Sunday, February 19, 2017

Summer in February

While Diane and Barbara are sunning and funning in Puerto Rico to escape the cold weather . . . we were  also sunning and funning back home today with a high temperature of 70 degrees. Time to get out and bird! Peanut and I picked Marty up at 6:15 AM and headed to the bayshore to meet Harvey and Steve to look for some winter birds.

We didn't manage to find many birds despite being out all day. But being out all day was terrific. I only photographed a few birds including this Fox Sparrow - one of many that we saw.

Marty wanted to see the Pink-footed Goose that has been hanging around Cape May near the zoo. After a few circles around the pond, we spotted it hanging around with a bunch of Canada Geese. This is a bird of the far north. Only a few come as far south as New Jersey and even then, not every year.

Here it is swimming with his Canadian friend. Notice the size difference.

My friend Steve posted on his blog that they had a Woodcock calling in their front yard this week. Woodcocks are very early breeders and start their mating rituals in early March. I guess they can't wait to get a jump on it this year. Reading that, I decided to go to the dog park tonight to see if any Woodcocks were there. After about 40 minutes of waiting at dusk, I found one bird in the road that flew off and gave the classic "peent" call. Yay! Check out Steve's post to read about their bird and see photos.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

There's Rare, And Then There's Mega Rare

I have spent the past two weeks lamenting. You see, there is a rare gull in upstate New York. A juvenile Ross' Gull was found on Tupper Lake hanging around the ice fisherman waiting to feast on fish guts. This is a gull that is usually found in extreme arctic. People travel to the arctic and still don't see the bird. And here is one only 7 hours north. 7 hours seems easy until you can't find anyone to drive up there with you. The gull hung around for about a week and then couldn't be found. Needless to say, I didn't go to see the gull and I'm still regretting it.

Flash forward a few days. The Internet lit up on Friday with news of a Mega Rare bird being seen at bird feeders near Reading PA. Black-backed Orioles are only found in the mountains of Mexico which is nowhere close to Pennsylvania. This bird doesn't migrate. How did it get here? Who cares. I wasn't about to miss out on this one only an hour and a half away. Lori went with me. We arrived to masses of birders lining the sidewalk in this residential neighborhood. It was like a carnival atmosphere. The bird was easily seen but not close to the road. You can see it here hanging out with 2 Cardinals.

This bird is so famous that the neighbors have a guest book for people to sign. We met people from New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia. People are coming from all over to see the first recorded Black-backed Oriole in the United States. By the end of the day, 197 people saw AND recorded their visit in eBird.

The jury is still out as to whether the bird will be "countable" in official records. In order to be legitimate, the records committee must be sure about the species - no doubt about that, and the provenance of the bird - big doubt about that. How did the bird get to Pennsylvania from Mexico? If the committee suspects that the bird got here by human hands - smuggled, accidentally transported by boat, plane or truck, or escaped from a cage - then the bird will not count as a wild bird and therefore will not be accepted on anyone's life list.

So why then would 200+ birders go to see the bird? 2 reasons. First, it's a pretty, orange bird in the middle of a gray winter. Second and more important, we all have the bird "in the bank" just in case the record committee accepts the bird as a wild vagrant. Check! Only time will tell.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Christmas in Florida

For the second year in a row, I drove to Florida over Christmas. Last year, Connie and I drove down after Christmas. This year, I drove down with Diane and Barbara. Had a great time swimming, eating, drinking and shopping. Dave rented us a golf cart so that we could scoot around for fun. We decided to decorate it for the holidays. Here are Diane and Barbara getting ready to cruise.

Decked Out
Peanut spent her time on the lanai chasing lizards. I caught this one and put it outside for its own safety much to Peanut's disappointment.

Peanut's toy

Barbara and I managed to get out birding a few mornings. We scooted over to an area known for birds. We got to see this Red-shouldered Hawk up close. It sat in a cypress tree for a bit and then flew off. You can see the red shoulder on this photo.

