Thursday, December 28, 2006

The 50 Rarest Birds in the World

When we talk of seeing "rare birds" in NJ, we're usually talking about vagrant birds that are common elsewhere but somehow make their way to NJ. The true rare birds in the world are those whose populations are seriously in danger or who breed in a very remote area. Take a look at the 50 Rarest Birds in the World. If you've seen any of these yourself, please share your story!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Cookies?

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. Be wary of those holiday sweets and cookies that you are eating, they could have an impact on the environment.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Year in Pictures 2

Back in March, three of my closest friends and I finally made a trip that we'd been planning for years. We escaped the cold of NJ and headed down to Tampa Bay, FL for some spring training baseball! My friends spent a week down there, but due to other vacations I had planned, I only stayed for 4 days. I got to see the Yankees beat the Tigers and the Twins beat the Blue Jays. I think that's what happened... I don't really remember. We also visited the beaches in Clearwater. I brought my binoculars along to make sure I could see the players (and just in case any birds flew by). While watching the games, I managed to see many Osprey, flocks of unidentified parakeets, several different herons, a few raptors, and a ton of Boat-tailed Grackles. My best find is below...

While lounging on the beach, I kept hearing a racket coming from a tree along the street. It sounded like a bird, but not one I had ever heard. I went for a closer look and found the above Black-hooded Parakeet. They are really stunning. Although not "countable", this is a very likely addition to the ABA list in the near future.

The guys and me at the Blue Jays facility in Dunnedin.

I also got a very bizarre sunburn on the beach. Being guys, we didn't want to put subblock on each others' backs. So, I was stupid and barely put it on my back. Here's what I ended up looking like. I still wear evidence of this sunburn today...

Rancho Naturalista Update

Back in April, I posted about Rancho Naturalista, a lodge in Costa Rica that I stayed at in November 2005. Andy Walker, a local guide, recently posted a scathing report about the lodge and its current management. Andy is a partner with the tour company that I went to Costa Rica with and he has very close ties to Rancho Naturalista. I asked the tour leader who I went to Costa Rica with about Andy's report. He recently went to Rancho in October and said that there have been some problems with the management, but it is not quite as bad as Andy made it sound. I wanted to just put this out there so people are aware of it in case anyone is planning on going to this very popular place.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Year-in-Review Meme

I'm continuing a meme that John from Birds Etcetera posted (the originator is Faux Real). The idea is to go through your monthly archives and post the first sentence of the first post of each month for this year. I started my blog in April, so I don't have a whole year's worth. Here we go!

Someone recently asked me this question... why bird? MORE

Living in a condominium community in suburban NJ has its ups and down. MORE

I'll admit it - My heart doesn't lie solely in the avian world. MORE

Beth and I are off to Georgia tonight until next Thursday. MORE

Sorry for the delay in writing... Beth and I took her brother to Boston for his 18th b-day. MORE

Anyone who lives in the suburbs is familiar with the huge shopping centers that pop up every 2-3 months in any open space available. MORE

I had a special guest birding with me at Sandy Hook this morning - Mike from 10,000 Birds. MORE

I put up a feeder a little over a week ago and I finally got a visitor on Sunday. MORE

First off, let me say that I in no way approve of the actions of the people in this video. MORE

Please continue this meme! It's easy and interesting.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Little Christmas Spirit

Since it's the holiday season, I thought I'd share some of my favorite holiday memories. One of my favorite memories of childhood is listening to John Denver and the Muppets "Christmas Together". We had this album on 8-track and I loved it. So to celebrate the wonder of Xmas and the wonder that is YouTube, I bring you two tracks from that CD.

This "12 Days of Xmas" track is actually slightly different on the CD. It features my favorite muppet, Beaker, which this one does not.

I didn't know this was Emmett Otter singing this until today.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sandy Hook Christmas Count Results

Today was the Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count, one of my favorite birding days of the year. This is the 3rd year that I've participated in the count. As usual, I covered the northern portion of Sandy Hook with my friend, Mike. This area involves a LOT of walking on sand, but it has great variety of habitats. We get views of the ocean, bay, stands of pine trees, coastal holly forest, dunes, freshwater ponds, and grassy areas.

We started bright and early, but we immediately noticed the lack of bird activity. Land birds were scarce. We visited a freshwater pond locally known as "North Pond" and found 2 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Gadwall, and a lone Ring-necked Duck among some Canada Geese. We then walked about 1/2 a mile out to the beach and didn't see a single land bird! Once out to the ocean, we found some groups of Long-tailed Ducks, 8 Northern Gannets, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons and a few Bonaparte's Gulls. We walked along the sand dunes and finally scared up some songbirds - Song Sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We had found most of the species we anticipated seeing, but numbers seemed much lower than previous year.

We headed back to the cars for a food break and then scoured some of the wooded habitats. Again, songbirds were scarce. We finally found a White-throated Sparrow and even found a Field Sparrow and some American Tree Sparrows. Things were looking brighter! Not only were we finding birds, the weather was heating up. I even ditched my coat and just walked around with a sweater.

We broke for lunch and then searched the bay for birds. We found lots of gulls, Red-breasted Mergansers, and loons. We walked around the interior of the Hook for a bit. We even explored some areas that I haven't been in. We encountered flocks of Black-capped Chickadees and our first raptors of the day. In a 10-second period, we saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk and a Merlin. The Merlin was not alone - it was being chased by a Peregrine Falcon! Very cool. Also of note: The warm weather brought out a very fresh looking Orange Sulphur butterfly.

The last bird we saw was a Hermit Thrush. The most interesting thing about this bird was that it was doing the mysterious foot quiver!

