Thursday, January 31, 2008

How to say "Birding" in Spanish

On my visits to the tropics, I've always struggled with how to say "We're birding" in Spanish. I've resorted to saying "We're looking at birds." - "Estamos mirando aves." which I'm not sure was interpreted well. On a discussion on the Mexico Birding email list, I've gotten some insight from some locals.

The verb "pajarear" taken from the noun for bird "pajaro" can be used within the birding community to mean "to go birding."

"Vamos a pajarear."
"We're going birding."

Outside of the birding community, you will not want to use that though because it can have some not-so-nice connotations. It can mean someone who hunts birds, raises birds, or can even have some "dirty" meanings. Outside of the birding community, it's been recommended to use "observar" meaning "to observe."

"Estamos observando aves."
"We are observing birds."

Or you could use "estudiar" meaning "to study."

"Estamos estudiando aves."
"We are studying birds."

To say "I am" instead of "We are" simply change the "Estamos" to "Estoy."

Thanks to Robert Straub and the other folks on the list for the insights.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some Nice Trip Leader Moments

When one has a trip to lead at a location where a rare bird has recently been seen, there's a bit of pressure to find that bird. My trip to Sandy Hook on Saturday was no exception. Not only had a Townsend's Solitaire been seen almost daily for two months, but Bohemian Waxwings had been seen in scattered locations around the Hook. Several members of the group voiced their desires to see both birds and the pressure was on to deliver.

After some random birding around the Hook, we searched for our first target - the Townsend's Solitaire. The last time I had been there I had seen the bird literally inside a 15' x 10' three and a half sided brick-walled structure. I'm not sure what this structure's original purpose was, but it's full of grass and Ailanthus trees now. I brought the group over to the area and I stepped to the entrance of the structure. Like clockwork, the bird appeared on the top corner of the brick wall. "It's right here," I shouted and the group ran over to see the bird put on a tremendous show for them. It's always nice when things work out like that.

As for the Bohemian Waxwings, we searched several flocks of waxwings with no luck. On the bike path, we encountered a flock of starlings with a few waxwings mixed in. I was able to get a Bohemian in the scope, but only one person saw it. So, I used the other option that a leader has for finding rare birds - other birders! I met up with some other birders who pointed us to a spot where we saw not one, but three Bohemian Waxwings. Like the Solitaire, it was a state or life bird for almost everyone in the group!

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Bird Wine Labels

Back in August, I posted a set of pictures of bird wine labels that we had collected. Since then, we've collected even more. I've posted a new set of pictures on Flickr of 7 new wine labels. There are some neat ones including a Wallcreeper. My sister Mary got me this one above for Xmas. It was an excellent wine. We've found that most of the bird labels have been excellent.

View all labels on Flickr

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Great Day at Sandy Hook

There's a Canvasback with those Scaup somewhere...

Yesterday I led a trip to Sandy Hook. We had an amazing day and my five participants got to see some very cool birds. The weather was as good as one can ask for on a winter day at the Hook - calm seas, a calm bay, and no wind - perfect conditions for a day of birding. I took a few pics with the new lens, but the results weren't too great. It was pretty overcast all day. Our highlights were many and included:

  • 1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet, an uncommon find on a NJ winter day
  • 1 Orange-crowned Warbler seen by a trip member prior to the start of the trip on Plum Island
  • 1 Peregrine Falcon perched on a tree on a distant sandbar. It found some time to harass a group of gulls.
  • 2 Canvasback (drake and hen) hidden within a flock of about 300 Greater Scaup
  • 1 Redhead (drake) hidden within a different flock of 150 Greater Scaup
  • 1 Swamp Sparrow at Spermaceti Cove - an uncommon winter visitor
  • 4-5 Great Cormorant flying by at various times - excellent looks
  • 1 Field Sparrow - another uncommon winter bird
  • Townsend's Solitaire - awesome views of a vagrant bird that has been here for over 2 months
A terrible record shot of a Townsend's Solitaire
  • 1 Common Redpoll - spotted by one of the participants. This was a big surprise for the trip. It was a new state bird for me.
  • 4 Bohemian Waxwings - These have been hanging around the Hook for about a month. They're tough to find among the Cedar Waxwings and Starlings, but we got lucky twice and had scope views both times. Awesome!
  • 3 Horned Lark fly-overs
  • A big flock of Snow Buntings
  • An interesting sighting was a dorsal fin that rose from the water several times on the bay across from C lot. It was dark in color, hooked slightly, small and came up in an "arched-back" manner. We speculated that it may have been a Harbor Porpoise. If someone has a better clue, please let me know.

