Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ridin' Out the Storm Arizona Style

Well, I hope you are all OK after Sandy passed through. We have no idea if our house is OK or not. All that I can tell you is that Tim tried to check on it but the street is blocked off due to downed wires.  Oh brother.  Meanwhile, Connie and I haven't seen a cloud in a week. Here are some photos that are not being shown on the weather channel.  We headed north of Phoenix to Sedona on Saturday.  We stopped at Montezuma's Castle which is a cliff dwelling.

 Montezuma's Castle

Then we stopped at the Red Rocks visitor center.  This photo shows Bell Rock which is pretty awesome.

 Bell's Rock
Another view.  Fantastic!

I know this is a bird blog, so here is a bird - Bridled Titmmouse.  It's like our titmouse, but cooler.

Bridled Titmouse

Oh, did I tell you about the "vortexes"?  Sedona is famous for these freaky vortexes. Don't ask me anything about them but I can tell you that there are alot of crystals being sold at every shop in town too.  Anyway, Connie got a Vortex Map which showed a strong vortex up by the airport.  Here she is trying to get the vortex.  By the way, she didn't feel anything. . .

Here is a very common bird in the southwest - the Verdin.  Pretty cool looking bird that isn't afraid to be near humans. We saw this bird all over Arizona. 


I will post more tomorrow. It is really hard to process the photos and post on the go.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Guess Where We Are?

Can you guess where we are by the photos?

American Avocets

Black-necked Stilt

Least Sandpiper
Trio - Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper
Well?  Where are we?  This place has Monarch butterflies. . .


Local Artist Painting Red Rocks Scene - Sedona AZ

Arizona!  Would you have ever guessed that?  I went to the water retention ponds outside of Phoenix on Friday morning and that is what I found - lots of ducks and shorebirds.  And a new bird for me - Neotropic Cormorant.  It's technically not a "life bird" but it is the first time that I saw one well enough to identify and photograph it. The ID is the white outline at the base of the bill and the smaller size than our regular Double-crested Cormorants.

Neotropic Cormorant
More to come.  We were supposed to fly home on Monday, but we switched our flight to tomorrow.  See you soon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pine Siskin Photo Shoot

In case you haven't heard yet, there is an "irruption" of Pine Siskins and other northern finches this year.  An irruption happens when birds that generally stay north in winter decide to move south en mass.  The reason is usually simple - no food up north.  Last year, we had Snowy Owls all over the place.  This year, its Pine Siskins and (hopefully) Crossbills.  These birds rely on the pine cone crop to supply food for the winter.  The bad news is that the pine trees didn't produce enough cones this year for the birds, so they are high-tailing it south.  You should have some at your bird feeder mixed in with Goldfinches any day now.

We have been seeing lots of Siskins on our bird walks lately. They are usually up in the trees when we see them but not this gal.  This bird was literally 3 feet away from me and Diane on Sunday chowing down on flower seeds along the trail at Cape May State Park.  She didn't flinch when the camera came out or when the flash went off or when we were talking.  She stayed right in front of us for at least 5 minutes - probably longer until some little brats came running along the trail and scared her into a nearby tree.  Sigh.

Anyway, none of these photos are cropped except for the second one.  That's how close the bird was.

 Pine Siskin

Look how freaking cute this is!  The photo even has a nice reddish background from the fall foliage.

 Pine Siskin

Then she moved to another flower that had a darker background.

 Pine Siskin
Then she posed.

Pine Siskin

I'm telling you, this bird was close.  Check out the iPhone video that Di shot of the situation.  I had to back up to the other side of the boardwalk to get the bird in focus.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Morning at Higbee

Higbee beach is the place to be in fall migration.  We go most weekend mornings and arrive just after sunrise.  This new Daylight Savings Time schedule is great because we really don't have to be there before 7:30 or so.  This weekend was particularly spectacular - not for the diversity of species, but for sheer numbers of birds.  NJ Audubon and other researchers have a guy stationed up on the dredge spoil mound counting birds as they fly by.  He counted 31,000 Yellow-rumped Warblers on Sunday morning.  He counted 7,600 Robins.  And hundreds of other birds too. Mind you, he only counts until about 11 AM.  On Monday, he added another 10,000 Yellow-rumps and 8,700 Robins plus others for a total of 60,000+ birds over the 2 mornings.  That's alot of birds folks! 

