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.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Back on Land Sort Of

We went to Alligator River NWR near our hotel in North Carolina before the long drive home. Much to our surprise, the place was lousy with Prothonotary Warblers. And other critters too. Like this huge butterfly.

Giant Swallowtail
The whole park is a giant swampy, wet mess with roads running through it which is the reason that the Prothonotaries love the place. Turtles love it too. I don't know what species this is but he crossed the road pretty fast for a turtle.

This is Spotted Turtle - for obvious reasons. 

Spotted Turtle
This poor gal just wanted to lay her eggs next to the road but she couldn't get any privacy. Snapping Turtles are scary but she put up with the paparazzi with style.

Snapping Turtle
Speaking of scary, Marty and I saw this snake on the side of the road. Marty noticed that it had vertical pupils. 

Water Moccasin
We met up with the other guys in our group and showed them the photo. Um, that's a Water Moccasin. Um, venomous. Um, glad I didn't know that when I was laying on the ground to take this shot. 
Water Moccasin
Marty and I came upon this bear. I drove closer while Marty hung out the car window to take a photo because we thought the bear would disappear into the swamp but this bear wouldn't leave the road even when we drove closer. But when he was ready to leave, man did he move fast! Not sure my Fiat could have out run him if he came our way. 

Black Bear

Sunday, June 5, 2016

More Offshore Antics

In the last post, you read about and watched video about Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins. In this post, you will read about and watch video of a different kind of "dolphin". Until recently, North Carolina fisherman have been catching dolphin for many years but not the kind that you read about in the last post. To them, the fish is called dolphin but we know it as Mahi Mahi. The name changed so that people would know that the fisherman weren't killing the real Dolphins.

Guess who else was catching Mahi Mahi? Yup. The birders. Here we are with our catch. The captain and mate put out some lines each day. After filming the true dolphins, I headed to the back of the boat to let others get a view from the bow. All of a sudden, the rod bent and I yelled the classic "FISH ON!"  Paul grabbed the rod and reeled in the first fish.

Then another rod bent. The mate handed it to me and I reeled one in. I think the mate was impressed that I knew what I was doing.

Me and Paul caught nice sized fish - 15-20 pounders but Mike and Mary caught whoppers. Here is video of the mate "gaffing" the biggest Mahi which Mary reeled in.


The mate filleted and bagged up the fish for us. We grilled some at the hotel for everyone and still had some to bring home. Its in the freezer now.

After the excitement, we were back to birding. The last day was really rough. The weather was less than cooperative. Tropical storm Bonnie was building off the coast. Wind and waves made the ride very rough every day. Many participants got seasick. Even the birds were trying to ride out the storm. This Bridled Tern tried to hang on to a paint can in the middle of the ocean.

Paint Can bird
She finally gave up and took to the wind.

Bridled Tern
This Pomarine Jaeger was happy to see the suet chunk in the waves but has a hell of a time trying to keep possession. Check out how big that wave is.

Pomarine Jaeger - big wave
 The suet chunk was also pretty big. The bird worked hard to try to swallow it as the waves rolled on.

One of the birds that is a target for pelagic trips is the Skua. These are really big birds. You can see them from a long way because they fly high over the horizon and are dark against the blue sky. When spotted, we yell "SKY BIRD!"

Sky Bird!
They look like giant seagulls. Once they find the suet, they lower the landing gear and gulp every piece that they can get to.

South Polar Skua
But even these big birds are bullied by the Jaegers. Here is a Pom trying to get the Skua to drop the grub.

Pomarine Jaeger chasing South Polar Skua
Everyone was happy to see the birds and even happier to see the dock at the end of the day. Enough rocking and rolling for the weekend.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Outer, Outer, Outer Banks

Once again, I answered the call of the sea and spent the Memorial Day weekend off the coast of North Carolina watching birds - and dolphins and whales. I have been hoping to go offshore in North Carolina for a long time. The reason is that there are different birds seen there including Petrels. Four species can be seen however, we only saw 2 (Black-capped and Herald) but it was worth the trip. 

Some of the sights included flocks of Wilson's Storm Petrels running across the water's surface picking up suet chunks that we use to draw them close to the boat. 

And these Shearwaters. Great Shearwater here. 

Great Shearwater
 It rained off and on. Here is the Great Shearwater paddling around in a sun shower.
Great Shearwater in the rain

We saw 2 Sooty Shearwaters too. They are less common and really pretty birds. This one found a piece of suet to eat.
Sooty Shearwater
 He flew past the boat a few times showing off his handsomeness.

Sooty Shearwater
Cory's Shearwaters were the most numerous. 2 of them seen here with a Wilson's Storm Petrel. 

Cory's Shearwaters
Birds weren't the only highlight. We also had great views of Pilot Whales. You can identify them by the big round head. 

Pilot Whale
You can see how close they were to the boat in this photo.

Marty and Pilot Whales
A special interaction with Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins when a few of them played in front of the boat. Here is a shot of Marty and Mike on the front of the boat. Luckily, the waves were calmer at this point. 

Marty, Mike and Dolphin
Here is a video of them. I hung over the front of the boat and filmed this scene with my iPhone. Notice the bright blue water - this is the Gulf Stream. You can also see a Remora sucker fish hanging on the Dolphin.


 More stories next which also include non avian animals. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Magee Marsh Residents

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh is not only a stop over for migrants but is also the summer home to quite a few birds too. Most notably, the Prothonotary Warbler. A few pairs of these birds nest along the boardwalk. They nest in cavities and always above water. In some areas, people put nest boxes on posts in swampy areas but at Magee, there are natural nest cavities too. Here is a beautiful male preparing a nest for his mate.

