Saturday, August 20, 2016

My Little Friends Return

You are probably sick of reading about my little friends returning to our beach every year but I get excited when they start to arrive. No, I'm not talking about the friends that come out of the woodwork in the summer because we have a beach house. No, I'm not talking about their cute but bratty kids that whine for ice cream and the boardwalk. You know who I'm talking about.

I'm talking about my buddies - 50H scratching himself above, 13Y grabbing a quick bite below.

And 27U flying down the beach.

Here's JUA. You'll notice that this bird's flag is darker green with white lettering rather than lime green with black lettering.

I've been looking at Sanderlings on our beach for about 5 years now. I know an old friend when I see them. T7K is one of the birds that I've seen quite often.

This year, I've seen him a few times already. Here he is on a different day.

I'm not the only one that encountered T7K over the past years. Someone else ran into him in Mexico near Cancun in December of 2012! Here is a screenshot of the database that I enter the sightings into.

All of the entries from Villas Beaches that have "Click here to see a picture" are my entries. Last year, he spent some time in Avalon too.

I focus on looking for my friends in August since there isn't much else going on bird-wise and it gives me a break from the guests and whiny kids. Those friends will fade once Labor Day comes around and the kids are back in school but my bird friends will hang around until Oct or even into Nov. And more arrive every day. And they are joined by warblers and hawks and eagles too. Good times, good times.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Our Gang's Secret Spot

The birding "community" is like a giant school yard full of kids. Some you know, some you don't. Some have reputations, some are shy. Some are smart. Some are not so smart. There are cliques for sure but basically, there aren't any all out schoolyard fights. We know the cool kids but we aren't in their circle. We think the cool kids have their secret spots that they don't share with the community. Well thanks to our friend Yong, we now have our secret spot. Its not so secret but it is private property that we have permission to enter for birding purposes. 

Yong has been going on his own for some time now. He found a rare bird there a few weeks ago so Harvey and I decided to join him to see if we could refind the bird last Saturday. It was hot. Here are the guys - Yong, Harvey and Steve - and Peanut too. It started out pretty easy. 

The Gang
Then the path became more challenging. We had to bushwhack through high grasses and weeds along the dike. You can barely make out Steve's hat above the grass. Forget about trying to find Peanut. 

The Path
Once we got out to the end of the path, it opened up so that we could see the mudflats that the shorebirds love. We found a tagged bird - Semipalmated Sandpiper J5U. 

We also found this Wilson's Phalarope which is a pretty unexpected find in mudflats. We usually see these in more water.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope in flight
We gave up searching for Yong's rare bird and headed back down the dike. Of course, Harvey wasn't going to give up. And of course, he found the bird - Curlew Sandpiper. I swear he is charmed with this species. Unfortunately, I was the only one that got a photo of the bird. I swear, it is in this photo . . .

Curlew Sandpiper
Peanut had a great time in the mud.  She ran out and chased some birds which wasn't cool at all. She came back pretty quick. 

She also had fun running through the grass. 


The shorebirds whirled around just above our heads when the resident Peregrine Falcons from the last post flew by.


I have to say that the experience was great. And my gang is great. We are happy not to be part of the cool kids. We have our own fun at our own pace and even find some cool birds on our own. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Best Seat in the House

If you or I looked at a dead tree, we wouldn't think of it as the best place to sit. Maybe a branch would break. Too exposed. Full of bugs. That's just us though. To a bird - especially a bird of prey - a dead tree in the perfect place to perch. Great views of their prey. Lookout for foes. That's how it was in this particular tree out in the salt marsh.  Mrs. Peregrine must have thought "this looks like a great place to perch", so she landed.

Mr. Peregrine probably thought "hmmm. Mrs. Peregrine got the good perch again" and then decided that it was his turn so he swooped in. She initially put up a fuss.

But then he showed her is talons. Now she's thinking "what's with him?"

"Fine, have the perch. I'm outta here"

Now he's thinking "wow, this really IS a nice perch" To the victor, goes the spoils.

Here are some close ups. I was pretty far away, so these are super cropped. You can see that Mrs. Peregrine has bands on both ankles.

Here you can see that Mr. Peregrine is not banded.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gone Fishin'

There's a saying - It's called "Fishing", not "Catching" because most of the time you go fishing you don't actually catch anything. Then, there are those rare days when it seems like every time you put your line in, you catch a fish so it really could be called catching. 

That's how it was on Saturday. Harvey and I went out early to see what we could find. Fish were being caught right and left. Fish were being caught so often that it was hard to keep up with who was catching what. It started with this juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron catching an eel in shallow water. 

Junior with an eel
After some time, Mom or Dad got into the action too and caught another eel. That'll show Junior. 

Adult with eel
All told, I watched Junior slurp down 4 eels in a matter of 15 minutes.

Then the Egrets got in on the action. This guy grabbed a fish but got his beak stuck. He struggled with it for quite some time before gulping it down. 

Somehow, he managed to decapitate the fish in the process. Yuck.

Headless fish
And then, the real show began. A pair of Skimmers began making passes over the shallow pool. The light was great, the water was like glass. The birds dropped their bill into the water and whooshed by.

