Wednesday, October 31, 2007

BirdCam Videos: A New Yard Bird!

I'm really having a lot of fun with my BirdCam. I swear a full review is pending! In the meantime, I tried out the video capabilities the last few days.

The first day I had it on the ground and captured mostly House Sparrows, squirrels, and a couple Black-capped Chickadees. The videos are only 10 seconds, so enjoy the first one.

I moved the camera to point to the feeders today. I caught the squirrels raiding my easily accessible peanut feeder. See below.

And finally, behind the squirrel tail wagging in front of the lens, is our long-overdue, first Red-breasted Nuthatch in the yard. Does it count as a yard bird if you don't actually see it? My answer is "Yes!" (It may help to click on this video to view it larger)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Birding History: Lichtenstein's Oriole

I've been browsing through a 1966 printing of Golden Books: Birds of North America. I think this was the first printing of this sometimes underrated guide (I'll save that for another post).

It's interesting looking through this guide and seeing the former names of some species and the past status of many splits and lumps. You can learn a lot from knowing some of these old bird names. Some of the historical name changes make perfect sense, but some don't. I'm going to do a series of posts on some of the less familiar bird name changes and the history behind them.

The first bird I'd like to start with is a name I'd never heard before - Lichtenstein's Oriole (Icterus gularis). This yellow-orange oriole with a black throat was named after German zoologist Martin Henrich Lichtenstein (1780-1857). Lichtenstein was a well known ornithologist and held positions as a professor of zoology at the University of Berlin, as well director of the Zoological Museum of Berlin. I can't find information on whether he actually described Icterus gularis or if it was just named for him. I did find that he described 5 species of North American birds including the Kelp Gull and many others around the world.

The common name of Lichtenstein's Oriole was changed in the 1970's (probably 1974) to Altamira Oriole. Altamira is a city in the state of Taumalipas, Mexico. The Altamira Oriole is widespread along the Mexican gulf coast, northern Central America, and into the extreme southern tip of Texas - where I had the pleasure of viewing one in 2005. Interestingly, from what I can gather from my online research, it seems this bird was known as "Alta Mira" Oriole prior to the 1940's. So, the AOU essentially changed the name back to a former name. As far as common name changes go, this one doesn't help the observer any, but it does help place the distribution of this species to its Mexican roots and eliminates any possibility of thinking this bird has its origins in a tiny European country.

Blurry pic I took at a trailer park in southern Texas

Monday, October 29, 2007

Now here's something you don't see every day...

What happens when a birder lays out some seal meat on his stomach?

Apologies to those who've seen this before, but it was just brought to my attention over the weekend. This is Bruce Mactavish, an avid field birder from St. John's, Newfoundland with a gorgeous Ivory Gull perched on him. He is a regional editor for North American Birds and is a birding tour leader for WINGS.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Cape May Weekend Recap

Hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park

Let's just say that it took a few days for things to get going at Cape May... Friday was a wet mess and basically a bust bird-wise. Saturday was equally wet and dreary, but cleared up nicely in the afternoon. And Sunday was a stellar full-on Cape May experience. In addition to the good birding, Beth and I got to meet some cool fellow bloggers and birders. Here are some highlights and lowlights:

THE Bird Show, as they call the vendor exhibits there, was an awesome time. It featured some great industry representation, some amazing artists and carvers, and a really cool live raptor exhibit. We met up with Birdchick and Wildbird on the Fly working there, as well as the Born Again Birdwatcher schmoozing with some old friends. I passed out some blog business cards too!

"Birds and Beers," our evening of drinking and socializing, was a blast. We hung with birders, many bloggers, and industry reps. Conversation ranged from birding to blogging to cats to eco-living to publishing... a little bit of everything. Good beer selection too. I can't wait to do this again.

The Sunday birding was amazing! There were raptors everywhere, hundreds of short-distance migrants, and gorgeous weather. I got to bird with Laura, Delia, Susan, and Susan. Beth and I even took some time to taste wine at the Cape May Winery. We finished up the day with a Red Crossbill at a feeder near Middle Township, NJ. That was my 298th state bird.

On a lowlight side... We got soaked a few times. Also, my pal Mike from 10,000 Birds didn't get to feel the full Cape May experience that I previously "sold" to him since he was only able to stay until Saturday (and the birding stunk until Sunday). Hopefully next year will be better weather-wise!

