Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Totally Trippy Bird Songs

What happens when a musician records singers making sounds and then speeds them up to mimic bird song? Marcus Coates, a UK artist, and Geoff Sample, author, musician and nature recordist, teamed up for the past 3 years to produce the amazing "Dawn Chorus". It's a combination of bird sounds and video footage of humans imitating the sounds. You can read about it here
and see a video clip here. It's really something you have to see to believe.

Here's some more info:

"During rigorous fieldwork 14 microphones were placed around woodland to record birds during one morning of birdsong in Northumberland. This study is the first, simultaneous, multi-microphone recording of individual birds during the dawn chorus. From this multi-track recording each song was slowed down up to 16 times, then each human participant was filmed mimicking this slowed down song. Finally the resulting video footage was then sped up, returning the bird mimicry into its 'real' register. The speeding up of the film not only magically translates the human voice into bird song, but also emphasises unconscious gestures that appear uncannily similar to the physical behaviour of specific birds; a grandfather becomes a pheasant and teachers in a staffroom transform into chiffchaffs, robins and blue tits."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Missing: One Ivory Gull

Have you seen this bird?

The Ivory Gull was not seen today unfortunately. Hopefully it's just vacationing for the day and it will turn up tomorrow. Maybe it's heading down to NJ! That would be a nice state bird.

I am thankful for my luck and the timing yesterday. I was able to get out of work to see the bird. All of the people missing this bird today made me think of some of the times I dipped on staked-out birds. There was a one-day-wonder Redwing in Pennsylvania that I missed along with 200 or so birders. There was also the very recent Long-billed Murrelet at Sandy Hook that I missed by a few hours. I missed a Brown-headed Nuthatch in Cape May by a few days and a Gray Kingbird by an hour or so. Purple Gallinule, Garganey, Bridled Tern, Barn Owl, White-eared Hummingbird, Three-toed Woodpecker, Blue Mockingbird, Rose-throated Becard (twice), White-throated Robin... wow, I didn't realize how many there were. What I'm trying to say is, there will be many more dips and many more successes and that's part of what makes birding fun in my book.

Blogger Spam

Has anyone else who uses Blogger been receiving a lot of spam comments recently? I've received several on one post. I use word verification, but that doesn't seem to stop them. I've noticed that blogger only uses a small library of "words" for word verification since I've seen many repeated over time. Perhaps some crafty programmer figured this out. Also, maybe I need to stop allowing anonymous comments. Argh.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ivory Gull... WOW

Here's what I saw today!

When I woke up yesterday morning, I had no thoughts of seeing an Ivory Gull for many years. When's the next time I can get to Newfoundland and hope and pray to see this bird? Well, luck would have it that one turned up in Piermont, NY yesterday just over the NJ border. Yowzers. A snowstorm last night made diminished the chances of this bird staying around, but the luck is still flowing. It was there this morning. I woke up at 9:00 after sleeping in for my "delayed opening" due to the snow. I checked my email and discovered that the bird was still there. There's not a whole lot of drama to this story. I sped up the NJ Turnpike, crossed the NY border and drove into the little town of Piermont. I got my directions messed up somewhere and couldn't find the exact spot for the bird. I managed to spot a car who seemed to be in a hurry. It was what I would define as a "lifer hurry". Naturally, I followed him right to the crowd of birders.

There it was... sitting on the ice in all its... whiteness. This visitor from the Arctic was a treat for the eyes. Devoid of any notable plumage characteristics aside from its red-tipped bill, beady black eye, and black legs, the adult bird was shining in all of its pure-white plumage.

After only a few minutes, it took off and headed to a different location further up the shore. All of the 50 or so birders there hopped in their cars and followed it. We re-found the bird as it flew past us and then banked over our heads. It put on quite a show. It perched on telephone poles, ate from a Ruddy Duck carcass, flew up and down the jetty, and generally didn't care that all of these birders and photographers were there.

The Ivory Gull is in some serious decline. High levels of mercury have been found in them in a recently published study. Also, global warming has had an effect on the sea ice that the gulls roost on in the Arctic.

Oh yeah, did I mention there was a Snowy Owl there too!?!?!

