Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's That Time of Year Again . . .

World Series of Birding 
The World Series of WHAT?
The World Series of BIRDING, that's what.
Here is an excerpt from "Opposable Chums" - a film about the event by Jason Kessler:
"Equal parts scavenger hunt, science expedition, and endurance test, The World Series of Birding is also a fundraiser, generating millions of dollars for conservation. The more bird species tallied, the more money raised.
  • One team mounts a paramilitary operation replete with infrared scopes and GPS devices.
  • Another team does the event on foot, jogging almost 50 miles.
  • After scouting for weeks, one team has the entire 24 hours planned literally to the minute.
  • A Seniors team counts only the birds that fly by the bench it sits on all day.
Past participants have included some of the most renowned birders in the world, such as Roger Tory Peterson, David Allen Sibley, Kenn Kaufman, and Pete Dunne. "

As for us, the Philly Bird Nerds will be participating again this year trying to beat those 8th graders again.  We are limiting ourselves to Cape May County again this year and hope to get 140 species.  We are raising money for NJ Audubon again this year. If we get enough sponsors, we may split the money and send some to another organization (hint, hint). We raised $260 last year.  We would really like to raise at least that much this year and are really hoping to raise more.  I will send instructions for sponsorship in another post.  For now, just start saving your pennies.

We are scouting beginning this weekend for nesting birds so that we can "pin them down" as they say.

Barbara and I are most interested in owls right now.  We haven't been able to get Barred or Screech owl in past years, so we have been out at night listening for them.  We have a lead on a Screech Owl down in West Cape May and will be heading there this weekend to listen again.  We are also considering turning the tide in our favor by hanging a Screech Owl nest box in the "wetlands" across the street from the Blue House for next year. What's wrong with that?  I didn't read any rules about that.

More updates later.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Already Squabbling!

And it's only the beginning of the nesting season . . . 

He better bring extra bugs back to the nest . . .

Monday, April 16, 2012

More California Wildlife

I have so much fodder from our trip that it has been difficult to pull it all together into stories rather than just post a mile-by-mile recount of our trip down the coast.  So here is the last installment of the trip notes. Highlights include Golden Eagle sitting in a field, Gray Ghost, Elephant Seals and Coyotes.

The Golden Eagle was spotted south of where we saw the Condor where the land started to flatten out a bit down by Hearst Castle.  We originally saw the bird flying erratically and then land in the middle of a field.  I screeched to a halt on the side of the road and ran across the highway to take a few shots.

   Golden Eagle

It turns out that the Eagle had harassed a Red-tailed Hawk into dropping something and had landed on it to claim it.  A few minutes later, the Hawk worked up enough courage to chase the Eagle out of the field and out of sight.  Having the Red-tail chasing the Eagle gave us perspective as to how big the Golden Eagle really is.  Trust me, its a big raptor.  Second only to . . . you guessed it - the California Condor.

A few miles after this, we saw another raptor flying over another field and pulled over.  This time it was the male Northern Harrier which is known as the "Gray Ghost".  This bird is not rare. It is not uncommon in our area. I have seen many.  But it is cool to see the gray ghost.  It also brought back memories of my first Harrier which we saw along this same stretch 20 years ago.

Northern Harrier - "Gray Ghost"

It is sad to say that these birds were not the highlight of our day - which they would be on any other day.  It's just that we saw so much, including the Condor and Elephant Seals, that it was just one more WOW for the day. 

Oh yeah, we saw Elephant Seals.  They were hauled out of the water on a protected beach.  The State Park system put in a nice parking lot and boardwalk so that you can get up close to the seals without disturbing them.  We could have stayed for hours. 

 Elephant Seal flinging sand to keep the sun off

 Elephant Seal grunting at a neighbor


 Look at the pink inside his mouth!

There were hundreds of seals out on the beach laying around and squabbling with their neighbors.  Oh, and it is a good thing that the wind was blowing away from the boardwalk because they STINK!

While in Pasadena, we birded the Arroyo Seco which is a little canyon that ends up at the Rose Bowl stadium. I have posted about this before.  This time, we had pretty good birds but that was not the story. The story is that we felt like we were going to be lunch for this Coyote!


Look at those eyes - YIKES!

Although he looks mean, he was more interested in the gophers than the people. He obviously roams this very busy park often and is not bothered by the people, dogs, or horses. 

Next post - back to the East Coast baby!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I work a block away from the Edgar Allen Poe house in Philadelphia.  There is a bronze Raven sculpture in the front yard of the house where he supposedly lived for a few years.  Ironically, there are no Ravens in Philadelphia but there are lots of Ravens in California.  Lots.  We encountered Ravens on each outing from San Francisco down to Pasadena but a few are blog worthy. 

