Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Happy New Year Mystery Bird

Happy New Year to all!

My co-worker sent me this greeting. Of course, I wanted to know what bird it is since it's not "one of ours." The closest thing I can come up with is the Crescent Honeyeater from Australia, a bird we definitely didn't see on our trip. Any other guesses?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Biggest Twitch Couple Breaks Record

I don't know if you've been keeping up with the UK couple who have spent 2008 trying to break the record for most species seen in one year. They did break the record and here's a nice article about their experience. Read more about their adventures and see photos at their blog.

Top 5 Birding Moments of 2008

It's the latest thing to do... posting the top X birding moments of 2008. Sorry that posting has been slow lately (like the last 6 months). It's been a crazy, but wonderful year with getting married, travelling to some nice places, and getting through some rough times. So here they are, the birding highlights of 2008 in no order.

Talking about the Great Backyard Bird Count with Martha Stewart!

Being one of the guides at the Cumberland County Eagle Fest.

Calling a Barred Owl during a beginner's walk.

Birding in Oregon, especially the nesting seabirds and temperate rainforests.

Birding in Australia

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Snowy CBC

View Larger Map

Let's get this out of the way: The title of this post is not a reference to any large white owls that we found. It's a reference to the winter wonderland that was the 34th Sandy Hook Christmas Bird Count. About 3 inches of snow fell Friday in this part of NJ, followed by freezing rain. This made the roads at Sandy Hook equivalent to the ice at Madison Square Garden and the beach and dunes look like an arctic wasteland. As usual, our area was the "north end" of Sandy Hook which includes the infamous "death march" - a 3/4 mile walk out to the Sandy Hook's northern tip looking towards New York. Did I mention it's probably the windiest spot on Sandy Hook too? As my buddy Mike put it, it's like we've been banished to Siberia. You can see our area in the map above.

The wintery conditions turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The frozen sand made traipsing up and down the dunes much easier than walking on the usual soft sand. Unfortunately, the birds were smarter than us. Birds were scarce, but the ones we found were terrific. Highlights form our group included:

  • A Common Moorhen that's been around throughout the fall - a count first!
  • The only Ruby-crowned Kinglets of the whole count
  • The only Orange-crowned Warbler
  • The only American Coots
  • A young Red-shouldered Hawk - a nice winter bird at Sandy Hook that was also seen by another group
  • 100's of Long-tailed Ducks - a ferry drove by in the distance and sheets of Long-tailed Ducks leapt off the water to escape it
Our area found 60 species. The count raked in 106 species, not near the high numbers of the last few years, but good considering the conditions. All in all, it was a chilly but fun day out.

PS - in case you're wondering, I didn't bring my camera because the weather report called for icy rain. I brought a small point-and-click, but forgot the memory card. D'OH!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Bird Ornaments

Like any good lover of a specific thing, we have a variety of ornaments related to that thing. For people who love hippos, they end up with lots of hippo ornaments. For people who like birds, it's bird ornaments. Here are some highlights of the ones on our tree.

We have two shown here. The Pileated Woodpecker is by Marcia Poling. They sell these at the NJ Audubon stores here in NJ. She does all sorts of birds, very detailed. The one on the right is a birding birder!

My aunt gave me a whole set of these Lenox birds for a housewarming gift. They are pretty authentic. I also have a Blue Jay, GC Kinglet, RB Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, a Junco, and a few others.
Beth got me this one a few years back. It's Santa the Birder!
I have a set of three of these birdwatching S'Mores ornaments. One is holding a field guide and the other has a little camera.
This was a gift from my sister-in-law and brother. It's a neat owl made out of natural materials.
I think Bet's grandmother got us this one.
Our tree is covered in ornaments that we get on vacations. We get one or more on every trip. This was from Kennebunkport, Maine.
The S'Mores cameraman.
A random chickadee.

That's it. There are a few more on the tree, but these are the highlights.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

6 Random Facts Meme

Christopher of Picus Blog tagged me with the 6 Random Facts meme. Yesterday at our work holiday party, we did a game where we had a list of 20 random facts and a list of 20 names we had to match to the facts. The most interesting fact was that someone I work with has color synesthesia. I did 7 Random Facts and 8 Random Facts, so I'll add 6 new ones.

