Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pigeons on birth control?

What next? Hollywood pigeons are being put on birth control to stem their population. The birth control agent will be put in rooftop feeders and will interfere with egg development. I assume only pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows feed from these feeders and no native birds would ever try to eat from them. I also assume that this agent can't be passed to a predator like say a Peregrine Falcon who dines on pigeons. Let's hope my assumptions are true.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Spoonbill Search at Forsythe

Beth and I have taking a little mini vacation this weekend. We did some day trips to some New Jersey wineries and visited some antique markets looking to be inspired for decorating our house. While visiting some of the south Jersey wineries yesterday, we had the opportunity to take a detour to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, known to NJ birders as "Brigantine" or just "Brig." A Roseate Spoonbill has been seen on and off here for the last two weeks. This is the second record for NJ, the other being a single observer. I felt like the last NJ birder to not see this bird.

Upon arriving, we immediately headed to the "Gull Tower" area where the bird had been seen most often. Another birder, who had been there for over an hour, said that the Spoonbill had not been seen in about 4 hours. I searched the area a bit seeing a Caspian Tern and some Glossy Ibis, along with many Great and Snowy Egrets. A Green Heron called overhead and a flying Least Bittern was a great find. No Spoonbill yet!

We decided to take the "wildlife drive" around the wetland impoundments which is a great experience during any season. The whole area was swarming with gulls, terns, Black Skimmers, and thousands of shorebirds. A typical scene looked something like this:

The sky was pretty overcast and many of the birds were far, but I was able to identify MANY Least and Semi-palmated Sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers, as well as some Western Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Pectoral Sandpipers, and a few Stilt Sandpipers. There were many Semi-palmated Plovers, both Yellowlegs, and Willets sprinkled in as well.

We continued around the loop where I got great photos of a Snowy Egret, but I missed a photo of a very bald Red-winged Blackbird.

On the last leg of the wildlife drive, we were following another car when suddenly something large and pink was spooked up from the marsh close to the road. It flew towards our car and landed directly next to it in a small channel between the road and the marsh. The Roseate Spoonbill was gorgeous in all of its pink-ness. It posed for moments, before it took off not to be seen by us again. I was able to get a few crappy pictures. Beth got to see her life Roseate Spoonbill and I got to see a great bird on NJ land.

The highlight for me though was a pair of young kids, no older than 12 or 13, who were in the car in front of ours. They hopped out of the car and were so amazingly excited to see the Spoonbill. They were jumping up and down, trying to catch their breath, and just saying, "Oh my gosh, it's a Roseate Spoonbill!" over and over again. It was really fun to watch and it's always great to see some young birders.

We finished up our day by driving through the lovely NJ shore traffic and having dinner at one of our favorite spots: Harold's New York Deli - home to gigantic, fantastic pastrami sandwiches.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sad News in the Art World

I was sad to hear that nature artist Charley Harper passed away on June 10. I had the pleasure to meet him and shake his hand at the Cape May Fall Weekend last year. I even bought a t-shirt with one of his prints on it. Mr. Harper is known for his unique, minimalist approach to his art. The creatures he depicts have a unique appearance and may appear strange at first, but are immediately recognizable when you look more closely. He was 84 years old.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

PBS Show about JJ Audubon

The PBS Show "American Masters" is showcasing John James Audubon this month. Check the show's web site for a nice biography of Audubon and show times.

I & The Bird and a Bug

It's a new edition of I & The Bird hosted by Liza Lee at the Egret's Nest. Also, here's a Margined Blister Beetle (Epicauta pesitfera) from my Butterfly Walk two weekends ago - I think.

Photo credit: My woman, Beth

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Barn Owl Unites Israeli, Jordanian Farmers

From AP through ENN:

July 16, 2007 — By Ben Winograd, Associated Press

SHEIK HUSSEIN VILLAGE, Jordan -- For years, Ibrahim Alayyan watched in frustration as rats devoured the date palms at his lush family farm.

Having no luck with pesticides, the retired Jordanian heart surgeon was only too eager to try a pest control agent widely used in fields just across the Jordan River in Israel -- owls.

"There used to be so many rats," Alayyan said. "But after we put in the owls, thank God, this is the first time we have had a full date harvest."

