Monday, August 30, 2010

Warbler Weekend

I guess that I have been an idiot for years now thinking that fall migration meant that it happened in fall because I have seen a TON of stuff this month/week including shorebirds and warblers.

I already told you about the shorebirds that I saw at the shore but how about shorebirds in the middle of Pennsylvania.  How about that?  I went to Green Lane Reservoir up by Quakertown on Saturday with our trusty Bausch and Lomb scope to check out the shorebirds that have been posted on eBird.  The water level had dropped significantly since last month when we took our first trip up there.  On Saturday I was standing (with Roxy and Sammy) on firm ground where the big red marker is:

Lots of shorebirds along the water's edge.  I was very pleased with the fact that I could tell the difference between Least, Semi-Palmated, Stilt, White-rumped, and Pectoral Sandpipers - by myself, for sure.  Of course, some other jerk posted Baird's Sandpiper on Sunday which I didn't see.

Lori and I headed up to Lake Galena/Peace Valley Nature Center on Sunday morning for a quick look around.  We hit paydirt with warblers - at least 6American Redstarts, Canada, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Parula, Common Yellowthroat - along with other species including . . . 3 not-so-Solitary Sandpipers and a family of Towhees. Mom, Pop and fuzzy adolescent.

We tried our luck again tonight after work at Pennypack Trust.  Jackpot right out of the car with warblers, vireos and flycatchers flitting all around.  We made rookie identification mistake with one particular bird.  Drab gray, warblery size and shape, complete white eye ring, maybe a hint of olive on the back but not quite, double wing bar.  Yes, you guessed right - Chestnut-sided Warbler.  After an hour of looking up in the trees we finally figured it out.  Ouch.  My neck might not last until "Fall".

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hooters afterhours

So, at 445am this morning, our visiting collie started barking and work tara and I up. Tara went downstairs to quiet him, came back up. The windows were open, and as she came back up I heard "hoo hoo hooo, hoo hoo hoooo." She heard it too, then we heard 2 of them calling. So we got up at 5am, wandered outside to find the owls. They were 2 blocks away, unfortunately too dark to see into the trees, however, as we got closer one flew out clear as day, big ole owl. The other one was already too far away. So there you have it, 2 hooters in Ivyland, besides mine.
And, Mars was next to the moon last night, pretty cool.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Circle of Life

That's what they called it in The Lion King and that's what we call it when we see "nature in action" while birding.  We witnessed many herons and egrets picking fish and eels out of the shrunken pond at the lighthouse.  It was really easy for them to pick a meal and really natural for us to watch.  We noticed a group of Egrets standing in a circle with all bills pointed toward the center.  Then we focused on the center of the circle to find one Egret in an unnatural position at the water's surface.  But it is unsettling to see the bird laying there helpless, knowing that it will not survive. Snapping Turtles gotta eat too I guess. I don't know why it bothers me more to see that than when the birds are eating something.

At Forsythe, we had really great views of Gull-billed Terns.  These terns are not very common and always a treat to see. I was fortunate enough to snap a photo of one flying over with a meal in its bill.  Can you figure out what he dined on?

Then there was the tragedy of a big fish kill along the Delaware Bay.  I snapped this shot of the fish along the beach in The Villas.  We still don't know what killed them all.

This is all part of watching and nature.  Sometimes we overlook it and sometimes it stays with us. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

We Learned Alot - 2nd Post

We learned that we should start looking for shorebirds in "fall" migration during July and into August.  We learned that we should know which birds winter close and which go all the way to South America when trying to identify species.  We learned all about feathers and molting and juvenile plumage.  We learned that we should never assume that all of the birds in a flock are the same.  And we learned that a spotting scope is invaluable when watching shorebirds.

Here are some photos of shorebirds that we learned.  For instance, here is a Short-billed Dowitcher in fresh juvenile plumage:

Psych!  This is a Least Sandpiper in worn plumage.  This is really the second post on how to freak out the workshop leader.  Notice that this bird is in the grass.  That is another thing we learned - Least Sandpipers forage higher from the water than other "peeps".

Here is Semipalmated Sandpiper on the beach at the Villas.  I'll have you know that Barbara and I trudged through thick black muck to get out to the sandbar where these birds were running around.  We'll probably get some disease.

Notice the few black feathers on the back of this bird.  They are the leftover breeding plumage feathers that have not molted yet.  We learned that anyway. 

More tomorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Freak Out the Workshop Leader

It's easy really.  We showed up for the Shorebirds with the Man Who Wrote the Book workshop on Tuesday morning promptly at 7:30.  I asked Michael O'Brien (the man who wrote the book The Shorebird Guide) if we should carry the book into the field with us.  He said no need but the second leader, Pete Dunne who also writes books on these subjects, suggested that I could bring it if I needed another 1 1/2" of height to see through the scopes.  Of course, that comment lead to my now patented "Did he just call me fat?" comeback.  Later in the day, Pete made sure to let Barbara know that he didn't really call me fat. . .

We started Day 1 of the 3 day workshop at Cape May State Park (remember that the Birdnerds refer to this as "the lighthouse" or "the hawkwatch platform" interchangeably.  At 7:30 AM it was already stinking hot.  I had sweat rolling down unmentionable places by 8:00.  The water level in the pond just in front of the hawkwatch platform was really low which exposed alot of mud.  Dozens of Herons and Egrets were gathered picking fish out of the remaining water with ease but the group was there for shorebirds so we concentrated on those.  Peeps are notoriously difficult to identify.  Michael started with those - semi-palmated, least, western, stilt, and white-rumped.  We saw all but white-rumped right off the bat. We also had great lessons on Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.  My favorite of the morning was the Stilt Sandpiper which feeds by probing the mud in a manner that reminds me of the old novelty item:

Here is a photo of the real bird taken with my Canon 100-400mm rented lens (more on that next post):

I will be making lots of posts over the next several days in order to break up all of the stuff that I want to tell you about our workshop so please check back often.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Things to See If You Can Get to the Shore

Following up on my last post.  I realize that I didn't give you a good account of the birding that happened on Sunday while we were scope shopping.  I did mention the King Eider but you may not understand how cool it is to see one of those birds floating next to the concrete ship in Cape May.  King Eiders are commonly found in the arctic, not New Jersey. Check out this link to learn more about the bird, see the map, and see some photos.  It was a life bird for all of us.  Granted, the bird seen this weekend was not the male in full breeding plumage, but we could definitely tell that it was a King Eider.

That wasn't the only life bird seen on Sunday.  We also saw 3 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on the pond at the Lighthouse.  Once again, these ducks are way out of their normal range in New Jersey and cool to look at.  Here is the link to learn more about BBWDs.  They are most commonly seen in South Texas, Central and South America.  I have seen BBWDs in Arizona and Central America but it was a first for Di and Barbara.

More to come over the weekend.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

There's One in Every Crowd

Everyone knows one of those people who can pick up a new skill quickly, play a game for the first time and win, doesn't need glasses . . . Well that ended today for one of the nerds.

Barbara started out not wanting to purchase, borrow, or even use binoculars.  "No thanks, I can see that bird just fine" (eyes rolling and choice words being mumbled from the rest of us).  We practically begged her to borrow an old pair of binoculars so that she wouldn't stand out.  Ha. That's a riot.  We wanted her to wear binoculars on a "bra" in a shore town where others were wearing sunglasses and bathing suits so that she didn't stand out.

Barbara and I are signed up for the "Shorebirds with the man who wrote the book" workshop next week.  It will be 3 days of shorebird identification with Michael O'Brien who literally wrote the Shorebird Guide.  I was willing to go alone since shorebirds are notoriously difficult and frustrating and not cute like warblers but Barbara signed up too.  We have been discussing where to stay, what to take, etc.  I told her that I was taking our spotting scope for sure.  It is an oldie-but-goodie from Connie's dad - Bausch and Lomb circa 1960 something.  That was the unintentional bait.

She just casually mentioned that she did some research on spotting scopes and found a few that had high ratings and were not very expensive.  She sent me the list and asked what I thought. By telling her that she should really try them out in person, the bait was alluring. Then she asked if I would go to CMBO store to try some out.  The hook was set, now all I had to do was reel in the fish and not let her spit out the hook. 

We spent a long time looking through all of the scopes on display at CMBO Northwood Center.  The scopes that Barbara had researched weren't even on display.  They were laying at the bottom of a display case for losers.  The clerk obliged us and put them out for comparison.  It was like looking through the bottom of a vaseline jar compared to the Swarovski, Zeiss and Kowa top models. 

The Swarovski ATS-80 HD Spotting Scope with 20 - 60 mm eyepiece turned out to be the bait that finally caught the 5 foot, 7 inch Barbara. The Bausch and Lomb is now relegated to the backup scope which is fine with me.

The first bird viewed through the glorious Swarovski ATS-80 HD just happened to be the rare and glorious King Eider that has been hanging around the Concrete Ship for the last few weeks.  Pretty fitting.