Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At last, some birds!

I've been seeing a lot of Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Red-shouldered Hawks, and possibly even a Rough-legged Hawk (but I didn't get a good enough view to call it a lifer), and today I went down to the Duck Pond near PSU and saw some nice ducks:a cute little female Ruddy Duck, complete with perky stiff tail, and

and a beautiful female Redhead. There is some back-and-forth on the listserv today about whether this is a Redhead or a Scaup -- I think the consensus is Redhead. Any other offers?

I'm also super pumped about three upcoming events:
1. Flying to Boston tomorrow for New Year's with AB and some of her old friends.
2. My bff Gretchen is moving back to State College next month!
3. I'm participating in the Christmas Bird Count for Bald Eagle State Park on Sunday! (that means a quick turnaround on the Boston trip)
So much fun, so little time!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in New England

AB and I spent Christmas in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, visiting AB's family and friends. We got caught by the big storm on our drive home on Sunday, though we'd thought it would miss us. It wasn't too bad, though; AB's a pro on the snow.

We had a great time with AB's parents and grandma, and I even got to walk on a frozen pond!So cool!

There was a big beaver dam across the pond, and lots of the trees looked like this:Real beaver teeth cut that tree down! I've never seen anything like it. I wish we could've seen the beavers, but I'm guessing they were underwater in their lodge.

AB's parents' dog Nora chases BIG sticks, no matter what the condition of the water:Apparently, little sticks hold no challenge for her. She was so funny, running and slipping around and grabbing the stick in mid-slide.

Didn't see too many birds, but I did get some great bird gifts! A neat bird whistle, bird books, and a beautiful cup:
and this cool sweatshirt:
My sister Nora got me that one. Cool!

Hope everyone had a great holiday/Christmas/Xmas/Yule/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/etc. (I'm doing my part in the Liberals' War on Christmas!)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

beginning to freeze

It was a very nasty day out at Bald Eagle State Park; temps just above freezing, a wicked wind, and steady light rain. Gretchen and Laura and I drove out there about 1.5 hrs after I got a text from a bird clubber that there was a big flock of Common Goldeneyes along with lots of mergansers out there.

We were disappointed to find only smaller rafts of Common and Red-breasted Mergansers and no Goldeneyes. Some very blurry (click to embiggen) photos:
That tall one near the middle up top isn't a Goldeneye, right? Or is it? It seems to have the white cheek patch, but I don't remember seeing the patch through the scope--and I LOOKED.

Here's where you can really see some good wing and neck markings.

Look at this bird sticking his neck up, on the right:
Almost goose-like, no? But
a merganser. So we saw 20 birds when I snapped these pics, but when I was looking in the scope a little after these guys flew and landed again, the numbers were lower and those are the ones I went with for my eBird count below.

There was also a large flock of at least 250 Canada Geese, and mixed into that flock was one odd goose with pink/orange legs and feet, a white ring around the base of his bill (which was not black but not orange either--orange-black?), some random white feathers on the back of his tall black neck, and whitish cheek patch (sort of dirty white) but definitely NOT a white chinstrap like the other Canadas. It was just a patch on either check, with black underneath. It looked somewhat like a Greater White-fronted Goose but somehow NOT. Here are the three best pics:

So you can see that his body is more Canada-like, but a little lighter and his tail and rump were DEFINITELY like a Greater White-fronted, with the shorter tail and white tip, rather than the wide bands of white and then black of a Canada's tail. I really think this was a cross between a Canada and a GWFG. Is that possible? At one point we saw them flying and that's when I noticed the distinctly non-Canada tail. None of my guides have any juvenile Canada illustrations, and this goose was the ONLY one in the entire flock with these weird markings. Is this a Greater White-fronted Goose, or a cross between a Canada and a GWFG, a weird-looking Canada, or what?

A local listserver said that it kinda looks like some of these Barnacle x White-fronted crosses. Maybe?

