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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Cache Valley Birds

On the 28th I went back for a second helping of Sharp-tailed Grouse in Paradise, where we found 10 birds in trees. Also got good looks at three Ring-necked Pheasants, also in trees--but little else besides House Finches, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos, and an immature Bald Eagle.

Then we headed up to the small reservoir at the mouth of Logan Canyon to see the Barrow's Goldeneye that are always there this time of year with Common Goldeneyes. The wind was blowing too much in the canyon to enjoyably search for other birds up there, so we drove around the Utah State University campus neighborhoods looking for winter birds--rewarded with lots of Cassin's Finches with flocks of House Finches, four Townsend's Solitaires, a couple of Pine Siskins, and finally after chasing down flocks of birds--300+ Bohemian Waxwings with a handful of Cedar Waxwings mixed in.

The best bird of the morning was a male Eastern Bluebird (very rare in Utah) mixed in with the waxwing flock. I only saw it for a few seconds before the whole flock of waxwings took off, splitting into two large groups and flew away. I couldn't find the bluebird after the flock flew. Other birders are looking for it, hopefully someone can find it in with the waxwings or perhaps hanging out elsewhere in Logan.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thanksgiving Point Diatryma

In the afternoon we all went to the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point south of Salt Lake City. This is the best dinosaur and fossil museum I've ever been to, with world-class displays rivaling the Smithsonian. The dinosaur fossils are simply amazing, including full-size reconstructions of Supersaurus and the large Brachiasaurus formerly classified as Ultrasaurus. The sealife fossils are superb as well, and include many Precambrian and later invertebrate fossils. And of course, there were the bird fossils--including a Diatryma mount and the obligatory Archaeopteryx. The world is a very cool place--especially when you consider the many worlds and species that have come into being and passed away. The museum at Thanksgiving Point is a fantastic entry into those worlds, and well worth a visit if you are in Utah. Of if you're really into this stuff, worth traveling to Utah just to see!

Birding Paradise

Before a morning of family activities, I headed down to Paradise, Utah at the southern end of Cache Valley for a little birding in the morning. Paradise is a small community surrounded by farmland and rangeland. It only took me a couple minutes to see four Sharp-tailed Grouse in flight flying right over the residential yards. The birds landed in small trees in several yards next to the road, where I got fantastic looks at these prairie grouse. It was a real treat to see these birds out in the open at close range--my past experiences with them have been mostly quick looks at birds flushed out of their grassland habitat. In the same area as the grouse, an immature Northern Shrike was roaming the treetops. A great couple of birds to start the morning, especially in a residential area. Gives new meaning to the concept of suburban birds!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Slaty-backed Gull--No

This morning a Slaty-backed Gull was found at a dump half an hour from my office so I trucked over there in the rain to find that it had flown shortly after it was found, and hadn't been seen since. I spent a couple hours there and was able to get some nice looks at Iceland Gulls and a probable Nelson's Gull (Herring Gull x Glaucous Gull hybrid). Also nice to see several Great Cormorants roosting on a buoy in the Delaware River south of the Bristol Bridge.

I've missed Slaty-backed a couple times in the past--including a bird I had in Texas that I was pretty sure was this species at Bolivar Flats in April 1995, but a dog and jogger scared it away before I could be see all of the necessary fieldmarks.

Perhaps this bird will stick around, but there are tens of thousands of gulls down at the Tulleytown Dump, the birds move around all the time, and it can be tough to relocate these beasts!

Birdchaser at DVOC

Had a great time last night with the uproarious Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, where I gave a talk on How Birds See the World. Always great to hang out with other birders, and the DVOC is one of the most storied bird clubs in the country.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Birdscreens help birds

Check out the local news video (online here) of Frank Haas's Birdscreens. They can help save birds!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Common Redpolls

On my walk this morning before work I had 16 Common Redpolls fly overhead and then saw a male perched and calling on a treetop. When the perched bird flew off it was joined by a second redpoll that I hadn't seen earlier as they headed off over the treetops.

I've been looking for these birds all month, since its shaping up to be a banner year for them in the Lower 48 states. I've never lived where redpolls are more than very rare or even accidental winter visitors, so these were new to me. Thank goodness I didn't just roll over when the alarm said it was time to go for my morning constitutional!

Upper Bucks Christmas Bird Count

This weekend was the Upper Bucks County Christmas Bird Count. Once again I covered my area, a five mile stretch of highway between Quakertown and Coopersburg and side roads a mile on either side (see map here). Last year I got 36 species in this area of strip malls, suburbs, and farm fields with no public land to speak of.

