Monday, April 30, 2007

Google Maps and Birding

Google Maps now has a feature called "My Maps." With this feature, you can mark locations on a map, add photos, write captions, and draw lines/circles/etc. You can then share a link to the map with anyone. I think this has a lot of potential for birding. It could be used to show the exact location of a rare bird or to create a map of great birding spots in your area. Just a few ideas... I'm sure there are many more great uses. As an example, here's a link to every baseball park in the US.,-96.767578&spn=34.132809,59.238281&om=1

Sunday: Garret Mountain with Mike

Mike from 10,000 Birds and I birded Garret Mountain this morning. Garret has become somewhat of a legendary migration trap on the east coast. Its geographic location along a ridge whose northern end drops off into the city of Paterson helps concentrate migrants. It's also heavily birded which helps in finding birds.

Mike and I met bright and early to start our birding adventure. The place was crawling with White-throated Sparrows, with about 1 per square yard. We quickly found two lovely male Baltimore Orioles singing from the treetops and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets practicing their bubbly songs. Barbour Pond hosted a group of Northern Rough-winged Swallows that Mike tried to photograph. Those buggers are fast and I'm not sure how successful he was. My first Spotted Sandpiper of 2007 was there too.

Warbler-wise the day started slow. A tip on an Orange-crowned Warbler and Nashville Warbler didn't work out for us, but the spot held many Hermit Thrushes and several Brown Thrashers. We made our way towards the upper areas of Garret to the old "castle" where we could look down into the canopy of trees. Here we found a nice group of birds: Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Blue, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Yellow-Rumped.

We worked our way back towards the parking lot. We paused for a moment and scanned the trees. I noticed a big blob in a tree that turned out to be a young Great-horned Owl! Cool! Here's my cruddy picture of it. Check Mike's blog for a better picture of it (if he posts it).

Our approach down the trail scared up the Pileated subspecies of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. :) One of us must have smelled like peanuts because we managed to attract the world's friendliest White-breasted Nuthatch. He landed on a tree within 5 feet of us and "ank-ank"-ed at us while posing for some close-up photos. We walked down the trail and for the next 50 yards or so the nuthatch kept following us and landing very nearby. Here's a pic of Mike photographing the nuthatch. This is probably the furthest it got from us.

We visited nearby Rifle Camp Park, but the birding was pretty slow there. A Cooper's Hawk and a Hairy Woodpecker are the only birds of note that I really remember seeing there. We ended another great morning of birding with 5 species of Woodpecker, 3 raptors, 7 warblers, and 59 total species (according to my list). Check over to 10,000 Birds. Mike will put up his own report with much better pictures.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Saturday: More Sandy Hook Birding

On Saturday I led a trip for the National Parks Service to Sandy Hook. I was filling in for the usual guy who runs this trip. In a short 2.5 hour trip, our group saw 64 species - not bad considering we didn't really bird the wooded areas there. We had a group of 9 people, from beginners to more experienced birders. Since we had limited time, I decided to bird Spermaceti Cove (a boardwalk overlooking the bay) and the northern end where the hawkwatch platform is.

Spermaceti Cove always delivered and the participants were amazed at the diversity of birds that come to this spot if you just stand and wait. We had wonderful views of Green Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, both Yellowlegs, Willet, Red-breasted Merganser, and Belted Kingfisher. We also had an opportunity to compare the vocalizations of Fish Crow and American Crow. Here I am showing the physical differences between the two species, which isn't much:

The north end delivered as well. We had excellent comparisons of Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were everywhere, but were really difficult to get everyone on. The hawk flight was decent with fly-by Merlins, Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk, and a really nice perched Peregrine Falcon. For a short walk, we had great weather, nice participants, and some outstanding birds.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dinner with Kenn Kaufman (sort of)

Last night, Beth and I attended the annual Urner Ornithological Club dinner. The Urner Club is a NJ birding club that has been in existence since the 1930's. It's named for Charles Urner, a well-respected NJ ornithologist from the early 20th century and one of the founding members of the club. I've only been a member since October, but I've really enjoyed the monthly meetings. Most of the club members that I've met are "old school" birders. Most of these guys and gals have been birding since the 1950's and before. The tales they tell are incredibly interesting and their knowledge of birds and nature is astounding. I love to just sit and listen to everyone talk.