To the world, the symbol of peace may be a dove, but to farmers on either side of the Jordan, it's Tyto alba, the common barn owl.

Alayyan is one of dozens of Jordanians working in cooperation with Israeli colleagues, targeting rodents with a natural predator instead of with chemicals.

The effort still faces suspicions and superstitions, but organizers hope the message of their partial success will spread to Lebanon, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, and demonstrate the fruits of the 1994 peace treaty that ended a 46-year state of war between Israel and Jordan.

Political benefits aside, the project is driven foremost by environmental concerns.

In the late 1970s, chemicals killed hundreds of birds in northern Israel, said Yossi Leshem, an Israeli ornithologist and director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration.

So Leshem persuaded Sde Eliyahu, a kibbutz south of the Sea of Galilee, to try owls, which can eat up to 10 rodents a day. All the farmers needed was to build boxes where the birds could mate and raise their young.

"I put up 14 barn owl boxes, and everybody laughed at me," said Shauli Aviel, who oversees the effort at the collective farm.

A few years later, Sde Eliyahu's rat problem had vanished, he said. More than 60 nesting boxes now sit on the grounds of the kibbutz, and the technique has caught on with other farmers along the Jordan.

Yet as the owl population grew, the birds increasingly began flying -- and looking to nest -- across the nearby border with Jordan, where pesticide use remains rampant. Chemicals seeped into the water table, and owls were poisoned by eating contaminated rodents.

Then came the peace treaty, Israelis and Jordanians got used to being good neighbors, and in late 2002 Aviel and fellow Israeli farmers planned a regional conference on barn owls to explain their advantages to colleagues across the Jordan River.

The response was discouraging. Many Arabs consider owls the same way others view black cats -- as bad luck. Word came back to the Israelis that no Jordanians would attend.

So the organizers changed the title of the conference to focus on organic farming, and two dozen Jordanians turned up. Midway through the gathering they were given a demonstration on owls, and soon Jordanian farmers were asking how they could attract owls to their fields, Aviel said.

With funding from the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Ohio, the kibbutz gave the Jordanians advice and building materials. More than three dozen nesting boxes have since been put up in Jordan, organizers said.

Among the most eager participants was Alayyan, a former chief of cardiovascular surgery at a Jordanian hospital. He agreed to build a nesting box at his family's farm in the village of Sheik Hussein, six miles from Aviel's kibbutz.

"For me, it was a real pleasure to find a man like that on the other side of the border," said Aviel, as he and Alayyan surveyed a group of newborn owl nestlings. Unable to communicate in their own languages, the two men spoke to each other in English, but when it came to nature and conservation, "He spoke in my language," Aviel said.

The project also has gotten support from political and former military leaders in both countries, including Mansour Abu Rashed, the former head of Jordanian intelligence.

Rashed, who heads the Amman Center for Peace and Development, said organizers are "under no illusions" the owl project will ease Mideast tensions; the goal is simply "to bring people together, to let them talk and build confidence."

But obstacles remain. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Israeli farmers delayed the initial delivery of building materials to Jordan for the owl boxes because of the tense atmosphere. Arabic posters promoting the benefits of barn owls make no mention of Israel.

Some Israeli organizers have expressed frustration at the pace of progress in Jordan. And last month, some nesting boxes on Jordanian farms were stolen or vandalized. Although it was unclear whether the vandalism was driven by owl-phobia or by Israel's involvement, it upset Leshem, the Israeli ornithologist.

"We are wasting our money and time, coming and putting boxes -- and then, suddenly, they are destroyed," he said after a recent meeting with the Jordanians.

"It's a new project in our area," explained Abu Rashed, the retired general. "Nobody knows what's inside" the boxes.

Organizers also say the project has gained little traction among Palestinians, because of security restrictions that make it hard for them and Israelis to travel to each other's territory for meetings.

Still, even when tensions run high, the environment is one of the few areas where Israelis and Arabs cooperate. The owl conference went ahead at a time when the Palestinian uprising against Israel was at its peak, and during that uprising, Israeli and Palestinian officials maintained contacts on issues such as water quality and waste removal.

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in southern Israel trains Jewish and Arab students, including Jordanians and Palestinians, in solving ecological problems.

