Thursday, December 28, 2006

The 50 Rarest Birds in the World

When we talk of seeing "rare birds" in NJ, we're usually talking about vagrant birds that are common elsewhere but somehow make their way to NJ. The true rare birds in the world are those whose populations are seriously in danger or who breed in a very remote area. Take a look at the 50 Rarest Birds in the World. If you've seen any of these yourself, please share your story!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Cookies?

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. Be wary of those holiday sweets and cookies that you are eating, they could have an impact on the environment.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Year in Pictures 2

Back in March, three of my closest friends and I finally made a trip that we'd been planning for years. We escaped the cold of NJ and headed down to Tampa Bay, FL for some spring training baseball! My friends spent a week down there, but due to other vacations I had planned, I only stayed for 4 days. I got to see the Yankees beat the Tigers and the Twins beat the Blue Jays. I think that's what happened... I don't really remember. We also visited the beaches in Clearwater. I brought my binoculars along to make sure I could see the players (and just in case any birds flew by). While watching the games, I managed to see many Osprey, flocks of unidentified parakeets, several different herons, a few raptors, and a ton of Boat-tailed Grackles. My best find is below...

While lounging on the beach, I kept hearing a racket coming from a tree along the street. It sounded like a bird, but not one I had ever heard. I went for a closer look and found the above Black-hooded Parakeet. They are really stunning. Although not "countable", this is a very likely addition to the ABA list in the near future.

The guys and me at the Blue Jays facility in Dunnedin.

I also got a very bizarre sunburn on the beach. Being guys, we didn't want to put subblock on each others' backs. So, I was stupid and barely put it on my back. Here's what I ended up looking like. I still wear evidence of this sunburn today...

Rancho Naturalista Update

Back in April, I posted about Rancho Naturalista, a lodge in Costa Rica that I stayed at in November 2005. Andy Walker, a local guide, recently posted a scathing report about the lodge and its current management. Andy is a partner with the tour company that I went to Costa Rica with and he has very close ties to Rancho Naturalista. I asked the tour leader who I went to Costa Rica with about Andy's report. He recently went to Rancho in October and said that there have been some problems with the management, but it is not quite as bad as Andy made it sound. I wanted to just put this out there so people are aware of it in case anyone is planning on going to this very popular place.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Year-in-Review Meme

I'm continuing a meme that John from Birds Etcetera posted (the originator is Faux Real). The idea is to go through your monthly archives and post the first sentence of the first post of each month for this year. I started my blog in April, so I don't have a whole year's worth. Here we go!

Someone recently asked me this question... why bird? MORE

Living in a condominium community in suburban NJ has its ups and down. MORE

I'll admit it - My heart doesn't lie solely in the avian world. MORE

Beth and I are off to Georgia tonight until next Thursday. MORE

Sorry for the delay in writing... Beth and I took her brother to Boston for his 18th b-day. MORE

Anyone who lives in the suburbs is familiar with the huge shopping centers that pop up every 2-3 months in any open space available. MORE

I had a special guest birding with me at Sandy Hook this morning - Mike from 10,000 Birds. MORE

I put up a feeder a little over a week ago and I finally got a visitor on Sunday. MORE

First off, let me say that I in no way approve of the actions of the people in this video. MORE

Please continue this meme! It's easy and interesting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Little Christmas Spirit

Since it's the holiday season, I thought I'd share some of my favorite holiday memories. One of my favorite memories of childhood is listening to John Denver and the Muppets "Christmas Together". We had this album on 8-track and I loved it. So to celebrate the wonder of Xmas and the wonder that is YouTube, I bring you two tracks from that CD.

This "12 Days of Xmas" track is actually slightly different on the CD. It features my favorite muppet, Beaker, which this one does not.

I didn't know this was Emmett Otter singing this until today.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sandy Hook Christmas Count Results

Today was the Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count, one of my favorite birding days of the year. This is the 3rd year that I've participated in the count. As usual, I covered the northern portion of Sandy Hook with my friend, Mike. This area involves a LOT of walking on sand, but it has great variety of habitats. We get views of the ocean, bay, stands of pine trees, coastal holly forest, dunes, freshwater ponds, and grassy areas.

We started bright and early, but we immediately noticed the lack of bird activity. Land birds were scarce. We visited a freshwater pond locally known as "North Pond" and found 2 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Gadwall, and a lone Ring-necked Duck among some Canada Geese. We then walked about 1/2 a mile out to the beach and didn't see a single land bird! Once out to the ocean, we found some groups of Long-tailed Ducks, 8 Northern Gannets, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons and a few Bonaparte's Gulls. We walked along the sand dunes and finally scared up some songbirds - Song Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We had found most of the species we anticipated seeing, but numbers seemed much lower than previous year.

We headed back to the cars for a food break and then scoured some of the wooded habitats. Again, songbirds were scarce. We finally found a White-throated Sparrow and even found a Field Sparrow and some American Tree Sparrows. Things were looking brighter! Not only were we finding birds, the weather was heating up. I even ditched my coat and just walked around with a sweater.