The Snowy Owl above had been there for over a month and this is where the Ivory Gull was originally found. I assume the person who found the gull was looking for the owl. This is a classic example of the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Popping the Cork

Beth and I spent this past weekend in the Brandywine Valley of southeastern PA. Aside from being home to Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine Valley also houses 6 wineries. Of course, these wineries all offered tastings which we gladly took part in. After our visit to Napa Valley last year, Beth and I have really enjoyed wine tastings, but not in the snooty, slurpy, swish-and-spit way. We just like tasting the wines and talking with the people there. I can't claim to taste notes of oak, chocolate, red cherries, or any of that other stuff, but I know when something tastes good and doesn't. We came home with 13 bottles of wine including a fantastic strawberry wine.

So, you would understand my trepidation when I found this Audubon Magazine article about synthetic corks linked from Earth, Wind, and Water. Only one bottle of wine that we bought has a wooden cork. The others are all synthetic. We don't usually buy high-priced wine and most of the under $20 bottles seem to be stopped with petroleum-based stoppers. Ugh. The problem is that wooden stoppers make up 70% of business for Portuguese cork growers. Their cork-oak habitat houses many species of bird and mammal including threatened species like Bonelli's Eagle, Iberian Lynx, and Barbary Deer. This habitat is protected by the government due to its monetary benefit, but what will the result be if cork is no longer profitable? I plan to send this article to each of these wineries in hope that it will make some difference.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I & The Bird #43 Premieres!

Tai Haku of Earth, Wind, & Water is the host of the 43rd I & The Bird bird blog carnival. With the Oscars coming this weekend, Tai has given us a really cool movie theme. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the best of bird blogging. As an added bonus, check out the awesome photos of sea critters on Tai's blog too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration Map

The 2007 Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration Map is up at You can use this great tool to track your sighting of northbound migrants or to see how close they are to getting to your area. It's a good way to judge when to start filling your feeders. Spring is arriving pretty quickly...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

15 New North American Bird Species?

A recent article discussed how genetic tests have revealed up to 15 possible "splits" in birds in Canada and the US. These birds include Northern Fulmar, Solitary Sandpiper, Western Screech Owl, Warbling Vireo, Mexican Jay, Western Scrub-Jay, Common Raven, Mountain Chickadee, Bushtit, Winter Wren, Marsh Wren, Bewick's Wren, Hermit Thrush, Curve Billed Thrasher and Eastern Meadowlark. The study stated that DNA diverged by at least 2.5% in different populations of these species, therefore indicating a species separation. Alternatively, they also mention that some species that are currently viewed as separate species are not as genetically divergent: "The Snow Goose and Ross's Goose, for instance, shared 99.8 percent of DNA and the black-billed magpie and the yellow-billed magpie 99.6 percent. Gulls such as the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were 99.8 percent the same."

So what does this mean to us as birders? The article doesn't state what the AOU's views are on this or what will be done with the data from the study. Listers are probably ecstatic at the idea of getting some "easy ticks" on their lists if some of these species are split. My hope is that these genetic splits are across some type of definitive geographic boundary or that there are field marks that will make these populations easy to distinguish. I'm always open to an ID challenge, but I fear that our field guides will fill with lots of lookalike species that cross boundaries and make identification frustrating or impossible in the field. From a new birder's perspective, these ID challenges can be very overwhelming. On the flip side, I'm intrigued by these discoveries and anxious to see how this plays out. Your thoughts?

Friday, February 16, 2007

GBBC Results for 2/16

I had the day off today, so Beth and I counted birds at our feeders for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Today's the only day we can participate because we're heading to the Brandywine Valley for 3 days to celebrate V-day. Speaking of V-day... never order from Long story, but their customer service is ridiculously awful.

Anyway, back to the GBBC... our suburban feeders managed to attract 9 species of birds with 20 individuals:

Downy Woodpecker - 1
Blue Jay - 2
Black-capped Chickadee - 1
Tufted Titmouse - 3
Northern Mockingbird - 1
Song Sparrow - 1
White-throated Sparrow - 4
Dark-eyed Junco - 4
House Sparrow - 2

We also attracted our usual crowd of 4 bulbous, extremely hungry squirrels. This is what our patio looked like for most of the day. I took this picture with our new Canon S3 camera.

I recently purchased the heated birdbath in this picture. The Titmice seem to like to drink from it, but that's really it so far.

I hope you all get a chance to participate in the GBBC.

