Sunday, July 26, 2015

Damn You Harvey!

Summer is typically a slow time of year for birding. It also happens to be when my birthday falls. Both of those things have lead me to fall into a trap set by my friend Harvey. He didn't intend on setting the trap but he set it anyway. Now I'm "bugging" with him. What's bugging? Bugging is going out "birding" but looking at bugs instead. I'm snapping photos of dragonflies like this one that perched with the Cape May lighthouse in the background.

Here is the same dragonfly closer. You can still see the beige lighthouse. Mean looking sucker huh?

This one is so skinny and clear that I have probably walked past a million of them without noticing.

I don't know the names of any of them. I shot this photo on Saturday at Higbee. The place was lousy with dragonflies. This is a really good photo if I do say so myself. Great lighting, blurred background, and mostly in focus. You can see the little hairs on the head and body.

And then there are other bugs like this really shiny beetle.

And this moth that flies like a hummingbird. We call it a Hummingbird Moth but I'm sure it has another name.

All of that is fine but the real attraction is butterflies. Harvey knows all about them and even bought me a butterfly field guide for my birthday. Ugh. Finding names for butterflies is harder than birding.

This one landed on Barbara's hat at Hyner Run. It was licking the moisture off of it.

And then there are the little ones. Harvey helped me name them all.

Frosted Elfin

Banded Hairstreak
Silver-spotted Skipper

Spring Azure
Anyway, now I'm trudging around looking at bugs and butterflies with Harvey. He's a real friend. He even has Connie out with her camera snapping photos of butterflies!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Annual Donut Hole Trail Hike

Besides all of the dog and Potter stuff, Barbara and I accompanied our friend Frank on his final leg of the now famous, Donut Hole Trail. This trip was MUCH easier than the previous years for several reasons. First, we had shorter distances to cover and had 2 days to do the 16 miles. Second, Hyner Run Park was in the middle of the trail so Frank rented the "Lodge" for us to stay in for 2 nights. That meant, no carrying tents, sleeping bags, food, etc in our packs which made the load lighter.

Hyner Run Lodge
Third, the trail itself is easier in this section - very little stinging nettle and easier ups and downs. Here is Frank photographing one of the rusted DHT trail signs for posterity.

Frank and the DHT
We heard a ton of birds along the trail and even got to see a few but the most visible sign of animal life was from a bear (or 2, or 3) that left marks all along the way. There was giant bear poop:

Bear poop - one of many piles
And giant bear paw prints:
Bear Paw Print - bigger than Barbara's hand
And damage to trees along the way from the bear rubbing into them:

Bear Damage
But alas, no bear. There was however, a Red Eft that was very accommodating:

Red Eft
We hiked through miles and miles of Mountain Laurel in bloom. By far, the most that I have ever seen.

Mountain Laurel
Couldn't resist a "selfie".  This is probably one of the only DHT photos in which you will see me smiling!
Mountain Laurel Selfie
Barbara, Linda, Frank
We cooked out on the grill at the Lodge and had a nice fire.

We also cooked in the massive kitchen. The lodge had sleeping for 10 and a giant living room that could hold another 6.

The best part of the hike was the ending. We headed out on day 2 at 7 AM. Got lost for a bit due to the trail being relocated to accommodate fracking (another story that I won't get into here), but managed to finish before noon anyway. Here is victorious Frank at the end of the trail. Congrats Frank.

DHT - Frank completion
Here is the rest of us.

Donut Hole Trail - finish line
Frank has vowed to re-do the beginning so that Barbara and I can complete the entire trail. We'll see . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Where Have I Been?

Sorry for the gap in posts. It has been a tough month. Our beloved Roxy succumbed to stomach cancer suddenly. The symptoms began before I left for Europe but the diagnosis wasn't made until I returned. Needless to say, I took a break from birding to focus on her care and subsequent death. Sorry to be a bummer but that's what has been going on.

The other thing that's been going on is a new puppy. Yup. We didn't want a puppy but we went to adopt a dog and ended up with a 7 month old puppy named Peanut. I forgot how much time puppy's consume every day. Every day. Even as I attempt to process these photos and write this story, she's terrorizing the cat, chewing anything she can get her teeth on, and generally exhausting me.

But honestly. Look how adorable she is. Even when she is being a terror puppy, she's cute.

Connie and I did manage to get up to the cabin in Potter County last week. Finally got some pure birding time and even managed to snap some photos. It is always nice to see that the Bluebird box that I put up in the field actually has Bluebirds in it. Most years, this box is claimed by a pair of Bluebirds but the other box is home to Tree Swallows.

Speaking of swallows, there are nesting Cliff Swallows down by the stream.  Here are a few babies hanging out on the phone wires waiting for Mom to deliver a bug.

Cliff Swallow babies
Other common nesting birds include Red-eyed Vireos. This one was doing the usual constant singing even while he/she was hunting for bugs along the stream.

Red-eyed Vireo
 It's a shame that our weather was so iffy. Overcast most of the time and rain almost every day that we were there. This Towhee didn't mind. He sang anyway.

Eastern Towhee
It was amazing how many birds were still singing even though it was obvious that they already had nests going and babies to feed. I would assume that the singing would end once the birds had mates and chores to do. Oh well - just goes to show you that hormones keep going even into the mid summer.

One of my favorite birds at the camp is Blackburnian Warbler. This bird is a little black and white gem that has a flaming orange throat. The song is very high pitched and difficult for some people to hear - especially men of a certain age who lose their ability to hear the high notes. I can hear the warbler very well and find it pretty easy to find the resident birds around the camp. This year, I was luckier than ever. Not only did I find the singing warbler perched in trees all around the cabin. . .

