Saturday, September 26, 2015

Avoiding the Pope

In case you have been living on Mars and didn't hear about it - the Pope is in Philly this weekend. If you have been paying attention for the past 6 months, it is all the news casters talk about. The mayor and the Secret Service have been announcing road closures and off limit areas and tow-away zones for weeks. Our office closed on Friday. We were all told to work from home. I chose to work from the Villas instead.

There have been very few birds around since that big Monday but recently, my friend Harvey found a Curlew Sandpiper at Forsythe (don't worry, I'm not going to give you another shorebird lesson). Curlew Sandpipers are supposed to be in Europe. Harvey regularly finds one in the spring but having one in our area in fall is really rare. Needless to say, I went to Forsythe before work the other day with Harvey to see the bird. This is the best shot I could get.

Curlew Sandpiper (center), Ring-billed Gull
The shorebirds were skittish - taking off and landing somewhere else - the whole time we were there. This had something to do with it:

Peregrine Falcon
A Peregrine Falcon was cruising the area looking for a meal. He/she sat down for a few minutes in the salt hay which made for a very fall-flavored photo.

Peregrine Falcon

We saw this nasty looking Marsh Wren in the weeds along the road.

Marsh Wren
And this Clapper Rail hunting the edge of the marsh.

Clapper Rail
On our way back to the Villas, we decided to swing by Reed's Beach Road to see if we could find another rare bird that was seen there this week - Western Kingbird. You can tell by the name that the bird shouldn't be found here. One Western Kingbird is a good find, but 2 is pretty rare. We found both birds sitting on wires along the road. I told Harvey that I needed to be back to the house to get to work so we got back into his van - or at least that was our intention.  There we stood, looking into the van where both sets of van keys, both cell phones AND Peanut were locked in. Sigh. Luckily Harvey's friend Steve came along to see the Kingbirds and rescued us by calling AAA. A quick trip turned into 2 hours sitting on the side of the road. At least I got a few good shots of the birds while we waited for AAA.

Western Kingbird
Not sure what that red stuff is on his breast - looks like blood to me.

It was fun to watch them try to land on the wire. You can see how focused this bird is on that little wire.

Getting closer.

A quick trip turned into a pretty long day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shout Out to Vet Techs - Holla!

Imagine how uncomfortable this email made me - I found it in my Inbox last week:

"I’m one of your Philly Bird Nerd readers who works for Bel-Rea, one of the largest Vet Tech Schools in the country. Our Vet Tech students devote their lives to helping animals and your blog has been an inspirational source for many of our students who focus their studies particularly on birds. Because of this, I’m proud to tell you that you’ve been voted into our top 25 Bird Bloggers of 2015."

First of all, I thought it was spam or one of those emails asking for money to get the Namibian Prince out of jail or something. Then, I read it thoroughly and got REALLY uncomfortable. Blah, blah, blah, your blog is inspirational, blah, blah, you have the ability to not only talk about bird behavior, but take it to an entertaining, personal level, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, I had to read it a few times to make sure the praise about this little bird blog was really for me. 

I squirmed a little and started to think - shit, now I can't curse anymore on the blog because students are reading it. But then I realized that Vet tech school students are adults and have probably used worse language than that when the dogs poop on them. 

Speaking of vet techs, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know all about the dogs that go birding with me. Daisy (before the blog who got a steak bone stuck and had to have it sawed off), Cocoa (the addison's disease dog that needed monthly shots), Roxy (the hypo-thyroid dog that needed pills everyday and plenty of blood tests), and now Peanut (the puppy that came with so many worms that her poop slithered away from me when I tried to pick it up). So, Vet Techs are a big part of my life. Peanut says - keep up the great work. Good to know that there are terrific schools like Bel-Rea out there training top notch techs. 

Peanut, Linda, Diane - Villas Beach
They even gave me a badge to post on the site - look on the right side. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I Witnessed It

I stayed down the shore on Sunday night to avoid traffic (what's new) and to get one more morning of birding in at Higbee beach before the work week began. Boy, am I glad I did that. Higbee has been relatively slow birding with a few warblers here and there. Good quality but not the quantity that Higbee is known for in the fall. Granted, it is still early in the season.

I arrive at the parking lot at 6:30 AM and took Peanut out to field 4 to avoid the crowds of birders who were assembled in field 1. I immediately knew that something special was happening when we looked at the dawn sky and saw hundreds of warblers shooting past us headed north. Hundreds of birds whizzing by, not stopping, just flying fast. The few that did land for a minute took off immediately. It was the kind of morning where you don't need binoculars, you just stand there and watch the flight. By 7 AM, I had seen thousands of birds fly past.

A couple of birders who were new to Higbee asked if this was normal. Normal? No. Something special? Yes. In fact, the official bird counters from NJ Audubon tallied 56,000 + warblers (just warblers) that morning. They counted 40,000 birds in under 1 hour. And then just like that, they were all gone. By 8:30 AM the spectacle was over with just a few birds passing by. Amazing. You should read the full report here: .

