Monday, December 31, 2018

Fun with Phoebe

Like I said, I went to Babcock-Webb 2 days in a row. The park is huge. You can drive for miles and miles on the gravel roads. If you had a "swamp buggy", you could go even further. I usually take the same route through the park stopping along the way at spots where it looks good for wildlife. On Day 1, I stopped along Seaboard Grade where I saw a few Egrets and Grebes. I left the car unlocked with windows down and approached the water's edge to snap a few photos.

Along with the sights, the forest is also full of sounds. Most of the sounds fade into the background when I am focused on photography but I kept hearing a Phoebe calling, calling calling - "Fee-bee, Fee-bee, Fee-bee" which is it's usual call but this bird added some extra grumbling to the end of the calls. I turned to see what was going on but couldn't find the bird. I finally found it - sitting on the car!

This bird was obsessed with the car. He sat on the roof rack. He sat on the side mirror. He sat on the windshield. He sat on the driver's door. I took video to show Connie. That was Day 1. On Day 2, the whole thing repeated! On Day 2, I was prepared to get better documentation too. Again, the bird sat on the driver's door.

Nice interior
Then, he decided to sit INSIDE the car too. He sat on the headrest.

This seat is comfy
 He sat on the dashboard.

Home James!
He sat on the steering wheel.

How do you start this thing? 
On Day 2, I made another video. Enjoy!

I'm still not sure whether the bird really loved the Subaru or hated it. I think he wanted to make a nest inside but who knows.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Babcock-Webb Day 2

Babcock-Webb WMA is so close to Connie's sister's house that I can't resist spending the morning there. There have been Snail Kites reported at the lake for the past few months so I thought I would try to see them. Spoiler alert: I dipped 2 days in a row. But I did manage to have a great time anyway. Day 2 started with heavy fog. This Red-shouldered Hawk was none-too-happy with it.

Foggy Morning
The park's habitat is a mix of open pine forests and shallow swamps which you can see in the above photo. The shallow marshes support tons of herons and egrets. Maybe I'm becoming a photo snob but I rarely take photos of Great-blue Herons because they are usually in boring poses and and pretty easy to photograph. That said, I took a few on Day 2. This one just because the bird was posing with such an elongated neck.

Great Blue Heron
And this one because the bird bit off more than he could chew. Literally, he spent 10 minutes figuring out how to swallow that huge fish. I didn't stay around to see if he succeeded.

Heron with a mouthful
I also usually don't photograph Great Egrets either. Not because they are boring but because they are very difficult to photograph. The white bird is usually over-exposed. To compensate, you end up making the rest of the photo dark. Today's fog was a perfect opportunity to get a good one. Fog flattens out the light so that the exposure can be good for the bird and the background too.

Great Egret
The Great Egret was crafty too. He was following a juvenile White Ibis along the edge of the water. Presumably waiting for the Ibis to stir up the fish for the Egret to have an easy meal. Juvenile White Ibis are not white. They are mottled so that they blend into the environment more. Here is the one that the Egret was following.
Juvenile White Ibis
The pine forests are great habitat for some species of warblers including well, Pine Warblers. I would come across flocks of a few dozen at a time. A few posed nicely. This guy was low in the grass.

Pine Warbler
This guy was low in a bush. 

Pine Warbler
This juvenile Pine Warbler followed Dad bush by bush, tree by tree. I guess he's not ready to go it alone.
Juvenile Pine Warbler
This Pine Warbler was acting like a Palm Warbler in the palm tree.
Pine Warbler in a palm
It wasn't all about birds at the park. I also saw a few alligators. This was the biggest - probably 7 or 8 feet long. Funny that he hustled into the water when he saw Peanut on the bank. Sissy.
Big Daddy Gator
 I found this water snake sunning himself after the fog cleared.
Water snake

I have one more story to share another day.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Florida for Christmas

We made the trip to Florida again for Christmas this year to see my Mom and Connie's sister. I make the most of the trip by going birding (what's new right?) Not much going on in The Villages bird-wise but we did get to see these Sandhill Cranes wandering around the Sheriff's Office parking area.

I also spotted these Cranes at Harne's Marsh this week. Look at how messy the juvenile's feathers are. They were honking at the park ranger's truck going by.

I also found a few other notable birds at the marsh including a life bird - Gray-headed Swamphen. I have seen a few before but never entered the sighting into eBird. Now, I can "officially" count it as bird # 1224.

There were lots of Tri-colored Herons at the marsh. This one was close to the path and didn't mind me and Peanut.
I also went to my favorite location near Punta Gorda - Babcock-Webb NWA. This is a huge wildlife management area that is a big hunting destination. This week, the park was so crowded that the campground was overflowing. I still had fun and saw some good birds. Anhingas were everywhere.

This Osprey was sitting quietly until he spotted another one flying past. Then, he started that squeeky crying.

