Sunday, August 26, 2007

Off to Maine

Beth and I are off to Maine for a week - Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, Camden, and then Bar Harbor. See you all soon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Green Violet-ear Memories

Exactly two years ago today, I had the pleasure of seeing a Green Violet-ear in NJ. I was reminded of this momentus sighting because I just read about one that was seen a few days ago near Bar Harbor in Maine. A few months ago, I wrote a letter to Wildbird for their Lister's Forum about the NJ Green Violet-ear. Here's what I wrote:

I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present. On August 23, 2005, after celebrating my birthday with a nice Chinese dinner, I came home, settled down on the couch, and checked my email. My last birthday present for the day was a message from the rare bird alert that a Green Violet-ear had been spotted at a homeowner's feeder in Locust, New Jersey less than an hour from my house. This is a rare bird near the Mexican border and is completely unheard of in New Jersey. In fact, this was a first record for the northeast. Not being one to look serendipity in the face, I planned to wake up insanely early, drive down to see the bird at first light, and then go to work. I crossed my fingers and prayed it would still be there come morning.

I awoke in the darkness, dressed quickly, and headed off into the pre-dawn morning with that feeling of anticipation that comes with chasing a rare life bird. Of course, I wasn't the first to arrive at the scene. Scores of NJ birders were already there and the Green Violet-ear was too! I got amazing scope views of the bird feeding and then perching on a branch just above the feeder. My few minutes with the bird were wonderful, but less than I wanted. Unfortunately, work has a habit of getting in the way of birding. I consider myself lucky to have seen this bird. After 7:00 AM, it was never seen again.

Special thanks to Scott Elowitz for sending me that pic of the actual bird. Check out his great photos when you get a chance.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google Sky

Taking a queue from the amazing Starry Night software package, Google introduced Google Sky today. Google Sky is part of the latest edition of Google Earth and allows you to see stars, planets, constellation diagrams, satellites, and all sorts of other astronomy-related information right on your computer screen. Best of all, it's free! While not as graphically appealling or as robust as Starry Night, it's a great first crack at it by Google. This is a wonderful resource for introducing people to astronomy and for teachers to use. I'm sure that Google will continue to expand on it and make it an even more impressive resource.

Squirrel stuck in our feeder!

Beth called me at work this morning to let me know that a squirrel had poked its head through the hole in the outside cage of our "SQUIRREL-PROOF" feeder and was eating seed. The center seed tube of the feeder somehow became dislodged from the base recently and is swinging freely inside the cage. The squirrel managed to get at the seed this way. Fast forward a few hours... Beth calls again and tells me that the squirrel is now stuck in the feeder! I made plans to come home, grab my wire cutters, and cut the cage to get the squirrel's head out. What I didn't understand was that the WHOLE SQUIRREL was trapped inside our cage. Video footage below:

Lucky for us, the little devil managed to find his way out on his own. I have no clue how!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rio Grande Border Wall

Many birders make it a point to travel to the Rio Grande Valley at some point in their life to experience the many specialties of that area. I traveled there in 2005 and I can't wait to go back. As many of you know, there are plans to put up a wall along the US/Mexico border along the Rio Grande River. There are many impacts to the local wildlife such as reduced access to drinking water and habitat loss. There are several web sites dedicated to opposing this wall such as Border Ambassadors and No Texas Border Wall. These sites have lots of information about the wall, petitions to sign, discussion groups, and news. I don't want to start a discussion about the wall itself since there are good points to both sides of this. As a reader, you can make your own decisions by using these web sites and the many others out there.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Birding Meme!

David tagged me with this meme. I'm a sucker for a meme.

1. What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?
I've only been feeding birds here in "condo-land" for a year or so. We get mostly the usual yard birds, but I did have a Swainson's Thrush singing outside our window this spring.

2. If you compose lists of bird species seen, what is your favorite list and why?
I keep an overall world list and an ABA list. I like them both equally, but I'd say that right now I'm a little more into my ABA list since I just hit 500 ABA birds.

