Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Owls and Eagles

Harvey and I had an early start Sunday morning beating the bushes along the Delaware Bayshore starting at Jake’s Landing Road in search of Short-eared Owls which were a no-show. We were stumped by some interesting calls – a meow like call coming from the marsh which went overhead without being seen and then a tik, tik,tik, tik, tik, coming from the marsh too.  Argh, so frustrating. 

We found an accommodating Bald Eagle’s nest in Cumberland county. Eagles are really big birds but this lady looks like a dwarf in the nest. That is because the nest measures about 6 feet deep!

Bald Eagle Nest
I headed back to Philly and was able to see the Long-eared Owl that has been hanging around John Heinz NWR for the last few weeks.  Even though the owl is roosting very close to the path, it is difficult to get a good photo since it is obstructed by vines and branches. Some little kid started screaming and running up the path which prompted the owl to open his eyes. That gave me a few seconds to snap this photo - using manual focus to get past the vines. 

Long-eared Owl
Be warned – this owl has chosen to roost very close to the main path but DO NOT go any closer.  You have been warned – there are hidden cameras waiting to snap a photo of you just before you are fined by the game commission if you get too close.

My final stop was Phila Intl Airport to see the latest Snowy Owl that has taken up residence there. This is Snowy #4 for PHL. The first one was tagged and relocated to Lancaster County only to return a few days later and ultimately be killed by a UPS cargo plane. The second Snowy was also relocated to Lancaster and fortunately stayed there. The third Snow showed up on Friday and was also hauled off to Amish country. This Snowy showed up yesterday and will probably be sent to farm country with his kin very soon.  This is a crappy photo but you can just about see the bird sitting on a post in the center of the photo.

Snowy Owl - Phila Intl Airport
It was great to be out and about again after such cold/snowy weather. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Finally, Decent Birding Weather

Well, we finally had a nice weekend to be out and about. I met up with my friend Harvey on Saturday to look for some interesting birds in Cape May. There has been a Common Murre in Wildwood for the past week which is very unusual. Unfortunately, we didn't see the bird but we met an interesting guy who runs the bait and tackle shop on the pier. We did have great looks at a Red-necked Grebe. 

Red-necked Grebe
Here is another Red-necked Grebe swimming with a Common Loon. This photo is a great size comparison.

Common Loon (left) and Red-necked Grebe (right)

We also saw a Belted Kingfisher diving for breakfast and picked out a Eurasian Widgeon from a flock near Breez-e-Lee Marina. 

Belted Kingfisher
 Can you find the Eurasian Widgeon in the photo below? There is only one - the rest are American Widgeon.

Flock of Widgeons - one Eurasian
We stopped by Stone Harbor Point. I got my best photo ever of an Ipswich Sparrow. Ipswich is an island in New England that produces a special race of Savannah Sparrows which are lighter in color that the normal Savannahs. This little guy scurried out into the open which allowed me to snap a few shots.

Ipswich Sparrow
Here is a photo of Brant. This is like a goose but smaller. I love their black heads and little bills. This guy has a bum foot but seems to get around fine. 

I stayed overnight with Patience so that I could stay at the shore but not have to turn on the heat at the Blue House. I took one more little outing before having a delicious dinner at Pay's. Here is my best photo of Redheads on the lake at Cox Hall Creek. 

I'll tell you more from the weekend in a separate post. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Officially Sick of This F$%&ING Snow

More snow in the forecast today. We had a foot on Thursday, another 3 inches predicted today and then another storm to come on Monday. This weather has put a damper on my quest to see a dozen Snowy Owls and has also wreaked havoc on photo opps.  I spent a few hours at Pennypack on the Delaware after work trying to see a Short-eared Owl. The owl didn't make an appearance but I did find a few birds to photograph.

I was met at the gate by this Merlin perched on his favorite light post.

I found these White-crowned Sparrows looking for food in the compost pile. There are very few open areas for these ground feeders this winter.

White-crowned Sparrows
 One of the sparrows hopped up into a weed and posed for me.

White-crowned Sparrow
This Bald Eagle cruised by at sunset heading back to his nest. This pair has been nesting here for a few years. You can see the nest from the parking lot which is nice.

Bald Eagle
Hopefully, I will be able to get out tomorrow.  Sigh. I'm ready for spring.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Close Encounters of the Peregrine Kind

Diane and I took a trip to Forsythe NWR today. Our goal was to see if we could add another Snowy Owl to my list for the year. Forsythe NWR is famous for it's "Wildlife Drive" which is an 8 mile loop road that goes out onto the marsh and back again. The road acts as a dike that allows the inside to remain fresh water while the outside is salt water bay. The refuge is a great place to see ducks in winter however the numbers are few due to the fresh water being frozen solid.

The weather was cold and overcast with a forecast of snow later in the day (it is snowing as I type this). We drove the whole loop very slowly looking for any sign of the Snowy Owl but failed to see it. We stopped along the way any time we saw anything interesting like ducks or geese. At one of our stops, we noticed that all of the shorebirds were flying around in a big ball. That only means one thing - they are being attacked by a raptor.  Here is a video of some of the action (you need to click on it to make it play). Diane is your camera woman for this one and I have no idea why it goes sideways half way through.

The raptor on the attack this time was a young Peregrine Falcon.  Here he is as he fly past the car. The first is full size. He came pretty close to the car. The second is cropped so you can see the markings.

Peregrine Falcon flying past the car
Peregrine Falcon
Here is looking pissed off because he couldn't grab one of those Dunlin. Better luck next time buddy.

