Thursday, October 16, 2014

On the Fence

Sometimes, you don't have to go far to get some good birds. Harvey and I traipsed all over south Jersey on Sunday looking for birds. We started at Higbee with Roxy and Hollie. Not much to see there but Hollie got a few new species. (BTW, Hollie is Jill's dog that I babysat over the weekend).
Hollie on the lookout
She didn't need to use the binoculars to see this beauty.

Prairie Warbler
We headed up to Corbin City and got to see a Loggerhead Shrike which is pretty rare for Jersey. They are usually found down south. I don't have a photo since it was sitting pretty far out in the marsh. We stopped along the road on the way out of the marsh and I spotted this little guy. Its called a Fence Lizard and is the only true lizard in New Jersey. Check out the blue belly.

Fence Lizard
Birding was pretty dead, so we headed home. Guess where all the birds were?  Yup, in my yard. I grabbed the camera and started shooting. Speaking of fences, this Ruby Crowned Kinglet sure liked the cyclone fence between our yard and Mary's yard. He would sit there for a few seconds and then leap up and grab a gnat or other tiny bug out of the air.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet
There were alot of Yellow-rumps but then this bird popped out of the bushes - a Cape May warbler! This was the best find of the day for me. He just loved this little dogwood tree.

Cape May Warbler
I spotted this Brown Creeper in the Cherry tree in the back yard. This is a unique bird in North America - the only one of it's genus. They are pretty hard to spot since they blend in with the tree bark so well. I happened to snap this side view. Check out the curved bill that the bird uses to find bugs under the bark.

Brown Creeper
A nice end to a long day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bugs and Birds

I haven't had time to post anything since I was away (again) for work in Washington DC and then catching up with work and home life. Last weekend, I headed to the shore and didn't find much in the way of interesting birds but I did get to hang out with some of the DVOCers. Here are a few photos starting with this beautiful Bald Eagle. Bald Eagle? Yes. This bird is what they call a "second year" bird which means that it is about 2 years old. You can tell by the feather pattern. This guy or gal looks exactly like the field guide which is why I can casually tell you the age of the bird. Most of the time, its not that cut and dry for me. This bird will get the white head and tail in another 2 years or so.

Bald Eagle - Second Year
Here is a Parula that was sitting still for a few seconds. That is a rare event for these tiny warblers. They are usually in motion and difficult to photograph.

Northern Parula
Like I said, not much in the way of rare or unusual birds. That wasn't the case for bugs though. My friend Chris told me about these weird caterpillars that hatched along the dunes so we went to see them  She was right . . .

Stinging Rose Caterpillar
Patty and Steve identified it for me. Steve wrote a nice blog post on his blog - Recycled Photons - if you want to check it out.

Cape May is full of dragonflies at this time of year. They migrate south just like birds do so you get to see alot of them in the fall. Most of the birders in Cape May can also identify the dragonflies but I just call them by color like this green and black striped one that was sitting along the path.

I had to photograph this Monarch butterfly on the purple flower. Not weird or unusual, just pretty.

Monarch Butterfly

Monday, October 6, 2014

Memories and Nighthawks

Time is a funny thing. I can remember events, the people that were there, the weather, everything - except the date. I have trouble remembering dates. This is one of the big reasons that I am not allowed to pay the household bills. We would be foreclosed - not for lack of funds but for late payments. I don't know how old anyone is unless I figure out how old my mother is, subtract 20 to get to my age, and then add or subtract accordingly to get to Connie or Di's age, and then add or subtract again from there to get to that person's age.  Alzheimer's? Memory loss? Not unless I have had this since I was 6 years old (which I just calculated to be 1969). 

Connie and I have traveled quite extensively. You have read about some of it through this blog but we traveled before the Internet too - to places like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Norway. I can't tell you what year any of those took place. I can get close but . . . 

And so it goes with bird events. I can remember the first time I saw many of the 856 species of birds that I have on my life list. I can remember extraordinary events like the time that we saw about a hundred Red-eyed Vireos fly out of one little shrub. How did they all fit in there? It was like watching clowns get out of a VW Bug at the circus. We called it the "Clown Car" and still talk about it today. Or the time that we saw the Ivory Gull in the marina. I can remember everything about those events except the date. 

