Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 10 Birds of the Decade

A few bloggers have started posting Top 10 Birds of the Decade lists (here and here). I think David's is a little more meaningful, but this will be a fun exercise. Although I had been birdwatching many times as a kid, I didn't really start actively birding on my own until 2001 or so. I didn't chase much for the first few years.

My Top 10 US Birds in no particular order (it's easier to limit it to a US list):

1. Green Violet-ear in Navasink, NJ - showed up on my birthday and I got to see it at sunrise the next morning. It flew off a short time later never to be seen again.
2. Long-billed Murrelet - this is the only bird on the list that I didn't actually see, but I missed this extremely rare bird TWICE. I missed the one at Sandy Hook because I was at a meeting drawing pictures of my annual accomplishments. LAME. I chased it a few days later and missed it. Then I missed another at Lake Nockamixon. Boo.
3. Great Gray Owl - one of the more impromptu acts of my life was hopping on a plane to Minnesota in February 2005 to see the owl invasion there.
4. Northern Hawk Owl - one of my favorite birds, obviously. I first got to see one in Minnesota and then saw another last year in New Hampshire.
5. Ivory Gull - Not one, but two!
6. Bicknell's Thrush - one of my most enjoyable birding experiences was hiking up Wakely Mountain to see Bicknell's Thrush with fellow bird bloggers.
7. Western Reef-Heron - chased twice in NY and both times I was joined by my wife. It was her first rarity chase and we had a lot of fun. Saw it on the second try.
8. Swallow-tailed Kite - seeing a bunch of these along with a throng of Mississippi Kites in Georgia was a real highlight for me and my wife
9. Green Jay - How can you not love this bird?
10. Hoary Redpoll - only because I froze my butt off in the town of Embarass, MN and had my parents think that I died in a car crash just to see one. My cell phone had cut out while on the phone with my mom and I didn't get service back. When I got service back an hour or two later, I had 11 voicemails.

I'm sure I missed some good ones. What are your top 10?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Birding on a Soap Opera

My wife is addicted to Days of Our Lives, a US soap opera. I will admit that I do watch and enjoy the ridiculous story lines. Ok, stop laughing. In any event, we were watching it today and two of the characters were birding! Here's a snapshot:

The character on the left remarked that the American Goldfinch was "much too far north for this time of year." The guy on the right responded, "To me they're just rats with feathers." That's a Peterson Field Guide in his hand, the 5th edition. Pretty funny.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A gull of the Ivory variety

In case you haven't heard, an immature Ivory Gull was found in Cape May, NJ on Friday. This is the 5th record of this species for NJ - 1940, 1955, and 2 in 1986. So, as you can imagine, the NJ birding scene and much of the mid-Atlantic is buzzing about the bird. As you may recall, I saw my first Ivory Gull in Piermont, NY in 2007. That didn't stop me from going to see this one in my own state. So, down I headed the 2+ hour drive very early on Sunday. I got to the marina that it favors and only had to wait 15 minutes or so before the gorgeous white creature appeared. I was joined by friends from VA and NJ and we spent a long while photographing and observing the bird. It was insanely accommodating, doing circuits over the crowd of birders, perching close by for photos, and picking from the water. It was nuts. Here are some photos.

Cape May Ivory Gull Photos - Nov. 29, 2009

Oh and did I mention it was a spectacularly sunny and warm day for late November? After viewing the gull, we hit some of the other Cape May hotspots. We got word of a Selasphorus hummingbird at a local feeder which we got to see. We also saw Eurasian Wigeon, Common Eiders, a few lingering Baltimore Orioles, a Bald Eagle or three, and a few lovely Red-shouldered Hawks. We struck out on the Swainson's Hawk that's been down there for nearly a month. All in all, it was a great day to be out. The gull is still being seen as of today. So if you didn't see one of the Massachusetts birds last year, you get a second shot. Although not an adult, this bird is still a beauty and it's a chance to see a bird that is not only rare in the US, but becoming more rare globally.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pelican Blood Movie Trailer

Wait, what's this? An actual post! Watch the trailer below for the British film, Pelican Blood, based on the novel by Cris Freddi. The main character is a birder or a twitcher as the case may be. Warning: Foul language.

