Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catch Up - Before I'm Old

Sorry for the gap in posts.  I've been busy at work and also took my first backpacking trip of my life last weekend which kept me away from the computer. Here is a quick catch up.  First, some other photos from our trip to Maine because I would feel bad if I didn't post them.

 First up - Common Eiders which are one of the largest ducks. You are all very familiar with these ducks if you own a down comforter since they use these feathers in alot of those products. Don't worry, they don't kill the ducks (most of the time). We see these ducks off of the Barnegat Light jetty in winter but they are usually pretty far out in the water.  Here they are on their home turf. The first photo shows a female sitting on seaweed. She blends in pretty well.

Female Common Eider
 I did a pretty good job of capturing birds in flight on this trip - including both female and male.

Female Common Eider

Male Common Eider
 Here is a group of males sitting on the rocks. They are probably trying to get out of nest work.

Male Common Eiders
The coolest bird of the trip for me was Arctic Tern.  They look alot like every other mid-sized tern. Most people wouldn't give them a second look. But I know that they are only found up north and I'm glad that we had some experts on the boat that could point out the field marks for me. The first photo shows Arctic Tern. The second photo shows Common Tern.  Can you tell the difference?

Arctic Tern

Common Tern
I'll post a story about our backpacking trip later this week. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ross Island - Blowing My Mind

The whole trip is really made possible through the work of Dr. Steven Kress. He is the guy who had the idea to restore Puffins to Maine.  The birds were eliminated from the state through hunting and egg collecting back in 1885 or something like that.  Dr. Kress had the idea to take a few Puffin chicks from Newfoundland and put them on a rock island in Maine and hand feed them to see if they would come back to breed. That was back in the 1970's. The birds did come back to the island (after 7 years at sea).  And now there are about 600 Puffins in Maine breeding successfully.  He also works on other islands restoring gulls and terns and other sea birds too.  Well, he doesn't actually work on the islands - he has interns to do that now. 

One of the islands that he manages is Ross Island. We took a field trip there and actually went onto the island to see gull nests. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but apparently the gulls are in trouble up in Maine and need help.  Check out these photos. The first photo shows our method of arrival.  The rocks were covered with seaweed and VERY slippery.  We had to hold onto each other to climb up to the dry rocks.

Once we were on the rock, Dr. Kress gave us the lecture about the gulls and terns. He is a master at giving the talk and getting people to care.  Of course, I couldn't paying close attention when there were so many birds to photograph :-)
Dr. Kress addressing the group
The gulls are not exotic - just Great Black-backed and Herring gulls which are the same gulls that we see at the shore.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

It was pretty neat to see their nests and eggs.  Then the strangest thing happened - Dr. Kress walked over to a nest and picked up one of the eggs.  I couldn't believe my eyes!  It has been drilled into us since we were little kids to never go near a nest let alone pick up an egg, but here was the famous bird guy doing it.  Then he proceeded to show us that the baby bird was trying to get out of the egg - it was pecking it's way out.  Then, as if that weren't enough, he put the egg up to everyone's ear so that they could hear the chick pecking and cooing! 

Great Black-backed Gull egg - hole on right side

Bird Nerds listening to the egg

Get ready to have your mind blown here because mine sure was. After we all listened to the egg, Dr. Kress put it back in the nest and proceeded to grab 2 Herring gull chicks out of another nest and pass them around!  I swear, I almost had a cow.

Barbara and chick

Linda and chick

Lori and chick

Tara and chick
These two chicks made the rounds and were returned to the nest. The one that Tara and I had was really chirping. I felt bad for him but he was no worse for wear.

Herring Gull chicks in the nest
Mom seemed happy to have her brood back too.  She waddled back over to the nest and promptly settled in.
Herring Gull - Mom and Chicks
Anyway, you might not think that was unusual but I sure did.  It was the best field trip of the entire week.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

OK, OK, The Maine Event

Yes, we saw birds in Maine but not as many as we had hoped. We took field trips to the main(e)land to see birds that pass through Philly during migration but nest in Maine. We saw one of this and two of that. For the most part, we heard warblers more than saw warblers since they were mostly buried in the tall, dense forest.  Here are a few photos.