This year the count morning started with a quarter inch of ice on my car. The roads were a little slick, and it was freezing rain. The temperature was supposed to climb throughout the day, but the rain was forecast to continue. So, I headed out slowly on the slick roads.

Fortunately, there were hardly any cars on the roads, so I was able to slowly drive the major roads that had been plowed of the slush and ice. By 9am I had already found 28 species--my goal of finding more species than last year seemed possible, even in the storm.

Then I hit a wall. No new birds for over an hour. Finally, a Cooper's Hawk flew over the highway at 10:30. Fifteen minutes later a group of six Common Mergansers flew over. Then my first Red-tailed Hawk of the morning and two Eastern Bluebirds. At a 11:45 I got a Red-breasted Nuthatch at a roadside bird feeder, and an American Robin called as I drove past a woodlot. Things were slowing down. I was at 34 species for the morning, so there was still lots of hope.

Then I got an emergency call that a friend's basement was flooding so I had to leave the count and go help move furniture. As I left my count area the clouds really let it all out and I was only too happy to take a break from the heavy downpour.

Finally back on the job at 1:30, the rain had slowed but so had the birding. Driving some back roads I was able to pish up a male Eastern Towhee and then a Carolina Wren called back in the woods. I had tied my count from last year. At 3:13 a Winter Wren along a railroad cut ditch put me over the top.

The last hour or so of of sunlight is often one of the best times during a Christmas Bird Count. The morning is always good, things slow way down in the middle of the day, but those last hour or so always bring surprises.

During the last hour of the day I was able to find eight more species, including a Northern Harrier and Turkey Vulture that were flying after the rain cleared up at 3:30. At dusk, I drove back to the field where the harrier had been, to see if any owls might come out. Apparently it wasn't quite dark yet, as I didn't see any owls but did have an American Kestrel plucking its prey on the top of a power pole. A few minutes later I got my last new bird of the day when a flock of six Horned Larks flew up out of the field and headed off to the northwest.

So, after driving 71 miles and birding eight hours mostly from the car, I ended up with 45 species for the day. No real surprises, but a pretty good day for birding in an ice storm!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Local Long-billed Murrelet Chase

(photo:Gerry Dewaghe)

I was working from home this morning getting ready for a conference call when I got an email telling me that a Long-billed Murrelet, a rare Asian bird never before documented in Pennsylvania was at Lake Nockamixon close to my house. Fifteen minutes later I was the third birder on the scene and got great looks at this beautiful bird. Within half an hour there were more than 20 cars there as everyone joined the viewing party. I had to leave early to take my conference call, but what a great way to start the day! Thanks to Jason Horn for finding the bird and getting the word out immediately.

If this isn't a bird you are familiar with, you can read about it in Steve Mlodinow's 1997 Birding article.

UPDATE: When I picked up my fifth grader from school this afternoon, I made a quick call and found that the bird was still being seen, albeit a mile farther up the lake at the marina, so we trooped up there so we could get a quick look as the sun started to set. It was out farther from shore than it had been in the morning, but still a nice look through a Questar. Some folks had been out there watching the bird all day, and there were still 15 people there when we left--including a park ranger who stood nearby watching the crowd with an amused look on his face. Nothing like a rare bird tailgate party!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Birding for Peace

I'm not always sure if the cup is half empty or half full. Listening to the radio as I drive around, its easy to get depressed. There are wars I didn't support, but can't see a clear way out of. The economy is stumbling somewhat--and many people are economically worse off than I am. News on the environmental front is at least 5:1 on the half empty side. Many things seem to be controlled by macroeconomic factors that I have little chance of impacting. What's an idealistic guy like me to do?

Sometimes, all I can do is to bird. To head out and commune with the birds. To turn my back on the evils of our day and celebrate billions of years of evolutionary history in all of its glory. To worship God in the woods, wetlands, and fields. To affirm my commitment to life. And to freedom--be it of birds, bison, or people--to choose their fate.

How did the female Red-breasted Merganser find itself separated from others of its kind and floating on Lake Galena at Peace Valley with a thousand Common Mergansers? Why is the young Northern Harrier sitting on a bluebird box at Pine Run? Why did the juncos, cardinals, bluebirds, and titmice stop mobbing that owl roosting in the neighbor's azalea? I can only barely fathom the processes behind the choices that these birds make--just as I only slightly grasp the choices and consequences made by six billion humans on the planet. And even if those choices cause me pain, cause me to live in a world of wounds, I have to celebrate and affirm our rights to make those choices. And when I'm too tired to try and influence how those choices are made, I retreat to the woods to celebrate.