Pelican Blood Trailer from TOBY COURLANDER on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Welcome our new baby!

Julian Patrick Belardo
Born: 10/2/09 5:57 PM 9 lbs. 10 oz. and 21 1/4" long
Mom and baby are doing great!!!
You can read our birth story here and you can see a slideshow of photos here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


For some reason, this just popped into my head today. It's a mnemonic I learned for tree and shrub identification: MADCAP HORSE. It is used to help you remember which trees and shrubs have opposite leaves. It works here in NJ at least.

CAPrifoliaceae - viburnums and honeysuckles*
HORSE Chestnut

*I think viburnums are now in the family Adoxaceae, so this may be a bit confusing

I'm sure there may be exceptions to this mnemonic, but it's worked for me.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Moth Night Photos

Last night was "Moth Night" sponsored by the East Brunswick Environmental Commission. I was joined by John at A DC Birding Blog. Lots of families with kids, lots of good questions, and some pretty neat moths. Here are photos. If anyone cares to make some IDs for these, please do. I'll be checking them in the field guide over the coming days.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cricket Crawl

If you're local to NY and free on September 11, you can join the Cricket Crawl. It's a citizen sciene survey of 7 common cricket and katydid species. The web site has a link to learn the calls of these 7 species, so that's useful, even if you can't attend.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Filmy Dome Spider

My parents have a group of spiders living in a large hedge that separates their yard from the neighbor's yard. The spiders build dome-shaped nest and are possibly Filmy Dome Spiders (genus Neriene). I was able to get a photo of the web, but not the spiders themselves. My point-and-click camera wouldn't focus on them. The spiders are about an inch long including legs. There are several webs in about a 3 foot square area. The detail of the dome webs is incredible. The web shown below is about 8" across. The second photo is a zoomed in version of the first photo.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shooting dragonflies with a gun

Note to self: Don't try to shoot a dragonfly. Check out the story here.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Sorry for the lack of posts lately - we're in full-blown "nesting" mode. Beth made a comment on Facebook about her being in nesting mode. Of course, one of my witty friends responded, "Do you find that Pat watches you from a distance with binoculars while you are nesting?" Baby Julian will be here sometime around Sept. 16.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lucy Wayles

Has anyone ever read the "Lucy Wayles" mystery books by Lydia Adamson? The titles include Beware the Butcher Bird, Beware the Tufted Duck, and Beware the Laughing Gull.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bird-themed Baby Gifts

Yesterday was Beth's baby shower. I was sure we'd be overrun with bird-themed baby gifts, but we were not. We only got a few. Some were Charley Harper-related things we registered for (more in a future post) and we also got a few outfits with cute birds on them. Beth's best friend gave us a crap load of hand-me-down clothing from her son, who will turn 1 in Sept. Within the bags and bags of clothes were these slippers.

Monday, July 06, 2009

It's my lucky day!

On top of what's already been an awesome year, I was ecstatic to hear that I won a guided birding trip to Puerto Rico through Wildside Nature Tours!!! The trip will likely be in January and you can bet there will be lots of posts and photos to come. Many thanks to the crew at 10,000 Birds and Wildside Nature Tours for having the contest.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Birding Board Games Pt. 2

I hope you enjoyed the first part of my posts on birding board games. I only have two (right now) and this is the second - also picked up on eBay. It's The Birding Game with Roger Tory Peterson. Again, I haven't actually played this one. It's brand new despite the beat-up box.