It was getting dark, so we headed to the round-up. We ate some great catered food and then did the daily tally for the CBC. The tally is always a lot of fun. There were 6-8 groups of birders covering the CBC area. We go through each species on the official Sandy Hook CBC list and check off which ones each group saw. No one tells anyone about their rare birds until this time. As a group, we saw 109 species - 1 more than last year. Some of the rarities included Baltimore Oriole, Pileated Woodpecker, and Great Egret. Also, for at least the third year in a row, a female Barrow's Goldeneye was found (probably the same bird each year). Amazing!

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Year in Pictures 1

As we approach the end of the year, I thought I'd reflect on the year that was in my birding (and sometimes non-birding) life through some of my more memorable pictures. Shortly prior to starting this blog, I led my first official field trip for NJ Audubon Society. On a frigid day in early March, a group of 15 birders and I explored Barnegat Bay, Barnegat Lighthouse, the Atlantic Ocean, and the marshes and ponds that surround the area. We saw 49 species of birds including crippling views of Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, and a Piping Plover. A cooperative Harbor Seal put on a nice show too. Alas, the hoped-for Short-eared Owls in the evening were not found.

Searching the sea for rafts of Scoters. That's me in front.

Barnegat Lighthouse - The inlet was full of Surf and Black Scoters

Purple Sandpiper - Barnegat Light is the best place to see this species in NJ

A pair of Harlequin Ducks - my personal favorite duck. Barnegat is also one of the best places to see this species.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I & The Bird #38

It's time for another edition of I & The Bird. This time it's hosted down under by Duncan of Ben Cruachan Blog. Sadly, I forgot to send in a post. This is the first IATB I have missed since I started blogging!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ross's Gull Videos has some videos of the Ross's Gull that was found at the Salton Sea in California recently. This was not only a first state record, it was also the farthest south and the lowest elevation that this bird has been seen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Plover and the Clover can be told
apart with ease,
By paying close attention to the
habits of the Bees,
For ento-molo-gists aver, the Bee
can be in clover,
While ety-molo-gists concur, there
is no B in Plover.

-Robert Williams Wood - The Clover and the Plover

For the hardcore bug-lovers: I just heard about a new online Guide to the Identification of the U.S. and Canadian Bees in the Genus Perdita (East of the Mississippi River) by Rebekah Nelson and Sam Droege:

Perdita males

Perdita females

Their site also has a plethora of other online keys/guides well worth your browsing time. It's everything from fungi to bumblebees to dung beetles.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Little NY Birding

Mike from and I met up Saturday morning to do a little birding. We had discussed several options, but decided on a visit to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) in Queens, NY. I had shown him the ropes of Sandy Hook on our visit there in October, now it was his turn to show me some of his turf. I had never been to Jamaica Bay and I had always assumed it was far away. It turns out that on a clear traffic day, I can get there in less than an hour! Sweet!

The habitat at JBWR is similar to the Forsythe NWR that I frequent - a large bay bordered by salt marsh, brackish water, and some fresh water. This habitat is interspersed with areas of shrubs and small deciduous tress. All of this combines for phenomenal habitat for a huge diversity of birds.

Mike and I met at the newly constructed JBWR Visitor's Center. One thing that separates Forsythe from JBWR is that you can walk around JBWR, whereas you usually drive around Forsythe. I prefer the walking. The air was crisp and topped at the mid-20's as we began our walk around the "West Pond". We scanned the bay and immediately found groups of Brant and some distant Snow Geese. They were soon joined by some Bufflehead. We walked further toward the inner brackish West Pond. We found that they were mostly frozen, which must have happened in the last few days since the weather here has been quite mild. The bits of open water held avian treasures in the forms of Ruddy Ducks with their starched tails held at attention, Hooded Mergansers with their fan-like heads, Green-winged Teal who were inconspicuous aside from their green speculum, mohawked American Wigeon, and black-butted Gadwall. We found a different angle on this same group of birds and picked out a few sleepy, poorly lit Scaup (Greater maybe?) as well as some American Coots. Land birds were sparse, but we were greeted by several groups of American Tree Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, House Finches, and Mockingbirds. The bay hadn't given us all it had yet. A Horned Grebe capped off our trip around the West Pond.

We checked out the Visitor's Center which was extremely nice. A local birder gave us a quick lesson on birding nearby Floyd Bennett Field, another area of JBWR. He pointed us to a location where he had seen Horned Larks earlier in the week. A trip to Floyd Bennett Field was quickly added to our itinerary in order to seek this potential life bird for Mike. Did we see the Larks? I'll leave it up to Mike to tell.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Texas Bill

Texas Rep. David Leibowitz, D-Helotes, has proposed a bill that would dedicate all tax on sporting goods to state parks and wildlife areas. Apparently, they aren't the first ones to think of this. Missouri and several other states already have this system in place. I couldn't find a list of the states. I wonder if my beloved NJ is one of them?

In other news, the unfortunate Cerulean Warbler is out luck in the Endangered Species Act listing department.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

No listing for the Tricolored Blackbird

In more sad news for bird protection, the Fish & Wildlife Service has denied the Tricolored Blackbird a place on the endangered species list. This community-nesting cousin of the Red-winged Blackbird has an increasing population according to the FWS. Unfortunately, they fail to take into account that the population is 75% smaller than it was historically and that it's range is very restricted. On the plus side, the FWS said they are working with local groups to preserve habitat for the birds.