The dinner was held at a local restaurant. After some pretty decent food, the club held a short meeting where I was elected treasurer (uncontested!). We also introduced guests and distinguished members. One member present has been in the club since 1936! That received a well-deserved applause. When asked to come to a future meeting and tell some tales of his experiences in the club, he quickly retorted, "When I get older." Ha!

The evening's keynote speaker was Kenn Kaufman. His presentation was titled, "Birds and the Undiscovered World." It was a very engaging presentation relating birding to the adventures of Christopher Columbus. He tied in his childhood admiration for Columbus to his experiences with birding. He told us of how he learned more and more about Columbus and some of the truths he discovered that put a damper on Columbus's image. He was able to tie this into birding very well and he challenged the audience to expand their horizons to other things in nature and to help involve more diverse populations in our great hobby. It's a great presentation that you might have a chance to see in your area. Kenn seems to be all over the place.

Why do I look so buff in this picture?

When Kenn finished, the dinner was all but over. I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Kenn and we chatted briefly about his new Field Guide to Insects. I wish I had brought books with me for him to sign! I'll be sure to post an announcement about next year's dinner when time comes since guests are always invited.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Know Your Natives, Non-Natives, and Invasives

I thought about writing this post after seeing a ton of Celandine at a local birding spot on Monday. If you're into nature and teaching others about nature, it's your duty to learn the native, non-native, and invasive species of flora and fauna in your area. Most birders know about Starlings and House Sparrows, but may not be as familiar with plants like Celandine, Garlic Mustard, and Tree-of-Heaven. These three plants are among the many invasive species that probably occur in your area. Learning these species can help you identify problem areas in your favorite birding location or in your own backyard. You can take that knowledge and share it with family members, friends, and other birders. Hopefully, by identifying problem species in your area, you can help get the right people involved to control the populations where possible. The Plant Conservation Alliance, part of the National Parks Service, has an excellent web site listing the worst of the worst invasive plants. It's by no means a comprehensive list. Your may have specific plants that are unique to your area. Also, keep in mind that just because a plant is a native doesn't mean that it's non-invasive. Any plant can be invasive under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

There are many great resources out there on all types of invasive flora and fauna. The Invasive Species Weblog is a great place to start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Landfill of Memories

I was reminiscing today about my spring 2005 trip to the Rio Grande Valley, a mecca for US birders. Aside from the Green Jays, Brown Jays, Chachalacas, Whooping Cranes, and other amazing birds of south Texas, two major spectacles stand out in my mind. One is a huge migrating flock of Broad-winged Hawks that flew over a restaurant parking lot during lunch. We estimated the flock to be 6000+ birds. The second spectacle was a trip to the Corpus Christi Municipal Landfill. When I returned from the trip and told my family and girlfriend that I had flown a couple thousand miles to visit a landfill, I got some interesting looks. But birders know that landfills are magnets for birds, especially gulls.

The Corpus Christi landfill is no exception. I have never seen more gulls in my life. The majority were Laughing Gulls - thousands of them as you can see in the above picture. There were Herring and Ring-billed Gulls in a multitude of plumages interspersed.

Visiting here can be hazardous, so we had to don our blaze orange vests so we wouldn't get run over by a bulldozer.

The sky is a cloud of gulls. We managed to find a lone Franklin's Gull among the flock. Lucky for us, it perched and showed some of its rosy coloration on its breast. When it flew, we could see its unique primary pattern. We searched for Yellow-legged Gull (or is it Yellow-footed Gull???) with no success. A small pond held some shorebirds including Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, and American Avocet. A young Crested Caracara was feeding along the shore as well.

