Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Drought is Over

Our annual trip to Potter County proved to be the hottest and most humid that I can remember. Our camp neighbors told us that they had more rainy days than clear ones in June. The weather didn't dampen our family fun. Our hikes up to the slate quarry were just a tad soggy. The dogs managed to find a porcupine. Luckily the critter scampered up a tree before the dogs caught up to him. That could have been a prickly incident for sure.

Those giant claws allow the porcupine to get up that tree and hang on.
The "drought" in the title doesn't pertain to the weather. It refers to my inability to find Mourning Warblers. They are rare migrants through our area and I haven't been skillful enough to find one on their breeding territory . . . until now! I took a drive up on Nelson Run Road to see if I could find suitable nesting habitat. The field guides say that they prefer dense scrubby habitat. That sounds alot like clear cut logging areas. The loggers put up electric fences to protect the saplings from deer. I pulled up to one and bingo.  I heard a "churree, churree" coming from the scrub just along the fence. To my amazement, this guy popped up.

Mourning Warbler
Mourning warblers are very large for warblers. The ID is based on the gray hood and head with the black patch on the base of the bib.

Mourning Warbler
I was thrilled but couldn't stay much longer or risk being late for dinner. Connie and I returned the next day on our motorcycles to see if the bird would oblige us with another appearance. No luck on our first attempt but we did find one farther down the fence line.

Mourning Warbler
I played the song on my iPhone for a bit to attract him. Some people frown on using a tape to attract the bird. I made the call to play the tape due to 2 factors: First, I'm pretty confident that other birders hadn't been here using tapes before us so the bird wasn't tired of hearing the tape. Second, I only used it for a few minutes and let the resident bird "win" the territory fight that he thought he was in. In other words, the warbler assumes that the tape is another male trying to cut in on his action. Once the tape stops, the resident male assumes that he won the contest and drove the other bird away. Oh, and thirdly, we won't be back to disturb the bird again.

Mourning Warbler
It was a special encounter that we will remember for a long time.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Philadelphia Breeding Bird Census

The second Philadelphia Breeding Bird Census is taking place this year. It is coordinated by the DVOC to try to document the birds that breed in the city. My section, as usual is Pennypack Park between Verree and Pine Road. I do the same area for the Christmas Bird Count and the Mid-winter Bird Census too. We not only count the birds but also document if they are building nests, on eggs, have chicks or other breeding activity.

I think I did pretty good today with 32 species. Mostly Catbirds, Robins and Wood Thrushes. They are all easy to find by listening. Catbirds just cackle and meow all day long.

Robins nests are pretty easy to find.

Robin's nest
I also managed to find a Red-bellied Woodpecker nest. Here is Mom getting ready to go inside to feed the babies.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
The Downy Woodpeckers have already fledged and are out and about following Mom and Dad around the woods. Here is one of the little fellows.  Look at his cute little beak - not ready to hammer away at the trees quite yet.

Juvenile Downy Woodpecker
 I was getting worried about where all of the Wood Ducks were but finally found 2 Moms with babies down by the dam. Here is one brood resting on a log.

Mom and baby Wood Ducks
There aren't many warblers nesting in our woods. I managed to find a few Yellow Warblers and this Common Yellowthroat over by Fox Chase farm.

Common Yellowthroat
I will head back later today to see if I can find any other birds at dusk.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Thousands of Shorebirds on the Beach

It's that time of year again - horseshoe crabs and shorebird extravaganza on our beach in the Villas. This year is especially birdy on our beach. Not sure why but the birds are loving the Villas. I spent time over the past 3 days searching for banded birds. It was overwhelming at times. Here is a little video to set the scene for you.

There were so many birds and so many bands to photograph that at times I was just shooting away. Here is an example. How many banded birds made it into one photograph?

09E, TN+, 52L
The majority of the birds are Sanderling and Semi-palmated Sandpipers but this year, we have an abundance of Ruddy Turnstones. They win the prize for most handsome birds on the beach.

Ruddy Turnstone Lineup
I found one Ruddy Turnstone with an antenna sticking out behind him. Can you see it on AA=? He just had the transmitter installed on his back this week. I hope he survives it.

RUTU AA= w/antenna
I found another RUTU hauling an older model transmitter called a geolocator. It is attached to his right leg rather than on his back.

RUTU H1A w/Geolocator
This guy seems to have survived the extra burden just fine. He had it installed in Brazil in May 2013 and has been tracked for 5 years now mainly being spotted in the Delaware Bay!

The birds are here to fatten up on horseshoe crab eggs. We met our friends on the beach to watch the sunset on Friday night. The crabs were also on the beach just after high tide.

Mating Crabs at Sunset
They were busy mating. Here is some "crab porn". The female is the larger crab. She digs a whole and lays eggs while the males fertilize.

Mating crabs
The result are millions of eggs. Some bubble up to the top. You can see them here.

Horseshoe crab eggs
Some of the birds like the Ruddy Turnstones know to dig down into the sand to expose the eggs like this guy - #123.

