Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trying to Improve

I set a few goals for 2014. The first is to concentrate on improving my photography so I bought the Canon 7D guide to learn about my camera.  So far, so good. Barbara and I sat on the deck yesterday and reset some of the settings on the camera. I think it helped. Here are some photos from today.

The first few are from the yard. The day started out foggy but the beggar birds were happy to pose for me. One of the Great Egrets in in breeding plumage. They get flowy feathers off the back. I crept around to the this angle so that I got a clear black background against the white bird.

Great Egret
This is the same photo cropped so that you can see the other breeding bit which is the green facial patch.  It is really bright.
Great Egret - breeding
Here is another one of the birds that hang around the dock - Little Blue Heron. I cropped this to show the reddish head.
Little Blue Heron
Most of the Nerds went out on the boat again today. Connie and I decided to go birding at Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area and then meet the girls down by Pine Island for a shorter ride. It was a great decision for us. Some photos from Babcock-Webb. The first photo is Common Gallinule which used to be called Common Moorhen. I like Moorhen better.  Check out that big red front on the bill.

Common Gallinule
We went in searching for Bachman's Sparrow which I have been trying to see for a long time. I thought we had it but after reviewing the photos, the sparrow turned out to be a Grasshopper Sparrow. The photo is not very good, but I learned how to switch between Manual and Autofocus which allowed me to get this shot.

Grasshopper Sparrow
We left Babcock-Webb and headed south to Pine Island to meet the girls. They picked us up in the boat and we rode over to Cayo Costa for a picnic lunch and hike out to the beach.  We were pleasantly surprised to find this Bald Eagle sitting on a piling in the harbor. What a beauty!

Bald Eagle
Here is the same photo cropped to just show the Eagle's head. I can't believe that the photo above was so clear that I could crop it and still get the photo below which is pretty sharp.

Bald Eagle - head shot
It allowed us to get pretty close before getting spooked. Here it is just after take off. I call this one "Peek-a-Boo" because you can see the Eagle's head through the wing feathers.
Bald Eagle - Peek-a-Boo
Not to be outdone, this Osprey posed pretty well on another channel marker while eating a fish. He posed for us as we floated by on our way back to the dock. You can see the half-eaten fish under his feet. Eeewww, gross. 
Osprey eating fish
I think these shots are much better than I would have had last week due to the changed settings. First, I set the focus point to be more precise. I also set the focus to follow the object (in this case, the bird) if it moves. We shall see if this success continues. . .

Monday, January 27, 2014

Much Needed Change of Scenery

After being tied to the Delaware Valley for the Contest, suffering winter temperatures in the single digits and shoveling snow once a week, it feels great to be in Florida with the Nerds. We were on the boat for most of the day and got to see some cool birds.  Here are American White Pelicans. I've seen a few here and there - even had one in Delaware for the Contest last year but I have never seen this many together. This little spit of sand was literally covered with them.

American White Pelicans
This is a menacing sight to any bird out on the open ocean. It is a Magnificent Frigatebird. These birds do not hunt for their own food. Instead, they soar high in the air and wait for a gull or tern to catch a fish and then swoop in to steal the meal.

Magnificent Frigatebird
On our way back to the house, we saw this Osprey bringing a stick back to the nest. I snapped this just as the Osprey was landing. It looks like he is balancing on the stick.

We have alot of birds right at the house due to the fact that the neighbors feed them. They come running, flying and swimming in every time they see a person near the dock hoping for a free meal. Here is one of the immature Brown Pelicans coming in for a landing.

Brown Pelican
And here he is staring me down demanding some food. He didn't get any - yet.

Brown Pelican
We bought some bait fish and will be feeding the beggars tomorrow. I hope to get some good shots.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Just Can't Stop Myself

I started Friday morning back at the Phila International Airport at 7 AM to try to see that Snowy Owl again. I busted for a 7th time. That owl just doesn’t want me to see it! Here is a link to the Project Snow Storm map of "Philly's" movements. ( I have spent hours looking at runway 27R without seeing the owl. Ugh.

After giving up, I picked up donuts for the office and then my coworker Mark and I headed out to York PA for a client meeting. We left the office a little early so that we would have some time to scour the farms in Lancaster County for the Snowy Owls that have been reported there. We headed to Farmersville Rd first and found a murder of crows. They were casually picking at the corn stubble.  We figured that there was no Snowy Owl in the area since the crows would have probably found it and harassed it already.  We drove around the area slowly using the flashers. This is Amish country so it was interesting to see the horse and buggies, teens on bicycles and laundry hanging out on the wash line in 5 degree weather. That laundry was as stiff as a board!

No owl to be found but we did get great looks at a single Lapland Longspur amongst the Horned Larks in one of the fields. If you have been reading this blog carefully over the past year or so, you know that the LALO (short-hand for Lapland Longspur) was almost impossible for me to see for the contest. I only got a glimpse of 2 as they flew past us on Stone Harbor Point only to disappear in the dune grass.  

