Monday, November 16, 2015

A Break from Travel

Over the past 2 years I have been traveling occasionally for work. You have read about some of the trips including California here in the US and England, Scotland and Wales as well as Singapore and Malaysia. Those trips involved a lot of planning and allowed for some extra time for birding. This round of work trips involves one day here and one day there. Mostly on the east coast so it doesn't make sense to stay overnight and the timing is terrible for birding anyway. Chicago and Dallas, New York, Boston and Washington DC in November is not what I would call begging for birding.  

I have been traveling so often that I signed up for TSA Pre-Check so that I can keep my shoes on and put my laptop through the X-RAY without taking it out of the bag. You would think that people with this designation are savvy travelers who know the rules. Well, not always. I was in Lexington Kentucky the week of the Breeder's Cup for 2 nights. Just enough time to find a few bottles of Bourbon for gifts. I don't drink the stuff myself but I have friends who do. I spent $200 on 3 bottles of Bourbon that you can only buy in Kentucky. I dutifully packed the fragile bottles in my carry-on luggage so that they would be delivered in tact. 

Off I went to the TSA Pre-Check security checkpoint where the agent asked if I had any liquids in my bags. Why, yes. Yes I did have liquids in my bag so I proceeded to take the bottles out one at a time and place them into the bin to be put through the X-RAY. The female TSA agent that was working the machine asked if I knew about the 3 ounce liquid rule. Why yes. Yes I did know about the rule. That's why I took the bottles out of my bag. Duh, did she think I was stupid? Why yes. Yes she did think I was stupid and with good reason. You see, 3 ounces is much smaller than the 3, count em' three 750 ml bottles of Bourbon that were going through the X-RAY. What a moron. They promptly escorted me out of security and back to the ticket counter where I had to put the bottles into checked luggage and hope for the best. I don't know what I was thinking. I had it in my mind that the 3 ounce rule applied only to toothpaste and shampoo. I'm an idiot. 

This idiot caught a break over the weekend and seized the day with Harvey to go birding along upper Delaware Bay. The New Jersey birding community was a buzz with reports of Franklin's Gulls on Friday but I was in Boston and by Sunday I was still tired and interested more in spending a relaxing day with Harvey and Peanut birding to see what we could see rather than chasing a seagull.  We started at East Point Lighthouse and did really well while exploring the road and trails. Peanut flushed a Pheasant which was unexpected. We ended up with 40 species in 2 hours. 

No photos from that spot but we did manage to snap a few when we got to our second stop - Heislerville. This is a Wildlife Management Area with a few bid water impoundments. We found shorebirds including this flock of Dunlin. Look hard and you will find a single Black-bellied Plover flying with the group. 

 We also found 2 Western Willets in the water. All of "our" Willets which we call Eastern Willets are gone by October. Western Willets show up occassionally on their way to Florida for the winter. This one was picking the legs off of a crab.

Western Willet with Crab
On our way back to the parking area we drove past a plowed field and scanned for birds. We spotted about 30 American Pipits. Can you see 2 of them in this photo? They blend in really well.

The most unexpected thing that we found was a butterfly in November. This is Variegated Frittalary.

You'll have to ask me about what else happened. I dare not put it in writing. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Di and Her Eagles

Di had a pretty good weekend. She completed her second half-marathon on Saturday morning AND she made a great time - crossing that finish line in under 2 hours and 45 minutes. I walked along with her for 8 of the 13.1 miles for "support".

Today, I recuperated by sitting in a car with Harvey while driving around Brigantine looking for birds but mostly struck out. I headed back up the AC Expressway at noon, over the Walt Whitman Bridge and onto the Schuylkill (this becomes significant soon) so that I could get back home to caulk the tub - oh joy.  I was just about at 30th St when Di texted me this - "That blob is a bald eagle. Gazebo at Lemon Hill" along with this photo:

iPhone photo - Bald Eagle
That photo is taken with an iPhone so imagine how close Di had to be to the eagle.  This is the second time that Di has sent me an iPhone photo of an eagle at Lemon Hill. The first was a few years ago. She is so lucky. I walk the dog here almost every day for 8 years and have only seen 2 eagles - flying over the river, never perched.

