Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Back in the USA

The trip to Europe was great but the timing was terrible. I all but missed the spring migration in our area by being out of the country in May. Once Memorial Day rolls around, there is not much in the way of bird life to keep us interested. Here are a few stories from the weekend.

Barbara and I got up early on Sunday and headed out to Hidden Valley Ranch in Cape May to chase a Painted Bunting that has been hanging around for over a month. This poor guy is way out of his normal range which is down in the deep south. Nonetheless, he was singing his little heart out trying to woo a gal - a nonexistent gal. It's going to be a lonely spring for him.

Painted Bunting
It's only May and we already know that the summer is going to be full of ticks. I was covered with them within the first 100 yards of the walk to find the bunting. Even the birds were covered with ticks. Check out this Carolina Wren. He has 2 ticks on his face. I cropped the photo so you could see them - one between the eye and beak, the other below the eye.

Carolina Wren - with ticks
I was covered with ticks again today when Harvey and I headed out to see if there were any interesting birds around. No neat birds but we found a few neat butterflies. Butterflies have really weird names. Thankfully, Harvey knew what they were.

Hayhurst's Scallopwing

Red-striped Hairstreak
Speaking of butterflies, Di, Barbara and I put in 2 new gardens at the Blue House this spring - all in an attempt to attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the yard. I used Pat Sutton's plant list as a guide. You can find it at New Jersey Audubon website (Click Here) .

Shade Garden

Sun Garden
If you build it, they will come. The plants weren't in the ground for an hour and viola - our first butterfly - a Skipper.

Skipper in the garden
It's not the most attractive butterfly, but you can see that he/she loves the flowers. Check out the long black tongue probing the Bluestar (amsonia).

Harvey and I were scolded by a pair of Bald Eagles today. We inadvertently got too close to their nest. Boy were they pissed. We hustled off down the path to get away from the nest but not before they told us about it. I snapped a few photos on our way out of the woods. These are 2 different eagles - one is Mom and the other is Dad. The first one has something in it's talons.

Bald Eagle

Pissed off

Saturday, May 23, 2015

More About Poland

A good tour guide asks the client what interests they have and then tries to accommodate the request as best as possible. Tomasz figured out that I was interested in seeing birds that inhabit marshes and lakes, so he adjusted our schedule to take me out to the lake. That decision was a good one. We saw 3 different tern species at the lake - Black Tern which we have in the US, Whiskered Tern which has only been reported 3 times in the US (I saw the last one. You can read about it here), and White-winged Tern which I have never seen before. The all put on a show - especially the Whiskered Terns. Here is one carrying a fish to his potential mate.

Whiskered Tern
 The White-winged terns stayed further away from the shoreline. This is the best that I could do.

White-winged Tern
The other special birds at the lake were the eagles. Europe has several eagle species. We saw 3 of them at the lake. There were at least 5 White-tailed Eagles hanging around. This young bird soared over our heads. They are a close cousin to our Bald Eagle.

White-tailed Eagle
Here is an unlikely pair - mixed - Spotted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle soaring together. It is difficult to tell them apart but trust me, there are 2 different species here.

Lesser Spotted and Spotted Eagles
Here is a closer look at Lesser Spotted Eagle. This one is molting wing feathers.

Lesser Spotted Eagle
Eagles are great but the raptor that made my day was the Hobby. This is a little falcon similar to our Kestral. The cool thing about this falcon is that it wasn't alone. There were at least 6 of them hunting dragon flies along the lake shore at once. Pretty cool. Capturing a photo of one proved difficult. This is the best that I could manage.

We needed to make our way past these guys to get out to the lake shore. The part of eastern Poland is very pastoral.

This fox was sloshing through the marshy edge of the lake hoping for some lunch. He/she was totally unaware of us since we were down wind.

 Other big birds around the lake included this Common Crane - similar to our Sandhill Crane that inhabit places like Florida (Villages).

Common Crane
And the Whooper Swan which is a pretty big swan. There were a pair of them on the lake. I have seen one of these in NJ on a lake in an RV campground. The owner of the campground actually had it flown in from Russia to keep on the lake.