Horned Larks and LALO (left most bird)
The experts were right. They told me that Lapland Longspurs are much easier to spot when there is snow on the ground since they tend to be near the edge of the fields where the ground is exposed. That is precisely where we found this juvenile LALO.  He is not much to look at now, but he will be handsome come summer when he sports a black throat and rich cinnamon neck.

Lapland Longspur
We met another carload of birders from Maryland who also could not find an owl.  We gave up and headed to our meeting with an empty feeling. We met a really nice new client at York YMCA. Turns out that he is from Philly - a  Father Judge HS graduate!

I had sent out a note to the PA Birders email list on Thursday asking for information about the Lancaster birds. I received many responses but it was Bob Ferguson’s info that inadvertently paid off – he suggested Habecker Church Rd which we hit after our meeting. We didn't see an owl there, but we did meet another couple who were looking for that owl too. The driver told me that he just left the Musser School Rd owl so that is where we headed. The guy gave us great directions and viola! My coworker got his lifer Snowy Owl and I got #8 – a beautiful dark female owl. She was tucked in with some tobacco stubble. Here is the idyllic Amish farmland scene. Can you find the owl?

Amish Farm - Lancaster PA
 Look closely at the pile of sticks in the center of the field. The owl is sitting right there. Talk about great camoflage!  Here is a cropped view showing the owl. She occasionally looked over at us but we were pretty far away so she wasn't concerned at all.

Snowy Owl in Tobacco Stubble

It was a great ending to the day since Mark got to see a Snowy Owl. We also showed the owl to a passerby.  We are supposed to get another arctic "clipper" today, so no more owl chasing until next week. For now, I'm stuck at 8.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Well, It Happened Again

Another Snowy Owl sighting by yours truly - 2 Snowy Owls actually. The first sighting was on Saturday at the Northeast Philly airport. I took Connie up there so that she could get her "Lifer" Snowy Owl. The owl was not visible from the soccer fields so we drove up to the police station and looked into the airport from that angle - and sure enough, we spotted the owl crouched behind a blue tarp in the middle of the field.  No photo to show you on that one since it was so far away and too windy to get a photo. We did call our friend Phil so that he could come up to see the owl.

A "Lifer" is always good, but that view of the Snowy Owl was not very satisfying for Connie. I could tell by her reaction especially since she has seen my photos of other owls (take a look at previous posts).  Not to worry though. We got her a better view of one on Monday in Cape May.  Take a gander at these photos. Now THAT'S a life bird. The first photo shows you where he decided to perch to eat a seagull for lunch. The Seagull guts are actually splattered on the peak of the roof just below the owl. Thankfully, we arrived after lunch.

Rooftop Snowy Owl - Cape May NJ
Here he is looking down off the rooftop. This is a 3 story condo unit right along Beach Ave in Cape May.  I wonder if he has ever perched that high before since there are no trees in the arctic.

Snowy Owl
Here he is preening his chest feathers. I thought this was an interesting view of the top of his head. And yes, the experts think this is male due to the fine barring of the feathers on his chest and the clean white top of his head (not alot of dark markings).

Taking a bow
It was 50 degrees in Cape May yesterday.  Seemingly too hot for this guy. He sat on the roof and panted like a dog most of the time but it looks like he is laughing at a really funny joke in this photo.

You crack me up!
In case you are counting - these were Snowy Owl numbers 7 and 8 for me this winter. Who would have thunk it?

I took a quick run over to Nummy Island to see if I could get a few photos of the 2 female King Eiders that I saw there on Sunday. The photos that I took on Sunday were literally some of the worst shots that I have taken in a long time. These are a little better. Handsome in their drab brown.

Female King Eider
The 2 of them would hang around under the bridge, drift out on the tide and then fly back to the bridge when they got too far away. Here is one of the Eiders flying back to the bridge. I hung out on the rocks next to the bridge to try to get a closer view.

King Eider - Nummy Island NJ
We stayed at Biggie's overnight on Sunday so that we didn't have to unwinterize our own house. A few other people stayed too. We took them over to Cox Hall Creek to see some Redhead ducks. We were not disappointed. You can tell why they are called Redheads from this photo. Gorgeous!

Redheads - Villas NJ
The girls should have gone to Cape May with us to see the owl. I think they would have been flabbergasted.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Phila Mid-Winter Bird Census

This year's Mid-Winter Bird Census was postponed from yesterday til today due to the weather. Some of the nerds helped out since my territory was expanded due to the postponement. We covered our territory and saw a few good birds.  This was my first critter of the day. He froze just like he is supposed to. I had to use the flash on the camera since it was pretty early and dark in the woods.

I was in the woods early trying to find an owl. There are a few trees with holes in them that look like a good roost for an owl.  Oops. Look who I woke up? This guy - yes, it's a male Pileated Woodpecker. You can tell by the full red head and red on the "mustache". He looked around a few times and then took off out of the hole yacking the whole time.

Pileated Woodpecker (male)
Back at the bird feeders, this Red-tailed Hawk who was looking for a tasty meal. He left without catching a squirrel or bird.