The first Raven we photographed was hanging out on a fire pit at Muir Beach.  California allows dogs and fires on almost all of their beaches which is pretty cool.  This Raven was obviously used to both of those things.

Common Raven

Check out the big beak and thick neck on this bird that distinguishes it from a Crow along with the size difference.

The next notable Ravens were seen at Mt. Wilson observatory outside of Pasadena.  Di and I took a drive up to the top of the 5,000 foot mountain where they have several really large telescopes on Sunday.  One of the workers noticed our binoculars and camera and asked if we would be interested to see a Raven's nest.  Hell yeah!  He said "see that cliff over there?" "Um, which one?" "the one with the missing rock" "Um, which one?".  Well, you get the gist of it.  He was patient and we finally saw the nest:

 And then we got to see the birds fly out of the nest and soar around the canyon.  Trust me, the soaring photos were terrible!  Here is the best shot I could get of the Raven leaving the nest:

They were quite cooperative and landed on a tree snag right along the path to the telescopes for these photos.

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Monday, April 9, 2012

To Sur with Love!

I know I spelled Sir wrong.  Or did I?  After a brief set back at the McDonald's in Monterrey where the Iced Tea dispenser broke and soaked both of us and made me bleed in 2 places, Di and I hit the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) on Friday en route to visit our uncle in Pasadena. Some of the best scenery is along Big Sur.

I got 8 life birds and Di probably got 20 or more.  The biggest life bird for both of us is coincidentally the biggest bird in North America - the California Condor.  The sighting is also a cute story . . .

The PCH is a twisty-turny-uppy-downy road with constant breathtaking views of the Pacific ocean and mountains for over a hundred miles.  It is almost too much to endure without taking a break.  So much so, that we pulled into a State Park for a rest and to look for a bandaid to help stop the bleeding from what is now know as "the iced tea incident".  As soon as we got out of the car, we were met with a flurry of bird activity including this Stellar's Jay.

 Stellar's Jay with acorn

The ranger on duty obliged with a bandaid and was happy to give us directions to good birding locations. He told us that the best birding location on the whole Big Sur coast was back north on the PCH about 5 miles - where we just came from.  Diane hesitated to go back 5 miles but then he asked us where we were from and reiterated that it was only 5 miles up the road, insinuating that we were already 3,000 miles out of our way so what was another 5?  Good point.  Off we went - back north on the PCH to Andrew Molero State Park for great birding.

The ranger at the Andrew Molera gate was a peppy young woman who just oozed happiness.  I told her that I would pay the $10 entrance fee but I wanted it back if we didn't see a Condor.  She said that she couldn't make that deal but proceeded to tell us that we could see Condors down the road about 20 miles.  That would be 15 miles south of the other guy's park.  We parked and hiked at Andrew Molera and saw great birds and great scenery:

 Diane with Big Sur Coast

Why does Di keep telling me to take another step back for this photo?

 Orange-crowned Warblers were singing and posing

So was this Wilson's Warbler - I love the little black cap

 Surfbirds were picking along the rocky shoreline

We headed south again to Julia Pfeifer State Park where our park ranger told us we may find Condors.  She said that there were 2 fledged babies along the ridges and that the parents were often seen there too.  What she failed to mention is that there was also beautiful waterfall that went right to the beach and water that is a color of blue that I can't describe:

 Waterfall and turquoise water

Linda posing

Even though we were both mesmerized by the water, we kept scanning the skies for big birds - without luck.  On our way back to the parking lot across the highway, I stopped to scan the canyon and thought that I might have spotted something.  Take a look:

 I put red arrows in the photo where I thought I saw something that looked like a big black bird (maybe a baby Condor)

That is when Diane started scanning the skies and said "I think I got the Condor", or something like that.  I looked up, way up, no farther up than that, waaaaay up there and saw a tiny dot in the sky.  It could have been anything, but just then it turned around and viola!  Condor.  You can tell this is a giant bird even at that distance. The photo below is zoomed way in and cropped. That is how high this bird was soaring when Di picked it out of the thin blue sky. Literally.

 California Condor

If it wasn't 20 miles back in the wrong direction, I was going to go give that young woman another $10!  Her tip really paid off.

More later.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

What Rhymes with Spring?

Sing rhymes with spring. And boy were the birds in California singing!  Enjoy.

We spotted this Dark-eyed Junco singing from a cement statue in Golden Gate Park.  Those are Cherry blossoms in the background.  The western variety of this Junco has brown back so it throws you for a loop at first. 