I'm psyched to do this all again next year. I'm going to try my best to get a trip leader position there for next year, but we'll see how that works out. It was great meeting everyone and I hope to meet some more bloggers next year (you know who you all are!)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Off to Cape May

Beth and I are off to Cape May tomorrow morning to meet up with some other bloggers and celebrate the Cape May Autumn Weekend. It's not too late to come down!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bird Cam: Take 2

I'm going to do a few more days of testing this thing. For some reason, it only took 6 pictures today. I moved it to a new area pointing at my feeders, but I think the sensitivity was set too low. Here are some pics from yesterday. This thing is FUN!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Viva New Mexico!

As the eloquent Homer Simpson once said, "There's a NEW Mexico?" Indeed there is and Beth and I will be there in late November. Our goal: Birds, scenery, wine, Mexican food, and other cool stuff. We'll be visiting Bosque del Apache NWR, Elephant Butte, Petroglyph National Monument, and, of course, the famed Sandia Crest. If you have any tips, must-see places (nature-related or otherwise), or anything else to say, please leave a comment.

Monday, October 22, 2007

BirdCam: Take 1

The folks over at Wingscapes were generous enough to send me a BirdCam to play with. It's real easy to set up and I had it going in no time. Here are a few sample shots for what I've gotten so far. I'll come back with a full review after I try it out for a few more days.

For now, I have it mounted on the ground to see what birds and other critters are hanging out down there. The spot I put it in is a bit dark, so I moved it tonight.

I got a bunch of squirrel pics!

The House Sparrow party is well-attended. They're on the perimeter and it's a bit dark. I got a few shots of these too.

I got a few nice Blue Jay shots, again a little dark due to how I positioned the camera.

Umm... who the heck is this? This was a bit of a shock. No clue who this kid is. We also had some pics of two other kids playing in the yard.

The camera has been fun to play with. The "unknown" factor of what you'll see is great. More to come this week!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Get those easy Rosy-finches while you can!

The Sandia Crest east of Albuquerque, New Mexico has been known as the best place in the US to see all three species of Rosy-finch. The feeders at the restaurant at the top of the mountain attract these species, and others, in winter. Thousands of birders have visited this location to add these beauties to their life lists.

Unfortunately, the future of this location is in jeopardy. The Crest House restaurant is up for sale. Hopefully, the new owners will be bird lovers and the site will remain as great as it is today. There is the chance that some large corporation will buy this and stick a TGIF's up there. This season could be your last chance to see these beautiful birds at these feeders.

"Winging It" and "I & The Bird #60"

If you're an ABA member, check out page 9 of the latest issue of "Winging It" for an article by yours truly! Special thanks to Rick Wright for picking out one of my blog posts to include in that great publication.

When you're done with that, head over to Search & Serendipity for a video-filled 60th edition of I & The Bird. David lived in Papua New Guinea for a while and he has some really cool posts elsewhere on his blog about that experience.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Selasphorus Hummingbirds in the East

In the east, more and more people have been leaving up their hummingbird feeders until late into the fall. Most of our regular Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have gone south, but there's always a chance of attracting a vagrant hummingbird from the west or from Mexico. A Calliope Hummingbird was seen in Cape May a few weeks ago. My buddy Adam from Virginia has a Selasphorus hummingbird visiting his feeder. Wait... a Selas-what?

Adam's mystery hummingbird

Selasphorus is the genus that includes Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, and Broad-tailed Hummingbird in the US. According to Cornell, Rufous Hummingbird is most likely to be found as a vagrant in the eastern US. Allen's is less likely, but can appear. Broad-tailed is the least likely. The reason I didn't say that Adam had a Rufous or an Allen's is because the females and immatures of these two species are virtually identical. They are best identified in the hand or through some very detailed photographs. For some excellent case studies on identifying vagrant hummingbirds, check out this synopsis of vagrant hummingbirds in the NYC metro area.