Friends of the Earth-Middle East, an organization of Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists, leads joint efforts to clean up the Jordan River and promote eco-tourism packages on both sides of the border.

"We're doing something our governments are not able to do," says Mira Edelstein, an organization spokeswoman. "If people know how to highlight the environmental benefits that can come out of this type of cooperation, then it's not political anymore."

Source: Associated Press

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Clean-up at the Great Swamp & a Challenge

Yesterday, I assisted the Friends of the Great Swamp with a clean-up event at this phenomenal National Wildlife Refuge. The Great Swamp, located in Morris County, NJ, is where I "cut my teeth" as a birder. I birded here many times as a kid with my family on our "hawk finding" trips where I remember seeing Kestrels, Red-tails, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. This was also the first place I came after graduating college when I picked up a pair of old binoculars and said to myself, "I'm going to go look at birds."

This was my first time participating in this type of clean-up. We were tasked with pruning some trees that were blocking the view from a lookout and also removing invasive species in several areas. There was a great turnout of about 15 people and I was impressed with the organization and dedication of the "Friends" group.

I picked up my pair of loppers and began cutting and chopping all of the invasive plants I could find in my area. It was mostly Multiflora Rose, Russian Olive, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Japanese Barberry. I got plenty of thorns in my hands and a good forearm workout from using the loppers. We cleaned out our area pretty well and it looked great. My complaint is that many of these plants are going to grow back. Simply cutting back plants like Multiflora Rose and Russian Olive is useless. They must be burned or an herbicide needs to be applied to get rid of them. It sounds like some of the refuge's interns are planning to come back this week and do just that.

I challenge each of you to join a local wildlife area cleanup. You'll meet some nice, like-minded people and help out a good cause.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Goose Whisperer?

I guess I truly haven't seen it all. Here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Birding-related Podcasts

I used to always be on top of new technologies, but these days I always feel a step behind. Although I've had an iPod for 2 years, I've only recently started listening to podcasts. There are many birding-related podcasts which might interest you:

Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds - A 30-minute Sunday morning radio broadcast out of Massachusetts, Ray discusses feeding, finding, and identifying birds. He also has a weekly "featured feathered friend" which is a description of a bird along with interesting facts. Finally, he has a "mystery bird" contest each week with a prize that usually consists of Droll Yankee feeders. You can obviously only win the prize if you listen to the live show. There are over 100 episodes of this show for your listening pleasure. Some more advanced birders might find this show more geared towards beginners.

This Birding Life (Birdwatcher's Digest) - Hosted by the beloved and hilarious Bill Thompson III, this program covers a wide range of topics. Although it only has 9 episodes so far, Bill has discussed birding technology, he's interviewed Kenn Kaufman and Scott Weidensaul, has had live book readings by their authors, and has even had a show live from Tikal. My only complaint is that there are not shows more often. Show lengths are varied.

BEEKS (A Birding Geek's Radio Delight) - Hosted in Vermont, BEEKS is an eclectic and fun show discussing local birds, interviewing people from the birding community, and featuring some fun games for listeners. I haven't listened to this one as much as the two above, but it's a lot of fun. Show times are a bit longer than the others - close to an hour.

BirdNote - Short two-minute snippets on birds updated almost daily. I like this one for it's brevity and the amount you can learn in just two minutes.

On the Wing - I haven't personally listened to this one yet, but it seems pretty popular. This is the "audio magazine for birds and birding." It's updated monthly with several segments at a time. Each month totals about 30 minutes.

I'm sure there are other bird-related podcasts and probably a plethora of other nature-related ones. You don't necessarily need an iPod to listen to them. iTunes makes it easy to download and listen to them right on your PC. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Results of Saturday's Butterfly/Dragonfly Walk

This past Saturday I led my now-annual "Beginner's Butterfly & Dragonfly Walk" for NJ Audubon. The trip visited Willowwood Arboretum and Fairview Farm, both in the Bedminster area. The trip started a little earlier than I would have liked. NJAS booked it for 8:30 and it was too late to change it by the time I realized it. Anyway... the cool morning made me worried that we wouldn't see much, but a bright sun helped the bugs warm up and come alive.