View the full article

Monday, December 04, 2006


The only cetaceans we saw on the pelagic on Sunday were several large groups of Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis). I have seen dolphins from shore in the past, but there's nothing quite like watching them leap out of the water alone or in a synchronized group. The key field mark on a Common Dolphin is an hourglass shape on the side. Check out the video I took below. You have to wait for the end for the payoff.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

My First Pelagic

The alarm woke me at 4:30 this morning and I was quickly on my way to the Belmar Marina on the NJ coast for my first pelagic birding trip. This trip was run by Seelife Paulagics, a well-known coordinator of pelagic trips in NJ.

I arrived at the boat, the 65' Suzie Girl, and much to my surprise there was a pretty large crowd. I expected maybe 15-20 people, but there were close to 40 birders! I met some friends and took a spot on the top deck where the view would be better (but the ride a little rougher). It was still dark, but the water appeared calm. The air on the other hand was VERY chilly. Luckily, I had worn many layers to keep out the biting cold.

The early morning sea

We headed out at a quick clip and daylight arrived. Many birds started to appear: Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, many flying Common Loons and lots of Northern Gannets of all ages. We had great views of all of these birds, but I was really anxious to see the truly "pelagic" birds. To hold our attention in the meantime, groups of Common Dolphins rode our wake and jumped in and out of the water. They were truly acrobats of the sea and they were wonderful to see so close.

Our fearless leader and all around funny guy, Paul Guris

As gull flocks would appear, the crew threw out chum (aka fish parts and fish blood) to attract the gulls. It worked well - the birds ate it up like me at a buffet. They hung around for a long while and after 2 hours of cruising along, a leader shouted "KITTIWAKE!" There behind the boat was a dainty-flying Black-legged Kittiwake - a bird I have never seen before. As quickly as it arrived, it disappeared.

Some Great Black-backed Gulls following us

The birding slowed down a bit and we headed for the deeper waters of such spots as the "Glory Hole" and the "Mud Hole". Pelagic birds like these deeper areas where nutrients and plankton attract bait fish that the birds feed on. Around lunchtime, a call of "SHEARWATER!" awoke the crowds. A Manx Shearwater was cruising just off the side of the boat. It quickly joined 2 others that were floating on the sea among a group of Bonaparte's Gulls. As our boat approached, the birds took to the air eliciting another shout - "LITTLE GULL!" The all-dark underwings of the Little Gull were immediately noticeable. The bird circled our boat for a few minutes, but was interrupted by another shriek - "FULMAR!" Ah yes... a bird I really wanted to see, the Northern Fulmar. The stocky, gull-like bird cruised low over the water and stayed with the boat for a good while. Moments later, one more excited yelp came - "PHALAROPES!" Two Red Phalaropes were coursing over the sea. I believe it was Peterson who said, "If you see a Sanderling at sea, it surely is a Phalarope." This couldn't have been more true.

Some excited birders look on and take photos

The excitement of new birds came in a quick burst and, all of the sudden, I had 5 new life birds. The rest of the day was kind of slow. We ended up going out over 60 miles and it took several LONG hours to get back. I was able to squeeze in a short nap and chit-chat with some fellow birders. I regretted not bringing a book. The important thing is that I never got sick! In fact, I don't think anyone did. The water was wonderfully cooperative, the crew and leaders worked their butts off and we saw some great birds. We missed a few target species like Dovekie and any Jaegers, but it was still awesome. I can't wait for my next pelagic.

An extremely tired group of birders

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Heading out to sea...

I'm off on my first pelagic trip tomorrow morning. The weather looks nice, I've got snacks packed and I've got my Scop patch on. I've never been on a pelagic, so it's likely that I'll see some new birds. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Scared Owl

First off, let me say that I in no way approve of the actions of the people in this video. On the other hand, I thought the behavior of the owl was interesting. When scared, some species of owl will stretch their body to look like a tree branch. If anyone knows what kind of owl this is, please let me know. I think it might be a type of Screech Owl, but I'm not sure.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Groups Sue FWS Over Mountain Plover Protection

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Forest Guardians, two conservation groups, are suing the Fish & Wildlife Service because they refuse to place the Mountain Plover on the endangered species list. Read the full article.

In related news, it was announced last week that the Gunnison Sage-Grouse has a lawyer. The Western Environmental Law Center filed a suit against the FWS very similar to the one for the Mountain Plover. Read the full article.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Birding Basher?

Some uppity blogger decided to post a message blasting birdwatchers, specifically the male ones. Take a look. Maybe someone can teach him to spell "feminine". It seems like he has a whole room full of axes to grind.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Letter to Rosie

Beth and I were watching a recording of today's episode of "The View". We record it on our DVR and watch the first 15-20 minutes of their "Topics" section. It's usually pretty interesting and funny. Today, Rosie O'Donnell, the legendary giver of freebies and koosh balls, was discussing the iguanas that live on the property of her Miami home. Her daughter had rescued an injured iguana and put it in a tree. Rosie's thought was that one of the many stray neighborhood cats got it after they left it in the tree. She then mentioned how her neighborhood has many cats like this. *BING* That set off one of my biggest pet peeves, no pun intended. Cats should be kept indoors. It's that simple. If it lives outside, it's not a pet. So, I took it upon myself to email Rosie. I didn't want to reprimand her, since she did nothing wrong. I wanted to bring the negative aspects of outdoor cats to her attention since she has such a great forum to communicate to the masses. Actually, Rosie doesn't have an email box on The View's web site, but her co-host Elisabeth does. I actually ended up emailing Elisabeth and asking her to pass the message to Rosie. Let's hope she gets it and mentions it on the show. I also was sure to include a link to the American Bird Conservancy's Cats Indoors Campaign.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving and a Rarity

A belated "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone! We ate an insane amount of food yesterday and plan to have some leftovers today. Beth's family has a huge Thanksgiving feast with 30-40 people in attendance. There were 3 turkeys, 4 different stuffings, and about 20 pies. Yummy.

