Friday, January 30, 2009

First baby picture!

Here is the first picture of baby Belardo. Ok, so it's more of an amorphous blob or sea creature at this time, but you can make out some parts there. It's about the size of a blueberry now, so we've been calling it "our little blueberry." The Belardos are known for being well-endowed in the cranial area, hence the comment on there. The circle shows the baby. The line points to the giant head. I have to admit that seeing the little beating heart was truly mind-blowing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plymouth, MA Ivory Gull Newspaper Article

My friends John and Adam from VA got mentioned in this article about the Plymouth Ivory Gull. John is featured in an interview in the article.

I will refrain from grumbling about missing the bird. Or did I just grumble by saying that I won't grumble?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Super Bowl of Birding "Awards"

Our Super Bowl of Birding weekend has come and gone and it was a blast. We finished fourth in species count and sixth in point total. Not bad! Reports and perspectives on our weekend can or will be found at 10,000 Birds, Picus Blog, The Drinking Bird, and The Owl Box. In this season of unnecessary awards ceremonies, I thought I’d do my report a little differently. So here I present the first (and possibly annual) Super Bowl of Birding awards:

Best Bird of the Trip – While I may argue that it was the fleeting glimpse of my life Dovekie, I think the Northern Hawk Owl in Center Harbor, NH is the clear winner. It put on a tremendous show for us on Friday afternoon. I couldn’t seem to find it’s nest though!

“Boo Bird” Award – On our NJ Audubon van trips, we always nominate a “boo bird.” This is the bird that was the biggest disappointment. I’m going to award it to a Saturday bird and a Sunday bird. On Saturday, it was the YB Sapsucker who didn’t show at its regular feeder during the 20 minutes we waited – 5 points missed. On Sunday, the obvious “winner” is the missing Ivory Gull.
The Mario Andretti Award goes to Christopher. Our fearless leader was truly fearless behind the wheel. We zipped down narrow New England roads, through ice and snow, between cars, and over small children. Yet, he managed to do it without even a scratch on the rental car.

“Best Use of Humor While Freezing His Butt Off” goes to Nate. With temps dipping well below freezing, Nate said that even his teeth were cold. Yet, no matter how cold and windy it got, he still kept up his good humor. He also made several Simpsons references, which I feel is required on all birding trips. Lifers have a way of keeping you happy too!

Crazy Digiscoper Award – Corey is the clear winner. I’ve never seen someone spend so much time digiscoping Rock Pigeons. Just kidding, but he did take some tremendous pictures and spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing the pics in his viewfinder.

The Most Enthusiastic Award goes to Quintus for his constant use of superlatives (and sometimes colorful language) to express his joy at seeing so many awesome birds. He also did a swan dive into the snow to celebrate after we photographed some WW Crossbills.

Stupidest Blogger – That goes to me – for not bringing my 300mm lens and camera. It seemed to make sense when I made the decision… we’ll be running and gunning, no time for photos, yadda yadda yadda… I was so wrong. I deserve all the ribbing I got for that. That’s why we have next year… Another blogger received several votes in this category due to a misplaced wallet.

Food of the Trip – It’s a tie between York Peppermint Patties and pizza. We had some great pizza on Friday and then were fed semi-good pizza on Saturday at the awards ceremony. Corey and I both had moments of brilliance in bringing the Peppermint Patties with us.

Least Visited Place - The clear winner here is THE BATHROOM. I don't mind using the woods, but the places we visited didn't have many private areas to tend to my business.

Well that's it! The weekend was great and I'll definitely be going back next year.

Roger Tory Peterson on C-SPAN

Beth recorded C-SPAN2's show "Book TV" over the weekend. It featured Lee Allen Peterson, son of Roger, speaking about the writing of the Field Guide to Birds up through its current version. You can watch the show online here.