Peregrine Falcon on S-6
We decided to get some lunch at Wawa and drive around the loop again to try for the Snowy Owl. So after about a 45 minute break we headed back out on the loop road. We parked at the first corner to eat our lunch and look for the owl. Just as we were about to get going, Di goes "Um, Lin. Look at that".  Just then, our friend the Peregrine landed on the road sign right outside of the car. I mean - right next to the car! This photo is taken with my iPhone. You can see the pretzel rods on the dashboard.

Peregrine outside of the car
After a few minutes of trying to not scare it away, we decided to get bold and try to get some photos with the real camera. This first one is taken from inside the car.

Peregrine Falcon - windshield view
A few other cars drove by and it didn't move so I stuck the camera out the window and snapped a few shots. Then I got really bold and got out of the car to take a few more.

Peregrine Falcon on road sign
I hid behind the car but believe me, the bird knew exactly where I was. Here is looking directly at me - gulp!

You lookin' at me?
He really didn't seem to mind us or any of the other cars that stopped to look at him. He even did a little preening while sitting on the sign. Here is waving at us.

Hi there!
He finally took off after some other poor shorebirds. Di took this video with the iPhone too.

Just when we thought we had enough of the Peregrine - he showed up again. This time he caught a goose right in front of us.

Peregrine Falcon
We didn't have the heart to tell him that the goose was made out of wood. He'll figure it out. We left without seeing the Snowy Owl, but boy did we get a show!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Bowl or Superb Owl?

Di showed me this funny article on the Internet that showed the word Super Bowl as Superb Owl. The article showed a Snowy Owl since there is no such thing as an owl called Suberb Owl but it was pretty funny play on words

That was quite the coincidence since I started the day at Stone Harbor Point trying to relocate a rare Smith's Longspur that my friend Harvey found while the Nerds were in Florida. There were already 25 people looking for the longspur at 8 AM.. They were tromping all over the dunes and spooking the Snowy Owl and never did find the Longspur. Good grief. The owl kept flying over the dunes onto the beach and back again. I happened to be standing in a good place to see the owl every time he was disturbed. Here he is flying over the pond.  This is probably the best photo that I have of a Snowy Owl in flight.

Snowy Owl - Stone Harbor Point
Remember, you can click on the photos to see larger views. Here he is landing on the dunes. He blends in well with the sand and pebbles.

Landing on the dunes
Here he is on the dune fence on the beach.  Check out those yellow eyes and the feathered feet! He was really looking around the whole time.

Snowy Owl - Stone Harbor Point
It is snowing again today. I hope the owl finds some peace during the week.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Boats and Airplanes

When the Nerds are in Florida, you can pretty much count on us being out on the boat as much as possible. You may recall that the girls have a 23 foot boat that we use when we are down there. Fun stuff for sure. The photos of the Frigatebird, Bald Eagle and the Osprey were shot from the boat. The boat also allows us to get out to the Gulf of Mexico and onto some beaches where the Plover and Turnstone photos were shot.

Boating is definitely fun but all vacations must come to an end.  Our vacation was supposed to end on Thursday, but the weather had other plans for us. Our flight was cancelled after we sat in the airport for almost 5 hours. We were told to return on Friday which we did but the airline still had no planes available. The Nerds decided to spend some money to take a taxi to another airport and get on a different flight home. That required us to fly into a different airport back here too. Long story short - we arrived home 36 hours later than we planned - at 8 PM Friday night.

I was up and on the road by 3:30 AM (yes, AM) on Saturday headed up to Long Island NY to catch another boat for a pelagic birding trip. I thought about cancelling but I am glad I went on the trip. It was one of the best pelagics that I have been on so far.

We left the dock at 6 AM and were greeted by a Black-legged Kittiwake at sunrise.

Black-legged Kittiwake at Sunrise
These are small birds that look like gulls but are somehow different. They spend most of their life up north like most of the birds that we saw on the trip. This is a Northern Fulmar. I call them the Bulldogs of the sea because they carry all of their weight up front. Mean looking suckers.

Bulldog - Northern Fulmar
The highlight of most winter pelagics for me is watching the Gannets dive for pieces of beef fat that we use for chum. Gannets are related to the Boobies that I posted about in November. They are very large birds with wide wingspan. They have beautiful markings around their bills and eyes.

I learned something about them on this trip. I watched 2 Gannets fly around the boat and dive for chum. I tried to photograph the dive but it was difficult to time until I noticed that each bird would squawk just before diving. The first photo shows the bird letting out the squawk. He would slow down by spreading his feet and tail feathers and the let out the noise. I think this is his way of saying "Get out of my way or get stabbed"

Look Out!
Check out the green lines on his feet too. Pretty cool.  The next photo is the closest that I got to the actual dive. The Gannet pulls his wings behind him and dives head first into the water. You can see the concentration on his face. The Herring Gull is definitely getting out to the way.
Here I Come!
We broke a New York state record for number of Common Murres seen in one day - 230. We also saw Dovekies, Puffins and Razorbills - all of which are in the Alcid family. My photos are not great since most of them would fly away from the boat or dive underwater as we approached.  This is the typical view:

Bottom's Up
Sadly, the best shots that I got of a Razorbill was the dead one that we found floating. We scooped it up with a fish net so that we could take it to the Academy of Natural Sciences to add to their collection. Here are some photos. The first shows Paul holding the bird which was in great shape - well, except for being dead that is.

Paul holding dead Razorbill
 The birds are called Razorbills due to the shape of the bill. Alyssa took this great close up photo of the bill.

Razorbill - photo by Alyssa Della Fave
We arrived back at the dock at 6 PM after a perfect day at sea. You should have noticed how calm the sea looked in all of the photos - not like the last trip! Here is a fishing boat that we passed on our way back to the dock. This is a few miles offshore and the water looks like glass.

Fishing Trawler - "Vengeance"

Wait til you see what I did on Superbowl Sunday . . .