Birders and a few fisherman are usually the only people around Higbee beach that early in the morning, but Sunday was a bit unusual.  There were trucks and workmen and boats and ATVs in the parking lot when we arrived.  It seems like some old guy drove his boat into the Cape May canal jetty on Friday night and sunk it.  The workmen were there trying to figure out how to get it towed.  This guy didn't miss by a little bit. He missed by alot!  Look where he hit the jetty.  The beach is just out of the picture at the bottom of the frame.

Boat Wreck - Cape May Canal Jetty

Back in the fields, we just stood there looking up watching birds fly overhead.  Some of them landed but most kept flying.  Here are a few photos of the birds that landed.  Unfortunately, it is really hard to capture the flight in photos or even video. It is just too expansive to document.  You'll have to experience it for yourself sometime.

Here are 2 birds that look the same from a distance, but are quite different species.  The first bird is Blue Grosbeak (notice the big beak).  The second bird is Indigo Bunting.  Both birds are bright blue in spring/ summer and dull tan/brown in fall/winter.

Blue Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting
Here are a few sparrows.  The first bird is Swamp Sparrow.  The second bird is Chipping Sparrow.
Swamp Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow
We probably saw over 1,000 Yellow-rumped warblers in the trees and in the field on Sunday.  Here are a few other species that actually landed.  The fist bird is Tennessee Warbler - kind of dull olive and plain looking. The second bird is Palm Warbler.  These birds can be kind of dull and plain too, but this guy was still in his yellow and chestnut finest.

Tennessee Warbler
Palm Warbler

Finally, here are another pair of birds that look similar.  Mocking bird is first and Brown Thrasher second.  This is probably one of the best photos I have of Mockingbird.  Even though they are common birds, they are still fun to photograph.  The Thrasher photo was a coup for me.  They are usually hidden behind bushes and branches making it difficult to get a decent photo.  Neither of these photos are barely cropped.  Both birds popped up pretty close and posed nicely.

Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
 Stay tuned.  I have alot of stuff coming at you this week.  More from last weekend AND something very different coming up next weekend. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Prevent Window Strikes

Most of the time, birdwatching is a joy.  We get to watch colorful or powerful creatures with the magical/mystical capability to fly. That captures our heart and imagination and transports us (well, me anyway) away from our human lives for a moment, hour, or longer (well, me anyway).  But sometimes, the cold hard world steps in and puts a damper on that magic.  Sometimes, birds die and we have to witness the death or the aftermath.  Don't worry, I will not show you my photos of dead birds. Rather, I wanted to report that sometimes, we can do things to help birds not die and we can help scientists learn more about birds if they do die.

First, let's discuss helping birds not die. One of the major causes of bird death that homeowners can prevent is window strikes.  Birds see the reflection of the yard in the window and think that they can fly to it.  Instead, they fly into the window and end up dead.  Sometimes they die right away and we find them under the window and sometimes they fly off seemingly unaffected.  The bad news is that most of those birds will probably die too from internal bleeding :-(  How can we help prevent this?  We can put things on the windows so that birds understand that it is not OK to fly there.  There are stickers available at most bird seed stores which have mixed reviews.  Here is a link:
Window Alert Stickers

There are industrial strength coverings like this one which are pretty much outside window shades that you can see through from inside:
Window Screens

This method seems like a winner to me.  It uses mesh, like the kind you use to protect fruit trees stretched across the outside of the windows to act as a "trampoline". 
Love Hollow - 100% Bird Proof Windows

Here are a few links that have really good information and include ways to help on a larger scale:

Wisconsin Birds
David Sibley's Blog
Birdwatchers Digest Blog

Next on the list is House Finch conjunctivitis.  This is an eye disease similar to our "pink eye" that weakens the birds and they eventually die. To make matters worse, this disease is just as contagious as pink eye and ends up infecting all of the other finches at your feeder. This problem is harder to deal with for a number of reasons. The first thing that you need to do is take down all of your feeders so that the infected bird(s) are not in close contact with others. Wash the feeders with bleach and don't hang them up again for a loooong time. The infected birds will eventually die and hopefully not infect many other birds.  This is tough to do, but it is best for the common good.  Second, if you can capture an infected bird, you can save that bird by taking it to a wildlife rehab center.  Conjunctivitis in birds is just as treatable as our pink eye but it takes special care from trained professionals to cure the disease.  Ask that the bird be returned to you so that you can return it to its flock in our yard when it is cured.  (Also, give them a donation).