The game centers around the theme of a "big day" - trying to see as many species as you can and earn as much money for conservation as possible in a single day. The game includes 4 sets of "habitat" cards (Woodlands, Freshwater, Saltwater Marsh, and Open Country) and cards for equipment, sponsorship, "habitat entry", and "birder's luck." "Birder's luck" is like the Monopoly "Chance" card of this game. The box also includes a trimmed-down version of the Peterson Guide with just plates. More on the use of that and the cards in a moment.

You move around the board using your little owl head pieces. What? No little Scotty dog or boot?

As you move around the board, you collect the equipment, sponsorship, "habitat entry", and "birder's luck." When you land on a habitat card and you have the appropriate "habitat entry" card, another player reads you the card. The card directs you to identify a bird on a specific plate in the field guide. If you identify the bird correctly, you can add that bird to your checklist. If you answer correctly, you then have the chance to answer a bonus question, but only if you have the right equipment card. The bonus question is a trivia question about that species. If you get the question right, you earn bonus dollars. The questions are divided into 4 difficulty levels depending on your expertise as a birder - from beginner to hardcore lister. You must choose a difficulty level at the beginning of the game.

Your winnings are recorded on a scoresheet. The game ends when the first player fills in the list of species on the scoresheet.

The next bird fest I'm at, I'll be sure to bring these games along with me if it's within driving distance. Maybe we need a "Birds & Beers & Games" type event here in NJ!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

"Wildman" Steve Brill

Last night, Beth and I attended a program on edible wild plants by "Wildman" Steve Brill at the gorgeous Franklin Township Library. The Wildman is a dynamic fellow who has been foraging for wild edible plants in the NY-NJ-CT area for more than 25 years. He's an educator who visits schools, garden clubs, and other organizations. He also hosts many field trips throughout the area. The "Wildman" is (in)famous for being arrested in 1986 in Central Park for eating a dandelion leaf - a very funny story.

Steve's program is an overview of the benefits of foraging, information on ecology, and the historic and current human uses of the plants and fungi in the northeast. My best way to describe him is, as I said to Beth is, "He's quite the character." His presentation is full of puns and witicisms, which was great for me since we have a similar sense of humor. He's also great with kids and an engaging storyteller. I was happy to see kids there and Steve involved them by having them help hand out samples.

The program included a lot of examples of plants and mushrooms that Steve had picked that day. We were able to taste many of the samples too. These included Lamb's-quarters, Black Birch, Ramps (delicious!), Pineapple Weed, and our favorite - Poor Man's Pepper. The mushrooms were very interesting including a bolete that turns blue when you break it open. As is apparently important when it comes to foraging, the Wildman stressed the importance of knowing what you're eating and the toxic effects of eating the wrong thing. As he said when referring to one toxic plant, and I'm paraphrasing here, "You get the most horrible diarrhea, vomiting, and pains. This continues until you die. Then the symptoms go away."

We had a great time at the presentation and also purchased two of Steve's books. Unfortunately, he was sold out of his vegetarian cook book, but we'll definitely be getting that one soon. If you live in the tri-state area, try to get out to one of the Wildman's lectures or better yet, one of his field trips.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Birding Board Game Pt. 1

Over the years, I have purchased two birding-themed board games on eBay. This isn't Birdopoly we're talking about here. These are actual games about birding. I'm going to highlight both games in this post and a subsequent post. The first game is called Gone Birding. Published in 1990, it's a video-based game hosted by Bill Oddie and Peter Alden. You also may recognize the artwork on the cover and playing cards. Let me start my description of the game by saying that I haven't actually played it, but I plan to the next time I can get a group of birders together in a non-birding situation. Is that even possible?

This is the board above. The premise is relatively simple. You are on a cross-country birding trip trying to see as many species as possible. The person who "sees" the most species wins. You are dealt a series of cards from a "hotspot" deck at the start of the game. These cards each list a well-known birding spot. As you "visit" each spot, you pick up birds for your list.

