Sunday, September 30, 2007

Life in the Undergrowth

Thanks to Netflix, I've been enjoying David Attenborough's Life in the Undergrowth DVD series. I'm only on the first of two discs, but I must say, this series is a must-see for anyone interested in nature. As a reader of my blog, you may know that I'm a HUGE David Attenborough fan. His writing, narration, and charismatic character make him a real pleasure to watch and listen to. This series delivers the same quality as other Attenborough programs like The Life of Mammals and The Life of Birds. Although I've only seen the first 3 installments of the 5-part series, I've been amazed by the exceptional close-up photography of the insects and other invertebrates. Where else can you see millimeter-long Springtails magnified 100's of times and slowed down to show their unique method of locomotion? As with the other "Life of" series, this show highlights unique characteristics of the subjects, such as a spider who catches its prey by swinging a droplet of silk, and extraordinary events such as the emergence of the 17-year cicadas. If you can get your hands on this series, I'm sure you'll love it. Here's a clip of the emergence of millions of giant mayflies in Europe:

I was also thrilled to see that David Attenborough is coming out with a new series in 2008: Life in Cold Blood, all about reptiles and amphibians.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Oklahoma State Quarter

I was browsing around Wikipedia and somehow came across the list of all of the state quarters. Check out how cool this Oklahoma state quarter is! It's coming in 2008.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Squirrel Obstacle Course

Everyone needs to check out this crazy squirrel obstacle course video. We'll never beat those little critters!

Corpus Christi, TX Hawk Watch

I've been keeping watch on the daily hawk counts from the hawkwatch at Hazel Bazemore Park in Corpus Christi, TX. The numbers have been pretty impressive. This is peak Broad-winged Hawk migration and they funnel through in huge numbers down there. On Saturday, they counted over 97,000 Broad-wingeds! That's a spectacle I'd love to see. Yesterday, they also tallied two Aplomado Falcons! How cool! Check out the season totals below:

Season total to date:
0 ..........Black vulture
37..........Turkey vulture
167 ........Swallow-tailed kite
0 ..........White-tailed kite
27131.......Mississippi kite
0 ..........Hook-billed kite
0 ..........Bald eagle
12..........Northern harrier
87..........Sharp-shinned hawk
153.........Cooper's hawk
0 ..........Northern goshawk
4 ..........Red-shouldered hawk
352261......Broad-winged hawk
56..........Swainson's hawk
18..........Red-tailed hawk
0 ..........Ferruginous hawk
8 ..........White-tailed hawk
0 ..........Short-tailed hawk
10..........Zone-tailed hawk
2 ..........Harris's hawk
0 ..........Rough-legged hawk
0 ..........Common black hawk
0 ..........Golden eagle
122.........American kestrel
47..........Peregrine falcon
1 ..........Prairie falcon
2 ..........Aplomado falcon
2 ..........Crested caracara

380,288.... Season total to 09/23

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One Mean Laughing Gull

The Laughing Gull pictured below has been hanging around in Cape May and has eaten at least 4 Least Sandpipers. The picture depicts one in its bill. I never knew a Laughing Gull would eat other birds. I knew the larger gulls did that. I apologize to the more squeamish folks.

Thanks to Sam Galick, resident Higbee Beach migration counter, for the picture.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Warning: Binoculars & Airbags


I am posting this with permission of the moderator from a lifetime member of the Brookline Bird Club who currently resides in Davis, California. Eight weeks ago, a friend and member of Yolo Audubon Society was out birding. He rolled his car over. The airbag deployed as it was supposed to, at 165-210 mph, smashing his binoculars into his chest. His sternum and several ribs were broken; a lung was punctured. He admits he's happy to be alive. The marks from his Swarovskis will mark his chest for a long time to come, though. Please remove your binoculars while driving; it could save your life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Support the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds

Sorry for the lack of posts... I've been at a week-long meeting for work. Plus, Beth and I went to see Genesis last night in Philly. They rocked. The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds is running its 2007 raffle with a chance to win one of 7 fabulous prizes:

  • Four beautiful original Cuban bird paintings
  • Two pairs of Audubon Classic Equinox 8x42 binoculars (waterproof, fully-coated elements, phase-corrected roof prism optics, close focus 5 feet)
  • National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (Hard Cover, Companion to the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America)

This is a major fund raising effort of the Society to help Caribbean birds that are facing many serious threats for their survival. A huge new problem is the explosion of luxury resort developments throughout the Caribbean region, including the Bahamas and Bermuda by using critical habitat areas. Other serious threats for these endangered endemic birds are invasive species, pollution and, of course, global warming. Many coral islands around the world will be the first to "go under". I hope you will be willing to support this worthy cause. Raffle tickets are $5 each and the drawing will take place in Bermuda on Saturday, 6th October 2007. You don't need to be there to claim a prize. To purchase tickets, send me an email (pbelardo -at- and I will send you the details for how you can easily buy tix. I bought 3 myself!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Maine Whale Watch Highlights

