Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Magee Marsh Residents

The boardwalk at Magee Marsh is not only a stop over for migrants but is also the summer home to quite a few birds too. Most notably, the Prothonotary Warbler. A few pairs of these birds nest along the boardwalk. They nest in cavities and always above water. In some areas, people put nest boxes on posts in swampy areas but at Magee, there are natural nest cavities too. Here is a beautiful male preparing a nest for his mate.

Prothonotary Warbler - male
And here is the mate gathering twigs and grass right on the boardwalk. She literally has no fear of the people walking the boardwalk since she is solely focused on getting that nest built.

Female Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary warblers are some of the sought after birds because of their beautiful yellow color but they aren't the only yellow birds that call Magee boardwalk home. Yellow Warblers were building their nests too. In fact, there were at least 6 nests along the boardwalk. This one was the most photographable. I stood on the railing to get up high enough to snap a few shots. Here she is with a beak full of fine silk maybe from a spider web.

Yellow Warbler
The next series shows how she moves around the nest getting it formed just right before going off to find more materials.

Yellow Warbler
It's not just warblers, other birds like this Woodcock also build their nests at the park. In fact, the people who mow the lawn at the parking area have to rope off areas where they find the nests. Here is one of the Woodcocks laying low in the bushes just off of the parking lot. Our friend Steve spotted it. I love that fluffy butt!

And there are now 2 active Bald Eagle nests within a few hundred yards of each other in the parking area. I didn't shoot any photos of the nests, but Connie, Peanut and I watched one of the adults fishing for perch just off the beach. Spoiler alert, he didn't get a fish.

Bald Eagle
The other fun thing about Magee Marsh is that we saw people that we know there. Edie and her friends from DVOC, Chris and Gerry, and Harvey's friend Steve too. Off to another destination this week. Hoping to squeeze in some really good bird stuff in between work meetings in Massachusetts.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Point Blank Range

I'm on a whirlwind travel schedule lately. This week took me to Ohio - and I do mean Ohio. Not just one stop on this trip. We combined business and personal into one hectic week starting in Magee Marsh on Lake Erie (birding), back east to Cleveland (work meetings), then diagonally across the state to Hueston Woods west of Dayton (wedding reception) and home again in just 5 days. 

Lori, Barbara and I made the trip to Magee Marsh a few years ago (relive the trip here) but Connie has never been  and I just knew she would love it. She did love it! We arrived on Wed evening after an 8 hour drive and did a quick trip around the boardwalk. We were greeted by Magnolia Warbler.

Magnolia Warbler
And then got to compare the markings to Canada Warbler. Both have a necklace, but Maggie has more streaking and different markings on the back and head while Canada has solid slate black back and head with that big eye ring. 

Canada Warbler
A favorite of ours is Chestnut-sided Warbler. These birds nest near the cabin in Potter County but we rarely get this close.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Another common warbler is American Redstart. We can get close to these birds almost anywhere but I still felt the need to photograph this female while she sat quietly next to the boardwalk. 

American Redstart
A fan favorite for sure is Wilson's Warbler. These guys look like they wear a yarmulke (yamaka).  

Wilson's Warbler
By far, the most interesting warbler that we spotted along the boardwalk was Bay-breasted Warbler. We don't get many of these in our area and when we do, it is fall and they are very dull. Not cinnamon colored like they are in spring. 

Bay-breasted Warbler. 
All of the photos here were barely cropped at all. That's how close the birds were. We took our time and watched them picking the leaves in search of bugs, or sitting quietly, or preening. That is what makes the boardwalk so special. Most of the birds hang around all day waiting to take flight over the lake at night.  Near the end of the boardwalk, we got to watch this Common Nighthawk snoozing on a fallen branch. He mainly just sat there, but then he started to wiggle around a little bit so I snapped this photo. 

Common Nighthawk
And then, I figured out why he was awake. He had to poop!

Common Nighthawk - poop
With that, we left the marsh and headed over to our hotel for the night. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Big Day Results - 2016

We did pretty well considering that none of us scouted and we didn't really have a plan until late Friday night. Total species for the day - 130.

We started at 3:30 AM at the Meadows hoping to hear some birds in the night but busted big time and headed to Higbee for sunrise. We did much better there starting our day with Chuck-wills-widows calling before dawn and almost stepping on a Woodcock before it flew away. We also heard Virginia Rail kiddicking in the distance. All of these birds are hit or miss on any given year, so getting them all before dawn was a huge win.

As the sun rose, we began to tick off the usual suspects - Catbirds and wrens and field sparrows along with plenty of warblers that were cruising in off of the bay. Barbara picked off a Meadowlark in flight which was very impressive. This caused Di to start in with the Globe Trotters routine (remember Meadowlark Lemon?). Di also impressed everyone by spotting a loon in flight. My big pick of the day was female Cerulean Warbler which isn't easy to ID.

