Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Robber flies and a vacation!

I'll be on vaca for a few days (non-birding related), so I probably won't post again until Monday. Be sure to check out The Wandering Tattler on Thursday for the new I & The Bird. In any event... I found these two mating Robber Flies (Asilus sericeus) a few weeks ago at Wildcat Ridge in Morris County. They were rather large and conspicuous. They posed nicely for a picture. Robber Flies (Asilidae) are an interesting group of insects. I think they're starting to become more popular among naturalists. I see a lot of people photographing them and a lot of people pointing them out in the field.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pet Parakeet Update

We've had our parakeets, Roger (green) and Amelia, for about a month now. They're still pretty scared of us, but we're trying to get them used to having us around. (Ignore the wine bottles above, they're used to prop up the branch - we don't have alcoholic 'keets)

We mostly leave the cage open and they stay within a small area of our TV room. They tend to fly back and forth from the sliding glass door and back towards their cage. We made them a tree out of a maple branch too. They love to hang out in there and climb all around it.

They also seem to be getting a little frisky lately. Roger will dance around Amelia and then try to stand on her tale (trying to procreate perhaps?). His dancing is hilarious and I'll try to get it on video. We got them a lot of toys, but they seem to be pretty happy just playing with each other most of the time - preening, fighting, sharing food, etc.

As for eating, they love their seed and their spray millet. We've also given them celery, carrots, spinach, and watermelon which they seemed to love. Cherries are not on their list though. We tried, but they tossed them out of their food bowl.

I'll keep you posted on any new developments.

Monday, June 25, 2007

New Blog on the Block!

Over the last few years, Beth and I have really tried to reduce our impact to the environment through recycling, eating organic foods, organic gardening, and other aspects. Beth has started a new blog, easyecoliving, to share EASY ways to be eco-friendly. So, please take some time to read the great posts she already has up and add her to your reading list. Thanks!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bog Plants: Orchids and others!

On Saturday, Beth and I made our second visit of the year to Webb's Mill Bog (map) in Ocean County, right in the heart of the Pine Barrens. This bog is home to many rare plants including several species of orchids and representatives of most of NJ's carnivorous plants. The weather couldn't have been better for our trip.

After finding the slightly hidden entrance to the bog, we were quickly greeted with several species we had never seen before. Light-pink and dainty Rose Pogonia orchids were everywhere. Interspersed among them were Calopogon, or Grass-pink, with its groups of blush flowers with yellowish lips.

Rose Pogonia

Calopogon, or Grass-pink

Hundreds of yellow flowers of various species speckled the landscape. Bladderworts (Utricularia) of several species poked through the surface on their threadlike stems. Bladderworts are one of the more unique species of plants (definitely read the link above). They use the bladder-like sacs on their roots to capture tiny zooplankton in a sort of lightning-fast gulping action.

I believe this is Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta)

Other yellow flowers present included Golden-crest (Lophiola aurea) with its fuzzy yellow flowers and fuzzy white buds.

Golden-crest - very fuzzy

The last yellow flower we saw was Bog Asphodel (Narthecium americanum), a NJ endemic species restricted to the Pine Barrens. Its bunch of yellow flowers with feathery centers rounded out the sprinkling of sunshine color in the bog.

Bog Asphodel

Thread-leaved Sundews (Drosera filiformis) were also in bloom with their pink flowers. The other species of sundews did not appear to be blooming and seemed less numerous than on our last visit in May.

Here's the sundew with its flowers

In addition to the flora, there was one very interesting insect that Beth was able to photograph. Below is a photo of an Elfin Skimmer (Nannothemis bella), the smallest dragonfly in North America! This little guy is about an inch long, smaller than most damselflies. There were tons of them here.

