Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bird ID Quiz

Here's a fun ID quiz for y'all. All photos were taken in the fall of 2008 in NJ. Please leave your guesses in the comments. Sorry, no prizes available. Photo 4 may cause some debate based on what I've cropped out of the pic, but the others should be relatively easy. Thanks to Anthony Laquidara for pics 1,3,4,5 and to C. Takacs for pic 2.






Monday, March 30, 2009

My first regional editor experience

As you may recall, I recently took over as editor of NJ Birds for Region 2 (basically the northeast portion on NJ). I finally wrapped up my first report over the weekend for Fall 2008. (Yes, I'm a wee bit behind!) Here are some observations on being an editor of bird records:

  • It's more work than I originally thought! It took me about 8-10 hours of work over the weekend to compile everything. Granted, I hadn't had the opportunity to log the sightings from the fall as they were reported. Also, using my background as a programmer, I was able to build a small program that takes a spreadsheet of records and formats them to the standard publication format. That accounted for a few hours.
  • I now have an even better appreciation for eBird and REALLY wish every birder used it (I'm guilty as anyone). It would make my life a whole lot easier. Cornell sent a data dump from eBird for the state. I was able to glean tons of sightings that weren't reported to me or to the Jerseybirds mailing list.
  • You obviously can't include every record due to space, but you wish you could. Sorry to all my friends out there whose records may not have made it into the final report.
  • I have a better appreciation and understanding of the bird distribution in my region. For the fall specifically, it was interesting to learn more about typical arrival/departure dates, popular staging areas for waterfowl, high counts of species, and seasonal anomalies. For example, a Bobolink was observed on 10/13 which is pretty late for this species in NJ.
  • The reports give an in-depth seasonal view of bird activity at less well-known birding spots thanks to some dedicated birders. Areas like Baldpate Mountain and Mehrhof Pond may not be on every birder's list of top locations, but the list of sightings would make any birder think twice. Baldpate hosted great warblers and other fall migrants, while Mehrhof held a hefty 1800 Ruddy Ducks at one point among other goodies. Must be a big pond. These sightings help motivate me to step away from my more comfortable birding locales.
  • You never know where you'll find birds. One regular contributor stopped off at a random plowed field in early September and found a host of shorebirds including American Golden-Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and an Upland Sandpiper (rare in migration in NJ).
  • There are rarities such as a November Bewick's Wren that was not reported publicly, but was well-documented and reported only to the editor and records committee.

So, it's on to my winter records now which I hope to finish up this week. I have about a zillion Siskin and WW Crossbill sightings to weed through. Snowy Owls made a nice appearance this winter too. I'll let you know when the Spring 2009 (with Fall records) issue is published online so you can see my report.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hilarious commercial

Being in a hotel and without our DVR, we're forced to watch commercials. I found this Life Alert commercial particularly funny. Note: I didn't put in the title on the Youtube video. I know how to spell "its."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Turkey Vulture Collides with Car

I just saw this on the local New York ABC affiliate 12:00 news:

PARSIPPANY, N.J. - State police say a turkey vulture injured a passenger when it crashed through a minivan's windshield Friday. It happened on Interstate 80 in Parsippany. State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones says a man was driving his Dodge Caravan in the eastbound lanes when the bird flew up. Jones says the bird went through the glass and ended up in the seat. The man's wife, who was a passenger, had glass fragments around her eye. Jones says the vehicle was towed away by Eagle Towing.

The report showed footage of the vehicle with a huge hole in the windshield. The bird did not survive.