Friday, January 25, 2008

We got a new toy!!!

Check out our new toy - a Canon 30D with a 300mm lens and a 1.4x extender... ooh... aahh... Here I am grinning evilly in anticipation of taking many wonderful bird pictures for this blog. I need to tame that eyebrow. Also, note my growing and soon-to-be-shaved "Official Birding Beard (TM)" and my donning of the NY Rangers red, white, and blue in honor of last night's emotional Brian Leetch Night.

Bird Poops in Reporter's Mouth

This is probably fake because the reactions seem so. Also, what the heck is a Canadian Brown Finch??? Sort of funny nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Two New Web Sites

In case you've missed it...

For all of you world listers out there, Birdstack launched this weekend. It's a free, online world bird listing service brought to us, in part, by the brains of fellow blogger David Ringer. It can import lists from various other tools (very important to me!), it's connected to Google Maps, and it's synched with the IOC list so you don't need to keep track of that stuff. It can export data to be shown on blogs, feeds, and other web sites. Birdstack also includes a number of community-oriented features, like comments and forums, to encourage interaction among members. The developers are also working on integration with eBird for easy sharing of data. I've been using it and it's great.

The second site, from our friends at 10,000 Birds, is the Nature Blog Network. This is a "top site list" for nature blogs of all sorts. It has categories for birds, insects, ecology, and many others. If you're interested in reading blogs, this is the place to start so you can see what's popular. If you have a nature blog and you haven't joined, well then you're just silly. It takes about a minute to set it up.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My 800th Life Bird!

Moments before seeing #800. I think I'm pishing in this photo, despite the fact that my hands look like I'm doing something else.

Is it possible that I saw my 800th life bird and didn't realize it? No, this won't be another story like my 500th ABA bird. Having not traveled out of the US since last January, I've had my AviSys set to "ABA mode" and didn't even realize that I reached 803 species for the world while in New Mexico. I was so focused on reaching my 500th ABA bird last year that I never really even peaked at how close I was to 800 world birds. Can you tell that 2007 was a crazy year full of distractions (both good and bad)?

So what species was it that set this milestone for me? I had to actually think back on it and re-trace our steps in New Mexico. The last life bird I saw there was Red-naped Sapsucker, prior to that Clark's Grebe, and prior to that Ferruginous Hawk... 803, 802, and 801 respectively. Bird #800 was seen just before dark on November 26 at Bosque del Apache NWR along the Canyon Trail. It was a Sage Sparrow that bounced out onto the sandy trail and gave Beth and me some spectacular views. We had struck out on this species at Petroglyphs National Monument earlier in the trip. Thanks to the folks of the NM birding email list for the tips on the Canyon Trail!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Freakonomics and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt who wrote the book Freakonomics have a regular column in the NY Times about their continued exploration of "the hidden side of everything." Their latest article explores Unintended Consequences through The Case of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It discussed some of the unitended consequences of the Endangered Species Act.

Photo Editing Tips

The web is full of photo editing tips. I found Digital Grin's Photography How-To's today which I've been having some fun with. If you take a lot of digital photos, it's worth a look to learn tips about sharpening, improving skin tone, and fixing those hazy or washed-out outdoor photos that many point-and-click cameras produce.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Official New York State Butterfly Announced

New York held a vote by 4th, 5th, and 6th graders to select an official state butterfly. The winner was the Red-spotted Purple/White Admiral. In second place was the endangered Karner Blue. I took the picture above in the Adirondacks in June 2004.
NJ apparently does not have a state butterfly. Here's a complete list of state butterflies.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spermaceti - What's in a name?