RUTU 123
And sometimes, they just hit the jackpot like these 2. Each green dot is an egg that they can gobble up.

By the end of next week, they'll all be gone. They will be on their way to Canada and the arctic to breed in June and July then head back to Brazil and South America in August.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Great Find in Pennypack

I've been taking Peanut to Pennypack park in the mornings lately. We've been running into the Director of the Environmental Center, Pete almost every morning. He's been birding before work too. Each day, we exchange sightings and sometimes walk together for a short stretch. We found some nice warblers including those that I posted about last week. On Friday, he was all smiles. He found a  Barred Owl along the stream. That is a rare bird for Philadelphia. I hustled to the spot but only found owl poop. No owl.

On Monday, the Barred Owl was sitting along the stream again. I took a few photos and left him alone. On Tuesday, I saw the Owl again and tried not to disturb him but he was disturbed anyway. Owls are harassed by other birds in the woods when they are spotted. The birds want the Owl out of there territory so that they feel safer. This Blue Jay was absolutely on a mission to get the Owl to move on. The Jay would sit close and squawk.

Barred Owl and Blue Jay
The Jay moved all around the Owl but mainly sat on the branch above the Owl's head.

Barred Owl and Tormenter
The Owl didn't move, so the Jay took it up a notch. He swooped down . . .

And whacked that Owl in the head!
The Owl took the abuse and just ducked.
bob and weave
I think this is the Owl's tactic. Just sit still and take the abuse and let the attacker get tired or bored or both and leave. That is exactly what the Jay did. He left. I took one more photo.

Barred Owl
And the Owl was finally left undisturbed.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Southern Specialty

Migration at the shore seems to be hit or miss lately. I remember back in the 1990's that every time I made the trip to Higbee beach, there were birds in spring. Nowadays it seems like most days are pretty unremarkable at that site. Today was no exception. Peanut and I showed up at 6:30 AM and walked the fields all the way back to the pond. Hardly any birds were singing or seen. A single Chat was singing away and attracting attention but that was about it. We left and headed back to The Villas to see if any birds made it to Cox Hall Creek. Nope. No bird singing in the parking lot. No birds singing along the trail. Luckily, Harvey saved me by calling to say that he was going to see the Swainson's Warbler that has been seen at Cape May Point. The bird has been here for a few weeks but getting to see it is tricky. 

Swainson's Warblers are southern birds. They are drab colored skulkers that walk around on the ground and hide in the underbrush. Many birders hear Swainson's but do not see them. They stay below the Mason-Dixon line. I've been lucky enough to see one in Texas and hear many and see one in North Carolina. Today, Harvey and I went to find the celebrity bird and were really lucky. This poor guy is singing his heart out for a gal but sadly won't get one to respond. Not only did we get to hear his song but he perched in a tree for us too. 

Swainson's Warbler

Lonely boy singing
The photos aren't great because the bird was backlit by the sun but I assure you that many birders came out of those woods with NO photo at all. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Home Turf Spring Migration

Back at home and N-V-T-S with work but I managed to get out to see a few birds this week before work. I have been walking Peanut at Pennypack lately due to bird migration and the fact that our "Mudhole" is being developed for 62+ housing. The contractor sprayed herbicide last week to kill the vegetation so we stayed away. At Pennypack, we managed to pick out a few golden nuggets including a Hooded Warbler for the second year in a row. Not the best photo but at least I managed to get one. Hooded Warblers are notorious for signing and hiding in plain sight.

Hooded Warbler
Blackpoll Warblers have the reputation of being the last warblers to migrate through in spring. Not this year. I heard and saw many already and migration isn't even in full swing. This guy was singing at the top of a tree in the field.

Early Blackpoll Warbler
Both birds were also seen by the park administrator and another local birder. I met up with them on the trail as they started their day off of birding. The woods were alive with the song of Wood Thrush. They are really active and out in the open this week. Such rich colors.

Handsome Wood Thrush
Wood Thrushes are HUGE compared to their cousin the Veery. This is the first one I've seen this year.

On our way out of the park, we saw this Red-tailed Hawk with her breakfast. Yummy squirrel. Not a great photo. I didn't want to move closer and scare her off. Sometimes the bird drops the prey when spooked and I didn't want that to happen.

Red-tail and Squirrel
Big shore weekend planned. Hoping for good weather and good birds.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Spending Time with Owls in Florida

Connie's sister now lives in Cape Coral. This is an interesting area with many vacant lots. Vacant lots that are occasionally mowed and perfect for Burrowing Owls. The owls have babies in March and April. We spent time with these adolescents. They would all sit together and scream for Mom.

A bird flew overhead and they all looked up. 

I don't think that all the babies at this burrow were siblings. I think they may be neighbors that hang out together until Mom or Dad shows up. Here is one Mom preening her kid. He or she seems to like it.

The kids occasionally try out their wings.

One of them flew across the street and went into a burrow. One of the remaining kids went into their burrow too. How would you like getting sand kicked up in your face?

This kid hopped up on the wooden post and gave my car the evil eye.

Fun times with owls for sure.