Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ever Have One of Those Days or Two?

You know the kind where you are all set to fly to Singapore for business but when you show up to the airport, they don't let you board the plane?  Yup. How does that even happen? This trip has been planned for a few months. I was asked to give a presentation to nonprofits in Singapore. I roped Di and Barbara into going along to see Southeast Asia. When will we ever get that chance again?

We showed up to the airport on time for our flight. Di and Barbara scanned their passports in the machine and printed their tickets. I scanned my passport in the machine and got a message to see the attendant. I was informed that I was not allowed to board the plane because my passport expired in September - less than 6 months away. What? It's still valid, I'll be back in a week, but I can't go?

Long story even longer - Di and Barbara checked my big suitcase and went to Singapore while I took a taxi to New York city's federal building to get a rush job passport. I spent the entire day in the cold, rainy city standing in lines and looking for warm, dry places to kill time like some homeless person. People were looking at me funny with no coat, no umbrella, carrying bags around. . . It cost me $95 for the cab, $170 for the passport, $150 for a hotel and 24 hours of waiting for the next plane to Singapore. Ayyy.

I can't say enough nice things about the United Airlines staff. They pointed me in the right direction and rebooked me on the next available flight. Tada - I made it.

Finally
I got to the hotel at 12:30 AM Sunday morning. Things got significantly better the next day when we headed to Malaysia with our bird guide "Con" at 5 AM despite the lack of sleep.

Singapore is a country, a city, and an island all in one. It is pretty small area but it is totally covered by a very large city with millions of residents and virtually no open space. Very modern buildings all around. Check out this amazing building that has a boat on top of it. Di and Barbara went to the top while I was still dealing with the passport thing.

Boat Building
It has very few places to go birding so we decided to go across the channel to Malaysia for 2 days.Going to Malaysia from Singapore is like going to from Philly to Cherry Hill except that you have to bring your passport. We were going out of the city on Monday morning while hundreds of Malaysian people were inbound on their way to work. Can you imagine walking across the Ben Franklin Bridge every day with a passport to work?

Crossing the bridge

So, off we went to the Panti Forest (yes, the pun was not lost on us). The Panti Forest is like a jungle with a gravel road through it. We birded from the road most of the time but we occasionally walked into the forest on a path. Guess what I found? Leeches.

Eeww, Gross
Di found one too. She was so freaked out by the thought of getting one that she didn't follow us into the forest a few times. But like other creepy things, once you get one, they aren't as bad as you imagined.

Leech!
The two of us are like leech magnets. One of those little buggers made it all the way up my leg and lodged itself behind my knee. The weird thing about leeches is that they don't carry disease which makes getting one a little easier to handle. The other thing is that if you pull them off, the wound bleeds forever.

Bleeding Wound
I'll get to the birds next.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Walk

Roxy and I went for a nice long walk this morning at Lorimer Park. We spotted our FOS (First Of Year) Eastern Phoebe. In fact, we saw 5 of them. Here is one that we watched catch a few bugs.

Phoebe
We also got to see 10 Wood Ducks. They are pretty tame and used to being fed bread at Pine Road. This makes it easy to get good photos of these gaudy but secretive ducks. And now for your viewing pleasure, I present - Wood Ducks:

She's So Fine . . . 
 She really is. Look closely. She has iridescent feathers, pretty blue tail feathers, a great white eye patch and that 'do.
Female Wood Duck
Of course, like most birds, it the male that has all of the flare. He is in competition with many other males to win her over. Here is he scratching himself. Not his best look but I am sure she doesn't mind.
Scratch that itch
Check him out. This is what really attracts her.

Male Wood Duck

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This is What Keeps us Coming Back

Everyone has a hobby of some sort. Hobbies allow us to explore our interest and mostly provide us with positive experiences. In the beginning, we experience long periods of pleasure and personal growth. Once we settle in, the hobby becomes a grounding force - the thing that we can count on to take us away from teh daily grind. Occasionally our hobbies start to take an excessive amount of our free time. We can fall into a rut with our hobbies where participation becomes mundane. At times, the hobby can even work against us as was the case this past December when we found the dead ducks and got bit by a Dachshund (little fucker).

But there are rare moments when we are reminded of what drew us to the hobby in the first place. Magical days when things just go right.  Sunday was that day.  EAGLE! The hole was listed as a par 4 but Dave sunk the ball in 2 strokes. That qualifies as an eagle. That's why you play golf.

Oh, you thought I was talking about birds? OK then Let's talk about birds. At almost the same time that Dave was whooping it up on the golf course, Harvey and I were at the State Park looking for signs of spring.. One of the first warblers to migrate north is Pine Warbler. We found a small group of them and watched as they flitted from pine tree to pine tree. Here is a female Pine Warbler.