Adam's hummingbird was identified tentatively as a female Rufous. It actually has a band on its leg, but he hasn't been able to read it yet. Banders are scheduled to come on 11/3. I'll keep you all updated!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hawk Trapped in Park Bench

You may have caught this story on "Good Morning America" yesterday. A Red-tailed Hawk got its leg stuck in between the slats of a park bench. There's video and photos with the story.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day! 5 Less-Common Things You Can Do

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day As you may or may not know, today is Blog Action Day in honor of environmental issues. As a collective blogosphere, we may not be able to solve global warming or some other environmental problem, we do have the opportunity to educate people. One of my biggest reservations about blogging is that I sometimes feel like I'm "preaching to the converted." 90% of the time I probably am, but for that other 10% or for that person that stumbles across my blog through a web search, I hope that those people can walk away learning something. Recycling, hybrid cars, and global warming have gotten enough press and I'm sure topics like that will be talked about ad nauseum for Blog Action Day. So, for Blog Action Day, I decided to post a list 5 easy and less-common things one can do to help the environment. So here's my list:

1. Learn the common invasive plants in your yard and remove them. Start with Garlic Mustard, Ailanthus (AKA Tree of Heaven), Japanese Barberry, Japanese Knotweed, and Spotted Knapweed. Tell a neighbor.

2. Learn the names of 10 birds and share them with someone, especially a child. You never know what interest it might spark. I'll get you started with the most common in the northeast US: American Robin, European Starling, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee. That's more than halfway there! Here's an excellent resource for learning birds.

3. Consider the coffee you're drinking or, at least, the way you prepare and drink it. Start here. Serve some shade grown coffee at your next party!

4. Don't use bug zappers. Studies have shown that out of 10,000 insects killed over the course of one summer, only a few dozen were actually mosquitos or other biting insects. Use citronella or another natural repellent.

5. Let it grow! Pick a small area of your lawn and just let it go. Don't mow it. Resist the urge. In a short time, it will welcome insects, wildflowers, birds, toads, and many other interesting things. Be sure to keep down those invasives though as per #1.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Big Sit Results

Well, let's just say our planned Big Sit on the porch of the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory didn't turn out the way we planned. We only saw 25 species but we did have a few nice sightings.

Beth and I arrived at Sandy Hook around 8:00 AM as planned. Unfortunately, the wind was unbelievable. A strong, cold, 30+ MPH wind was blowing from the west and the porch at Sandy Hook faces the bay - due west. Birds were barely flying and the ones that did were thrown all over. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet blew past me and all I could hear was a faint "di-git" call. Our original planned location in the front yard of the building was moved to indoors which conveniently fit more or less within the 17' diameter circle. The front and side windows would serve as my view and I left some room to step out on the porch to scan the sky periodically.

We spent 8:00 - 3:00 looking for birds while greeting and chatting with the visitors to the observatory. The first "nice" bird for the day was an adult White-crowned Sparrow followed quickly by a fly-over Osprey. Unfortunately, the bay was pretty much devoid of activity except for the standard gulls and some DC Cormorants. Brant have just arrived on Sandy Hook but were concentrated further south and did not show for us. Fly-by Egrets and GB Herons were noticeably absent too.

The real highlight of the day for me was what I found in a pine tree through one of the side windows. I saw a warbler-like bird flitting in the tree, but couldn't get a great look. Finally, the bird popped out less than 10' away on a bare branch. The field marks pointed only to one species - Cape May Warbler! Nice! Unfortunately, it flew off before Beth got to see it. This has been a jinx bird for me.

Other highlights included a Merlin, a White-breasted Nuthatch (suprisingly uncommon on Sandy Hook), and a Brown Creeper. Next year we'll be able to follow my original plan and station ourselves at the hawk watch platform.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Monday is Blog Action Day!

Monday is Blog Action Day - well over 10,000 bloggers will be posting about environmental issues. Make sure you sign up!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Autumn Meadowhawk

One of the most common dragonflies encountered this time of year in the northeast is the Autumn Meadowhawk, Sympetrum vicinum (formerly known as Yellow-legged Meadowhawk). They emerge in late summer and are typically the last dragonfly around into November.

The males usually have red adbomens, but they may vary from orange to brown depending on the temperature. The thorax and face are brown to black. The males have minimal black markings on the abdoment, separating them from another common red skimmer, Needham's Skimmer. The male's legs are yellow or brown, but never black. The females have a brown thorax and a brownish red abdomen.

They have a habit of flying far away from water so they can turn up anywhere. They also like to perch on clothing, so you may find one clinging to you on a late fall day. The Latin name for this genus, Sympetrum, means "with rock" and refers to their habit of basking on rocks to absorb heat early in the day.

A similar, less common species, that may be encountered is the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk.