No, we don't sit around and watch C-SPAN all day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

USDA Killing Starlings in NJ

Starlings were almost literally falling out of the sky in Franklin Township, NJ over the weekend (about two towns away from The Hawk Owl's Nest). The USDA poisoned some starlings in an effort to control their populations and didn't bother to really tell anyone. I can't believe there's actually a chemical referred to as starlicide!

I'll be posting about our great weekend in Massachusetts over the next day or two. It was PHE-NOM-E-NAL!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Superbowl of Birding - THIS WEEKEND!

The big event is near and I can't believe I haven't blogged about it. This weekend, I will be part of a team of your favorite bird bloggers competing in Mass Audubon's annual Superbowl of Birding. Our team, the Bloggerhead Kingbirds, consists of me, Corey from 10,000 Birds, Quintus from the Owl Box Blog, Nathan from The Drinking Bird, and the brains behind the operation Christopher from Picus Blog. Christopher deserves "mad props" for all the work he's done for this. He's the "local guy" who has done all the legwork to plan our route, do lots of scouting, plan our hotel stay, rent a car, and even spearhead the creation of our logo. The competition itself is Saturday, but we'll be doing some birding on Friday and maybe a bit on Sunday. This area of Massachusetts is prime territory for King Eiders, Snowy Owls, Northern Shrikes, and all sorts of other goodies. In fact, an Ivory Gull or two has been seen there recently. I'm really excited about this weekend. To keep up with our shenanigans, Quintus will be mo-blogging the event to the Owl Box Blog and N8 will be posting updates to twitter. Wish us luck!

Monday, January 19, 2009

LEGO Birdwatcher

I saw this on eBay.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Costa Rica Earthquake Impacts

You've probably heard about the devastating earthquake that recently struck Costa Rica and killed at least 23 people. It's the worst quake to hit Costa Rica in 18 years. I received an email today from the tour guide who led my first tour there in 2005. I was sad to hear that two of the sites we visited on that trip were destroyed and people we met were lost in the disaster. The first memorable site we visited was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens where we saw many beautiful hummingbirds including the endemic Coppery-headed Emerald, the gorgeous Black-bellied Hummingbird, and the pixie-like Magenta-throated Woodstar. The site was a beautiful resort and included a very fun waterfall-themed bathroom. The resort suffered severe damage in the quake. Pictures are below.

The second site, and most tragic story, was our visit to a tiny, family-owned restaurant called El Mirador in the town of Cinchona. We were welcomed into the restaurant to view their feeders that were backdropped by a spectacular waterfall. The fruit feeders were visited by many tanagers and Prong-billed and Red-headed Barbets. Their hummingbird feeders were visited by Magnificent Hummingbirds and Violet Sabrewings. While eating delicious snacks and drinking coffee, the little daughter of the owner came over to show us her "pet" - a tarantula about the size of my palm. It happily crawled over hands and she giggled at my fear of the spider. Tragically, El Mirador was destroyed in a mudslide due to the earthquake and the family perished. As my friend Mike put it, I'm thankful to have been lucky enough to experience this tremendous place.

An Emerald Toucanet (or Blue-throated Toucanet depending on who you ask) at the feeders at La Paz

Coppery-headed Emerald - this fella is angling in such a way that his feathers look black in parts

The La Paz Waterfall itself. The road that looks out to this was washed away by a mudslide.

Barbets at El Mirador Restaurant

Female Red-headed Barbet eating what I think is papaya

The view from El Mirador

Friday, January 16, 2009

Top 10 Nature Moments of 2008

Thanks to Tai Haku for inviting me to participate. It was a terrific year of nature moments.

10. A really cool weevil

9. A Dragonfly walk with some real experts at Wildcat Ridge

8. Visiting Mt. Hood in Oregon

7. Meeting David Sibley! While not a "nature moment" per se, it was a real pleasure to meet someone who I admire greatly.