Our whole list:
Canada Goose 250 (including the weirdo)
Mallard 4
Common Merganser 6
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Ruddy Duck 1
Bonaparte's Gull 10
Ring-billed Gull 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 3
Black-capped Chickadee 3
Eastern Bluebird 3
European Starling 15
Northern Cardinal 1

I was really hoping to see a Goldeneye; it would've been a lifer.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Look at this!

You know how I love to look through the folders from old trips (I save my photos by trip and date); it's fun to remember the many things I saw that I might not otherwise recall. Sometimes, I find a surprise--the possible Cave Swallow was, I think, just a Purple Martin. But this:I was looking through the photos from my Rio Grande Valley trip with my sister Mary, and I remembered taking photos of this little bird on a wire.

I'm thinking Loggerhead Shrike! What do you think?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today's bird club update

This morning's birding update comes from local bird-stud Joe Verica:

"BESP 150 Overlook: wanker with decoys."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

OMG, lifers!

LIFER OLDSQUAWS! (I refuse to call them Long-tailed Ducks.)

We finally got some good rain and cold last night and today, which means WATERFOWL! I got several texts from our local listserv (that's their new thing, texting alerts--which is awesome) about Bald Eagle and a little tiny lake called Colyer Lake near here. Colyer was easier for me to fit in, so off I went at lunchtime.

SCORE! Check these out!

I see a Ruddy Duck, some Scaup, some mergansers (red-breasted?), Canvasbacks, Oldsquaws, Buffleheads! The (correction) LESSER SCAUP (I thought Red-breasted Mergs were lifers, but I saw them at Middle Creek a while back) and OLDS are lifers! It was FREEZING out there, so I only stayed out about ten minutes, but those Oldsquaws were so worth it. They're beautiful!

Anyone want to play along on IDing each of these birds, from left to right? I'm working on it myself now, but I wanted to get these pics up quickly because I'm so excited!ID them by the numbers!

More pics, with IDs confirmed by a very good local birder named Alex:White-winged Scoter, Ruddies, WW Scoter -- I knew those two big black things were something different, and so much bigger than the other ducks (even the Canvasbacks, or so I thought). But Alex said those were the WW Scoters, and I realize now that they had the right marks on them through the bins -- LIFERS! Alex was out there too, earlier today, so I knew he'd be able to confirm IDs for me.

By the way, I ended up mis-IDing a lot of the Red-breasted Mergs as Ruddies, based on their tiny size. Beware!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is this a Cave Swallow?

I was going through my lifebird photos (yes, again, AB!) and cropping them a bit more, doing some photo-editing, etc. when I noticed this bird in my shot of Purple Marlins:Perhaps a juvenile Cave Swallow? Note the pale cheek and throat and the pale spot above the eyes on the forehead (non-birdy terms, I know, but you get the idea). If it were a juvey Barn Swallow, the throat would be more reddish. If it were a Cliff, it would have a dark throat. All this is according to Sibley.

What do you think?

I took this photo two years ago in Cape May with Baby G, so it's not like I'm going to count this as a lifer, but I would like to know whether I'm IDing it correctly.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A freezing morning at Bald Eagle

AB and I went to Bald Eagle State Park yesterday, and Baby G and her gal and I went this morning--all in pursuit of rumored potential lifers Eared Grebe and White-winged Scoter. We saw neither, but we had good times nonetheless.

I didn't get many pics on Saturday with AB; there wasn't much to see. I did continue my annoying record of getting the clearest shot of a target bird right when its head is behind a branch:Grrrr. I have no good pics of BCChickadees, and I pished these guys to within like ten feet of us (to AB's delight), and all my other pics were blurry except for this one. Sigh.

To illustrate my agony, here are some reminders of other such great moments from the past:Not that big a deal, but this would've been a nice pic of an American Goldfinch. This next one was a little more upsetting:
My lifer Prairie Warbler, just over the fence at the Marsh House years ago, hiding his face behind a branch. Oy vey. Just after I snapped this, he flew. No second chances in bird photography.