1. I have an informal collection of PEZ dispensers - probably 50 or so.
2. I have an almost insatiable sweet tooth - chocolate, toffee, and, well, PEZ!
3. I have two degrees, neither of which is directly related to my job: a BS in Computer Science and an MS in Management Information Systems.
4. Related to 3... I work as a project manager on a training team building all sorts of training related to internal company projects.
5. I love reading, but I was a terrible reader as a kid. I did a book report on the same book three times: The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow. (Man, they'll put anything on the web...)
6. I owned a didgeridoo BEFORE we went to Australia.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'll make you an offer you can't refuse.

On Saturday I had the honor of becoming the godfather for one of my twin nieces, Olivia. My sister is the godmother. Lily is the other half of the twin cuties. Here are some pics.

Olivia and me - at least I think that's Olivia...

My brother holding Olivia while she's blessed with holy water. The girls were so good. Neither of them cried. That's my dad taking pics and my sister-in-law with her brother and Lily in the back.

The godparents with the parents and kids.

The whole Belardo clan. As my friend Pete once said, "The Belardo men were not blessed with a lot of hair."

Friday, December 12, 2008

A good laugh

I needed a good laugh today after some missed deadlines at work stressing me out. I found this. And I thought birders were an odd bunch...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Desired Life Bird Meme

Did I mention I love memes? The latest meme around the bird blog world is the Top 5 Most Desired Life Birds. I'll stick to regularly occurring birds in the continental US to narrow it down to a smaller list. In no order:

1. Black Rail - I want to see one, not hear one.
2. Black Swift - An interesting bird. I've tried and failed a few times to see one. At least I got to see some nice waterfalls.
3. Elf Owl - It's tiny. And cool.
4. White-headed Woodpecker - gorgeous bird.
5. Kirtland's Warbler - it's just a matter of getting to Michigan (or Wisconsin now I guess) to see one!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Quiz Bird Answer

Thanks to those who a participated in the quiz. Here's a better pic of the bird. I'll admit that this bird threw me for a loop when I first spotted it crossing in front of my car. It was a "What the heck is that?" moment. The lack of a tail was what made it tricky. This is a way-more-than-likely-stocked female Ring-necked Pheasant. It was extremely tame and let me approach in the car within 6 feet or so as it meandered along picking at the ground. I assume the lack of tail is either the result of being raised in a cage, the result of a predator, or the result of running from a man carrying a weapon. Congrats to Kiggavik for guessing correctly. According to my brother the hunter, hens are only stocked with a permit or by the state. Private hunting clubs usually only stock males.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Quiz bird

What is it? Taken today in New Jersey. Post your answer in the comments.

"Stuff I've Done" Meme

I'm a sucker for memes and I borrowed this meme from Lynne at Hasty Brook. Bold the things that you've done and feel free to add comments like I did. Let me know if you post it on your blog.

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (school band and a Xmas carol band)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (hiked up a mountain)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang/played a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (nope, and I live 30 min. from it!)
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb (do chops count?)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (both solar and lunar)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run (in wiffle ball)
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing (I've been on a pelagic birding trip!)
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class (I actually have a black belt in American Isshinryu)
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (I've eaten plenty)
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (accidentally!)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (ALL of my Star Wars stuff)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job (I was a reader for a blind man once. He never called me back. I talk too fast.)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox (shingles too)
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Made a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit (if class action counts)
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Gotten a speeding ticket (about 1/4 mile from our house!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Snapple Cap Bird Messages

We get free Snapple at work. On the caps, they have their Snapple Cap Facts. Here's some bird-related ones I've seen:

  • The only bird that can swim and not fly is a penguin (What about the Flightless Cormorant?)
  • The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards
  • Pigeons have been trained by the U.S. Coast Guard to spot people lost at sea
  • A hummingbird's heart beats 1,400 times a minute
  • Penguins have an organ above their eyes that converts seawater to fresh water

I've also seen one that says, "Half of these Snapple facts are false."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #14

It's my first time participating in Bird Photography Weekly. This Red-breasted Nuthatch photo was taken at Jones Beach in New York.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: Birdscapes

