Sunday, March 31, 2013


Roxy and I took a nice walk at Cox Hall Creek in the Villas early yesterday morning.  We saw alot of birds.  I thought that I saw my FOY (First of Year) Phoebe and took a few quick photos but now, I'm not sure what kind of bird this is. . .

Mystery Bird
 I'm showing 2 photos which are not cropped. Unfortunately, I don't have a side view of the bird to see the color of wings or whether the bird has wingbars or not. You can kind of infer wingbars from the front view. 

Mystery Bird
Feel free to post comments with your ID thoughts. Thanks.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Mother Needs Help

Yesterday, I headed out to chase after a gull that I need for the contest.  I didn't get the gull, but I did get an opportunity to help a new mother with her kids. The mother was an American Woodcock - which is a shorebird that lives in the woods.

I noticed Mom standing along the side of the road pumping up and down. She was on the shoulder of the road at a very busy and dangerous intersection along Rt 347.  Initially, I thought she had been hit by a car, so I flipped a U-turn to see if I could help.  I got out of the car and started toward her.  She instinctively hunkered down to hide from me as she would when she is in the woods which would have totally camouflaged her.  Unfortunately for her, she was on asphalt so the camo didn't work out so well.  I got really close before she flew away across the highway.  It was then that I noticed the 4 dark fluff balls that were also trying to camouflage themselves on the asphalt - BABIES!  I panicked and just scooped them up - 2 in each hand and ran them across the road.  I gently plopped them into the grass behind the guardrail and ran away hoping that Mom would find them quickly.

In the meantime, I was drawing attention from other drivers - and a police officer who was happy to find out that I didn't need help. I hope Mom and babies learned a lesson about trying to cross the highway.  I ended up with a hand full of baby Woodcock poop and no photos. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Site Was Hacked

Sorry if you got weird ads over the last few days. The blog was hacked and infected with an adware that may have shown you things that were inappropriate.  I think I have it fixed. Please let me know if you are still experiencing the problem.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Burning Daylight

Thank goodness for daylight savings time. Otherwise, I would have probably missed out on 3 birds this week.  First, I went back to that cattle/horse farm in Salem county down by the Cowtown Rodeo to look for the Yellow-headed Blackbird right after work on Wednesday.  I have been here 3 other times looking for the Crested Caracara and the YHBB (Yellow-headed Blackbird) and have busted every time.  Well, I finally had success thanks to a couple of ladies who were scanning through the thousands of blackbirds and found it.  There were a thousand birds.  Our bird was "behind the horse" (not kidding). This is our view.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
I had a bonus that day when a thousand Snow Geese flew in and landed in one of the fields.  While scanning the flock looking for anything unusual, 2 terrific things happened. First, the Crested Caracara flew above the geese right through my binocular view.  Then, I heard a Meadowlark and then saw him popping around in the grass in front of the geese.  Pretty cool!  I didn't get a very good photo of the Caracara, but I did get goot photos of the Meadowlark.

Eastern Meadowlark and Snow Geese
 These are pretty birds with a great song too.  Here is the best photo that I have of one.
Eastern Meadowlark
Thursday after work, Patty and I took a mad dash to Asbury Park to try to see a Pacific Loon that was reported there by a very reliable source - Scott Barnes from the NJ Audubon.  He gave us great directions and also great tips on how to differentiate the Pacific Loon from the Common Loon.  It only took us 20 minutes to find the Pacific Loon.  Unfortunately, the bird was too far offshore for a good photo. We had to use scopes to identify the bird.

As if that wasn't enough for the week, an email came in on Friday stating that a Tufted Duck was being seen at Parvin State Park - once again in Salem County NJ.  Once again, I dashed out of work and was rewarded with a life bird and another bird to add to the Big Year list.  It was also a great learning experience for identifying ducks that all look very similar.  Check out this photo. There are 3 different species of ducks in this photo - Ring-necked Duck on the left, Tufted Duck in the middle, and Lesser Scaup on the right.  They all look alike at first glance but take a closer look.  The Tufted Duck has the tufts of feathers on the back of his head which is the obvious tip but also notice the bright white sides and black back.  The Ring-necked Duck should really be called Ring-BILLED Duck since it has that fancy bill but is also has gray sides (and no tuft).  The Lesser Scaup has a gray back and rounded head. 

Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck, Lesser Scaup
Here is another photo showing which 2 species?