 Dark-eyed Junco

This Pacific Wren was one of the few birds we saw in Muir Woods.  The giant Redwoods are immune to bugs, so there are few birds living in the woods. We were lucky to see this guy singing his heart out just a few feet from the path.  The sun showed through the trees just enough to light up his beak.

Pacific Wren

Here is the same bird after I lightened the photo in PhotoShop.

 Pacific Wren

This Red-winged Blackbird was showing off his namesake red wings while trying to let everyone know that he was ready to find a gal.

 Red-winged Blackbird

A very western bird, this Townsend's Warbler was one of a dozen or more that were singing in Golden Gate park and other stops along our journey. He has a really great song that makes you want to stop and listen.

Townsend's Warbler

I wanted to get this quick post in while we had Internet access.  Di and I are traveling down California Highway 1 which has awesome scenery, lots of birds, but no cell phone or Internet reception.  So, I will post that trip later. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

San Francisco So Far

I have been tethered to my computer and cell phone for the past few days here at the conference however, we did manage to take a quick ride on a cable car down to Fisherman's Wharf.  Of course, I was the only tourist there with a big-ass camera lens taking photos of the seagulls that were begging for french fries!  Oh well, that's what makes me a nerd.

Here is a photo of Western Gull posing on a piling.  This is a big bird.

Western Gull

My coworker also spotted this Anna's Hummingbird right outside of the famous Ghiradelli Chocolate store.  The second photo really shows how brilliant red the throat and face feathers get when just a little bit of sun shines on it.

Anna's Humminbird

We are trying to get a tour of Alcatraz for tomorrow but tickets are sold out.  Who would have thought that I would ever have trouble getting INTO a prison?  Go figure.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bling - Bird Style

Shorebirds are showing up in the Villas by the dozens and the hundreds.  This weekend was the first that we saw large numbers of Sanderlings joining the Dunlins who hung around all winter. Scanning the flock revealed one Sanderling who stood out from the rest due to the green flag on his leg.  I got close enough to the bird to get a few photos and then realized that the bird had more bling than just one flag.  This bird had a green flag, a metal band, a blue band, and a green and white band.  That's more bling than Liz Taylor.

 Check out all of the hardware this bird has to lug around.

 I reported this to BirdBanders.org . We'll see if they send me any information on the bird's travels. This is a great website that explains the bands and how to report resightings.  Any information is used by scientists.

Here he is with a few "friends".  

Of course, birds don't have friends but shorebirds certainly like to hang around together for protection.  The Sanderling is the one with the "jewelry" facing left. The bird in the water is a Dunlin.  Notice he has a longer bill that droops slightly.  The bird running toward the camera might be a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, but I am unsure.

Bonaparte's Gulls (3 birds at center), Laughing Gull (left), and Ring-billed Gull (right)

Bonaparte's gulls will soon be Bona-depart's gulls (get it?) when they leave us to head north.  These are dainty gulls that keep me smiling in winter until the Laughing gulls return from Florida.

Next post from California - hopefully.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rare Hummingbird in NJ

The texts started on March 1st.  4, 5, 6 text messages per day stating that a Broad-tailed Hummingbird was at a feeder in West Cape May. Every day, the texts came "Broad-tail still on Batts Lane", "BTHU today".  The bird was originally thought to be a Rufous Hummingbird until it started to molt and showed more red throat feathers than a Rufous.  This bird even had the experts fooled until that day.

Don't get me wrong, Rufous Hummingbird is also rare on the East Coast where we are supposed to only get one kind - Ruby-throated.  But a Broad-tailed had never been recorded in NJ before, so this one skyrocketed to celebrity.  An overnight sensation.  Birders from all over came to the yard on Batts Lane to see the bird - including me.  I was there 3 times standing on the street without seeing the bird.

The last time the bird was seen was on March 18th presumably back to Colorado or another western state to melt into the crowd of cool hummingbirds and become just another Broad-tailed at some old lady's feeder. I had given up.

Well, today was our lucky day. Today, the bird showed up again on Batts Lane after being absent for 2 weeks.  Today, we got the text at 8 AM and was at the property 15 minutes later. Today, we stood on the front lawn with the owner and another birder and actually saw the bird.  Today, I got these photos of the first ever Broad-tailed Hummingbird in NJ.

 Here he is sitting on a twig eyeing up the feeder.

Here he is just back from the feeder for a rest.

Check out the rufous patch on the side, the eye ring, the dark feathers under the chin (which are really bright magenta/red when the sun hits them), and the long tail.  This is what distinguishes this as a Broad-tailed Hummingbird and not a Rufous or Ruby-throated.  Now you know.