You've probably seen Chronicle Books' Bird Songs from Around the World book. It's the one that lets you type in a number of a bird to hear the bird's song or call. Their latest book, Birdscapes: A Pop-Up Celebration of Bird Songs in Stereo Sound, is a marvel of paper and sound. Each set of pages is a pop-up of a different scene from a North American bird habitat. Swamps, farmlands, arctic tundra, Pacific rainforest, and many others are represented - seven in all. As you open each page, the sounds of the birds are played in stereo. A card on each page tells you which birds are calling during the timeline of the recording. The "paper engineering," a term I didn't know existed until I saw this book, is astounding. Each page has intricate details of foliage, landscape, and other objects. For example, in the Pacific rainforest, moss hangs free from the trees in giving a neat three-dimensional feel. You'll find youself saying, "Wow, how do they make this fold and unfold?" The drawings are accurate, detailed, and bold. The audio is crisp. Each scene will have you searching for the hidden birds and seeing new things each time. Any child who is old enough not to grab and rip the paper will really enjoy it, as will any teen, adult, or anyone who would enjoy some exposure to nature. It's a book to take out at a party and let people play with it.

I have only two complaints. First, I wish they included a page on backyard birds to show the more common birds that people will encounter. My second complaint is that the book is really large. It's 3" thick, 13" tall, and 11" wide. I fully understand that this type of book warrants this size, but you may want to keep this in mind if you purchase it. Other than these limitations, this book is a terrific book for your collection or a gift for a bird-lover in your life.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Interesting CBC Stats

As I'm prepping to compile the 74th Long Branch Christmas Bird Count, I'm finding some interesting stats about this count:

- A total of 204 species have been recorded during the first 73 counts.

- Fourteen species have been recorded every year: American Black Duck, Mallard, American Kestrel, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling, and, of course, House Sparrow.

- The most numerous species each year are typically Canada Goose, Herring Gull, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, and Common Grackle.

- The highest count of one species ever was 200,011 Common Grackles in 1954. They were called Purple Grackles back then. The second highest was 106,600 Common Grackles in 1958. The third highest was 29,339 Herring Gulls in 1996.

- House Finch was first recorded 46 years ago and has been found on every count since.

- In 2007, two new species for the count were found: Cackling Goose and Western Kingbird.

- Ruffed Grouse, a bird I've never seen in NJ, was recorded 11 times. The last time was 1984. It's become a tough bird to find in NJ due to habitat loss and deer browsing.

That's all I've got for now. It's been fun looking through the history of this count.

Hummingbird Beer

I came across a link to Nectar Ales while cleaning out my "Favorites" today. It's a California microbrewery that makes beers with hummingbirds on the label. Their award-winning beers have names like Red Nectar, Pale Nectar, and IPA Nectar - each with its own hummingbird on the label. I've had other bird-themed beers like Woodpecker Cider (technically not a beer I guess), Kingfisher, and Red Tail Ale. I haven't found Nectar Ales yet in NJ. If you've had any of their beers, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Butterfly needs repair and a trucker

An injured Monarch in New York was patched up by a nice couple and helped along its way by a generous trucker. Article here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Forest Park Owl

The last stop on yesterday's birding adventure with Corey was Forest Park in Queens. Any reader of 10,000 Birds has read about the great birding that Corey has experienced here. It's a great stretch of woodland oasis in a concrete jungle. I wish I had a patch like this in walking distance of my house and I don't even live in a city! Our target was the northeast's smallest owl and our search was successful thanks to Corey's eagle eye.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chilly NY Birding

I met up with Corey from 10,000 Birds today for some casual coastal birding today. We started at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where we noticed something that would continue throughout the day - IT WAS DARN COLD OUTSIDE! The cold didn't stop us for making the best of it. Jamaica Bay's smaller ponds were mostly frozen. The ones that weren't held Snow Geese, Ruddy Ducks, Greater Scaup, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, and Northern Shovelers. The bay held a very large flock of Snow Geese that lifted off when we passed by. Thousands of Brant in groups large and small swam about in just about every bit of open water. Several hundred Greater Scaup bobbed up and down in the bay and were joined by the usual gulls, Bufflehead, and a smattering of Horned Grebes.