Red-shouldered Hawk
On our way back to the house, we came across this Osprey sitting next to the golf cart path. I got really close and the bird didn't care. In fact, he/she was so bored with me, he/she let out a big yawn.

Bored Osprey
We ran across another birder. She was really happy to meet us since there aren't that many birders in the Villages. She gave us great advice about where to find the Egyptian Geese that live here. Egyptian Geese are, as you can imagine, not American birds so therefore not countable for ABA records EXCEPT in Florida where they breed freely. I have seen them before but it would be a life bird for Barbara.

We went after the geese the next day. Boy, the directions were perfect. The birds were right where the other birder said they would be. Boom - lifer for Barbara and ABA bird for me. Win-win.

Egyptian Geese
We took a look around the pond and found a few other birds to photograph. Here is an Anhinga drying its wings on the edge of the pond.

This Snowy Egret was taking a risk. The Alligator moved closer and closer. Moving so slowly that it was almost imperceptible. The Egret didn't notice.
Snowy Egret and Alligator
We didn't stick around to see who won the stand-off. We headed back to the house for more Christmas merriment.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Bird Count(s) 2016

The annual Christmas Bird Count is a time honored tradition. I've been doing it one for the past few years. My territory is Pennypack park near the Environmental Center. I dutifully cover this territory year after year come rain or shine, warm or freezing cold. This year was of the rainy and cold variety. Needless to say, the day was pretty shitty. No birds. Cold  and wet. Peanut didn't even really have a good time. She was happy to call it quits by 1 PM. That was Saturday Dec 17th. The only photo that I managed was this miserable Cooper's Hawk.

Cooper's Hawk
Sunday was a totally different day. I offered to help Paul Guris cover his CBC area in Cape May and we had a much better day. Not only did we have better weather, but you can imagine that we had better birds too due to the habitat. We cover an area called Two Mile which is north of the Cape May inlet. It has beach and sea viewing, the inlet, marshes and also extends into Wildwood Crest. Peanut has a great day running the beach.


Here are a few Ruddy Turnstones that Peanut ran right past.

Ruddy Turnstones
We also found a these Conch shells washed up on the beach. I think they are really called Welks but whatever.

Welk Shells
Over in the marsh behind the Two Mile Restaurant, we found this very confiding Western Sandpiper. This bird sat still while we all took photographs. It didn't even fly away when Peanut ran past. I kind of felt bad for the bird - all alone on the marsh. It seemed out of sorts. I took a bajillion photos. This is the best one given the overcast lighting and rubble where the bird seemed most comfortable.

Western Sandpiper
We cruised through Wildwood Crest counting neighborhood birds along the way. Pigeons, Starlings, Mourning Doves and House Sparrows. Wait. Did that House Sparrow have yellow on it? Turn around. Let's give it another look. Sure enough, Andy and Paul had spotted a Dickcissel among the flock of House Sparrows at a feeder while driving 30 MPH down New Jersey Ave. Wow. These guys are good. Look at the subtle difference between the House Sparrow in the foreground and the Dickcissel sitting up on the bush.

Dickcissel and House Sparrow
The Dickcissel was the only one of it's species to be seen on the Cape May CBC. Sunday was like payback for my effort on Saturday. Yay.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Harvey's Hummer

Sometimes, hard work pays off. Harvey has spent a few years making his garden hospitable for butterflies and hummingbirds. He has Ruby-throated hummingbirds in his yard all summer. Sometimes a dozen or more are flying around until the end of September. Then, they all leave for the winter not to return until April. The yard seems empty after all of that activity. Until November 1st when a hummer flew around the yard. Harvey was elated to have a procrastinator for a few more days.

Hummers that show up on the east coast in November are generally not Ruby-throated. They are often western species that made a wrong turn and headed east rather than south. This is the case with Harvey's hummer. Problem is, nobody knows what species it is. Harvey has his ideas. He has invited experts to the house for their opinion. He has sent photos to expert hummingbird banders. Nobody can ID the bird. I finally had time to visit the yard on November 27th. Here is the hummer sitting in the butterfly bush.