For excellent reading about bog and swamp plants, check out John Eastman's The Book of Swamp and Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of the Eastern Freshwater Wetlands. We're hoping to go back to Webb's Mill a few more times this year to see what other blooming seasons will present. Thanks to my woman, Beth, for the photos!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Io Moth & The Mad Kingbird

My father owns his own company where my sister and brother also work. The yard there is near a large expanse of woods and a pond. My family always seems to find something interesting there. They have nesting Prairie Warblers, foxes living in the back, and snakes in the warehouse. A few weeks ago, my future brother-in-law (who also works there, sense a pattern?) found a large yellow moth on the side of the building. Pictured below is that moth. It's an Io Moth (Automeris io), one of the silk moths (Saturniidae).

On Sunday, my sister had an interesting visitor. The window to the office has a reflective coating on it to reduce sun glare which creates an almost mirrored surface. Last year an Indigo Bunting visited and this year an Eastern Kingbird has been visiting. I assume they love looking at their reflection, like my parakeets do. I'm convinced that all birds look mad when pictured head-on. I love this pic.

A shout-out to my sister, Mary, for providing the pics!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Recycle Those Shipping Materials

I'm sure that many of you, like me, abhor polystyrene packing peanuts. They take up space, pollute the environment, and the stupid static cling makes them stick to everything, especially your hands. I was especially annoyed when I realized that HSN uses these peanuts in their shipping. For a company that processes thousands of shipments per day to women (and maybe a couple men) around the country, you'd think they would be a little bit better about their environmental impact and perhaps switch to using biodegradeable cornstarch peanuts. I started thinking about other mail-order companies and, of course, came to mind. I'm a huge fan of Amazon and my packages always contain those little plastic airbags. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Amazon has a page dedicated to recycling their packaging materials. Those little plastic bags are actually recycleable. Who knew? They probably say "reycleable" right on them and I never noticed. They also mention that they use 100% recycled polystyrene peanuts, but they only use peanuts in 1% of their orders. For those instances, they give suggestions for how to recycle or reuse those peanuts. Nice! Meanwhile, I've written a letter to HSN to see if I can talk to someone about their packing material. The least they could do is to inform their customers as Amazon has done. We'll see if I can make any progress with this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Charles Remington: Lepidopterist / Quirky Character Passes at 84

Famous Lepidopterist Charles Remington passed away on May 31. He was a very interesting character who made great strides in the study of butterflies and moths. He's (in)famous for eating cicadas and for collecting butterflies with Vladimir Nabokov. Two different obits can be found here and here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Photo Quiz to Beat the Heat

It's way too hot here in NJ today. I came across some pictures from a place MUCH colder than here. These awful photos were taken in the dead of winter in far northern Minnesota when I visited there a few years ago. They were taken with my very old, but very reliable, Olympus C2000z. That camera came out in 1999 and still takes great pics. Can you ID the birds? Hopefully this bit of winter will help you beat the heat.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Review: Wildflowers in the Field and Forest

Last year, the "Through Binoculars" series by Oxford University Press published Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States by Steven Clemants and Carol Gracie. Beth and I bought it at the tail-end of the wildflower season, so we didn't get to make much use of it. Recently, I finally sat down and really looked through it and also used it to ID some plants.

The introduction of the book discusses the structure of flowers, some terminology, and wildflower gardening. The authors also introduce the identification key. A plant field guide is only as good as its key. The key uses color and plant structure to narrow down your choices. Your initial choices take you to a specific set of species accounts where additional features help you narrow your choice (hopefully) to your final answer.

The species accounts use photos as opposed to illustrations found in other popular guides like Newcomb's Wildflower Guide and Peterson Wildflower Guide. For the most part, the photos are crisp and each shows a small line dictating the actual size of the flower. Many photos have inset photos showing leaf shape or other important features. The descriptions of the flowers are short and to the point. They describe all of the parts of the plant and the key features are bolded. Endemic and non-native plants are labeled accordingly. (And in this author's opinion, there are too darn many non-natives!)