One of the must-go-to places when birding at Sandy Hook is the boardwalk at Spermaceti Cove. It gives an easy vantage point to the bay and surrounding salt marsh and is a delightful birding experience at any season. In the winter, a huge raft of Greater Scaup float along, Horned Grebes pop up here and there, Brant call from all over, and lots of gulls zoom overhead and in the distance. It's also a good spot to see lounging Harbor Seals on the distant sand bars. It's a place of endless surprises.

I had never known the origin of the name"Spermaceti Cove". I always figured it was someone's name or maybe a pasta shape that I hadn't encountered. The other day, while reading Peter Matthiessen's Wildlife in America, I found the source. In his chapter on the history of whaling in North America, I learned that spermaceti is actually a waxy substance present in the head cavities of the Sperm Whale and in the blubber of all whales. It's the source of the Sperm Whale's name because people originally had mistaken it for sperm. It can be used in cosmetics, leatherworking, and lubricants, among other uses. A large whale's head could hold as much as 3 TONS of the stuff. Lucky for the whales, there are substitutes for this substance used today. For example, jojoba oil is used in cosmetics. So now I know what spermaceti is, but I still don't know why the cove is actually named for it. There must be a story there...

Speaking of Sperm Whales, did you know that Moby-Dick was actually influenced by the real attack of a Sperm Whale on the Whaleship Essex?

Interesting note... on my visit to Spermaceti Cove last week, I spotted someone's discarded Christmas tree sitting on a sand bar that is not easily accessed by a human. I suppose someone tossed it into the bay and it arrived there on high tide. Sandy Hook Bay has enough trash already, why can't people just throw it on the sidewalk like everyone else?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

iPod meme

I stole this from Laura. Feel free to participate if you have an iPod or even if you just have a music collection on your PC. Put your iPod on shuffle and blog the first twenty songs in the shuffle.

  1. You Make Loving Fun - Fleetwood Mac
  2. I've Been Searchin' So Long - Chicago
  3. Without You - Rent Soundtrack
  4. A Kind of Magic - Queen
  5. Notes - Phantom of the Opera Soundtrack
  6. The Last Supper - JC Superstar Soundtrack
  7. I'm Not That Girl - Wicked Soundtrack
  8. Ballad of John and Yoko - The Beatles
  9. Nursie - Jethro Tull
  10. Isn't Life Strange? - The Moody Blues
  11. I Can't Make You Love Me - Bonnie Raitt
  12. Dreamer - Supertramp
  13. Getting Closer - Billy Joel
  14. The Trumpet Shall Sound - Handel's Messiah
  15. Cold War - Styx
  16. Time and a Word - Yes
  17. Tapestry - Carole King
  18. A Hazy Shade of Winter - Simon and Garfunkel
  19. Black Friday - Steely Dan
  20. Mama - Genesis
Wow, I seriously only have 6 Broadway soundtracks on my iPod and there's representatives from 4 of them here. Also, I have about 500 bird songs and none of them are here. As you can see, I have a slant towards classic rock, cheesy love songs, and some random classical music. I also have a ton of 80's metal on there and I'm suprised none of that appeared.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Urgent! The Eagles at TLC need your help!

The Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, Alaska has taken in the 31 surviving bald eagles that were injured during the "fish gut disaster" in Kodiak that killed 20 eagles. This is way more than their facility usually handles and they need our help. They accept credit card donations by calling their office at 907-562-4850.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Resurrecting the Dodo

The enjoyable, but interesting, time-waster How Stuff Works asks Could scientists resurrect the dodo bird?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Townsend's Solitaire at Sandy Hook

While we were in New Mexico back in late November, a Townsend's Solitaire showed up at one of my frequent birding haunts, Sandy Hook. In fact, four rare birds showed up basically simultaneously - Western Kingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher (the first documented November NJ record), and the Townsend's Solitaire. Lucky for NJ birders, all four birds, which became known as the "Gang of Four," stuck around for quite a while. Unlucky for me, non-birding-related activities and other commitments kept me from seeing them. None were state birds and only the Solitaire and Ash-throated Flycatcher would have been new birds for my Sandy Hook list (one of the few non-traditional lists I keep). With the two "Flycatchers" long gone, I finally looked for the Solitaire on New Year's Eve, but struck out. I did find the Kingbird that day though.

