Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jill's Big Mistake

"Who's on the phone?" "It's Jill - asking for another f#$&-ing favor". This time it's to help her pick up a sofa from her friends' Judy and Kate in New Brunswick. That is my fate when I have a strong back and a GMC Suburban. I get to help Jill and everyone else move things ;-)

Well, she made a huge mistake this time. She knows that Connie and I are huge birders. She should know not to mix birder friends with other birder friends unless she wants to be out of the picture. But that's just what she did when she brought me together with Kate and Judy.

We spent a few minutes talking about the new dog Eddie (really cute, his eyes just melt you) and looking at the house (gorgeous - needs a blog of it's own). Within 15 minutes I was showing them my new BirdPod that Connie got me for Christmas and talking about local hotspots.

We had a lovely brunch in Highland Park. The next thing Jill knows, we are driving to Johnson Park down by Raritan River looking for gulls and ducks. A few minutes later, she's sitting in the back of the SUV in the middle of the road while Kate and I are looking at Common Goldeneyes and all three Mergansers! Smart-aleck sat and took cell phone photos of us and sent them to Bonzi for a laugh, but her fate was sealed. . .

Back at the townhouse, the three birders were already talking about where we should go birding together - Monmouth county? Cape May? Potter? Jill was sitting in the lounge chair watching TV. Oh, and now I have my new friends' contact information so I don't need to do Jill any more favors for a while!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday, Dec. 26th, 2008

Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge

Tara and I went on our merry way the day after Christmas, sans Linda, to look at some big headed ducks. We knew since we were, sans Linda, we probably wouldn't be able to identify much, and we were right.

We did see the following: Pintail ducks, Northern Shoveler, Red breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Black crowned night heron, juvenile, Northern Harrier, American Black Duck.

On the backside of wildlife drive, Tara spotted a huge bird way up at the tippy top of a large tree. She said, "is that a duck up there in that tree?" I guess since we just spent an hour looking at all kinds of ducks, that would be a normal assumption on her part. (never mind about those little webbed toes, not being able to grip a tree branch, who has time to process that kind of info.) It was not an enormous duck, however, but a red-tailed hawk. A common mistake I'm sure. Now you know every time we see a hawk, it will be a tree duck.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

View from the Kitchen Window

This post comes to you from my kitchen. We haven't been birding for a while due to my Dad being pretty ill and in the ICU at Holy Redeemer Hospital and the really cold, rainy weather that we've had in December. For example, I went outside this morning to fill the feeders and needed ice skates! There is a layer of ice covering everything and it's still raining. Yuck.

I'm sitting here with a cup of tea, making my Christmas shopping list for the day and thought that I would post what I'm seeing at the feeder:

Goldfinches - fighting for position on the tube feeder
House Finches - same
Juncos - lots of them today on the ground with
Mourning Doves - 14
Carolina Wren - still singing even in this weather and eating peanuts
Downy Woodpecker - back and forth from the suet to the sunflower seeds
White-throated Sparrows, Chickadees, Titmice, Cardinals and White-breasted Nuthatches
Oh, and squirrels - lots of them

Pretty good for a backyard.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Feeder Bird

Linda had a slow blog weekend so she told me to post this picture of our hawk, who sits in our backyard and eats all our pretty little birds. He sat there for about an hour, hanging with his home boys, the blue jays. He didn't bother them and they didn't bother him.
I'm the novice of the group so I don't know if this is a sharp-shinned or cooper's, which is why I use terms like "big-headed ducks" and "seagulls."
He is simply, Our Hawk.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Center City Events

I use the same parking garage everyday. It's at Girard Square. The garage is interesting to say the least. You enter through an alley where you drive past appliance movers and unconsciously hum Dire Straits' "we got to mooove these refri-gerators, we got to move these color TVvvvvvs", past dumpsters and up a steep winding ramp to get to the parking levels. Levels 3 and 4 are reserved for monthly passes (which I have but somehow I never got an assigned parking spot). Level 5 is the roof, where I park everyday. There is no Level 2 for some reason. The elevators are the smallest elevators ever and only hold 4 people or 800 pounds - yeah right. Did I write elevators? With an "s"? Yes, there are two, but only one works. You can imagine how long we wait. And you can also imagine that we cram more than 4 people and Cocoa (my dog) into the elevator when it arrives.