So, if you hear about someone birding at a landfill, I say, "Don't knock it until you try it." You are bound to find some interesting birds in this most interesting habitat.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Field Trip Results: Beginner's Bird Walk

I led the "Beginner's Bird Walk" at Sandy Hook today for NJ Audubon. We had 8 great participants and many great birds! We saw/heard 50 species. The complete list is below. After reports of a great raptor flight yesterday and news about good migration through the state, I was hoping for a productive day. The migrants weren't as numerous as I was expecting, but a few highlights really made the day special.

Participants at Spermaceti Cove

We started birding at Spermaceti Cove where we saw Brant, American Oystercatcher, Snowy and Great Egrets, several Osprey including one eating a fish, Boat-tailed Grackle, Song Sparrow, and Savannah Sparrow, among others. A short walk along the scrub-shrub dune habitat near the Visitor's Center yielded a very cryptic first-year Pine Warbler - not an easy bird to identify, especially when it's feeding on the ground!

We then checked out the boy scout camp area which held quite a few Hermit Thrushes, a Downy Woodpecker, several singing Carolina Wrens, but not much else. A fly-by Sharp-shinned Hawk was our first raptor of the day. The big one was still to come!

Migration seemed a bit slow, so we headed up to the northern end of Sandy Hook where the spring hawk count is conducted each year. We were greeted by a Field Sparrow singing in a tree above my car.

Field Sparrow

The dunes around the hawk watch are full of bayberry and beach plum. Among the trees and shrubs we found several Yellow-rumped Warblers and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. My mother, who joined us on the trip, pointed out a gull flying over. I think I scared the group with my excitement because it was one of the white-winged gulls - either a Glaucous or Iceland Gull. I didn't get an ID before it flew away. There had been an Iceland seen yesterday.

A tip from some fellow birders led us to the prize bird of the day - a stunning male Hooded Warbler. All of the group had very close views and it was a life bird for all participants. It even came within a few feet of my dad and Beth.

Hooded Warbler

We hung out on the hawk watch platform for a bit, but didn't see much. We headed down and made our way towards a small freshwater pond. We didn't make it very far before the hawk counter called, "EAGLE!" I hustled back towards the platform, inadvertently knocking Beth out of the way (sorry darling!) and we were able to get the group on a gorgeous immature Bald Eagle flying right over our heads.

We ended the trip by visiting the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory book store. The last few of us who left got to see an Indigo Bunting feeding in the grass near the store. Thanks so much to everyone who attended and special thanks to my girlfriend Beth for taking all of the pictures!

Indigo Bunting

Species List (some only seen/heard by leader):
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Oystercatcher
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Laughing Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Tree Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
House Sparrow

Thursday, April 19, 2007

IATB and a Bird Song Quiz

After you visit Jochen's exceptional edition of I & The Bird, check out this bird song quiz I created. Listen to each song and make your guesses in the comments. Sorry, I don't have any cool prizes to give away.

Song 1

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Happy Blogiversary!

Happy Blogiversary to me!

I started this blog exactly one year ago today. As I reflect on the past year, I think of all of the great people I’ve met through blogging and all that I’ve learned from fellow bloggers and blogging in general. I’ve assembled a list of my 5 favorite posts from the last year:

A Lifer for Patrick?

I and the Bird #26: World Cup Edition

Rocky Mountain High

Bearded Birders

Gray Treefrog and a Spider

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Negri-Nepote Grasslands

Before the rains came on Saturday night, I had the chance to visit a new birding spot for me - the Negri-Nepote Native Grassland Preserve in nearby Franklin Township, NJ. The peak birding time here is the breeding season, where Grasshopper Sparrow are "thick" according to my friend Susanna. Cooper's Hawk, Eastern Meadowlark and American Kestrel are among the other wonderful birds that breed here. Despite being in the "off-season", it was still a great day to be out.