I told you that 30th St would become significant. You can see, Lemon Hill from the Schuylkill Expressway. It is above the boat houses which are about 1/2 mile past 30th St. I was sitting still in traffic at the time but started to move again so I texted back - "so is this" along with this photo:

You can see the Eagle if you look really hard at the tops of the trees.  Don't worry, the traffic was moving so slowly that there was no danger. I didn't look at the phone, I just held my thumb on the shutter button and snapped about 8 photos.

Of course, I had to get a better look. I have been hoping for this situation for years - a photo of a Bald Eagle in the city. It only took me 5 minutes to exit the Schuylkill at Girard and make my way to the gazebo at Lemon Hill where I found Di, Barbara and Sammy waiting for me. I snuck up to the gazebo with my Canon 7D with 400mm lens and snapped about a billion photos. The lighting was terrible but I managed to get a few good ones including this head shot.

Bald Eagle - Lemon Hill Philadelphia
Check out the dark pigment spot on the eagle's eye. It is supposed to be all pale yellow. Cool.  The holy grail of photos still eludes me - a photo of an eagle with the city sky line in the background. Some day, some day.

Congrats to Di for a stellar weekend.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Close Encounters

Birding hasn't been phenomenal lately but the migrating birds are finally showing up in dribs and drabs. The good news is that the birds that are coming through are allowing close approach - even when Peanut is with me. A few photos from the past week starting with the new local dog walking spot. This place is great because it is filled with weeds like goldenrod. I caught 2 different species picking through the weeds for bugs last week. I showed you Yellow-rumped Warbler in the last post. Here is Palm Warbler in almost the same place.

Palm Warbler
Here is Swamp Sparrow looking at me from the bushes.

I did manage to get down to Cape May yesterday. The bad new is that I totally missed the really "good" day which was Thursday, AND I missed a few rare birds too. The good news is that I had close encounters with a few warblers by the lighthouse. This Black-throated Green Warbler flitted around in the cedar trees and even dropped onto the grass for a minute.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Ruby-crowned Kinglets are literally everywhere this week. If I counted every one that I saw this week, I would be in the hundreds.They are usually in perpetual motion which makes photos difficult. Here is one that actually sat still for a minute.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
A Pine Warbler really put on a show staying very close to the path and picking bugs out of the cedar trees.

Pine Warbler
 Pine Warbler gets a bug!
Pine Warbler with bug
It was a pretty picture with the late day lighting, all of the berries on the cedar and the nice dark background. Of course, the bug didn't think so. Zoom in if you want to see the bug in detail.

Pine Warbler with bug

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fall Migration Woes

Birders wait all summer for fall migration. The anticipation is often too much to bear. We go out in August searching for one or two early birds (get it? early birds?). Then we go out in September to see the start of the warblers and other songbirds. But it is October that promises the motherload of birds. October brings songbirds, warblers, raptors, and more shorebirds. So you may be wondering why haven't I posted if October is so great. Well, this October hasn't been that great for me. The weather has really sucked. It has been cold and rainy and the winds have been all wrong. Boo.

I have a few odds and ends to show you. Here is a shot of a flock of swallows swirling around the dunes at Cape May Hawkwatch.

Tree Swallows
And this is why they call it a Hawk Watch. This Merlin was the reason that the swallows were in a tizzy. One of them didn't make it :-(  The Merlin grabbed his lunch and flew off. You can see the poor swallow in the Merlin's talons.

Merlin with Tree Swallow
Merlins gotta eat too, right? Here is another hawk looking for a little bird to snack on. This is a Sharp-shinned Hawk that perched in a tree near my house. Check out his eye peering through the leaves.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

This Red-shouldered Hawk made an appearance at my new dog walking place today - scaring all of the other birds.  This photo shows the field marks that allow ID in flight - windows in the wings.

Red-shouldered Hawk
Other migrants are showing up at the new dog walking place too. I have seen 2 Tennessee Warblers here which is unusual for me. This is a bird that is typically difficult for me to find for some reason. The field mark on this bird is that it is green, has an eye stripe and really pointy beak.

Tennessee Warbler
Here is the same bird with a Palm Warbler in the background.

Tennessee and Palm Warblers
Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the last warblers to come through in fall migration. Us birders use this bird as a sign that migration is coming to an end. I love Yellow-rumps because they hang around most of the winter and they are pretty photographable. Here is one posing in Golden Rod. You can actually see the yellow rump.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Of course, there is still plenty of fall left. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and give us some more birds.

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.