We had 7 participants, all of whom were relatively new to this pastime. After some introductions to lepidopterans and odonates, we began our trip along the meadow at Willowwood. I pointed out many wildflowers and commented on which were caterpilar host plants, invasive plants, or good nectar plants (or a combination of these). We encountered Joe-Pye Weed (good for nectar), Bird's-foot Trefoil (invasive), and Milkweed (good for nectar and a host plant). Our first butterfly was a Red Admiral followed quickly by a Great-spangled Fritillary.

This Great-spangled Fritillary has a chunk taken out of it, probably by a bird

We then visited the large flower garden that was being set up for a wedding later in the day. Unfortunately, the beautiful flowers there were only being visited by bees and wasps. We left the garden and continued on a trail into the wooded areas of the arboretum. The group admired the interesting trees such as Japanese Cedar and NJ's largest Dawn Redwood. A patch of Echinacea (Coneflower) held the star of the day - a gorgeous, fresh-looking American Lady who posed for many pictures.

This can be separated from Painted Lady by the two large eyespots on the hindwing vs. 4 smaller eyespots on Painted Lady

Further along the trail business started to pick up. We encountered several Silver-spotted Skippers nectaring and fighting with each other.

Silver-spotted Skipper

After seeing both species of Hummingbird moths in NJ (Snowberry Clearwing and Hummingbird Clearwing), I decided to take the group to the nearby Fairview Farm, part of the Upper Raritan Watershed Association. There is a nice pond and a great butterfly garden there as well as many wooded trails. Plus, I wanted to get out of there before the wedding began!

Fairview Farm was gorgeous as always. The pond held many species of dragonfly and I started calling out names: Widow Skimmer, Eastern Amberwing, Common Whitetail, Eastern Pondhawk, and Blue Dasher.

Widow Skimmer

I tried fruitlessly to net some of them but they possessed amazing evasion skills. The group moved around the pond and I was finally able to net a few dragonflies after many embarassing tries. The group got close-up views of Blue Dasher, Widow Skimmer, and a lovely Halloween Pennant. Several participants commented on how neat it is to see them breathe through their abdomens.

Male Halloween Pennant with sperm packets under the thorax

We ended the day at the butterfly garden where we were treated with visits by several Tiger Swallowtails, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a nice old black lab who slobbered on Beth. A few of those dastardly grass skippers made an appearance to bewilder the participants. I always like to compare skippers with gulls or shorebirds in birding. I tell the beginners to just learn the common butterflies first and then work on the skippers. We saw Dun Skipper, European Skipper, and Least Skipper for those keeping track. We said our goodbyes while a Brown Thrasher took a dirt bath. Thanks to all of those who participated in the walk! As always, thanks to Beth for taking awesome pictures!

Spoonbill in NJ

In case you haven't heard, there is a Roseate Spoonbill currently being seen at the Forsythe Refuge in Brigantine, NJ (great photos here). I have not gone to see it myself, although it would make a spectacular addition to my NJ list. I believe this is only the second sighting ever in NJ and the first was by a single observer. If it sticks around until Sunday, I may make a run down there. It's a great place to bird this time of year, despite the greenheads.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Haikus for the National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation recently held a nature haiku contest. The winners have been revealed. Here's my favorite:

Duck billed, fur lined enigma.
What the @#%& are you?
-Claire Rush, Conowingo, MD

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pollination Stamps & IATB

How cool are these new $.41 pollination-themed stamps? Thanks to my sis for finding these. They show a hummingbird, moth, bumblebee, and a bat pollinating various plants. A salute to the sometimes forgotten pollinators!

Also, after you buy some stamps, you'd be crazy not to go check out the 2nd Anniversary of I & The Bird hosted by its creator and all-around-cool-guy, Mike from 10000birds.com. Thanks to Mike for starting this whole train rolling.

I Love New York! (Western Reef-heron)

As the great Chico Escuela might say, "New York been berra, berra good to me."

I have made 6 birding trips to New York locations this year and I've come away with 5 life birds. Not too shabby! On the flip side, I have gotten ZERO lifers in New Jersey. The most recent NY life bird came this morning on a trip to the now-famous Calvert Vaux Park where a Western Reef-Heron has been seen on and off since Sunday. Beth and I missed it yesterday, but upon hearing about its return, we immediately headed there for a great look at this very rare vagrant bird.