In bird news, a real rarity and one of the most wanted North American birds - a Ross's Gull - was found at the Salton Sea in southern California recently. It was found by legendary California birder, Guy McCaskie. Here's the full article. This is the southernmost point that this bird has ever occured.

I was reading "Wild America" recently. There was an interesting chapter about the origin of the Salton Sea. It's basically an accidental creation. It was created due to a 1905 breach in a dike on the Colorado River that flooded a salt mining area known as the Salton Sink. Local authorities tried for years to restore the valley to its original state, but they couldn't beat mother nature. Apparently, she wanted this body of water there to serve as the awesome migration stop-off point it is today.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

See an Albatross at the Monterey Aquarium

The Monterey Aquarium is now home to an injured Laysan Albatross. This bird will serve as a good ambassador for all seabirds.

Full Article

Monday, November 20, 2006

Exotic Florida

As most birders know, Florida is a hotbed of exotic bird species. Red-whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted Oriole, several species of Myna, and a buttload of parrots and parakeets add to Florida's already diverse tropical fauna. In addition to these exotic birds, there are 31 exotic mammals, 48 exotic reptiles, and 4 exotic amphibians recorded in Florida. Florida Fish & Wildlife has a complete list of all exotics and descriptions of their status.

While these exotic critters may give pleasure to birders and wildlife watchers, many are a threat to the Florida ecosystem. Among the newsmakers, the Everglades has a huge (no pun intended) problem with giant pythons that are released because their owners underestimate the size that these things get to. The authorities are doing their best to control populations and to find ways to track escaped and released pets through the use of microchips implanted in the animals. I'm not sure if you can put a microchip on a red-rumped tarantula though.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Suet Success

Last week I decided to give my suet feeder another week to attract something and then I'd give up on it. Well, it finally came through today! This guy was on the feeder this morning.

I had never seen a Downy Woodpecker in our yard, so I'd like to think the feeder attracted this male here.

Who are you sticking your tongue out at? Woodpeckers have really long tongues for feeding on insects in the hole they make in trees, so this is probably only a small portion of his tongue.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"The Onion" on Birds

One of my favorite web sites is The Onion. In case you haven't seen it, it's a mock news site full of stories, editorials, polls, and horoscopes all packaged in a nice "tongue-in-cheek" fashion. Very few sites give me laugh out loud moments like this one. Here's a list of their bird-related articles:

State Bird Reconsidered After Latest Wren Attack

Bird Arthritis Epidemic Largely Ignored

Bird’s Nest 65 Percent Cigarette Butts

Bush Orders Mass Bald Eagle Slaughter To Stop Spread Of Bird Flu

Sparrow Aviation Administration Blames Collision On Failure To Detect Pane Of Glass

Greenpeace Decides Northern Spotted Owl 'Not Worth The Trouble Anymore'

Mockingbird Imitates Car Alarm Perfectly

Souter Hopes Roberts Is Into Birds

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Pre-Thanksgiving Surprise

In nearby Millstone, NJ, one family had pre-Thanksgiving surprise and a little revenge from Tom Turkey. A Wild Turkey flew threw their window and caused quite a stir (and a lot of poo) in a bedroom. Read the full story here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Blogger Upgrade?

Ok, Blogger keeps yelling at me to move to the new upgraded version, which I guess is no longer in Beta. I'm scared! I'm comfortable with the current Blogger and I don't want to mess up my blog. I'll wait until I try to change to a completely different platform to mess things up. Any insight out there in Blogger land?

Little bird, big ruckus

For those of you who haven't heard, a little bird is causing quite a stir on the other side of the pond. A Long-billed Murrelet was found in the UK in the seaside town of Dawlish. Originally, it was thought to be a Little Auk (our Dovekie), but American birders found its true identity after seeing some pictures on SurfBirds. As is the British fashion, 1000's of birders have flocked to the site. This bird normally lives in the north Pacific and, interestingly, breeds in inland forests. They have been previously seen in all sorts of weird places across America including New York.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Birds in Amish Country

Beth and I spent the weekend in the Amish country of Pennsylvania this weekend with her family for her grandmother's 75th birthday. I hadn't been out there since my 8th grade class trip. It's a wonderful area full of horse-drawn carriages, great farmer's markets, excellent food, and very nice people. The weather on Saturday was stunning. It was more spring-like than November-like. We were able to spend most of the day in t-shirts.

The warmth helped bring out some birds too. There were tons of Red-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures circling over the fields of stubble. While out on a horse and buggy ride, every wire seemed to be the perch of a Starling, Mourning Dove, or Rock Pigeon. One bird set itself apart of the others... a stellar American Kestrel. Kestrels are on a decline in NJ, but they're probably doing well in this vast PA farmland. The Kestrel flew before I could get a picture.

At a store in town, I found an interesting book called "Birding in Amish Country". It's an Amish family's journal about their birding experiences on their property. I regret not picking up a copy because I can't even find a reference to it on the web!

Trains are also very popular in Amish country. We stayed at the Red Caboose Inn where we actually slept in a converted train car. It's not the Ritz, but it's an ok place to stay for a night.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I & The Bird

Roger from Words & Pictures is hosting I & The Bird #36. There's so much great stuff on there. Check it out!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Sad News for NWR's

Here in NJ, we're lucky to have several great National Wildlife Refuges including the famous Edwin B. Forsythe Refuge, Wallkill, Supawna Meadows, Cape May, and the Great Swamp (where I learned to bird). All of these refuges offer wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, hunting, and other outdoor activities. Unfortunately, our government doesn't see it that way. According to this article, staffing at some of these refuges is being cut back to minimal amounts due to federal downsizing. They are understaffed to the point of being almost inoperable.

