Friday, June 30, 2006

To bird or not to bird... To blog or not to blog...

To commemorate the 1 year anniversary of the I and the Bird blog carnival, Mike of 10,000 Birds has derived a theme for this installment: Why do you bird and/or why do you blog and/or why do you blog about birds?

A co-worker recently asked me this question... why do I bird? There's generally a slight disconnect between birders and non-birders. Non-birders think that birders sit in one place and wait for a bird to appear and when it does, they ogle it and then wait for the next bird. While this may be true for some people (and for Big Sits), birding generally involves a bit more muscular effort than that. Non-birders also seem to always ask me the same question, "Ok..... so after you see the bird, what do you do next?" Inevitably, I give a dumb response like, "Well, you look for another bird." They just don't seem to get that this can be a fun activity.

I've tried comparing birding to treasure hunts, collecting, fishing, hunting, reading a book, and many other analogies. The best way to get someone to understand and appreciate our hobby is to actually bring someone out with you. They will understand the fun and magic of it all. They will see the beauty of nature, the wonder of being outside, and the great feeling of finding the birds. They will realize that it doesn't just have to be about listing or walking around in goofy clothes.

So did I really answer the question of "Why bird?"??? It's hard to give a firm answer. I have many different reasons, but everything about it just gives me satisfaction. Camaraderie, learning, teaching, traveling, competition, etc. It's all fun. It's a hobby that can be taken almost anywhere and shared with people. You can get as deep into it as you want or you can barely skim the surface. There's never a dull or uninteresting excursion. That's why I bird.

I've explained why I bird, now let me talk about why I blog. I am a relative late comer to the world of blogging, but I had followed many of the bird blogs that have been around for a while for some time. I found that blogs were a great way to share knowledge and also a source of entertainment. I always enjoyed reading people's accounts of their birding adventures, species descriptions, and photography. I learned a whole lot by living vicariously through bloggers.

Lately, I've really wanted to be more active in the birding community. I want to network with other birders, attend conferences and festivals, and lead tours. I also love to teach people about birds. In the trips I've lead, this has been the most rewarding part for me. Nothing beats teaching someone something new about birds. I figured blogging would be a good way to generate that same feeling. My blog has been a good outlet for all of the nature-related stuff floating around my head that I want to share with people. So far, so good I think. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

10 Most Wanted Birds Meme

This is the Top 10 list that I was about to post when John posted his Favorite Bird Songs list. I wanted to start a new list by posting my "10 Most Wanted Birds". The rules are simple: Post a list of the 10 species that you'd most like to see. You can limit it to a geographic area or cover the whole world. Tag a few people and they in turn will post their lists on their blogs. I'm not sure I got the mechanics of this whole meme thing down, but here it goes anyway.

Here's my world list based entirely on only the birds I'm familiar with. I'm sure there are many more wonderful birds that I don't even know that they exist. In no particular order...

10. Swallow-tailed Kite - Is there a more majestic raptor in existence? I'm hoping to see one in Georgia next week or in Costa Rica next year
9. Capuchinbird - Just a totally odd bird that lives in the Brazilian Amazon
8. Superb Lyrebird - Everyone has probably seen this clip of this insanely cool Australian mimic
7. Phillipine Eagle - Severely endangered and the second largest eagle in the world
6. Any Bird-of-Paradise - Some of the most unique feather arrangements and courtship displays occur in these amazing natives of New Guinea.
5. Emperor Penguin - Who doesn't want to see these in the wild?
4. Marvelous Spatule-tail - Endemic to Peru, this unique bird may be the coolest of all hummingbirds
3. Bluethroat - I really want to go to Alaska for a chance to see this funny little thrush
2. Lammergeier - I get a kick out of birds that are the only members of their genus and this huge vulture fits into that category.
1. Cape Sugarbird - A South African bird with a huge tail!

I'll tag Mike at 10,000 Birds and John at A DC Birding Blog

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Attack of the Tomato Killers

Beth discovered something lovely living on our single tomato plant on our patio yesterday. While checking out the 11 golf ball-sized tomatoes that we have growing, a little half-inch green caterpillar was poking it's head out of one of them. She got rid of that tomato immediately. Then, today she found another one. The little green caterpillars were young hornworms - either Tobacco Hornworm or Tomato Hornworm (it was hard to tell since they were so small). From a gardener's perspective, this is not a good sign since these things can get up to 4 inches long and do some serious damage to a tomato plant. From a naturalist's perspective, this is a pretty cool caterpillar.

A Hornworm is the larval stage of a sphinx moth (family Sphingidae) - Five-spotted Hawkmoth in the case of the Tomato Hornworm and the Carolina Sphinx Moth in the case of the Tobacco Hornworm. Sphinx moths are really cool since they fly like hummingbirds while feeding on nectar from flowers. The familiar Hummingbird Clearwing is also a member of the sphinx moth family.