No photos to show you from that day. Photography wasn't the point. Witnessing the event was enough. A memory of a lifetime.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Update on Buffy

So, I post my photos to this blog and also post to Flickr where I have a Photostream. I post more photos to Flickr than I can post here. You can see the Photostream by clicking this link:

I get a few "hits" on Flickr and a lot of my birding friends check out the photos. I check out their photos too. My friend Harvey also has a lot of great photos on Flickr. He is a "Pro" there so he has alot of people following his Photostream. Here is his link:

We both posted shots of Buffy on Friday. Yesterday, the photo of Buffy with the morsel of food had 32 hits and 3 "Faves" - meaning that 3 people added the photo to their Favorite page in Flickr. Today, Harvey texted me and told me to check out my Flickr page. We were both invited to a group called "Explorer" because of our Buffy photos.

As of now, 4500+ people have viewed the photo and 117 people have marked it as a favorite. Holy shit. Of course, Harvey has more views and faves on his photo because more people know him. Not tooting my own horn here, but seriously, holy shit. That's the power of the Internet for ya. All of this over a little bird that landed on the beach in the Villas.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Buffie the Sandpiper

Sandpipers look mostly the same to the untrained eye (like mine). Many new birders avoid trying to identify shorebirds like sandpipers because they all pretty much look alike. They all look the same except for subtle differences in leg length and color, a little color difference here or there. That goes for most of them. Take this photo for instance. Same species? To the untrained eye maybe, but not to an expert's eye. (Um, Harvey's eye, not mine). Look closely at the bird on the left. That bird has red shoulders which makes it a Western Sandpiper. The snickering bird on the right is a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Completely different looking right? Yeah, right.

Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers
Other sandpipers really look different. Take this one for instance. Least Sandpiper. Look how different this one looks. Seriously, this one has yellow legs and is much smaller that the others. Again, who can tell the difference.

Least Sandpiper
What about this one. Different from the others? Yup. This is Pectoral Sandpiper. Notice the brown bib on the chest and the yellow legs.

Pectoral Sandpiper
Good news though. There are a few sandpipers that really do look different. When you see one, you know it's different. Buff-breasted Sandpipers are different. They have a beautiful buffy color all over and a beautiful pattern on the back. Buff-breasted Sandpipers are known as "grasspipers" because they are mostly found in grass rather than sand. This one was at Forsythe in the grassy area pretty close to the road.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Today, Harvey found another Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Not in the grass but on the beach! We sat there snapping away while it walked right in front of us.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Of course you know that the nickname is Buffy. Here is our friend shaking it out.

Picking through the dead horseshoe crabs and washed up debris for a morsel is a far cry from the worms in the grass.

Buffy with a meal
But not to worry, Buffy had company. Sanderlings mostly fall into the confusing sandpiper category but you can see that this one is pretty different - white and light gray.

Buffy with companion
Well, there you have it - your sandpiper lesson for the day. There might be a quiz later, so study.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Can't Believe I Forgot to Post This

Great Egret with friend
Taken at Cox Hall Creek. The first 5 shots were just the egret. Then, the dragonfly landed. I couldn't believe it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting Ready for Fall

It's not even September yet but us birders are already in fall migration mode. I told you about the shorebirds that are starting to show up after their brief month of breeding in the arctic. Now, the warblers and other songbirds are starting to show up too. Believe me, it's not like everyone is out birding. There are only a few of us out there (which is nice) but we are being rewarded for our efforts.

Last weekend was pretty slow but Harvey and I found a plethora of Sundews by the lake at Higbee. I was told that this is the southern-most spot in the US to find these carnivorous plants. The "dew" is actually a sticky substance that traps insects. The plant absorbs nutrients from the dying bug. This one has a dead bug on one of it's sticky leaves (2 o'clock).

Barbara and I went to Higbee on Sat and met up with Harvey and George. Vireos were the bird of the day - most Red-eyed with a few other types mixed in. This one posed behind some white flowers for me.

Red-eyed Vireo
This White-eyed Vireo bounced around in the bushes too.

White-eyed Vireo
Yellow warblers have a beautifully subtle tone this time of year.  Not that bright "hey, mate with me" yellow like in spring.

Yellow warbler
Today, I had the whole Higbee field to myself. Of course, that was because all of the other birders are smarter than me and knew that the winds weren't good for migration. They all went somewhere else or slept in. I wasn't alone by any means. I was accompanied by about a bizillion of my closest mosquito friends. At  one point, I literally ran back to the parking lot to try to escape the little blood-suckers.

They weren't everywhere. Just in the fields. Peanut and I kept to the wide sand paths for the rest of the morning and had some good luck.  Here is a male Redstart knocking the dust off of a moth before eating it for breakfast. Check out the dust flying.

Redstart with moth
 I kind of feel bad for the moth. That poor thing was really beaten to death.

Redstart with moth
Peanut and I walked the beach and the roads. We found this beautiful Northern Waterthrush along the road in a muddy ditch. I love the soft yellow tones on this bird.

Northern Waterthrush
Waterthrushes are tail-bobbers.  I caught this one mid-bob as it was walking down the mud pile.

Northern Waterthrush
All in all, a nice few days catching early migrants. The smarter birders were all chasing after fun shorebirds but I didn't have it me today. I'll get them next time.