Today, on my volunteering day, I was lucky enough to find the very abiding Townsend's Solitaire. I wish I had my camera because it was incredibly close. This was the best look I've had at the species by far. It's a sleek little bird. I got to hear it's distinctive call note too.

Many birders were milling about today. Bohemian Waxwings, the northern cousin to the ever-popular Cedar Waxwing, have been reported daily for the last week or so. I found several flocks of Cedar Waxwings, but none held that cherished chestnut-brown undertail. While I was working, I noticed a group of birders behind the building. They quickly disbursed and I though nothing of it. A few minutes later, a birder walked in to tell me that they just had 3(!!!) Bohemian Waxwings behind the building! D'oh! I went out and checked, but they had left. Oh well. Regardless, it was a great day at Sandy Hook with beautiful weather. The forecast is for some actual snow tonight - a big change from the mild weather we've been having. Happy Birding!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bullfinches in Japan - "Uso-kae"

From Dr. Robert DeCandido - a local ornithologist - via an acquaintance in Japan:

The bullfinch is called "uso" in Japanese. This is homonymous with the word for lie in this language.

In January some shinto shrines in Japan hold a ceremony called "uso-kae" which means change of lies or exchange of bullfinches. In this ceremony people exchange wooden bullfinch figures. By exchanging bullfinches it is believed that bad luck generated by lies that you have intentionally or unintentionally told in your life is changed into good luck supported by truth of "Tenjin" god of the shrine. Thus you are assured to be able to live a lucky life in the new year being rid of bad luck of the past.

The wooden bullfinch figure used in the ceremony is not a modern realistic sculpture but a work of traditional folk art. Foreigners may find the figure a good souvenir for bird-loving friends back home.

Thanks to a net surfing friend I can provide you below with addresses of web sites where you can find some photographic images of bullfinch figures. You will notice that there are a marked geographical variation among these birds. Sub-specific difference? I do not know.

Yushima-tenjin shrine in Bunkyo ward, Tokyo

Dazaifu-temmangu shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture

Kameido-tenjin in Koto ward, Tokyo

Kitano-temmangu in Fukuoka Prefecture

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Broad-billed Hummingbird in South Carolina

For those of you who don't subscribe to BIRDCHAT, check out these amazing up-close photos of a Broad-billed Hummingbird that was banded by the Hilton Pond Center. This is South Carolina's second record of this species.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Show Me The Way Mr. Honeyguide!

Have you ever heard of a bird called a Greater Honeyguide? I had heard of the Honeyguide (Indicatoridae) family in passing, but I didn't know much about them. I knew they lived in Africa and Asia, but that's about it. After listening to a recent edition of BirdNote, I learned a whole lot more.

The Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator), is the standout member of the family and the impetus for the family's name. They feed primarily on the contents of bee hives. And how do they get access to these bee hives? Check this out... the birds call loudly and flash their wings and tails to draw the attention of native honey-hunters. The bird then flies to a hive that it has previously scoped out and calls continuously. The honey-hunters follow the birds to a hive, smoke out the bees, and chop up the hive to take the honeycomb, leaving the rest for the bird to eat. How cool is that? Research suggests that this bird may also guide Honey Badgers and Baboons, but their is also research stating to the contrary.

One other honeyguide species, the Scaly-throated Honeyguide, may also "guide" people to honey, but some biologists disagree with this. The remaining honeyguide species are named due to relation only.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The GBBC! It's coming!

Heads up folks... mark your calendars... The Great Backyard Bird Count will soon be upon us. February 15-18 will be the days. If you don't know what the GBBC is, here's what Cornell has to say about it:

"The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds."

If you're up to it, sign up to be a GBBC Ambassador for your local community. Last year, the count had over 81,000 checklists submitted which shattered previous records. Let's try to shatter it again this year.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Orange-crowned vs. Nashville Warbler

This has been making the rounds on various mailing lists. I can't remember if any blogger has posted about it yet or not, so please forgive me if this is a repeat. Check out this interesting ID challenge. Is it an Orange-crowned or a Nashville?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

New Peterson Guide

Like any birder, I'm a sucker for new books. I'm also a huge Peterson fan so this makes me excited. The list of contributors includes several bloggers and several other notable birding personalities.


Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

by Roger Tory Peterson; Lee Allen Peterson

ISBN: 0618966145 / Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company / Date: Aug 2008 / Page Count: 528 / List price $26

In celebration of the centennial of Roger Tory Peterson's birth comes a historic collaboration among renowned birding experts and artists to preserve and enhance the Peterson legacy.

This new book combines the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds and Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds into one volume, filled with accessible, concise information and including almost three hours of video podcasts to make bird watching even easier.

- 40 new paintings
- Digital updates to Peterson's original paintings, reflecting the latest knowledge of bird identification
- All new maps for the most up-to-date range information available
- Text rewritten to cover the U.S. and Canada in one guide
- Larger trim size accommodates range maps on every spread
- Contributors include: Michael DiGiorgio, Jeff Gordon, Paul Lehman, Michael O'Brien, Larry Rosche, and Bill Thompson III
- Includes URL to register for access to video podcasts

(end copy)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Random Bird Fact of the Day

I recently picked up Peter Matthiessen's Wildlife in America at a local book sale. I had never seen this book even though it was originally published in 1959. It tells the history of man in North America and their impact to its wildlife. I'm only about 100 pages in, but it's been very interesting to read. There have been newer editions printed into the 70's that provide updates to some rediscovered species. Here's an interesting fact (or facts) that I learned:

The Labrador Duck (which you've probably heard of), believed to be the first North American bird to go extinct after 1500, was named after its breeding area - the Canadian area of Labrador. BUT, the nest of the bird was never described by science so we don't know for sure if they actually bred there. We do know that it wintered from Nova Scotia south to Chespapeake Bay. If I had lived 150 years ago or so, I could have probably added one to my Sandy Hook list! This duck was also known as the Pied Duck, Sand Shoal Duck, and Skunk Duck.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Parakeet Update

It's been quite a while since I posted an update on our parakeets, Roger (green) and Amelia (white). They are very healthy and doing quite well. Their wings grew in and we have not clipped them. We pretty much let them fly around our living room all they want except when we have a lot of company. They stay restricted to that room most of the time. Rarely one will fly into the kitchen. Each has developed their own personality. Amelia is the dominant one and Roger gets pushed around by her a lot. Amelia also seems to be more acrobatic. We call her the "little spider" because she likes to climb the walls and ceiling of the cage with her bill and feet. She even hangs upside down sometimes. Unfortunately, they are still afraid of us but we're using some training techniques to hopefully remedy that.

Here they are in flight:

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Kenn Kaufman's New Book

This is the first I've heard of this. From Kenn's web site:

"Ever since my memoir Kingbird Highway was published in 1997, readers have been asking me when I would write a sequel. After all, various people pointed out, the story told in that memoir ended before my 20th birthday, so surely I must have more material by now! I do, and many of my more recent adventures are described in 'Flights Against the Sunset', scheduled to be published by Houghton Mifflin Co. on April 24, 2008. I will be giving public programs and book signings in several major cities in conjunction with the publication of this book; more information on these appearances will be on this web site soon."

A Bird-related Happy New Year Message

I borrowed this New Year's greeting card from a post on a birding message board I participate in. Thanks to Dianne for posting it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Hungry Gull

"Mmm... that looks tasty. Share some or feel the wrath of my poop on your hood."

While searching for the Black-headed Gull at Manasquan Inlet yesterday, I ran into my friend Dave. He decided to warm up in his car and have a bite to eat. As soon as he unwrapped his sandwich, a visitor appeared at his window. It was very interested in a meal and it even drooled a bit on his windshield. Dave decided to not share his peanut butter for fear it would stick to the gull's bill.