Hornworms start out as eggs laid on the underside of the leaves of their host plants (tomatoes and tobaccos). They hatch and grow while eating the leaves, stems, and fruits of the plants. If the hornworm survives to be fully grown, it will burrow into the soil to pupate. The pupa (cocoon) might remain in the soil all winter to emerge as a moth the following spring, but if the weather conditions are right, the moth may emerge in as little as two weeks.

For a gardener, the best way to rid yourself of hornworms is to hand pick them from the plants, although they can camouflage extremely well. Fortunately, there is a natural parasite that helps control populations - the braconid wasp. These wasps lay their eggs on the hornworm and the larva feed on their insides. The larva eventually pupate and appear on the backs of the hornworms. You can see what a parasitized hornworm looks like here - yuck!

Here is a picture of our little hornworm buddy. Unfortunately, he will not survive to be a moth...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Costa Rica Butterflies

I've had a few unidentified pictures of Costa Rican butterflies sitting around since my November trip there. I finally decided to put some effort into finding out what they were. After all, any good naturalist can't let something in nature go unnamed. Now, there IS a Costa Rican butterfly guide. Unfortunately, it's split into 2 volumes and is not very field friendly. It's also highly scientific. Strangely, Amazon only carries the second volume. After some discussion with the author of Firefly Forest about her recent CR butterfly identifications, I decided to put Google to good use. After some searching, I came across the wonderful site Neotropical Butterflies by Kim Garwood and Richard Lehman. Kim and Richard have taken a ton of pictures from Mexico through the Amazon. They've also published a book on the Butterflies of Northeastern Mexico and have an upcoming book on the butterflies of Brazil.

I recommend poking around the site and witnessing the amazing creations of Mother Nature. I especially love the clearwings and the swordtails. One of the coolest butterflies in the world has to be the Octauius Swordtail. With the help of their site, I was able to identify one of my pictures as the Trotschi Eyemark (see below).

Trotschi Eyemark

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to identify these others yet.

Satyr species

No clue...

If you happen to have the Costa Rican butterfly field guides, any help would be appreciated.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't Eat This Banana

Beth and I went on vacation to San Francisco back in April. On our first day there, we took the ferry over to Alcatraz as any good tourist would do. Alcatraz itself was awesome and I actually found my life Golden-crowned Sparrow and Brandt's Cormorant there along with a zillion Western Gulls. Aside from the birds, there were many beautiful garden areas that we explored. One of these garden areas is where we found a very strange inhabitant of Alcatraz Island. Resembling a prisoner's leftover turd, the mass of yellow goo pictured at right is actually a mollusk - the aptly named Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus). This yellow critter is actually the second largest slug in the world (the largest being Limax cinereoniger of Europe).

The Banana Slug is a native of moist, Pacific-coast forests where it moves along slowly with its one muscular foot. While cruising along, it eats and decomposes leaves, fungus, and animal droppings. Like all slugs, it's body is covered in a sticky slime. Interestingly, this slime has many functions. These include keeping the slug's skin moist so it can breathe through it, protecting the slug from predators who can't eat the slime, lubricating the surface for movement, and aiding with mating since females can produce a pheromone in their slime.

Another interesting thing about the slime is that scientists have tried to reproduce slug slime because it makes a great natural glue and may be of use in the medicine. For some unknown reason, scientists have not been able to succesfully reproduce it.

Despite their slimey coating, they do have some predators including raccoons, geese, garter snakes, and salamanders. Raccoons and geese have been known to roll the slugs in dirt to eliminate the slime so they can eat them.

After looking up Banana Slugs on Google, I was surprised to learn so many interesting things about them. It's surely turned me into a fan, but not as much of a fan as UC Santa Cruz!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Favorite Bird Songs

I was all set to unveil a new top 10 list on the bird blogging world, but John over at A DC Birding Blog beat me to it! John was the originator of the 10 Most Beautiful Birds post and has come up with another great one. Name your 10 favorite bird songs or bird vocalizations. Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Veery - The ethereal song of the woods. Other thrushes have amazing songs, but this one takes the cake in my book.
2. Bobolink - People have likened it to the sounds of R2-D2, so maybe my childhood (and adulthood) obsession with the Star Wars movies made me choose this. (Note: I hate the 3 most recent Star Wars films.)
3. Red-tailed Hawk - Who doesn't love to hear the call of the RT Hawk? I just hate it when it's coming from a random bird in a movie that looks nothing like a RT Hawk.
4. Vesper Sparrow - A beauty of a song from the world of sparrows, where songs range from the super short to the super long.
5. House Wren - This song really symbolizes the arrival of spring for me.
6. Winter Wren - If I had to pick a #1, this would probably be it. A tiny bird with an absolute monstrous song is just beyond cool for me.
7. Tennessee Warbler - I have a penchant for birds with big songs and here's another.
8. Sora - A real song of the marsh, this little bird's song can carry quite a way.
9. American Bittern - The Thunderpumper... not so much a song, but a strange vocalization caused by gulping and expelling air. Truly a unique part of nature.
10. Barred Owl - A haunting sound of the woods and fun to imitate!

