Sunday, February 17, 2013

Got Another WInter Finch

Thanks to information obtained at the last DVOC meeting and information gathered from eBird, I finally pinpointed a reliable location for one of the other winter finches that I need for my life list and the Big Year - White-winged Crossbill.  They are reported from all over the area, but rarely 2 days in a row so it doesn't pay to go look in a location where someone saw them yesterday since they probably won't be there today. My frustration got the best of me and I decided to say something about it at the last meeting so I stood up and asked the crowd if I was the only member of the club that hadn't seen one yet.  To my surprise, more than 50% of the meeting attendees raised their hands and said that they still had not seen one.  It made me feel a little bit better.  Then, one of the members told me that they were being seen almost daily on Princeton University's campus.

I showed up at Princeton at 8:30 AM and had the bird by 9:00! At first, I was having trouble finding the location since I thought that crossbills liked pine cones and there were not many pine trees on campus, but then I saw the telltale sign - middle aged men with binoculars in a group.  They were really nice guys from Atlantic Audubon club who are also doing a Big Year.  While talking to them about how well behaved Roxy is, one of them spotted a single White-winged Crossbill in the Sweet Gum tree across the street.  Sure enough, we got it!

She only sat in the tree for about 2 minutes, then popped down to the ground to feed on the Sweet Gum balls (you know, those prickly brown balls that act like marbles under your feet) that were already on the ground.  Check out the bill by zooming in.

White-winged Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill
 These birds spend most of their lives in the far north, far away from civilization and people. You would think that they would be skittish.  Not this bird.  She plopped herself down on the strip of grass between the road and the sidewalk and did not flinch as people walked, jogged and even pulled roller luggage past her.  She didn't pay attention to the cars that zoomed past only a foot away from her. She didn't care when the cars stopped at the traffic light.  Nope. She just kept picking at the seeds.  You can see how close she was to the road in the next photos.

White-winged Crossbill - roadside
 Here is a photo of one of the Atlantic Audubon guys that helped me find the bird.  He is standing on the sidewalk trying to photograph the bird.  I love this photo since it also shows how close the cars are coming too.  The rest of the photos above were taken from the other side of the street. I left Roxy with the other Audubon guy, John, since I didn't want to tempt fate. 

WWCR admirer
I missed out on getting any other birds yesterday but I did score a goal in my hockey game. I would consider that a pretty good day!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Banded Bird News

There are many banded shorebirds running around the world these days.  You know that I take part in the banding process in spring along the Delaware Bayshore and track sightings of banded birds throughout the year.  I found 3 banded Sanderling in the Villas on Monday morning which was pretty cool since I only saw a total of 20 birds.  It is also cool that these birds manage to eek out a living in NJ in the dead of winter.  The bands usually look like this.  This is L7N. Jeannine, the data coordinator for sent me some interesting information about this bird "Pretty interesting that FL(L7N) using both Atlantic and Bayshore beaches during winter."  I think the birds are going to the Atlantic ocean beaches when the bay is frozen, which is was last month when it was brutally cold.

Sanderling - L7N
But occassionally, we get nutty looking tags like the bird below. The flag has no number/letter combination and both legs have multiple colored bands.  Jeannine, the data coordinator for sent me some interesting information about this bird below: "the bird is a dark green flag cohort from NJ 2001. That year they put two bands on the lower right to denote the week in the spring season. So this bird was banded sometime from May 29 to June 4. Might be a fun one to post on Celebrate DelBay page due to age and time of year seen on a Bayshore beach."  That makes this bird at least 12 years old! I had no idea that they lived that long.  This guy has been to the Villas for more years than I have.