Anyway, this morning Gretchen and her gal and I arrived very early at the lake--and here's what we saw:And it was COLD! There was frost all over everything, including this little cobweb:We saw some American Coots and a Pied-billed Grebe at one stop (East Launch), and then we moved to the Winter Launch and saw these:SNOW BUNTINGS! Aren't they gorgeous? Baby G spooked them as she walked along the water's edge and we followed them to the boat launch and watched as they charmed us with their cute faces and twittering calls. Lifer 284! They were awesome. I'm sure they look beautiful in their breeding whites, but this plumage is lovely too.

So I crawl up the ladder to 300, a few birds at a time, and I'm more in love with birds than ever.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A magical night

I wrote the following after returning from watching a monster night flight from the deck around the Convention Center, Cape May. For photos and her description, see Susan's post.

It's about 10:30 p.m., and I'm lying on my back on the wooden deck behind the Convention Center in Cape May. Jeff Gordon is lying beside me; his wife is lying perpendicular to us above our heads. Susan is on Jeff's other side--he's put his arms around us to keep us warm in the cold night. Everyone is looking skyward, awestruck.

Overhead, hundreds--no, thousands--of American Robins, Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other birds are flying erratically, like bats, glowing white in the night lights of Beach Avenue. A Savannah Sparrow rests on the street, a lifer for Susan. Every so often, a larger bird flies over: a Barn Owl? a gull? a woodcock? Hell, it could be a flamingo for all we know. We're seeing that many birds.

There are lifers for me too: Bill Thompson, Richard Crossley, Mark Garland, Louise Zemaitis. From our vantage point in the darkness, the birds look like leaves blowing in the stiff wind, highlighted by the street lamps. For me, it's an unbelievable, mind-blowing spectacle. Does this happen every night? How could I have missed it? How long will it last?

The best part? Even an ABA President, the editor of Birdwatcher's Digest, and one of the authors of The Shorebird Guide are just as dumb-struck as I am. They're all agog, gasping, uttering statements of disbelief -- just like I am.

For a magical hour on a magical night, we're all captivated, grasping for words and images to describe nothing more or less than the sight of robins and sparrows flying overhead on their way south. Common birds, common admirers, uncommon night.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cape May wrap-up

For posterity (and my own records), here are the species/lifers counts from Cape May:
American Black Duck
American Crow
American Goldfinch
American Kestrel
American Oystercatcher
American Robin
American Wigeon
American Woodcock
Bald Eagle
Belted Kingfisher
Black Scoter
Black Skimmer
Black Vulture
Black-bellied Plover
Black-capped Chickadee
Boat-tailed Grackle
Broad-winged Hawk
Brown Thrasher
Canada Goose
Carolina Wren
Chipping Sparrow
Common Grackle
Common Loon
Cooper’s Hawk
Dark-eyed Junco
Double-crested Cormorant
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
European Starling
Field Sparrow
Fish Crow
Forster’s Tern
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Gray Catbird
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Green-winged Teal
Hairy Woodpecker
Hermit Thrush
Herring Gull
House Sparrow
Laughing Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Yellowlegs
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Mourning Dove
Mute Swan
Northern Cardinal
Northern Flicker
Northern Harrier
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Pintail
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Shoveler
Palm Warbler
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-winged Blackbird
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Royal Tern
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Turnstone
Savannah Sparrow
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Tree Swallow
Tufted Titmouse
Tundra Swan
Turkey Vulture
Western Sandpiper
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Wood Duck
Yellow-rumped Warbler

That's 84 species, 4 lifers. There were some birds that other Flock members saw that I didn't see, so I didn't list them. If I didn't see it and positively ID it (or have it confirmed for me by a pro), I didn't count it.