UPDATE 3/28: Not a Turkey Vulture, but a Turkey. Bad NJ Reporting - pic here

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Wood Duck Hotel

So this week the flood damage to our house from January 3 is finally being fixed. It took several months of battling with the condo association's insurance, my insurance, and my neighbor's insurance to finally start the work. While the damage is being fixed, we get to stay at the Hilton Homewood Suites. The logo of this hotel is a Wood Duck and it's prevalent throughout the hotel. It's on the towels, a pillow, all of the signs, etc. I just hope I don't encounter duck on the dinner menu. We've been there since Sunday night and it's been an adventure - no hot water on Monday, smoke alarm this morning, a big 18-wheeler parked behind Beth's car preventing her from leaving... fun! I shouldn't complain too much. In general, the hotel is nice, relatively new, and clean. I also had a nice view of a Turkey Vulture circling low over the parking lot on Monday and a horde of Juncos outside our window. And, no, I didn't pick the hotel because of the logo! Well, maybe.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hooray for Monk Parakeets!

After years of speculation, the Monk Parakeet has been officially added to the NJ state list of birds by the NJ Bird Records Committee. There is a large population in Bergen County and a smaller population in Middlesex County that have been around for many years.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Your Bird Impersonations

I got an interesting request from a friend recently asking if I'd be able to attend an event held by a local chorus and if I'd be able to do some bird impersonations for the group. I had to decline, although I was flattered to be asked. Not only can't I make the date, but I'm not too confident in my repertoire of bird impersonations. I think I do an OK Barred Owl. I can do a good Mourning Dove, most of the US Nightjars, and I'm sure a few other species. I can whistle the melody of some bird songs too, but not well. Eastern Screech-Owl stinks and that's probably one of the more useful ones around for bringing in birds. And no birds have ever been curious about my Mourning Dove impersonation.

I definitely wouldn't consider myself anywhere near as proficient as The Bird Call Lady! What impersonations can you do? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Butterfly Season

These late winter warm spells like we're having today bring out what is typically the first butterfly seen each year in NJ - the Mourning Cloak. I saw one zip by today as I was walking up the sidewalk of our house (a very common view of this species). It is a gorgeous butterfly when seen from above with its yellowish trim accented by blue dots. When its wings are closed, it's cryptic as can be. One could land on a loose-barked tree like a Shagbark Hickory, wings folded, and you'd have a tough time finding it.

So why is this usually the first butterfly seen in NJ? Unlike many species, it hibernates throughout the colder months as an adult, hiding under loose bark, in debris piles, or anywhere it can find a nice dark place. On the list of the first signs of spring, seeing Mourning Cloaks is right up there with crocuses, phoebes, Red-winged Blackbirds, and all of your other favorites. Have you seen one yet this year?

Monday, March 16, 2009

NY Birding with Bloggers

I'm a bit late getting on the bandwagon for posting about Saturday's NY birding adventure that brought together some of the local forces of blogging/birding in John, Corey, and Carrie. They've all given wonderful, in-depth reports of the day, so I won't repeat everything they've already said. It turned out to be a terrific day including signs of springs, some rarities, and it was a good opportunity to work on my NY state list. Not that I really have a NY state list, but if I did, it would be around 178 species... or maybe exactly 178 species. Not bad for not trying. Here are some highlights of the day via photos.

Tree Swallows were back at Jamaica Bay scoping out nesting boxes and generally just looking happy. I was happy to see them because it means warm weather is close!

Brant are rather conspicuous in coastal areas of NYC. They're even seen on the medians along the highway. This one was seen at Jones Beach, shortly after we saw a gorgeous Snowy Owl. We had a 4 goose species day! See the last pic below.

If a gun were placed to my head and I was forced to pick a favorite bird, I might opt for the Harlequin Duck. It is just simply gorgeous. I love their little squeaky sounds, although this pair was silent. These Harlequins sped along very close like little motor boats or wind-up toys. Love em!

The oddest sighting of the day goes to this Ross's Goose. I wish I had a photo of the pond it used as its temporary home just off the main drag in Merrick, Long Island (where we had some wicked pizza and I got some Girl Scout Cookies - Samoas!!!). It definitely was out of place, but this little "city" pond was particularly spectacular with Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergs, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Shovelers joining the party. Definitely odd to see a Ross's there though. It was a terrific life bird for some on our trip and very accomodating. It swam pretty close to us and afforded us nice photo ops.