I'm still sorting through our Maine photos. We went on a whale watch out of Bar Harbor. We had done this in 2005 and we saw Fin Whales, Minke Whales, Humpback Whales, and several sea birds very close the boat. We had a great time again. We didn't see as many whales this time and the wind was blowing extremely hard, but it was cool nonetheless. The only whales we saw this time were Fin Whales, which are the second largest creatures in the world. We had 4-5 of them around the boat and in the distance. Here's a picture that Beth took of one.

We also saw our first Grey Seal, a life mammal for us. As for birds, the most interesting sighting was a hummingbird about 25 miles out to sea! It buzzed the boat a few times and kept on going. There are some islands nearby that it must have used for a nest or a resting spot during migration. We saw 6 unidentified songbirds migrate over as well. Real seabirds included Greater Shearwaters, a lone Puffin, a flock of White-winged Scoters, and small flocks of Phalaropes (I assume "Red"?). I was happy to find that I didn't get any queasiness at all, despite making no efforts to stem seasickness. I always have a patch or meds for it, but I risked it this time and was happy to see that I was seaworthy on pretty rough seas.

Another highlight of the whale watch was this boat we saw on the way out. The boat was called "Beth Said Yes."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Notorious Butterfly Smuggler Netted

An interesting story from AP:

U.S. finally nets global butterfly smuggler
Dogged Fish and Wildlife Service agent pursued Japanese man for years
By Helen O'Neill
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:16 p.m. ET Aug 20, 2007
LOS ANGELES - The smell struck undercover agent Ed Newcomer as soon as he entered the small, sparse apartment.

Faint and rancid, it permeated everything. It clung to the plastic containers that piled up in cupboards and on shelves. It seeped from the walls and the bathroom and the bed.

The smell was unmistakable: dead insects.

Inside the suspect grinned expectantly as he opened a container. Dozens of slimy white grubs slithered in the dirt. Another box revealed a dead black beetle the size of a fist, its long rhinoceros-like horn protruding in front.

“Dynastes hercules,” the suspect said, his voice high-pitched and shrill.

Newcomer shuddered. But he smiled affably, the wide-eyed neophyte being inducted by the master. It was a role that Newcomer, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had been perfecting for two weeks.

The suspect opened another box filled with dead butterflies, wings spread in iridescent glory — golds and greens and shimmering azures.

Like fairy dust, Newcomer thought.

Then he snapped back to reality.

Newcomer’s tape recorder had accidentally shut off. His cell phone was broken. His backup agent was lost in traffic. If the backup couldn’t make contact soon, he would call the police.

It was Newcomer’s first undercover case.

He had won the trust of the world’s most notorious butterfly smuggler, a man who made hundreds of thousands of dollars trading in endangered insects. He had been invited into the suspect’s home.

Yet if he didn’t leave in minutes his cover could be blown.


In the cutthroat world of butterfly poaching, Hisayoshi Kojima was king.

He bragged he was the Indiana Jones of butterfly smugglers, that he commanded a global network of poachers.

From Jamaica he could get the giant swallowtail Papilio homerus, whose velvety black and gold wings are depicted on the country’s $1,000 bank note.

From the Philippines he could get the Luzon peacock swallowtail or Papilio chikae.

And from Papua New Guinea he could get what many dealers had never even seen: the prized Queen Alexandra’s birdwing.

All are endangered, protected by international and U.S. wildlife laws. It is illegal to catch, kill or import them.

Kojima always found a way.

Legitimate dealers had complained about him for years.

And for years, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents had investigated him.

But Kojima, a Japanese native who lived in Los Angeles and Kyoto, always eluded capture.

When an informant tipped off agents that Kojima would be attending the annual insect fair at Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History in May 2003, Newcomer was put on the case.

The 37-year-old agent knew nothing about butterflies. But he knew the law. And under the law a Queen Alexandra butterfly is as protected as a snow leopard.

Kojima was easy to spot. In the cavernous exhibition hall, where thousands of collectors swarmed among booths filled with everything from gold scarab beetles to red-backed spiders, Kojima ran the busiest stall.

“He’s no Indiana Jones,” Newcomer thought, sizing up the stocky 53-year-old with the pudgy face, narrow eyes and poor English.

But his butterflies were the finest at the fair.

Newcomer is trim and athletic, with an easygoing manner. He had left behind his gun and his badge. He had assumed a false name. And he had honed his story: how, bored by the business he had inherited from his father, he was looking for a hobby that could also become an investment.