You also pick up "Surprise" cards along the way (including a very surprised-looking puffin). Surprise cards help change the game up a bit and keep it interesting, sort of like a Chance card in Monopoly. Some of them are pretty funny as you can see in the second photo.

The video element of the game helps create the flow of the game through a series of ID challenges and also takes you from hotspot to hotspot. There are 10 games on the tape, each leading you through an approximately 2-hour board game experience. It seems like an interesting game. Have any of you played this game? Anyone want to come over and play? I hope the video tape works!

The Sibley Guide to Trees?

Holy cow, how did I miss that David Sibley is coming out with a Guide to Trees? AWESOME. Pre-order it here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Butterfly back from the brink

ScienceDaily has a really neat article on discoveries that saved the Large Blue butterfly from extinction, a European species with a very interesting life cycle. The article stresses the importance of understanding the entire life cycle of a species and its ecological interdependencies.

And yes, I've been a lazy blogger. Facebook is a good eater of time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Help Legalize Beekeeping in NYC

Who knew that beekeeping was illegal in NYC? Hrmph. Well, you can help out by signing a petition to lift that ban.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gull struck by winning hit in baseball game

Royals vs. Indians last night - story and video here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

CSA Bounty

Excitement abounds! We are members of the Rutgers Community Supported Agriculture program this year and today was our first pick up. The cold and wet weather here made the share a bit small this week, but it's still plenty for the two of us. I'm sure we'll have MORE than enough over the summer to make up for it. Our stash includes:

LOTS of salad greens including one that tastes remarkably like wasabi (some type of arugula maybe?)
Pea shoots
Lemon Balm

So, my first order of business was to address a craving I had for scallion pancakes. Consider it done.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"Lawrence's" Warbler

For the past month or so, a "Lawrence's" Warbler has been seen at the Kay Environmental Center in Morris County. I got to see it on Saturday. This is the rarer of the two Golden-winged Warbler x Blue-winged Warbler hybrids - "Brewster's" Warbler is the other. It was singing the bee-buzz song of a Blue-winged Warbler. Neat bird! Learn more about Cornell's Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project which also tracks hybrids.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Monk Parakeets

As I reported a few months ago, Monk Parakeets have officially been added to the NJ state checklist of birds. The "lister" in me finally had a chance to see them and count them for my state list. There are two populations I know of. There's a fairly large population in Edgewater, about an hour and 15 minutes from me. There's a much smaller population in Carteret - about 20 minutes from me and within my county. My friend's grandson has been monitoring two nests in Carteret and I went to see one today. As is typical of this species in urban habitats, the nest is on a telephone pole. I saw one adult perched with nesting material next to the nest, but he quickly entered the nest. I waited about 10 minutes and two adults emerged and took off to points unknown. I waited a bit, but did not see any more activity. I had to get home, so that was that! Here's a look at the massive nest.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Trap, Neuter, and Release: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds

If you don't get the American Bird Conservancy's email newsletter, you may not have gotten a chance to see this video about the Trap, Neuter, Release programs implemented in many cities around the country.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Becoming a more local birder

When it comes to birding locally or having a "local patch", I am ashamed to say that it's not something I've embraced. Is it because I don't have any good habitat nearby? Not at all - there are some decent parks around and even a darn good one on a major river on my way to work. I've never once stopped there to bird before work. :( No I don't have any excuse. There are terrific grasslands 20 minutes away, marshes nearby, and a bayfront not too far away.

For some reason, I'm always willing to default to a 45 minute drive to bird at Sandy Hook. It's partially because I like the social element of birding there where I'm bound to run into other birders - and usually ones I know. It's also a place I feel comfortable and I know it well.

