Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Bird in Hand is Worth Protecting

Yesterday, Connie, Di and I joined the scientists on another banding effort to help track Red Knots and other endangered shorebirds that migrate to the Delaware Bay each May.  You know that we are volunteering to guard the protected beaches, but yesterday we also had the opportunity to actually work with the scientists to band the birds.  Connie and I did this last year too.

We showed up at 9 AM and helped set the net on the beach, then hid behind the dunes in the reeds until there were enough birds in the net area. Once enough of the target birds are in the area, the leaders shoot the cannons and make a catch.  We sat and waited, and waited, and waited.  It was hot, and hotter, and hotter.  Connie got a migraine and had to get off the beach.  We sat for another half hour, then at 11:25 - BOOM! the net was launched - without warning, without a countdown, just BOOM!  The co-director who was sitting with us even yelled "Shit!".  We all grabbed bins and other equipment and ran as fast as we could down the beach to the net.

 Clive, the man on the left, invented the cannon netting system. Here, he is working to place the cannons

All hell breaks loose when the birds are under the net.  We all surround the net and start putting sand around the edges to keep the birds from escaping. Another group of people grabs a "covering cloth" to put over the net so the birds calm down. Then the experienced leaders start taking birds out of the net and yelling out what species it is - "SANDERLING! Who has a Sanderling box?" TURNSTONE! Get me a Turnstone bin" "REDKNOT! Keep a count of how many are in your bin" "Who has the geo-locator bin?"  And on and on until the bin that you have in your hands has the appropriate number of birds.  Then you walk the bin and birds back down the beach to where we were hiding in the dunes. 

In the meantime, other experienced leaders are setting up the base camp with canopies and "holding pens" for the birds.  We bring the bins of birds back to base camp and then unload them into the holding pens.  Each species of bird has their own pen.  Once again chaos with people shouting "Where do you want these KNOTS?" and "Don't put those birds in that pen" and stuff like that. 

All the yelling is necessary to ensure the safety of the birds. I know it seems mean to capture them, but the research that they provide to the scientists will ensure their survival as a species and help protect the horseshoe crabs at the same time.  You just have to keep that in perspective as you watch these scared little birds under the nets and being carted around and . . .

finally being handled and banded.  Once the birds are in their pens and the scientists have a plan, we set up "teams" of banders to process the birds.  Yesterday's catch had over 100 Red Knots and 100 Ruddy Turnstones which is alot of birds to process as quickly as possible. Each team starts with a "bander" - the person who clips the little metal bands with identifying numbers around the ankle of the bird.  That was me yesterday - holding endangered Redknots in my hand and using pliers to crimp the band around the bird's ankle and then reporting the number to the "scribe". 

 That's me holding a Red Knot.  Look at the agony on my face from being so nervous!

The scribe documents everything about the bird such as the flag number which is put on by another member of the team aptly name "the flagger".  Lime green flags with number/letter combinations are also put on the birds legs. These are easier to read at a distance and are shown in my last post.  Then the bird moves around to "the measurer" which was Diane yesterday. She uses calipers to measure the bird's bill length and overall head length, then she uses a jerry-rigged ruler to measure the birds wing.

 Co-director Mandy Dey teaching Di how to use the measuring instruments

Then she passes it to "the weigher" who puts the bird into a soup can that has both ends cut off and puts it on a scale to get the weight.  The scientists are very interested in the weight of the birds and can tell if a bird is doing well or not based on the weight. 

Once the bird is weighed, it is put into another bin and taken to the real scientists who gather samples of blood and other stuff in order to do the real research.  Once the bird has gone through that, he/she is released and usually flies away squawking a protest.

Yesterday, our team banded over 50 Red Knots and 60 Ruddy Turnstones.  Other teams were processing close to that many too which was really great for the scientists.  So, remember to look for the little green flags and write down the code if you can see it.  Send it to me, or enter it at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Linda is always right

This morning I went out into the backyard at 6:40am to let our new family member out. Everette is our new rescue dog, and he has been such a sweetheart. Anyway, I've been saying to Tara that this spring we haven't had any cool migrants come into the yard, no rose-breasted grosbeaks, no towhees, no warblers. But today, I heard the calls. One call I have been hearing a lot every day is the tink tink tink tink of the blackpoll warbler. I was certain, then kept doubting myself, "no blackpoll would be right here." I guess I think of them as a bit exotic because they breed way, way up north in the tundra, so why would they keep hanging out in Ivyland? I told Linda what I was hearing, and I said, "we don't have blackpolls in our backyard," and she said, "sure you do." So today, the tink tink tink tink was back, along with another squeeky squeeky squeeky. I run back inside and get the binocs, way up high in one of the oaks is a redstart. score! Time to take Ev for a walk, so I put the binocs on and we go out front to find that blackpoll. score! found him finally. So yes, Linda was right, we do have blackpolls right in our yard. Trillllllll squeek! Northern Parula out there. Back to the oak, short call, no, really? Magnolia warbler! Fantastic morning in Ivyland. Knowing what you're hearing is so helpful, I recommend listening to the warbler calls, because during spring migration, they are there in your trees, (especially big oaks) on certain mornings, and they're singing and letting you know they're there. Happy birding. Lori