The first photo is Alder Flycatcher which you usually can't identify by sight since it looks so much like a Willow Flycatcher (in fact, they both used to be called Traill's Flycatcher until recently).  This photo shows a full eye ring which is pretty diagnostic of Alder - the Willow doesn't have it.  I also thought this was a funny photo due to the grass making a loop around the bird's head.  She was obviously making her nest nearby.

Alder Flycatcher
 This next bird is Chestnut-sided Warbler which is just a fantastic looking bird.  It is named for the chestnut blotches on it's side, but could just as easily be called the yellow-crowned warbler or masked warbler or any number of other names.  This is the best photo that I have of the bird.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
 Here is Common Yellowthroat.  Again, this bird could be called Masked Warbler or something else but this photo shows that yellow throat pretty well. This guy just hauled off with songs right in front of us for about 5 minutes.

Common Yellowthroat
 Here is a female Red-winged Blackbird. She looks alot different from the male. Here she is with nesting material.

Red-winged Blackbird
 One of the few birds that we saw on the trip that was rare for us was this Vesper Sparrow. I need one of these for the Big Year Stupid Contest.  Unfortunately, this one doesn't count since I saw it in Maine. He liked to sit on top of this rock in the blueberry field. I think his nest was nearby since he disappeared under the rock with this bug soon after the photo was taken.

Vesper Sparrow
 A very common bird for us is Yellow Warbler.  Their song is "sweet, sweet, sweet, little bit sweet" which you can hear any time you walk near any kind of water.  Here is a male that posed for us along one of our walks.

Yellow Warbler
We took boat trips out to the rock islands in the Gulf of Maine to see seabirds that only come ashore to nest.  We hiked on small islands to see birds too.  The star of the show had to be the Puffins.  We saw about 2 dozen Puffins around Egg Rock Island which is where they nest.  Most were bobbing around in the water or sitting on the rocks.  Here are a few pretty good photos.  The weather was pretty yucky - overcast and drizzling most of the trip so the photos aren't the best.

Atlantic Puffin
Here are 2 shots of Puffins with grass in their beaks to make their nests.  They nest in burrows under the rocks on the island so I guess the grass makes it cushier.

Atlantic Puffin
 This is the best photo that I think I'll ever get of a Puffin.  I couldn't believe it turned out this well.  Check out the big orange feet.

Atlantic Puffin
 Here is a shot of the island.  The structure is a bird blind which is used by interns as they monitor the nesting.  The interns keep tabs on the chicks etc.  You can see that the 5 Puffins don't mind it at all.  It looks like they are lined up for to go into a photo booth or something.

Puffins on Egg Island

I have other bird photos that I'll post later.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Rainy days and Tuesdays - Hog Island, Day 2

This is Di again.

It rained all day today. The facilitators decided to put on a few workshops today to keep the campers engaged, but we decided that we wanted to get out and get moving today, so we hiked the perimeter of the island - in the rain.

We got our rain gear on, which included rain pants, slickers and whatever waterproof boots we had, and headed out. The map below shows our route. The camp is at the north end of the island, actually it's the peninsula.We figure we hiked about six miles in three hours.
Hog Island map
It was really pouring when we started our walk. We heard a few birds along the way, including black-throated green warbler, song sparrow, yellow rumps, juncos and a golden-crowned kinglet. The trail was mostly well marked. We saw some old cabins and hiked right along the water in some spots, which afforded us some views that we consider when thinking of typical Maine scenery.
Early part of our walk

Lori and Tara at one of the cottages in the woods (unoccupied)
Di and Barbara - Windy, rainy coast

Barbara (close) and Linda (far) looking for lobsters
 We rounded the southern tip of the island and headed back on the west coast, where the wind was blowing at about 20+ mph. We saw a bunch of lobster "parts" along this trail, from what we assume is a racoon or some other critter hunting for lobsters that get caught up in the seaweed along the beach.

The camp was founded by a woman in the late 1800's - the plaque below describes this.
Hog Island dedication plaque
We arrived back at our rooms, soaking wet, cold and tired. After lunch, there were more workshops, but we decided to hunker down under some blankets in our rooms and relax. Linda will probably post more about the birds I didn't mention, as well as add some other photos.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah...