The other life birds I have gotten in New York in 2007:

February 26 - Ivory Gull
June 8 - Henslow's Sparrow
June 9 - Bicknell's Thrush
July 10 - Monk Parakeet

The one trip where I didn't get a lifer was when I tried to see the almost-mythical Smith's Longspur at Jones Beach which basically everyone except Corey and me saw.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


A Western Reef-heron, a rare vagrant from Africa and the Middle East, was found in Brooklyn near Coney Island on Sunday. Interestingly, one had been seen in NJ several days before, but was only a "one-day-wonder." The location is only a short jump over the Verrazano Bridge and about 45 minutes from me. New York has been very kind to me this year. I've had 3 life birds there. What a nice 500th ABA bird this would make!

Monday came and many birders got to add this bird to their life lists (those who hadn't seen the one in New Hampshire last year). I felt guilty about leaving work, so I decided that I would wait until Tuesday morning to look for the bird prior to going to work. With eager anticipation, I crawled quietly out of bed at 5:30 while Beth slept. I donned some zip-off pants and laced up my boots when Beth popped out of the bedroom, fully dressed, and with a smile said, "Can I come?" She wanted to be with me when I got my 500th ABA bird. I'm a lucky guy!

We stepped into the muggy morning, hopped in the car, and headed east. Traffic wasn't too bad and we easily found the Home Depot parking lot where birders had already congregated. We trekked down a narrow path through some trees and mugwort, snuck through a homeless person's camp (luckily no one was home), and were greeted with a mucky, polluted cove. I scrambled down the slippery rocks while Beth stayed a little higher up with the scope. Despite the pollution, this cove held lots of birds – Black-crowned Night-herons, a Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Common and Least Terns, a Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, and even a fly-by Black Skimmer.

I scanned the shoreline looking for the Reef-heron. Nothing. The tide was going out and mudflats were beginning to expose themselves. The Night-herons were feasting and "KWOK"-ing at each other. Time passed and more birders appeared all along the shoreline. No Reef-heron yet! A loud squawking rang out from some trees across the shore from us. It took me a second to make the connection, but I realized that it was the sound of parakeets. I scanned with my binoculars and saw a pair of Monk Parakeets circle around and land in some trees. Thoughts circled through my brain… "Wait a second… I've never actually seen Monk Parakeets… I knew they were in NY, but are they countable on my ABA list? Why hadn't I come to NY before to see these?" I said to Beth, "If those parakeets are countable, I think I just saw my 500th ABA bird."

Shortly after seeing my 500th bird

Unfortunately, the Western Reef-heron never showed and I had to get to work. When I got home, I immediately emailed my NY birder buddies – Corey and Mike. These two gents confirmed that I had just added an introduced species as my 500th ABA life bird. Wow. I had really hoped my 500th bird would be something more exciting. Some people would say, "It's your life list, do what you want." But I like to follow the rules of the ABA, so I am officially counting Monk Parakeet as #500!

By the way, for you non-tri-state-area people, tolls for a trip to Brooklyn from NJ (45-min. one-way) are $17.70!!! Damn bridge tolls.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Party Crashing NJ Nesting Birds

Partiers and boaters down near Cape May have been using Champagne Island, home to nesting Royal Terns, Piping Plovers, and the largest Black Skimmer colony in NJ, as their personal bar and private beach.

Story here

Eyewitnesses have seen kids literally throwing Skimmer eggs into the water. NJ Audubon is stepping in. Here's a response from them:

We (NJAS/CMBO) have been in contact with state officials about Champagne Island. The situation is a muddy one because of uncertain ownership and jurisdiction. The island is geographically within three different municipalities at the moment, but may be partially or wholly within the jurisdiction of the state Tidelands Commission. The island is ephemeral, moves around Hereford Inlet with storms, and some years doesn’t even exist. The only certain enforcement authority with respect to the tern and skimmer colony at present lies with DEP’s Bureau of Law Enforcement Conservation Officers, who are able to write warnings or tickets only if visitors to the island take or attempt to take endangered or threatened species, as per the state endangered species statute. It is not illegal to land on the island. I spoke to the state Bureau of Law Enforcement today, and they are aware of the situation. Officers have been to the island and I was told they will continue to do what they can to protect the colony.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Butterflies & Dragonflies at Fairview Farm

Beth and I took a trip to the butterfly garden at Fairview Farm yesterday to scout for a "Beginner's Butterflies and Dragonflies" trip I'm leading there this weekend. Here are some pics that Beth took.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae) love is in the air. The one on the bottom is a more yellow variation of this common critter.