There are a zillion others I could have included on here and I only stuck to the ABA area, so no offense to any birds I left off.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I and the Bird #26

I was all set to unveil a new top 10 list on the bird blogging world, but John over at A DC Birding Blog beat me to it! John was the originator of the 10 Most Beautiful Birds post and has come up with another great one. Name your 10 favorite bird songs or bird vocalizations. Here's my list, in no particular order:

1. Veery - The ethereal song of the woods. Other thrushes have amazing songs, but this one takes the cake in my book.
2. Bobolink - People have likened it to the sounds of R2-D2, so maybe my childhood (and adulthood) obsession with the Star Wars movies made me choose this. (Note: I hate the 3 most recent Star Wars films.)
3. Red-tailed Hawk - Who doesn't love to hear the call of the RT Hawk? I just hate it when it's coming from a random bird in a movie that looks nothing like a RT Hawk.
4. Vesper Sparrow - A beauty of a song from the world of sparrows, where songs range from the super short to the super long.
5. House Wren - This song really symbolizes the arrival of spring for me.
6. Winter Wren - If I had to pick a #1, this would probably be it. A tiny bird with an absolute monstrous song is just beyond cool for me.
7. Tennessee Warbler - I have a penchant for birds with big songs and here's another.
8. Sora - A real song of the marsh, this little bird's song can carry quite a way.
9. American Bittern - The Thunderpumper... not so much a song, but a strange vocalization caused by gulping and expelling air. Truly a unique part of nature.
10. Barred Owl - A haunting sound of the woods and fun to imitate!

There are a zillion others I could have included on here and I only stuck to the ABA area,
World Cup fever has hit every corner of the world (although it's maybe only approaching a warm forehead here in the US). In honor of this international tournament, this 26th edition of I and the Bird marks the first (and perhaps only) unofficial IATB World Cup. We have 6 teams participating in the IATB World Cup this year. Let's take a look at each team and some of their key players.

The Phantom Photogs
The Photogs look to be tough competitors in this year's IATB World Cup. They have representatives from all corners of the world and a range of young, up-and-coming talent. They are truly a portrait of excellence and skill.

  • Over at Alis Volat Propiis, Leigh spent the day in La Jolla, CA photographing pelicans, gulls, and cormorants and was rewarded with some wonderful shots. Although she's new to photography, her skills will help make her team a Cup contender for years to come.

  • Duncan, representing Australia and Ben Cruachan Blog, tells us about his wonderful day of birding and photography despite the sometimes uncompromising weather in What a Day.

  • Gwyn shares another of her Bird Brained Stories about photographing a recent lifer - a Dickcissel - practically right in her own front yard! Check out Tap Your Red Shoes Together Three Times... for the full scoop and picture.

  • Representing England, Tai Haku from Earth, Wind, & Water has posted some lovely pictures and information on the Reed Bunting, a globally threatened species. It's time to Break Out the Buntings. (Special honors to Tai for mentioning the real World Cup in his post)

  • It's not an IATB World Cup without some representation from New Zealand... Pohangina Pete tells the story of a Little Shag, a relative of the cormorant, in The Shag Who Spied Me. Pete's stunning photos are worth a click alone.

  • Through the camera lens comes Kevin of NaturalVisions... On a recent trip to Tappen Slough he saw some great birds and took some incredible pictures of grebes and pelicans.

Evolution Revolution
The Evolution Revolution bring with them two tough, well-respected superstars and look to be a real threat this tournament.

Conservationists at Large
The Conservationists look to make their mark on the IATB World Cup through the relentless backing of their huge fan base and unquestioning support from all the governments of the world.

The Wonderful Encounters
A constant fan favorite, everyone loves the Wonderful Encounters. No matter where you're from or how much you enjoy the IATB World Cup, the Wonderful Encounters will always bring a smile to anyone's face.

  • Dan from Migrations spent a day birding the Baldwin Preserve in the Cayuga Lake Basin, a local shrubland habitat preserve. He had a tough battle with some sought-after Black-throated Green Warblers, but was rewarded with another gorgeous warbler. Every World Cup needs a true character player and Dan takes this role by dealing with some litter problems at the site as well.

  • Robin and Roger of Dharma Bums also represent a terrible twosome of blogging power. Their wonderful contribution to the IATB World Cup tells the story of their encounter with the Day-Glo Yellow Hooded Oriole.

  • At Woodsong, Cindy spent an Afternoon with Purple Martins - avian champions of aerial acrobatics.

  • Birdchick recently attended the Potholes and Prairie Bird Festival in North Dakota. In Moments in North Dakota, we get the full play-by-play of the convention including some shots of the great birds that can be seen there and even a guest appearance by the world-famous Cinnamon. It's enough to make me want to book a trip to North Dakota next year!