A key feature that sets this book apart from other wildflower guides is the range map included with each entry. Most other books include descriptions of range, but don't get as detailed as these maps. The maps are also color coded to indicate blooming season (Spring, Spring-Summer, Summer, Summer-Fall, Fall, Spring-Fall).

Despite these great features, this book does have a few flaws. First, there are many terms used in the descriptions of the plants that are not properly defined in the glossary or elsewhere in the book. I was forced to reference other books in order to understand these terms. Second, it seems that the book was rushed to print. There are some typos and some page references that are missing page numbers (it says "p. xxx" instead of a number). Third, some of the plant names, both common and scientific, are different from other books. This is by no means a problem with this book specifically, but a problem as a whole for any book dealing with plants. There is a constant change in naming as scientists learn more about each plant. Plants with scientific names that have changed are listed under both names in the index, but do not have those same references in the species accounts. It would have been helpful to include that in both places. Finally, the book is printed on glossy paper for the photos which does make it a bit heavier than other guides. To me, it's not a big issue, but some may feel otherwise.

Overall, this book is a great addition to any naturalist's library. Until I use this book more, I'm not sure if I can give up my Newcomb's guide 100%. With the range maps and photos in this book combined with the detailed illustrations in Newcomb's, I have a great one-two punch for identifying almost every wildflower I encounter.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Artist Interview: Michael DiGiorgio

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with well-known nature artists. Michael DiGiorgio was kind enough to be the first volunteer. I first discovered Mike's work while browsing around the web and I immediately bought a print of his Resplendent Quetzal, which now hangs in my living room. Read below to learn about Mike's art, life, philosophy, and upcoming projects.

You’ve been painting birds since you were 5 years old. How did you become interested in nature art at such a young age?

I feel that my interest was ingrained in me. I never felt like I had a choice- I loved nature and especially birds. Maybe the color and song attracted me- but a creature that can fly as well- that is special. I still try to see bird in that simple, direct way- a flash of color, a beautiful song. I'm more of an artist than an ornithologist - although I know birds very well. I try not to let Science overtake the aesthetics of watching birds.

What birds were included in your earliest paintings?

Birds that I saw and knew- Cardinals, Chickadees, Pigeons. I tried to recreate the act of discovery when I first experienced a bird- and every new bird was a huge milestone in my life. I can remember the exact time, place, and light of each bird I ever saw, but I can't remember my wife's name on some days.

Who are/were the major influences on your art?

Louis Fuertes and Don Eckelberry. I also was very influenced by a local Wildlife Artist named Wayne Trimm- who was the official artist for the NYS Conservationist Magazine. He was the first artist I ever took my work to for comments. A wonderful artist and kind friend. Other artists were Holmer, Birchfield, Ryder, Palmer and Liljefors.

Your biography mentions the late Don Eckelberry as one of your mentors. Please elaborate on that experience.

A man named Douglas Lancaster- editor for "The Living Bird" at Cornell- arranged a meeting with Don Eckelberry and myself. I was absolutely star struck- he was my hero!

Anyway- after the first meeting, I made regular trips to Bablyon, NY to show Don my newest work. He was always brutally honest- and yet very encouraging. I never met anyone like him- a supreme teacher. If you went to see Don, you had to be prepared to stay up with him until 2-3 AM, when he would finally settle down and talk about your work- always with a rum and coke. As the great artist Guy Coheleach once said- I learned more about art in one night with Don Eckelberry than I did my entire time in art school- I agree. He always encouraged me to sketch birds from life- not from photographs. I never relied on photographs again for my work. He also made me feel important as an artist- and encouraged me to stick with it and not get discouraged. I'm still struggling to do just that.

What is your preferred medium and why?

Watercolor. It is immediate, and the light colors and the wet washes tend to replicate the softness and lightness of a bird better than any other medium.

Where is a special place you like to work?

I try to sketch in the field- from live birds. Then I take my sketches home, pour a cup of strong coffee, and paint in my messy studio. I'm very comfortable here.
What is the most challenging thing to you as a nature artist?

