Monday, March 24, 2014

Make That Five Life Birds

Just when we were ready to leave the shore, the text alert came in - Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Cape May Point. Honestly, we had the car packed after having a leisurely morning walking the beach with our best friends - the Bald Eagles:
Bald Eagles at low tide - Villas NJ
We had our first "Coffee Talk" visit of the season with Patience. We went to the Lobster House Breakfast Counter for some delicious French Toast. We packed up and were headed home - with a slight detour.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows are very similar to European House Sparrows. They look alike and they came to America in similar ways. The European House Sparrow has spread EVERYWHERE while the Eurasian Tree Sparrow only populates a small area in St. Louis Missouri. I don't know how this bird got to Cape May, but needless to say it was a big deal as you can see by this photo. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Spectators
All of that to see this little guy. You can differentiate the Eurasian Tree Sparrow from House Sparrow by the black cheek patches and brighter head color. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Cape May Point
While we were there, another Cape May rarity flew in just a few feet away from me. Black-capped Chickadee. I know what you are thinking - "that's not rare". But it is rare in Cape May which only gets Carolina Chickadees. The Black-capped variety has a more northern range starting at about Hawk Mountain. This little guy has something weird on his belly, but you can tell he is Black-capped by the white streaking on the wings.

Black-capped Chickadee - Cape May Point
I'm glad he survived the winter with that belly issue and hope he goes back to where ever he belongs - along with his Eurasian friend. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hanging Out and Seeing Red

It feels pretty good being a casual birder again. After chasing birds all year last year, it was nice to have a day to bird for the sheer sake of watching birds. Lori and I came down to the shore this morning in no big rush to do the kind of birding that we used to do back in the day - you know, just hanging out and seeing whatever there is to see. Well, it paid off big time for Lori. She got 4 life birds and had a nap too!

All of the birds that she got for lifers were colored - 3 red ones and 1 black.  The first lifer came at the marina behind the Lobster House - Red-necked Grebe. These birds have invaded our area this year even more than the Snowy Owls. They are literally everywhere that has fresh water without ice. We have some on the Schuylkill River in Philly, in the back bays of Wildwood, and even on the little ponds in the Villas. In fact, we saw 7 of them today. Here are a few photos. The first is a close encounter that we had at Cox Hall Creek. You can see that this bird is molting into breeding plumage by the red on the neck. 

Red-necked Grebe - Villas NJ
Here are a group of 3 Red-necked Grebes on a little retention pond that the locals call "Lake" Champlain because it is on Champlain Road in the Villas. It is remarkable to have 3 grebes hanging out so close together on a tiny pond.  I caught one of them in the middle of his afternoon bath.

Red-necked Grebes - Lake Champlain
The other "red" bird that we saw today was Redhead. There were 18 of them on the lake at Cox Hall Creek last month but 17 of them have flown the coop. This guy decided to hand out with a Coot.They were acting like best friends in the middle of the lake. Where ever one would go, the other would follow. 

Redhead and Coot
The third "red" bird for Lori was the Eurasian Wigeon which has red on the head. The American Wigeon has green on the head. They were hanging out together in the marsh but too far away for a photo opp. You can see a photo of this bird in a post from last month.  

Lori's 4th lifer of the day was Black-headed Gull. There have been a few hanging around Miami Ave in the Villas this month. This is pretty normal for March since they are starting to migrate north.  This is not as sexy as the others. Kind of boring in fact. It looks alot like a Bonaparte's Gull (and frankly, every other gull if you are not a birder) but a lifer nonetheless. It was hanging out with Forster's Terns on the sandbar. 

Black-headed Gull
Although it wasn't a lifer, the other notable bird for the day was this Horned Grebe. It is still in basic plumage (ie, no horns yet) but still a great find. It was very close to the shore of Sunset Lake. I love the bright red eye!

Horned Grebe - Sunset Lake
We ended the day at dinner with friends. The restaurant was loud, the service was slow and the food was mediocre but it was nice to hang out with friends.  I guess there are 2 themes to this post - Red and Hanging Out! We will take it easy again tomorrow and see whatever shows up. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm Not a Very Good Birder

I heard a Screech Owl trilling last Wed. I thought it must be in my neighbor’s yard based on the volume of the trill. I thought it was pretty cool.

I heard it again on Saturday at 6 PM. It was still light enough so I decided to try to track it down.  I followed the sound over the pine trees that separate my yard from my neighbor’s. I circled the pine trees to try to get a location of the bird. I stood under the trees to make sure that my ears weren't playing tricks on me. The trill emanated from directly overhead. I could not see the bird. I moved farther away once I realized that the bird was probably sitting on my head but still could not see it. Another trill started from the neighbor’s yard. Only then did I see the first owl as it flew out of the pine tree and toward the other triller.  Curses. I suck. 

The trilling returned to my yard later that evening but I was too embarrassed to try again. He was back on Sunday too – mocking me I think.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Adirondacks Part 2 - Lifer!

The attraction of birding the Adirondacks in winter is to see boreal species. We got the Gray Jay on Saturday despite having a dozen snowmobilers whiz by and other people walking their dogs off leash. We missed some of the other boreal species I suspect due to this commotion. We decided to head back to Bloomingdale Bog first thing on Sunday morning despite the looming weather forecast. 

