former home, I saw
Rusty Blackbird (March)
Prairie Warbler (May)
Warbling Vireo (May)

At the Coburn Rail Trail (where I think I'm gonna bird this weekend), I saw
Hooded Warbler (April)

On a trip to the Big Valley south of here, I saw
Pine Siskin (January)
Horned Lark (January)

On my way home through Penns Valley, I saw a
Ruffed Grouse (April)

In Cape May, I saw
KatDoc (October)
Lynne (October)
Yellow-crowned Night Heron (October)

In the big city of State College, I saw
Common/Northern Raven (December)

During atlasing runs, I saw
Louisiana Waterthrush (June) (forgot I'd seen this!)
Veery (June)
Hairy Woodpecker (June)
Black Vulture (June? July? can't remember, and I didn't write it down!)
House Wren (June)

While camping, I saw
Eastern Kingbird (July)

I think those are all the lifers I got last year. That's only 15. In 2007, I probably increased my lifelist by like 40 or more birds, especially after the first Cape May Flock Invasion.

2009 will prove to be a HUGE year for me, as I'll be trying to round up east-coast lifers by July and then moving to the west coast to get bunches of new lifers! It won't be long 'til I get my 200th bird. Who knows? Maybe I'll even hit 300 in 2009? That's a lot of lifers, though. We'll see what happens.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Listing nightmares

Eastern Towhee, Little Buffalo State Park, 2008

I was lying on the couch the other night, perusing my new Peterson's Western field guide, when I realized that--while I am going to get the chance to see a bunch of new birds once we move to California--there will also be a bunch of birds I will NOT get to see out west. NO FAIR!

Those of you who know anything about me can probably predict my response to this little realization:
1. Panic.
2. Make a list.
3. Repeat 1 and 2 as necessary.

So--I present my first list, Eastern birds I haven't seen so I better hurry up and see them either here or in Texas when I visit in February:
Common Redpoll
Snow Bunting
any kind of Longspur
Scarlet Tanager
Summer Tanager
any Waterthrush
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Black-billed Cuckoo
Northern Bobwhite
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Least Bittern
Painted Bunting
Purple Gallinule

I'm sure there are more, but those are the ones I noticed as I flipped through the range maps in the back of my Peterson's. I sure do have my work cut out for me this spring!

Eastern Bluebird, Little Buffalo State Park, 2008

After repeating Step 1 a few more times, I made another list--Birds I have seen and/or take for granted over here but which I probably won't see in California:
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow (but I love that call!)
Bluejay (no freaking bluejays!?)
Northern Cardinal (seriously--what is wrong with the West Coast?)
Ovenbird (I may pass out if I don't hear the "teacher teacher" call of an ovenbird in the spring)
Blackburnian Warbler (my favorite! But only rarely do these guys stray into Cali--but Varied Thrushes have that same fiery orange, so...)
Palm Warbler (the tail bobber!)
Black and White Warbler (I love them!)
Red-eyed Vireo (get outta town--literally. I'll have to go farther north than Rohnert Park to hear these guys)
Cedar Waxwing (again, a rarity)
WOOD THRUSH (reconsidering move altogether now, because you know this is my favorite birdsong)
Gray Catbird (wow)
Brown Thrasher
Eastern Bluebird (but the Mountain Bluebird might make up for it)
Carolina Wren (I'm sad)
Black-capped Chickadee (I'm more sad)
Eastern Wood Pewee (I love their call!)
Eastern Towhee
Slate-colored Junco (on my list of Cutest Birds, I'll really miss these)

Boy. You'd think I was moving 2,699.47 miles or something. Sometime after the New River festival in April, I'll really get into my Western guide and start highlighting some birds I'll make a point to seek out in California. Until then, I'll just try to soak up as much Wood Thrush and Catbird as I can.

P.S.--I have realized that my friends are already getting sick of my "When I move to California, I'm gonna..." pronouncements, so I started a new little bloggy so I'd have a place to pour all my most listy, anal-retentive, living in the future kinds of thoughts about the wonders of the Golden State. If you live or have lived in the San Francisco area, please visit and leave comments on more cool Cali stuff so I'll be sure to drive myself insane with impatience for the move!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Santa Gretchen

No sooner did I confess that I was a little distracted from birding and thus hadn't gone out anywhere, than I spent this past weekend out in nature and looking for birds! I didn't see anything too exciting--the hawk in the post below, an American Kestrel, some bluebirds, and a whole lot of Canadas, starlings, and crows--but Gretchen came back from her winter holiday bearing gifts for me! (I got her a camping mess kit, because we looooove camping and are planning to do a lot of it this spring.)

Gretchen said a new Half-Price Books, a chain I loved when I lived in Texas, opened in Pittsburgh, and here's what she found:

1. Why Birds Sing: One Man's Quest to Solve an Everyday Mystery, by David Rothenberg

I haven't started on either book just yet, as I'm finishing up another couple of books, but I'm so excited to start reading each book. Why Birds Sing was written by the guy who played his clarinet out in the Australian forests, and the IBW book is of course about the search for the Grail Bird. As I always do when confronted with an impossible choice of which book to read first, I'll go alphabetically. Grail Bird ho!

Not that kind of ho.

Super-cool super-hawk and more

The hawks around here are all aflutter these days, as it's apparently time for them to start courting potential mates. On Rt 220 between Bellefonte and State College, I've seen at least four or five redtails at any given time--some alone, some within spitting distance of others. I guess the hormones are firing up and it's time to check out the prospects!

Here's a raptor I saw on Friday:

Am I correct in thinking that this is a female red-tailed hawk? The tail doesn't seem too red in these photos, but it was redder in real life. I'm sure Susan or someone will correct me if I'm wrong. It seems like whenever I think I've got a hawk ID, it always ends up being a Cooper's Hawk. But this one definitely doesn't have the long Coop tail. So--redtail?

Other sightings as I drove around Bald Eagle State Park on Saturday:
It's so cool to see water seeping out of the hillsides and freezing into these beautiful scenes. Here's another: Saw some ducks and geese, but nothing new.

Finally, some scat Gretchen and I found on Sunday at Colyer Lake:

Click to embiggen, and note the fur and seeds. I'm guessing the fur is squirrel fir, as it was stiff and kinda wiry looking. But the seeds? Is this coyote or wolf poo?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Last bird of 2008; first bird of 2009

I got a lifer as my last bird of 2008. I was leaving Target over in State College (the big city) when I noticed a HUGE bird on the ground, pecking at something. This bird was the size of a terrier, with a beak thicker than my thumb. I took pictures with my lame phone camera:

So this is a crummy picture taken on a dark cloudy day. Oh well. The cool thing was that there was just NO MISTAKING that this was a raven and not a crow. This guy was HUGE.

The first bird of 2009, fittingly enough, was a plain old American Crow. No photos, though.

Do you recall your last 2008 bird and/or your first bird of 2009?