Tufted Duck, Ring-necked Duck
 But wait, there's more.  Remember back in December when I saw the Western Tanager in Cape May Courthouse (Hanging on the Corner)?  Well, it doesn't count for the contest since I saw it in December and never bothered to go look at it again in January before it disappeared.  Guess what?  Another one just showed up in Cape May Point at someone's bird feeder!

Western Tanager

Here is a recap of my day today:  Dog field at 7:15, packed up and out the door by 8:30, picking up a server from a firehouse at 9:30, coaching a playoff hockey game at 11:15 (W), playing a hockey game at 12:45 (L), eating lunch at 2:30, viewing the Western Tanager in Cape May at 4:15, taking a photo of my FOY Osprey and Blue-winged Teal at 4:45, searching for a gull at 5:30, home by 7:30, and writing this at 10:00.  Oh, did I mention that we have company staying with us this weekend?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Like Finding a Needle in a Haystack

Another rare bird in our area this year is the LeConte's Sparrow that has wintered in Chester County. Patty and I made 2 attempts to see the bird.  The first trip was Wed after work with the help of the land manager, Kevin.  No luck.  It was really like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Here is the haystack.  Try finding a tiny little sparrow in that mess. We literally walked through the tall grass until the bird popped up and flew into a nearby tree.  We felt bad about doing it, but the land manager says that it happens all of the time. 

Here is the needle - LeConte's Sparrow which we found on Friday.  I sure hope this guy gets back to the upper mid-west where he belongs! 
LeConte's Sparrow

A bonus for Wednesday's attempt were the many Bluebirds in the field.  This is the best photo that I have of one that shows the stunning blue.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Poor Car

I'm running the wheels off of my little Fiat.  So far this week, I've been to Allentown PA, Cape May, Philly, Sea Bright NJ, and Chester County - all before or after work.  This is a long story without photos, so be prepared . . .

First, I left the house at 5:15 AM and sped up the northeast extension of the PA Turnpike to a quarry near Allentown to see that damned Barnacle Goose. I arrived before dawn to find the entire quarry hidden by fog and locked away behind chain link fence on private property.  I drove up and down Rt 326 with the daily commuters and heavy construction trucks looking for a way in to the quarry.  I finally saw a little opening in the fence along the road, so I parked the car at the quarry entrance just before the "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs and walked up the road along the shoulder.  The walk was scary enough but nothing compared to what I found at the fence opening.  The fence was literally at the ledge of the quarry.  The other side of the opening was about 100 feet above the water on a sheer vertical cliff.  I hate heights.  I mean it, I almost fainted.  Ask Connie about our hot air balloon experience sometime.  So there I was - gripping the chain link fence for 20 minutes waiting for the fog to part so that I could see the geese below.  Four geese appeared out of the mist, then another 10, then about 100 Snow Geese took flight, then nothing.  Finally, more geese starting gliding into view and viola - there was a smaller, blacker goose with a bigger white patch on the head - the Barnacle Goose!  Let me get the hell out of here. . .

I quickly regrouped at the car and went speeding back down the Turnpike, over the bridge, down Rt 55 and into Jake's Landing Road where another birder had reported 3 sparrows the day before - Seaside, Saltmarsh, and Nelson's - all of which I need for the list.  I love Jake's Landing. It was so soothing after my harrowing experience at the quarry. Nothing to fear here. The marsh was flooded due to last week's storm which was probably good for me since the birds were pushed up to the parking lot.  I had all 3 species within 15 minutes.  No good photos however.

Off to my next stop - Tuckahoe WMA for Golden Eagle and Eurasian Wigeon.  This proved to be frustrating since I have never been there before.  The map on GPS makes it look like a road runs through the area but it doesn't.  The road is blocked at both ends but only after you have to drive down dirt roads strewn with pot holes.  Remember, I'm in a Fiat here bumping along.  My first attempt was a total bust - no ducks, no hawks, no eagles, no nothing except a lonely swan.  So I went bumping along to the other entrance. This time, I walked out on the "road" and the eagle flew right past me!  One down, one to go.  After a lot of scanning around the impoundment, I managed to find the Eurasian Wigeon.  Let me get the hell out of here . . .

Next stop, Salem county to search for Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Ring-necked Pheasants.  Busted on both so back to the office in Philly for some real work.  Sigh. 