Sanderling - Flag and bands
I scan the shorebirds every time I see them on the beach hoping to get a banded or flagged bird.  I think Jeannine likes the fact that I report from the Villas since everyone else seems to go to Stone Harbor and other, sexier beaches.  I like my beach and apparently, so does L7N and the 12 year old.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

3rd and Final Post from Sunday

Here you go. The final installment from Sunday's awesome day.  More ducks for your enjoyment. I ran across a combination of ducks at the Cox Hall Creek pond in late afternoon. The sunlight reflecting off of the brown grass gave the water a tan/bronze tone which gives these photos an interesting color hue.  The first photo show 2 types of Mergansers. The larger duck is a Common Merganser and the smaller ones are Hooded Mergansers.  This is the best photo of Common Merganser that I have.

Common Merganser (center), Hooded Mergansers

Male Hooded Merganser

Ruddy Duck
 Here are a few left over photos from Barnegat Lighthouse. These are Common Eider which are really big sea ducks.  I like the way they just glide over the waves.  The second photo shows a male flapping with a bunch of females surrounding him - like "hey, look at me!"

Raft of Common Eider

Common Eiders
That's all for now. I'm slammed at work, so you probably won't get another post until the weekend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

One of Those Days - Part 2

OK, so I had a great time at Barnegat Lighthouse with the Harlequins. I also got some pretty good photos of Long-tailed Ducks (again). I just can't help myself from taking more photos of these ducks.  I finally had good lighting to get a few photos.  There were about 40 of them swimming along the inlet and calling to each other too.

Female Long-tailed Duck

Male Long-tailed Duck
Still on the jetty, I also had close encounters with Ruddy Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers. I think that these photos tell a great story of how these birds make a living. Both species pick food off of the rocks just along the water line and have a sixth sense about when they need to get out of the way of waves.
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
 Red-breasted Mergansers also hang out in the inlet and along the jetty.  Have you ever had a really bad hair day?  Well then, you can relate to the male Red-breasted Merganser.  Check out his doo!

Male Red-breasted Merganser
Female Red-breasted Merganser

All of the photos you've seen so far were taken before noon.  I thought I hit the mother load and I didn't even have my Diet Coke yet.  For those of you who are not familiar with Barnegat Lighthouse, it is located at the northern tip of Long Beach Island. There is only one bridge on to the island located about in the middle. You have to travel miles north through little shore towns including "Surf City", "Harvey Cedars" and "Love Ladies".  I stopped along a bulkhead on the back bay in Surf City on my way off of the island to see if there were any other ducks.  As I got out of the car, a few ducks dove underwater due to the sound of the car door.  To my surprise, one of the "ducks" popped up about 20 feet away from me and wasn't a duck at all. It was a Razorbill!  Razorbills are birds that spend almost all of their lives in very cold ocean water. They are part of the alcid family which also includes Puffins. Razorbills have been seen as far south as Sanibel Island Florida this winter. Barbara, Diane and I saw a few flying off of Cape May Point last month but they were really far away. We also saw a few tiny black blobs flying over the water on our pelagic trip last year.  Nothing compares to the view that I had from Surf City bulkhead.  I was so surprised that the first few photos came out blurry due to my shaking.  When I calmed down a bit, I got a few good shots including this one.  You can see why they are called Razorbills. They have a funny shaped bill with a great white stripe through it.  This was just a huge bonus to the day. 

But wait, there's more. The Razorbill was photographed at 12:15. I still had the whole afternoon to explore some more.  Part 3 coming soon.

Monday, February 11, 2013

One of Those Days

Yesterday was one of those days where everything just falls into place to produce a great day of birding and photography. As you know, winter storm Nemo (since when do we have to use names with snow storms?) hit us on Saturday, but we were virtually unaffected with less than 3" of snow.  Sunday turned out to be one of those stellar winter days with gorgeous blue skies and just a hint of thin cirrus clouds. It started out at 15 degrees but quickly warmed up to 30. I know that doesn't sound very warm, but it was delightful to be outdoors with warm sunshine and very little wind.