So my lifelist is now up to 283. Pretty amazing! My file of photographs of lifers is only up to 196, though. The funny thing is--the ones I don't have. It's not surprising that I don't have pictures of a Veery or a Sora; those are hard. But I don't have pictures of silly birds like Rock Dove and House Sparrow--well, of course I don't! So I'll have to go out and take pictures of such "trash" birds sometime, just to round out the collection.

Another wonderful autumn migration in Cape May. I am secretly hoping we go to Texas this spring (maybe for AB's spring break), because I'd be able to get all kinds of crazy birds down there.

To wrap it up, thank you, weather gods, for actually giving us sun (instead of the usual drear and rain) in Cape May! That's a first!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cape May blowout

An amazing weekend like we had in Cape May really can't be summed up in a bunch of words, no matter how poetic or superlative-laden they may be. So instead, I'll give you some photo highlights:
Wood Duck drake

Tundra Swans, a rarity in Cape May, though we saw a flock of about 10

Swamp Sparrows

Ruddy Turnstones -- lifers all!

Royal Tern

some beautiful Northern Pintails

a Northern Harrier who hunted for at least a half hour
by the Hawk Watch Platform at Cape May Point

Lesser Black-backed Gulls, lifers as ID'd by Pete Dunne, among Great Black-backed Gulls

Laughing Gull

Hermit Thrushes were almost as abundant as sparrows in the motel backyard

a Common Loon in the brackish marshes of Cape May's harbor

Brants were quite plentiful

this Black Scoter was sitting in the same spot for the Tidewater cruiser --
the guide said the bird was probably old or sick

this American Woodcock was blown in off the water on Sunday morning

American Oystercatchers

I didn't know American Coots had such blood-red eyes

AB took this snap.

Some of us got to get really close to Pete Dunne.

Boat-tailed Grackles, hanging out on an Osprey platform

I think one word that could sum up the weekend was "abundant." I mean, we saw literally thousands of Yellow-rumps, American Robins, sparrows, Double-crested Cormorants, ducks, and raptors. There were so many birds at any given time that it was challenging for the trip guides to point out just one bird among the dozens or hundreds flitting and flying among the foliage and in the air.

On Thursday night, Susan and I got to hang out with people like Bill Thompson III, Jeff and Liz Gordon, Richard Crossley, and Louise Zemaitis, first at New River trip leader Mark Garland's house (eating chocolate chip cookies minus the chocolate chips) and then down at the old Convention Center watching thousands of birds flying overhead in the lights of Beach Avenue. It was surreal--like a lost reel of The Life of Birds combined with an episode of Name-Droppers.

The whole weekend was non-stop, and we didn't miss a trick. We birded at the Beanery, the Meadows, the Hawk Watch, the Bunker Pond, and the beach at Cape May Point. AB and I watched the sunset and found some Cape May diamonds at Sunset Beach. We had breakfast at Uncle Bill's Pancake House and the Mad Batter's. We had a nice sit-down dinner at Carney's (we were getting sick of bar food). We watched the Rangers win their one World Series game. (sniffle!) AB fell in love with Cooper's Hawks and Wood Ducks.

So much happened... I could go on and on and never cover it all. Suffice it to say that we saw more birds than we'd ever seen all in one place in our whole lives. And we loved every stinkin' minute of it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cape May quickie

one of about a million Yellow-rumps




That just might cover our first night and morning's birding here in Cape May. I'd need way more words to describe today.

They're having one of the biggest migration fall-outs in ten years, according to the local experts. We've seen at least 5,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers, another probably 10,000 American Robins, probably a 500-count mixed swallow flock (Northern Rough-winged, Tree (!), and a couple of Cave! LIFER!), and more. It's truly been a day unlike any other for me.

Some quick photo uploads:I think this is a juvenile Bald Eagle, but Susan was hoping it might be the Golden Eagle that was banded later (after we saw him) this afternoon.

We saw a couple of Northern Rough-wings:

We birded with Bill Thompson III this morning at the Beanery:

presidential birding

More later!