6. Leading at the Cumberland County Eagle Festival.

5. Tide pools on the Oregon Coast followed by the most insanely good pizza I've ever had. (I'll be darned... I didn't blog about this.)

4. Looking at nature through a big ol' camera lens and trying to capture the moment. It's not easy.

3. Seeing a Southern Cassowary in the Daintree Rainforest in Australia.

2. Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. It was a dream of a childhood-wanna-be-marine-biologist come true. I haven't blogged about this yet either!!!

1. Getting married outdoors. Although the rain prevented us from having the ceremony in the Evergreen Garden at Rutgers Gardens, we were still able to have it outside. It was a beautiful ceremony and a moment I'll never forget.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Colbert on Squirrels

You have to love Stephen Colbert. Here are his views on the actions of people in the UK trying to reduce the population of Gray Squirrels.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm a regional editor!

It's been a crazy few weeks. As of this week, I'm taking over the volunteer job as the Region 2 Editor for New Jersey Birds (online) Magazine. This is NJ Audubon's documentation of the seasonal trends of bird populations throughout the state. Region 2 encompasses a massive area, basically the whole northeast portion of the state. It's the Piedmont Region including Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union, Somerset, Middlesex, Mercer, and eastern parts of Passaic and Morris Counties. My "job" is basically to track and collect species reports and provide a quarterly summary for inclusion in the magazine. The summary typically includes notes on high counts, arrival and departure dates, and interesting breeding records.

Some well-known birding areas that fall within this region include Garret Mountain, the Great Swamp, Liberty State Park, the Hackensack Meadowlands, and the Celery Farm. Despite its geographic size, some of these counties like Middlesex (my home county), Union, Hudson, and Mercer have a lot more people than birds. They aren't very well birded due to lack of habitat. This new role will give me a good chance to learn about the birds that occur in those popular spots as well as some of these less-birded areas.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Big Announcement!!!

The Hawk Owl's Nest is now officially a nest. Beth and I are expecting a baby! He or she will be here sometime in September. We're SO excited!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The great flood

Ok, so my upstairs neighbor flooding her kitchen isn't on par with the story of Noah, but it's been one big, darn inconvenience. We had a contractor out today to tear out sheetrock and insulation from our living room and kitchen. Now we have 3 giant dehumidifiers and 6 big industrial fans running for the next 3 days. Our house isn't that big, so we've had to practically move into our bedroom. The fans and dehumidifier make it really warm in the house though. My friend also pointed out their festive color (about two weeks late!).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: Pete Dunne's Prairie Spring

Being a NJ birder, Pete Dunne is a pretty prominent figure on the birding scene. Based on his speaking schedule and magazine features, my feeling is that he's just as well known outside of NJ and that his place as one of America's most prominent birders is well established. I've read just about all of Pete's books from his collections of nature essays to his bird ID books. I've had mixed feelings on his bird ID books with the marvelous, but co-written, Hawks in Flight being well above the likes of The Essential Field Guide Companion and The Art of Pishing. On the other hand, I've greatly enjoyed books like The Feather Quest and his essay collections like Tales of a Low-Rent Birder.

Dunne's latest book Prairie Spring: A Journey Into the Heart of a Season (due out in March) is a work of passion and love - love for a very specific type of habitat and its past, present, and future. The history of the American prairie is the history of America itself. In this book, Dunne takes us on a journey through the prairie through the passing of a single spring season. Throughout this exploration, he delves into the the people, flora, and fauna that inhabit this land now and throughout time. We meet prairie-chickens and the people who love them and we meet the regular Joe's at the coffee shops in the tiny towns that dot the prairie landscape. We also meet the plains Indians, the wildflowers, the bison, the longspurs, and the meadowlarks. Dunne visits splendid landscapes and mourns the aftermath of the Dust Bowl.

I usually enjoy Pete Dunne's writing. It's simple to digest, yet he throws around some good 50-cent words and metaphors that are sometimes relevant to the subject ("She moved like chickens on a lek"). I dig that, although I did find some parts of the book a bit slow, especially a section where Pete was "talking" with the painting of a horse.