And so it was the other evening while I was walking Roxy at our local park after work. I looked up and saw about 40 Common Nighthawks darting, fluttering and swooping just above the treetops and remembered that I had seen this event once before - at Pennypack Trust. I can remember the massive numbers of Nighthawks swarming the fields but I tried to remember what time of year and came up blank. I suppose it was fall but who knows. 

Common Nighthawks are part of the Nightjar family. They sleep during the day and then fly around at dusk catching insects in flight. This gang of 40 were obviously fueling up on bugs in order to head south as a group overnight.  You can always tell a nighthawk because of their white "wristbands" which are easily seen here. 

Now that I have this blog, I can look up dates of events by re-reading some of the posts. Ask me about the time that we were in Texas and saw a relative of the Common Nighthawk called Chuck Will's Widow. I can tell you the date. You can re-read it here Frau Blucher story.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Sigh of Relief

I'm finally home from California. That is one reason to be relieved. I was away for too long in Sept with 2 trips to the west coast. The other reason to be relieved is that the ENTIRE time that I was in California, there was a mega rare bird in Cape May that I was getting hourly text reports about. This is the kind of thing that puts my stomach in knots. What if the bird leaves before I get back? Aaarrrrgggghhhhh.

Good news. The bird didn't leave. I got off of the plane last night at 5 PM, spent the night at home for the first time in 9 days, then got up and left the house at 5 AM to go to Cape May. I wasn't the only one there at sunrise. There were lots of people standing on the beach - including an entire family that drove down from Connecticut just to see this bird.  There was a nerve wracking hour spent looking at the normal birds but not seeing the rare one - and then I saw it land on the beach. I pointed it out to the crowd and everyone was happy. My stomach stopped hurting. There were ooohs and aaaahs. Here it is in the center of the photo - Whiskered Tern. You are probably not impressed.

Terns - Cape May Beach
No, it doesn't have whiskers. In fact, I have more whiskers than than this tern has feathers. Not sure why they call it Whiskered. I picked it out of the crowd by its dark belly. There are actually 4 different tern species in that photo - Common, Forster's, Royal and Whikered along with a few Laughing Gulls.

The tern lifted off and there were morel oooohs and aaaaahs. It flew right at us!

Whiskered Tern
You can see the gray belly on the bird in this shot.

Whiskered Tern
This bird is REALLY off course. They breed in Europe and Asia and winter in Africa, Java and Australia. No where near Cape May. This bird is so rare that there are articles in the newspapers about it. People are making videos of the bird flying around the beach. Whew. It didn't leave. I saw it. It was lovely. Now, I can get back to the regular bird obsession!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

From Desert to Mountains

I have to tell you that the mountains outside of Los Angeles are way nicer than the desert. The air is cooler and clear since you are above the smog. I drove up early on Sunday morning. The day started out on a down note. I had to stop for gas. Got off of the freeway and had to go to 2 gas stations before finding one that was open at 5:30 AM. Tried to use my credit card and had it denied because the credit card company saw that I was trying to use it at 5:30 AM in LA. Then couldn't get back on the freeway due to road closure. Finally got up to the mountains which requires a harrowing drive up a winding road with motorcyclists whizzing past me at high speed. The scenery is breath taking.

Got to my desired location. Found my target bird. Pulled out the camera and . . . nothing. The battery was completely dead! AAARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

I got to the Visitor's Center and saw a few birders heading out of the parking lot. I hailed them down for some info and found out that they were part of Pasadena Audubon doing their monthly filed trip. The leader has the same camera as I do so I boldly asked if he had a spare battery that I could borrow while I was birding with the group. What a great guy! I still have the battery. He is a trusting sole and kept my battery in return for the charged one. Yay. Otherwise, I wouldn't have gotten these photos including this excellent shot of White-headed Woodpecker taking a drink at the Visitor Center.

White-headed Woodpecker
Or this shot of Pygmy Nuthatch.

Pygmy Nuthatch
 Or Oak Titmouse.

Oak Titmouse
Or any of the other birds that I saw like this Black-headed Grosbeak.

