Tuesday, May 14, 2019

World Series of Birding - 2019

After many years of not competing in the New Jersey World Series of Birding contest, I was roped into participating this year. In years past, our little gang of women birders have participated in the contest but only in Cape May county. You may remember this post: https://www.phillybirdnerd.net/2014/05/world-series-2014-new-high.html 

This year, a fellow DVOC club member and friend asked if I would participate on the 1,000 Birds team to do a full state run. Why not? The team consists of Ken Walsh, Marc Chelemer and a few other guys that couldn't make it this year so they filled in with me, Harvey and Nicole Koeltzow. Marc, Ken and Harvey are all birding friends. You may remember Nicole from my trip to St. Paul Island in Alaska last September. She did a big year and won with 774 birds. We helped her get  #750 White-tailed Sea Eagle and a few others. You might remember this post: https://www.phillybirdnerd.net/2018/09/birds-of-st-paul.html Nicole is pictured in the Sea Eagle photo.

Doing the full state competition is really tough. You start up north in the Great Swamp at midnight and bird all night and day and end up in the south at Stipson's Island marsh at 10 PM or later. We put hundreds of miles on Harvey's mini van and counted 180 bird species in total. Don't confuse this contest with "birding". It isn't birding. It is identifying and checking off bird species. We rarely stopped to look at any birds. We mainly listened for their call or caught a glimpse of them before moving on to our next target and destination.

Our first bird was Great-horned Owl at midnight sitting atop a dead tree in the great swamp. We could see the silhouette against the night sky. We heard many other marsh birds including Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, Solitary Sandpiper ( a shorebird that happened to call out in the night ), Woodcock and then heard a King Rail which is an uncommon bird. We traveled to various marshy destinations until sunrise. My best bird of the night was Eastern Screech Owl which I called in by imitating its "whinny call". I whinnied and it whinnied back! Check. Let's move on.

Honestly, the morning was a blur of stopping at this lake or in these woods listening for birds. I was driving the van. Ken was navigating. Turn left, turn right, go straight, STOP! I had no idea where we were but Ken and Marc had the route planned out to the minute. We did a pretty good job of staying on time until the afternoon.

Another of my best birds of the day was Common Raven. We drove up to the highest point in NJ to look for them at the nest site on the AT&T cell tower but they were not there. We stopped at a parking area at the bottom of the mountain where the road crew has piles of stone stored. We were looking for warblers but didn't see any. I had to pee so I ducked behind one of the stone piles. Everyone else did the same. With my pants down, I spotted 2 Ravens soaring overhead and yelled out to the others. All 4 of us got the Raven with our pants down! Check. Let's move on.

You'll notice the lack of photos in this post. There is no time for photos when you are in the competition. I did manage to get a shot of another bird that I found - White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow
We ended the day with 180 species and came in 2nd place. We got a trophy. That's me on the left, then Nicole, Ken, Eric Stiles and David LaPuma from NJ Audubon who presented the trophy.



The first place team had 207 species. That team is made up of Cornell University Ornithology majors and they win every year. Maybe next year we'll break the 200 mark.

We are raising money for the DVOC Interns Fund. If you are inclined to donate, here is a link:
http://dvoc.org/Committees/Interns/Interns.htm Please enter 1,000 Birds in the comment section. Or, send me a check.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring has Sprung

It's April and officially spring. For us birders, we get really excited when we see or hear the first arrivals from the south. For me at home, spring is signified by Chipping Sparrows who showed up en-masse last week with a record high 7 of them hanging on the feeder at the same time.

Meanwhile, in the woods at Pennypack, I have been treated to seeing Louisiana Waterthrush on multiple occasions along the creek. I don't know if it is the same bird hanging around or a different bird moving through each day but one of them put on a show on Sunday morning singing his heart out.