With Baby Julian (did I mention he has a name?) coming in September, I know that birding closer to home will become a necessity. I'm going to embrace it fully. I've already began researching local spots, checking out Google maps, and talking to friends. I'd like to concentrate on my home county of Middlesex County even though I'm on the border of a county that has a lot better habitat (and a fall hawkwatch). Middlesex County, in my opinion, is very underbirded except for a small handful of locations. It's mostly developed, but has some interesting waterfront areas, a major river, some nice swamps, and even an odd remnant piece of Pine Barrens habitat (more on that in a future post). It's a pretty large county by NJ standards too. So, stay tuned for future posts highlighting some of these locations and the birds I find along the way. My one big question is... Can someone tell me where there is decent grassland habitat in this county!?

Monday, May 25, 2009

GREAT Swamp Birding

Last week, an adult White Ibis was found at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There are only a handful of inland records of this species and I had never seen one in NJ (despite there being a few sightings of one last year). Sunday was a beautiful morning, so I headed out early to the spot where it had been seen most regularly. A few other birders were around and we all waited patiently for the bird to show with no luck. Other birds were there for our enjoyment though. Lots of Yellow Warblers were around and I was able to get a good shot of one.

I also saw Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (a pic not worth publishing - it's so bad!), Swamp Sparrow, and several Green Herons. The highlight while waiting for the Ibis was a gorgeous singing Mourning Warbler. I've never had such good views of this bird even on breeding grounds in the Adirondaks. He was a bit too skittish for my camera, but I was able to get a shot.

At this time, a gentleman with a camera approached us. He mentioned that he had seen the White Ibis from a blind a few miles away and showed us a photo on his camera. So, another birder and I zoomed over to the boardwalk trails where the blind is located. On a mission, we booked down the trail to the blind where a couple pointed us to the White Ibis. Albeit distant and hunkered down in the marsh, we were all able to enjoy great looks. See my horrid photo below. If you want great looks at this bird, the best place to see them is Disney World. They are EVERYWHERE there. All in all, a nice morning out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Potential new birding TV show

Richard Crossley, birder and author, has been working on a proposal for a new TV show about birding in the city. Animal Planet is interested, but they are surveying people to see if there really is a market for the show. Watch the five minute preview and then fill out the survey to let them know what you think.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bay - the color, not the place

Beth and I had a discussion on the term "bay" as in "Bay-breasted Warbler" today. I had crippling views (as the Brits would say) of one yesterday at Sandy Hook. I was without camera of course due to an insane amount of fog and mist. Of course, the mist lifted momentarily and gave pretty decent light on the warbler. Ugh. Anyway, Beth had never heard the term "bay" used to describe a color, so I did some research. It's a term typically reserved for the brown color in horses and typically those with a black mane contrasting with the brown body. Here are some photos for comparison.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

World Series of Birding Recap

Ok, so I'm a few days late for the 100th I & The Bird, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go read it. Good job Nate!

So the World Series of Birding has come and gone. In a year of excitement and non-birding life craziness, the WSB didn't have the same sense of anticipation for me as it has in the past. Regardless, it was a phenomenal day at Sandy Hook filled with splendid birds and terrific company. I think I look forward to seeing the people more than the birds, honestly. Not to bore you with a long play-by-play, I'll list some of the highlights and lowlights of the day. You'll have to wait until the end to see our results. Also, I was a slacker as a photographer on Sat. so I have nothing to share.

  • It was more or less a weather miracle. Forecasts were for rain in the morning and we never got a drop.
  • The biggest highlight for me is an easy one: Two Mississippi Kites flew over our group at different times (maybe the same bird). This was a state bird for me.
  • Both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls - For me, this has been the best year for white-winged gulls that I can recall in the last 10 years. I had never seen Glaucous at Sandy Hook and it made a long "death march" well worth it.
  • A stunning Blackburnian Warbler (photo below) visited us during dinner right in front of the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory building. The funny thing is that a Blackburnian visited us during lunch several years back.