Least Bitterns are very hard to see. They are secretive, camouflaged and stealthy. I caught this one jumping from one clump of reeds to another then spent time waiting for it to get into position to be photographed. This is the best shot I could get. I think you can get the idea of how small they are.

This was the best bird of the day for sure.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Bird Count 2019

Another year, another Christmas Bird Count. It always seems like the worst weather too. This year, I did Pennypack Park on Saturday in drizzle and dreary overcast conditions. My territory is pretty boring but at least I found a Great-horned Owl sitting out. Poor thing was harrassed by a group of crows later in the day but didn't budge from his perch.

Great-horned Owl
And caught this Pileated Woodpecker in flight. You can see the white wing panels that make this bird easy to ID in flight.

Pileated Woodpecker
You can see by the photographs that the lighting was TERRIBLE for photographing birds.

On Sunday, I joined Paul Guris' CBC group to cover the Two Mile Unit of Cape May. I have helped with this territory in the past but this year, the weather was really snotty with sideways rain, wind and fog that prevented us from seeing very much. This Cooper's Hawk sat on the railing at the boat dock dripping wet for a long time. Even she didn't want to fly in that weather.

Once I downloaded the photo, I noticed that this hawk has leg bands. I can't read the band information but interesting to find one with "jewelry".

We were the only group in Cape May to spot a Snow Bunting this year which is weird because there are a lot of professional birders that cover this area. I guess we just got lucky. This little guy was gobbling up seeds in the parking lot of the restaurant.

Snow Bunting
I quit around 2:30 and headed home to host the DVOC photo contest judging. There were alot of great submissions this year. The judges had a tough time choosing winners to be announced on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When Irish Eyes are Smilin'

Ireland is NOT part of the UK. It is located in Europe and part of the European Union. They like to remind you of that fact even though the island is situated right next to England in the North Atlantic Ocean. I'm in Dublin for a conference this week. We took some time at the beginning of the trip to go sightseeing around the countryside.

Sam and I drove to Howth which is a little peninsula near Dublin with a fishing village. We found a few birds. Hooded crows were everywhere.

Hooded Crow
This is a pipit. I think it is a Meadow Pipit on a rock but another birder reported it as a Rock Pipit so I changed my report to Rock Pipit.

White Wagtails are adorable.

White Wagtail
Fun fact - It's a long way to Tipperary, but we managed to get there in our rental car.

It's a long way
We went to Cashel Rock to see an old ruined church and learned that one of the archbishops who ran the church was a McGrath (my step-sister's married name). Nothing to be so proud of though. Our tour guide told us that even though Miler McGrath was a Catholic Bishop, we switched to Protestant, had 2 wives, 12 legitimate children and 37 illegitimate children all while amassing a fortune in real estate. Some bishop huh? Here is his tomb.

Miler McGrath
The only birds that we saw at "the rock" were Jackdaws. They owned the place.


Irish Cross

We returned the rental car and I did some more birding by commuter train. First, heading down south to Dalkey to see Killiney Hill. This Rook was a target bird for the trip. I saw alot of them but this one hung around for a photo.

Another target bird for me was Stone Chat. I lucked into a pair down along the coast in a city park. He posed with these flowers.

Stone Chat
Europe has a lot of tits. Not the breast kind, but the chickadee kind. Here is a Blue Tit hanging on the train platform.

Blue Tit
On the train ride back to the city, I noticed a big flock of shorebirds from the window. Naturally, I jumped off the train at the next stop and was rewarded by 2 types of Godwits. This is Black-tailed Godwit showing his black tail.

Black-tailed Godwit
 The flock was mixed with Dunlin, Red Knot, and Common Red-shanks.

Dunlin, Red-shanks, Red Knot
I must admit that on the way back to Dublin, I fell asleep on the train and ended up way north of the city. That has never happened to me before! Everything was fine and I made it to the Guinness brewery tour with my boss for lunch.

All in all, I ended up with a good birding trip and 4 or 5 new life birds on my list.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Chasing the Rare Birds on St. Paul Island

Many of the birds that we saw on the trip are expected to be there. They are arctic birds that either live on the island or pass through there during migration regularly. But as I eluded to in the last post, those birds are not really the birds that birders go to St. Paul for. Birders go in hopes that birds from Russia and other parts of Europe and Asia get blown over on west winds. Lucky for us, we had 2 days of winds blowing from the west that produced some good "vagrants". We saw a handful that pleased the crowd starting with Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit
The tough part of the trip for me was that most of the vagrants that we saw were the product of us flushing the bird out of "Putchkie" weeds or flying past so fast that photos were either not possible or really crappy due to the speed of the bird and weather conditions. The Pipit above is just one example.