Pine Warbler - Female
Here is a male Pine Warbler that turned a good day into a great day. Meet Mr. Piney. This guy landed on the ground in front of us and proceeded to delight us for about 20 minutes. Handsome huh?

Mr. Piney
When I say he walked around right in front of us, I mean RIGHT in front of us, and behind us, and past us. He would occasionally look up at us.

Hey, what kind of shoes are they?
He got so close that we couldn't photograph him with your telephoto lenses. He was too close. At one point, I ran away from him to snap this shot of Harvey. Mr Piney is right beside him.

Harvey and Mr. Piney
Here is another view of the same shot. You now know that Harvey wears Rockport shoes.

Rockports!
This is what keeps us coming back for more. Encounters like this don't happen unless you are out there. You don't shoot 2 under par unless you are golfing either.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes

March 20 - first day of Spring 2015.Had the snow blower out clearing heavy snow from the driveway.

Snowy Spring
March 22 - first day that it felt like spring. I finally got down to the shore to do some birding with Harvey. We started the day with a bang. Harvey found these Black-headed Gulls along the beach in Villas. Black-headed Gulls show up in NJ during their northward migration up to New England and Canada. They are one of the first migrants to come through and only spend a day or so along the Delaware Bay before heading north. It is not a sure bet to find one every year - and here we found 2. We chased them down to Townbank where we were able to snap a few photos. By far, the best photos that I have of BHGUs.(shorhand for Black-headed Gull)

The first Black-headed Gull that we found didn't have such a black head. This guy/gal isn't quite in breeding plumage yet.

(almost) Black-headed Gull 
It flew around enough for me to get this shot that shows dark under the wing tips which is a field mark. Bonaparte's gulls look very similar but lack the dark under the wings.

Look under my wings
Here is another BHGU that really looks like its name. This bird is in full breeding plumage.

(really) Black-headed Gull
We were on a roll and headed to the State Park (aka Lighthouse) to see if we could find some other signs of spring. We were met by another bird that is an early migrant - Killdeer. In fact, there were a pair of them in the parking lot. A pair usually nest here every year and these birds looked like they were home rather than just passing through. Here is one of them. You can imagine how stupid I looked sitting "Indian style" in the middle of the parking lot trying to get this shot.

Killdeer
Another resident was out and about - this Muskrat swam across the pond right in front of us. They are funny looking little animals - half rat, half beaver.

Muskrat
The next sign of spring came in the form of this soaring Osprey. Who knows if this bird will nest here or go farther north but he/she was looking for fish in the pond on Sunday.

Osprey
Just as we are happy to see some birds returning from the south, other birds will shortly leave us to head north. Ducks spend their winters only as far south as they have to go to find water that isn't frozen. This Bufflehead (lower left) and Ring-necked Duck (above, right) will disappear shortly as the water warms. Zoom in to see the iridescence on the Bufflehead. It is amazing.

Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck
More signs of spring will be showing up in the coming days. I have more to tell you about our visit to the State Park so stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cams

One of the best things about the Internet is the ability for people like me to be able to post information to this random blog and have others read it for a laugh or to learn something or just pass the time.  Couple the Internet with video cameras and you get a "Cam". Cams let you peer into the secret lives of animals via a web browser and pass the time watching and learning.  Here are a few cams that are hot right now.  The best is the Bald Eagle nest in Hanover PA. Before you click the link to start watching live video, check out these photos from a recent snow storm.  Here is Mom completely covered in snow.

Snowy Mom

Here she is shaking it off after the snow stopped.

Shaking off the snow
And here is the snow covered nest showing the eggs safe and sound.

Eggs are safe and sound
All photos were copied from the Internet and credited to whoever captured the images from the cam.

Here is the link to watch the live action. The eggs are still not hatched. WARNING - once you click the link, you may end up watching for hours skipping lunch and dinner. It sucks you in.


Another cam that is capturing everyone's attention is the Great Horned Owl nest in Savannah Georgia. The owls in the south are further along than our owls, so the babies are already hatched. Once again, I warn you that this will suck you in for the entire day watching the babies bob around the nest.


Anyway, it is something to enjoy while we wait for our beloved warblers to start their northward journey.  


Thursday, March 12, 2015

LEOWs!

I made it home from the epic Canada trip on Sunday night at 1 AM. Needless to say, I did NOT want to get out of bed on Monday to go to work. When am I going to win the lottery?  Anyway, I dragged myself to work and was going through routine day when a text message came in from Annie Bird stating that there were 4 Long-eared Owls being seen at a local refuge. Long-eared owls are very interesting. They are not typical owls. They migrate south in winter and set up "roosts" where multiple owls sit together during the day.  They show up in local parks for a few days here and there during migration and occasionally hang out all winter if they find a good spot.

