Saturday, March 18, 2017

Owl in the Box!

When Connie and I moved into our new home 17 years ago, one of the first things that I did was hang a Screech Owl box in the pine trees between our house and the next door neighbor. I opened the box one day to see if it needed to be cleaned out and to my surprise - a little owl was "hiding" in the corner of the box! We never saw the owl in the hole of the box. Many years passed and the box disintegrated. We also got new neighbors who are interested in the box.

I replaced the box last year but again we haven't seen an owl. Last month, I climbed the tree and opened the box. Once again, a little owl hid in the corner. I was soooo excited. Our neighbor, Jordan told me that he saw the owl in the hole a few times last week but he has a better view from his yard. Today was the day. The owl showed himself! Even with Peanut chasing sticks. I snuck over to the car and grabbed my camera. The owl didn't care. Here he is:

Eastern Screeh Owl
I moved to a different view. Here he is again:

Eastern Screech Owl
All in all, a good week for the yard.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Snowy Foxy Day

We were all pretty shocked to wake up to snow today after having such mild weather. But there it was, snowing so I made sure to put plenty of birdseed out for the birds. Since I work from home alot, I put new feeders on the patio so that I can watch the birds from the office. The original feeders are still stocked out near the garage too. The birds were going crazy.

Imagine my surprise when a big red thing ran under the bush by the patio and then jumping around. I was on the phone with a customer and yelled "Oh my god, it's a fox". I grabbed my cell phone and started trying to get a video. You can see the fox behind the tree jumping straight up in the air.

Apparently he or she caught a mouse and was flipping it around. He played around a little and then left. I finished up on the phone and went into the kitchen to grab some lunch. I was pretty shocked to see the fox standing in our driveway.

Fox in the hen house? 
Look how beautiful he/she is. Apparently, he/she wanted dessert after his lunch and ate all of the peanuts and left the sunflower seeds.

Really fun stuff. Made the snow seem less cold.

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.