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Volunteer Recap

I am volunteering again this year to be a Shorebird Steward along the Delaware Bayshore.  The NJ Dept of Fish and Wildlife, in conjunction with Conserve Wildlife NJ closes several beaches in order to protect endangered shorebirds such as the Red Knot while they migrate from Argentina to the Arctic.  I did this last year too and I think it is an important way for me to engage with wildlife conservation in addition to simply running around looking at birds.  If you want to learn more about this important issue, go to and

Diane joined me this year, so we were stationed at either end of the closed area in the Villas. I was stationed at the north end of the closure at New Jersey Ave while Di was stationed at Rose Ave which is at the south end.  I had a great time talking to people, getting them to take surveys, and scanning the thousands of birds to find any that had been banded. I met new friends, got 12 surveys completed and over 50 banded birds documented and photographed. Di didn't have such a good experience.  She didn't get any surveys completed and only got 4 banded birds.  I guess I had the better end of the beach!

This is what the beach looks like as the tide starts to go out. Thousands of Sanderlings and other birds running along the water's edge picking through the sand for Horseshoe Crab eggs.  The birds concentrate at any point where there is a spit of sand. I guess that is where the most crab eggs are exposed.


Here is a closer look at the birds and an unfortunate Horseshoe Crab which is on its back.  We walk along the beach each morning "flipping" crabs but we are not allowed inside the closed beach, so we watch in vain as these crabs lay upside down all day until the tide comes back in.  Hopefully, they will flip themselves back when the water surrounds them.  This photo also shows a variety of birds - Ruddy Turnstone on the left in front of the crab, Dunlin on the right closest to the camera, and 6 Sanderlings of various colors in the middle - one of them is banded.

Here are a few of the good photos of the banded birds from last weekend:

 Here is 3NH with other birds including a Ruddy Turnstone in the middle

 This is 3YY.  He is in process of molting from dull winter gray to vibrant summer brown.  He hung around my area alot and was photographed too many times!

 This happened a few times, where 2 banded birds ended up in the same photo. Meet AM4 and P2Y.  They are the same species - Sanderlings - but in different stages of molt.  AM4 is almost ready to get a mate while P2Y still has a ways to go.

 Here are 2 more banded birds in the same photo. They guy in the front is interesting.  He has different colors of bands and no number/letters.  I can't wait to get the feedback on him after I enter him into the database.

 The HITS just keep coming.  Actually, this is H1T, but I called him/her HIT. That is a wave crashing on the beach in the background.

 Here is KM8. I snapped this photo just as he was snapping up a crab egg.  You should be able to see a small greenish egg in his bill if you click on the photo to enlarge.

Here is Stumpy.  this guy/gal hung around my beach all weekend and looked like he was getting around just fine even though he is missing a foot.  He wasn't the smallest bird on the beach which means that he is managing to plump up on crab eggs before heading to Canada.  You go Stumpy!

Please post a comment and let me know if you like seeing these photos.  Also, let me know who is your favorite banded bird so far.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

And on the Third Day . . .

I'm not religious and I don't think that the world was created in 7 days, but I would like to think that if it really did take 7 days to create this mess, Cedar Waxwings would have been one of the first creatures created. It was on my third day here in Winchester Virginia, that I finally managed to get up close and personal with the 100+ Cedar Waxwings that make the local park their home.  I have been seeing and hearing these birds all 3 days but they treated me like family today by inviting me to watch them feast on Mulberries.  There were literally 100 birds in the trees surrounding me while I stood there in awe.

I don't believe in heaven or hell and I don't believe in reincarnation BUT . . . if there is such a thing, I hope I come back as a Cedar Waxwing.  These birds really have the life.  They are always in a group, are always calling to each other in that high squeaky call note and always appear to be having care free days.  That suits me just fine. 