At this holiday season, when the days in the Northern Hemisphere are as short as they get all year, I celebrate light and life and choice. I may not be able to save the world. But I can celebrate it. Even while others are making choices that work against light, life, and choice. Especially then.

Watching the Canada Goose flocks come in low overhead, I am birding for peace.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Evening Grosbeak

I was on a phone call sitting at my desk this afternoon when something scared up a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds. At the same time, another bird flew up from the feeder and landed in a bare bush--a female Evening Grosbeak. After a few seconds, the bird flew up into a tree and I lost it. After I could finish the call, I went outside to see if I could find it. No luck. Hopefully it will show up again, and I'll get more chances to see these rare northern visitors this year, as they have come south in search of food after the seed crop failure this year in the boreal forests of Canada.

Today was a Project Feeder Watch day at work, so I was paying extra attention to the feeders. I saw 21 species at the feeders today--not a bad way to end the week at work.

DC Redtail

I was in meetings for two days at the National Audubon Society office at Connecticut and M St in NW DC so didn't get to see many birds the last few days. Or rather, I didn't see many species. There were lots of birds around--gulls loafing on one of the buildings across the street, a constant stream of Rock Pigeons. A few Common Grackles and American Robins flew past. The best bird was an adult Red-tailed Hawk that soared over the intersection at one point.

Red-tailed Hawks are seen in many urban areas, even in heavily built up downtown areas like this section of DC. There's a reason Pale Male in New York is so popular--there's something pretty spectacular about seeing a raptor soaring around in the concrete canyons of buildings, streets, and sidewalks.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hanukkah Bird

Peace (on Earth) Valley

I'm going to be in meetings all day, so headed in to work early and stopped at Peace Valley on my way in. The wintering Canada Goose flock keeps growing--about 450 birds were there this morning. A Common Loon was nice to see near the dam on the lake. Ducks were few, but a nice variety--1 each of Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, and Bufflehead, with 2 Hooded Mergansers and 25 Common Mergansers. At one point all the gulls were up in the air--you know what that means, so I looked and sure enough, a young Bald Eagle was circling overhead. All in all, a nice 10 minutes to start the day.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Jack Snipe in Oregon

It was recently announced on the Oregon Birders On Line listserv that a hunter in Oregon shot two Jack Snipe, one this past month and another a few years ago, and has photos to verify it (see report and photos here). This is a bird reported fewer than 10 times before in North America, and never from Oregon. The more common Wilson's Snipe are fairly easy to overlook, and hardly anyone goes out looking for vagrant snipe--so hard to know how many are getting by. But that one hunter at one location over a couple years can bag two makes you think there has to be many more out there...somewhere!

If you've never even heard of a Jack Snipe before, you can see some online here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Rare Bird WatchList for the US

At noon today Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy held a joint press conference (audio here) to announce the release of the new WatchList of rare birds in the United States. The latest analysis draws upon the last 40 years of Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data to identify the 178 most imperiled birds. You can read the technical report here, or visit the new WatchList 2007 website here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Siskins

There was another Pine Siskin at the feeders at work this morning with the American Goldfinches. When I got to work I thought I heard Common Redpolls up in the trees, but I couldn't find them. I walked the edge of the woods hoping to see something, and had a pale white-rumped finch fly in a strange twisting flight over the field and through a tree. But nothing I could be certain of. Sometimes the birds just get away, leaving behind only a mystery!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Turkey at the Drive Through

Even Wild Turkeys sometimes get caught up with the conveniences of modern suburban life, according to this story from Maryland.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Long-tailed Duck flock

Instead of shopping today, I did what every red-blooded American birder does with a day off of work--I headed out for at least a little while to see what birds may have come in with the cold front that blew through late yesterday. On Peace Valley at dusk, I had a flock of 13 Long-tailed Ducks. I don't think I've ever seen that many together--usually they come through in ones or twos. It was great to see them actively bathing, flying around, and interacting--very lively little ducks!