Yesterday, I parked around 12:30, took the elevator down to the street and noticed a little bird hopping around near the dumpsters. I immediately knew that it wasn't a sparrow. It was a junco. What's a junco doing in Center City? Then I noticed that it's wing was twisted and it couldn't fly. It was hopping around quite well and I knew that I would never be able to catch it out in the open like that. Plus, there was a homeless man projectile vomiting about 20 feet away from it. (I swear, I'm not smart enough to make this stuff up). So I mumbled "circle of life, circle of life" and headed to the office.

I thought about the bird once or twice but it went out of my mind at the office because there was a bigger story being told. Ebony does our scheduling. Her boyfriend works for the Center City District doing street cleaning and is assigned to our area. He called Ebony in the morning to tell her that he just witnessed a man jump from Loews Hotel. What a tragedy. He jumped from the 33rd floor. His body laid on the sidewalk for 2 hours while people gawked at him under the sheet. What a shame. Poor man. Poor Justin. I feel bad that he had to witness that.

I left the office early so that I could get home, pick up Sammy and drop him off at Di's before hockey practice. Up the elevator, into the truck, down , down, down the winding ramp. What's that hopping around the ramp? Yep. It was the junco. Now I had to do something. I parked the truck in the alley, got the construction bucket (that I found at Sandy Hook on Friday) and a raincoat out of the back and proceeded back up the ramp on foot to catch the bird. Cars were trying to get up the ramp. People were staring at the nutjob with the bucket. Oh yes, I know what I look like. N-V-T-S: Nuts!

I finally cornered the bird in the elevator lobby (see how the story comes back around to elevators?) and got it into the bucket. I phoned Connie to let her know what was going on and brought the bird home. At home, we decided to put the bird in the shower stall overnight. I put some sticks for a perch, shredded newspaper (I don't know why but it seemed like a good thing to do), seed and a saucer of water. We left the light on for awhile so that the bird could see the food. I sprinted out the door for hockey practice.

The bird was fine overnight. He ate some seed for sure. Around 1:00 I got him into a box by chasing it around the shower with a net that I use to clean the pond (another AFV moment lost) and took the bird to the Shuylkill Center Wildlife Rehab Clinic where he will be evaluated and fixed if possible. Don't ask what happens if they can't fix him. . . I gave them $50.

Here is a photo of the bird in the shower. Wish him luck.

Well, I thought that I would share this with you because it does have to do with birds. And this is a bird blog.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Seeking White on Black Friday

It is now clear to me that I will never see a Snowy Owl. Until recently, I assumed that Snowy Owls were only found waaaaay up north in the Arctic and that it would be a reeeeaaallly long trip and we would neeevvveeer spend that kind of money to see an owl. Then came the Internet. Postings, reports and photos abound on the Internet about Snowy Owls in New Jersey, New York, and even Delaware. In the past, I would see the posting long after the Owl had left the area and be mad that I didn't check the web sooner. Last year, Connie and I read that there was one at Forsythe so we drove down to see it but didn't see anything. And this week, I tracked the Internet postings of a Snowy Owl at Liberty State Park. It was seen as recently as Wednesday. I figured that the omission of Thursday was due to Thanksgiving.

As of Thursday night, I couldn't decide whether to risk another let down or go chasing the bird. I didn't decide to actually go until 6:30 AM. Maybe that was too late. I got the Google directions, the "gear" and the dogs (yes, I still have Sammy) and headed up the NJ Turnpike to Liberty State Park. I arrived at 8:30 and found no other birders. No scopes of other birders pointed out at the wharf. Nothing but fisherman launching their boats in search of Striped Bass.