Another big find for the trip was this Gray-streaked Flycatcher. Again, the bird was flushed from the weeds and barely sat still. Boring little bird from Eurasia but a big find on the island. Look at this lousy photo:

Gray-streaked Flycatcher
While we were looking at this bird, another - even better bird showed up behind us. The bird first landed on the gate across the road but wouldn't sit still long enough for a photo. In fact, the bird took off and we didn't see it again until the next day. And then, only from a distance. Red-flanked Blue-tail is the name of the bird. It is one that I used to look at in field guides and dream of seeing. You can see both the red flank and the blue tail in this photo which is super cropped but identifiable.

Red-flanked Blue-tail
I didn't even get photos of the Brambling or the Eurasian Skylark at all. I managed a few photos of Emperor Goose.

Emperor Goose
And although we saw a few Yellow-billed Loons off the coast, I only managed this shot of one.

Yellow-billed Loon
All of the birders shared sightings and information with everyone else. By the time we left the island, all of the birders had seen the same species. Nobody missed a bird. Having said that - I can say that our group came away from the trip with one special sighting that some of the other birders didn't see . . . the St. Paul Shrew. This little shrew is only found on St. Paul Island and nowhere else. We flipped every piece of wood looking for one. It was a running joke all week with the bird guides. We were so happy to find the rare birds but each time that happened, one of us would say "if only we could find the shrew". And then it happened - I saw one running right down the middle of the gravel road as I was walking back to the van. I yelled "THERE'S THE SHREW! THERE'S THE SHREW!" Of course, everyone thought I was joking until they looked up and watched the little bugger run right under the tire of the van.

Shrew under the tire
We caught the shrew to get a better look. Marty had the great idea of using the cover of his camera lens to make a little corral for the shrew. Check out the schnoz on this shrew.

St. Paul Shrew
The little fella starting shivering so I put him back in the Putchkie to continue with his day. We were one-up on the rest of the birders!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Birds of St. Paul

Now that you are introduced to St. Paul Island, I can tell you about the birds. Our guides keep tabs on birds every day so they know about all of the "common" birds and know how to track down vagrants. We were taken to see the common birds on the island including shorebirds that I was really interested in seeing. First up - Rock Sandpiper. This bird is like our Purple Sandpiper. Very common along the Alaskan coast.

Next up - Gray-tailed Tattler. This bird looks almost exactly like Wandering Tattler so we needed to hear it call to confirm the ID. We also had the luxury of studying both birds on the same log. The Gray-tailed is on the left. Wandering on the right.

Of all the shorebirds, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was one that I really wanted to see. We saw 6 of them a few days in a row but finally got close enough for a photo on the last day. You can see the sharp tail in this pose.

The island has hosted a White-tailed Sea Eagle for a few months. This juvenile eagle should be in Russia or Europe. In fact, I saw one in Poland a few years ago. The bird is larger than our Bald Eagle and likes to hang around the cliffs along the coast. We looked for the bird everyday. It shouldn't be difficult since it was the only eagle around. We finally saw the bird soaring over fields and headed to the coast. Four other birders were on the island specifically to see this bird and this bird only. They were all in the other van and didn't see the bird. We really wanted the others to see the bird so we decided to hike up the cliffs to see if the eagle was on the cliff face. The eagle lifted off from the cliff. It was huge. The ID on the bird is the white back which can be seen in this photo. Everyone got a great look.

White-tailed Sea Eagle
Lots of high-fives and celebration beer ensued after we saw this bird.

Sea Eagle Gang
 Other common birds on the island include Gray-crowned Rosy-finch. These birds like rock piles and are like our House Sparrows. They were all molting so really hideous to look at.

I'm Hideous!
Birds in the fields were mostly Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings.

Lapland Longspur

Snow Bunting
There are not many mammals on the island. The most common (other than the Fur Seals) were Arctic Foxes. We saw them literally everywhere we went.

They were in the grass.

Arctic Fox
 On the jetty in the harbor.

Arctic Fox
In the parking lot along the salt flats.

Arctic Fox
More along the rocks. They are very comfortable around people as you can see here.

Arctic Fox
And even on the beach. These foxes do not turn white like their cousins on the mainland. They keep their dark coats all year since the island doesn't get snow that stays all winter.

Arctic Fox
We found a lot of signs of past lives on our hikes. Here is a Fur Seal skull.

I found this whale vertebra close to the coast. Yes, it was heavy.

Whale Vertebra
We found this grave site at the high point on Northeast Point. It has been here since 1895 alone on the hill.
Lonesome Grave
We found other markers on the island too. These Orthodox crosses were posted in odd places.

I found that if I looked at them from a particular angle, they actually formed a line that pointed to a chapel (seen in the distance in the photo) or the to the main Russian Orthodox church in town. Funny that most of the native Alaskans identify as Orthodox Catholics due to the Russian influence. The native Alaskans also use markers from their own culture to mark significant sites. Here is a photo of me and Marty inside the jawbones of a Bowhead whale. The bones probably mark a good fishing or hunting site. We found good birds and came back to the site a few times.

Linda and Marty