A Northern Broken-dash (Wallengrenia egeremet) on some Purple Coneflower.

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) hanging out on parsley

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) - a small, common dragonfly of ponds and streams

White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Chicory Coffee

I can't remember when I first read that the roots of Chicory (Cichorium intybus), a common roadside alien plant, make a decent coffee substitute. I remember being intrigued and planning to try it. Years went by and I never bothered. This Christmas I got an awesome coffee grinder and French press from my sister. The wheels were set in motion.

Chicory is pretty abundant right now, but Beth and I weren't able to find a spot that was easily accessible (AKA not in the middle of a main road) to pick some. Lucky for me, Beth brought me home a gift yesterday – a big bunch of Chicory!

I cut the roots off and composted the remains (although we could have eaten the leaves I guess). I cleaned the roots with a scrub brush and lots of water, then cut them into small pieces. I had read that I should roast them at 250 degrees for 2 hours. I laid them on a cookie sheet and popped them in the oven. After an hour, the root chunks had reduced to about half the size and looked like little twigs. There was also a distinct nutty aroma in the kitchen. The "twigs" looked pretty dry to me, so I took them out.

I let them cool, then ground them up into what looked like sawdust. I decided to make a brew of half coffee (shade-grown of course!) and half chicory. Beth had read that pure chicory coffee is very bitter. After tasting the concoction, I couldn't really discern any distinct flavor, but I did notice that the coffee tasted less bitter normal. Beth quickly quipped, "Well, that's probably because you used half as much." Good point.

So, I feel like I still don't know what chicory tastes like. Perhaps I didn't roast it long enough to bring out its flavor or perhaps mixing it with coffee was the wrong approach. I have a little of the chicory left so maybe I'll try a pure chicory coffee tonight.

In retrospect, I should have taken some pictures of this effort. Sorry readers! For an excellent history of chicory and chicory coffee, check out Coffeeproject.com.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A little housekeeping

I needed to do a little housekeeping on the blog. I wanted to switch over to the Beta format so here it is. I've gone with the popular "minima" template with some slight modifications. As I figure out all of these tags, I'll make it more customized. Now I can finally put those post labels to good use.

Eight Random Facts Meme

I stole this from Bill Schmoker:

Here are the rules for Eight Random Facts:

  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

I bet you didn't know this... or maybe you did:

1) I have a black belt in American Isshinryu Karate, trained by the amazing Ernie Temple. I'm on a bit of a hiatus now though.

2) In high school I played the tuba and marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland.

3) During college, I ate 67 buffalo wings in a single sitting at the amazing Pic-a-lilli in Shamong, NJ. The trick is not to drink any soda.

4) A few years ago I had several bonsai trees and attended several classes on how to do bonsai. Unfortunately, the trees died, but I still have quite a bonsai book collection and a brain full of bonsai knowledge. I'll pick it up again soon.

5) Beth and I own a piano, but neither of us play it very well.

6) I love to cook and am semi-obsessed with the Food Network.

7) I once had a mullet and thought I was cool. Now I'm bald. I think that's karma.

8) I have a severe nail biting habit. I've tried to stop many times, but it's tough.

OK, now who shall I tag?


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 3: East Brunswick Butterfly Park

Beth and I visited the nearby East Brunswick Butterfly Park yesterday. This place is a real treat to have locally. The variety of plants is spectacular and they attract lots of nice butterflies and other interesting insects. Beth took some excellent pictures, as usual!

The sign at the entrance to the park

Daisy with a bee on it

A large patch of White Lizard's Tail (I think) attracted the most action.

I *think* this is a Crossline Skipper - any takers?

Red Admiral

Silver-spotted Skipper

Other butterflies we saw included Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Monarch, Eastern Tailed Blue, Summer Azure, and tons of Cabbage Whites.