Some more Costa Rica videos

Buff-rumped Warbler at Arenal Hanging Bridges

Monteverde Hummingbirds (Coppery-headed Emerald, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, then the Emerald again)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Great Backyard Bird Count - Tomorrow!

Big days, big sits, Christmas bird counts... all of these are events that help our knowledge of birds and bring a little extra fun to our already exciting hobby. For the <1% of my readers who don't know, this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count. So, keep an eye on your feeders or go to your local patch and count some birds!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Costa Rica: Day 5

The plan for day 5 was to spend the whole day in the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Monteverde is home to many high elevation species, the most famous being the Resplendent Quetzal. People come from all over to see this bird. After an early Costa Rican breakfast, we walked up to the Reserve to try to beat the crowds on the trail. The entrance was buzzing with local guides waiting for someone to pay for their service. Apparently, these jobs are a hot commodity in CR.

We started on some of the less popular trails in hopes of finding some avocado trees we had heard about from another guest. Avocado trees are a favorite place for Quetzals to hang out. No luck on the trees initially, but we did spook a Highland Tinamou from the trail. We continued searching the trails for birds. Birding in the thick rainforest can be very frustrating with many fleeting glimpses or "heard only" birds. We manuevered up and down the trails searching for birds. We were joined for a bit by a local who was hoping to be a guide someday. He pointed out some plants and a few insects. On a brief stop on the trail, I managed to find a Greta (clearwing butterfly) - SWEET!

Greta species

After getting twisted around by the trail map, we headed back toward the entrance. On the way, we encountered a group being lead by a local guide who was a little reluctant to share what they were looking at. It turned out to be a distant group of quetzals with at least one male and female. We had fleeting glimpses. After spending some time with the quetzals, we continued on the trail where we encountered Orange-bellied Trogon (now lumped with Collared Trogon I think) and a Gray-throated Leaftosser singing in plain view!

Gray-throated Leaftosser

Next, we took another trail in hopes of seeing Azure-hooded Jays. Unfortunately, we didn't see the jays, but we did see Buffy Tuftedcheek (great name) and Three-striped Warbler (very similar to our Worm-eating Warbler). We had wonderful views of the cloud forest from this trail as well.

A beautiful view of the cloud forest

We had to hightail it down the trail because lunch time had come and gone. We were starving. On the way down the trail, we saw Golden-bellied Flycatcher and Spotted Barbtail. Unfortunately, on the way down my camera also decided to stop working! Oh well...

A species of long-tailed skipper

After lunch, we headed back to the Reserve. We didn't see many new birds, but we did get some more looks at the quetzals. We never did get a perfect view of them. Nothing can compare to the quetzal that we saw perched 10' away from us on our trip to Savegre in 2005. Overall, I was disappointed with Monteverde. I think Savegre has a nicer lodge, a more open forest for birding, and less people. The day did end on a cool note though. I finally saw a tarantula in the wild. It was in a tunnel in the side of a hill by the trail. Did I mention how I'm deathly afraid of spiders but I'm still fascinated by them?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cameras and Bird Stamps

As you may have read, my camera fizzled while I was in Costa Rica. The lens on the Canon S2 refused to retract and the screen just said "E 18". It turns out that the dreaded E 18 error is so chronic in Canon point-and-shoot cameras that it warrants its own website. Canon wants $175 to fix it and so does the local camera shop. Boo-hisssss. The camera only costs $225 new! I'm not sure what to do yet, but a new camera is probably on the horizon.

I've started reading To See Every Bird on Earth. The author uses postage stamps as illustrations. He got the stamp pictures from Chris Gibbins' amazing web site of bird stamps. Check out his identification corner for some good fun.

Friday, February 09, 2007


How cool is this new remote control dragonfly? Check out video of it in action.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Costa Rica: Day 4

We started day 4 with some pre-breakfast birding around the lodge. It was a foggy and cloudy morning with few surprises except for a Bright-rumped Attila (lifer), a funny member of the flycatcher family. After breakfast, we packed up a van for our trip to the Trapp Family Lodge next to the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Now, there are two ways you can get there from Arenal. You can drive 6 hours on extremely bumpy, narrow, mountainous roads or you can take a water taxi across Lake Arenal and then drive 2 hours on bumpy, narrow, mountainous roads. The choice was obvious. On our way to the water taxi, we found some White-throated Magpie Jays! Love the curly-q!