On Tuesday, I made up for lost time at work. No birding at all due to really bad weather. On Wed, Patty arranged for us see a LeConte's sparrow in Chester County.  This is a rare bird that has been there since December, but has not been reported on the Internet due to being on private property. The park ranger agreed to meet us after work and take us onto the property which was really nice.  Unfortunately, we only saw a brief glimpse of a bird that was probably the LeConte's.  Sigh. I don't think we can count it.  We will have to go back another day and hope to see it. 

On Wed, I found myself leaving the house at 5:30 again in order to be in Sea Bright NJ (think Hurricane Sandy territory) by 7 AM in hopes of seeing the Western Grebe that was reported over the weekend.  As you can guess by now - I drove up and down Ocean Ave for an hour looking of that bird without success.  There is a high sea wall between the road and the ocean which made it difficult to scout for the bird.  Plus it was really cold and windy.  Ugh.

I do not have any photos from running around this week, so here are a few from Sunday. First is a Merlin trying to blend into the tree snag.


Next photo is a bunch of Savannah Sparrows hanging out.

Savannah Sparrows
I hope to have more successful news and photos next.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Long Week of Winter Bird Clean Up

This contest is like having a second job. It is now March and it is time to clean up lingering birds that I need to see before they fly the coup!  First of all, there have been Crested Caracaras all over the place in New Jersey this winter which I have not been able to see. Then, as if sent from heaven - another one showed up in Delaware on Friday.  Patty and I decided to make a run for Delaware to see it. I left the house at 4:30 AM and met Patty in Delaware at 6 AM.  We wanted to get to the bird before it took off looking for roadkill which would make it harder to find.  We were in Bethany Beach by 7:15 and had the bird by 7:30.

Take THAT Jersey birds.

Crested Caracara
We did really well on Saturday wracking up 5 new birds before 10:30 AM including the elusive Snow Buntings, Black-necked Stilt, Horned Lark and American Avocet - shown below.

American Avocet

Oh, did I mention that I needed to be back in Philly by noon in order to coach a hockey game?  Yep. I left Patty at Bombay Hook and made it back to coach the team to victory.  I was back on the road by 2:30 - this time with Diane driving.  We were in Atlantic City watching Marbled Godwits, Oystercatchers and Willets before 4 PM. In the Villas by 5 PM.  On the beach with a beer  to walk the dogs and watch a beautiful sunset by 5:30. And out to dinner at Jake's by 6:30.  What a day!

Unfortunately, Sunday was kind of a bust for the Big Year although still exhausting.  We didn't get anything new.  Patty went out to Tuckahoe and got Eurasian Wigeon and Golden Eagle while Diane and I spent an hour searching for Yellow-headed Blackbirds which we couldn't find before heading back to Philly to play another hockey game and then off to our niece Meaghan's 21st birthday party in West Chester.

Are you exhausted from reading this? Wait til the next post.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Delaware - 5 Owls, Cops, and Update

Intriguing title eh?  First the update - the Bullock's Oriole that I saw last Wed at 3:30 PM hasn't been seen since.  Apparently, I was the last person to see it. Thank goodness I got a photo of it. 

Now for the cops.  The cops have not questioned me in the disappearance of the Oriole if that's what you were thinking.  Patty and I did a big day in Delaware to try to scoop up some bird species that we need for the stupid contest.  I made a list and planned a route that took us all the way down to Indian River Inlet which is below Rehoboth and Dewey Beach to get an Eared Grebe.  Needless to say, I was driving faster than the speed limit on Route 1.  They had a pretty intensive speed trap set up and busted me.  We took advantage of the forced stop to scan for Pipits and Larks in the field, but all we got was an $80 ticket.

Looking for Pipits
After that brief stop, we headed to Indian River Inlet. I was already heading up onto the new (beautiful) bridge when Patty yelled "they have scopes out down there!" so we turned around and went back over the bridge.  Lucky for us that she noticed the people with scopes because they were all looking at our target bird - then Eared Grebe.  They are very rare in our area and a very stunning looking bird in summer.  In winter, they are as drab as you can imagine. The bird was pretty far out in the back bay, but we clearly saw it through our scopes.

We crossed the bridge for a third time and headed out to the jetty at the end of the inlet to scope for other birds.  We had close looks at Great Cormorants, a few ducks and scoters but no Snow Buntings which we were really hoping to see. This is a pretty good photo of Great Cormorant as it flew past us into the inlet. 