The informant played his part, luring Kojima into conversation about a species of beetle from Bolivia that Kojima had on display.

Newcomer wondered what the beetle looked like alive.

From the back of his booth, Kojima produced an enormous live horned beetle.

“Wow,” Newcomer exclaimed. “How much?”

$10,000 alive.

Is that legal? Newcomer asked.

Kojima shrugged. “It is illegal ... but 99.99 percent it is safe. Sometimes we pay under the table.”

At the end of the day Kojima handed Newcomer a cardboard box. Inside, were 23 dead butterflies. To start your collection, Kojima said.

Newcomer thanked Kojima profusely. Then he drove to his office and marked the box — Evidence Seizure Tag .608372.


These days the worldwide illegal trade in endangered species is worth an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion a year, according to law enforcement reports.

It can be as perilous as it is lucrative.

“We’ve been bushwhacked and waylaid and run out of villages by guys with bows and arrows and spears,” said Joshua Lewallen of Insects International in Fort Davis, Texas.

Lewallen has heard tales of insect “mafias” in Thailand, and poaching gangs in Central Asia.

“Collectors want rare things,” Lewallen said. “And if people are willing to pay, others are willing to go to great lengths to provide.”

Into this world, Newcomer immersed himself. There are about 18,000 known species of butterfly. Newcomer started learning their names, their markings, the prices that rare ones bring.

At work Newcomer became known as “the butterfly agent.” Undercover, he was becoming “Yoshi’s friend.”

They met for coffee at Starbucks. They went to Kojima’s favorite Korean barbecue restaurant. They shared personal details, each spinning tales, each cautiously probing for more.

Kojima fabricated a wife and son in Japan.

Newcomer invented a father and girlfriends.

Kojima taught Newcomer the delicate art of moistening the wings of dead butterflies so they could be unfolded and pinned precisely to mounting boards.

Kojima shrugged off the law. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) special permits are required to transport endangered animals across borders. CITES also bans the worldwide trade of species that are on the verge of extinction.

It wasn’t like he was dealing in drugs, Kojima said.

Kojima suggested that the two men start an eBay account together: Kojima would provide the specimens and Newcomer would run the Internet side. As part of the deal Kojima gave Newcomer a disc containing photographs of his entire collection.

Kojima returned to Japan, promising to send samples.

Newcomer alerted U.S. Customs. Then he served subpoenas for Kojima’s U.S. bank accounts.


Nearly four months passed and Newcomer was beginning to worry.

He had given Kojima a fake home address and a special cell phone number. He e-mailed. He called. Nothing.

Finally, he saw his chance. Trolling the chat rooms of, he noticed other dealers complaining about Kojima. Newcomer jumped in. He could vouch for “Yoshi,” he wrote. He was working with him and could get anything from his collection.

Dealers contacted Newcomer immediately. Proudly, Newcomer e-mailed Kojima, telling him he’d found new customers and asking for specimens.

But instead of being pleased, Kojima got mad. He berated Newcomer, warning him not to trust people he had not developed a relationship with. They could be undercover agents, Kojima said.

It would be seven months before Kojima resumed contact.

Eventually Newcomer decided to set up a decoy eBay account. He would use butterfly photographs from the disc Kojima had given him and rig auctions so that the specimens would go for exorbitant prices to other undercover officers. He would prove to Kojima, once and for all, that he was serious about making money in the butterfly business.

Once again the plan backfired.

Kojima wrote angry notes to Newcomer accusing him of stealing his photographs.

“Shame on you,” Kojima wrote in an e-mail on June 17, 2004. “Comming soon big trable. Not your friend, Yoshi.”

Next, the local game warden’s office called and told Newcomer about a tip it had received from a Japanese insect dealer who mistakenly thought he was contacting Fish and Wildlife.

Newcomer listened, stunned.

Kojima had turned him in.

For two years Newcomer turned to other cases. But he couldn’t get the butterfly smuggler out of his head.

Then in May 2006, he was tipped that Kojima was at the Los Angeles bug fair.

To Newcomer’s astonishment, Kojima hailed him warmly. He had had open heart surgery, Kojima explained, which is why he had been out of touch. And he had moved permanently to Japan.

Newcomer pretended to have built up a trusted base of customers, including one who would pay top dollar for a Queen Alexandra.

“I can get you Alexandra,” Kojima said.

Newcomer held his breath. This was what he’d waited so long to hear.

Kojima suggested setting up accounts with Skype, an Internet phone service. Using his Web camera, Kojima would show specimens from Japan that Newcomer could purchase and sell to his customers.

A month later Newcomer found himself staring at a grainy image of Kojima on his computer screen. Breathlessly, Kojima was offering two Alexandras. But he needed money now.