Matching the image in my head. I never seem to get close. Another big one is where to sell my work. I've worked the " garage work" phase of putting together a painting, and getting the "jizz" of a bird, etc. I know how to put feeling and life in a bird. The hard part is finding a place to sell it once it's finished. That's the main thing that I have not figured out. Because of my specialized subject matter- it only appeals to people who love birds. Unfortunately, most birders only want images of a bird, not art. Only highly detailed- large and sharp focused images of their favorite bird will satisfy them. In reality, we don't see all of the detail- we experience birds in a much more esthetic way. But most people think that more detail equals better art. If that were true- all photographs would be art. In reality, the opposite is true- it's much more difficult to edit down to the essence and capture the soul of your subject. People in the fine art world hold their noses at nature artist for this reason. They say that mere skillful reproduction of a subject alone is not art- and I agree. But look at Rembrandt's portraits- they were were realistic, accurate, but contained a quality of the essence of the person's soul far beyond the surface. This can also happen with bird painting. In my mind- Fuertes achieved this, as did Eckelberry.

What does your artwork say about you?

How passionate I am about my work and my subjects. When I'm illustrating, all I think of is my audience, and if they will like it and understand what it is. When I'm painting, I paint for myself- without a thought of how anyone else will feel about it. If I can please myself- then I'm happy, but I usually don't. I know my subjects very well, and if their essence does not come through in my work- then it's a failure. Only knowing your subject from life can give you that. After all- I'm painting the experience of seeing the bird, not the bird.

What other subjects have you painted besides birds?

Mostly the effects of light on landscapes, objects, etc. Mountains, trees, barns, homes are just vehicles for gathering light in an attractive way. I love weather and moods. I went through a phase of only painting in the moonlight- night-scapes. I couldn't sell them- everyone wants the visual cocktail- they were pretty dark.

What do you like to do when you’re not painting?

Bird, and think about painting. Everything I see and experience translates into a future painting. Most of them will never get created. I also play bluegrass banjo.

You had the opportunity to travel to Arkansas in search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. What are your thoughts on the controversy over this species?

I believe they exist. I think it's a matter of time until someone get sufficient evidence that will convince everyone.

What current projects are you working on?

I'm still working on a series of regional guides of Brazil for Guy Tudor and Bob Ridgely. I'm also working on a bird guide to Central America for Oxford University Press, night singing Insects for Stackpoll Books, and Bird of South America vol 3 with Tudor and Ridgely.

Where can someone view or purchase your artwork?

My web site:
154 Princess Drive
Madison, CT 06443
203 421 5848

Thanks so much to Mike for participating. Please look for additional interviews in the near future.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Do you know your poo?

Take the National Wildlife Federation's Scat Quiz. I got 4 out of 5. I guess I know most of my poo.

I & The Bird #51

Rob, the Birdchaser, is the host of I & The Bird #51. Not only do you get to read the best of the best in recent bird-related blog posts, but there's a chance to win prizes of unspeakable value!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Approaching 500...

I am quickly approaching a major bird listing milestone - 500 ABA-area birds (the US and Canada - minus Hawaii). I'm excited about this milestone, but I'm a little concerned about #500. Not that every bird isn't special, but I want it to be something extra special. I have nemesis birds that annually occur in NJ that could be #500 such as Cackling Goose, Cape May Warbler or Roseate Tern. Do I want these to be #500? Maybe... or should I wait for some mega rarity to show up? Does anyone care besides me? Probably not.