I did see the Statue of Liberty from the ferry dock. And, I did find a park ranger. I asked him if he knew anything about where the Snowy Owl was. "What?" "Snowy Owl, you know hoot-hoot." Yes, I said "hoot-hoot". He said that he hadn't heard any hooting. OK. I headed back to the boat launch. I barely parked the car when the ranger pulled up beside me. "There used to be a white owl. Is that what your looking for?" Let's see. . . Snowy Owl, white owl . . . He went on to tell me that he got real close to one - 3 years ago. Thanks for nothing. ( I think it was sweet that he tracked me down to help but the sarcasm sounds better in a blog)

I took the opportunity to explore the north Jersey area and decided to check out Sandy Hook. Another thing that I learned about on the Internet. I have been reading the Rare Bird Alerts for years and read alot about Sandy Hook. Now, thanks to eBird's rare sighting connection to, it's even easier to find birds in any state that are deemed "rare" either because they shouldn't be there at all, or not at this time of year. That's how I found the Snowy Owl this time. That's how I knew that it was at Liberty State Park near the boat launch. Lapland Longspurs were reported at Sandy Hook. That's why I decided to check it out today since I was already in north Jersey.

Sandy Hook must get mobbed in summer, but it was pretty empty today. I met another birder, Ken who helped me get the lay of the land out at the end of the hook. Ken grew up around Sandy Hook but lives in New Hampshire now. He was searching for an Orange Crowned Warbler in the brush. I took the dogs and headed for the beach. Ken told me that I had a good chance at Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and the Longspurs. I did see a pretty good swirling flock of little birds. They came pretty close and I could tell be the black and white wing patterns on some of the birds that they were definitely Snow Buntings. That was worth the drive. I also saw plenty of Yellow Rumped Warblers and Horned Larks. Seems like I can't get enough Horned Larks this year.

I stopped at another beach parking lot on the way out and got good looks at Surf Scoters close to shore in the rough surf. One adult male with his big white and orange schnoz and white patch behind the head, and about 8 immature male and females. It was too windy for the camera, so no photos today.

It was alot of driving, but I got gas for $1.69/gallon. I cannot remember the last time that happened.

Oh, did I mention that I ended up down the Parkway at Forsythe again? Third time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Forsythe - Take Two

The weather was much better today but the company was much worse. It was only me, my dog Cocoa, and Di and Barbara's dog Sammy. Neither one of my companions are any good with spotting or identifying peeps or ducks. They never call out an Eagle or Harrier. They just sit in the back and pant. And Sammy can't sit still. And I have to walk them and pick up their poop. Enough about that.

My sister and Barbara decided to cruise the "Eastern Caribbean" - hence Sammy's company today. They better send photos and lists of the birds that they see from the ship or don't bother coming back. Lori decided that she needed a new lamppost and today was the day to do it. And poor Connie was sick. So I took the dogs and went back to Forsythe in search of big head ducks.

I got 2 big head ducks - Hooded Merganser and Bufflehead. Here is the best photo that I got of the Mergansers. The Bufflehead were too far away for any chance of a photo.

I also got a pretty good shot of a sleeping Ruddy Duck.

The Peregrine Falcon was sitting out on the platform today. I also saw one sitting on an Osprey platform close to the road eating some scraps of something.

Another wonderful sighting today - Laura and Stu (and his little dog too). I was quite surprised to see them today and it was fun talking through the car windows. I hope you guys saw the Widgeon. Stu had reports of Snow Buntings near the end of the wildlife drive. We didn't find any.

I wanted to check out some of the other roads to the bay today so I drove out to the end of Great Bay Blvd. It was kind of a bust. It's kind of a long road to the edge of the bay but you can't really see the bay from the end of the road and there were a lot of fishing boats screaming around so I imagine that there aren't any ducks anyway. Oh well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

2 Life Birds, 1 Day, Not Even Trying

It's 2:00 on Saturday afternoon. We are patiently waiting for the Penn State game to come on TV at 3:30. They play Michigan State and could clinch a spot in the Rose Bowl if they win today. I have already seen 2 new life birds today. It started at Pennypack Trust this morning with Field Sparrow followed by a Fox Sparrow right at our house under the feeder. Just like that, I had 2 life birds by 9:00 AM without even trying.

I'm pretty sure that I've seen both birds before. I guess I just never wrote them down or entered them into eBird. If you don't have an eBird account, you HAVE TO GET ONE. It's awesome. All of your favorite locations and your lists broken down by county, state, etc without any work.