Here's a view of one of the trails at the preserve. Along this tree line I saw my first Chipping Sparrow of the season. I still have trouble separating their songs from Pine Warbler. I also encountered tons of Song Sparrows and a group of Tree Swallows. The skies weren't empty either. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks were interacting on a nearby tower and both Black and Turkey Vultures made an appearance.

There's a pond with a blind that held a pair of Green-winged Teal. I believe that Wood Ducks breed on this pond, but I didn't see any. The blind was a very nice structure, but not exactly "blind" as you can see from this picture below.

Along the trail I also found a group of Savannah Sparrows feeding together. The other interesting thing I found was in the picture below. It's a lovely piece of scat and the presence of hair and the size indicate a coyote to me. Any experts out there want to weigh in?

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Whole Foods Experience

I'm off work today thanks to the ridiculous amount of rain that has hit NJ...

Beth and I made our first visit to a Whole Foods Market on Saturday. There are two within about 45 minutes from us. Our goal was to explore the environmentally-friendly products that they sell, specifically their 100% recycled paper products (good for the boreal forests!). We also wanted to see their organic foods, produce, and shade-grown coffee selection. We were impressed with the overall experience. The produce was extremely high quality. They had an organic/all-natural/free range/hormone-free/etc. version of basically anything you can think of. They also had the 100% recycled paper products we were looking for, as well as biodegradable laundry detergent, dish detergent, and other household products.

We enjoyed our experience, but I have a few reservations about Whole Foods. First off, they obviously cater to an upscale crowd and the prices reflect it. I understand that organic food is more expensive to produce, but until we find a way to lower the prices and cater to the "everyman", 98% of the US population will continue to buy mass-produced, chemically-dependent crap.

Second, environmentally-conscious people like the readers of this blog and all of my birder friends know the benefits of buying the type of products that Whole Foods sells. It seems to me that Whole Foods is not marketing to this population. All of the Whole Foods stores in NJ are in very well-to-do areas and most of the people there seemed to fit that mold. Whole Foods' reputation has become that of a trendy place to shop vs. a place to shop to help the environment and the local grower.

Beth and I have also visited Trader Joe's, a similar, but smaller, chain market. They seem to have slightly better prices than Whole Foods, but a much smaller selection.

What has been your experience in shopping for organic foods and environmentally-friendly products?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Comedian Steven Wright on Birds

I love Steven Wright.

"Imagine if birds were tickled by feathers..."

"I can levitate birds, but no one cares."

"Thank God there's gravity because, otherwise, when a bird died it would just stay up there."

A Benefit to Corporate Life

One perk of working for a large corporation is a "matching gifts program". With this program, the corporation will match any donation that I make to a non-profit organization up to $3000. This has been a great help for friends who are doing walks for breast cancer, the United Way, and other humanitarian and cultural charities. Unfortunately, the program didn't cover environmental charities until now! I got an email yesterday stating that the company has changed their policy to now include all environmental organizations! Woo-hoo! I'm lucky to work for a corporation that cares about the environment. We have some of the largest solar power installations of any corporation nationwide and we also have facilities using equipment that converts methane gas into power. Also, all of our major facilities have environmental teams that try to minimize the company's impact on the environment. In fact one of our campuses is a site on my grassland breeding survey and they have reserved habitat for Grasshopper Sparrows, Bobolinks, and Meadowlarks.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More Birds-of-Paradise

The courtship rituals of Birds-of-Paradise never get old for me. For those of you who don't get the great ABA publication Winging It (edited by blogger Rick Wright), where this link was first mentioned, check out videos of the Carola's Parotia bird-of-paradise and its hip-hop antics.