In addition to the fabulous weather, the DVOC had a photography trip planned to Barnegat Lighthouse so I decided to join them for the morning.  Roxy and I showed up a little late but quickly found the group which was being lead by Steve Kacir. Cindy and her husband Scott were the other participants.  We wandered down the beach and along the jetty for the better part of 3 hours watching and photographing winter ducks and shorebirds.  It was really great to be with the group. We all had the same appreciation for the day and the birds.

It was one of those days.  One of those days where I have so many photos that I can't show them all in one post.  One of those days where I have so many photos that I can't decide which ones to leave out.  One of those days where I thought to myself - it's about time I had one of these days. 

Harlequin ducks are just about the gaudiest ducks that you can find. I have always had trouble getting good photos in the past due to poor lighting/weather conditions or being too far away.  Not yesterday.  We had perfect weather for photography and the ducks were literally swimming and sunning themselves within 20 yards of us.  They are pretty comfortable with people walking close to them on the jetty.  Here are a few photos. The first photo shows a single male Harlequin in the water.

Harlequin Duck - Male
Here is a group of males swimming in unison. They would group together and then form a single line, then group together again.  I love this one where they are all facing away and converging.
Group of Male Harlequin Ducks
 In case you were wondering what all of this was about - of course it is all about getting a female.  Here she is in all of her drab-ness being courted by 5 males.  She appears to be unimpressed by any of their flaunting and chasing.

Male Harlequins courting Female
 Although she appeared not to care about what was going on, she was seen a few minutes later hanging out on the rock with one of her beaus. . .

Male and Female Harlequin Ducks
 Here is another male preening in the sun.  This photos is barely cropped.  I was standing on the rock jetty about 15 feet away.
Male Harlequin preening
 As if those shots weren't enough, here is a photo of the Harlequin flapping his wings after preening AND a Purple Sandpiper wandered into the same frame.  I almost fainted when I saw that this shot turned out.

Harlequin and Purple Sandpiper
 What was Roxy doing while I was on top of the jetty photographing gaudy ducks?  Check it out - she refuses to come on to the jetty which is a good thing since her presence would definitely scare off all of the birds and I would never allow that to happen.  But there she is at the edge of the water wagging her tail waiting for me to return.  Good dog!

Roxy at Barnegat Lighhouse
More to come. I'll post other photos and the rest of Sunday's story later in the week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Backyard Standoff from Ken

This story was just sent to me by Connie's brother-in-law Ken.  Ken lives out by Harrisburg in a nicely wooded lot.  He watched a Cooper's Hawk and Barred Owl chase each other around the woods and then land just outside of his dining room staring each other down for about 10 minutes.  The Barred Owl finally flew off.  Pretty neat experience.  Here is a photo taken from the dining room window.  The owl has it's back to us and the hawk is facing us.

Cooper's Hawk and Barred Owl
I think we can witness a lot of action by watching our own backyards.  Thanks to Ken for the story and photo.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Up North

I headed out solo yesterday with a plan to cover some northern PA territory.  I went to Hawk Mountain to try to see a Redpoll. Redpolls have been reported all over the area this year. The trouble is that they never stay put. They roam all over the place. The only report that I have seen that is consistent is Hawk Mountain so I decided to go.  The other bonus on this location is that I can sit inside and watch the feeders in warmth and comfort and the staff person kept me company and renewed my membership.  I had success within about 20 minutes.  What a cute little bird. Unfortunately, the photos are terrible because of trying to focus through the (not-so-clean) windows.  Look up Common Redpoll on the Google to see what they look like.

Once I saw a few Redpolls, I headed farther north to see the Harris's sparrow that has been hanging around a neighorhood for weeks. I got that bird too after about 20  minutes.  No photo of that either. The bird just would not come out from behind the grass so all I have are photos of grass. 

I was feeling good by now, so I decided to cross the river into Jersey to track down those damned geese again.  Suffice it to say that I didn't get the Pink Foot or Barnacle. I did get to see another Greater White-fronted goose which was nice but doesn't count.

Meanwhile, someone saw a Snowy Owl about 30 minutes north of where I saw the Harris's Sparrow . . . sigh.