3. What sparked your interest in birds?
Our family took trips to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge when I was a kid thanks to my dad's interest in birds. We would search for red-tails, kestrels, and other birds. I distinctly remember seeing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Red-headed Woodpecker too. We also frequently visited the Raptor Trust to see the hawks, eagles, and owls there. I lost interest until a chance encounter with a raptor catching some prey about 20 feet away from me while in college. That moment stuck with me. After graduating and watching some feeder birds in my parents' yard, I decided to go out with my binoculars back to the Great Swamp. I met some people from NJ Audubon and my life was changed!

4. If you could only bird in one place for the rest of your life where would it be and why?
I would have no problem birding at Sandy Hook for the rest of my life. It has great habitat, a huge amount of species, interesting breeding birds, it's a migration trap, and there's a lot of property to explore. You also never know what is going to turn up. The place is beautiful and also has many butterflies, dragonflies, and wildflowers to keep me interested.

5. Do you have a jinx bird? What is it and why is it jinxed?
Cape May Warbler - Granted, I've never made an effort to seek one out on its breeding territory, but I've tried to see them so many times in migration and failed. Last year, there were 4 seen in one day at Garret Mountain. I went the next morning and didn't see one. That's been the story with them. I know they're not regularly seen in Cape May, but the fact that "Cape May" is in the name of the bird hurts a little too as a NJ birder.

6. Who is your favorite birder? and why?
Not sure I get this question, do they mean someone famous? If so, Roger Tory Peterson by far. He was a phenomenal field birder, an artist, a writer, an innovator, a conservationist, a world traveller, and a photographer. That's the total package right there. I wish I had discovered birding earlier so I could have met him.

7. Do you tell non-birders you are a birder?
Good question. I went through a period where I didn't tell anyone about it because I thought it might be seen as "dorky." I pretty much tell anyone nowadays when it comes up. Most people find it interesting and ask lots of questions. I do have two college friends who I don't see too often, but think wouldn't understand and it's not worth dealing with them about it.

Tag time: I've tagged the 10,000 Birds crew enough so I'll go with John, John, and Paul.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bird song ring tones

Today, I did something I rarely do. I clicked on an ad on a web site, specifically, a link to Conservation Calling from 10,000 Birds. Conservation Calling sells ringtones, wallpaper, and games for cell phones. Ten percent of their profits goes to American Forests and their Global ReLeaf campaign. All of their products have a wildlife or outdoor theme. They have a whole series of bird songs as ring tones for $2.99 and I couldn't resist downloading one. The selection isn't huge, but there are some good ones. Since they didn't have Winter Wren, I settled on Eastern Screech-owl. I figure it'll serve two purposes - it's a cool ring tone and I can use it to make songbirds mob my cell phone. I'm looking forward to the time when I'm walking down the street, Beth calls, and a Mockingbird pecks me in the head.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bird Wine Bottle Labels

Beth and I love wine. She likes most types of wine and I'm partial to the semi-dry and sweeter wines. We love to visit wineries and share wine with friends. One thing we like to do is to find bottles that have pictures of birds on them. Over the years we've found a bunch of them. I've taken pictures of them and have posted 18 different labels on Flickr for your enjoyment.

View all labels

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Observations on Non-birders

All of us in the birding world have had our encounters with non-birders. Typically, when someone discovers that you're a birder, it may take some explanation for them to understand that we don't just stand in one spot and stare at birds. I frequently get the comment, "So you look at the bird... and then what?" Those comments are understandable. Let's admit it... from the outside, birding can seem pretty strange.

One observation that bothers me a bit is when I talk to someone about the number of species I've seen in a given day/year/life. For example, a co-worker approached me yesterday and was asking about the World Series of Birding. He had heard about it on the radio back in May. I explained to him what it was and I told him that our team had seen 126 species that day. He was amazed that there were 126 species of birds in the US, let alone NJ. I then explained that the total for the World Series that day was over 230 species. This blew him away. I've had similar conversations with many people. These conversations bother me because it highlights the fact that many people don't understand or appreciate the breadth and diversity of wildlife. They think there are a few types of birds, a few types of butterflies, and a few types of trees. I think this lack of understanding can impact their view of the environment as a whole. Perhaps the people who don't care that they disturb a Piping Plover don't understand that it's just not "another bird" or that by cutting down a White Cedar tree that they are impacting organisms that specialize on that species. What observations have you made about others' views of birding and the environment?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Star Wars vs. The Birds