This milestone also gives me the chance to reflect on birds that I haven't seen that could have changed what #500 was. What if I had counted that terrible look at a Harris's Sparrow in October? What if that darned "sure thing" Ferruginous Pygmy Owl showed up in Texas? What if I waited an extra 10 minutes at the feeder in Arizona where the White-eared Hummingbird showed up immediately after I left? Why didn't I go out and see a Cackling Goose when there were many reports this winter? Why haven't I put a huge effort into finding a Barn Owl? What if I went on more pelagic trips? I guess I could look at the "what didn't happens" and sulk or I could think back to all the wonderful experiences I've had birding. Regardless of what #500 turns out to be, it's been a great journey getting there. My trips to Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, and the Adirondacks in NY have yielded wonderful birds, beautiful nature, and fabulous comraderie. Here's to #500, #600 and beyond!

Monday, June 11, 2007

NY State Birding Adventure - Day 2

The second day of our four blogger birding extravaganza began not too long after the first day ended. Shortly before 2:00 AM, after 2.5 hours of sleep, we woke up and headed for our destination - Wakely Mountain. It was a little over a two hour drive northwest to get there. We picked up Will on our way and we were off to search for boreal breeders - specifically Bicknell's Thrush. This specialized breeder of spruce-fir habitat is only found at high elevations from the Catskills north to a few points in southeastern Canada. It would be a life bird for both Mike and me.

We drove traffic-free through the night and found the dirt road that would take us to Wakely Mountain. Along the road, we tried to avoid hitting deer and toads while trying our best to stay awake (kudos to our driver Corey for being good at being awake). We encountered a Porcupine sauntering off the road (a life mammal for me) and a Luna Moth coursing across the headlights of Corey's car. Around 4:15, we arrived to the base of Wakely Mountain for our 6+ mile roundtrip hike. All of us secretly prayed that the potentially strenuous hike would reward us with our quarry.

I'd never hiked in the dark before, but it was really fun. By the light of our flashlights, we proceeded up the trail only to be met by a HUGE beaver dam blocking our way. After a moment of fear that we'd need to find a new mountain, we were able to find a trail around the dam. We moved on with Corey being sure to make loud noises to scare away bears as we progressed. The terrain was flat for the first 1.5 miles or so. Birds began singing before daylight with Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, and Swainson's Thrush being some of the first I remember hearing. The trail also had what to me was an abnormal amount of toads. There seemed to be one every 100 feet or so and some of them were HUGE! As we moved along gradually gaining elevation, more birds chimed in - Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, and Hermit Thrush among others. Daylight could be seen periodically poking through the canopy, but it was still pretty dark in the forest.

The trail up the mountain

We reached a fork in the road. One fork led to another beaver dam and a beautiful lake, the other led steeply up. No time to enjoy the lake now... we had a mission. Up we went! The climb was pretty steep, but did not require hand over hand climbing (to my relief). As the daylight increased, I could really see the beauty of this forest. Hemlocks, spruces, and firs dominated with aspens and maples sprinkled in. Lichen and moss-covered rocks and trees created a very different feel from the oak and poplar-dominated forests I mostly see in NJ. The ascent was strenuous and a bit tricky in spots where the trail was comprised of large smooth, exposed rock. A few slips by each of us, but we were all no worse for wear. As we reached higher and higher elevations, we frequently stopped in hopes of hearing the Bicknell's. Each stop yielded the same results... no Bicknell's singing or uttering their "VEER!" call. All was not lost though. We heard Sapsuckers doing there irregular tapping rhythms, encountered a probable nesting Red-breasted Nuthatch and even had a flock of Red Crossbills fly over. Flora was plentiful too. I saw two new wildflowers: Yellow Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) and, finally, my first trillium - Red Trillium (Trillium erectum).

Red Trillium, AKA Purple Trillium, AKA Wake-robin

We climbed higher and higher and made more frequent stops to listen. No luck yet. The bugs were getting pretty bad as daylight increased. Black flies and mosquitos forced us to re-apply our repellent on a few occasions. For me, they weren't biting, but they were a real nuisance. With no Bicknell's yet, I could sense a collective concern growing in our group about whether we had made the right choice of mountains. I still trusted my NYers though.