Louisiana Waterthrush

The Wood Ducks are up in the trees whistling. That only means one thing - love is in the air for them. Wood Ducks make their nests in holes in the tree just like an owl. Here is a crazy photo for you:

https://www.facebook.com/AudubonEverglades/photos/a.1172524176139159/2695677033823858/?type=1&theater

That's a Screech Owl and a baby Wood Duck in the same hole!

More signs of spring in the woods include these wildflowers that Connie and I photographed on Saturday.

Virginia Bluebell

Trout Lily

Blood Root

Cut-leaf Toothworth

 Things are definitely ramping up for spring. and, I've been asked to participate in the World Series of Birding this year. Stay tuned for details.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Spring in My Yard

I realized recently that I neglect to write about the birds in my own backyard. I guess this is because it is usually the same-old-same-old with cardinals, chickadees and sparrows. Well, that certainly isn't the case lately. I think I am one of the only birders in the area who has Pine Siskins visiting my feeders. I've had them for a few months. A high count of 6 during one of the snow days in January. They are still hanging around and have been really hitting the bird seed hard this week. I think they may be fueling up to head north back into Canada soon. 



Pine Siskins
They are sure cute little buggers. Pine Siskins regularly mix in with Gold Finches. You can tell them apart easily. The Siskins are always streaky with a very thin bill. Some of them show yellow patches on the wings. You can see that on the right side bird above. Meanwhile, Goldfinches are not streaky. They are solid yellow with black wings most of the year. Take a look at the bird on the right below. This bird is in full molt going from dull gray to full yellow like the bird on the left. 

Goldfinches
So, Siskins are fueling up to leave. Goldfinches are molting into their new breeding plumage. And at the same time, some birds are arriving from the south including Chipping Sparrows. They usually show up on tax day but this guy is early. 

Chipping Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbirds also arrived this week. Not that I like having them around since they lay eggs in the other birds nests but they are pretty to look at. All photos taken with iPhone out of my office window, so not that great. 

Interesting times in the yard also include frogs emerging from hibernation in the pond. Spring is here! 


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Arabian Nights

You already read about my Kuwait birding adventures. Birding in Kuwait was a no-brainer since Kuwait was our work destination but I figured that I should also take advantage of the trip to spend another day in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since my flight had a layover there anyway.

I hired another guide named Oscar in UAE. He is based in Abu Dhabi so that is where we met to spend a full day birding another area of the Persian Gulf. Oscar did his homework and mapped out a route for the day so that we would hit the areas where the specialty birds would be found. It is confusing to know which direction anything is in UAE. Here is a map of the region:

Persian Gulf
We started early and headed east toward the "mountains".  And by mountains, I mean a few high elevation areas of bare rock that stick up from the desert. We hit paydirt right off the bat with a few new birds including Desert Larks, Water Pipits and Gray Francolins that were in the public park at the bottom of the mountain. They didn't seem to mind the picnicking families.

Gray Francolin
And then I saw the Indian Roller - a bird that I have wanted to see since I first read about it in a magazine. They are colorful birds that command respect.

Indian Roller
The day was  overcast with light rain which is not ideal for finding birds (or lugging expensive cameras around) but we perservered and headed up a winding road to the top of the mountain where we found a few more target birds including this Sandgrouse sitting on a windy pinnacle.

Sand Grouse
And this stunning Blue Rock Thrush. It's a "wow" bird for sure.

Blue Rock Thrush
There is a hotel at the top of the mountain complete with a pool and water slide. We found a few more birds hanging around the pool area including Hume's Wheatear sitting on a post.

Hume's Wheatear
Our best desert find of the day was this Hoopoe Lark. A true desert specialty that reminds me of a thrasher or roadrunner  the way it scurries across the barren landscape. Oscar knew right where to go to find one and this guy put on a show.


We also looked for lakes which naturally attract birds. We found a few good ones at the lake near the horse race track. Clamorous Reed Warblers come by their name honestly - they are certainly clamorous. You often hear these loud birds but cannot see them hiding in the reeds right in front of you. It is maddening. Thankfully, this guy wasn't shy. He came right to the edge of the reeds and sang his heart out.

