Friday, October 31, 2014

Toot Sweet

I drove to the Villas last night so that I could be here all day today to work - really, this time its true. We have a client here that needed a computer swapped out. I brought the computer, Roxy and Sammy with me. I was almost at the house when I received a text alert stating that they were doing an owl banding demonstration at Cape May Meadows starting at 8:40 PM - just 15 minutes away.  Of course, I went but I also dragged Patience along with me. It was a good demonstration. The bander already had 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls caught when we arrived. You can see how tiny these owls are:

Northern Saw whet Owl
It was a good experience for me and glad that I was able to get Biggie to go along too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Thief Among Us

Sunday was very windy which turns out to be terrible for spotting little birds like the Kinglets, Warblers and Vireos that overwhelmed us on Saturday. The wind is good for raptors though. We headed out to a few new sites looking for some rare flycatchers that were reported but didn't see any of them. We did manage to have front row seats to a mugging at the old Magnesite Plant on Cape May Point.  It started with this 2 year old Bald Eagle soaring directly above us which drew "oohs and aahs" from the gang.

Bald Eagle - 2nd Year
The "oohs and aahs" turned to "woahs and wows" when the eagle started to chase an Osprey. Look at the size difference between the 2 birds. (The eagle is the big one :-))

Bald Eagle chasing Osprey
The reason for the chase became obvious once the Osprey dropped the fish that it had in its talons.

The Drop
The eagle locked eyes on the fish.

Up for Grabs
The eagle made no mistake - snatching the fish out of midair while the Osprey peeled off and headed back to the bay. We can only imagine how the poor fish felt . . . however, it's doom was inevitable.
The Steal

This Peregrine Falcon cruised past us looking very menacing.


The afternoon was much less dramatically for me, Roxy and this Golden-crowned Kinglet. Kinglets like to flutter around and pick bugs from shrubs. I caught this mid-flap shot.

Flutter feeding
You can see the golden crown in this typical pose. Kinlets like to hang under branches to look for bugs. Check out the orange feet too.

Golden-crowned Kinglet
We ended the day at Josh's annual pumpkin carving party. My pumpkin is in the middle. It is supposed to be a sunrise behind clouds.

Pumpkins


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Big Fall Weekend

Magical. That is the feeling on days like today when you witness migration on a mass scale. I knew it was going to be a  good morning based on weather predictions of NW winds and it was. Deb, Jay and Brendan picked a terrific weekend to visit.

We started at the canal and watched literally hundreds and thousands of birds fly past us for about 30 minutes.  Mostly Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers with a good scattering of Flickers mixed in.  It was breath-taking. It is too much to try to photograph. We just kind of stand there and watch.

Phoebe - quick rest
After a while, we headed to the fields to see individual birds. We saw alot of sparrows, kinglets and Yellow-rumps. And then, a birding friend, Larry, pointed out a Blue-headed Vireo - one of my favorites. This bird put on a show devouring a praying mantis.  It had the head decapitated and eaten by the time I could start shooting.

Blue-headed Vireo - with Praying Mantis
 It tried to gulp down big pieces of the bug. You can see it had a hard time.

Blue-headed Vireo
 Birds have something called a nictating membrane on their eyes - kind of like a translucent eyelid which they use to protect their eyes. You can see it here. The bird uses the membrane to protect the eye from any stray body parts that might scratch it while they gulp down bugs. It makes total sense since the bird would not be able to survive if anything went wrong with it's eye.

Blue-headed Vireo - nictitating membrane
There is a whole group of finches that they call the "winter finches" which include Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Crossbills, and some Grosbeaks. This is going to be a good year for Purple Finches - so says the "Finch Forecast" which is based on seed production of pine trees in Canada. Some guy looks at the cones of each species of pine/spruce tree and then predicts that some finches will travel south due to not having enough seeds for them to remain in Canada for the winter. It is proving to be true. We saw a dozen Purple Finches today alone. We usually see one or even none in a given winter.  Here is one chowing down on some berries at Higbee beach. This is a young male or female that isn't purple yet.

Purple Finch
We had a terrific morning, then headed out to breakfast at our regular joint - Villas Diner - and then headed back to the field. The day definitely quieted down. We stumbled upon 2 Pectoral Sandpipers at the State Park. The first of the season for me. I struggled with the ID on this one and had to ask Harvey for help. He is the shorebird expert.

Pectoral Sandpiper
More to come. The weekend is only half done.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

On the Fence

Sometimes, you don't have to go far to get some good birds. Harvey and I traipsed all over south Jersey on Sunday looking for birds. We started at Higbee with Roxy and Hollie. Not much to see there but Hollie got a few new species. (BTW, Hollie is Jill's dog that I babysat over the weekend).
Hollie on the lookout
She didn't need to use the binoculars to see this beauty.

Prairie Warbler
We headed up to Corbin City and got to see a Loggerhead Shrike which is pretty rare for Jersey. They are usually found down south. I don't have a photo since it was sitting pretty far out in the marsh. We stopped along the road on the way out of the marsh and I spotted this little guy. Its called a Fence Lizard and is the only true lizard in New Jersey. Check out the blue belly.

Fence Lizard
Birding was pretty dead, so we headed home. Guess where all the birds were?  Yup, in my yard. I grabbed the camera and started shooting. Speaking of fences, this Ruby Crowned Kinglet sure liked the cyclone fence between our yard and Mary's yard. He would sit there for a few seconds and then leap up and grab a gnat or other tiny bug out of the air.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet
There were alot of Yellow-rumps but then this bird popped out of the bushes - a Cape May warbler! This was the best find of the day for me. He just loved this little dogwood tree.