Whooper Swan
When it comes to human reproduction, I'm no expert but I always thought it was strange that a stork would bring the baby considering that we have very few storks in the US and very many people. How does that work? Santa Claus - I totally get that. He has reindeer and a sled and elves but the stork seems to work alone.  My visit to Poland opened my eyes. There are storks everywhere. They nest on telephone poles and rooftops and just about anywhere you can imagine. I can totally see where the Europeans get so many babies. (Still having trouble with the US baby thing).

White Stork
Here is a close up. You can see how that giant bill can carry a full grown baby.

White Stork
All in all, the one day birding trip was a huge success. Tomasz wanted to keep going and possibly find an owl but I gave up at 6 PM so that I could drive 3 hours back to Warsaw, pack and get ready to get to the airport by 6 AM. I needed to get back home. I left Europe with 110 species in total and 35 new species. Pretty damned good for about 1 day of free time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Wild Poland

I stayed an extra day in Europe dedicated to birding. There isn't much information about birding sights that I could find, so I hired a guide to help me make the most of my time in Poland. Tomasz owns a tour company called Wild Poland. They focus on taking groups out into one of Europe's remaining old forests to look for Bison (yes, Bison), Moose and Wolves. They also take people out birding for specialty species that are usually found in Eastern Europe (aka former Soviet Union). As you can imagine, not much birding goes on in places like Belarus, a country that was only 1 mile away and yet totally inaccessible to us without a visa, etc, etc. The good news is that the birds don't understand political borders. They just want to go where the habitat is good for them to raise babies.

Tomasz recommended a lodge for Friday night and met me there at 4 AM (yes, AM) to start our day. Poland is far enough north that it was already light enough to go out at that ungodly hour. It was really cold but we immediately saw some of the eastern specialties that we were after including White-backed Woodpecker.

White-backed Woodpecker
We managed to find a few other special birds in the local Palace Park before breakfast. This one is Hawfinch - kind of like our Grosbeaks.

Hawfinch with nest material
This bird is technically a Woodpecker, but it didn't really act like one. He mostly sat on the branch like this rather than skinnying up and down the trunk like other woodpeckers. This bird is called Wryneck. I caught him mid-song.

Wryneck singing
Warblers in the US are little bundles of colorful joy. You may remember seeing photos of them from past posts and you will probably see more photos in future posts. That is not the case in Europe where all of the warblers are dull "LBJs" - little brown jobs which can mostly only be separated from each other by song and habitat. We found a bunch of the them throughout the day. Here are 2 very different warblers. The first is Marsh Warbler.

Marsh Warbler singing
This one is River Warbler. See how different they are?  NOT! If I didn't hear the difference in song, I would never be able to tell them apart.

River Warbler singing
After such drab birds, this Common Redstart was a refreshing sight. Once again, caught in mid-song.

Common Redstart
And this little Serin sat out for us nicely - singing. This is an odd looking bird. Reminds me of a Pug dog with pushed in face.

Serin singing
Yellowhammers are also brightly colored. I missed out on seeing this bird in the UK even though they are listed as common. Here is one with nesting material.

Yellowhammer with nesting material
THE bird of the morning had to be this secretive Corncrake. This bird is in the rail family and most birders will tell you that they are really difficult to see. This one was skulking around in 6 inch tall grass about 10 feet away from us and we absolutely couldn't see it until it finally popped up to take a look at us. Tomasz had a tape of the call which he was playing. I don't generally agree with that method since I think it makes the birds crazy but it seemed like Tomasz knew what he was doing. Anyway, the bird came around to investigate us and then went about his business without distress.

It was pretty cold that morning so we popped back to the lodge for a hot cup of tea and some breakfast before heading out to the nearby lake/marsh. More on that later.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

City Birding - EU Style

This trip to Europe was definitely a whirlwind. We spent 4 days working pretty hard with very little time to explore which meant practically zero birding. You can imagine that didn't stop me from carrying bins and camera around. Here are a few prizes. The first is Great Tit. Europe has a lot of Great Tits (stop chuckling).

Great Tit!
The other bird that we saw in every city is hard to miss - Magpie. Large and lovable. This guy is investigating something below the fence in the park in Brussels.

The Jackdaw is also a city dweller. We saw these birds everywhere too - mostly where there was easy pickins in parks. I love the white eye against the black face.

Nothing says adorable more than a duckling swimming around a fountain in Olde City. This guy drew a crowd for sure.

Another cute bird in Europe is the European Robin. Our Robin is named after this bird but as you can see, this one has a blue outline and is much smaller. I found this one skulking around the bushes at the Atomic Park.