  • Live from the ABA Convention in Bangor, Maine, comes Amy of Wildbird on the Fly. In ABA: Tuesday, she takes us through Tuesday's field trip to the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine where she saw a marvelous array of birds including eiders, loons, and many species of warbler. She's also graced us with some wonderful scenery shots from one of the most beautiful areas of the US.

Education Nation
Education Nation includes some well-respected veterans. Fans are always looking to them to learn something new.

Fiery Fledglings

The youngest team in the World Cup is also one of the toughest teams around. Sometimes they have an uphill battle, but their coaches and supporters make huge efforts to keep them successful.

Luxurious Lifers

The Lifers are always a joy to watch. Many of their hardcore fans live to see the Lifers and some follow them all over the world.

  • Rob of Rob's Idaho Perspective, describes a recent trip where his camp is invaded by birds in Sawtooth Valley Idaho.

  • Carel, the wonderful wildlife artist of Rigor Vitae, is unofficially representing Africa for our IATB World Cup. In Terrific Turacos, he displays 2 gorgeous paintings and lots of information on this unique family of African birds.

  • Bill of Bill of the Birds tells a story that most of us can relate to I'm sure. In Jinx Me No More, Bill goes hunting for the elusive Connecticut Warbler that has haunted him for years. Does he succeed? Read more to find out.

Well, that's it for our teams in the IATB World Cup. There's no winning team in this tournament... the real winners are the birds and the people who have the pleasure of reading everyone's posts. It's been a great pleasure hosting IATB for everyone and I really enjoyed reading every submission.

I and the Bird #27
Mike of 10,000 Birds will be the host of I and the Bird #27. This will mark the one year anniversary of I and the Bird! The theme will be "why you blog, why you bird, or why you blog about birds". Send your entries to Mike by July 4.

so no offense to any birds I left off.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Closest I'll get to an Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The debate about the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker presses on, but I've come close to seeing one myself. Well, sort of. I've had a close encounter with its cousin - the Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis) of Central America. Many of us know about its other close cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker of the US. But, I think this one is an even closer relative for 3 reasons.

First, it is in the same genus (Campephilus) as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWP), making them genetic relatives. Second, it has a loud, double-rap drum similar to the infamous double-rap of the IBWP. Third, and this is just me talking here, the name "Pale-billed" is almost like saying "Ivory-billed". In any event, seeing this bird in Costa Rica was really a treat. It flew in close and perched horizontally on a mossy branch. It had a really life-like eye that turned and looked in all directions. It's fiery red crest glowed against the dark green of the rainforest. I can only imagine what it must be like to see the Ivory-billed!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gray Tree Frogs and a Spider

Beth and I drove down to south Jersey to visit my good friend Tony, his wife, and their 3 year old son. We had a nice shrimp scampi dinner and then headed to the patio for some dessert at dusk. Tony told us about how he had been cleaning out his swimming pool and had found frogs breeding in it. I assumed they were bull frogs because those were the only frogs I had ever seen in a pool. As darkness approached, we heard a loud call coming from the pool area. At first I thought it was a funny sounding Red-bellied Woodpecker and then I realized it was actually the call of a Gray Treefrog (probably Hyla versicolor). Tony and I tried to locate where the call was coming from. Frogs tend to have a ventriloquil call so this was a tough task. It sounded like it was coming from the filter area of the pool, but every time we'd go over there, the call would stop. I had never seen a Gray Treefrog up close, so I was anxious to see the little 1.25-2" critter. It continued to call, but we couldn't find it. We sat back down and enjoyed some dessert (I made Paula Deen's Lemon Squares).

A few minutes after dessert, Tony's psychotic beagle was sniffing around the edge of the patio and something hopped away from him. It was a frog! The dog tried to make a treat of the frog by putting it in his mouth, but the frog jumped out. I quickly got up and snatched the little frog from the potential of death. He was a cute little guy and so delicate. I released him to the far back of Tony's yard, but he'll probably find his way back to the pool.

A bit later, the beagle was at it again. She appeared to have found another frog. Tony went to get the dog away from it, but it was no frog! Tony's words were, "Whoa, that is one big spider!" We turned on the porch lights and there was the absolute biggest spider I have ever seen in NJ. I could have put a saddle on this thing and rode it. It was a wolf spider and its abdomen must have been an inch across. You could even see the shine of its eyes in the light. It scurried up under Tony's vinyl siding never to be seen again. As I said to Beth, if we had a spider that big at our house, I would sell the place. :)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Green Corporations

BusinessWeek recently published an article titled J&J's Brighter Shade of Green. It highlights Johnson & Johnson and the alternative energy sources that they have been implementing in recent years. J&J, being a company near and dear to my heart, has installed solar panels in several of its sites. In a California office, they have installed three 1-megawatt generators that burn methane emitted from a garbage dump 1.5 miles away. They also sell poppy seeds (that they grow on a farm for drug ingredients) to a facility that converts the seeds to energy. Through these efforts, they've been able to reduce their CO2 output tonnage by 11%. They are currently the leader in greenhouse gas reductions in the pharmaceutical sector. It'd be great if other companies take a cue from J&J, especially companies that have a much higher energy output.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Back to CR...