After several hours, we reached the summit. A fire tower, the tallest in the Adirondacks at almost 90', stretched into the clouds. Visibility from the summit was limited to the whiteness of the cloud that had encroached the mountain top. We explored the area which also housed a cabin, an outhouse, and a sleeping deck for workers. A flock of Pine Siskins paid us a brief visit and several Yellow-bellied Flycatchers gave their "chu-wee" calls. One even posed right in front of me. Even with all these great birds, it was difficult to forget our original goal which we had not achieved.

Corey and I climbed the tower about halfway to look at the tops of the trees. Around this time, the sun started to poke through the clouds and the fog started to burn off a bit. The gorgeous view from the summit made a few brief appearances before the fog covered it again. This sun must have triggered something in the birds because we suddenly heard a loud "VEER!" come from within about 20' of the base of the tower. We listened intently and heard it again. "VEER!" It called a third time, but this time it was followed by an unmistakable song with an upward slur at the end - the song of a Bicknell's Thrush. We searched the trees, but couldn't find it. Corey and I bolted down the tower and we all gathered to peer through the trees. Corey was the first to spot the bird sitting on a branch about eye-level. Mike and I were able to get on it for spectacular "life" looks at this endangered species. We were able to watch it call and got excellent looks at the large amount of yellow at the base of its bill. Our fears of not seeing the bird instantly washed away and all was right in the world. Will appeared from the trail (he smartly took his time on the trail instead of racing up it like we did) and confirmed that he had heard a few on the way up and reported a few other bird sightings he had.

The fire tower

We celebrated briefly, then began our descent. Going down wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. It was a little rough on my knees, but I didn't fall on my butt. We tried to make quick time because we had other spots in the 'Daks that we wanted to see. The best sighting on the way down was a Ruffed Grouse that was obviously trying to distract us from a nest. Will even saw it do a broken wing display in front of him.

At the bottom of Wakely, we rested and refueled on coffee. It was only about 9:45 and there was still some birding to do. We got back on the dirt road that took us to Wakely and continued on for another 30 miles or so. At a roadside pond, we encountered an Alder Flycatcher and a Great Blue Heron, but few other new birds.

A serene roadside stop

Our final destination was Ferd's Bog, which aside from a Winter Wren with his amazing song and a few other birds we'd previously seen, was incredibly quiet. I still enjoyed being out on a boardwalk in a really gorgeous bog. The local birders, Corey and Will, were pretty disappointed that this spot didn't produce the hoped-for birds like Black-backed Woodpecker and Olive-sided Flycatcher. I could live with it though. We had done an amazing hike in the wee hours of the morning with a tremendous payoff. I had a real satisfied feeling about the hike and a little birdless territory couldn't take that away. I got to spend a few splendid days birding with some great people too. Will and Corey really know their area - not just the birds, but the geography and history of the area too. It's always fun birding with Mike too and I enjoyed getting some lifers together.

Ferd's Bog

We headed home to Mike's in the Bronx and I traveled on to Piscataway, NJ. To end this, I need to apologize to my girlfriend, Beth, because I quickly fell asleep for the next 13.5 hours.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

NY State Birding Adventure - Day 1

On Friday, Mike from 10,000 Birds and I traveled to the Albany, NY area to meet up with Corey from Lovely Dark and Deep and Will from The Nightjar. Our mission was simple: see a Bicknell's Thrush on one of the Adirondack mountains where it breeds. But that was for Saturday... we still had some birding to do in Friday's stifling heat.

I picked up Mike in "da Bronx" and we hopped on the NY thruway for our 150 mile drive up to Albany. The AC was cranked and we cruised up the highway with visions of boreal breeders dancing through our heads. Corey and Will were waiting for us when we arrived around 4:15. Enough with the pleasantries... we had some birding to do! Our targets for Friday were grassland species and marsh birds. Will and Corey are completely wired in to the local birding and they knew some great spots. We headed west (I think) to the farmlands of Schoharie and Montgomery counties.