At the bird blind at Peace Valley, I was disappointed that there weren't more winter finches. One Black-capped Chickadee with the Carolina Chickadees, a female Purple Finch, and one Fox Sparrow were the highlights. Then all the little birds flushed up, and half a second later the Mourning Doves flew up, just as a Cooper's Hawk flew in low and fast and nailed one of the Mourning Doves that was a hair slower than its companions. The hawk killed the bird, leaving a pile of feathers under the feeders, then flew off carrying its quarry. Another fun taste of Wild America!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey Day

We upheld our family tradition today by driving around all morning looking for Wild Turkeys. We covered both sides of Lake Nockamixon 15 minutes north of our place, without any luck for over an hour and a half. On our third pass along the road where we found the birds last year, I was disappointed to see a man walking his dog and a couple other people walking on the road. No chance of seeing wary turkeys with that many people around, I thought. Then I saw that the man with the dog was looking at something off in the woods. As I pulled up I saw that he was looking at the local turkey flock, walking across an opening about 25 yards from the road. My kids all got some quick looks as a dozen birds lurked off into the woods. Another successful Wild Turkey chase. We're batting .750 for the past four years. A great way to start our Thanksgiving festivities. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In a Flash

Last week while I was sitting at my desk I saw a huge flash of white out of the corner of my eye as a couple of Mourning Doves flew down to the base of my feeder. Since White-winged Doves can show up anywhere in the US, I'm always half-way looking for them. I rushed to the window to check out the dove only to be confronted by this guy (on left).

A Mourning Dove with white tail feathers. Just goes to show you have to double check those field marks when you get a quick look at a bird--and need more than one field mark to ID a bird. In this case a bird with a few white feathers can superficially mimic a well-known field mark of another species. According to the Birds of North America account, partial albinism like this is rare in Mourning Doves and usually involves wing feathers.

(photo:Don Ekstrom)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Humble Pie?

I stopped by Peace Valley this afternoon to take another look at the loons. As reported earlier on PABirds, in the same general area where I reported a Pacific Loon there was an obvious adult Red-throated Loon. After taking a good look at this bird, I really don't think its the same bird I saw this morning. The bird I saw this morning looked darker on the neck including at least a partial necklace below the throat, and this morning I didn't see white above the eye on the face or white on the sides of the body. I didn't think the bird this morning held its bill at as elevated an angle as the bird this morning, and (this is pretty subjective and subject to change based on a bird's mood) seemed to have a differently proportioned and rounder head with a steeper angle between the bill and forehead.

However, as a member of the "reality-based community", I'm really uncomfortable with the "two bird theory" that the Pacific Loon flew off after I left to be replaced within the hour by a Red-throated Loon. Is it possible that earlier this morning in the snow and poor light that I didn't get as good of a look as I thought? While I don't think so, I would be an idiot not to at least consider it a possibility. Viewing conditions were admittedly not 100% ideal, so I have to at least accept the possibility that my eyes, brain, and/or optics could have failed me.

Since I have to acknowledge even the slightest possibility of observer error, I can't be 100% certain about my sighting this morning, and humbly accept that the ID failure theory probably seems more plausible to most folks. Without a photo or multiple observer confirmation, I'm left without satisfaction and only an increased desire to get my hands on a workable digiscope setup--and the hope to redeem myself with a truly verifiable rarity sighting next time!

Pacific Loon in PA

On my way into the office this morning I found a Pacific Loon out in the middle of Lake Galena at Peace Valley, visible from the boat launch parking lot on the south side of the lake. Bird has a solid dark gray/brown back so probably an adult. Smaller looking head, thinner neck, smaller more slender and daggerlike bill than Common Loon, straight demarcation between darker back and white front of neck, dark face above white chin and throat. No white visible around eye at my distance (200 yards with 40x scope). Dark back all the way to water line (no white flank patch). Hint of faint chinstrap, at least on right side.

Pacific Loons are only rarely found in Pennsylvania, so this was a great way to start the short work week. Also on the lake were Common Loon and Bonaparte's Gull.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Project Feeder Watch

Back in the office its the first week of our annual participation in Project FeederWatch. We count the highest number of each species we can see at any given time during the two day count period every other week, and report the results to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. During the count today I was rewarded with our first ever for our office count Pine Siskin. Last Sunday when I stopped by the office to grab some stuff, I'd seen twelve of these guys on the feeder, but apparently they hadn't come back this week. Nice to see at least one of them stop in for our count. For more information on how you can participate in the count, check out the Project FeederWatch Website. Guaranteed to bring you good bird karma!

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

Just got back from a couple days in Colorado, where I was attending meetings about how to protect birds from collisions with windfarms. The meetings were great, but it was also great to get out and do some Rocky Mountain birding.