I've officially sent in my money for my return trip to Costa Rica in January 2007. I will be there not one, but TWO whole weeks! Some of the same gang who went the first time will be going again this time, so it should be a blast. We'll be seeing different parts of the country, more along the Pacific slope, so the birds will be different for the most part.

The first week of the trip will visit the active Volcan Arenal (pic above) and the Arenal Observatory Lodge. The lodge is close to the volcano and has an awesome bird list. We will then head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest to stay at the world famous (for birders anyway) Trapp Family Lodge. This place looks insanely amazing. We'll finish the week with 3 days in the Punta Leona area along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I'll have a chance to visit their private white sand beaches and also to bird Carara National Park - home to Scarlet Macaws and the rare Yellow-billed Cotinga!!! There will also be a boat tour through the mangroves in hopes of seeing the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird.

The second week will begin with a short flight out to the Osa Peninsula. This area is thought to be one of the most bio-diverse areas in all of Central/South America. The trip will start at the Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge. Birding around this area is supposedly amazing and includes birds such as Turquoise Cotinga and White-tipped Sicklebill (one of the birds I most want to see!). We'll finish the trip up in the town of Golfito at the Golfo Dulce Lodge. We'll travel here by boat, which I think is pretty cool. Here we'll hope to see birds like White-crested Coquette and Black Hawk-Eagle.

I'm really psyched for the trip! If anyone is interested, there are still spots open on both legs of the trip.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I was recently reading The Firefly Forest, a very informative site with lots of great natural history and wonderful photos. Be sure to stop by. One of the author's posts was about Pepsis Wasps, aka Tarantula Hawks. When I was in Tucson in 2003, these huge, metallic blue wasps were ubiquitous. They are frequently seen crawling along the ground in a weird sort of robotic gait. I asked the leader of my bird tour about them and it turns out his dad had studied them extensively. He told me that the sting is said to be extremely painful. Just how painful? Well, one of the most interesting things I found on Firefly Forest was a link to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. This declares the Bullet Ant to be the most painful sting in the Americas with the Tarantula Hawk being a close second. I came across one of the inch-long Bullet Ants in Costa Rica (pictured below). Luckily, I didn't get "shot".

Grasslands Survey Part 2

Yesterday morning I conducted the second run of my NJ Grasslands Breeding Bird Survey route. Per the survey methodology, the second run required that I repeat the first run but in reverse order. This meant that I had to start at the southern-most point of my route and work my way back north towards home (all before work!). I started at 5:00 AM and reached my first point by 5:45.

My first stop yielded a singing Grasshopper Sparrow, which I did not find last time, so that was great. I also heard a very distant Meadowlark here, another bird that was not there last time. My next several stops yielded little more than some Red-winged Blackbirds and some Willow Flycatchers (not part of the count). By my third stop I noticed a much lower number of Red-winged Blackbirds and Field Sparrows. On my first run, I had counted many of these "scrub-shrub" nesting species, but they had either been migrants, wandering birds, or were just not around today for some reason. On my fourth stop (which was my best stop on my first run), I once again found two Meadowlarks, a Grasshopper Sparrow, and my only Bobolink of my route. This is my favorite spot because it's on the property of a satellite office of the company I work for. I'm proud that my company manages their landscaping for grasslands. My last several stops yielded very little. I found another "scrub-shrub" species -- Prairie Warbler -- at two locations. My final spot was a huge disappointment. It had been completely tilled over. The Robins and Cowbirds seemed to enjoy it, but it's a shame that it was tilled. Hopefully, it will be put to some good use... I finished my route in time to get to work by 9:00. My next survey will be a habitat analysis in August. This will determine how the habitat has changed since my initial habitat survey in May. That will be all for my 2006 Grasslands survey. I'll report back more then.

In other notes, I found a dead baby Robin in the yard of our condo the other day. It's gone now. I think the landscapers took care of it. Also, our small porch garden is doing well although it hasn't attracted any butterflies yet. My best hope is lantana since my salvia didn't appreciate the large amount of shade I had to give them.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Testing my Netting Skills

Thanks to a day off, I got a chance to try out my new insect net last Friday. I headed to Fairview Farm, the location of a field trip I am leading for NJ Audubon on July 15. First, I headed for the really nice butterfly garden that they have there. Unfortunately, there were ZERO butterflies to be found. A lot of the flowers in the garden were not in bloom yet, so that may explain it. I then headed to the edge of a large pond where I encountered many dragonflies coursing over the water along with some skippers dancing around the grasses along the edge.