We broke for lunch and then searched the bay for birds. We found lots of gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and loons. We walked around the interior of the Hook for a bit. We even explored some areas that I haven't been in. We encountered flocks of Black-capped Chickadees and our first raptors of the day. In a 10-second period, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Merlin. The Merlin was not alone - it was being chased by a Peregrine Falcon! Very cool. Also of note: The warm weather brought out a very fresh looking Orange Sulphur butterfly.

The last bird we saw was a Hermit Thrush. The most interesting thing about this bird was that it was doing the mysterious foot quiver!

It was getting dark, so we headed to the round-up. We ate some great catered food and then did the daily tally for the CBC. The tally is always a lot of fun. There were 6-8 groups of birders covering the CBC area. We go through each species on the official Sandy Hook CBC list and check off which ones each group saw. No one tells anyone about their rare birds until this time. As a group, we saw 109 species - 1 more than last year. Some of the rarities included Baltimore Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, and Great Egret. Also, for at least the third year in a row, a female Barrow's Goldeneye was found (probably the same bird each year). Amazing!

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Year in Pictures 1

As we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd reflect on the year that was in my birding (and sometimes non-birding) life through some of my more memorable pictures. Shortly prior to starting this blog, I led my first official field trip for NJ Audubon Society. On a frigid day in early March, a group of 15 birders and I explored Barnegat Bay, Barnegat Lighthouse, the Atlantic Ocean, and the marshes and ponds that surround the area. We saw 49 species of birds including crippling views of Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a Piping Plover. A cooperative Harbor Seal put on a nice show too. Alas, the hoped-for Short-eared Owls in the evening were not found.

Searching the sea for rafts of Scoters. That's me in front.

Barnegat Lighthouse - The inlet was full of Surf and Black Scoters

Purple Sandpiper - Barnegat Light is the best place to see this species in NJ

A pair of Harlequin Ducks - my personal favorite duck. Barnegat is also one of the best places to see this species.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I & The Bird #38

It's time for another edition of I & The Bird. This time it's hosted down under by Duncan of Ben Cruachan Blog. Sadly, I forgot to send in a post. This is the first IATB I have missed since I started blogging!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ross's Gull Videos has some videos of the Ross's Gull that was found at the Salton Sea in California recently. This was not only a first state record, it was also the farthest south and the lowest elevation that this bird has been seen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Plover and the Clover can be told
apart with ease,
By paying close attention to the
habits of the Bees,
For ento-molo-gists aver, the Bee
can be in clover,
While ety-molo-gists concur, there
is no B in Plover.

-Robert Williams Wood - The Clover and the Plover

For the hardcore bug-lovers: I just heard about a new online Guide to the Identification of the U.S. and Canadian Bees in the Genus Perdita (East of the Mississippi River) by Rebekah Nelson and Sam Droege:

Perdita males

Perdita females

Their site also has a plethora of other online keys/guides well worth your browsing time. It's everything from fungi to bumblebees to dung beetles.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Little NY Birding

Mike from and I met up Saturday morning to do a little birding. We had discussed several options, but decided on a visit to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) in Queens, NY. I had shown him the ropes of Sandy Hook on our visit there in October, now it was his turn to show me some of his turf. I had never been to Jamaica Bay and I had always assumed it was far away. It turns out that on a clear traffic day, I can get there in less than an hour! Sweet!

The habitat at JBWR is similar to the Forsythe NWR that I frequent - a large bay bordered by salt marsh, brackish water, and some fresh water. This habitat is interspersed with areas of shrubs and small deciduous tress. All of this combines for phenomenal habitat for a huge diversity of birds.

Mike and I met at the newly constructed JBWR Visitor's Center. One thing that separates Forsythe from JBWR is that you can walk around JBWR, whereas you usually drive around Forsythe. I prefer the walking. The air was crisp and topped at the mid-20's as we began our walk around the "West Pond". We scanned the bay and immediately found groups of Brant and some distant Snow Geese. They were soon joined by some Bufflehead. We walked further toward the inner brackish West Pond. We found that they were mostly frozen, which must have happened in the last few days since the weather here has been quite mild. The bits of open water held avian treasures in the forms of Ruddy Ducks with their starched tails held at attention, Hooded Mergansers with their fan-like heads, Green-winged Teal who were inconspicuous aside from their green speculum, mohawked American Wigeon, and black-butted Gadwall. We found a different angle on this same group of birds and picked out a few sleepy, poorly lit Scaup (Greater maybe?) as well as some American Coots. Land birds were sparse, but we were greeted by several groups of American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, and Mockingbirds. The bay hadn't given us all it had yet. A Horned Grebe capped off our trip around the West Pond.