Monday afternoon I drove up from Boulder to Allenspark. It was too early in the year to see the rosy finches that come to the feeders there (no snow on the ground yet) but there were some great birds there--including my first ever White-winged Junco. Since 1973 this bird has been considered just a subspecies of the widespread Dark-eyed Junco, but these guys only breed in a small area centered around the Black Hills of South Dakota and winter a little more widely in the central Rockies. I was able to get good long looks at one of these guys--with its white wingbars and much more extensive white tail feathers. I also got to see at least one Gray-headed Junco--another subspecies from the central Rocky Mountains that looks a lot like a Yellow-eyed Junco with dark eyes. Pretty cool little birds!

At one point along the road, I was watching a Common Raven chase a Golden Eagle when the eagle did a full 360 degree roll. Very cool!

And as if the birds weren't enough--at one point I spent 20 minutes watching an enormous bighorn sheep ram staring down at me from a pinnacle of rock just 100 feet above the road. Not to mention the dozen elk feeding on another hillside, and the five mule deer bucks with seven does feeding in another field just off the road at dusk. Its nice to be back home now, but getting out into the mountains was also good for my soul.

Turkey Day is Coming

Next week is a bird-related holiday that we often don’t take full advantage of—Turkey Day!

For the last couple of years I’ve started a tradition of taking my kids out to look for Wild Turkeys on Thanksgiving morning. I’m not always successful at finding the birds, but I have a good time taking my three kids out. You can read my last three Turkey Day expedition reports here on my blog:



So, if you have turkeys in your area, or even the possibility of turkeys, consider taking out your kids, grandkids, family, friends, or whoever on an annual Turkey Day expedition. A great way to spend time together and enjoy our natural and cultural heritage.

David Sibley is a God

We all love David Sibley for how much his books have helped us with bird identification. Now, with a simple experiment he and his kids conducted at home, he may have single-handedly done more to protect birds than any of the rest of us will do in our lifetimes. Granted, we'll have to see if his method pans out after more testing. But if the Sibley method turns out to really work, we'll all be singing his praises for many years to come. To read about Sibley's new way to protect birds from getting killed, check out his blog.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Good Day For Birding

This photo is circulating around through emails. Don't know where it comes from, bit it brings a smile. Good birding!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Feeders At Work

We've got the birdfeeders up at work again now, and the birds are swarming in. With the usuals today were a couple nice northern birds--Purple Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Red-breasted Nuthatch. A Brown Creeper was a first of season bird for me hitching along the bare tree limbs just outside my window. Still waiting for more northern finches!

Advanced Bird Language

What is the difference between birdwatching and birding? At least for me, birdwatching involves, well, watching the birds. Enjoying and trying to figure out what each bird is doing. Birding, on the other hand, is more about roaming across the countryside to find and identify as many birds as possible--and especially to find rare and unusual birds not regularly seen in the area. Birders, in their quest to find more birds, often only watch birds long enough to identify them--which can be mere fragments of a second when it comes to the more common birds.

Moment of truth here: I'm a birder. I try to spend time actually watching and enjoying birds--but sometimes I get carried away in my quest to find more birds and have to consciously remind myself to spend more time watching each bird I find. On my way in to work this morning, I saw 12 Ring-billed Gulls at my local birding spot. It took me about 5 seconds to look at each bird to make sure that's what they really were. In maybe another two seconds I noticed how they were each perceptibly unique, with slightly different patterns of brown markings on their mostly white heads. But then, I moved on to scan the lake to see if there were other, more unusual, birds to be found.

As part of my therapy, to help me slow down and appreciate birds a bit more, I got a copy of Advanced Bird Language, a series of lectures on eight CDs by tracker and environmental educator Jon Young. In over nine hours of material, Young shows his listeners how to understand the ways that birds communicate to each other through their body movements and calls. Its hard to briefly describe what this is all about, but you can get a quick introduction to this conception of bird language here.

These teachings come out of the tracking tradition of Tom Brown Jr., who has spent a lifetime teaching people how to track and enjoy watching animals--so a lot of the emphasis here is on how to tune into the alarm calls of birds that might lead you to find and follow the movements of weasels, foxes, deer, and other animals. But there is a lot here on these CDs that are useful even if that isn't your primary goal.