Clamorous Reed Warbler
Isabelline Wheatears are never shy. We saw many of these birds perched on top of posts or bushes in the desert.
Isabelline Wheatear
We often see other wildlife when birding but I never expected to see one of these! This is an Arabian Oryx. They were almost extinct from hunting. UAE has released some back into the desert after successful recovery program. I think the park people feed them to make sure of their success but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Arabian Oryx
We also caught a few glimpses of antelopes but they were too fast to catch with a photo. The only other desert animal that we found was this Desert Hare. He sat perfectly still as we walked by confident in his camouflage.

Desert Hare
We ended the day on a high note by finding an Egyptian Nightjar. Oscar knows where they like to nest and had heard one singing a few days earlier. We arrived before sunset in hopes of hearing the bird but got even luckier when we spotted him moving through the desert between bushes. I was able to sneak up on him and snap a few decent photos.

Egyptian Nightjar
Another great day of birding in Arabia. I highly recommend getting into the desert to see this amazing place. 




Monday, March 11, 2019

Oh Mike, You Take Me To All the Nicest Places

Birding in Kuwait is a sometimes like birding at home and then sometimes totally NOT like birding at home. Most of the "hotspots" are centered around water as you can imagine. We went out to a remote abandoned quarry to find true desert birds. The place was barren except for a few shrubby trees surrounding the quarry pit. The winds howl in the desert and blow sand and trash for miles. Every tree and fence line that we passed had at least one plastic bag tangled in the branches.

Along with the trash, the trees also hold birds. We were able to track down a few specialties. The trees also attract migrants that are passing through. In fact, here is a photo that shows both the migrant (Semi-collared Flycatcher) and the trash.

Semi-collared Flycatcher
We saw a group of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters which are really cool looking. Not the best photo but they barely stopped moving so I was happy to get any photo at all of these colorful birds. 

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Another really cool bird that blends into the desert is Crested Lark. 
Crested Lark
We headed back toward the city to hit some other birding locations. I have to admit that I was a little worried when Mike pulled the car into a back alley that looked like this:

Alley
Is this the part where I disappear and they only find pieces of my body years later? Gulp. Not to worry (of course). Would you believe that this is the entrance to Jahra Farms?  Once we went inside of the walls, we found the "farms" which is more like a community garden co-op than the farms that we are used to in the US. 

Jahra Farms
The farm/garden attracts birds due to the water and vegetation. Strange to see Kingfishers and Herons in a farm setting. 

Squacco Heron
This Squacco Heron is sitting in the middle of a patch of parsley which will eventually end up in one of the local markets or restaurants. The "farms" ended up being a great stop on our tour not only for the birds but also for the cultural experience. In fact, here it is on my plate in tabouli salad - yum! 



Back to more traditional birding locations after the farms including Sulaibikhat Bay . This spot is more like birding Delaware Bay in Cape May except that Sulaibikhat Bay has Greater Flamingos!

Greater Flamingo
Two Flamingo species in a month. Who would have thought? The bay also had multiple gull and tern species along with shorebirds. Unfortunately, the birds were pretty far out on the mudflats for photos. 

Our last stop was by far the most familiar to me. We headed to Jahra Pools which is a large wetland area where we found and photographed birds up close. One of my favorite bird groups is the Kingfisher group. We found 2 very cooperative species at the pools. White-throated Kingfisher indeed has a white throat.

White-throated Kingfisher
But the aqua color on the back is more impressive. 

White-throated Kingfisher

The other Kingfisher that uses the pools is the Pied Kingfisher. "Pied" means black and white and this bird exemplifies the pied name. This bird posed for us balancing on a reed in the wind. 

Pied Kingfisher
 Pied Kingfishers hover above the water looking for a fish.

Pied Kingfisher

It felt like home when we spotted an Osprey roosting in a dead tree. 