We checked out the Visitor's Center which was extremely nice. A local birder gave us a quick lesson on birding nearby Floyd Bennett Field, another area of JBWR. He pointed us to a location where he had seen Horned Larks earlier in the week. A trip to Floyd Bennett Field was quickly added to our itinerary in order to seek this potential life bird for Mike. Did we see the Larks? I'll leave it up to Mike to tell.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Texas Bill

Texas Rep. David Leibowitz, D-Helotes, has proposed a bill that would dedicate all tax on sporting goods to state parks and wildlife areas. Apparently, they aren't the first ones to think of this. Missouri and several other states already have this system in place. I couldn't find a list of the states. I wonder if my beloved NJ is one of them?

In other news, the unfortunate Cerulean Warbler is out luck in the Endangered Species Act listing department.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No listing for the Tricolored Blackbird

In more sad news for bird protection, the Fish & Wildlife Service has denied the Tricolored Blackbird a place on the endangered species list. This community-nesting cousin of the Red-winged Blackbird has an increasing population according to the FWS. Unfortunately, they fail to take into account that the population is 75% smaller than it was historically and that it's range is very restricted. On the plus side, the FWS said they are working with local groups to preserve habitat for the birds.

View the full article

Monday, December 04, 2006


The only cetaceans we saw on the pelagic on Sunday were several large groups of Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis). I have seen dolphins from shore in the past, but there's nothing quite like watching them leap out of the water alone or in a synchronized group. The key field mark on a Common Dolphin is an hourglass shape on the side. Check out the video I took below. You have to wait for the end for the payoff.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My First Pelagic

The alarm woke me at 4:30 this morning and I was quickly on my way to the Belmar Marina on the NJ coast for my first pelagic birding trip. This trip was run by Seelife Paulagics, a well-known coordinator of pelagic trips in NJ.

I arrived at the boat, the 65' Suzie Girl, and much to my surprise there was a pretty large crowd. I expected maybe 15-20 people, but there were close to 40 birders! I met some friends and took a spot on the top deck where the view would be better (but the ride a little rougher). It was still dark, but the water appeared calm. The air on the other hand was VERY chilly. Luckily, I had worn many layers to keep out the biting cold.

The early morning sea

We headed out at a quick clip and daylight arrived. Many birds started to appear: Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, many flying Common Loons and lots of Northern Gannets of all ages. We had great views of all of these birds, but I was really anxious to see the truly "pelagic" birds. To hold our attention in the meantime, groups of Common Dolphins rode our wake and jumped in and out of the water. They were truly acrobats of the sea and they were wonderful to see so close.

Our fearless leader and all around funny guy, Paul Guris

As gull flocks would appear, the crew threw out chum (aka fish parts and fish blood) to attract the gulls. It worked well - the birds ate it up like me at a buffet. They hung around for a long while and after 2 hours of cruising along, a leader shouted "KITTIWAKE!" There behind the boat was a dainty-flying Black-legged Kittiwake - a bird I have never seen before. As quickly as it arrived, it disappeared.

Some Great Black-backed Gulls following us

The birding slowed down a bit and we headed for the deeper waters of such spots as the "Glory Hole" and the "Mud Hole". Pelagic birds like these deeper areas where nutrients and plankton attract bait fish that the birds feed on. Around lunchtime, a call of "SHEARWATER!" awoke the crowds. A Manx Shearwater was cruising just off the side of the boat. It quickly joined 2 others that were floating on the sea among a group of Bonaparte's Gulls. As our boat approached, the birds took to the air eliciting another shout - "LITTLE GULL!" The all-dark underwings of the Little Gull were immediately noticeable. The bird circled our boat for a few minutes, but was interrupted by another shriek - "FULMAR!" Ah yes... a bird I really wanted to see, the Northern Fulmar. The stocky, gull-like bird cruised low over the water and stayed with the boat for a good while. Moments later, one more excited yelp came - "PHALAROPES!" Two Red Phalaropes were coursing over the sea. I believe it was Peterson who said, "If you see a Sanderling at sea, it surely is a Phalarope." This couldn't have been more true.

Some excited birders look on and take photos

The excitement of new birds came in a quick burst and, all of the sudden, I had 5 new life birds. The rest of the day was kind of slow. We ended up going out over 60 miles and it took several LONG hours to get back. I was able to squeeze in a short nap and chit-chat with some fellow birders. I regretted not bringing a book. The important thing is that I never got sick! In fact, I don't think anyone did. The water was wonderfully cooperative, the crew and leaders worked their butts off and we saw some great birds. We missed a few target species like Dovekie and any Jaegers, but it was still awesome. I can't wait for my next pelagic.

An extremely tired group of birders

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Heading out to sea...

I'm off on my first pelagic trip tomorrow morning. The weather looks nice, I've got snacks packed and I've got my Scop patch on. I've never been on a pelagic, so it's likely that I'll see some new birds. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scared Owl

First off, let me say that I in no way approve of the actions of the people in this video. On the other hand, I thought the behavior of the owl was interesting. When scared, some species of owl will stretch their body to look like a tree branch. If anyone knows what kind of owl this is, please let me know. I think it might be a type of Screech Owl, but I'm not sure.