Monday, December 31, 2007

Winter Coastal Birding on New Year's Eve

After an uneventful day yesterday at the Raritan Estuary CBC, I decided to do some birding along the NJ coast today. I started at Manasquan Inlet near Point Pleasant, NJ. This is a great spot in winter for loons, gulls, and alcids. A few Black-headed Gulls had been seen here recently and I wanted to see one. Unfortunately, today would not be my day. One had been seen around 8:00 AM, but had flown far away by the time I got there. As a nice consolation prize, there were quite a few Bonaparte's Gulls in extremely close as well as many Northern Gannets and loons.

From there I headed north to Sandy Hook to look for some rarities that had been hanging out since late November - a Townsend's Solitaire and a Western Kingbird. Neither of these are life birds or state birds for me, but I thought they'd be nice to see. The Hook was extremely windy. I looked in vain for the Solitaire for quite a while, but I didn't manage to find many birds at all. The only thing I scared up was a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Brown Creeper. I then moved to the North Beach pavilion to look for the Western Kingbird. As I stepped out of my car, a bird alighted on a perch to my right and, sure enough, it was the Kingbird!

One out of three ain't bad. I ran into another birder who had been looking for the Kingbird for a while and I was able to get him on it. The wind and the cold were beginning to get to me. I made a few more stops along the way out, but then headed home. Not a bad morning out birding on New Year's Eve. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Meme: What did you do?

My lovely fiancee, Beth, has started a meme over at her blog. List one thing that you or your have family did during this holiday season to lighten your environmental impact. Then, tag some people to do post their "one thing." Here's mine:

Beth and I purchased two cheap sets of forks, spoons, and knives to use at our parties. This way we can reduce the amount of plastic utensils that we use because plastic utensils stink.

I'll tag Susan, Delia, and the Birdfreak crew.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Great Swamp Birding

As I've mentioned on here a few times before, I spent some time birding as a kid at the Great Swamp NWR with my family. When I picked up birding again 7 or so years ago, it became a regular stop for me. I took a drive down the main access road, Pleasant Plains Road, today to look for some previously reported Rough-legged Hawks.

At the heron rookery parking lot, I observed a dark bird fly and perch on top of a lone snag. Upon closer inspection, it was indeed a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk. I don't think I've ever seen a dark morph perched and I was surprised at how dark it looked - almost black. Unfortunately, a young Red-tailed Hawk came by and chased it away to claim the perch. I got to see the shape and field marks in flight.

I ran into a friend who pointed out an immature Red-headed Woodpecker working a group of distant dead trees. The Great Swamp is one of the best spots to see these in NJ. I spent a short time looking around for other birds and found some Black Vultures, more Red-tails, three more species of woodpecker (Red-bellied, Hairy, and Downy) and a group of Eastern Bluebirds. The local parking lot Mockingbird made his presence known too.

I needed to head home from my short trip but not without first finding a group of about 25 Rusty Blackbirds sitting in some trees close to the road. I think this was a year bird for me and I know the Rough-legged Hawk was. The weather couldn't have been better for a day in late December. It was almost balmy. Happy New Year and Happy Birding!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thank you Santa!

Santa Beth gave me a lovely Charley Harper print of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker among many other wonderful gifts for Xmas. Scroll down for a picture of me rocking out with one of my other presents, Guitar Hero for my Playstation 2. It's almost as addictive as birding!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to all! It's been a great year of meeting new people, reading many wonderful blogs, and experiencing nature. I've enjoyed sharing it with everyone. Thanks for reading.

This picture has not been modified in any way. I swear. Even Hawk Owl's need to keep warm sometimes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Nature Moments of 2007

Tai Haku of Earth, Wind & Water had this great idea for a "Top 10 Nature Moments of 2007" meme. Here are mine. I included a few pics I've never used before. Thanks to my friend Tina for the pics!

10. Watching White-faced Capuchin monkeys eat bananas and other fruits right next to our breakfast table in Costa Rica.

9. Riding on a boat through the mangroves of Costa Rica. I had never been in a mangrove before and they are truly special.

8. Dawn at Bosque del Apache NWR - hundreds of geese, cranes, and a lone Bald Eagle.

7. Getting my 500th ABA life bird - MONK PARAKEET!

6. The World Series of Birding is always an awesome time...

5. Watching Planet Earth

4. Waking up to a Swainson's Thrush singing outside our window
2. Hiking up Wakely Mountain with Mike, Corey, and Will to see a Bicknell's Thrush. Good companionship, great birds, and beautiful scenery.
1. Seeing an Ivory Gull in Piermont, NY

Bird of the Year

Members of the BIRDCHAT mailing list have been sharing their "Bird of the Year." It can be anything - a great yard bird, an outstanding rarity, a long-sought-after species, or just a really nice look at an everyday bird. I have had an amazing year of birding including getting my 500th ABA bird, seeing a Western Reef-heron, making some new friends in NY state, and doing some travelling.