Finally, what can we do if we find a dead bird?  Simple.  Put it in a sealed plastic bag like a Ziploc and put it in your freezer and call your local Audubon.  They will usually take the dead birds and get them to scientists that can use them to learn more about birds.  Or, you can contact me.  I can take them to the Academy of Natural Sciences which is where the DVOC meetings take place.  In fact, I dropped off a frozen Ovenbird at last night's meeting that Barbara found on Penn's campus.

That's all for now. I hope that you take action to make your windows more bird proof. There is nothing worse than hearing that sickening "thump".  I promise a happier topic tomorrow.  I will be going to John Heinz NWR with the DVOC field trip and will hopefully have something fun to share. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


Connie and I headed up to the camp in Potter County (God's Country) this weekend to winterize the cabin.  It's a good thing we went this weekend.  It was 28 degrees on Saturday morning which would definitely freeze the pipes if it stayed that cold for a few days.  The camp was in tip top shape and hardly took any effort at all to winterize.  That left us with time to wander around hiking and birdwatching.  Here are some photos and stories.

Sparrows are definitely the biggest migrants at the moment.  I got good looks, but lousy photos of Fox Sparrow.

 Fox Sparrow

Also have a mystery sparrow which I want to call White-throated which are quite common, but this bird didn't look quite right.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  I know it is a terrible photo.

 Mystery Sparrow

Here is something that you don't see very often - a Pileated Woodpecker hanging from a grape vine in the parking lot at Sinnemahoning State Park.  This guy (yes, male identified by the red mustache) squawked from the woods, then flew into view and picked at the grapes for a few minutes. In case you don't know much about Pileated Woodpeckers, they are our largest woodpecker - about the size of a crow - and usually chisel out large channels in trees digging out bugs and grubs.  That is what made this encounter so odd. Connie and I just stood there and gawked.  (I just used squawked and gawked in the same story)

 Pileated Woodpecker

Another unusual sighting this weekend was this Roughed Grouse.  We see them around the camp quite often, but we usually see just their butts as they fly out of sight.  Not this bird.  He/she flew up onto a branch and watched me take photographs for about 5 minutes before flying away, giving me great views of his/her crest and face pattern.  Naturally, the lighting was terrible in the woods before 8 AM, but I got a photo worth keeping.

Roughed Grouse

Oh, did I mention that hunting season is in full swing and we feared for our lives while in the woods?  Bow season, small game season, and muzzle loader season have the woods packed with men trying to kill something.  Luckily, we had some blaze orange garments to wear.  We took a ride up on Ridge Road and had our photo taken at one of the vistas.  Bloopers too.  Did you ever notice that the dog will never look at the camera when you have it on a timer?  Dag nabbit! 


After 3 or 4 attempts with me running back and forth to the camera which was propped up on the camera bag which was teetering on a rock, the dog looked in the general direction of the camera as the shutter snapped.  Ain't we pretty in orange?

Family protrait - in Blaze Orange

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I'll bet there are alot of blog titles like that today, October 11, 2012 (or 10-11-12).  It has nothing to do with birds or the post, I just thought it was kind of cool.  I have some more fodder from last weekend that didn't make it into the other posts this week so here they are with a little commentary.

Bunker pond at the Lighthouse is beginning to show signs of fall with assorted ducks and other waterbirds. 

 Assorted swimmers - Pie-billed Grebe (left), Mallard (top), Northern Shoveler (right)

Two different Teal are on the pond now - Blue-winged and Green-winged.  The colored wings are usually only apparent in flight, but you can see which one is the Green-winged in the photo below.  You can identify the Blue-winged teal by the half moon white patch on the face.

 Blue-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

One of my favorite ducks is the handsome Northern Pintail.  These ducks just stand out as elegant for some reason.  I also think that I like these ducks because we had a Pintail sailboat when I was a kid and we named it "Just Ducky".  I could fill a whole blog post with stories about that boat.  Like the time the mast broke when we were in the middle of Lake Galena and I had to get out and tow the boat back to shore.  Anyway, I digress.

 Northern Pintail

 American Widgeon

 The cutest bird on the pond last week had to be the Pie-billed Grebe.  There were 4 of them, which is quite unusual, but this guy swam really close to the path and allowed me to photograph it up close.  These photos are hardly cropped at all.  Check out that fuzzy butt!
 Pie-billed Grebe
Here is the same grebe even closer to shore. He dove underwater and popped up in the middle of some weeks which covered his back.  Don't worry, he dove under again and got rid of the weeds.  It was pretty cool watching him swimming around underwater.