After doing some research, I found that these budget cuts are not limited to NJ. Here are articles about budget cuts at NWR's across the country:

Savannah NWR in Georgia (where I just visited this summer)
Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida
Ding Darling in Florida
Alligator River in North Carolina
Pelican Island (the first NWR), Archie Carr and Hobe Sound in Florida

It seems that a 10 % across-the-board cutback in funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System that was announced on November 1 is trickling down to these refuges. It's a shame that one of the great treasures of our nation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, is being affected by this. I think Grady Horcutt, a former refuge managers said it best. “Redirecting a tiny fraction of what audits show is wasted or stolen in Iraq would allow for full funding of all refuge system needs,” added Hocutt, noting that the U.S. is spending an estimated $177 million per day in Iraq. “If Teddy Roosevelt knew what was happening to his legacy, he would be spinning in his grave.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Feeder Update

One of the problems with working full time this time of year is that one can't spend as much time feeder watching as one would like to. I see the feeder for a few minutes each morning and then that's it! Our feeder has so far attracted a pair of Tufted Titmice, several White-throated sparrows, a few Juncos, and a hideous pair of House Sparrows. I came home early today from work and Beth arrived about the same time. We walked up towards the feeders and spooked up a couple White-throats. Then I heard a distinct YANK-YANK. A little White-breasted Nuthatch was bouncing down our oak tree! Who doesn't love a nuthatch? I had never heard or seen one in our neighborhood, so this was a nice sight. Its actions were pretty funny. It would climb down the tree headfirst and then pick seed off the ground while still suspended on the tree! Where was my camera?!

Nothing seems to be coming to our suet feeder. Maybe the nuthatch will like it. If nothing comes to it within a week or two, I'll swap it out for a peanut feeder.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Drilling Holes

In yesterday's post, I mentioned an additional bird that we saw at Willowwood Arboretum that I would post about today. While walking through the arboretum, I came across a Nikko Fir tree from Japan that had some very conspicuous markings on the trunk.

Here is a close-up of said tree. This tree seemed to be a hotbed of bird activity. I first noticed a White-breasted Nuthatch, then a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Then, I noticed some additional action higher up in the tree. Two woodpeckers were creeping up the tree. Every time I tried to see them, they would scoot around the opposite side. Don't you love it when woodpeckers do that?

The holes in the tree gave me a pretty good indication of who these woodpeckers might be. This is one of the holes in the tree, wet with fresh sap dripping out of it. I'm sure by now you may have guessed who these two birds were. Before I got the chance to see the birds though, they took off into a much taller nearby tree.

Here's one of them. Yes folks, it's a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - an uncommon migrant in this part of NJ. Sapsuckers traditionally tap small holes or make short horizontal grooves in neat rows around a tree and eat the sap that drains from them. Also, insects are attracted to the sap and add an additional course to the Sapsucker's diet. Unlike most woodpeckers that have a long, barbed tongue, the sapsucker has a shorter tongue covered in fine hairs perfect for lapping sap.

This Nikko Fir tree seemed to be a smorgasbord for sapsuckers. There were tons of holes in it due to several years of visiting birds it seemed, but very few in other nearby trees. What made this fir tree so desirable? I did some research, but didn't find anything. Any insights?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Fall Day at Willowwood

Beth and I decided to spend a little time today at the Willowwood Arboretum to see what fall brings to this great place. A lot of the trees were already leafless, but there was still some wonderful foliage to see. Being leafless brings out the beauty of the branching structures and bark of many trees. We even found a few birds along the way including several Brown Creepers, many Kinglets, a late Gray Catbird, and another nice bird that I'll talk about in my next post.

Japanese Maples, one of my favorite trees, come in many varieties here. The leaves of one fell on this small stone bridge. We saw yellow ones, orange ones, and my favorite - bright shocking red ones.

The sun shines on a trail at the Arboretum

If you read my last post about Persimmons, I extolled the virtues of the American (or Common) Persimmon tree. We found this one in full fruit along a woodland trail. Check out the cool bark!

Here's a close-up of the Persimmon fruits. They are about golf-ball sized and definitely different looking than the one I was eating the other day. We couldn't find any fruit on the ground or any low enough to pick. I wonder if this tree being here means that Luna Moths can be found at Willowwood. Hmm...

Friday, November 03, 2006

Yummy Persimmons!

Beth and I always like to buy some kind of funky fruit or vegetable when we go to the supermarket. The other day Beth picked up some persimmons. I hadn't had one of these since I was a kid. There are two major varieties of persimmon that you'll find in the store. Fuyu persimmons are tomato-shaped with firm flesh and can be eaten when still somewhat unripe. Hachiya persimmons, on the other hand, are acorn-shaped, with soft, puree-like flesh, and can only be eaten when they're at the peak of ripeness and soft to the touch. If you eat them before they are ripe, the high tannin content will make it an unpleasant experience! I've only had the Hachiya variety. To me, it tastes like a custardy, stringy, slightly sweeter mango.

Here is my persimmon before being cut up.

Here it is all cut up and ready to eat. It was devoured shortly after this photo was taken.

There's also an American Persimmon tree, native to the eastern and central US. It produces fruit just like the ones you can buy in the store, but I couldn't find any info on why they don't sell them anywhere. This tree is a wonderful, mid-size native tree providing food for wildlife such as mockingbirds, turkeys, deer, fox, and raccoons. My favorite benefit of this tree is that it's the larval foodplant of two spectacular creatures: the Luna Moth and the Regal Moth.