It's tough to choose my "Bird of the Year". After some debate, the Ivory Gull that I saw in NY on February 26 is the winner. Bicknell's Thrush was a tough competitor because of the fun we had finding it, but the Ivory Gull wins because it was such an amazing view of a bird that I thought I would have to travel 1000's of miles to see (and still need some luck). I'm looking forward to some more great birding in 2008! Please share your "Bird of the Year" in the comments or on your blog.

Photo problems

Please pardon the broken photo links. I had stored a bunch of photos on an old web server I'm no longer using and now need to move them to my new domain. In the meantime, check out the large number of articles about Christmas Bird Counts on Google!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More on that darn Murrelet

The Philadelphia-area newspaper, The Intelligencer, has a nice article on the Long-billed Murrelet that was found in PA on Friday.

Also, here are some photos of the bird including one of it in flight. Pretty cool!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Random Facts and New Domain!

Beth got me my own domain name for Xmas! will now point you to this blog. Please update your links. Also, I was tagged by my buddy Delia for this 7 random facts meme.

The rules:
Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Share 7 random or weird things about yourself. Tag 7 people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. Beth and I met on She "winked" at me and the rest is history.

2. I was a founding member of a mock religion based around SPAM (the meat product, not the email stuff). At one point we had over one hundred "members" and were even mentioned in a published book about the history of SPAM. My friends and I had a lot of free time in high school! :)

3. I am a huge hockey fan. I follow the New York Rangers.

4. I can link myself to Kevin Bacon in 5 links.

5. I spent way too much time in college playing Magic: The Gathering.

6. My father is a very active Vietnam Vet. He has 3 Purple Hearts and has been featured in books, magazines, and TV shows. He also does a slide show program at schools and other organizations. He's done it over 200 times. Check out a picture of him from Vietnam. I look a lot like him.

7. I only type with 2 fingers, sometimes 3, yet I have a degree in Computer Science and spent 4-5 years as a (quite efficient) computer programmer.

I will tag Beth and no one else because everyone else is probably tagged. If Will, Mike, Corey, and Paul O. haven't been tagged, then consider yourselves tagged.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Chasing a Murrelet

For those who haven't heard, a Long-billed Murrelet turned up in PA at Lake Nockamixon on Friday - an hour's drive from my house. For those of you who aren't listers or chasers, a Long-billed Murrelet is a pretty big deal. An interesting auk that nests in trees far from the water, it should be spending its winter somewhere near Japan or South Korea. Incredibly, these birds have turned up several times in the US on large lakes or along the cost. Unfortunately, I was working from home on Friday and decided to not go chase it.

Saturday morning came and I booked over to PA to look for the bird. Unfortunately, luck was not on my side and the bird was not found again. I searched every access point of the lake along with throngs of other birders to no avail. It's a big lake with lots of little nooks, so who knows if this 10" bird is still there. Although I missed the murrelet, I did see more Lesser Black-backed Gulls in one place than I ever have. There were over 50 of them there. Incredible!

This is actually the second time I've missed a Long-billed Murrelet due to work this year. There was one at Sandy Hook back in January. I assure you that there won't be a third time!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

That's a lot of geese!

Snow Geese (and maybe a Ross's Goose or four) at dawn at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. It was really dang cold. Too bad our handwarmers didn't kick in until we got in the car to leave.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Trip Results: NJ Reservoirs and Alpha Grasslands

On Sunday, I led a group of hardy, friendly birders to Hunterdon and Warren counties to explore three of NJ's reservoirs and the Alpha grasslands in western NJ. Our first stop was Merrill Creek Reservoir. Although the weather was quite cold, the wind was down so the water on the reservoir was like glass. Waterfowl materialized as our time there progressed. We were treated to nice views of Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, and a very distant Long-tailed Duck. A few Common Mergansers and a Pied-billed Grebe also made an appearance. A fly-over Purple Finch didn't stick around for the group to see unfortunately.

In an effort to warm up, we hopped in the cars and headed to the Alpha grasslands. These preserved farm fields are a haven for threatened grassland nesting species including Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. When the fields are cut, they provide a wintering ground for Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and various raptors. As we turned onto the famous (in NJ anyway) Oberly Road, a huge flock of gulls was loafing in a farmer's yard. Now, I don't claim to be a "larophile" by any means, but I picked out a nice adult Lesser Black-backed Gull in with all the Ring-billed Gulls. We were lucky to find the big flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings which were nice and close to the road. A "Grey Ghost" Harrier was also a feast for the eyes.

The next stop was Spruce Run Recreation Area, about 20 miles from Alpha. The reservoir here held a very large raft of Common Mergansers swimming along in unison - about 150 birds. Hooded Mergansers added a new species for the day and a flock of Cedar Waxwings (I searched for Bohemians!) delighted our group. With Spruce Run relatively quiet, we headed over to Round Valley about 10 minutes away.

We had our lunch at Round Valley, which seemed pretty quiet. A Common Loon and a ton of Coots were about it. A Red-breasted Nuthatched tooted from a pine, but didn't show. After lunch we moved to the "scuba diving area" where an adult Bald Eagle soared past us and perched next to its (potential) mate in a tree. It's never a bad day when you see a Bald Eagle. We searched the nearby pines for finches and owls, but were only blessed with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. A trip to the nearby swimming beach held a nice selection of ducks: Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and a solo Common Goldeneye. We wrapped up the trip here and got back into our warm cars. Thanks go out to a super group of participants.