It is now Christmas Eve and the little hummer is still in the yard. Harvey has a whole feeder thing erected on the porch. The feeders are hung on a ladder with a light bulb shining to keep the sugar water from freezing.

The hummer is having a ball. He/she sits on the ladder and has it's own food, shelter and adoring fans right there. We hope that he/she survives the winter so that we can see if the bird gets shiny feathers that may give us a clue to the identity.  He/she is in good hands.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Misses, Mud, and "The Chinese"

After a fantastic few days of birding in Texas, we still had one or two birds on the target list including Ringed Kingfisher. This is another one of those birds that is regularly found in Central America but rare in the U.S. I have seen a few on our various trips to Belize, Mexico and Honduras but not in the U.S. The bird is pretty regular in a few of the parks that border the Rio Grande river. Mary took us to one park on Saturday but we didn't see the bird.

We started the day at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park. We were the second car in the parking lot. The other car was actually a van full of birders dressed in camouflage and carrying cameras with giant lenses. We found out that 2 were from China, 2 from Vancouver and 2 from Toronto - all Chinese birders on a tour of the US.

After a grueling and practically birdless 5 mile walk, we struck out on finding the Kingfisher. We did find a few Altamira Orioles to photograph.

Altamira Oriole
And found this Javelina wandering around the picnic area. He scurried away when he saw us.

This is Plain Chachalaca. We saw many on our trip but they are usually skulking around under the trees in the shade. This one came out into the sun briefly.

Plain Chachalaca
We struck out on the Ringed Kingfisher so we headed out to our next destination to see if we could find Mountain Plovers that had been reported in a farm field. We searched and scanned and searched and scanned but not a plover in sight. The field was so large that we couldn't see the other side. The plovers must be there! So we took the Jeep and followed the service road. We were surprised to find a covy of Bobwhite!

We also found a little patch of mud. The Jeep was stuck.

A few pushes and the Jeep was free. Lori was a muddy mess. And we still couldn't find the plovers. Strike two for the day.
Barbara had to be at the airport to fly to Denver so we gave up on the plover search and dropped her off at Harligen airport.

It was a longshot, but Lori and I decided to head 2 hours north to try to see Whooping Cranes. Why not? Whooping Cranes eluded us on our last trip to Texas. We showed up 2 days after they migrated north in April. Now, in November, we hoped to catch the first few as they arrived to spend the winter. Off we went in our muddy Jeep. The speed limit in Texas is 75 MPH and we were going faster to make it to Goose Island before sunset. We were passing a lot of cars and pickup trucks and one big van. Guess who was driving? The Chinese guy from this morning! We slowed down long enough to wave and then sped off again.

We arrived at Goose Island in time to search the area for Cranes and found a few Sandhill Cranes which are gray, but no Whooping Cranes which are white. We drove to the Visitor Center to ask about the Cranes. The guy told us to look in the campground which was ridiculous so we headed back to the field to try again. Guess who we ran into at the parking area? Yup. The Chinese guys. They drove up to see the Cranes too. We laughed and chatted with them for a few minutes and then headed out for one more chance to save the day's birding.

I spent some time photographing this very accommodating Meadowlark.

And then they flew in - 3 Whooping Cranes! The Chinese guys came running up because they heard the Whooping Cranes calling as they flew in. The birds settled into the back of the field for a few minutes and then lifted off again. The lighting was perfect.

Whooping Cranes
We averted Strike Three for the day and everyone was happy! Here are our Chinese friends celebrating. If you are going to Conowingo Dam next week, look for them there. They are on a whirlwind tour.

Chinese Birders

Monday, November 21, 2016

Target Birding in Texas

Why go birding at the bottom of Texas? Because there are birds there that aren't found in other areas of the United States. Check out the map. You can see how far south we are as compared to Mexico. Therefore, we can see birds that we may have never seen before - or - add birds that we've seen in Mexico or Belize or Honduras to our U.S. list. 