  • The world's most abiding Clapper Rail gave everyone great looks during lunch.
  • Two Bald Eagles were seen by the group, plus I had another one later in the day with a smaller group.
  • Singing Chuck-will's-widows were a first for me at the Hook
  • A Yellow-breasted Chat was seen by some of the group, but I missed it. I haven't seen one in a few years. I sat there for 15 minutes at the location where many people saw it and never saw it.
  • A big wall of fog hung over the northern part of Sandy Hook early in the morning which may have hindered the bird activity.
  • Not everyone heard about this, but a mystery flycatcher was seen by a reliable observer who was not part of our team. The best guess was a Streaked/Sulphur-bellied type. It was not seen again.
  • SUNBURN! I was stupid and didn't put sunblock on. I was quite colorful when I got home.
Our total for the day was 134 species - a total I'd stack up against any other 7 mile by .5 mile stretch of land in the US.
(Thanks to Bob for the photo - I was a photo slacker on Sat.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A pause in our regular programming

Baby boy Belardo pics below! We have decided to name him Julian Patrick. Bobolink was a close second in name choices. :) I owe you all (and myself) a post about the World Series. Yikes, I might miss the deadline for IATB 100...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Baby Belardo and the WSB

It has thus been determined that Baby Belardo is a boy! Let the blue clothing pour in.

The World Series of Birding is this Saturday. It came on quick this year. After the great fun and success of the Super Bowl of Birding in January, I wanted to have a team of bloggers and do a whole state run. Well, schedules of the members of the Super Bowl teams didn't work out (except for Christopher) and my schedule wasn't cooperating, so I decided to delay an all-blogger WSB run for next year. I just didn't have time to do any real scouting and planning. Some may say it will be even harder next year with Baby Boy Belardo, but I will make the time. So, this year, I will be once again be assisting with the "Sandy Hook Century Run." We'll try to see how many species we can see only at Sandy Hook. Check out last year's results. Wish us luck and wish us GOOD WEATHER!!!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Favorite Warbler Song?

Ok, time for a poll. What's your favorite warbler song? Let's stick with North American wood warblers. It's a tough call, but I think I'm going to go with Blackburnian.

Citizen Science

CNN has an article on citizen science today.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A miserable rainy day grebe

It seems yesterday was the day to be out birding after seeing the amazing reports from Garret Mountain (a popular migrant trap in northern NJ). Unfortunately, TODAY was the day I chose to go birding. We had a potluck gathering for all Sandy Hook Bird Observatory volunteers. There was a great turnout despite a steady rain that was quite heavy at times. The highlight of the day, for me, was a breeding-plumaged Red-necked Grebe in Spermaceti Cove. That plumage is a fairly rare sight in NJ and it's the first time I've ever seen it. Sorry, no pics due to the rain. The second highlight was the food. I should have taken photos of that! It was quite the spread.

Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day

Today is May Day and I will be celebrating by working, then maybe birding if it stops raining, and then taking a whole week off of work to just chill and do some work around the house. I'll definitely be birding too next week. In honor of May Day and being the big hockey fan I am, check out one of my favorite hockey calls ever.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Butterflies in Cape May

Not only were birds plentiful this weekend in Cape May, but the butterflies were out in force too. One of the specialties at Belleplain State Forest and parts of Cape May are the Elfins: Brown Elfin, Pine Elfin, and Henry's Elfin. This Henry's Elfin below was photographed at Higbee Beach. Sorry for the poor quality. This thing is the size of a nickel! We did not see any of the other elfins unfortunately.

Belleplain was overloaded with Juvenal's Duskywings. The Duskywings, like the Skippers, are akin to the gulls and shorebirds of the butterfly world. They are all, more or less, some shade of gray with a miscellaneous pattern of some other shade of gray. They're made a bit easier if you know which ones are flying at what times of the year. This time of year, Juvenal's are the only ones with a small vertical line of white spots at the leading edge of the forewing. Note that this species is named for the Roman poet, Juvenal. The name is no indication of the age of the butterfly, although several people asked this understandable question!