Left: Regal Moth, Right: Luna Moth

There is a lovely Persimmon tree along the trail of the South Cape May Meadows. It was fruiting last week when I was there. Perhaps there's a place in your yard for a Persimmon tree. You can get some delicious fruit and perhaps attract some outstanding wildlife.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bearded Birders

This is a question I have pondered for a long time... Why do so many male birders have beards? I have nothing against beards. I'm just curious.

I did a Google image search for "beards" and the fifth picture on the page was a bearded guy with binoculars around his neck! Upon clicking on the picture, I learned that he's a birder. So what is it that attracts birders to grow beards? Do other outdoor activities like fishing and hunting also attract men to grow natural face warmers? Are we longing to be men of the wilderness and look rugged? Are beards used as a sort of mutual sign among birders to help us recognize our own "species"? I could see growing a beard for warmth while winter birding, but the last place I want to have a beard is while birding in hot weather or in the tropics. I can't imagine how much I'd sweat, let alone what kind of critters it could attract.

I thought perhaps that it was a nod to our birding and naturalist forefathers, but Alexander Wilson and Audubon were both clean shaven. Roger Peterson was beardless too. John Muir and an older Charles Darwin had some legendary beards though. It seems to be pretty split.

This birding beard phenomenon is just a curiosity I've had and I know others have noted it too. I personally grew a short beard last winter, but it was more an act of laziness than anything else. I'm going to try again this winter and see if my birding skills improve. The real question is... do beards grow in space? See below.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

First feeder bird!

I put up a feeder a little over a week ago and I finally got a visitor on Sunday. I woke up to the sound of a Tufted Titmouse calling outside our window, which is where the feeder is located. I whispered to Beth, "I hear a Titmouse. It could be at the feeder." I checked and there was no one there. A few hours later, I peered out the sliding glass door towards the feeder and saw a little Tufted Titmouse zoom down to an Oak branch right above the feeder. I hoped and prayed he would take some seed. "Come on! You can do it!" He looked around inquisitively as Titmice tend to do. Finally, he mustered enough courage to fly down to a perch on the feeder, pick out some sunflower hearts, and blast back up into the tree. He repeated this act once more and was gone.

With the time change, I haven't been able to really observe the feeder too much other than a few minutes before work. I did notice that the feeder looks like it has some moisture inside. Birdchick had warned me that the hearts attract a lot of moisture. I need to get some Feeder Fresh this weekend and clean out that feeder ASAP!

I know there are White-throats and Juncos in the area. I hear them every day. Hopefully, they'll come to the seed I've left on the ground. I'm just glad that my first feeder bird was a Titmouse and not a darn House Sparrow.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Birder Survey

I decided to put together a little survey for birders. Please copy and paste your responses in the comments or post this on your blog.

What state (or country) do you live in? NJ, USA
How long have you been birding? 6 years
Are you a "lister"? Yep
ABA Life List: 491
Overall Life List: 695
3 Favorite Birding Spots: Sandy Hook, NJ, Cape May, NJ, Barnegat, NJ
Favorite birding spot outside your home country: Costa Rica (it's really the only place I've been)
Farthest you've traveled to chase a rare bird: 2 hours - an unsuccessful chase of a Redwing (a European thrush)
Nemesis bird: Cape May Warbler (no, they don't live in Cape May!)
"Best" bird sighting: Green Violet-ear in NJ
Most wanted trip: Antarctica
Most wanted bird: Ivory-billed Woodpecker
What model and brand of bins do you use?: Nikon Venturer 8x42
What model and brand of scope do you use?: Swarovski AT80HD
What was the last lifer you added to your list?: Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Where did you see your last lifer?: Sandy Hook
What's the last bird you saw today?: European Starling
Best bird song you've heard ever: Winter Wren
Favorite birding moment: The first time I visited a hummingbird feeding station in SE Arizona
Least favorite thing about birding: Birding in the rain
Favorite thing about birding: Leading trips
Favorite field guide for the US: Sibley
Favorite non-field guide bird book: Wild America
Who is your birder icon?: Kenn Kaufman
Do you have a bird feeder(s)? Yes
Favorite feeder bird? Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cape May Friday Pt. 2

After visiting "The Bird Show", I headed back to Cape May Point State Park. The hawk flight was really non-existent and the hawk counter encouraged me to go to the Avalon Seawatch. The eastern component to the wind made this the place to be.

I embarked on the 15 mile drive north of Cape May to the town of Avalon. Avalon is a cool town with lots of nice houses, restaurants, and a great view of the ocean. Each year, CMBO sponsors a seawatch which is identical to a hawkwatch, but you count seabirds. Their totals each year range from 500,000 to close to 1,000,000 birds. The typical birds encountered at the Seawatch include Scoters, Loons, RB Mergansers, Bonaparte's Gulls, Double-crested and Great Cormorants, Northern Gannets, and several species of Tern. There are tons of rarities seen there yearly like Dovekie, Razorbill, Jaegers, and Shearwaters. I actually saw a Short-eared Owl migrating by on one visit a few years back.

This is the view from the Seawatch wall. The birds usually move from right to left (north to south). The rocks frequently house Purple Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones too.