I discovered pretty quickly that catching dragonflies wasn't going to be easy. Those little buggers are fast and smart! Well, maybe not smart, but perceptive. I would swipe pretty quickly with the net and they would dodge at the absolute last second. The first dragonfly I caught (not pictured) was a Unicorn Clubtail - a bug I had a hard time identifying from Lilypad Clubtail, so I went by the range maps. On that netting, I also caught a damselfly by accident! It turned out to be a Skimming Bluet - very tiny (sorry, also not pictured). I was pretty satisfied with my first netting and was excited about what I could find next. I walked the path around the pond and a pretty sizable dragonfly crossed in front of me and landed on a leaf. I quickly swept it up and identified it as my first Arrowhead Spiketail (pic below).

Arrowhead Spiketail

I let that guy go and moved on to the next catches. I was finding it difficult to catch the ones that were just slightly out of reach over the pond. Also, the damselflies were difficult to catch because they stayed extremely low to the water. I'd get a net full of muck if I wasn't careful. I eventually started to get the groove of it. I caught a few more dragonflies including Widow Skimmer (pic below), Eastern Pondhawk (pic also below), Common Baskettail. I also caught another damselfly - Eastern Forktail. On the butterfly front, I caught a European Skipper, American Lady, Cabbage White, and Little Wood Satyr.

I'm looking forward to going out to some other areas where a larger diversity of species occurs to hone my netting skills and to continue to learn some of the more evasive species. Enjoy the pics!

Widow Skimmer (Young male I think)

Eastern Pondhawk (Female)

Copulating Eastern Pondhawks

By the way, I saw Cirque Du Soleil's Corteo show last night in NY. It was awesome! Check out a Cirque Du Soleil show if you ever get the chance. I also heard a pheasant while walking towards the circus entrance

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Trying Not to Disappoint

Today was my one day per month that I volunteer at the NJ Audubon Center at Sandy Hook. I work at the book store for 5 hours, help visitors to find good birding locations around Sandy Hook, and answer any crazy questions we get. I arrived at the center around 9:45 AM and the wind was blowing seriously hard. Being a barrier island with mostly short vegetation, the Hook gets wind either off the bay or off the Ocean and it's always about 15 mph more windy than on the mainland - and the mainland was pretty darn windy. I'd say that the wind at Sandy Hook was around 40 mph today. The wind and kite surfers were really enjoying the weather, but every bird was hunkered down looking for shelter. Gulls were blowing every which way, the Ospreys were having a tough time, and even the swallows couldn't cut through the wind. I figured with this kind of weather and due to the fact that this is a pretty low activity time of year at Sandy Hook, most birders would stay away and I wouldn't see too many visitors to the center. Boy was I wrong!

Ten minutes after I flipped the "Closed" sign to "Open", two beginning birders stepped through the door. Of course, their first question was, "Where is the best place to look for birds?" My mind was thinking, "Umm... anywhere but here!" but I couldn't disappoint these beginning birders. I wanted to do my best to promote birding and make sure they had a decent day. I gave them my best speech about how the diversity of breeding birds isn't great at Sandy Hook, but it does have interesting ones such as Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Osprey. I gave them directions to some sheltered areas and some spots that I thought for sure would have some herons or egrets.

Next a couple walked in who were also beginning birders. They had taken the ferry over from Manhattan and, of course, they had the same request. "We're looking for birds and we don't know much." I gave them a similar speech in an attempt to soften the blow that their birding might be difficult. I even tried to find some birds in the bay across from the center.

All in all, 15 visitors came by today on a day that I thought would be devoid of birders. They were all looking for the birds and I did my best not to disappoint them. This is proof that the weather can't keep the birders away. And as one patron said to me, "Well, at least it gets us outside." Amen to that.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I and the Bird #25 - I'm hosting next!

Rob from Rob's Idaho Bird Perspective is the host for this edition of I and the Bird. Rob truly has given an "Idaho Perspective" to the carnival this week. You can learn a lot about his beautiful state and a lot more from the various contributors to the carnival.

I'm the lucky host for the 26th I and the Bird. Please send me or Mike at 10,000 Birds your entries by Tuesday, June 20. My email address is pbelardo AT I hope to continue the great themes that the past hosts have used and I look forward to reading everyone's articles.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Yikes! Flying Squirrels!

Over Memorial Day weekend, Beth and I went on a hike through the Black River Wildlife Management area in search of Pink Lady's Slipper orchids, which we found and are really cool. We also found another natural treasure while we were there.

I was walking past a tree when a small creature ran up the side and around the back of the tree. Normally, I would've dismissed it as a chipmunk, but something just didn't seem right. I quickly moved around the back of the tree and the critter scurried even higher up in the tree. I thought that it might have been a flying squirrel due to its color and size, but I had never seen one in person. I called Beth over from her "wildflower watching" and we both looked for the squirrel. It appeared that the squirrel had completely disappeared! We looked carefully around the tree and could not relocate the squirrel. I had about given up when I noticed a funny looking broken branch stump on the tree. I lifted my binoculars and there it was! I said, "Hey Beth, see that stump up there. That's a flying squirrel!" Seeing that these creatures are mainly nocturnal, I think we were pretty lucky to see one! Although I've heard of people that have them nesting on their property, I haven't been so lucky. Here's a picture of the little guy/gal. It was pretty far away.