We had several other species of butterfly including American Lady (below), Orange and Clouded Sulphur, and Mourning Cloak. While eating lunch at the Forsythe Refuge, I found a Falcate Orangetip doing its best Cabbage White impression. It was too quick to photograph, but it was a first for NJ for me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Belleplain State Forest Birding

August-like temperatures made for an interesting late-April weekend birding around Cape May county. On Saturday, we primarily birded Belleplain State Forest about 40 minutes northwest of Cape May. This time of year is fantastic for breeding and migrant warblers and their “friends” at Belleplain. It’s also a nice spot for butterflies (more on that in a future post). The day started out with cool temperatures but peaked in the low 80s by mid-afternoon.

Our group met up at the Headquarters and birded along the roads all morning. Our first spot yielded the song of a Yellow-throated Warbler. The song was likened to water cascading down steps by our trip leader and I think that’s a terrific mnemonic. My promise of even a bad shot of the Yellow-throated Warbler did not work out as this bird was pretty well hidden in the treetops. I got some brief views of that glowing throat though!

We were greeted by other terrific birds. Ovenbirds called “TEACHER-TEACHER” from the woods, but never showed themselves. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers bounced around with several building nests of lichen, moss, and leaves. A blotchy Indigo Bunting perched near an empty feeder. Black-and-White Warblers sang “weeza-weeza” in the treetops and a White-eyed Vireo sang “Pick-up-the-beer-check” as my friend likes to say.

We visited a new spot to me that consisted of farm fields and “scrub-shrub” habitat. Here we found some species that love this habitat – lots of singing Prairie Warblers and a few Orchard Orioles. For some reason, I find it hard to pick up the song of the Orchard Oriole. I hear it fine. It just doesn't stick in my brain like other birds.

A final stop before lunch was a sandy road leading to a swamp. Our target here was the “Golden Swamp Warbler” – AKA the Prothonotary Warbler. We met some other birders there who had a brief glimpse of the Prothonotary. So we waited… and waited… and finally a distant “SWEET-SWEET-SWEET” call rang out. It stayed ever so out of reach until the bird flew literally at our group and then did a fast u-turn and landed on a tree only 10 feet away. Stunning! I rattled off a few bad pics. See below.

We finished the day at Jake’s Landing, a favorite writing topic for Pete Dunne. On the marshes there, we saw a young Bald Eagle, tons of Willets, and had a brief glimpse of a Clapper Rail. The sun was beating down hard and I wasunfortunately sunburned. A nice late afternoon nap was in store!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm still alive!

Hey readers... I'm still alive. We're FINALLY checking out of the hotel today or tomorrow - over one month after checking in! The work on our house took WAY longer than expected due to some poor painting and re-work. Now, it's a battle with the insurance company and our condo association which is worse than staying in a hotel. In other news, Beth and I will be relaxing and birding in Cape May this weekend! Yeah! I hope to get a horrible photo of a Yellow-throated Warbler to share with everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cornell's New "All About Birds" Site

Cornell launched their fantastically redesigned All About Birds site today. Learn about all the new features through Cornell's Round Robin Blog.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Western Tanager in NJ

I guess this NJ Birds editor job is paying off! I got a note today from someone at NJ Audubon asking me to check out a report of a Western Tanager at a feeder in nearby Plainfield. I gave the homeowner a call and found out that it was someone I actually knew. I had birded her yard during the Raritan Estuary Xmas Count twice. Her yard was a hotspot for a wintering Brown Thrasher for several years.

So anyway, I went to check out the bird and was very confident that the owner was correct in her ID. I arrived at the house and within minutes a gorgeous male Western Tanager landed on the feeder. Huzzah! I got some crappy pictures through the window of her kitchen. The pic above was the best of them. This represents one of only a handful of spring records for Western Tanager in NJ.