As the day drew on, we made some miscalculations about where to go but the big win was going back to the Meadows where we racked up almost all of the shorebirds that we could imagine including Red Knots, Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers which are hard to find.

We dipped on some birds too like Orchard Oriole which is usually a gimme.

It's fun to run into the other teams during the day too. Many DVOCers participate in the contest. We ran into a real powerhouse of a team lead by the DVOC President, George Armistead with Jason Weckstein, Tom Johnson and Dan Lane by his side. These guys are super-birders and fun too. They pointed us in the right direction for Kentucky Warbler at Belleplain and we pointed them in the right direction for pizza when it started to pour rain at 6 PM. We birded with the senior group at Higbee. Their leader had the nerve to ask if we were also in the Senior Division - I almost smacked him but he helped us find a few birds.

We ended the day at 8 PM after Lori could take it no more. Went back to the house and had birthday cake with Tara, then collapsed.

Thanks to those who pledged to support our cause which is the DVOC Interns Fund. The club is trying to get a fund going so that we can help the Academy of Natural Sciences support ornithology interns.

Make checks payable to DVOC with memo: Interns Fund - PhillyBirdNerds. Mail checks to:
DVOC Treasurer
c/o 1314 Lenore Road
Meadowbrook PA 19046

BTW, no photos from the day. Too busy chasing the birds.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sponsor Us!

The Nerds are planning a "big day" on Saturday to raise money for the DVOC Interns Fund. This fund is being developed to sponsor an ornithology intern at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  For the past few years, we have entered into the official World Series of Birding but this year, we decided to go rogue so that we can do what we want and raise some money for DVOC.

We are planning to start before sun up to listen for owls, rails and whippoorwills at Jake's Landing Rd then head to Higbee beach to round up some warblers and songbirds after dawn. After that, we'll race around Cape May county to find as many species as possible. Hopefully, we'll have good weather.

Soooo, this is our goal this year is to have you all sponsor us. Here are a few options:
Pledge a flat fee - $25, $50, $100?
Pledge an amount per bird - $.50, $1? (hoping to see 150+ species)
Tell us to go pound sand - free

Email me or send me a check. I'll post our results on Sunday.

Monday, May 9, 2016

California by the Numbers

Now that I am in deep with the DVOC, I am rubbing elbows with some major birders. Some of the members are in the "700" club as in - they have seen 700+ species of birds in North America. 700 is a big deal in North America since there are only about 914 species that are possible to see. I'm sure that there are a select few approaching 800 or even more. Seeing that many birds means that they have traveled north and south, east and west and chased alot of rare birds. 

Anyway, their lists got me thinking about my own species count. I looked it up in eBird. My total species is just over 1100. Of those, I have 553 recorded in North America. Of those, 20 are not "countable" meaning that the bird was not considered wild, so my real number is 533. Now, I think of myself as pretty well traveled. I've been north and south AND east and west. I've also chased rare birds. So seeing my number left me feeling a bit inadequate. 

So, this year I am paying closer attention to finding birds that I haven't seen in North America and trying to plan birding outings that will increase the number. eBird has a feature called "Target Species" so I can enter the destination and it will show me a list of birds that I do not have on my list but are being seen in that area. The California list showed Yellow-billed Magpie, Hooded Oriole, Vaux's Swift and many others but those 3 were my target for this past trip. By now you know that Little Stint unexpectedly became #534.

I planned my route precisely. My first target was Yellow-billed Magpie. Many sites were listed but the map showed that they were all along one road - Mine Road so that is where I headed. Sure enough, the birds were literally ON the road. Here is one of them with a beak full of bugs. 

Yellow-billed Magpie
Here is another one sitting on the fence. You can really see the yellow bill in this photo. Count these as #535.
Yellow-billed Magpie
That was pretty easy but I wanted to continue down Mine Road and get to the Del Valle Regional Park since I was close. Glad I stuck to the plan as I was pleasantly surprised to find not 1 but 2 Bobcats wandering up the maintenance road. I couldn't believe my eyes. 

A short time later, another surprise. I spotted a mother turkey and her chicks were foraging in the grass by the edge of the road. Here they are crossing the road. Good thing there were no other cars on the road - not because of the turkeys but because I was laying in the middle of the road to take this photo. 

Here is one of the babies in the grass. You can barely see him. 

Turkey Chick
I headed out to another park and found a few more photographable birds including this Tom Turkey struttin' his stuff to impress a lady Turkey. Who could resist this guy? 

Tom Turkey
And this Western Scrub Jay. I love these birds because they always seem to pose for me. This one even gave me directions :-)

Western Scrub Jay
The unexpected sighting here was this lizard. Nothing to look at really until you see the blue belly. 