You can't see me!

I'm not sure if it was a Northern Flying Squirrel or a Southern Flying Squirrel because I believe that their ranges overlap in NJ. Either way, it was really cool to see one.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Collecting Bugs

When I was about 5 years old, my older sister Mary had to make an insect collection for a 7th grade science project. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing and her collection turned out to be one of the best in her class. As I grew up, I couldn’t wait to get into 7th grade so I could make my insect collection. Bugs and other crawly things always interested me, even though I'm terrified of spiders. I remember my dad and I once found a dead Wheel Bug behind the famous Hot Dog Johnny’s in Buttzville, NJ. This thing was incredibly cool! I kept it in a jar and who knows what happened to it since then. While my dad was fly-fishing, I would look under rocks for Caddisfly larvae and other critters. This once earned me a chomp on the finger from a Helgramite. Ouch!

1989 quickly arrived and it was finally time to make my insect collection. I know for sure that I hadn’t looked forward to a school project as much before that time, nor have I since. It was the fall of 7th grade and I was ready to go. My dad, being the handy guy he is, constructed an amazing insect net from some cheesecloth and an old fishing net. This thing was awesome. I set out with my new net and my collecting jar – an old Chinese soup container filled with a cotton ball with some unknown chemical on it. (Looking back, I think it was Turpentine.) The woods across from my house and the local schoolyard became my lab. I caught anything I could find, killed it, examined it, and identified it using my Audubon Insect Guide. Other kids in my class begged for me to help them catch insects with my superior net and I obliged. Thanks to my interest, I ended up with a collection of over 100 species and outshined all the other kids in the class. I continued collecting bugs after the project ended because I thought it was so interesting to see what new insects I could find. Eventually, video games, music, and other pre-teen things caught my attention and I stopped collecting bugs. I don’t know what ever happened to that old net, but I think my dad still has the frame that we used for it somewhere.

Nowadays, kids don’t have to make a 7th grade insect collection. The reasonable fear of Lyme disease has made it a risky endeavor. And now years later, I see the debate over collecting insects. It impacts their overall population, hurts rare insect populations, etc. I’ve become an observer through binoculars and my camera. Even though I don’t collect to kill anymore, I just received my first official insect net in the mail yesterday from Acorn Naturalists. As I assembled it, that feeling of 7th grade came back to me. I swung the assembled net around and demonstrated my netting technique to my girlfriend, who was utterly impressed I’m sure. I’m looking forward to catching those speedy and stealthy dragonflies, damselflies, and butterflies that are not easy to identify through binoculars. I’ll catch them, identify them, and release them while trying not to cause any harm to them.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Lifer for Patrick?

In Pete Dunne's book, Tales of a Low-Rent Birder, there is a story called "A Lifer for Roger" (which you can read here). It tells the story of his "Guerilla Birding Team" at the first World Series of Birding whose members included David Sibley, Bill Boyle, my friend Pete Bacinski, and the father of modern birding Roger Tory Peterson. The lifer in the title was a Fork-tailed Flycatcher that had been seen in Cape May the day before the World Series and luckily stuck around for the Big Day. It was Roger's 697th North American bird.

The breaking news came over the wire (AKA my email) last night. A Fork-tailed Flycatcher had been seen all day in Morrisville, PA right across the Delaware River from Trenton, NJ. This is a bird that lives in Mexico and South America, but for some reason wanders into the eastern US on very rare occasions. This was the first time one had ever been seen in PA. I wanted to see this bird! I googled the directions and it turned out to be an easy 1 hour drive from my house. Seeing as how I had to work in the morning, I figured I could wake up early, swing down there, and swing back to be at work by 8:00. It worked last August when I saw the Green Violet-Ear in NJ, so why wouldn't it work again?