More than anything, these CDs are a mind-opening and expanding tool, helping us consider the world from the perspective of the bird, and showing us how we can tune into that world. That can be useful if you are a birdwatcher, and want to better understand the birds, or even a birder, and just want to find more birds. By learning to watch how birds respond to other birds, animals, and humans in their environment, it can help you be a better birder. A couple examples from my recent birding as I've been thinking about these concepts:

1) One day I'm birding at a local lake. There are a couple dozen Ring-billed Gulls on the lake. I'm walking around looking for sparrows, not paying them much attention, when all of a sudden they all take off at once. OK, I think, something has alarmed them. Was it me? Since I'd been walking back and forth in the same general area for half an hour, I kind of doubted it. So I thought, what might alarm a flock of gulls? Well, birders who have spent much time out there already know the answer. Unless a dog is running through the flock, most loafing gulls aren't alarmed by anything less than an eagle. So I start scanning the skyline. There's a vulture flying in, but that doesn't seem quite right, so I keep watching it until it turns just right and I can see that it isn't a vulture, it is indeed a Bald Eagle. By being alert to the gulls and their alarm, I was able to see a bird that I might have not have otherwise paid attention to.

2) At another local spot, I was looking for sparrows by walking along the edge of a field. By moving slowly, I could see lots of sparrows fly up out of the grass into the bushes along the edge of the field. But how many was I missing? By looking out farther, I could see the birds flushing and flying off in a rolling wave about 40 yards ahead of me as I walked. It was amazing to watch this. By slowing down, I could get closer to the birds. But if I just walked normally I would flush a lot of birds before I was close enough to really see them well. Again, by paying attention to these sparrows flushing in response to my walk, I was able to adjust my walk to get closer to them, and I also learned where to look to see more birds. I can only wonder how many birds birders miss by not paying attention to the ring of birds flushing around them as they move through the woods or field.

3) Just the other day I was at the local nature center on the paths. I was moving slowly, paying attention to the birds flushing off the ground. I got great looks at some Rusty Blackbirds that flushed up and by not moving too quickly I got to stare into their piercing yellow eyes. Very cool. Then I could see and here American Robins flushing all around me. They were calling and flying off all around me. Having listened to these CDs, I had a guess as to what was about to happen, so I just froze and watched. Sure enough, here came another person shuffling along one of the paths. Not being loud. Not being especially offensive or moving especially fast. But still flushing all the birds a minute or two before passing by. How many birds and other animals was this person not seeing? We were having two completely different experiences in the same woods.

So, this Advanced Bird Language stuff has given me lots to think about and continues to enhance my birding and birdwatching experiences. And, if you believe some of the comments on these CDs (and I do) my spiritual and emotional life is enhanced as well as my brain rewires itself to pay attention to more of what is going on around me.

So, if you are a birdwatcher and want to better understand the behavior of birds, these CDs will give you a lot to think about. Even if you are a die-hard birder, these CDS will give you cause to pause and can help you adjust and enhance your birdfinding skills. And if you are just a nature lover or a poet or an eco-mystic, there is plenty here to help ground and enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of nature. And for librarians, I suggest that local libraries get a copy of Advanced Bird Language so that these messages can be more readily available to everyone in our communities.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Win a Free Book

My blogging buddies over at are giving away copies of a spectacular new book. Check out the rules and instructions for details on how you could win a copy of BIRD: The Definitive Visual Guide.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Morning Walk

Took a morning walk this morning at Peace Valley Park. Best birds were 3 Rusty Blackbirds (uncommon migrant), 7 Purple Finches, 2 Red-breasted Nuthatches, and 1 Black-capped Chickadee (all irregular winter visitors). Other folks have seen Evening Grosbeaks across the state, so may be a good winter for northern finches and other birds to visit us here on the East Coast.

Kitchen Window

Surveys have shown that most bird watching in America takes place from the kitchen or dining room window. Interestingly, kitchen windows really weren't a part of American culture and homebuilding before the early 20th Century. But now, most homes are built with a kitchen or dining room with windows looking out onto the backyard--and that's the window that most popular window to watch birds from in America. This morning, while doing dishes at my own kitchen window, I was able to watch the common Mourning Doves, European Starlings, and House Sparrows in my small row house yard. Blue Jays and a Northern Mockingbird were flying around as well--then the prize, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker landed on a the trunk of a shrub on the edge of my yard. I don't have any big trees in my small yard, so this was the first sapsucker I've seen from my yard in almost two years of living here. Nice yard bird from the "most popular birding location" in America.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bird Lovers, or just Bird Users?