Picture credit: Richard Bowler Sharpe

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Suggestions for Shade-grown Coffee

Our Environmental Department here at work is putting together an Earth Day event for employees. Of course, I got involved because I'm the resident nature geek. Aside from the nature walks I'll be conducting, I've been helping them with some ideas for their information table. One thing I wanted to promote is shade grown coffee. I've reached out to Grounds for Change because this is the brand that NJ Audubon sells at their centers. I'm hoping they can provide some fliers for us to hand out. This is also the only brand of shade grown coffee that I've tasted and it's quite good. Since I got a wickedly cool French press for Xmas, I want to try some other brands of shade grown coffee. Are there any coffee drinkers out there who can suggest other brands?

A Little Food Blogging and Some Salsa

As Mike over at 10,000 Birds said, "A little food blogging is good for the soul." Beth and I are self-described "foodies." We're mildly obsessed with the Food Network and we love to cook together. We have lots of pots, pans, gadgets, spices, and a multitude of cookbooks. Our newest acquisition is a sweet 8-qt. Calphalon dutch oven *drool*. We love to try new recipes and ingredients and we're notorious for taking pictures of our food at restaurants. I'll save that for a future culinary post.

Mike's hosting the Carnival of the Recipes this week and he has a meatless recipe theme. So, I guess I can't include my recipe for braised Kirtland's Warbler. Instead of that, here is a recipe for a mango salsa that I adapted from a recipe I found on the net a few years ago. It's a real crowd-pleaser. Finding good ripe mangos is key to this recipe.

Mango Tango Black Bean Salsa

2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained (Goya brand is good)
1 (14 oz.) cans whole kernel corn with peppers, drained (aka Mexicorn)
3 medium mangos, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 C finely chopped onion
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro (only use dried cilantro if absolutely necessary)
The juice of 2-3 limes
2 tsp garlic salt (not garlic powder!)
1/2 tsp ground cumin

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips. It can be eaten right away, but it's better if it sits in the fridge for an hour or so to let the flavors combine.

This makes a double recipe. We found that the original recipe made us just want more. It's easily halved though. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Google Technology

Who knew that Google uses pigeons to improve our search results?

Those Google guys are quite the characters.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

We're back from our vacation in the Finger Lakes and Southern Adirondacks of NY. We planned to go to Canada, but that plan was thwarted when we realized we'd need to pay duty tax on all of the wine we had bought in the Finger Lakes region. Oh well. We changed plans and spent more time in the wine country.

One highlight of the trip for me was a visit to the famous Cornell Lab or Ornithology. All that I can say is, "WOW!" I need to live at this place. The building, a beautiful piece of architecture, is surrounded by Sapsucker Woods. The building itself sits next to a series of ponds and marshy habitat. The sides of the building facing the ponds are all glass with Swarovski scopes set up for visitors to use. There are also some feeders set up.

When you enter the building, you are greeted with amazing paintings of birds by famous artists like Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, and Louis Agassiz-Fuertes. Sounds of the outdoors are pumped in through speakers. There's a really well-stocked gift shop sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited. They have the full suite of Cornell Lab Audio CD's, tons of bird books, and lots of other great stuff. It was hard not to spend a fortune in there.

A small theater holds a collection of Fuertes artwork that blew me away. He is one of my favorite artists and to see actual paintings in person was memorable. I'm not sure if the ones pictured above are authentic, but there were several others there. They also have an extensive collection of books that Fuertes contributed to. Quite impressive! See below.

On the way upstairs, a glass case caught my eye. It held almost 100 preserved hummingbirds of different species. It was a very old collection from the 1860's that survived many journeys around South America and the US and finally ended up as a donation to the lab. It was something spectacular to see - from the tiny White-bellied Emerald to the Sword-billed Hummingbird to the huge Violet Sabrewing.

The second floor houses many offices and cubicles for people doing work for the good of the birds. Where do I sign up for a job? The second floor also has a humongous ornithological library that I could have spent years browsing through. I walked through it for a few minutes and tried to soak in all of the knowledge and work that had gone into the thousands of books held on those shelves.

And oh yeah... on my way downstairs I saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! I even got a picture to prove it. All of those people looking down south are way off!