Thanks to Susie from JerseyBirds for the pic.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

King Corn

There's a new movie about our reliance on corn. Check it out here: King Corn

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Birding for Beginners" at Sandy Hook

On Saturday, I led my quarterly free "Birding for Beginners" walk at Sandy Hook for NJ Audubon. We had 4 participants signed up, but only 3 attended. Beth and I brought our 7-year old niece with us for her first birding experience. My mom joined us as well.

Beth and I woke up to an extremely foggy morning which concerned me. Lucky for us, the fog burned off quickly and it turned into a really nice, but hot, day. Migrants weren't abundant but we did find some really nice birds.

Showing the group a bird in my Sibley guide

At Spermaceti cove, we observed a perched Great Blue Heron, always a crowd pleaser. We also had distant Royal Terns, several Double-crested Cormorants, various gulls, and a few Black-bellied Plovers. I briefly saw a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, but it disappeared before I got the group on it (as they are wont to do).

Distant Great Blue Heron

On a brief walk along the nearby bike path, we found a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Black-capped Chickadee. The group needed a bathroom so we headed over to the beach pavilion. A trip to a nearby bathroom yielded a nice group of migrants with White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, lots of Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Black-throated Green Warbler.

Our next stop was the area known as "Raccoon Alley" - a paved path through some woods. It was pretty quiet in there, unfortunately. I played my "other nature" card and pointed out butterflies and plants to supplement the lack of birds. Sandy Hook is working to eliminate the large Ailanthus and Japanese Knotweed populations. It was interesting to see the areas where they had obviously applied herbicide to kill these species. The only birds we managed to actually see were Cedar Waxwings and a Red-eyed Vireo.

Out last stop was the far north end. There we found our only raptors of the day - a Cooper's Hawk and a Kestrel, but not much else.

The day turned out to be pretty nice. Thanks goes out to our great group! Our niece also really enjoyed her day. She became quite adept at using her binoculars by the end of the day and she's looking forward to her next trip.

Monday, October 08, 2007

National Schoolyard Birding Challenge

Please share this with any educators or anyone that works with children:

"The National Schoolyard Birding Challenge is a monthly bird watching contest open to students in all public and private schools in the contiguous United States. Student participants in the NSBC will work together to observe, identify, and record various bird species found on their school grounds. NSBC's main objective is to get more young people outside and exploring nature via bird watching. While this popular hobby provides life long enjoyment for enthusiasts, it also holds benefits for many people, especially children."

This contest is sponsored by Fledging Birders, a component of the Education Programs developed by National Biodiversity Parks.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Empid ID Tips and Cape May

When the Cape May folks first launched their web site, I honestly thought that it would have a big launch but not stay current like many other web sites do. I was very wrong. They have a lot of wonderful content about Cape May birding, daily sighting updates, a nice online magazine, and lots of other great info. Their online magazine, Tigrina Times, has a two-part feature on identifying "Little Flycatchers" which has some great info: Part 1 and Part 2.

Another favorite section is "Migrants and Residents" which features interviews with well-known birding personalities. This month's interview is a particularly fun one for me since it features one of my birding mentors, Pete Bacinski. Check it out for some historical perspective on the Cape May Autumn Weekend and the World Series of Birding. Pete was on the first World Series winning team.

So even if you aren't heading down to Cape May for the First Annual Blogger Conference at the Cape May Autumn Weekend, you can still get a taste of Cape May birding through their site.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Big Sit - October 14

Busy on Sunday, October 14? Why not spend the day confined to a 17-foot diameter circle? That's what Beth and I will be doing for the 13th annual Big Sit hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest. It's a fun way to raise money for your club or other charitable organization.

My original intent was to spend the day at the observation platform at Sandy Hook where I would be sure to see a lot of species thanks to its varied habitats and elevated vantage point. Unfortunately, I realized that I have to volunteer that day at the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory. So, instead of sitting on the observation deck, we'll be sitting on the front porch of the Bird Observatory. The disadvantage of this location is that We'll have a building behind us, very few trees, and visitors to tend to. There are some feeders, a great view of the bay, and the few trees do attract some migrants on a good day. It'll make a good conversation piece with the visitors though. We expect to only see about 30-40 species whereas we might have seen 60-75 from the observation deck. It'll be fun though. We've named our "team" the "SHBO Stoop Pigeons." If you're interested, we'd love to have help!