Prairie Spring gets its points across well. The prairies are obviously spectacular and are something we should appreciate and support. It'll make you want to jump on a plane to the Pawnee National Grassland to sniff the wildflowers. It'll make you wish you could wake up at 4:00 AM and freeze your butt off watching Prairie-Chickens doing their thing. It'll also make you sulk about what we've done to this land and its inhabitants. As with many of the nature books I read, I find myself feeling that the author is preaching to the choir. The people who are reading the book likely already know about the plight of the prairie and do what they can to support it. The good news is that the book is very approachable and can probably be passed to your non-birder friend or neighbor after you've enjoyed it, which I'm sure you will.

Here's a random question... While in Arizona in 2003 I crossed paths with Pete and his wife at Madera Canyon. They were birding their way across the country with a van prominently labeled "Feather Quest II - sponsored by Leica." I don't recall that book ever coming out. Does anyone know what happened?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sandhill Cranes!

While we live far from the sandhills of the midwest, we had a little flavor of the Platte River here in NJ today. Last February several Sandhill Cranes were found in an old corn field a stone's throw from our house. I didn't get to see them on two attempts and then they were gone. Yesterday, two cranes appeared in the same general area. I got the word and headed over there this morning. After a little scanning and moving to higher ground, I found the birds. Spectacular! The birds wandered around and picked from the ground while I watched. One started bugling continually, which echoed off the nearby buildings for a splendid aural effect. I wonder if he thought the echo was another bird? Our time together was brief as I had to get back home to attend a conference call for work. A new state bird! Schweeet.

I licked an ant's butt

Disclaimer: No ants were harmed in the tasting of this ant butt.

I'm periodically re-visiting our Australia honeymoon because it was AWESOME. I can't believe I forgot to post about this. On our tour of the Daintree Rainforest in NW Queensland, I did something I've never done and likely never will do again. I licked the rear end of an ant. This particular ant is the Green Tree Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina), a type of weaver ant. They make their nests by weaving leaves together that are still on the tree. Our tour guide for the day showed us how you can pick one up, touch its hindquarters to your tongue, and receive a nice spray of ascorbic acid. The acid tastes like super strong lemon juice and actually left a little white spot on my tongue. Very odd. Sadly, I couldn't get Beth to try it. I guess I can't blame her.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Full Long Branch CBC Details

I am blessed to have taken over a count that pretty much runs itself. Our 9 parties are led by some of the absolute best birders in New Jersey.

Our area started out well with some big #'s of land birds. My group was 3 folks - my buddy Mike and a woman from nearby Freehold who apparantly has had a Rufous Hummingbird in her yard since September! The highlight of the morning was an adult Red-shouldered Hawk that flew eye-level about 15 feet in front of us. It would be the only one for the count. Unfortunately, the water in our area was mostly frozen except for two small patches. Fortunately, those patches did hold birds: Northern Shovelers, Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergs, Gadwall, Black Ducks, Mallards, and of course, Canada Geese. We tried our darndest to find a Cackling Goose, but no luck. The afternoon saw a whole lot of walking with not a whole lot of birds. We only found a few new species and small #'s of everything else. The highlight of the afternoon was a single Brown Creeper that was the only one seen on the count.
Our pizza party round-up was terrific. After downing some delicious pizza, we did our checklist. Our total came to 124 species - two species higher than last year. Highlights were:
  • Over 56,000 birds - highest totals being Canada Geese, Brant, Starlings, and Herring Gulls
  • 3 Boat-tailed Grackles - a first for this count
  • A Greater White-fronted Goose AND two Cackling Geese
  • A high count of Northern Gannets - over 1650! The previous high was 800.
  • Other rare waterfowl: Common Eider, Eurasian Wigeon, and Red-necked Grebe
  • Glaucous, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Long-eared Owl
  • 9 Bald Eagles - a record high for the count
  • An Orange-crowned Warbler - only the 11th sighting in 74 years of the count
  • 12 species of sparrow including Vesper, Savannah, White-crowned, Fox, American Tree, and Chipping
In my opinion, the one big miss was Common Goldeneye - a bird that's been seen on 66 of the previous 73 counts.