We made our way around the path at Jamaica Bay, then hopped in the car (for warmth!) to head to Jones Beach. Our first stop was the coast guard station where we didn't see much in the water there, but some land birding in the vegetation all along the road yielded some nice species. A group of sparrows feeding on the grass held a Lincoln's Sparrow and a Field Sparrow among the Song Sparrows. We also found Hermit Thrush, tons of Goldfinches with no Siskins among them, and a few Red-breasted Nuthatches. A Merlin made its best attempt to make lunch out of a Starling, unfortunately unsuccessfully. A drive through the Jones Beach parking lot yielded little else.

We then headed to Point Lookout, a spot I've visited before with Mike from 10,000 Birds and once on my own. Our goal was to look for Harlequin Ducks which can sometimes be found on the jetties here. Despite their being severely limited bird-life here, we did manage to find a lone female Harlequin Duck at the jetty. We found a few Ruddy Turnstones and one Common Loon, but this place was seriously lacking in birds compared to other times I've visited.

After a quick stop for some kick-butt pizza, we headed to Corey's home patch of Forest Park, but that story will have to wait a day or two...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Thanksgiving Recipe

With Turkey Day coming up here in the US, I thought I'd share a favorite recipe. It's actually bird-related in a way. It's the recipe for the cornbread served at The Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado. As you probably know, "Baldpate" is another name for the American Wigeon. Beth and I had the pleasure of eating at The Baldpate Inn in 2006, when this photo was taken. The food, especially the cornbread and pie, is phenomenal. They also have feeders frequented by Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Pine Siskins, Steller's Jays, and others. Enjoy the recipe!


1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 cups creamed corn
1/2 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
1/2 cup medium cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time.
3. Gradually mix in corn and cheeses.
4. Stir in remaining ingredients.
5. Spread evenly in a greased 9x13" cake pan.
6. Place in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 300 degress.
7. Bake for 1 hour.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I borrowed this from the guys at 10,000 Birds. Check out Typealyzer and analyze what type of blog your blog is. Like 10,000 Birds, readers of this blog are categorized as "Doers." I'd be curious to know if all birding blogs fall into this category. Let me know what yours is in the comments. Another interesting note is that Typealyzer displays the Meyers-Briggs type for "Doers" as ESTP. I am actually an ENTJ, so it's a bit odd that my blog doesn't align with my type.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Confusing Fall Warblers on Flickr

I came across this Flickr pool today: Confusing Fall Warblers

See if you can ID them!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Glacier-nesting bird makes headlines

A father and his 14-year old son recently published an article about the first well-documented case in the world of a species other than penguins successfully nesting on the ice of a glacier. Check out the article for a fun story.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Birdchaser Speaks!

I attended my first Monmouth County Audubon meeting on Wednesday night (why haven't I been going to this club all these years?). My impetus for attending was to see Rob Fergus, aka The Birdchaser, speak about "Urban Bird Ecology and Conservation". Also, it was a great way to meet a fellow blogger, especially one whose blog I read regularly. Rob, a Senior Scientist for urban bird conservation at National Audubon, spoke about the perils of birds in urban environments and the tons of ways that we can help these birds. Rob's speech was inspiring and at the same time humorous, educational, and engaging. I won't go into too much more about Rob's presentation, in case you have a chance to see it yourself (which I hope you do!). I doubt you'll find another conservation-themed presentation out there that mentions both Mt. St. Helens AND Madonna! You can check out Rob's other blog Audubon Birdscapes to find out more about what you can do to help urban birds. Once again, it was terrific to meet another blogger in person. Hopefully next time, we'll get to bird.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hummingbird feeder vs. a Pileated Woodpecker?

A woman came in to the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory gift shop yesterday and purchased replacement yellow flowers for a hummingbird feeder like the one above. I commented how they sometimes get moldy no matter how regularly you clean them. She said, "No, that's not it. I have a Pileated Woodpecker that likes to cling to the feeder and peck the heck out of them!" That's one I hadn't heard before! I tried to find photos or videos of such a thing online, but no luck.