Roger Tory Peterson is perhaps justly considered the patron saint of bird education, but he also stated that he was not a bird lover.
I don’t love birds. I am obsessed with birds. I have always been obsessed with birds. But I don’t love them. Loving demands reciprocation, or at least the promise of reciprocation. Birds simply do not reciprocate. We might enjoy them, watch them, and study them, but to “love” them--that is being too anthropomorphic.

--Devlin, John C. and Naismith, Grace, The World of Roger Tory Peterson. (New York, Times Books, 1977), p.152.

While we can perhaps just chalk this one up to Roger being an unsentimental man of his times, maybe there is something more at play here. While I don't agree that "loving demands reciprocation" I might more closely subscribe to a definition of love by the late psychologist M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled:
Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.

Perhaps this is still a bit anthropomorphic. I'm not sure you have to be concerned about the "spiritual growth" of a bird to care for it enough to give of yourself in order to ensure that individual birds or bird populations are able to thrive. But I do think if you do put yourself out to help birds that way, that you can consider that a form of loving birds.

But here's the real question. For the millions of birders or birdwatchers, those of us who are "obsessed with birds" and who enjoy watching or studying them, do we really love birds, or are we just a bird users?

In environmental education, it is common to believe that if we can just get people to enjoy watching birds, they will love them and want to help them--we can turn people into bird lovers by getting them to be bird watchers.

But I'm not so sure. For many birders and birdwatchers, birds are just a means to an end--something to chase during our free time, something to dream about, something to enjoy with our friends. Just because millions of people enjoy birds enough to take time off to enjoy them, does not mean that they love birds--that they are willing to "extend oneself" for the purpose of helping those birds.

Sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that birdwatchers and birders are really mere users of birds, rather than real bird lovers. How many birders will drive overnight to see a rare bird, but won't take the time to become involved in the political process that can determine if bird habitats and populations are protected or destroyed? While I'm not here to oppose anyone's hobby--be it stamp collecting, rock climbing, or birding--I am wondering about the moral implications of using birds for our own enjoyment without "extending ourselves" to make sure that those birds are able to persist and enjoy whatever measure of pleasure they merit within their own sphere of creation.

Perhaps if we want people to really love birds, to be willing to "extend" themselves to help them, we should focus our efforts on teaching people how to actually help birds--rather than how to just enjoy them. While everyone who helps birds probably enjoys them as well, the arrow doesn't always (or even often) go in the other direction.

But enough from me. What do you think? Are we bird lovers or mere bird users, and if so, is that a problem?

Over the Top?

In my post on why cats shouldn't be allowed to roam outdoors, I took some heat for posting this image. My point was that if you really care about cats, you shouldn't want to see this happen, so you should keep your cats indoors and oppose efforts to maintain colonies of feral cats outside where they are in danger from cars, diseases, and inclement weather.

So, you tell me. Was posting this photo over the top? Or is it important to really see what is at stake in this discussion?

What do you think? Should the Birdchaser have posted this picture?
Awesome, bird wins! Feed the vultures, man!
Way to go, thank you for really showing us why we should keep cats indoors.
Maybe its true that outdoor cats risk a horrible death, but its just too gross to look at. You're an idiot for posting that.
I love cats and this just shows that you hate cats. You're an idiot for posting that.
I don't care about the photo. You're an idiot!
Free polls from

Hat Tip to David Sibley

If you ever wondered why great birders should take up blogging, check out David Sibley's latest post on perception and mistakes in birding. The kind of situations David reports happens all the time in birding. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a) inexperienced or b) not very self aware; either condition in birding leads to errors. Part of the fun of birding is celebrating the uncertainty and vagaries of our own perceptions. Sometimes a flicker is a bird, sometimes its the play of shadows, and sometimes its just a flash of random neurons. Wisdom comes in recognizing the possibilities and potentials for all of these possibilities to present themselves in our birding explorations.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

End of Scoterfest

After the rain stopped this afternoon I snuck out for an hour to check Lake Nockamixon. Only one Surf Scoter was left on the lake. The Brant continues at the marina, looks like it might stay for a good long time.