When I arrived, a slow drizzle had begun - the kind that wets your binoculars just enough to be annoying. The weather didn't stop the birds or birders though. A dozen birders were there to witness huge numbers of birds moving through. Long lines of Double-crested Cormorants streamed by in the distance. From time to time, a line of Scoters would cruise by - all Surf Scoters and Black Scoters. Through my binoculars I could easily tell the two species apart. The "skunk head" of the Surf Scoter is easy to see even at a long distance. Many of the flocks of Scoters were joined by "interlopers", as my friend Pete says. These interlopers were Pintail, Scaup, Teal, and other ducks. Gannets of all ages soared over the sea and dove to feed to all of our excitement. You gotta love that bird! A few loons and terns added to the fun. I spent about 45 minutes here before heading home. I wish Avalon was a lot closer to me!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Cape May Friday Pt. 1

I took a 2.5 hour road trip down to Cape May today for day 1 of the annual Cape May Fall Weekend. I've been birding seriously for over 6 years and I've never actually gone to this event. I've always heard it was a "zoo". I usually go to Cape May the weekend after the Fall Weekend with a friend of mine. This year I decided I wanted to go to the "Bird Show", the vendor showcase at the Fall Weekend. I had heard that some fellow bloggers were going to be there and I also wanted to check out the vendors.

I started my birding at Cape May Point State Park, the site of their famous hawkwatch. It was a little early in the AM for the flight to start up, but that didn't stop a bunch of Sharpies and Harriers from circling around us. We also had several species of Sparrow around the platform including Swamp, Song, White-throated and White-crowned.

The famed Lighthouse Pond always attracts some nice birds. Today it attracted lots of Coots, some Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and Hooded Mergansers among others.

Birders gather on the platform in anticipation of the hawk flight, which didn't really materialize today due to a northeast wind. Northwest is usually best for hawks at Cape May.

I headed over to the the South Cape May Meadows. This is a favorite spot of mine due to its varied habitats. Yellow-rumped Warblers were thick as thieves here. They were covering every shrub, twig, and rock in sight. I've never seen so many. After watching lots of ducks foraging on the ponds, I was delighted to see a small group of Snow Geese soaring overhead, a group of Royal Terns and a Peregrine Falcon.

The real treat at the Meadows came on the way out. In a small marshy area, I found this supremely abiding Virginia Rail. It was quite busy turning over twigs and munching on something. It wasn't alone. There was a Snipe not 2 feet away. They even chased each other around a bit. I even got to show the Rail to a few birders.

I headed over to the "Bird Show". There were tour companies, lodges, magazines, lots of optics, tons of amazing art (more in a future post), raptors and lots of books. The highlight for me was meeting fellow bloggers Amy Hooper (Wildbird on the Fly) and Sharon Stiteler (Birdchick). I had a great time meeting them and chatting about birds, birding, and life in general. I'm sure our paths will cross again at a future festival.

I got Amy to pose with her festive rubber duck "mummy". She had quite a collection of duckies there.

I met Birdchick and I got $10 for filling out her survey! I tried my best not to "pish" her off. No clue who the guy in the background is...

More from my Cape May day tomorrow...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I & The Bird #35 and some random notes

Dan from Migrations is the host for the 35th edition of I & The Bird! Great job, Dan!

I had a new yard bird on Tuesday - 2 Hermit Thrushes! I happened to look outside to see if anything had discovered our new feeders yet (nothing has) and saw a Hermit Thrush munching berries on a Yew bush right next to the porch! His/her comrade was perched on the wooden fence that separates our house from the people behind us. I saw a Swainson's Thrush on this same fence in the spring. Robins like it too. It's now officially the "Thrush Fence".

Also, yesterday morning I came outside to the racket of 100's of Common Grackles. They love to travel in huge, nomadic flocks this time of year. Upon seeing me, they took off into the sky. The loud smacks of droppings hitting the rooves of the buildings around our complex sent me scurrying for cover. I wasn't hit, thank goodness. The Grackles perched in neat rows on top of the buildings across from ours as I headed off to work.

I stopped home for lunch yesterday and at least one Hermit Thrush was still around!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some Nature News

A few random nature news articles:

Monday, October 23, 2006

Good Eats - A Tale of Bird(ing) Food

When you bird with other people, it's always interesting to see what they bring along for "fuel". In my opinion, good munchies are an essential companion on a day, weekend, or month of birding. But what qualifies as good munchies? Let's break it down into categories:

Energy Foods
Power bars, Clif bars, Balance bars... whichever of the 3 trillion varieties suits your needs, these are a great way to get you started on waking up for that dawn chorus or for keeping you going on a Big Day. I usually try to start my day with one of these, but leave the sugary snacks to keep me going.

Natural Foods
Birders by nature have a tendency towards natural foods. Is it because birders tend to be the type of people who prefer natural foods? Is it because we feel we are doing our environment a service by not eating preservative-laden crap? Or are we trying to become one with the birds by sharing their diet? Whatever it is, many birders flock to fruit, bags of nuts and seeds, trail mix, granola bars, and anything with the word "organic" in the title. I have no problem with these. I always have some Sweet & Salty Nut Bars along with me. They aren't the most "natural" natural food, but they're yummy.

Plain Ol' Snack Foods
Chips, candy, pretzels, cookies, cakes... all of these things are bad for you in large quantities, but I always seem to find room for one of them in my birding menu. For some reason, I look at birding as a special time and I always treat myself to a "bad" snack. It doesn't help that I probably have the worst sweet tooth of anyone on earth. I have 2 preferred snacks. Jelly Belly jelly beans are #1. They rule. It's that simple. I'll save #2 for a section below. I don't see as many birders flocking to the snack foods. Is it just me?

Yes, I love them this much. Yes, I know I'm a dork.

Lunch for me is usually one of two things: a turkey & cheese sub from Wawa or a peanut butter & jelly sandwich made at home. For some reason, this has always been what I ate birding and it's served me well. I see most birders also go the sandwich route, but I've seen others enjoying salads.