Friday, November 07, 2008

My Birder Groom's Cake

So, in case you missed it, Beth and I got married on September 26! Beth got me a wonderful wedding gift in the form of this custom-made groom's cake. Check out some close-ups below. Our friends Bianca and Steve made it and I think they did a stellar job considering they had never made a cake like this before. They had never even used fondant. Very impressive! It's a pretty good rendition of me with my trusty Yankees hat (which seems to have shrunk) and my binoculars (you can't see them well in the pic, they're on the left of the pic). I love it. It's sitting in our freezer now. We didn't actually take a knife and fork to it... yet.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tasmanian Devil in danger of extinction

We didn't travel to Tasmania on our Australia trip, but we did see this one at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Let me tell you, this is a bizarre creature. It walks with a very stiff-legged gait, making it move in an almost robotic way. It looked like it was fake. It looks like a giant rat, but is a marsupial. Sadly, I just read that Tasmanian Devils are dying off from a horrible facial cancer. So sad!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

I'm now a CBC Compiler!

I was recently asked to take over as the compiler of the Long Branch Christmas Bird Count. I wish the circumstances were better. Unfortunately, the former compiler, who has been doing a stellar job for 17 years, has some health issues (Get well G!).

Long Branch is a fairly prestigious count in NJ with many of the state's top birders coming out to participate. It's blessed with a great diversity of habitats including the ocean, lots of seaside freshwater lakes, grasslands, forests, and marshes - pretty much all the major habitats to be found in NJ. The count has taken place every year since 1935. In the last 20 years, it's averaged about 115 species per year. The highest count was 127 species in 2000. Rarities include Dovekie, Little Gull, Cackling Goose, Red-necked Grebe, Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Dickcissel, Common Redpoll, and many others.

The count is on January 3. I'll also be participating as a counter as I am taking over the territory covered by the former compiler. It is an inland location that includes a lot of state park property at Allaire State Park. It includes a few lakes, some marshes, farmland, and lots of woodlands. It's a relatively unfamiliar area for me. I scouted it yesterday and it's extremely promising. There are some count birds that could be my responsibility to find that are not easily found elsewhere. These are birds like Eastern Meadowlark, Winter Wren, and Wood Duck. I'm excited about this opportunity and honored to have been recommended by some fellow birders to take over this count. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What bird best represents Halloween?

Is it the crow? The vulture? A Great Horned Owl? Give us your opinion!

I'm favorable towards to Great Horned Owl, typically if it's just a silhouette.

Maybe it's the Baltimore Oriole - its got the right colors going on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Flying Foxes!

Back to the Australia posts for a bit here... Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens, a wonderful oasis seated right next to the famous Opera House, also happens to be home to a large colony of Grey-headed Flying Foxes. If you've ever watched more than an hour of Animal Planet, you've likely seen some species of Flying Fox portrayed. Being the largest of the bats, they are charismatic, a bit scary-looking, and insanely cool looking. They are also harmless and eat things like fruit, pollen, and nectar. Flying Foxes are prominent pollinators as well. I'll admit this. I didn't know Flying Foxes were found in Australia until we got there, but I'm glad they were. We had the chance to see some flying back and forth from their roost and even making some noises. Supposedly they smell pretty bad. The wind must have been blowing in the right direction because we didn't smell anything! Enjoy the pics.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Holy crap! It's snowing!

As I look out the window of my boss's office (like I'm cool enough to have my own window!), there's about an inch of slushy snow on all the cars, a small bit of slush on the road, snow-covered grass and trees, and snow still falling. It's not too often we get snow in October here in NJ. Crazy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A little NJ birding with an interesting question

A pause from the Australia bird posts (oh, there's more to come!)... Today I led my quarterly "Birding for Beginners" walk at Sandy Hook. Of the six people I had signed up for the trip, only ONE showed and she wasn't even on my list! So, my one participant got a personal tour of Sandy Hook. It was a beautiful day with birds to be seen. The highlight of the day was a Common Moorhen in North Pond - a freshwater area on Sandy Hook. Common Moorhens are less than annual at The Hook and this was the first I've seen there. Cool bird. I was able to get my one participant on the bird for her life Common Moorhen.