We were out the door at 5 AM and traveled through snow storms to arrive at the bog by 7 AM. Good news - no snowmobile or dog tracks in the fresh snow. We were the first people there. Brandon got a tip about the location of Black-backed Woodpeckers just up the road so we started there.  It took Big Daddy Alyssa (AKA Cupcake) about 4 minutes to spot the bird! It was hammering away at a tree right beside the road. Unbelievable. We all oggled it and snapped some photos when here comes a huge snow plow. We thought it was the end of our encounter but that little sucker stayed put.

A few things to note about this woodpecker. First, it has a solid black back (hence, the name). Second, it has a yellow cap. Most woodpeckers have red caps. Appropriately, the third fact is that this woodpecker only has 3 toes. Most woodpeckers have 4 toes. All of these ID traits can be seen in the photo below.

Black-backed Woodpecker
It is really difficult to get a photo that is in focus of a woodpecker when they are pecking. Here is a video which is pretty good and shows the little guy at work. Check it out.

We headed back into the bog trail to try our luck with Spruce Grouse and Boreal Chickadee but came up short. Who cares. We saw a Black-backed Woodpecker! And the Gray Jays cheerily met us along the path again. We fed them cinnamon buns. Oh, and a few more cuties like this Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
 And this Black-capped Chickadee posing with snowflakes streaking by.

Black-capped Chickadee
And this adorable Red Squirrel chowing down on the yummy peanut butter that was slathered on the feeder.  Zoom in and you can see his little mouth getting ready to chomp on the peanut butter. 

Red Squirrel
We were a happy group for sure. Here is the gang. That's Sam on the left, Alyssa in the pink hat and Brandon with the giant grin. Of course, yours truly has a dopey look as usual.  It was a great trip even though our total list was shorter than usual.

The Bog Gang

Monday, March 3, 2014

Adirondacks in Winter

I must be nuts.  Who in their right mind would say "yes" to an offer to leave frigid, snow covered, miserable Philadelphia on March 1st and go to someplace that is even colder and snowier?  The answer is me and a few other crazy birders.  The nice part of this adventure is that our birding friend Brandon has a lake house up there and was generous enough to ask a few of us to come up. He promised some good birding and a chance to see some species that you can usually only find in Boreal forests of Canada.

I drove up with Alyssa and Sam on Friday afternoon - taking work calls in the backseat of Alyssa's Honda and doing email from my phone. It worked out pretty well. We arrived at the Lake House just in time for a new experience - snowmobiling. Here is the gang getting ready to drive across the frozen lake to the restaurant. Brandon's house is in the background.

Getting ready for a ride
Saturday, we headed out to Bloomingdale Bog in search of boreal species such as Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee and Black-backed Woodpecker. We geared up for a cold hike and headed out onto a snowmobile trail through the woods. After a short hike, a Gray Jay showed up right next to us with a friendly look in his eye. He was soon joined by friends and they all followed us up the path. Aw, that's nice.

Gray Jay

Gray Jay
We soon found out why they were so interested in us - they want to be fed. Someone has a bird feeder in the middle of the woods and everyone knows that the Jays will eat bread and peanut butter if you bring some along. I guess they are used to it.

Gray Jay eating Peanut Butter
Alyssa shot this video. The birds are just wary enough  but eventually take the bread (or in this case, Sam's Club Mini Cinnamon Rolls) right out of your hand. Watch the very end.

We busted on the other boreal species on Saturday so headed off to Lake Champlain to see some ducks. We were surprised that the ferry was still running with all of the ice but as you can see, the ferry keeps a path open.

Lake Champlain NY - ferry
The open water attracts all kinds of ducks including some rarities. There was one Tufted Duck mixed in here but it never came close enough for a photo. The other rarity was a Barrow's Goldeneye. This duck was close to the ferry terminal so I was able to get a few photos.

Female Barrow's Goldeneye
 Here she is preening her belly which is always cute to watch.

Female Barrow's Goldeneye
We have Common Goldeneyes in the east. Barrow's are usually found out west which is what makes this a rare find. I have seen Barrow's Goldeneyes in Seattle way back in 2006. The difference between Common Goldeneye and Barrow's can be seen on the shape of the head and color of the bill. Here is a photo of both birds swimming side by side. Notice in this photo, the bird in front has a black bill with yellow tip while the bird in the back has the opposite - yellowish bill with black tip.

Common and Barrow's Goldeneyes
Here are a few more duck photos from the day. We had a good laugh at the ducks who decided to try to walk on the ice. Here is an immature male Common Goldeneye trying his luck without skates.

Common Goldeneye
 These 2 Mallards chased mussels around the ice trying to get them open. It entertained us for a while.

Female Mallard with Mussels

Male Mallard with Mussels
 This is a Ring-necked Duck who insisted on sitting out on the ice but couldn't quite get comfortable.

Ring-necked Duck
Each time the ferry would come in, all of the ducks would fly to get out of the way. Here are a few male Common Goldeneyes coming in for a landing.

Common Goldeneyes
The photos aren't the best due to overcast conditions but you can see how many ducks there were.  More to come later - including another video which was a highlight of the trip.