Sunday, January 29, 2012


For more than 3 weeks now, all of the Pennsylvania birding community has been abuzz over 3 rarities that have been seen in Cumberland County near Shippensburg.  The big buzz came with the Snowy Owl that has been hanging around in a corn field since Jan 11th.  The bird has been seen every day since it was first reported.  We were told about it being seen on the same road as the second special bird - Prairie Falcon.  This bird has been seen every winter for the past 3 years faithfully patrolling the fields in search of little birds to eat.  Then, as though on cue, a Townsend's Warbler showed up at some guy's feeder 2 weeks ago and hasn't left. 

All of these birds are out of their normal range.  You can guess where the Snowy Owl normally lives.  You can also put 2 and 2 together about the Prairie Falcon.  The Townsend's Warbler is one that I should tell you is usually found west of the Mississippi river. 

Lori and I set out this morning (with Roxy in tow) to see the trifecta.  We finally had a day to travel out there, so we packed sandwiches and the optics and headed west on the PA Turnpike.  We arrived at the famed intersection of Duncan and Mud Level Roads around 10:20.  We drove up and down the road.  We spoke to other birders.  We scanned every field.

We saw lots of cows and we dodged the Mennonite buggies.

We had a great view of a Common Raven which is pretty unusual.  Notice the blocky head which is a good field mark to distinguish this bird from a crow.

We saw many Horned Larks flitting around the freshly manured fields. Lifers for Lori.

But guess what we didn't see?  I know that you already figured it out otherwise I would have lead the story with a photo of the owl or the falcon or the warbler.  We completely struck out on all three of those rarities.  We were really crushed - along with about a dozen other cars full of birders who had the same disappointed look on their faces.  It was a long drive home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First Pelagic

Barbara and I went on our first official pelagic birding trip on Sunday.  We sailed out of Belmar NJ on the 80 foot fishing boat "Susie Girl".  It was 18 degrees with 15 mph winds and 3 foot swells when we left the dock.  18 degrees.  There were about 30 people on board with binoculars, cameras and lots of hats and gloves.  The entire front of the boat was covered in ice with every wave that we hit.

The trip was run by a really good birder named Paul Guris.  His team wins the World Series of Birding almost every year.  His website See Life Paulagics (get it, Paul-agic).  He runs these trips in winter because it is the best time to see Alcids - birds that live on the water such as Dovekie, Murre, Razorbill and Puffin.  There birds are waaaay up north for the rest of the year, so the only way to see them in our area is to get on a boat in the middle of January and freeze your ass off!

Check out my stance.  I am trying to stand upright in the rough seas!

We didn't get great views of the Alcids on our trip due to the wind, waves and water temperature, but we did manage to see the little football-shaped birds flying around out there.  The highlights of the trip had to be the Fin-back Whale that made an appearance about 200 yards away from the boat.  The Fin-back is the second largest whale and it looked like it.  The part that showed above the water was as big as the Suzie Girl! 

The other highlights included the Gannets that followed the boat along with all of the gulls waiting for chum.  Yes, we chummed with beef suet the entire trip so that the gulls and Gannets would follow us.

It paid off with a few rarer species that we got to see and photograph up close.  Including this Northern Gannet which has to be one of my favorite birds.

Northern Gannet

This is an Iceland Gull which is pretty rare in our area.  One of the other passengers, Adrianne (guy, not gal) was trying to help me find this bird in the mass of gulls by telling me that it was "coffee colored".  I was looking for a dark brown/black bird but he meant - with cream. The gull followed the boat for a long time, so I really got to get a few good photos. I like this one because it shows his pink feet.

Iceland Gull

Here is a Black-legged Kittiwake.  These birds are smaller than other gulls and very agile in the air.  This guy (or gal) was out maneuvering all of the other gulls to get to the beef bits that were being throw overboard.

Black-legged Kittiwake

This bird must have done this follow-the-boat-for-food thing before because it knew just where to be which was directly over the back of the boat to watch the guy (Tom Reed) who was chumming.  This next shot is more typical of the what I saw for about an hour with the bird directly overhead.

Black-legged Kittiwake

You should ask Barbara about the little "gift" that she got on the front of her jacket from our little airborn friend . . .  

The Kittiwake was getting so much food, that the gulls started harassing it rather than trying to get the beef out of the water for themselves.  Here are a few shots.  I like the second shot because all of the Herring gulls are in mid squawk!

Barbara got 6 life birds including Dovekie, Razorbill, Common Murre, the Iceland Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, and the Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Only the Iceland Gull was a lifer for me.  We will definitely go again and I would highly recommend this trip for anyone interested in seeing seabirds.  I would also highly recommend that you go with Paul and his crew.  He did a great job and had really good crew of trip leaders along.  Here is a link to his site:

Friday, January 13, 2012

How Wireless Technology Affects Birds

My friend Tim is always on the hunt for good technology articles and cartoons.  Here is one that meshes birding with technology.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


You may be wondering what I had for lunch today as I traveled to Dover Delaware to meet with a potential client.  The answer is - yet another turkey and cheese hoagie from Wawa (and a large Diet Coke of course).   What do Bald Eagles have for lunch?  Coots.  As seen in this photo from Bombay Hook today where I ate my hoagie:

Admittedly, this is not my finest photo ever.  I had to quickly put the hoagie down, park the car, pick up the camera and get a few shots taken before the Eagle flew off behind the trees to eat.  Most of the shots are really blurry but you can see that this is a Coot based on the head and the giant feet hanging down.

Here is a shot of the whole scene.  The geese didn't flinch when the Eagle started to swoop down.  I guess they knew that the Eagle had something else in its sights.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Groucho Marx was Wrong

I DO want to be a member of a club that would have someone like me as a member.  I really do.  And my membership application was accepted!  I am now a member of one of the oldest birding clubs in America - the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club (God, I hope I spelled that right - they might throw me out). I attended the 122nd Annual Members Meeting on Thursday.  I brought a Jewish Apple Cake.  I thought that was a good first impression.  I was the only "member" other than the entertainment committee to bring something.  The meeting was held at the Academy of Natural Sciences!  Really exciting. 

Really boring membership meeting stuff started the meeting.  Stuff like reading the minutes from the last meeting, electing new board officials who already knew that they won election, committee member stuff, a review of the budget, and then the treasurer gave a presentation on the history of the club (that was actually interesting).  He ended the presentation by inviting everyone for refreshments which included talapia with wild rice, salads, and beer.  Yes beer.  I knew that I made the right choice when they showed me the beer.

My first involvement with the club - other than making the cake - was to be involved with the Annual Philadelphia Winter Bird Census. Oh boy, they need my assistance.  I was assigned to Pennypack Park Environmental Center area off of Veree Rd which I know very well.  I wondered why I was the only one assigned there.  The other DVOC members were fanned out across the city and at other ends of the park.  Well, I soon found out why.   I spent 6 1/2 hours trolling the woods and got a whopping 31 species.  31.  The others were down by the river wracking up great birds like Bald Eagles and stuff.  My best bird of the day was:

They might throw me out of that club yet.  Sigh. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Well, I didn't meet my goal of 700 birds by the end of 2011, but I wasn't really trying very hard either.  We are at the shore working on the Green House, so there hasn't been much time for bird watching. 

I did manage to start the New Year by photographing the Bald Eagle on our beach!  Here is a quick video and photo.

Pardon the camera shake but I didn't have a tripod with me.  I had 3 dogs, a cup of tea, poop bags, my new camera and binoculars - but no tripod.