Then she asked me a tough question, "How did you know this was an unusual bird?" and she followed it up with, "Why isn't it a duck?" The answer to the first question was simple enough, "It takes practice, knowing what to expect where and when, and just being familiar with the local birds." The second question took some referencing to the field guide, bill comparison, leg comparison, and general shape comparison. Still, when I peered through my binoculars at the moorhen swimming in the water, I could clearly see how one might look at the duck section of the field guide first. It's one of the challenges of being a new birder. I always find myself pointing out cormorants, loons, and grebes and describing them as duck-like but then trying to explain why they're not ducks.

Sorry, no pics today. My photographer, AKA my wife, was ill. She's good now though.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We saw a Cassowary and lived to talk about it.


My #1 target bird for our Australia trip was the Southern Cassowary. In case you're not familiar with this bird, it's the third largest flightless bird on the planet and lives in the tropical rainforests of northern Australia and New Guinea. They are typically shy, frugivorous birds who are solely responsible for dispersing the seeds of many native fruit trees. This makes them a keystone species in the forests in which they live. Sadly, they have a bit of a bad reputation because they've been known to attack humans with their powerful legs if they are disturbed.

Our cassowary experience started with a rainforest tour of the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland - the most ancient rainforest on earth. We spent the day touring different areas of the rainforest, all the while looking out for Southern Cassowaries. Sadly, many cassowaries have been killed by vehicles so there are signs throughout to the area like the one above. The local wildlife managers have gotten into the habit of chasing off cassowaries by smacking them on the bum with plastic pipes. This has made human interaction and sightings less frequent - good for the birds, not so good for the birder.

Our day went well and we saw many beautiful sights, but no cassowaries. On our exit out of the park, our tour leader took a detour on one road and we hit paydirt. A beautiful cassowary was standing in the road. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a photo of it before it disappeared into the forest. It was one of my most memorable birding experiences - seeing such a huge, magnificent bird in the flesh was amazing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Australian White Ibis Chaos!!!

I was wondering why I hadn't got any post comments. I was accidentally posting them to my test blog site. OOPS! Anyway, the Australian White Ibis is really common in Sydney. If you've ever been to Disney World and have seen the American White Ibises there, it's a very similar situation. They are very used to people and hang out in parks in Sydney eating scraps of garbage and handouts. Beth took this video of a group of Ibises causing chaos at the snack bar in the Royal Botanical Gardens. I thought it was pretty funny.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pied Currawong

On the fourth day of our Australia honeymoon, we took a train to Blue Mountains National Park north of Sydney. There we took a walk into the rainforest. We saw quite a few birds there including the Pied Currawong, a large crow-like bird that is relatively common in eastern Australia. The name "currawong" comes from their loud, distinctive call. This individual decided to check us out while we were enjoying some pretty terrible sandwiches on a bench along the boardwalk. I think we can name the photo below "The Angry Currawong."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree...

The first Laughing Kookaburra that we saw in Oz was actually perched on the balcony of a large apartment building. I noticed it as we were standing around waiting for our Sydney Opera House tour to begin. We encountered them throughout our trip - on telephone wires, in parks, and even at some wineries. This large member of the kingfisher family is as synonymous with Australia as the kangaroo and koala. Well, at least for birders it is. The Laughing Kookaburra's maniacal call is also found in many movies as the quintessential jungle sound. We had the pleasure of hearing them call a few times. Unfortunately, we didn't encounter Australia's other Kookaburra - the Blue-winged Kookaburra. This particular bird was photographed at the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wompoo Fruit-dove

The Wompoo Fruit-dove, Ptilinopus magnificus (also known as Magnificent Fruit-dove or Purple-breasted Fruit-dove), is the largest of the fruit-doves native to New Guinea and Australia. It's also the first and only Fruit-dove I've ever seen. While on a rainforest trip in Daintree National Park, I spotted this lady sitting on a typical dove nest - a weak-looking pile of sticks. It's a pretty large dove, measuring around 18 inches, with beautiful colors that flow from gray into green into blue and into yellow. This photo, taken in some serious shade, doesn't do it justice. Its feathers are wonderfully irridescent. As I handed my bins to some non-birders on the trip, it illicited audible "wows" out of them. It was truly "gorgeous" as they say in Australia. Here's a crop of the head:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Papuan Frogmouth

About 10 years ago I saw a Tawny Frogmouth at the Bronx Zoo. I thought it was one of the coolest birds I had ever seen. When we decided to go to Australia, I had my heart set on seeing one of the Frogmouth species that lives there. While we were in Port Douglas near the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland, we took a night tour of the rainforest. The tour was awesome and I'll post more about that later. On the downside, we didn't see a Frogmouth or any other nocturnal bird.