The water taxi ride was pleasant and included birds like Great and Snowy Egrets, Mangrove Swallow, and Neotropic Cormorant. The drop-off point for the taxi proved to be surprisingly birdy. After trekking up a staircase made of sandbags, we were treated to an Orange-chinned Parakeet less than 10 feet away. Ruddy Ground-doves were everywhere. A few Slaty Antshrikes called like crazy from the brush on the side of the road, but would not come out to see us. At one point, they must have been a foot away from our feet but we couldn't see them!

Orange-fronted Parakeet

We boarded our vehicle for the arduous trek to Monteverde. It was indeed bumpy and mountainous. The drivers in CR must need to buy new shocks every month. Our driver did an amazing job getting us there relatively comfortably though.

The Trapp Family Lodge is a very nice place. Everything is made of decorative wood, the beds are comfortable, and each room has a patio door or balcony view of the yard. The restaurant is very nice with a good choice of food, good (at times leisurely) service, and great fresh juice. My only complaints are that you can't flush the toilet paper and our room had a strange chemical smell. The TP thing is common in the more remote lodges and is not a huge deal.

After a late lunch we headed to Monteverde Reserve. Luckily, Trapp lodge is only an 8/10 mile (slightly uphill) walk to the reserve. We encountered many inquisitive Slate-throated Redstarts on our way towards the reserve. The weather became interesting. It's not called a cloud forest for nothing. A constant mist sprayed against our raingear. We were essentially standing in a cloud. It was a bit of a nuisance, but I'll take it over pouring rain.

We didn't go in the reserve itself (that's for tomorrow), but we did visit the Hummingbird Gallery located right outside the entrance. No matter how many times I go to big hummingbird feeding stations, they never get old. Hummers whiz by your head, perch inches away, feed like crazy, fight for space at the feeders, and really put on a show. You can't beat it. We saw 11 species of hummingbird at these feeders including the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (new for me), and Magenta-throated Woodstar. Say those names three times fast.

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird

Magenta-throated Woodstar

We ended the day birding the road back to the lodge. After a great dinner (did I mention how good the steaks in Costa Rica are?), we had one more bird on our agenda. Bare-shanked Screech Owls have been heard at the lodge, so we decided to try for it. Keep in mind that it gets pretty chilly and windy at night in Monteverde. Tonight was no exception. The six of us standing in the bombarding winds with icy, horizontal rain pounding the backs of our legs must have been quite a sight. Needless to say, we didn't see the bird. On day 5, we head to the reserve!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Spiders on Drugs

What happens when spiders are given various drugs? :)

Cardinal shot dead by columnist

Guest Newsweek Columnist, Walda Cameron (in the Feb. 12, 2007 issue), writes
about shooting a Northern Cardinal
, which she admits she knew was illegal. I hear NY Audubon is already on the case.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dastardly Duos

Confused by Red-naped and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers? Does separating the gnatcatchers give you hives? The Tucson Audubon Society has a great web site called Dastardly Duos. It's a series of articles related to separating those confusing species and many others. It's easy to print them out for future reference too.

I'll be back later today or tomorrow with Day 4 of my Costa Rica trip. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Costa Rica: Day 1-3 Videos

Here are a few videos from the first 3 days in Costa Rica:

Close-up of Arenal Volcano

Montezuma Oropendula eating at a feeder

Some birds at the feeders at the Arenal Observatory Lodge

Friday, February 02, 2007

Costa Rica: Day 3

After a great day on the grounds of the Arenal Observatory Lodge, we woke up bright and early for some AM birding. Unfortunately, the guy whose job it is to stock the fruit feeders wasn't coming to work until 7:30, so we had very inactive feeders. We birded the grounds a bit and explored a new trail that was known to host a Thicket Antpitta. Antpittas are funny little birds with stubby tails, long legs, and an upright posture. They look like some kind of wind-up toy. Lucky for us, the Antpitta was singing away. With some whistled impersonations, we were able to get him to come check us out. These little guys are the definition of the word "skulk". Luckily, everyone got a great look.

After a scrumptious buffet breakfast with great fresh fruit, we headed to the rainforest canopy bridges about 30 minutes from the lodge. The area we went to has a series of steel suspension bridges with the highest being 100 meters off the forest floor.