European Robin
Speaking of Robins. This bird is a close relative of our Robin but the Europeans call it a Blackbird. Remember the Beatles song "blackbird singin' in the dead of night"? How about "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie"? This is the bird that they were singing about.

OK. Tits and Magpies and Robins are one thing, but how about Parrots in Brussels? Yup. I heard a weird call while walking through a city park on the way to see a concert. Luckily, I had my camera along or you might not believe it. This is Rose-ringed Parakeet. There are a lot of them in the city - all the result of a few escaped pets that learned how to live in the city on their own.

Rose-ringed Parakeet
The birds better watch out for this guy. He seems to be aiming at them with his golden bow. He also has a great butt.

Naked Archer
The birds better watch out for this guy too. He looks like he could chomp on one at any time.

The birds really need to watch out for this guy. He and his mate have a nest in the tower of the Cathedral in Brussels. He was out hunting early. I saw him eyeing up pigeons in the square and sure enough there were feathers raining down onto the sidewalk when we visited the site later in the day. The local bird society has a video feed of the nest where we watched Mom feed 4 babies while Dad sat outside.

Peregrine Falcon - Dad
I caught these two love birds courting each other in the cemetery in Stockholm. These are Common Gulls.

Common Gulls
We saw more birds than I thought we would in Brussels and Stockholm but hardly any birds in Warsaw. We were just too busy and barely got to see any sites there. It all changes on Friday afternoon when work ended and I headed out to the country. More on that later.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Europe 1000!

Honestly, I'm traveling alot lately. No sooner did we return from Singapore and Malaysia and I shipped out to Europe for work. I had 2 weeks at home with a few of our migrating warblers and then boom - off to cold, dreary northern Europe. My itinerary for this trip is overwhelming. I flew to Brussels Belgium on Sunday, spent the day seeing the sights, worked Monday, flew to Stockholm Sweden on Tuesday, spent the afternoon seeing the sights, worked all day Wednesday and then flew to Warsaw Poland Wednesday night, worked Thursday morning and did some sight-seeing Thursday afternoon. Friday is a full day of work again.

I'm pooped but need to report that in the midst of all of that I managed to see my 1,000th bird in Stockholm which is a pretty cool milestone. The bird was Hooded Crow. 

Hooded Crow - number 1000

The funniest thing about the sighting is that I was with my work group and not intending to look for birds at all. We were on our way to the ABBA Museum which we eventually found.

ABBA posers
Yup, that's Sam, Cameron, me and Pat posing behind the big poster with cut out faces. We HAD to do it.

More about the rest of the trip later. I just returned to the hotel after a night of funk music in Warsaw and need to get some sleep.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spring Sing

Spring is finally showing up here in Philly. Us Nerds are getting anxious to see our colorful little friends who spend the winter in Central and South America return for summer. Some of them build there nests and raise their young right in our area. Others are just passing through en route to locations even farther north. This week gave us just a little taste of migration season. A common migrant in spring is Northern Parula.

Northern Parula
Worm-eating Warblers are early migrants and breed locally in NJ Pine Barrens. Here is one looking for a worm in an Oak tree at Belleplain State Forest.

Worm-eating Warbler
Other early migrants include the White-eyed Vireo. You can here them throughout the woods saying "Dick Vermeil spits" or at least that's what it sounds like to us older Eagles fans. This guy practically sat on our heads which is odd. They usually skulk in the bushes. You can actually see the white iris that gives this bird it's name.

White-eyed Vireo
There is alot of singing going on now as the males advertise their worthiness for mates. I captured a few of them in mid-song. Here is a Chipping Sparrow belting out his trill.

Chipping Sparrow
And this very common male Cardinal is letting it out too. I know we see them every day, even in winter, but they are pretty nonetheless.

Here is a bird that we don't see singing often. This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was singing from the top of a tree at Peace Valley Park. The photo is cropped to show him singing so it may not look that great zoomed in.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
My favorite singer from last week has to be this male Blue-winged Warbler. They have the best buzzy song. This guy nests at Peace Valley Park every year. They like an open field near cedar trees and brush which is right where we found him buzzing away.

Blue-winged Warbler
My new computer and new Adobe LightRoom program has made it pretty easy to process and post photos. I still have alot to learn about LightRoom but I'm getting the hang of it.