When we left Port Douglas, we drove through the mountains back to the city of Cairns. By sheer miracle, we passed by the Kingfisher Bird Lodge and I pulled in. What a cool place! It was very much like the birding lodges I've stayed at in Costa Rica. I met one of the owners and we chatted a bit. He said I could bird there for $5 and that he also knew a spot where a Papuan Frogmouth roosted! He walked Beth and me to the spot pointing out a few other birds to us. Lo and behold, there was the Papuan Frogmouth perched high in a tree. Here's a blurry pic. What an awesome bird!

Video: The Bird Call Lady

We just got back from Australia. Sorry I didn't post more. Internet access was expensive ($25/day!) and free time was minimal. I saw some great birds and we had an awesome time. While I dig out of luggage and wedding stuff, please enjoy this odd little video.

This is "The Bird Call Lady" who has been on Jay Leno and Ellen Degeneres. I came across this while searching unsuccessfully for a recording of an emu. This woman can imitate over 150 bird calls. She does a pretty darn good version of a Red-shouldered Hawk in the video below. A complete list of the calls she can do is on her web site.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hello from Down Under!

Hi everyone! We're on our honeymoon down in Sydney. The wedding on Friday was great despite a little rain. I'll post some pics when I get back. We've done some leisurely birding while visiting some sites with the best being at the Royal Botanical Gardens adjacent to the Opera House. We encountered several groups of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos including two very tame individuals. We've also seen a few Kookaburras, Rainbow Lorikeets, tons of Australian White Ibises, too many Noisy Miners, and a buttload of Silver Gulls. Today we're visiting the zoo and tomorrow we're heading to the Blue Mountains where we'll see lots more birds.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Crackers - not the kind for cheese

If you're a butterfly enthusiast like I am, you have probably heard of the butterflies known as "crackers" in the genus Hamadryas. These interesting leps produce a cracking sound via swollen veins in the forewings which strike one another if the male forces the wing upstroke to maximum amplitude. The females lack this sound-producing mechanism. A gentleman living in the Rio Grande Valley posted a really neat video of a Guatemalan Cracker in his yard making this cracking noise. I have never seen it in person, but it's quite a sight to see on the video. I've been told that the video features a particularly agitated individual. The cracks are usually not as frequent as seen in the video. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Beth and I were running some errands today. While we were getting into the car, Beth said, "Look at this!" Assuming it was a dent from some not-so-careful driver, I rushed over. Fortunately, it was nothing like that at all. Instead, it was this REALLY cool weevil. I've narrowed it down to the genus Curculio - the nut and acorn weevils. I snapped a few pics. Only one came out clear, but you can see the antennae fastened to the rostrum ("beak") of the weevil which, to me, gives these guys an "other-worldly" appearance.

Here's one more (blurry) pic:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm still alive... and some news

Hey all, I've been a bit lax in posts. Our wedding is two weeks away so we're in major wedding planning mode. The honeymoon details are still being worked out. I became an uncle this week of two beautiful little twin girls! Three of my friends also had babies in the last 10 days. Craziness! So stay tuned for more nature-related posts when things tone down a bit.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


I've succumbed to the pull of Facebook a bit. If you're on, look me up! I've found a few bloggers on there already. It's interesting that Facebook seems to be appealing to a much wider audience than MySpace does, which is a good thing. I like the fact that the Facebook profiles are a bit more standardized. I was a but frustrated with the templates that people used on MySpace that I thought reverted the web back to 1996.

Great Egret Pics

Wow, it's doing some serious raining here today! I'm dealing with a little leak in my basement too. Ugh! As you can see, I didn't do any storm birding. A few weeks ago, Beth and I did do some birding on my birthday to the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The flies were biting pretty viciously so I spent most of my time in the car. The car acted as a nice blind to get some cool pics of this beautiful Great Egret. On my beginner walks, Great Egrets are always guaranteed crowd-pleasers.