Rio Grande Valley
So far, I have 7 life birds for the trip and 8 other birds to add to my U.S. list. In the past, I have tried to see birds in many places on my own but when I told people that we were headed to Rio Grande Valley area, everyone said that we should hire a guide to get the specialty birds. Most of the people who suggested this know what they are talking about and they all said that we should hire Mary Gustafson for a day. I met Mary on the North Carolina pelagic trip (she was the other woman in the Mahi Mahi photo). She lives in Rio Grande Valley and is a professional guide. I contacted her and she agreed to take us around on Saturday.

Mary met us at our motel on Saturday morning. It was blowin' a gale outside but Mary was not deterred. I showed her my spreadsheet and she formulated a plan for the day. First stop - Estero Llano Park. We were surprised to find out that the park was actually an RV park that the State took over. There are only 2 campsites that are allowed to be occupied - they are reserved for volunteer "Park Hosts". We met one of the couples who spend the winter in the park showing visitors around. Very nice people from Ontario Canada. 

Mary took us to a place near the old bathhouse and found a Common Paraque - which is in the night jar family. They hunt insects in the evening and then roost on the ground during the day. They are very camouflaged against the leaf litter. We saw one in Honduras this past spring. 

Common Paraque
Inca Dove is another bird that camouflages pretty well. Here is one sitting on a gravel road in the park. You could almost miss her. They usually take off but this one let me get pretty close.  

Inca Dove
We also found Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet  in the RV part of the park thanks to the Park Hosts and Mary. This is a very secretive flycatcher so no photos. The park also has a lake which has some great ducks and a few Least Grebes which were great to see. 

Off to our next stop which was Frontera Audubon Center. This park is kind of in the middle of town but we really hit the birds here. One of our main target birds was Green Kingfisher. I photographed one in Honduras but wanted to see one in the U.S. Boy, did we get a show from not one, but two! Here is the female which perched on our side of the lake. The male perched on the other side of the lake but when she saw him, she chased him off! 

Green Kingfisher
We caught up with her again when she perched on the railing of the boardwalk. I snapped this just as she dove into the water after a fish. 

We worked really hard looking for another of our Life Bird targets - Olive Sparrow. We spent a fair amount of time looking at the bird feeders around the park waiting for one to slink out from the woods to grab a seed from the ground. Mary and I saw one for a split second but it never came out from under the brush again. We finally heard 2 in the woods later thanks to Mary and saw one  thanks to Barbara's keen eye. Again, no photo was possible. 

Thankfully, some birds were VERY photographable. This Black-crested Titmouse sat still long enough for a photo. 

And Great Kiskadees were all over the place. This one perched near the Green Kingfisher for a few minutes.
Great Kiskadee
Here are a gang of them on another pond. I wonder what they are all looking at. 

Mary took us to a great little lunch spot and then we headed out to find some other target birds. Some target birds aren't really what most people would call sexy, but I want to see those too. Blackbirds might fall into that category for some people. Mary took us out to a grain silo where we found flocks of blackbirds along the road. They go to the grain silos for an easy meal. And we go for easy birding. Here they are swirling around the warehouse. 

Bronzed Cowbird was on my target list. I saw them in Honduras, but not up close and personal like this. Here is a male all puffed up ready for his bath. Look at those devil eyes! You can see the bronze shimmer of his chest which gives him his name. 

Bronzed Cowbird
We also saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds in the flock. Here is a female getting a bath.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Mary wasn't done with us yet. Off we went to the town of McAllen where she knew we could find parrots and parakeets. We lucked into a flock of Red-crowned Parrots which flew across the highway. We exited and drove up a busy street and found Green Parakeets on the wire. Here are 2 snuggling. 

Green Parakeets
A stellar day despite the unrelenting wind and cold conditions. Thanks Mary!