We stopped at our first field and ticked off Savannah Sparrow and a distant singing Vesper Sparrow, both of which are tough breeders to find in NJ. Our next stop was the one I was most looking forward to. It was a field of tall grass with some small shrubs that hosted a small sparrow which uttered a small "Tslisk" that it calls a song - a Henslow's Sparrow. This bird has elluded me on several occasions, but this guy was very abiding. After a few moments of searching, he perched on a shrub and gave some excellent scope views - ABA bird #498!

We piled in the car and continued our search for grassland species. Bobolinks called from every open field. Another field held a pair of circling Upland Sandpipers - a lifer for Mike. They didn't stop and pose for us, but they did make their "wolf whistle" call which is always neat to hear. Continuing on to other fields, we found more Savannah Sparrows, Harrier, Kestrel, and Eastern Meadowlark. We were racking up the grassland specialties, but the regularly-occurring Grasshopper Sparrow was peculiarly missing. We finally did find one calling, but the views for Corey and Mike were less than spectacular.

The grasslands had produced well for us and we headed to our next habitat - Black Creek Marsh. Our target: Virginia Rail (a lifer for Mike) and other marsh birds. Most of the great marshes close to me are closed at night to the public. This marsh was very accessible. A path along railroad tracks leads to some awesome marsh habitat where we did hear, but not see, Virginia Rail. We also heard Marsh Wren and Swamp Sparrow and had a Willow Flycatcher circle our heads in the waning daylight. We returned to the car in the dark and finalized our plans for the next day. It must have been our inhalation of too much marsh gas, but we decided to return to Corey's house (after dropping off Will at his house), eat dinner (at 10:00 PM), sleep for a few hours, and then leave for Wakely Mountain at 2:00 AM. That's exactly what we did... we drank a beer, ate some great prosciutto and mozz sandwiches, and got a little sleep. Tune in tomorrow for our phenomenal adventure up the mountain.

Be sure to check out Corey's poetic rendition of Friday's birding, as well as Mike's and Will's versions of the day. It's interesting reading to get everyone's perspectives.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Anhinga in NJ

While driving south on the Garden State Parkway yesterday evening, I noticed an odd bird circling near a radio tower among some crows. The shape was distinctive - a fan-shaped tail, an long thin neck, and a long, thin, sharp yellow bill. The length of the neck and the shape of the bill and the overall gestalt of the bird separated it easily from a Double-crested Cormorant (which can soar in a similar manner). It was a male Anhinga!

Anhingas are an almost annual vagrant to NJ. This is the first of 2007 to my knowledge. From what I know, the furthest north that they breed is a small population in Virginia. Very cool indeed! This is actually my second sighting of an Anhinga in NJ. During the 2004 World Series of Birding, three birds flew over our group at Sandy Hook.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Red Knot Update

"Scientists Scramble to Save US Shorebird"
June 4, 2007

FORTESCUE, New Jersey - A tiny shorebird is edging closer to extinction, threatened by fishermen who destroy its food staple for bait and loved by ornithologists who are drawn from around the world to count it.

The red knot, once a numerous springtime visitor to the beaches of the Delaware Bay on the US Atlantic Coast, has declined to an all-time low of 12,300 birds, down from some 15,000 last year and around 100,000 in the mid-1980s. Biologists led by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection have been monitoring the bird for the last 23 years amid signs that it may soon join the dodo on the list of birds never to be seen again.

After a month long ground and air search of the beaches of Delaware Bay in New Jersey and Delaware, scientists this week concluded that the red knot's population is now even closer to the level where it may not survive. They consider the population would be sustainable at about 100,000.

The 10-inch-long bird with a rusty red breast and mottled gray back could be extinct by 2010 or shortly thereafter if its Arctic breeding is disrupted by bad weather or by attacks from predators, undermining the ability of the perilously small population to regenerate, said Larry Niles, former head of New Jersey's endangered species program and the leader of the annual red knot count.