Cedar Waxwing - typical pose high on an exposed branch

 Another typical pose - looking for his/her companions

 I love the white eye liner

 Look closely - the red dots at the end of the wing feathers is what gives the Cedar Waxwing it's name.  These red dots are waxy deposits that form at the end of the feathers from accumulated wax in their diet of (usually) cedar berries.

 Waxwing hanging out in the mulberry bush

Waxwing buddies

Listen for high thin calls in your local park, then look up.  If you see more than one bird flying over head it is probably a flock of Cedar Waxwings.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lost in the Woods

This is Diane writing. I joined the scouting activities late, arriving at the shore after lunch on Thursday. Linda and Barbara had been out and about in the county since early morning, scouting away, and I wanted to “do my part”, so Captain Linda sent me to Cox Hall Creek (which we still call by its former name, Villas WMA) to find the red-headed woodpecker. Keep in mind that I spoke to Linda the previous evening while she herself was frustratingly trying to find said woodpecker at the same place – no luck for her. I chuckled when I received the assignment, wondering how I, the least skilled birder of the bunch, would ever accomplish my task. 

Off to the Villas WMA I went, parking in our usual spot. I headed straight out the long path, with no real destination in mind. I came across a dirt path that cut right. I took it. Then came upon a paved path that veered left. I took that. Right, left, left, then right again. I think. Then I hit the lake and thought for sure I was oriented. I walked around the lake, then came upon another paved path that curved away from the lake. I took it (why not?) and headed, I now know, away from where the woodpecker had been previously reported. I ended up in what I consider the back-edge of the area, stopped to look around at where I was, when I saw a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, over near a stand of tall pines. I peered through the binoculars and was treated to a great view of the red-headed woodpecker on the side of a pine, about four feet from the ground. It flew low from tree to tree, and I never lost sight of it. I quickly dialed the other scouters to tell them the news. We were all thrilled. Barbara had a good idea and told me to “drop a pin” on my iPhone map app, then capture the screen as a photo to preserve the spot where I saw the bird, so that we could reference it the next day, then again on The Big Day. All of this took about fifteen minutes (shorter than it’s taking me to write this post – sorry).

I consider it lucky that I happened upon it. On Friday, Linda, Barbara, Lori and I all scouted the area together. Linda and Lori headed off in the direction where the bird had been previously reported by “real birders”. Barbara and I headed back to “my area”, and once again we found the bird – same area, different set of trees. On The Big Day, I dragged all of the nerds back to that area and we found the bird within about five seconds of arriving at that lucky spot.

As mentioned in Linda's post, we all did our part for The Big Day, and it felt great to be able to contribute by finding this bird. I’m sure we would have found it had I not scouted, but it would have taken longer and our frustration levels would have been elevated. Getting lost in the woods turned out to be quite serendipitous.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big Day/Great Day

Bird nerd here, to report that is was truly a big day/great day, especially for me. I love warblers, and we had 23 species of warblers yesterday, the highlight being male Cape May warbler at Belleplain. Beautiful bird. I think what stood out for me this year was how far we have all come as far as birding by ear. Linda was always pretty good, but now the rest of us can contribute. There's nothing like rushing around trying to get as many birds as possible, and being able to roll down the window while driving down the road, and go "pine warbler, yellow throated warbler, worm eating, blackpoll.....", what a difference. I can't wait for next year, our captain is expecting 164 species. and I think we can do it. Lori

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Big Day Results

I'll begin by saying that the Bird Nerds did indeed have a Big Day.  Unfortunately, so did the 8th graders. 

The scouting went well. We planned our route, then we re-routed based on intel gathered at the "swap meet".  The swap meet is a meeting held on the Thursday before the contest for all teams to swap scouting reports.  This year's report also included a weather report from Dave LaPuma who runs the website stating that winds would be perfect for migration and that birds would be arriving at Higbee beach on Friday night. Guess who else went to the swap meet?  Yup, the 8th graders.

Our Big Day started at 3:30 AM (slightly later due to lower G.I. distress by your truly due to an untimely virus).  We pulled up at Higbee Beach at 4 AM and sat and listened for a Barred Owl to hoot for about 5 minutes when 2 other cars pulled up - another team.  They all got out of the cars and walked out into the field.  We all looked at each other and then got out of the car too. We figured they knew something that we didn't know about the Barred Owl that we were waiting to hear.  After another 5 minutes, the other team came walking past us out of the field.  We said "good morning" as they walked past, then one of them yelled "its the Nerds!".  It was Patty and her team.  They didn't really know what they were doing and they didn't hear the owl, but they were going to another location to listen. We heard the owl hooting about 5 minutes after they left the field. HA.