  Pie-billed Grebe

 The final photo for the day is the iconic lighthouse shot.  Hundreds and thousands of people visit each year and take this photo.  What is so special about mine?  First of all, it's pretty good.  Secondly, it shows the hawkwatch platform that that hosts hundreds and thousands of people each year including "famous" birders like Pete Dunne who wrote the book on Hawk Identification. Third, it shows Bunker pond which is where all of the ducks in this post and the skimmers and terns from previous posts were photographed.  Last, and certainly not least, there are 2 Caspian Terns in this photo just to the right of the lighthouse!

 Cape May Point Lighthouse

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Magic Tree

I'm not even kidding. These birders now have such a thing as a "magic tree". It looks like pretty much every other tree in Cape May to the casual observer - but not to the birders.  They know that the tree possesses magic powers.  The magic only happens just before sunset.  If you look at the tree at any other time of day - nothing.  Nothing special at all.  But once 5 o'clock rolls around, the magic begins.  Birds invade the tree looking for a quick meal and boy do they get it. 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Magic Tree

Black-throated Blue Warbler - Magic Tree
 Golden-crowned Kinglet - Magic Tree

 Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Magic Tree

Bay-breasted Warbler - Magic Tree

Red-breasted Nuthatch - Magic Tree

These images are a few of the terrific photos that I got last week at the famous tree on Bob and Edie's front yard.  They are very accommodating to us crazy birders and even invite us onto the lawn for closer looks at the birds.  I literally stand between famous bird photographers and authors a few feet from the tree to get photos like the ones above.  Not only do we stand together, but they give me advice too!  Pretty cool. 

The photos above are not cropped by that much, if at all.  That is how close I am to the birds.  On Friday night, we counted over 25 Red-breasted Nuthatches in the tree. There were 11 of them on the same branch.  They were so engrossed with finding bugs, that they didn't notice how close we were to them, and they didn't care either. 

Here is a cropped photo of Ruby-crowned Kinglet which shows why it is called "Ruby-crowned".  Click on the image to enlarge and notice that one red feather that barely peaks out of the top of his head.  Also notice the spiderweb hanging off of his back.  You can't get images like that unless you are really close to the bird. 

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Thank you Bob and Edie and thank you Magic Tree!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Will She Shut Up Already?!

I am sure that is what the birders are saying about me. Not for the usual reason (that I never shut up) but because I have been obsessed with trying to see a Connecticut warbler for the past 2 years.  Every time someone sees one, I run over to the location and stand there looking at nothing for long periods of time.  Then, I give up and leave without seeing the bird and complain about it for days.

Text messages come in "CONW being seen now", and "CONW still present".  Sometimes this goes on for days.  Sometimes it happens when I am at work so I can't do anything about it.  Sometimes it happens when I am literally a few yards away and I still don't see the bird.  Dagnabbit!

Lately, when I see one of the regular birders I start off the conversation with "Do you know where I can find a Connecticut warbler?" or "When are you going to get me a Connecticut?" or something like that.  They generally reply with something like "I wish I could get you one" which means "Shut up already".

Gerry and Chris have been telling me that you have to be the first to find the Connecticut or you won't see it.  They told me to stop chasing after the birds that get texted.  Guess what? They were right.  We got a Connecticut on Monday morning all by ourselves.  We texted it for other birders but by the time they showed up from a few yards away, the bird had already disappeared.  But not before I got a few photos.  The other birders were still standing there looking at nothing when we left.

Connecticut Warbler

I know what you are thinking: 
A) All of that for this dumpy little bird?
B) She still won't shut up

Yes, all of that for this dumpy little bird.  It doesn't look like much and in fact, I have probably seen one before and just assumed that it was a Common Yellow Throat.  However, it is a life bird and a prize for any birder to see since it is so secretive.  And yes, I will probably not shut up.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I have never seen so many Red-breasted Nuthatches as this week. They are everywhere!  The experts counted 213 of the little buggers flying past Higbee in one morning.  We had 4 of them in our yard on the big Tulip tree on Sunday.  Here is a good photo of one showing what it does best - which is picking under tree bark for bugs. Look at the color of his breast.  Connie wants a blouse in that color.

 Red-breasted Nuthatch

Another little cutie showed up on the same tree while I was trying to get a shot of the nuthatch.  A Black and White Warbler.  This photo is enough to make your eyes cross. I can't look at it for too long without feeling like a seizure is coming on. It wouldn't be so bad if he would pose in the same direction as the bark. Cute little bird though.

Black and White Warbler