I couldn't miss the opportunity to see 4 owls in the same tree so I swung by Fairmount and grabbed Barbara and headed out to the refuge. We headed down the path where they were reported. Honesty, if there weren't a dozen other people there, we might have walked right past them. We didn't see 4 owls. We saw 5!  I have 4 of  them circled in the photo below and an arrow pointing to the 5th owl.

5 Owls
Here are photos of 2 of them. George Armistead had his spotting scope set up and we used iPhones to snap photos of the 2 that were most visible.

Long-eared Owl


They mostly ignored their adoring fans. Even the dogs didn't bother them. Occasionally, they would open their eyes. As you know, there is a big "rule" in the birding world to not bother owls by getting too close or revealing their exact location but when they roost right along the path in a city park, it is hard to keep secret. Luckily, everyone that went to see them yesterday respected them and kept their distance.

Frozen Refuge
We headed out and left the owls in peace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Coming Out of the Funk

Wow, what a depressing winter huh? Considering the last few posts, you would have thought that there was no hope for good birding. Well that changed over the weekend when I went along with a gang of other crazy birders to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. You read that right.. 7 of us rented a van and DROVE to Canada for the WEEKEND to look for birds.  Our target birds were rare visitors from Europe that ended up in North America and others that are northern specialties. We scored big time!

We left my house at 1 PM on Friday, met the rest of the group in north Jersey at 4 PM and headed north. We took turns driving and ended up in Nova Scotia at 7 AM. We were almost immediately rewarded with our first target bird - Spruce Grouse. This Dapper Dan was sitting next to the snow covered road like he was waiting for us to arrive. He allowed us to oooh and aaaah and snap photos for 10 minutes. We left him, not the other way around.

Spruce Grouse
Here is a close up of his face. Interesting to see that his chin feathers look like a beard.

Spruce Grouse
Off we went to a little town of Apple something in search of a European vagrant that has spent weeks in someone's yard.

Fieldfare

Fieldfare reminds me of our Robin but has different markings. We found the house and the bird easily.  The homeowner saw the 15 passenger van pull up and came out to greet us. Nice guy. He made us sign a book. I was number 125 to view the bird.   Here are numbers 118 - 125. A mottlie crew for sure. Ken and Lisa, Alyssa, me in the front. Brandon, the homeowner Blain, Larry and Deidra behind us. Fun stuff.

Northern Bird Gang
We also saw a few other favorites like these Snow Buntings which we usually see on open ground like fields or the beach. None of us can remember ever seeing them in trees like this.

Snow Buntings
 A flock of Evening Grosbeaks were also there. I cannot resist taking photos of this bird. Here is one that is cropped pretty tight. you can see that distinctive eyebrow.

Evening Grosbeak - male
Here is a wider zoom. You can see the difference between male and female.

Evening Grosbeaks
Larry had our route all mapped out and pointed us to our next target - Mew Gull in Dartmouth.  We showed up at the little town lake and had great views of ducks and other gulls but no Mew Gulls. Luckily a local guy came along and told us that the gulls were (where else) at the shopping center parking lot. We drove over and found our quarry easily. Unfortunately for me, something went wrong when I tried to download the photos and I lost photos of the gull and ducks. Suffice to say that they were awesome :-)

It was just about lunchtime so we grabbed a sandwich and headed north past Halifax to a little golf course where a Eurasian Kestral has been hanging out. This is a small falcon that looks similar to our Kestral. I saw one in Scotland last summer. Click here to see that post. My photos from Scotland and Nova Scotia are equally pathetic. Here is the Nova Scotia bird perched in a pine tree. By the time we showed up, the wind was howling which made photos difficult.

Eurasian Kestrel

With all targets checked off of our list, we headed out to Prince Edward Island to find a nice hot meal and hotel for the night. Mind you, we had all been up for over 24 hours by this point.  Signs like this were all over the highway - "Lookout for giant moose eating cars". Ee-gads.


Once in PEI, we had a great meal and settled down for the night. The next morning, we headed out to find grouse but struck out on all counts. Finding grouse in any condition is tough but with 5 feet of snow on the ground it is impossible.

Snow Bank
 Most of the group opted to give up much to the dismay of a few others who wanted to keep looking. I had to be at work on Monday morning, so wanted to get home as fast as possible. We had 13 hour drive ahead of us. 13 hours of hard driving straight south. Of course, birders are wired to scan trees at all times in hopes of finding something good. We do this while driving all of the time. Deirdre yelled "Barred Owl!" and the van came to a screeching halt on the shoulder of I-95 in Maine. We made a few illegal u-turns and sure enough, she was right. This beauty sat there in broad daylight! This is full frame photo - no cropping.

Barred Owl
This is how close we were to the owl. Alyssa and I did a "selfie" through the van window.

Selfie with Barred Owl
That capped off a great trip!  Here is a map of our travel - 2000 miles in less than 3 days. Crazy!