Special thanks to the Wreck Pond Watershed Association for their donation of the facility.
Full species list:

Grtr White-frnt Goose
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Wood Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
Am Wigeon
Am Black Duck
North. Shoveler
North. Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Com. Eider
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Long-tailed Duck
Hooded Merganser
C. Merganser
Red-breast. Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Wild Turkey
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Horned Grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Northern Gannet
Dbl-crest Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Blck-crown. Night-H.
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Am. Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Clapper Rail
Virginia Rail
Am. Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Purple Sandpiper
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull
Less. Blck-bckd Gull
Glaucous Gull
Grt. Blck-bckd Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
E. Screech Owl
Great Horned Owl
Long-eared Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Rd-bell Woodpecker
Yell-bell Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
N. Flicker
Blue Jay
Am. Crow
Fish Crow
Horned Lark
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-brst Nuthatch
White-brst Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Gld-crwn Kinglet
Ruby-crwn Kinglet
E. Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
Am. Robin
Gray Catbird
N. Mockingbird
Eur Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crwn Warbler
Yell-rumped Warbler
E. Towhee
Am. Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throat. Sparrow
White-crwn Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
N. Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
E. Meadowlark
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brwn-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Am. Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Quick CBC Results and a Flood

We had a fantastic Long Branch Christmas Bird Count yesterday tallying 124 species - 2 more than last year. Our group did ok. We had a SLOW afternoon doing mostly land birding due to all of our ponds being frozen. I'll do a more thorough report later. I came home last night to Beth running up the stairs to knock on our upstairs neighbor's door. Somehow our neighbor left her kitchen faucet running and flooded her kitchen and, in turn, ruining the sheetrock in our kitchen and living room. Lovely. We were all set to put in some hardwood floors this month and put it up for sale. Then, to top it all off, there's something wrong with our parakeet Amelia and she's having a lot of trouble gaining altitude while flying. Her partner Roger is taking good care of her, but it's so sad.

More results of the CBC soon!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Long Branch CBC Tomorrow!

We're mere hours away from the Long Branch Christmas Bird Count which starts technically at midnight. We have some teams out owling and the majority of us will be meeting at 6:00 AM for a good ol' NJ diner breakfast. The weather looks good with a high near 40 and clear skies. My group will be covering Allaire State Park. We'll have 7 other groups out doing there thing. As the compiler, I've set up a nice pizza dinner with some coffee and dessert. Yum. I'll be back tomorrow or first thing Sunday morning with the full results. Let's see if we can beat last year's 122 species.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A New Year's Day Lifer

Last winter there was a Barnacle Goose in Califon, NJ about 45 minutes from me. The same Barnacle Goose appeared again this fall. For no reason whatsoever, I never went and saw the goose last winter or this fall. Between these seasons, the NJ Bird Records Committee voted to add Barnacle Goose to the state checklist. So, today I finally got around to searching for the Califon Barnacle Goose. It had last been seen on Xmas. After getting slightly lost, I checked its usual hangout - a wide area of the Raritan River. This area was mostly frozen. Being rather rural, this area has about 1000 fields where geese could be, so I went exploring. Luck was with me and I found a large flock of geese hanging out in an apple orchard. Sure enough, there in the front was the Barnacle Goose. A real beauty! It was a bit too far for good photos unfortunately, but it was a nice treat.

Here's the uncropped photo:
I did some additional birding at some reservoirs. The highlights were a Glaucous Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull at Spruce Run. Can you pick out the Lesser Black-backed Gull?