Mirror Image
Their bill automatically snaps shut when they feel something in the water.  I guess their neck bends so that they don't crash if they hit something solid. 

The birds would come up with a fish about 50% of the time but other times, they would be fooled into snapping up other things from the pond such as a feather. 

Skimmer with feather
When a fish was caught, it had no chance. The Skimmer's bill is like a vice. 

You can see how narrow the bill is when you look head on.  

Skimmer with fish
The bird would fly around with the fish until it was in the right position to be swallowed - while the bird was still flying.  You can see the fish being tossed mid-air in this photo. 

Fish toss

After about 30 minutes, the Skimmers were full and flew off. Harvey and I headed to the State Park to see if we could find the Avocet that had been reported over the past few days. We found the bird and what do you think it was doing. You guessed it, fishing. Here he is with his tiny fish prize. 

American Avocet 

Overall, the birds had a great day of fishing in Cape May. I kind of wished that I was fishing too. 

Friday, July 29, 2016


We are in the midst of a heatwave here in Philly. The temperature has been above 90 degrees for over a week. I finally got out to the Villas beach today to look for banded shorebirds. High tide is best because the birds are close. There were hundreds of birds and hundreds of little black biting flies out today. The flies chased us off the beach quick. Undaunted, I returned with long pants and long sleeved shirt. The effort paid off with 2 banded birds. Good ol' L5V with his buddies:

Here is a map of the places that L5V has been seen. Originally banded at Fortescue beach in May 2013. Reported a few times from Reeds beach and twice at Villas (by me).

A newcomer to the beach - 13H. This bird was banded this past May exactly where I found him today. He was also reported at Fortescue beach in NJ on June 10th. Between June 10th and July 29th, this little bird flew to the arctic, found a mate, raised babies and flew back to Villas.

Sanderling 13H
Hoping for more between now and November.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Annual Mountain Trip

Well, our yearly hike didn't happen but we went to Potter County for July 4th with Connie's family. We had fun and got to visit with some of our favorite birds. Like this Blackburnian Warbler signing in the pine tree just outside the bathroom window. This photo was shot from the roof of the cabin. 

Blackburnian Warbler
And this Chestnut-sided Warbler hopping around the pine trees up the hill.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
And our friend "Maggie", the Magnolia Warbler showing off his necklace up in the slate quarry.

Magnolia Warbler
And of course, the gang of Cedar Waxwings was hanging out. This poor guy has a few ticks hanging off of his black mask. 
Cedar Waxwing
We saw a few Turkeys in the distance at the Elk viewing area - but alas, no Elks were around that day.

Turkeys in the distance
We did see some deer in our field. 2 bucks and a doe.

Bucks and Doe
Of course, this is the time of year for baby birds. I found this one crying and hopping around behind on of the nearby camps. I'm still unsure of what species but I think it is Indigo Bunting. 

Baby Bird
Messing around behind the nearby camps almost got us in trouble when Peanut poked around under a bush at Frank's camp and found a Rattlesnake. Fortunately, the snake rattled and Peanut came away unscathed. We didn't hang around to see the snake. The rattle was enough for us. 

Snakes aren't the only dangerous animals at the camp. Baby birds are also dangerous. Connie found out the hard way when a few baby Ruffed Grouse ran across the logging road in front of our motorcycles. I slowed down. Connie stopped suddenly and got a separated shoulder as a souvenir. OUCH. She's a tough broad though. She rode that motorcycle 10 miles back to camp one-handed. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Inaugural Philadelphia Breeding Bird Census

A few of the members of the DVOC are real ornithologists (the "O" in DVOC) while the rest of us are just birders. A few of the O's think they are smarter than the rest of us because they are PhDs or studying to be PhDs but they can't fool me. They think that they can get us to do their research work by making it a fun and noble thing to do. Take the Philadelphia Breeding Bird Census for example. Matt and Tony are promoting this as something that is good for the club and good for Philadelphia but I know better. What they are really doing is getting the club members to do all of the leg work for one of their college term papers. We all signed up, so I guess they are smarter than us :-)

What is a Breeding Bird Census? It is basically a way to see how many birds use your area for breeding purposes. Each area is split into a areas. Birders are assigned to an area and asked to thoroughly record all birds seen or heard on any one day in June. June is selected because migration is over so the birds in an area are presumed to be breeding there. I was assigned Lemon Hill which you have read about here many times.

Barbara and Sammy joined me and Peanut at 6:30 AM. Barbara took the notes and helped count the birds. I mainly listened and looked and counted. We did a big loop around Lemon Hill and then covered the area of the dog field and woods along the railroad tracks. I dropped a pin to show Di and Barbara's house (in the tan area).

We did better than I expected with 34 species including a few surprises like this Ovenbird that we heard singing "teacher, teacher, teacher". I tracked it down and snapped this terrible photo for proof that it was there. I've never heard of an Ovenbird breeding in Philadelphia.

The other fun birds were Cedar Waxwings and one Indigo Bunting singing along Kelly Drive. The Baltimore Orioles love this area. We saw 8 birds and found one nest. They make a hanging basket.

Baltimore Oriole nest
I'll bet there are other birds around but we only had 2 hours to cover the area and do the scut work for the budding Ornithologists.  Just goes to show you that they are pretty smart.