That was the first time our team got a Barred Owl on the Big Day.  Things only got better from there. We were scheduled to be at Higbee until 8 AM, but we left at 7 because we already had 58 species tallied.  58 species in 3 hours - 90 minutes of those were in the dark. By 9 AM we already had 2 other stops under our belts, the dogs were home and fed, the cat was fed, and 12 more species were racked up.  We were really on a roll. 

Each team member contributed to our tally in different ways. We got at least a dozen species through one member or another looking, listening, or re-routing us which really showed the team effort.  I'll let them tell you their stories in their own time.

By suppertime, we had surpassed our previous total by quite a few birds, but still didn't have Red-tailed Hawk which should have been easy.  We also didn't have Kingfisher, Green Heron, or Black-Crowned Night Heron.  If we could get those birds, we would  break the 140 mark. We got those birds and ended the day with 144 species - 23 more than last year!

But still 19 fewer than those 8th graders.  Bitter?  No. Do I seem bitter?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pre Game

We are all fired up for the Big Day tomorrow.  We have been scouting for a few days now and we think we have a good a good game plan.  We will start at 4 AM at Higbee beach - sitting in the car listening for a Barred Owl and any other birds that are chirping at that hour of the morning.  We spent a few hours there this morning (not before dawn) and got alot of birds.  We can only hope for the same tomorrow. 

It has already been exhausting, so we are off to bed in a few minutes.  I thought I would share a few colorful photos with you to get you ready for spring.  This guy was singing full force at Tinicum on Tuesday.

Yellow Warbler

Here is Indigo Bunting.  There are alot of these guys on our World Series "route".  They sing really loud from almost every field in the area.  We are sure to get one of these for our list.

 Indigo Bunting

Another really colorful bird that has arrived from his winter home is the Summer Tanager.  These birds turn greenish yellow in winter and then shed all feathers and go red for summer.  We like to think they go Phillies Red!

Summer Tanager

Wish us luck by commenting on the blog!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

WSB Scouting So Far -

 - Sucks!  The Nerds + 1 hit Cape May county this past weekend to scout for the World Series of Birding.  Judging from the photo below, how do you think we did?

Do you see any birds?  Sun?  Warm weather?  Southerly winds that would bring birds up to NJ?  No you don't.  Let's dissect this photo.  You see (barely) me and Barbara.  We both have jackets on.  We are obviously struggling to move toward the camera.  Sand is blowing in streams around our legs.  Even though we are a few yards from the ocean, you can't see it due to the fog.  This is Stone Harbor beach where we should have seen thousands of shorebirds and a Peregrine Falcon.  We saw exactly 6 Oystercatchers and a few Herring Gulls.  That's it.  We walked a mile down and a mile back.

Poor Patty.  She was our + 1 this weekend.  She is on another team this year but we dragged her along scouting with us as a nice gesture since her other teammates were out of town on business and couldn't scout.  Well, I guess her team will be out done by the 8th graders too unless her teammates come through with some better scouting than the BirdNerds.

We will be scouting again on Wed (supposed to pour rain all day), Thurs (rain part of the day and windy), and Fri ( still windy).  Wish us luck.

By the way, this does not get you out of pledging to support NJ Audubon.  It just means that we probably won't win again. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Close Encounter

I go to the gym at lunch time. Normally I just look out the window and see house sparrows in the trees. Today I look over at the window because I heard fluttering, and lo and behold, there is a baltimore oriole holding onto the window sill, flapping it's wings. He kept pecking at the window, and I tried waving my hand at him to make him fly off into the trees. He hung on for a good 5 minutes or more, just pecking, flapping. Talk about good looks, this bird was 3 inches from me. He's not as big as I thought, I guess we're so used to looking at warblers that we think of orioles as bigger birds. He was singing too! For once I wish I were a slave to my phone, I could have snapped a pic to post. :( Lori

Friday, May 4, 2012


Yesterday and today have been awesome in Philly for migration. The weather is not so good, bordering on awful but that isn't stopping the birds. The weather is preventing me from bringing the camera out, so you will have to look up the following list in your bird guide to see what they look like. 

Lemon Hill has been really good with many species of warbler including Redstart, Magnolia, Nashville, Ovenbird, Black and White, Black-throated Green, Parula, and literally hundreds of Yellow-rumps. I also saw both Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, and Orchard and Baltimore Orioles there this week.

Go outside and listen for interesting or buzzy bird songs, then look at them.  It is probably a warbler.

We have a house full this weekend at the shore with the Bird Nerds plus Patty for World Series scouting.  Hopefully, the next post will have photos.