Black-headed Grosbeak
Or these GIANT pine cones.

Coulter's Pine Cone

Giant pine cone

Or this Black Bear that rambled past me at Mt. Wilson Observatory!

Black Bear
Thanks Hill - where ever you are!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Back to California

After a brief return home from San Diego, I packed my bags and headed right back. This time it was a working trip. We worked in San Diego on Friday and then headed to LA for another session on Monday. That left the weekend for sightseeing and birding. My coworker Sam and I decided to rent a car and drive to LA so that we could do some sightseeing. The guy at the car rental told us that we needed to go swimming after a hard day at work. The water in Southern California is unusually warm right now so we took his advice and headed to the beach. Our first stop was Kohl's department store to buy swimsuits. Our next stop was La Jolla Cove - a ritzy beach village with high end art galleries and fancy cars. Here is the beach.

LaJolla Cove Beach
There were plenty of people there swimming in the surf. Others were swimming long distance across the cove. A few were snorkeling to see the bright orange Garabaldi fish that were swimming around. And we were all swimming with these guys!

California Sea Lions
They were swimming right with the people and lounging on the beach right along side of us. Here is a photo of a beached whale and sea lions. They didn't seem to mind people getting really close.

Beached Whale
I made Sam get up super early on Saturday so that we could spend the day driving to Joshua Tree National Park which is in the desert. Not much wildlife out there - mostly landscape stuff. These giant smooth rocks only appear in certain places in the desert. That's Sam standing on top.

These unusual bushes also show up in certain places, but not everywhere.

This in an actual Joshue Tree.
Joshua Tree
I ditched Sam on Sunday. Rather he ditched me so that he could hang out with friends and people his own age. More about that next time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Pacific Pelagic Stories

I guess I should have started out with a better description and visual of the trip. Here is a map that might help you see where we went. The RED circle is where we went at the Salton Sea. The PURPLE lines with arrows are where we were during the day and the GRAY lines with arrows are where the boat went at night. The furthest we went off the coast was 225 miles. You can see that we were north of Los Angeles at one point and it looks like we were in Mexico on the last night.

Searcher Pelagic Map
Oh, and I should have shown you a photo of the boat.The Searcher is 40 years old, 95 feet long and 24 feet wide. It's heavy and slow. It has 12 cabins below deck, a dining room, kitchen, 4 bathrooms (2 have showers), and an upper deck for viewing birds which is where Barbara and I spent most of our days.

Bird highlights of the trip for me were the Black-footed Albatross. These birds are born on Midway Atoll - think battle of Midway, middle of the Pacific - and wander the ocean for years until they are old enough to breed and head back to Midway. They show up off of the California coast on a regular basis so the crew isn't surprised when they see one. Still, it made my heart skip a beat when someone yelled "ALBATROSS!" and I saw this heading up the wake of the boat.

Black-footed Albatross
This bird was probably born in April and already has a 7 foot wingspan! It is formidable right up until you see one try to land. Then, all majesty goes right out the window. They throw themselves into a tail spin, stretch out . . .

Black-footed Albatross

And come in for a landing with their black feet splayed out. Sometimes they trip themselves and go head first into the waves. What a riot.

Black-footed Albatross
We was at least 5 of them over the course of the trip. On the last day, 4 showed up and sat together. What a great scene.

One of the other fan favorites on the trip was the Red-billed Tropicbird. They kind of look like terns but they are different. Somehow more exotic. I think it has to do with the long tail streamers.

Red-billed Tropicbird
 At one point, this bird hovered directly over the boat and really put on a show.

Red-billed Tropicbird
Another one of the best birds on the trip for me was Sabine's Gull. I used to page through my field guide and wonder how anyone could tell one seagull from another. But I knew that the one gull that I could pick out would be Sabine's Gull. They are pretty rare in our area. I flipped when a few showed up behind the boat and flipped out when none of the photos turned out very good. Ugh. Look at the wing pattern on this gull. And the yellow tip on the bill.

Sabine's Gull
So, to wrap it up - the trip was a great success. Great birds, great sea creatures, great adventure and great friends to share it with.