I woke up at 4:45, showered quickly, dressed for work, grabbed my bins and I was on my way. Traffic is extremely light at 5:00 AM, so I easily found the location in 45 minutes. The viewing location was a dike along the river. I saw 4 other birders standing atop the dike, panning with their binoculars. I quickly climbed the steep steps and grabbed the attention of one birder. He told me he'd been there since 4:30 and the bird had not been seen. Fork-tailed Flycatchers are notorious for not sticking around for very long. I walked up and down the dike looking at every feathered creature that passed by me. Swallows, tons of Cowbirds and Grackles, Chimney Swifts... no flycatcher. An Eastern Kingbird buzzed overhead and fooled me for a second with his similar plumage coloration. Other birders arrived and the feeling of dread began to sweep over us. Perhaps the bird had moved... Perhaps the Cooper's Hawk I saw earlier had a bad case of "flycatcher breath"... 45 minutes quickly passed. The air was chilly and we were all feeling antsy. A few more minutes passed and the need to go to work was pulling at me. I decided to call it a day. I walked back towards the steps to the parking lot, but hesitated when I began my descent. I decided to walk a little further past the steps where no one had checked since I first arrived. I walked to the end of the line of trees along the river. All of the sudden a bird zoomed over a tree towards me and then around the back of the trees. The bird's forked tail stuck out like a sore thumb, but the bird disappeared in an instant! What else could it be??? Maybe a Blue Jay? No.... Another Kingbird? Not with a tail like that... It had to be it! The other birders were about 100 yards down the path from me. I shouted at them, but they couldn't hear me. I started flailing my arms and jumping up and down to get their attention. Finally they saw me and all started running down the dike (quite a sight to see!). They arrived and I told them what I had seen, but no proof of my bird existed. A fellow birder yelped, "I found it!" There it was, plain as day in front of us - a lifer for Patrick.

Good photo of the bird by Frank Haas of PA. It's probably an immature bird due to its shorter tail.

Crappy photo of the bird by me

Friday, June 02, 2006

Can I be the next Jeff Corwin?

If I could pick any one job, I would be a TV host like Jeff Corwin. I would have a show similar to his, but it would be focused on the birds of the world. I would give people tips on the best places to go and show them some of the best birds found in those places. I think I would make a pretty good host, although I'm known to talk too quickly. I could work on that though. It sounds like it would be a great job: travel, educating people, birding, new foods... all the things I love. Anyway, enough rambling...

I recently attended a workshop at work on how to put video on the web using Adobe Premiere. I had taken some videos with my digital camera while in Costa Rica, so I figured I could practice on those. So here are the fruits of my labor. These require Windows Media Player 9 or above to run. They are streaming so they should download quickly for anyone with a DSL/Cable connection or better. Perhaps these (very short) videos are a start to my Jeff Corwin career. Maybe I should have made some voiceovers for them in a cool host voice... hmm... that'll take a bit of practice. In any event, enjoy the videos!

Violet Sabrewing - A hunker of a Hummingbird visits a feeder. Check out the height we were at through the trees in the background.

Rancho Naturalista - Two different shots taken from the deck at RN. The first shows White-necked Jacobins. The second shows 2 Green-breasted Mangoes and 1 Green-crowned Brilliant.

La Georgina - A small roadside restaurant that had a very strange toilet, but gave you super close views of great hummingbirds. The acrobatic one is a Magnificent Hummingbird and the one looking through the window is a Fiery-throated Hummingbird - a real crowd-pleaser.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Papilio Binoculars Review

I'll admit it. My heart doesn't lie solely in the avian world. In the late spring and into the fall, my eyes are also peeled for butterflies, dragonflies, and any other creatures that might appear. My birding binoculars only have a close focus of 6 feet at best, not the ideal distance to see the details on these critters. A loop is nice for close-up views of flowers and things that don't run away at the sight of humans, but not ideal for butterflies and dragonflies. After doing some research, I came across Pentax's Papilio series of binoculars. These compact binoculars are designed specifically for butterflying - hence the name which is Latin for "butterfly". They come in two sizes: 8.5x21 and 6.5x21 (the 8.5 and 6.5 being the magnification). The Papilios are built with a special mechanism that allows you to get extremely close focus while looking through both eyes. The Pentax site lists the close focus at 1.6 feet. In my experience, I've been able to see things at around 16 inches from the exit pupil. At around 10 oz. the Papilios are also very lightweight and can easily be carried along with your regular birding binoculars or a camera or even thrown in a pocket. The 8.5's retail for about $150 and the 6.5's are around $130. With a little searching (AKA a visit to the "rainforest"), you can find them for much less.

After reading some online reviews, I decided to purchase the 6.5's due to their wider field of view - 393 feet at 1000 yards vs. 315 feet for the 8.5's. I thought this would make it easier to find bugs when at the closest focusing ranges. My experience so far has been great. I've observed many wildflowers that were off the trail in order to count their petals or get a closer look at their leaves. I've also seen stunning details on butterflies and dragonflies while trying to identify them from afar. At times I wish I had the 8.5's so I could just carry these around and not have my birding binoculars, but the weight hasn't bothered me and I think the field of view makes up for it. If you're used to the crystal clear image in your high-priced binoculars, you may not be happy with what you see through the Papilios. The image may not be as sharp, but these binoculars also don't cost as much as a down payment on a house. One more thing worth mentioning is that these are not waterproof. I look at this as a very minor inconvenience for two reasons. First, they fit in my pocket if it rains. Second, dragonflies and butterflies aren't usually out in the rain, so I wouldn't bring them out if it was raining.

If you're into bugs as much as birds and you want to get a closer look at their world, these bins may suit you well.

That tape measure reads about 15.5"