Red-tailed Hawk

You lookin' at me?
A few of our best finds of the day were Eastern Towhee. Here are both male and female that we found up by the Police horse stables. They were really digging around in the leaf litter looking for some lunch.

Eastern Towhee - femal
I got lucky and snapped this photo just as the male grabbed a berry or something. You can see his morsel in his beak.

Eastern Towhee - male
We finally got a nice view of a group of Wood Ducks after lunch. The first photo is messy. It shows the debris and some of the trash along the creek bank but at least you can see 3 of the ducks.

Wood Ducks
Here is one of the males who came a little closer. Unfortunately, it was pretty overcast so this is the best photo that I got. These guys are pretty birds. Pretty gaudy that is! Stunning.

Wood Duck - drake
We tallied 34 species of birds for the day plus 2 Red Foxes who were frolicking around the Environmental Center. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any photos of the foxes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's Councilwoman Nerd To You

I had an interesting conversation last night with my biggest blog fan - "HH" about secret societies like the FreeMasons and Shriners and that kind of stuff. Tim and Amy recently toured a Masonic Temple building hoping to get some inside scoop on the organization. They left with no more info that when they started. HH herself was (or still is but isn't saying so) a member of a secret society. She gave us zero information. Heck, you still don't even know her real name.

What does this have to do with birds?  Not much but it gave me a segue to talk about the club that I belong to - the DVOC. This is definitely not a secret society. The club has been in existence for over 100 years. There are about a dozen living people who have been members for over 70 years. I have been a member for 2 years. I really like the club and the meetings. I've learned a lot from the members and the programs. I never imagined that I would end up on the Council. Yet, here I am. The newest member of the DVOC Council. Here's how it happened:

My phone rang while I was in a meeting with a client. I answered because I thought it might be one of my techs needing help. It wasn't a tech. It was the President of the DVOC - Art McMorris. He said that he was calling to inquire whether I would be interested in joining the Council. He said that my name had "come up in conversation" and that some people thought I would be good for the position. I was flattered to say the least. Flattery soon waned after Art described the kind of person that he wanted to see on council - I'm paraphrasing here but not embellishing.
"The kind of person that we want on Council should NOT be an excellent birder. They should NOT be out birding all of the time. This person should NOT go along with the group."   
I don't know which one of these attributes to be more upset about!  Does the club really think I'm a lousy birder? Do they think that I never go birding? Or do they think that I'm just disagreeable?  We'll find out soon enough.  I'll keep you posted. Wait til they find out how much birding I did last year for the Stupid Contest. That'll show 'em.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014

Happy New Year to all. It's the start of a new year which means a new bird list for most birders. Not me. Chasing birds for a contest is soooo 2013. Patty and I ended in a tie at 357 birds each which is 57 birds more than either of us ever planned for.  We ended the year strong by tallying 4 new birds in 2 days thanks to the Painted Bunting and Ash-throated Flycatcher that showed up in the nick of time. You already read about the other 2.

I want to say thank you to everyone who helped and supported my Big Year.  You know who you are. Some helped by providing information about birds, locations, etc. Some helped by accompanying me on the chase. Some helped by ignoring all of the chores that were left undone and time missed (Connie, that's you). I will do a Big Year recap soon.

Here are a few photos from the last day. Patty and I thought we would end the year with a nice easy bird walk through Tinicum. Patty brought a friend along (Rachel) and I brought Di and Barbara along. We had great views of this female Belted Kingfisher. She sat there in a stooper for a long time allowing us to get fairly close.

Belted Kingfisher
 And then the email came in - a Painted Bunting had been seen at a bird feeder in north Jersey.  Patty protested but deep down inside she knew we had to go get that bird. Off we went. Poor Rachel ended up getting a ride home with Di and Barbara. Roxy went with them too, along with my Fiat. Patty and I hopped in her Prius and headed north on the NJ Turnpike (again). We almost ran out of gas (in a Prius?) but got to the house and saw the bird within 2 minutes.  #356 - Check!

Painted Bunting
Of course it didn't end there. While we were headed north on the turnpike, we got a text message about an Ash-throated Flycater in - guess where - Cape May.  I don't even have to type the next sentence. You know what we did. We headed south on the Garden State Parkway and arrived in Cape May 2 hours later. Unfortunately, the flycatcher was not as accommodating as the bunting. We searched for over an hour with no luck. Luckily, Harvey showed up and spotted the bird just as we were heading back to the car to give up. Good ole Harvey saved the day! The bird popped into sight just long enough for us to get a good look through the scope but not long enough for a photo. #357 was in the bag!

Linda and Patty - #357
We raced back to Philly knowing that we were going to be late for our New Year's Eve plans with our partners but also knowing that we did the right thing by adding 2 more birds to the list. Patty and Steve headed to the riverfront for fireworks. Connie and I met Biggie and Janette for an early dinner in Jenkintown.

Done! What will I do with all of this free time?  You'll be the first to know.