Good Luck Food
I'll admit that I'm a bit superstitious when it comes to birding. I have lucky hats and lucky shirts. Most imporantly, I have a lucky snack - Rold Gold Honey Wheat Pretzels. Not only do they taste awesome, they also magically summon lifers. It started on a weekend trip to Cape May several years ago. I brought a bag of these along and had an amazing weekend. I saw 16 species of sparrow in one day and my first Golden Eagle. I tallied over 100 species that day. I brought them again to many trips afterwards and always seemed to see great birds. They're now a staple food of our World Series team, but we haven't done so great. Maybe the power of the pretzel is limited to weekend trips. Do you have a "good luck food"?

Any birding munchies to recommend? Leave a comment!

Finally, I'd like to apologize to Mike from for not having a sufficient supply of snacks on our trip to Sandy Hook a few weeks ago.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My first feeders!

I took a drive to the nearby Scherman-Hoffman NJ Audubon store to buy my first birdfeeders today. We don't really have a yard here at the townhouse, but we have a porch and lots of bushes which I guess we technically share with the people above us. We're situated on a back corner so we have a little open area of ground with an overhanging oak tree that makes a perfect spot for a feeding area. The Scherman-Hoffman store had a huge selection of feeders. I wanted something squirrel-resistant since the overhanging oak tree is a big hangout for those little nutty fellows. I almost chose the Yankee Whipper because of its cool design, but it was a bit out of my price range. I finally decided on this one. I think the little cage will keep the squirrels away. I also bought a suet feeder to go along with the 2-hooked pole I got. I wasn't sure what kind of seed to buy. I settled on sunflower hearts, but I think full-fledged black oil sunflower may have been better. The hearts require less cleanup and probably less complaints from the neighbors.

Scherman-Hoffman had more than feeders to offer. I got amazing views of a Pileated Woodpecker in a black gum tree in the parking lot and I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk over the highway on my way there.

Up-close shot of the feeders

Stylin' with my new feeders... I really look dorky in this pic.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Costa Rica Hummingbird Quiz & Copyrights

I've been studying my Costa Rican birds in preparation for my January trip. I really like to use Flash cards as a study aid because I find that looking through the book doesn't always work for me. I scanned in some of the pages from the book and "cut out" the individual pictures using Photoshop. I then used my crazy programming skills to create a very simple online flash card game. Click the link below. The idea is that you guess what the bird is and then click "Show Answer" to see if you're correct. My question is... is it legal to use these pictures in this way on the Internet if I'm not making a profit?

Play the Game (I've only included 8 species so far as a sample.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crazy Spam

I've been getting a lot more email spam recently for some reason. I recently received a really strange message and I'm not even sure what it's intended purpose is. I assume they use some kind of sentence generator to create these emails. It's worth a read because it's insane. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried:

A vacuum cleaner brainwashes a stovepipe near a particle accelerator, because
the insurance agent is a big fan of the vacuum cleaner beyond a vacuum
cleaner. An anomaly brainwashes a feline nation. A Eurasian avocado pit
satiates the diskette of the line dancer. Furthermore, a cargo bay
inside a grand piano feels nagging remorse, and a turkey around a bottle
of beer operates a small fruit stand with an umbrella for a globule.
When you see a cosmopolitan cowboy, it means that the diskette earns frequent flier miles.

A secretly dirt-encrusted tornado is ostensibly hypnotic. Now and then, the inferiority complex accurately buys an expensive gift for some vacuum cleaner from a vacuum cleaner. Furthermore, a satellite behind a carpet tack trembles, and the
self-loathing fairy single-handledly pees on a turn signal. Indeed, a pine cone
overwhelmingly cooks cheese grits for a so-called mastadon. A cough syrup
requires assistance from an abstraction. You really can't fail with facilitating
organisational alignment.

Indeed, another optimal power drill hardly pours freezing cold water on
another tuba player. A girl scout buys an expensive gift for an earring. Any
roller coaster can have a change of heart about a cargo bay about a briar patch,
but it takes a real paycheck to wisely graduate from the seldom precise fighter
pilot. A fractured briar patch beams with joy, and another knowingly
statesmanlike tomato hesitates; however, the underhandedly elusive photon makes
love to the sheriff about a pork chop.

My favorite sentence is "Indeed, a pine cone overwhelmingly cooks cheese grits for a so-called mastadon." The imagery is just too much. Someone needs to draw that picture for me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Le Conte's Sparrow at Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook has been a hotbed for rarities lately. It seems like one per week is showing up. The most recent one was a Le Conte's Sparrow found yesterday. Unfortunately, I was at work and didn't get a chance to see it. Le Conte's Sparrow is becoming an almost yearly bird in NJ. From what I know, all records are from the fall and most are from Cape May and Sandy Hook.

Le Conte's Sparrow is a tiny, mouse-like bird. It's notorious for its skulking behavior and for running on the ground under dense brush vs. flying from perch to perch. A view of this bird on its nesting territory is as difficult as getting a view of a vagrant like this. It's one of the Ammodramus sparrows - known for their short tails, chunky bodies and flat foreheads. I personally have a hard time separating some of these species. The key to identifying Le Conte's Sparrow is the combination of the buffy orange face and chest, the white crown stripe, and streaking on the sides and flanks (and sometimes on the chest).

Le Conte's Sparrows nest in northern central US and central Canada. They winter in the southeast and south-central US across the Gulf Coast. An interesting fact from Cornell: "Few Le Conte's Sparrows have ever been banded. Of the 355 banded between 1967 and 1984, none was ever recovered." Another interesting fact from Wikipedia: "John James Audubon named this bird after a friend, Doctor Le Conte. It is generally believed that he meant John Lawrence Le Conte, although some feel that he was referring to another John Le Conte, also a doctor, and John Lawrence's cousin." I guess we'll never know.