Osprey
But then, we found 6 Greater Spotted Eagles that use the marsh for night roost. We photographed a few soaring low over the marsh. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
As they were landing for the evening. Interesting to see that they like to roost low in dead trees. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
And even on the ground. 
Greater Spotted Eagle
We spent some time looking for marsh birds like rails which are called "crakes" in Europe and Asia. Our patience was rewarded with up close views of 2 species. We had a typical view of Little Crake.

Little Crake - typical view
Yup. That is about the best view that I usually get of rails and crakes. Barely visible through the thick reeds. Not so for the Spotted Crake. This bird really put on a show running out in the open water.

Spotted Crake
A nice way to end an amazing day of birding in an amazing new area of the world - Kuwait. 




Sunday, March 10, 2019

Where in the World?

If I gave you 100 guesses, you would never guess where I am this week. Hints: they love the US military, it's really hot, and the language is Arabic. Answer: Kuwait. Yup. Kuwait. A random work trip popped up and after some careful thought, I said yes. Of course you know that I don't go anywhere without the binoculars and camera. In most places, I am pretty comfortable going birding on my own using eBird hotspots as my guide. Not when I am in a very different culture though. Lucky for me, my friend George knows a birder who lives in Kuwait so I hired him as my guide.

Linda and Mike
Mike is originally from South Africa but transferred to Kuwait for his real job and is now an expert in Kuwait birding. Check out his blog at http://kuwaitbirding.blogspot.com/ for more info. We started the day early and headed north of Kuwait city into the desert to begin our day. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING out there for miles and miles except rocky, sandy desert. And, giant electric power lines.

There are more power lines running through this desert than  I've ever seen in my life. This photo is only one row of them.  The other very interesting thing that fills the desert are huge camping areas. Apparently, the Kuwaitis love to camp on the weekends in winter. Not my idea of camping but . . . 

Camping Kuwaiti Style
Oh, and if your going to be in the middle east in the desert, you gotta make friends with the locals. All I had to do was hold my hand up and this big fella walked right over looking for a handout.

Linda and friend
Kuwait is experiencing a very interesting natural phenomena in the desert. Can you see all of the vegetation in the camel photo? The entire desert is "green" due to rain of biblical proportions in November. The middle east was flooded and the desert came to life with grasses and flowers and - butterflies. We saw a million Painted Lady butterflies - not an exaggeration. They were literally covering the desert on every flower and little tree.

Painted Lady
It was very windy and much colder that I thought it would be in the desert. Glad I had my jacket with me. We finally got to our first birding destination which is a "farm" in the middle of the desert. Mike says that the farm is out here due to a natural spring that allows the farmer to have animals like cows and exotic pets plus trees and vegetables. Our first bird of the day was actually a shorebird - Green Sandpiper which was hanging out at the little man-made pond.

Green Sandpiper
Other birds used the pond for catching dragonflies. Here are 2 different types of wagtails with dragonflies. First is Gray Wagtail.

Gray Wagtail
This one is White Wagtail on the platform that the farmer uses to shoot ducks.

White Wagtail
I know, I know. It gets worse. Here is a Eurasian Kestral dead in a tree. The red flag is used to tether the Kestral to train the other falcons to kill it. Once it is caught, the Kestral is left to die in the tree. This is the trade-off with birding in other cultures. You can't be offended by the property owner's traditions if you want access to the land. Maybe the culture will change in the future. 

Dead Kestral
On a brighter note, one of my target species to photograph is the Eurasian Hoopoe. What a cool bird. We saw about a dozen during the day. I was able to capture a few photos.

Hoopoe
We saw many other birds at the desert farm including a few species of shrikes but the photos are not that great. The birds were pretty far away. I did manage to catch a shot of this Tawny Pipit. Talk about camouflage. We would never have seen the bird if it wasn't perched on a bush at first. Once it hopped onto the ground, it almost disappeared. 

Tawny Pipit
We spent a few hours at the farm and then headed back towards the city to explore other birding spots.