Connie reminded me that our favorite guy Bruce pointed out a Fox Sparrow at Lake Nockamixon years ago. Connie can't remember to turn the lights off in the kitchen, but she can remember a Fox Sparrow from 10 years ago? You go girl.

Also at the house today and all week long is a Red Tail Hawk. The pair usually stay across the street but at least one has been in our yard 3 times this week. I guess he (or she) is stalking our abundant squirrels.

Go Joe-Pa. And congratulations to Chelsea and Mike on their wedding day today. We wish you all the best and a long, happy life together.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bird Conservation, etc

So, I'm not about to lecture anyone about anything. Most people who will read this blog already understand the basics of birdwatching: you need birds in order to watch them. Pretty simple. You also know that the universe revolves around me (unless my grandmother is in the room, then it shifts to her). Given that, you will understand that I support any organization that makes my life better. Here is one of them: American Bird Conservancy. ABC is a great organization to join. Their mission is "to conserve native wild birds and their habitat throughout the Americas". This directly affects our ability to watch all of the birds that we enjoy - both resident and migrant. Members receive a great magazine and newsletter.

We watch backyard birds and migrating birds of all sorts because they fascinate us. We need to support groups that support birds whether it be conservation, education, or habitat protection so that we have birds to look at (forget about ecology, food chain, the bird's perspective). I just received an email from American Bird Conservancy telling me about a cool new feature that they have called Bird News Network. Basically, it's a YouTube "channel" that you can tune into to see new videos of bird conservation efforts. Check it out at I would urge you to join or support any organization that supports bird conservation - ABC being on the top of that list.

ABC also has a program called ACT for Songbirds which targets specific migration or wintering areas that need help or allows you to take action on upcoming legislation through their website. Connie and I both "purchased" an acre on the Osa Penninsula in Costa Rica to support habitat last year. After visiting the Osa this year, we're glad that we did it.

Next post - Connie and me back at the shore looking for big headed ducks. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Forsythe NWR for Ducks - in the rain

Well, Lori and I were the only ones that could make the trip to Forsythe NWR today but we went in sheer style and comfort in her new 2009 Ford Expedition. Sweeeeeet ride! We set up Connie's spotting scope on a tripod between the bucket seats in the back and had clear views of everything without getting wet.

The scope is a hand-me-down from Connie's dad. It's a Baucsh and Lomb Discoverer 15-60mm scope that he used for hunting. We also have a pair of hand-me-sown Zeiss 15x60 - yes, 15x60 binoculars that we lovingly refer to as "The Big Boys". They are huge. They almost look like a prop from a comedy show or something but they bring those distant ducks into view.

We got pretty lucky with the weather. Not much rain, but ferocious wind coming from the south sent wave spray over the road at times. We came to Forsythe looking for what Lori refers to as "big headed ducks": Mergansers, Bufflehead and the like. We didn't get any big heads today but we did get plenty of Brant, Pintail, Black Ducks, Mallards, Green Wing Teal, Northern Shovelers and cute-as-a-button sleeping Ruddy Ducks. We were also surprised to see hundreds (if not thousands) of Black-bellied Plovers with thousands of Dunlin. We also had 4 Lesser Yellowlegs which were good to identify by size next to the plovers.

Lori found us Meadowlarks in the grass near the Peregrine platform. The yellow chest and black V really stood out in the overcast setting. Great spot by Lori. We also saw dozens of Eastern Bluebirds on the drive out. They are planting alot of trees in the field near the "experimental pool". The bluebirds were sitting on those protective tubes for the young trees.

We decided to go out to Barnegat Lighthouse to see if we could find any sea birds blown in by the storms. Barnegat Light sits at the top of Long Beach Island at Barnegat Inlet. I thought that we might see some scoters or gannets. Nothing like that though. We did see Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones on the rocks along the inlet. Purple Sandpiper is a life bird for both of us. We were also surprised to see 6 or so Yellow-rumped Warblers in the bushes behind the lighthouse.