"Because the population is so low, it's vulnerable to a lot of other things," Niles said.

The red knot's numbers have been decimated by overharvesting of horseshoe crabs, whose eggs are its staple diet. With enough food, the 4.7-ounce (135-gram) bird can put on sufficient weight to complete its 9,000-mile (14,500-km) migration from southern Argentina to Arctic Canada each spring, and will hopefully breed successfully when it gets there.

The crabs, used mostly as bait by conch fishermen, have been removed by the thousands from the bay beaches that are a crucial refueling stop on its epic migration. Despite a two-year moratorium on harvesting them on the New Jersey side of the bay, the number of crab eggs is down by a third from last year, Niles said.

Even if the crab harvest is banned indefinitely throughout Delaware Bay, it will take a decade or more for its population to recover to the point where it can feed increasing numbers of knot because the crabs take nine years to reach sexual maturity.


The bright spot in this year's count was that captured birds were found to be of a healthy weight, suggesting that for now there are enough crab eggs to feed a dwindling population.

Niles urged New Jersey to extend the moratorium when it expires later this year and called on the federal government to add the bird to its endangered species list. In Delaware, officials have proposed banning the crab harvest but that is being challenged in court by fishing interests.

Concern over the bird's fate draws ornithologists to the annual count. This year they came from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Britain and Mexico.

Clive Minton, a shorebird specialist from Melbourne, Australia, has been coming to the New Jersey beaches each year since 1996 to contribute his expertise.

"The red knot decline is steeper, longer and greater than any other shorebird decline around the world," he said.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Get Better at Counting Birds

If you don't get the ABA PEEPS e-Bulletin, written by fellow blogger and birder extraordinaire Rick Wright, you should. The most recent edition has a link to two articles on eBird about how to count birds.

Counting 101

Counting 201

I'll be the first to admit that I don't typically count birds when I'm not doing some type of formal census. Reading these two articles makes me want to count birds more and to record them in eBird.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Crown Vetch

If you've spent time out birding during the summer in the east, you may be familiar with Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia). This attractive member of the Pea family has been planted along slopes on highways and roadsides since the 1950s. Its strong root system helps prevent soil erosion and the pink/purple flowers are very attractive. Like many things, though, too much is never a good thing. Crown Vetch is native to the Mediterranean and has become invasive in many areas where it has been planted. It is very aggressive and will easily crowd out native plants in dune and grassland habitats. The plant has a "nitrogen fixing" ability whereby it helps replenish the nitrogen in the soil where it lives. This can adversely affect some native plants that may require infertile soil to grow.

All is not bad in Crown Vetch land. A small butterfly, the Wild Indigo Duskywing, has added the Crown Vetch to its list of caterpillar host plants. The prevalence of this plant has increased the population and expanded the range of this cryptic butterfly.

Many states have reduced or eliminated the planting of Crown Vetch. I'm sure enough has spread around to sustain the Wild Indigo Duskywing population for many, many years

Saturday, June 02, 2007

New Dragonfly Field Guide Coming

I just read that Ed Lam, author and illustrator of the outstanding Damselflies of the Northeast, has been hired to write a new field guide to the dragonflies of North America for the Peterson Field Guide Series. Ed is chronicling his journey to create this guide in sort of a blog format. It's very interesting reading. Check out Ed's photos and artwork while you're there too. As a big fan of dragonflies, I'm really excited about this. The current guides on the market that cover all of NA aren't very good. Regional guides that use photos have done a great job filling in the holes though. Ed's illustrations in his damselfly guide are amazing and the format is very user friendly. This guide will help turn a lot more people on to the beauty of dragonflies.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I & The Bird #50

#50! Wow. That's a whole lot of blog posts. Congrats to Mike and all of the participants in the last 50 installments. #50 is up at A Blog Around the Clock.