Cape May Warbler
I spotted this Brown Creeper in the Cherry tree in the back yard. This is a unique bird in North America - the only one of it's genus. They are pretty hard to spot since they blend in with the tree bark so well. I happened to snap this side view. Check out the curved bill that the bird uses to find bugs under the bark.

Brown Creeper
A nice end to a long day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bugs and Birds

I haven't had time to post anything since I was away (again) for work in Washington DC and then catching up with work and home life. Last weekend, I headed to the shore and didn't find much in the way of interesting birds but I did get to hang out with some of the DVOCers. Here are a few photos starting with this beautiful Bald Eagle. Bald Eagle? Yes. This bird is what they call a "second year" bird which means that it is about 2 years old. You can tell by the feather pattern. This guy or gal looks exactly like the field guide which is why I can casually tell you the age of the bird. Most of the time, its not that cut and dry for me. This bird will get the white head and tail in another 2 years or so.

Bald Eagle - Second Year
Here is a Parula that was sitting still for a few seconds. That is a rare event for these tiny warblers. They are usually in motion and difficult to photograph.

Northern Parula
Like I said, not much in the way of rare or unusual birds. That wasn't the case for bugs though. My friend Chris told me about these weird caterpillars that hatched along the dunes so we went to see them  She was right . . .

Stinging Rose Caterpillar
Patty and Steve identified it for me. Steve wrote a nice blog post on his blog - Recycled Photons - if you want to check it out.

Cape May is full of dragonflies at this time of year. They migrate south just like birds do so you get to see alot of them in the fall. Most of the birders in Cape May can also identify the dragonflies but I just call them by color like this green and black striped one that was sitting along the path.

Dragonfly
I had to photograph this Monarch butterfly on the purple flower. Not weird or unusual, just pretty.

Monarch Butterfly



Monday, October 6, 2014

Memories and Nighthawks

Time is a funny thing. I can remember events, the people that were there, the weather, everything - except the date. I have trouble remembering dates. This is one of the big reasons that I am not allowed to pay the household bills. We would be foreclosed - not for lack of funds but for late payments. I don't know how old anyone is unless I figure out how old my mother is, subtract 20 to get to my age, and then add or subtract accordingly to get to Connie or Di's age, and then add or subtract again from there to get to that person's age.  Alzheimer's? Memory loss? Not unless I have had this since I was 6 years old (which I just calculated to be 1969). 

Connie and I have traveled quite extensively. You have read about some of it through this blog but we traveled before the Internet too - to places like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Norway. I can't tell you what year any of those took place. I can get close but . . . 

And so it goes with bird events. I can remember the first time I saw many of the 856 species of birds that I have on my life list. I can remember extraordinary events like the time that we saw about a hundred Red-eyed Vireos fly out of one little shrub. How did they all fit in there? It was like watching clowns get out of a VW Bug at the circus. We called it the "Clown Car" and still talk about it today. Or the time that we saw the Ivory Gull in the marina. I can remember everything about those events except the date. 

And so it was the other evening while I was walking Roxy at our local park after work. I looked up and saw about 40 Common Nighthawks darting, fluttering and swooping just above the treetops and remembered that I had seen this event once before - at Pennypack Trust. I can remember the massive numbers of Nighthawks swarming the fields but I tried to remember what time of year and came up blank. I suppose it was fall but who knows. 

Common Nighthawks are part of the Nightjar family. They sleep during the day and then fly around at dusk catching insects in flight. This gang of 40 were obviously fueling up on bugs in order to head south as a group overnight.  You can always tell a nighthawk because of their white "wristbands" which are easily seen here. 

Nighthawk
Now that I have this blog, I can look up dates of events by re-reading some of the posts. Ask me about the time that we were in Texas and saw a relative of the Common Nighthawk called Chuck Will's Widow. I can tell you the date. You can re-read it here Frau Blucher story.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Sigh of Relief

I'm finally home from California. That is one reason to be relieved. I was away for too long in Sept with 2 trips to the west coast. The other reason to be relieved is that the ENTIRE time that I was in California, there was a mega rare bird in Cape May that I was getting hourly text reports about. This is the kind of thing that puts my stomach in knots. What if the bird leaves before I get back? Aaarrrrgggghhhhh.

Good news. The bird didn't leave. I got off of the plane last night at 5 PM, spent the night at home for the first time in 9 days, then got up and left the house at 5 AM to go to Cape May. I wasn't the only one there at sunrise. There were lots of people standing on the beach - including an entire family that drove down from Connecticut just to see this bird.  There was a nerve wracking hour spent looking at the normal birds but not seeing the rare one - and then I saw it land on the beach. I pointed it out to the crowd and everyone was happy. My stomach stopped hurting. There were ooohs and aaaahs. Here it is in the center of the photo - Whiskered Tern. You are probably not impressed.

Terns - Cape May Beach
No, it doesn't have whiskers. In fact, I have more whiskers than than this tern has feathers. Not sure why they call it Whiskered. I picked it out of the crowd by its dark belly. There are actually 4 different tern species in that photo - Common, Forster's, Royal and Whikered along with a few Laughing Gulls.

The tern lifted off and there were morel oooohs and aaaaahs. It flew right at us!

Whiskered Tern
You can see the gray belly on the bird in this shot.

Whiskered Tern
This bird is REALLY off course. They breed in Europe and Asia and winter in Africa, Java and Australia. No where near Cape May. This bird is so rare that there are articles in the newspapers about it. People are making videos of the bird flying around the beach. Whew. It didn't leave. I saw it. It was lovely. Now, I can get back to the regular bird obsession!