The lizard became even more interesting when he jumped onto another log to hang with his friend the Minion. What an ironic photo.  

And then, #536 - Hooded Oriole. The bird hung out high in the tree so I couldn't get the a good photo. 

Hooded Oriole
I'll tell you about #537 in another post. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Sometimes Things Just Work Out

Let's set the stage with some background. First, if you read this blog or related to me, you know I've been traveling a lot lately for my job. Next, if you live in the Philly area, you know that the weather has been terrible lately - overcast, rainy and cold - not really ideal birding weather. Lastly, if you are a birder, you know that this time of year can produce some really rare birds. All of these things came together last week in a big way.

I have 2 projects going on for clients in the Bay Area of California. Both projects require me to meet with them in person but my calendar is booked solid for May with both work and birding. As luck would have it, the weather was so bad that I cancelled a trip to the shore last weekend and started to look at airfare pricing to California. Things worked out and I booked a last minute trip leaving Philly on Sunday, staying in Berkeley through Wed and catching the red-eye home on Wed night/Thurs morning. I had a few target birds to look for on this trip which I will post later. This post is about bonus birds - in particular a mega rare bird that I stumbled upon on my last day of the trip.

The business part of the trip included a meeting with a client in Milpitas which is down near San Jose. The meeting was scheduled for 10 AM. How could I spend the morning? Hmmm. Birding of course. The night before, I searched eBird for a location close to my meeting that looked promising for shorebirds. I clicked the link for Alviso Marina and was shocked to see Little Stint in the list of recently recorded birds. Now, you need to know that Little Stint is a super rare bird from Asia. This bird was only the second ever recorded in all of California. I had to go.

Arrived at 6:15 to find that the park doesn't open til 8:00 AM. That didn't stop me. Over the fence I went with my binoculars and camera. I was surprised that I was totally alone for 2 hours looking for the Little Stint. I thought for sure there would be others but only one other birder came along. We didn't find the Little Stint. We did see these Eared Grebes floating on the glassy water.

Eared Grebes
The sky was overcast and there was no wind which created a bright and smooth water surface. The grebes were not afraid of us at all. In fact, they dove under water and popped up very close to shore which allowed me to take these shots.

Eared Grebe
You can see why they are called "eared" with that yellow tuft of feathers but I think they could also be called "Devil-eyed" grebe due to that red eye or "Crested" grebe due to the crest that is always up unless they are getting ready to dive underwater.
Eared Grebe
I am also a sucker for American Avocets. This location had a lot of them. They nest here and seem to be oblivious to people walking past them on the trail.

I never realized that they had those shocking blue legs.

One of the things that you might notice about all of these photos is that there are little black dots on them. This isn't a camera problem. The dots are tiny little flies that were here by the billions. So many that when I walked on the path, a cloud of them would rise up and fly around my feet to avoid being squashed. You can see it best in this photo. The Avocet is stalking the flies but they are too smart. They move just far enough so the Avocet can't reach them.

Avocet hunting flies
Obviously, the Avocet gets plenty of flies to eat but not in that photo. Here is another photo pocked with flies. These are Red-necked Phalaropes. We usually see these birds in the ocean but they stop along the mudflats in migration too. Looks like they were taking a break from eating flies.

Red-necked Phalaropes
The other birder told me that the Little Stint has been seen every day in the afternoon but not in the morning. Sigh. Why did I get up so early? Oh well, seeing Eared Grebes and Avocets made the trip worth it. But I had other ideas too.

My meeting went great. I was supposed to be there until 4 PM but when I told my client about the rare bird, he agreed to cut the meeting short. So, I tore out of there at 2 PM and headed back to the park. This time, the gate was open and there were many other birders there. All gathered at the end of the trail where I had been searching for the Stint earlier. I literally ran to get there. Tada! Little Stint.

Little Stint
I know it doesn't look like much after seeing the spectacular Eared Grebe and elegant Avocets but this bird is more sought after by far. Here he is with 2 other species - Dunlin and Western Sandpiper. He chased both of these birds away from his little mud island.

Little Stint (left), Dunlin (center) and Western Sandpiper
The other birders disbanded after awhile leaving me and one other lady there to watch this little lost bird feeding in the mud. The park is dissected by a train track which is very busy. Here is the scene. The Little Stint is there next to his island.

Little Stint and American Flyer
A few other birds that were seen include this Short-billed Dowitcher. I know, "short billed"? Believe it or not, there are also Long-billed Dowitchers. Imagine that.

Short-billed Dowitcher
Here are a group of them poking their long bills into the mud below the water.

Dunkin' Dowitchers
The most numerous species at this location is Western Sandpiper. Here is one getting ready to grab a fly from the water's surface.

Western Sandpiper
 The Little Stint was icing on the cake for this trip. I'm glad I made the last minute decision. My clients are happy too. Now, back home to witness spring migration.