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.