Here I am at, Camp Hog Island (okay, okay, I know it doesn't rhyme!).

This is Di, posting a blog about our first couple days at Hog Island Audubon Bird Camp, in Maine. That's right - our "vacation" is a Joy of Birding camp - and I do mean camp. Let me take  moment to describe what it's like to stay here.

 Hog Island hosts is an Auduon-operated place that runs various kinds of adult and kid camps throughout the summer, all with nature conservation in mind.  The island is about 300-acres, about 1/4 mile from shore. We arrived on Sunday and were greeted by the Snowgoose III, the camp's boat that is used to transport "campers" from the mainland to the island, and also for boat excursions.

Our transport to the island
That's Hog Island - not very far offshore
The main entrance - very patriotic
Campers are housed in various buildings on the property. We are staying in a boarding house, of sorts. Our building is called the Port Hole and it has 14 rooms (there are two or three other rooming houses). Our rooms are on the second floor, at the end of the hallway. Linda is next door and Lori and Tara are across the hall (Connie stayed home, as she's still sick and didn't want to chance it on this trip. Too bad - wish she were here with us.).  There's a bathroom on each floor. Ours has three sinks, three toilets and two showers. Never having stayed in a dorm or gone to summer camp, it is interesting to brush my teeth next to strangers.

The Port Hole building
The "bigger" dorm room

Linda's room
There are about 60 people here at camp, including some instructors and camp volunteers. Mostly women, which I find unusual since we see mostly men birding down in Cape May. These folks are here from all over the country, and many of them are here by themselves. There's one room where six solo women are lumped into the same, open room - six beds. Guess they'll all getting to know each other quickly, and finding how who snores. The other campers are all getting quite a kick out of our "gang" from Philly. The food is very good. We all eat in the dining room at tables of eight seats. Linda knows one woman here from when she went searching for rails in DE. She and another younger woman from Missouri usually eat with our group. All tables include one of the instructors and we're supposed to rotate tables at each meal to get to know them all and pick their brains.

They split us up into two groups for our outings - the terns and guillemots, and the parulas and loons. We're with the terns.Yesterday, in the sunniest and nicest weather,  the parulas and loons went out on a boat trip to Egg Island to see puffins. Our group went to the mainland, all piled into five vans, and drove to a few different spots looking for birds. We went on a nice hike at our second stop and we got to see great looks at bobolinks (here's the bird part of the blog). Here's a photo of our group at Great Salt Bay Farm, where we saw bobolinks, RWBB's and heard a Sora whinny-ing.

The Terns and Guillemots on the mainland
Female and Male Bobolinks - very cool looking
There isn't much free time here at camp. They run programs in the Fish House (meeting room building) after dinner each night. Last night we learned about the Mt. Washington weather observatory,  and hawk identification. By 8:00, we could barely keep our eyes open. Because we're so far east up here, the sun is up before 5:00 AM, which means no sleeping in.

It poured rain here all day today and the wind was blowing a gale (are we in the Villas?)! More about our rainy day tomorrow. But for now, here's a photo of Ignacious, the resident porcupine. We've seen him three times so far - once up in the apple tree and twice more in the flower beds, chomping on the plants. We are keeping our distance, for fear of having to remove quills from various body parts.

Ignacious (and Di's fat ass)
Time for a post-garden visit to the rest room for Ignacious!
Here's hoping for better weather tomorrow so we can get to see the puffins and razorbills.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


We finally got a break in the weather this week - in fact it's actually HOT. And - migration is pretty much over so I'm looking for birds that are here for the summer.  There are a few that I don't really have much knowledge of - Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper.  We met Harvey at a new place this morning  called Negri-Nepolte Preserve to see a Dickcissel  that has been reported there for a week. 

The good news is that for once, we found the target bird on the first try.  Plus, we got Grasshopper Sparrow too.  Fantastic. Here is the male Dickcissel singing from a shrub in the field close the path. This guy was really accommodating and perched here twice.


Here is the Grasshopper Sparrow.  This guy kept bringing big bugs to the same shrub which probably means that his mate is sitting on a nest in the shrub.

Grasshopper Sparrow
I have no idea what kind of bug it was. Wait til you see the next story.