Gulls are really difficult for me to identify. I'm not that advanced in my skills. I also had a hard time differentiating the terns in the inlet. One type had dark on the coverts of the wings, white on the primary and secondaries with a black edge. Another had dark primaries and was pretty big. I marked that one down as a Royal Tern. Then, there was a really small tern which I would normally mark down as a Least Tern but the range maps make it look like they should be gone by now. eBird doesn't have it listed for Barnegat Light in the "Most Probable Species" list either. So, I'm stumped by Gulls and Terns again. . .

Veteran's Day at Bombay Hook and Surrounding Areas

I played hookie on Veteran's Day and took Connie down to Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware. It's been a few years since we were there last. The weather was perfect. Big blue sky, not too cold. We made great time from our house in Abington down to Smyrna exit of Rt 1.

Our first stop was Woodland Beach off of Rt 9. There are a few entrances. We pulled into the southern most entrance and were greeted by an 8 point buck running through the field. We saw some birds in the mud flat there that looked like shorebirds from a distance. They turned out to be Horned Larks! 5 of them scurrying through the mud field. We got great looks.

We got into Bombay Hook just at 8:00 AM. The office was officially closed due to Veteran's Day, but there were a few volunteers that let us in for maps and such. Outside of the office we immediately saw what we came for - thousands of Snow Geese swirling around the beautiful blue sky. Wow!

On the wildlife drive we pulled off to scan the agriculture fields for anything interesting. We found American Pipits right at Tour 2 sign. Life bird for both of us. We have probably driven past Pipits a hundred times and never bothered to look at them before. However, I checked the Delaware RBA before our trip and read that Pipits had been seen. So, thanks to Andy Ednie for continuing to post to Virtual Birder.

Other notable birds seen at Bombay Hook - Green Wing Teal, American Avocet, Pintails, Dunlin, Semi-palmated Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs and 4 Harriers.

We drove south on Rt 9 to explore 2 sites that are regularly mentioned on the Delaware RBA that we have never been to - Port Mahon Rd and Little Creek. Thank goodness for eBird's Google Maps integration. It makes finding these sites so easy. We saw 5 Black Crowned Night Herons at Little Creek. It looks like they are building a serious levee there that will eventually allow you to walk all the way out into the marsh.

Anyway, it was a really nice day and we were home before supper.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bird Nerd Overview

Hello there. The purpose of this blog is to share my birdwatching experiences with anyone who is interested. I'll post backyard sightings, sightings at local parks like PennyPack Ecological Restoration Trust and Carpenter's Woods, and regional "hot spots" such as Cape May NJ and Hawk Mountain PA. Occassionally, I'll post sightings and trip notes from our big birding trips.

Connie and I have been actively birding for 15 years. Our interest has grown from looking at birds occasionally to planning full vacations around migration routes and times. That's why we call ourselves "Bird Nerds". My sister and her partner got caught up in this with us a few years ago and now they get dragged along with us. And then there are our friends from the ice hockey team who got totally hooked recently. I'm the most obsessed one in the group although Lori is gaining on me rapidly.

Anyway, I'll try to keep it fun and light. Take tomorrow for instance. We are planning a quick trip to Forsythe NWR in Brigantine NJ to see geese and ducks. The weather is calling for rain and thunderstorms and wind. No sun. We're going anyway because Lori just bought a new SUV and has never been to Forsythe. So, we're going. I'll let you know if we see anything.

The Osprey photo was taken last month at Cape May Hawk Watch. That was a great day for us. We saw a ton of Osprey. Mostly with fish for some reason. My sister started making snide comments like "Why don't they just call out the ones without fish for a change". That's just a ridiculous amount of Ospreys to see in one day. I never thought that I would see that many Peregrine Falcons in my lifetime let alone in one day. Our little group probably saw 40 Peregrines flying low, high, fast, slow. Wow.

I'm just old enough to remember the DDT days. When my parents took us to Hawk Mountain in the 70's, they preached all about the decline and possible elimination of these birds due to DDT. Now, 35 years later, we're making jokes about how many we see in one day. I know that the numbers aren't anything like pre-pesticide days. But it's terrific for us. Here is the Peregrine photo from that day too: