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.