Awesome Kea Pics (not mine)

I love the pics and this story about a Kea from Peregrine's Bird Blog. I wish our pet parakeets had this much personality! Keas are notoriously curious of people (probably not a good thing), and I've heard stories of them doing damage to equipment and rental cars with those huge bills.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Scotts Bird Seed Commercial

Wow, I never thought I'd see a commercial for bird seed on TV, but I just did! Scotts' new commercial claims you'll get twice as many Indigo Buntings!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A chick! - Duke Farms Eagle Cam Update

A chick was seen in the nest on Monday morning and has been seen on and off since then. I only caught it briefly twice, but it was super cute. The adult was feeding it and it was extremely cool. The rest of time, the adult sits on it. I hope a second egg will hatch soon.

Beth loves the way that the adult "wiggles" when it settles into the nest. I hope you're all enjoying it. It's caused some productivity loss at my company for sure. :)

I never thought I'd be into one of these live cams...

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ready to Hatch! Duke Farms Eagle Cam

I'm sure I'm not the first bird blogger to post this... NJ residents are excited about the Duke Farms Eagle Cam. The eggs are apparantly ready to hatch any moment. I've had the link sent to me by a few non-birders and have seen a bunch of people post about it on Facebook, so it's been great local PR for the birds. Duke Farms is Doris Duke's estate located about 12 miles from me in Hillsborough, NJ. Although the property is private, NJ Audubon runs birding and nature trips there throughout the year. In partnership with Rutgers, Duke Farms has put together a tremendous environmental stewardship program. The habitat, especially the grasslands, are phenomenal. In recent years, they have had breeding Henslow's Sparrow and Dickcissel! These are both very rare breeders in NJ.

A Mighty Wind

Holy crud was it windy yesterday! I led a "Birding for Beginners" walk at Sandy Hook that I was lucky to have 6 brave souls show up for. Now, on a regular day, Sandy Hook is more windy than most places since it's jammed between a bay and the ocean with nothing to really block the wind. But yesterday was different. It was REALLY windy on the mainland and INSANELY windy at Sandy Hook with gusts up around 60 mph by some estimates. Wind + birds + beginners does not a good day make.

Incredibly, it turned out to be not half bad. In the early morning, hundreds of birds were overhead presumably trying to make landfall after being blown to sea. Most were Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Zipping by our group, aided by the wind, it was difficult to get good looks, but it was quite the spectacle. These birds were joined by the star of the day - dozens of American Kestrels were migrating through. Every time I looked up I saw one. Again, it was tough for the group to get on them, but neat to see. The group did get to enjoy several Ospreys, a "Gray Ghost" Harrier, Turkey Vultures, an American Oystercatcher, and some Great Egrets. A few groups of Northern Gannets strayed into the bay and were quite close to shore. It was worth standing with the wind in our faces for a few moments to observe them. I was hoping one would dive, but no luck! We sought some shelter in a wooded area, but the birds didn't cooperate. Only a few robins and crows were around. I did get to spend a lot of time talking about birds and conservation, so that was nice.

Our group also included two kids - 9 and 7. They were enthusiastic and asked lots of questions. They almost got blown away a few times though. All in all it turned out to be an ok day despite the uncooperative weather.

Sorry, no pics today. It was too darn exhausting in the wind to lug around my camera AND my scope.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Fun with Google Book Search

Wow, what rock have I been under? Google Book Search is too cool. The preview mode has a pretty good assortment of bird books including the Peterson Gulls of the Americas, Birder's Conservation Handbook, Birding in the America West, and many others. For many books, the previews are very detailed, but for many it is just one or two pages. Don't be fooled by the links that show a page number in the title. For many that is just the page that the preview starts on.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bird ID Quiz

Here's a fun ID quiz for y'all. All photos were taken in the fall of 2008 in NJ. Please leave your guesses in the comments. Sorry, no prizes available. Photo 4 may cause some debate based on what I've cropped out of the pic, but the others should be relatively easy. Thanks to Anthony Laquidara for pics 1,3,4,5 and to C. Takacs for pic 2.