How much? Newcomer asked.


The package arrived by express mail. Buried beneath a dozen common butterflies, were two Queen Alexandras, folded but still breathtaking.

It was the end of July. Newcomer had spent $14,997 on 42 butterflies in two months of Skype exchanges. He estimated the black market value of all the butterflies that Kojima had offered him at $294,000.

Newcomer had all the proof he needed.

Kojima was arrested at Los Angeles airport on July 31, 2006. He pleaded guilty to 17 charges related to the sale and smuggling of endangered butterflies. This April, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $38,731.

He declined a request to discuss the case.


At his office, Newcomer holds up a framed pair of butterflies, their wings as big as small birds’. The Queen Alexandras. Eventually, they will be donated to a museum.

For now, Newcomer has a rare chance to admire a butterfly that most people have never seen.

Newcomer shies away from being labeled the “butterfly agent” but he acknowledges a new appreciation for the species. On a recent hike he spotted a butterfly whose wings were caught in a spider web.

Gently, Newcomer freed it and watched it fly away.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ravens Help Find Lost Woman in Oregon

You may have heard about this one already, sorry if I'm a bit behind. Check out the story here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Life on a Single Sedum

A Sachem - a real survivor (for now)

About the only decent thing that the former owner's of our condo left us is a perennial pink Sedum 'Autumn Joy' plant that blooms around this time every year. It's the only nectar source in our area and, basically, the only plant that attracts butterflies (I'm working on improving that). This single plant is a hotbed of activity. On Thursday, I found two Tawny-edged Skippers nectaring and then fornicating on the grass nearby. On Friday, I found a Praying Mantis hanging out on the plant for the second year in a row. When I went out an hour later, the mantis had scored himself a sweet looking honeybee (Sorry Birdchick). Check out this video of him chowing down. The noisy background is our AC.

When I went out on Saturday, I witnessed a Sachem land on the same flower head as the stealthy Praying Mantis. The mantis lunged at it, but the skipper barely escaped. Later in the day, I passed by the plant again and saw some skipper wings strewn about the flowers. I guess he didn't fail twice.

The aftermath

Today, the mantis is back and there are 4-5 Tawny-edged and Sachems and a bee or two milling about. For one small plant, this thing sure delivers!

Tawny-edged Skipper

Friday, September 07, 2007

Maine ID Challenge Answer

Well, ladies and gentlemen, sometimes in the birding world we just have to let one go. I want my mystery bird to be a Cape May more than anything, but I can't rule out Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Blackburnian, or others. I've asked my readers, several forums, and a few others and I have not received a consistent answer. The bird was covorting with a Black-throated Green and the chip notes it was making don't sound anything like the Cape May on my CD. BUT, the bird did have a gray back as I recall. I would expect a BT Green to have an olive-green back. We can go on and on and look at Blackburnian, Magnolia, and the others that were suggested. I won't do that though since the photos are poor, the bird's plumage is poor, and everything is just speculation. So, in conclusion, I'm calling it "unidentified ratty warbler".

Thursday, September 06, 2007

World's Most Pathetic Common Eider


When visiting Kennebunkport, Maine, it is mandatory to stop at The Clam Shack to dine on their fried clams and lobster rolls. It'll cost you an arm and a leg, but their food is outstanding. A small group of Mallards hangs out next to the shack. They eat the scraps that people throw over the deck (or the scraps the gulls don't get). While we were chowing down, the Mallards were joined by none other than a Common Eider! He was hanging out with them and dining on chunks of bread and fried batter. It was kind of pathetic seeing a duck that I would expect to be bobbing along the rocky coast cavorting with a group of hoodlum Mallards. I guess he's developed a taste for carbs to go along with his usual fresh mussels.

Is that fried clam I smell on your breath?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bar Harbor Arachnid

While sampling the delightful brews and insanely tasty sodas at Bar Harbor's Atlantic Brewing Company, we spied a very large spider staked out near our car. This is a female Black & Yellow Argiope (pronounced ar-GUY-o-pee), Argiope aurantia. It's also known as the Writing Spider due to the interesting patterns it makes in its web. The body on this baby was about an inch long. Don't worry, they're harmless to humans unless extremely provoked.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back from Maine with an ID Challenge

Hey everybody... Beth and I got back from Maine late last night. I hope that you never have to find a new tire on Labor Day in Maine. We had a bubble on our tire and it was quite a task to find a new one. Anyway, we had an amazing time and I'll be posting some highlights of the trip over the next few days. Here's an ID challenge for you all. I saw this bird (and Beth photographed it) on Monhegan Island. Monhegan Island is an amazing migrant trap located about 12 miles from any land. I'm pretty sure I know what it is, but I'd like to get some more opinions.

Time to go catch up on some blog reading...