The weather was a bit rainy and the birding started out a bit quietly. Lucky for us, a Morpho butterfly flew by and caused us to pause and admire it. I happened to look to my right and spotted a perched White-fronted Nunbird, a very difficult species to find. It was joined by another Nunbird that was beating the heck out of a giant, creepy, centipede-looking thing. The theory is that they beat their prey against a branch in order for the prey to excrete any toxins before the bird ingests them. Yummy!

We continued through the trails and across many of the bridges until we reached the top. There was a crippling view of the rainforest with a waterfall down below. Birds were few and far between with only some Tennessee Warblers and some random flycatchers. A local guide tipped us off to a perched Broad-billed Motmot, my second sighting of a member of the Motmot family. Unfortunately, it was too far for a picture.

We headed back towards the entrance. On the way back, we saw a very cooperative Buff-rumped Warbler that practically landed on my shoe and a Dusky Antbird. I also saw these workers below who were building a new trail. These guys were carrying some extremely heavy blocks and I give them huge amounts of credit.

We spent the afternoon birding the grounds of the lodge. We didn't see anything new that I can recall, but I did get this sweet picture of a Summer Tanager.

We closed out the evening with another nice dinner and the sounds of calling Pauraques. Tomorrow, it's off to the Monteverde Cloud Forest!

Great Macro Photography

A friend sent me a link to this guy on Flickr who takes some amazing macro photos of insects and other arthropods. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

%$^#^# Blogger

I was forced to finally make the upgrade to the new Blogger. So, if you see anything quirky, please let me know.

Costa Rica: Day 2

After breakfast, we boarded a small, but comfortable, van and headed to our next destination: The Arenal Observatory Lodge. The lodge, located about 2.5 hours from where we were, is situated right next to the Arenal Volcano. On our way to the lodge, we had to make one stop. We had received a tip that a field near the town of La Fortuna was hosting two rarities: Tropical Mockingbird and Southern Lapwing. These two birds are not even in the CR field guide! It took us a few minutes to find the Lapwing, but the Mockingbird was nowhere to be found. Another group of birders located a second Lapwing, but still no Mocker. As a consolation prize, our views of the Arenal Volcano from this spot were astounding!

We packed up the van and continued our journey to the lodge... and what a lodge it was! Nice rooms, balcony views of the volcano, good eats, lots of trails, and an amazing deck with a view of some fruit feeders. We dropped our bags off and headed to the feeders. Watermelon, banana, and canteloupe attracted Montezuma Oropendulas, Yellow-bellied Euphonias, Olive-backed Euphonias, and a host of different Tanagers. I also saw a life mammal, a Coati, searching for scraps under the feeders.

Feeders at Arenal (Blue-gray Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia Female, Passerini's Tanager, Bananaquit)

A Coati

Lunch was decent. They make some surprisingly great french fries in CR. By the end of lunch, our views of the volcano were becoming clouded over and we wouldn't see the peak again for the remainder of our stay.

No more Arenal...

After lunch we hit the trails around the lodge. This lodge was historically used as a monitoring station for the volcano, so there are many buildings around. Our first find was a fruiting tree that attracted lots of tanagers: Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Palm, Golden-hooded, Emerald, and Blue-gray at least. It was hopping. After getting our fill of tanagers, we continued towards our destination: The Waterfall Trail. On the way we encountered White-necked Jacobin and Violet-headed Hummingbird (lifer).

Violet-headed Hummingbird

The Waterfall Trail was our first exposure to rainforest birding. Birding in the rainforest is tough. The foliage is incredibly dense and many birds are only seen passing by quickly in back-lit feeding flocks high near the canopy. It's not for the faint of heart. On the trail we were greeted with our first view of one of the Antbirds - a single Ocellated Antbird - a great sighting. We also saw Slaty-tailed Trogon and heard several other birds. A steep decent to the waterfall lead to a view of our prized find - a Green-fronted Lancebill that loved to sit on a rock in the middle of a river. He would fly up, swirl around a bit, and then come back to the same rock over and over again. Funny little guy!

It was getting late so we headed back towards the hotel. We watched the sunset over Arenal Lake. We then enjoyed a pretty decent candlelight dinner. The sounds of the night were a calling Pauraque and many katydids. Until tomorrow!

P.S. I know I said I would have one post for each place we stayed, but I've been writing too much about each day. It'll be one post per day spent in CR.