Great Cormorant
Over the bridge for the 4th time heading north to Silver Lake in Rehoboth, we got Canvasback ducks which I needed for the contest.  Here is a pretty good shot of a female fluffing her wings.  There were about 400 Canvasbacks on the lake but most of them were asleep.

We continued north to Cape Henlopen in search of another target bird - the Brown-headed Nuthatch.  This is about the only place in our area to see this bird.  After driving around the park aimlessly for awhile, we finally hit pay dirt at the Nature Center where these little cuties were supposed to be regulars at the feeder.  The feeder was covered with Red-winged Blackbirds when we arrived and no nuthatches in sight.  We accidentally got the nuthatches to come out by getting too close to the feeders and chasing the blackbirds away.  Once the blackbirds were gone, all of the little birds came rushing in including our target.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Carolina Chickadee

Here is a great photo showing 4 species of birds on the feeder at the same time.  Pine Siskin on the left, Brown-headed Nuthatch in front, House Fnch on the right and Chickadee in the back (I know you can't see the Chickadee in the photo, but trust me). 
Pine Siskin, Brown-headed Nuthatch, House Finch
We crossed the Indian River bridge 2 more times in hopes of getting the Snow Buntings but never got them.  By now, it was 2 o'clock so we headed to our final stop of the day - Bombay Hook NWR.  We planned this as our last stop in hopes of getting Barn Owl, Black-necked Stilts, Avocets, and ducks.

We didn't get the Stilts or Avocets, but we did get owls. In fact, we got 5 species of owls in a matter of 2 hours, which is just unbelievable to me.  A few people in our club know Bombay Hook like the back of their hands and told us that there are Barn Owls nesting in the maintenance shed.  Although that area is off limits to visitors, we were told that you can hear the owls scream from the parking lot and occasionally get to see the owls flying past as they depart for a night of hunting so we planned to hang around the parking lot.  I mentioned something to the ranger in the visitor center about this and she told us that we were not allowed in the park after dark. No big deal. We would just park outside of the gate.

She also told us that we might be able to hear a Barred Owl back in the woods at Finniss Pool and may be able to see a Screech Owl poking his head out of a Wood Duck box if we were lucky.  We drove to the Finniss Pool area and parked.  I made my Barred Owl call - "who cooks for you, who cooks for allllll" a few times then, an amazing thing happened - a Barred Owl called back to me from the other side of the water.  We almost fell over.  This has never happened to me before.  The call has never worked until now. 

We pressed our luck and stopped at another patch of woods to see if we could get a Screech Owl. This time, we played a taped call from our iPhones. Miraculously, a Screech Owl called back from deep in the woods! Owl number 2.  We also heard a Great-horned Owl call from the woods - number 3.  We stopped along the road to scan the marshes for Short-eared Owl and got to see the Great-horned owl perched in a tree.  We saw a few Harriers and a possible Short-eared owl, but couldn't confirm it.  The ranger came along and told us that we needed to leave the park, so we headed to the main gate and parked outside with about 6 other carloads of people who were also hoping for Barn Owl and Woodcock display. A large owl flew past the group which looked like a Great-horned.  We stood there for 30 minutes.  Some people left.  Finally at 6:37, the Barn Owl screamed from the maintenance area.  Success! Owl number 4.  We stood there with 2 other people hoping to hear it again when all of a sudden, another owl flew past us.  This owl had long wings and wasn't flapping - Short-eared Owl - number 5 for the day.  Holy crap.  5 owl species in 2 hours.  Holy crap. Totally worth the trip and the speeding ticket. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Patience Paid Off

Last weekend, Barbara, Patty and I went up to Green Lane area to see the Bullock's Oriole that has been coming to some lady's feeder this winter. The Bullock's Oriole is another western bird that somehow ended up in Pennsylvania. The bird is rare for this area but has spent the past 2 winters in the same neighborhood which is odd.  We spent a few hours standing around with a crowd of about a dozen birders waiting for the bird to arrive. You guessed it, no show.  We left dejected since this should have been an easy bird to see.

Later in the week, I found myself at an appointment in Montgomery county and decided to try again.  I stood there for hours - this time alone - waiting for the bird to show up. The homeowner came out to say hello and go about her business. I  took multiple conference calls on my cell phone while standing there in the wind. I sat in the car for a few minutes to warm up.  And . . . Success!  The bird showed up at 3:30 to eat the suet and orange slices, then took off again about 5 minutes later.  This is the only decent photo that I able to get.

Bullock's Oriole