Prothonotary Warbler - male
And here is the mate gathering twigs and grass right on the boardwalk. She literally has no fear of the people walking the boardwalk since she is solely focused on getting that nest built.

Female Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary warblers are some of the sought after birds because of their beautiful yellow color but they aren't the only yellow birds that call Magee boardwalk home. Yellow Warblers were building their nests too. In fact, there were at least 6 nests along the boardwalk. This one was the most photographable. I stood on the railing to get up high enough to snap a few shots. Here she is with a beak full of fine silk maybe from a spider web.

Yellow Warbler
The next series shows how she moves around the nest getting it formed just right before going off to find more materials.

Yellow Warbler
It's not just warblers, other birds like this Woodcock also build their nests at the park. In fact, the people who mow the lawn at the parking area have to rope off areas where they find the nests. Here is one of the Woodcocks laying low in the bushes just off of the parking lot. Our friend Steve spotted it. I love that fluffy butt!

And there are now 2 active Bald Eagle nests within a few hundred yards of each other in the parking area. I didn't shoot any photos of the nests, but Connie, Peanut and I watched one of the adults fishing for perch just off the beach. Spoiler alert, he didn't get a fish.

Bald Eagle
The other fun thing about Magee Marsh is that we saw people that we know there. Edie and her friends from DVOC, Chris and Gerry, and Harvey's friend Steve too. Off to another destination this week. Hoping to squeeze in some really good bird stuff in between work meetings in Massachusetts.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Point Blank Range

I'm on a whirlwind travel schedule lately. This week took me to Ohio - and I do mean Ohio. Not just one stop on this trip. We combined business and personal into one hectic week starting in Magee Marsh on Lake Erie (birding), back east to Cleveland (work meetings), then diagonally across the state to Hueston Woods west of Dayton (wedding reception) and home again in just 5 days. 

Lori, Barbara and I made the trip to Magee Marsh a few years ago (relive the trip here) but Connie has never been  and I just knew she would love it. She did love it! We arrived on Wed evening after an 8 hour drive and did a quick trip around the boardwalk. We were greeted by Magnolia Warbler.

Magnolia Warbler
And then got to compare the markings to Canada Warbler. Both have a necklace, but Maggie has more streaking and different markings on the back and head while Canada has solid slate black back and head with that big eye ring. 

Canada Warbler
A favorite of ours is Chestnut-sided Warbler. These birds nest near the cabin in Potter County but we rarely get this close.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Another common warbler is American Redstart. We can get close to these birds almost anywhere but I still felt the need to photograph this female while she sat quietly next to the boardwalk. 

American Redstart
A fan favorite for sure is Wilson's Warbler. These guys look like they wear a yarmulke (yamaka).  

Wilson's Warbler
By far, the most interesting warbler that we spotted along the boardwalk was Bay-breasted Warbler. We don't get many of these in our area and when we do, it is fall and they are very dull. Not cinnamon colored like they are in spring. 

Bay-breasted Warbler. 
All of the photos here were barely cropped at all. That's how close the birds were. We took our time and watched them picking the leaves in search of bugs, or sitting quietly, or preening. That is what makes the boardwalk so special. Most of the birds hang around all day waiting to take flight over the lake at night.  Near the end of the boardwalk, we got to watch this Common Nighthawk snoozing on a fallen branch. He mainly just sat there, but then he started to wiggle around a little bit so I snapped this photo. 

Common Nighthawk
And then, I figured out why he was awake. He had to poop!

Common Nighthawk - poop
With that, we left the marsh and headed over to our hotel for the night. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Big Day Results - 2016

We did pretty well considering that none of us scouted and we didn't really have a plan until late Friday night. Total species for the day - 130.

We started at 3:30 AM at the Meadows hoping to hear some birds in the night but busted big time and headed to Higbee for sunrise. We did much better there starting our day with Chuck-wills-widows calling before dawn and almost stepping on a Woodcock before it flew away. We also heard Virginia Rail kiddicking in the distance. All of these birds are hit or miss on any given year, so getting them all before dawn was a huge win.

As the sun rose, we began to tick off the usual suspects - Catbirds and wrens and field sparrows along with plenty of warblers that were cruising in off of the bay. Barbara picked off a Meadowlark in flight which was very impressive. This caused Di to start in with the Globe Trotters routine (remember Meadowlark Lemon?). Di also impressed everyone by spotting a loon in flight. My big pick of the day was female Cerulean Warbler which isn't easy to ID.

As the day drew on, we made some miscalculations about where to go but the big win was going back to the Meadows where we racked up almost all of the shorebirds that we could imagine including Red Knots, Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers which are hard to find.

We dipped on some birds too like Orchard Oriole which is usually a gimme.

It's fun to run into the other teams during the day too. Many DVOCers participate in the contest. We ran into a real powerhouse of a team lead by the DVOC President, George Armistead with Jason Weckstein, Tom Johnson and Dan Lane by his side. These guys are super-birders and fun too. They pointed us in the right direction for Kentucky Warbler at Belleplain and we pointed them in the right direction for pizza when it started to pour rain at 6 PM. We birded with the senior group at Higbee. Their leader had the nerve to ask if we were also in the Senior Division - I almost smacked him but he helped us find a few birds.

We ended the day at 8 PM after Lori could take it no more. Went back to the house and had birthday cake with Tara, then collapsed.

Thanks to those who pledged to support our cause which is the DVOC Interns Fund. The club is trying to get a fund going so that we can help the Academy of Natural Sciences support ornithology interns.

Make checks payable to DVOC with memo: Interns Fund - PhillyBirdNerds. Mail checks to:
DVOC Treasurer
c/o 1314 Lenore Road
Meadowbrook PA 19046

BTW, no photos from the day. Too busy chasing the birds.