KAW: The Movie

I saw the movie Kaw for sale on DVD the other day. Here's the ridiculous trailer. Since it's about ravens and not crows, I think the title "KROAK" would've been more appropriate. Who wants to star in my movie "Three Beers" about a group of killer Olive-sided Flycatchers? I can hear the trailer voice guy now, "They've gone from catching flies to feasting on eyes!"

Friday, December 07, 2007

And the winner is...

For those who forgot about my little contest from last month, the winner was Chet G. from Evanston, IL. Thanks to everyone who participated! Here are the answers.

1. Which bird was once known as Coues' Flycatcher?
Answer: Greater Pewee

2. If I told you that I saw a Blue Grouse in Colorado in 2005, what would that species be called today?
Answer: Dusky Grouse

3. Match these birds to their current names:

a. Duck Hawk (Peregrine Falcon)
b. Sparrow Hawk (American Kestrel)
c. Pigeon Hawk (Merlin)
d. Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier)

4. What famous ornithologist once had a captive Ivory-billed Woodpecker wreak havoc on his hotel room?
Answer: Alexander Wilson (story here)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Holiday Hawk is Back!

Check out this Sierra Mist commercial featuring one of my favorite actors/comedians Michael Ian Black (Anyone remember The State? Awesome show.) and the hilarious Jim Gaffigan. The species appears to be an Augur Buzzard. I think this was posted by some other bloggers last year, but it deserves to be shown again.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Birdorable (TM)

I discovered the web site Birdorable recently. The artists create awfully "birdorable" and quite accurate portrayals of many species around the world. You can get the drawings printed on all sorts of merchandise. Here's an example of their MySpace graphics:


Monday, December 03, 2007

Circus of the Spineless #27

When I first heard of Circus of the Spineless, the mental imagery was quite interesting. Worms on the trapeze. Jellies on the trampoline. Slugs crammed into a tiny car. Since my discovery, I have come to learn so much about the vast invertebrate world, while only barely scratching the surface. For my "theme," I decided to see if I could summarize each of the wonderful posts I received in just six words. Why onl six? I have no idea. Maybe because insects have only 6 legs... yeah that's it! Enjoy the posts. I have read each of these and each is worth your time.

Literary blog-zine looking for submissions: Insecta at qarrtsiluni

Unreal, exquisite moths in Mindo, Ecuador: Festival of Moths at Gossamer Tapestry.

A very interesting little house guest: An unusual house guest by Andrea.

Lovely spider haiku with a photo: Eriophora at Ben Cruachan Blog.

Ever heard of a "water bear"? Slow-walking masters of stress resistance at Ouroboros.

A storm rocks the WhiteRock Beach: Wind and Water and small stuff at Wanderin' Weeta.

Large mite seeks single fuzzy mite: Photo essay on rain bugs at Sibley Nature Center.

How tasty is an old leaf? Stick insects stick to their diets at Seeds Aside.

What exactly is a yellow fluff? Yellow Fluff at Naturalist Notebook.

Webspinners are amazing, interesting, unique insects. Embioptera at Catalogue of Organisms.

What a rare order of insects! Strepsiptera at Catalogue of Organisms.

An inchworm makes its way inside: Hitch Hiker at The Other 95%

Preserving snail shells with explosive results: Exploding Shells at The Other 95%.

Singapore birds love to eat caterpillars: Caterpillars: Food for Birds at Bird Ecology Study Group.

Artificial flowers stop mosquito-spread diseases: "Just blame it on the Americans" at Sisu.

An orb weaver enjoying its web: Orb Weaver at A DC Birding Blog.

A Poster of Pelagic Realm Creatures: A Better Deep-Sea Poster at Deep Sea News.

One-spotted Prepona discovery video - breathtaking! We Interrupt This Program... at Jeff Gyr Blog.

Get to know your winter moths: Motherland at Invasive Species Weblog

Photo of female fall cankerworm moth: Photo by Invasive Species Weblog

Thanks to all for their contributions! It's been fun! Circus #28 will be at Catalogue of Organisms - send your submission by December 30 to gerarus(at)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Funny Bat Falcon Story

Doesn't everyone have a funny Bat Falcon story? Ok, maybe not. Rick's recent post about Bat Falcons in Guyana reminded me of a funny experience I had in Costa Rica.

Our group had been there for a few days and had looked for Bat Falcons in a few known spots with no success. While driving along in our van, we were talking about how we would love to see one. Crossing a bridge, the van suddenly slammed to a halt. The minimal-English-speaking, non-birder driver threw the van into reverse and backed us up about 100 feet. "Uno momento," he said as he stepped out the van. He walked to the edge of the road and peered into the distance. Then, he slid open the van door and in a thick accent pronounced in a most non-chalant way, " 'is dee Bat Falcon." Our jaws dropped and we all piled out of the van. Sure enough, way in the distance and at the limit of conjecture was a tiny Bat Falcon perched on a lone snag. I don't know how he saw it or how he knew what it was, but Pablo the van driver is a legend amongst my birding friends.