Blackburnian Warbler
Even with the dreary sky behind him, you can see the bright orange throat that makes birders like me go ooh and aah.
Blackburnian Warbler
But I also got to watch this Dad feed one of the youngsters for about 15 minutes. The youngster sat in a low tree right along the driveway preening and waited for Dad to bring caterpillars. You can see that the young warbler is nothing to look at. Pretty drab.

Young Blackburnian Warbler
Dad showed up with a worm. You can really see the bright orange throat.

Blackburnian Warblers - Dad and Junior
Junior even managed to find his own bug while waiting on Dad to return.

Young Blackburnian Warbler with bug
Dad brought another worm. This time, I captured the moment when Dad jammed the bug into Junior's big mouth.

Dad feeding Junior
I'll bet Dad can't wait for Junior to be self sufficient. It shouldn't be long now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Back in the USA

The trip to Europe was great but the timing was terrible. I all but missed the spring migration in our area by being out of the country in May. Once Memorial Day rolls around, there is not much in the way of bird life to keep us interested. Here are a few stories from the weekend.

Barbara and I got up early on Sunday and headed out to Hidden Valley Ranch in Cape May to chase a Painted Bunting that has been hanging around for over a month. This poor guy is way out of his normal range which is down in the deep south. Nonetheless, he was singing his little heart out trying to woo a gal - a nonexistent gal. It's going to be a lonely spring for him.

Painted Bunting
It's only May and we already know that the summer is going to be full of ticks. I was covered with them within the first 100 yards of the walk to find the bunting. Even the birds were covered with ticks. Check out this Carolina Wren. He has 2 ticks on his face. I cropped the photo so you could see them - one between the eye and beak, the other below the eye.

Carolina Wren - with ticks
I was covered with ticks again today when Harvey and I headed out to see if there were any interesting birds around. No neat birds but we found a few neat butterflies. Butterflies have really weird names. Thankfully, Harvey knew what they were.

Hayhurst's Scallopwing

Red-striped Hairstreak
Speaking of butterflies, Di, Barbara and I put in 2 new gardens at the Blue House this spring - all in an attempt to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the yard. I used Pat Sutton's plant list as a guide. You can find it at New Jersey Audubon website (Click Here) .

Shade Garden

Sun Garden
If you build it, they will come. The plants weren't in the ground for an hour and viola - our first butterfly - a Skipper.

Skipper in the garden
It's not the most attractive butterfly, but you can see that he/she loves the flowers. Check out the long black tongue probing the Bluestar (amsonia).

Harvey and I were scolded by a pair of Bald Eagles today. We inadvertently got too close to their nest. Boy were they pissed. We hustled off down the path to get away from the nest but not before they told us about it. I snapped a few photos on our way out of the woods. These are 2 different eagles - one is Mom and the other is Dad. The first one has something in it's talons.

Bald Eagle

Pissed off

Saturday, May 23, 2015

More About Poland

A good tour guide asks the client what interests they have and then tries to accommodate the request as best as possible. Tomasz figured out that I was interested in seeing birds that inhabit marshes and lakes, so he adjusted our schedule to take me out to the lake. That decision was a good one. We saw 3 different tern species at the lake - Black Tern which we have in the US, Whiskered Tern which has only been reported 3 times in the US (I saw the last one. You can read about it here), and White-winged Tern which I have never seen before. The all put on a show - especially the Whiskered Terns. Here is one carrying a fish to his potential mate.

Whiskered Tern
 The White-winged terns stayed further away from the shoreline. This is the best that I could do.

White-winged Tern
The other special birds at the lake were the eagles. Europe has several eagle species. We saw 3 of them at the lake. There were at least 5 White-tailed Eagles hanging around. This young bird soared over our heads. They are a close cousin to our Bald Eagle.

White-tailed Eagle
Here is an unlikely pair - mixed - Spotted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle soaring together. It is difficult to tell them apart but trust me, there are 2 different species here.

Lesser Spotted and Spotted Eagles
Here is a closer look at Lesser Spotted Eagle. This one is molting wing feathers.

Lesser Spotted Eagle
Eagles are great but the raptor that made my day was the Hobby. This is a little falcon similar to our Kestral. The cool thing about this falcon is that it wasn't alone. There were at least 6 of them hunting dragon flies along the lake shore at once. Pretty cool. Capturing a photo of one proved difficult. This is the best that I could manage.

We needed to make our way past these guys to get out to the lake shore. The part of eastern Poland is very pastoral.

This fox was sloshing through the marshy edge of the lake hoping for some lunch. He/she was totally unaware of us since we were down wind.

 Other big birds around the lake included this Common Crane - similar to our Sandhill Crane that inhabit places like Florida (Villages).

Common Crane
And the Whooper Swan which is a pretty big swan. There were a pair of them on the lake. I have seen one of these in NJ on a lake in an RV campground. The owner of the campground actually had it flown in from Russia to keep on the lake.

Whooper Swan
When it comes to human reproduction, I'm no expert but I always thought it was strange that a stork would bring the baby considering that we have very few storks in the US and very many people. How does that work? Santa Claus - I totally get that. He has reindeer and a sled and elves but the stork seems to work alone.  My visit to Poland opened my eyes. There are storks everywhere. They nest on telephone poles and rooftops and just about anywhere you can imagine. I can totally see where the Europeans get so many babies. (Still having trouble with the US baby thing).

White Stork
Here is a close up. You can see how that giant bill can carry a full grown baby.

White Stork
All in all, the one day birding trip was a huge success. Tomasz wanted to keep going and possibly find an owl but I gave up at 6 PM so that I could drive 3 hours back to Warsaw, pack and get ready to get to the airport by 6 AM. I needed to get back home. I left Europe with 110 species in total and 35 new species. Pretty damned good for about 1 day of free time.