It was a terrific day to be out with old friends and new. I look forward to our next bird blogger adventure.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Reminder to Bird Safely

Take a look at this story and photos from a local birder about his accident while birding on a popular jetty here in NJ. It's a reminder to never bird alone or be very careful when you do!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Purple-headed Grackle

No, not some new species of Grackle, but I thought this photo really captured the beauty of this species and the irridescence on the head really stood out. You can see why it used to be called Purple Grackle.

We had our annual invasion of Common Grackles last week. One or two days out of each late winter, they converge on our neighborhood. They swoop in and gorge themselves on anything and everything and then disappear. They seem to particularly like one neighbor's lawn. I don't know what that means for their lawn, but I guess there is something good to eat there. So, I spent the day chasing these birds away from my feeder since they dessimate my seed supply. Still a pretty bird though!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Long-eared Owls at the Great Swamp

Yowzers was it warm today! T-shirt weather! Beth and I took a ride to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge this evening. The place was hopping with birds and birders. There have been some rather well-known Long-eared Owls roosting there. They're well-known thanks to a birder posting exact directions to our NJ mailing list. Oops! Well, we went and checked them out and they were indeed very accommodating. This was Beth's first Long-eared Owl sighting! Keep reading below for other thrills.

We also saw an adult Red-headed Woodpecker that's been hanging around there all winter. It was too distant to photograph, but it was a beauty. Wood Ducks were conspicuous with groups flying over and calling repeatedly. Ring-necked Ducks were also bobbing and diving on several areas of open water. I can't stress how awesome the weather was.

We finished the day at dusk looking for Woodcocks displaying. We heard quite a few "peenting" and got looks at one repeatedly doing its flight display. I love that. It's always a challenge to find them in flight, but we were able to spot one individual a few different times. A sure sign of spring are the woodcocks displaying.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Robins singing!

Less than 5 days after a big snowfall (by Jersey standards), I heard my first American Robin singing while Beth and I took a walk. Juncos were singing and many birds were active on this warm day. Our feeders had their annual visit from the droves of Grackles and Starlings today too. Our parakeets had fun yelling at them. Spring is coming. I love the fact that we're pushing the clocks ahead this weekend too. More time for birding!

Gulls Stealing Ice Cream

Here's a funny gallery of pictures of gulls stealing ice cream.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Can't you hear my heartbeat?

Ugh... I've been a lazy blogger lately. So, we got to hear Baby B's heartbeat on Tuesday. The doctor used her weird little device which looked like a Fisher Price Tape Player to listen for the baby's heartbeat. It took a good 2-3 minutes to find it. The doppler device made some weird sounds along the way, sort of like a dragon growling. I tried to convince Beth we were having a dragon baby, but she wasn't going for it. Then it hit paydirt and we heard the speedy heartbeat of a 12 week old fetus. We're about 2 months away from finding out the sex. Very exciting. Unfortunately, Beth's been really sick with a constant cough. Hopefully, she'll feel better soon. It's been rough.

In other news, no, I haven't been birding in a while. This weekend!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Nature Blog Network Featured Blog and SNOW!

Thanks so much to Wren for choosing me as the featured blog on the Nature Blog Network this week.

In other news, it's a snowy day here in NJ. It's our first and hopefully last substantial snowfall of the year. Beth and I both had "snow days" although I worked the whole day. Sometimes having high-speed remote access to work is not a good thing.

The feeders were hopping today thanks to the snow. We usually only have one male Downy Woodpecker visit, but today a female joined him. I wasn't able to get a pic, but she did have a very dark belly which was interesting. Also, I had a record high count of goldfinches for my yard of 12. Yeah, I know some of you get 12 fighting over one post on your feeder, but it's great for condo-land here. Lots of MoDos and Juncos too. The MoDos enjoyed hiding from the snow on our porch as seen above.