Red Milkweed Beetle - Tetraopes tetraophthalmus

I think the action is just beginning to pick up there. We're looking forward to going back later in the summer.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Review: The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide

Costa Rica is an extremely popular destination for birders in the tropics, so it's surprising that the only good field guide that's been available was published in 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch is a classic, but unfortunately a lot has changed in Costa Rican birding in the last 18 years. There have been splits, range expansions, and name changes galore making Stiles and Skutch (S&S) difficult to use without a bunch of handwritten notes.

Finally, a new field guide dedicated to Costa Rica was published in May - The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean. Garrigues and Dean (G&D) are two of Costa Rica's top birders and they've really come through with a book "for birders, by birders."

The first thing I noticed about the book was its size and portability. It's compact and about the size of the National Geographic North America guide. This is a big change from S&S which is a very large book due to its inclusion of natural history information (habits and nesting) for each bird. On my two trips to Costa Rica, the size of S&S was always a pain because it was usually packed away in someone's backpack. On the flip side, G&D is extremely portable, but lacks the natural history information on each bird so you may want to keep your S&S around.

The book is organized like most traditional field guides. There is a brief introduction on how to use the book and then it jumps right into the birds. Each section starts with a short paragraph describing the family. Each bird is illustrated in fantastic detail in all of its adult plumages. Each entry is accompanied by a description of the bird with key field marks in bold. Range information, a description of the vocalizations, and a notation if the bird is endemic are also included. The biggest leap from S&S is the inclusion of a range map next to each entry. These can be compared to a detailed map of Costa Rica in the front cover.

One thing that confused me at first was the scale of the drawings on each page. Each drawing is to scale with the other drawings on the page, but some pages include one or more drawings that are of a different scale. These drawings are separated from the others by a black line. This took some getting used to. Also, you have to keep this scale in mind because one page of Empidonax flycatchers may have 6 large drawings and the next will have 12 small drawings even though the birds are the same size in life.

The back of the book includes a helpful glossary of terms, an extremely informative summary of taxonomic changes from S&S, a complete list of Costa Rican birds including a few not illustrated in the book, an index, and 2 plates of raptor flight illustrations. The list of Costa Rican birds could have been left out and saved 7-8 pages or it could have been used as a checklist instead. Also, I don't know why the raptor flight plates were included here and not in the raptor section. I guess it makes a nice quick reference, but it just seemed strange.

Overall, this book easily replaces Stiles and Skutch in the field. If you already own S&S, you will want to use this as a reference for natural history information, but you can leave it home when venturing out into the rainforest. I salute Garrigues and Dean for their hard work on what is surely a labor of love. I'm excited to go back to Costa Rica someday to really use the book in the field.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Endangered Regal Fritillary

While driving back to NJ from our "guys' baseball weekend" in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, we passed by the exit to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. The huge green exit sign sparked something in my memory... why did I know this place? Ahh yes... Fort Indian Town Gap is home to the only viable colony of the Regal Fritillary butterfly in the eastern US. Specifically, it lives on the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center.

The range of the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia) originally stretched from Maine to Montana and south to Oklahoma and North Carolina. Because the caterpillars utilize the prairie species of violets, this species was never found outside tallgrass prairie. Over the last 50 years, the species has sharply declined in the east and has lost 30% of its range due to many possible factors. Suburban sprawl and the conversion of prairies to farmland has led to severe habitat loss. Use of herbicides and pesticides could also affect populations. These butterflies also have a rather haphazard method for laying eggs. Instead of laying their eggs directly on the host plants, like most butterflies do, they lay their eggs randomly throughout their grassland habitat. To make up for this approach, they lay about 2,400 eggs - more than most other butterflies. Combining habitat loss and limited host plants, their egg-laying strategy could be causing additional population declines.

In the right habitat, Regal Fritillaries can be seen flying all summer. They lay eggs during late summer and those eggs overwinter and hatch the following summer. If you're interested in seeing this species in the east, tours are available at Fort Indiantown Gap during the month of July.

Is it too late for this species in the east? Their one remaining population is hanging on and there are re-introduction programs underway in New England and some mid-Atlantic states. Only time will tell if this beautiful species can regain its historic status.

Source: Great Plains Nature Center
Picture: The Nature Conservancy