Someone has figured out how to use lasers to disrupt birds' navigational systems in order to keep them out of blueberry and other crop fields. This is a potential replacement of the awful propane cannons that are used today.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I & The Bird #55

The stupendous team at Birdfreak, who always have bird conservation on their mind, are the hosts of the 55th edition of I & The Bird. Come one, come all, and learn a great deal about the world of birding as told by some amazing bloggers. After reading, be sure to sign up on the One Million Birder Project.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

eBird and Google

Let me start by saying that I LOVE my Google home page. It includes my Google Reader, news articles, weather, The Onion, a "to do" list, and a plethora of other things that I can choose from. Now, eBird is using Google's technology to create the eBird Rare Bird Google Gadget. Simply put, you can see an up-to-date list of rare birds seen in your area and link directly to a map of the location. The catch is that the bird has to be reported in eBird. As soon as someone reports it, it will display in the gadget. I'm as guilty as the next guy for not using eBird, but it is a great way to track your own sightings and to add to the global knowledge-base of bird population trends. I intend to start using it. So, if you use Google (and you should), be sure to check out this new, very cool gadget. Also, if you like this gadget or eBird, please promote it on your own blog.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I'm getting married!

Beth and I are officially engaged! We're planning an outdoor wedding for either spring or fall of 2008. We'll keep you posted! You can keep an eye on Beth's blog for info on how we're going to "green" our wedding. So how did I do it?

Beth and I are huge SCRABBLE fans, so I rigged my rack to have the letters "MARRYME" and played it when it was my turn. Beth had played "SACK" on her turn. I was trying to find the letters yesterday while Beth was showering, but I couldn't find the second M and had to use a blank tile. She was really surprised and it took her a second to realize what it said. She was in her "competitive" mode. I got down and one knee and did all of the standard proposal stuff and she said "Yes!"

The happy couple!

The obligatory ring shot

Friday, August 03, 2007

Birds and Weather

As any beginning birder will soon discover, birding and weather tend to go hand in hand. This is especially true during migration when the presence or absence of a front can push birds into your area or keep them away. It's not to say that on a rainy day you can't see tons of birds or if you don't have northwest winds you won't see any hawks during fall migration. It's just that you can use the weather to increase your odds of seeing more birds by knowing when and where to go. I don't claim to be an expert on birds and weather and a lot of this is still gobbledygook to me. To help us out, reknowned birder, Paul Lehman, has created A Weather Primer for Birders. Some of this was published in Birding a few years ago so it may be familiar to some readers. It's a great start to learning about the weather that affects birds' lives. Enjoy and take some time to browse the Cape May Bird Observatory's new web site while you're there.

Clear Your Calendars! Blogger Conference!

So what are you doing the last weekend of October? Well, I hope to heck that you're coming to the first Birder Blogger Conference at the Fall Cape May Weekend. Thank to Birdchick for doing the legwork to gather the troops and make some arrangements with the folks in Cape May to get us some discounts. You can head over to her blog to learn all about the details of this conference. Beth and I will be there on at least Friday and Saturday. On Sunday I have a field trip to lead in north Jersey, but I'm going to try to move it.

If you haven't been to Cape May or the Cape May Fall Weekend, you're really missing out. It's an opportunity to do some wonderful birding, meet lots of cool people, and there's even a lot of non-birding stuff to do (for non-birding spouses/significant others). THE Bird Show, as they call it, is a great way to learn about the birding industry and to get some free stuff too! I'm psyched!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I love those Birds of Paradise!

Any one who has read my blog knows that I absolutely love the Birds of Paradise of New Guinea (who doesn't?). National Geographic's July issue has a great article on these unique birds which can be read online at their web site. There were some really cool pictures in the magazine which can be seen on their web site too. The article also features researcher Edwin Scholes of the NY Museum of Natural History who has a web site about his research. The site includes videos of the mating displays of a few species and audio.