Friday, October 26, 2007


This morning in the rain I had 1 Black Scoter, 2 White-winged Scoters, and 4 Surf Scoters on Lake Nockamixon. Fun to watch these sea ducks bobbing on an inland lake. I also had 16 Pine Siskins land in a tree briefly before flying off over the lake. Lots of fun in the rain!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brant in the rain

Lots of waterfowl moving through right now, and sometimes the rain drops them down to local lakes. This morning at Peace Valley I saw a flock of 9 Brant, as well as 2 Horned Grebes and 6 Lesser Scaup in with the regular Ruddy Ducks. Not much at Lake Nockamixon or Lake Towhee. Then I got home to read of other friends at these areas last night and earlier this morning who saw scoters, a Long-tailed Duck, and even a flock of over 100 brant. These birds are all moving through and the more you can be out there, the more chances you have of picking some of them up.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bush and Birds

No matter what your politics, it was nice to see President Bush spend a morning watching birds and talking about bird conservation on private lands. Laura Bush is a birder, and President Bush is known to talk up the Golden-cheeked Warbler when he's in the Hill Country of Texas. Just wish he put as much into helping birds and the environment as he has put into some of his administration's other policies!
(photo:Washington Times)

Friday, October 19, 2007


A nice couple hours walking around at Peace Valley and Pine Run this morning. Lots of sparrows, no real surprises--but did see my first of season Vesper Sparrow at Sailor's Point. It all seemed so ho-hum until I started to think about it--since when should flocks of hundreds of Canada Goose, a nearly adult Bald Eagle, and five Wild Turkeys be considered ho-hum? These are spectacular animals--real Wild Kingdom kinds of animals, emblems even of American wildlife. So along with hundreds of sparrows, I got to enjoy these amazing birds on a hot and sticky late October day before the rains arrived in the afternoon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Drive By Birding

There's a little spot on Neshaminy Creek that I always give a quick glance on my way to and from work. In the winter, American Black Ducks and Common Mergansers congregate here sometimes, and I've seen coots there. Today as I was driving by, I was surprised to see an adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron flying downstream, low over the water. These birds aren't seen around here very often, so it was a nice surprise after a long two days of meetings.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boycott Cape May?

You might think that Cape May is the birding capitol of the United States. But you would be wrong. Cape May city council has decided to allow feral cats to roam free. Letting cats roam free is bad for the cats, and will result in dead birds. This is what happens when birders allow misguided cat lovers to have a disproportionate say in civic life. 1,500 emails from cat lovers and 50 cat people at a public meeting and this is what we get. Where were the birders? Shame on you Cape May. Enjoy your cat-astrophe!

But here's the good news. No civic action is ever set in stone. Decisions can be overturned. But it will take pressure. Lots of it. If you think Cape May made a bad call here, you might want to do something:

1) leave a comment on the Cape May website.
2) urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to bring action against Cape May for knowingly violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and other provisions in place to protect birds (New Jersey is in USFWS Northeast Region 5)
3) email Cape May Mayor Jerome E. Inderwies (
4) spread the word that Cape May needs to clean up its act
5) avoid Cape May until they realize that protecting birds is better for the health of cats, the environment, and business.

Note: I am not anti-cat. I actually like cats. I want them to be inside where they belong, safe from harm. This is not a forum for anti-cat messages. Please be respectful of those who care about cats. Lets help Cape May do the right thing for cats, birds, and people--keep cats inside, don't let them roam, require them to be fixed, licensed, and tagged.

Much as I'm in favor of feeding birds, lets not let this happen to any more cats in Cape May:

Monday, October 15, 2007

Schwarzenegger makes good

Governor Schwarzenegger has resisted pressure from the NRA and signed a bill that will restrict the use of lead ammunition in the range of the California Condor. Lead in animal carcasses is the leading killer of California Condors, so if adequately enforced, this measure should really help those birds. Good job Governor! More info here.

Owl Banding

(photo: Meera Subramanian)

Saturday night my wife and I took the kids out to Scott Weidensaul's Saw Whet Owl banding station at Hidden Valley in Schuylkill County. What a great night. My kids got to help release thee of the five owls we banded that evening. One owl sat on my three year old's outstretched arm for five minutes before flying off into the darkness. We got to hear the owl's heartbeat--a quick whirring like the purring of a cat. I also got to hear some Saw Whet calls that aren't on most of the commercially available owl tapes, and see a Saw Whet in a tree near the nets. We didn't get back home until 2am, and were exhausted the next day, but it was a night we'll remember for a long, long time.

For more about the owl banding project you can click here, and you can even adopt a Saw Whet Owl by clicking here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dark Clouds

As a professional bird conservationist, I spend most of my time looking for ways to help people and birds co-exist. That's because I love birds, and people. I'm not a misanthrope. I believe in the innate goodness of most people.

But every once in awhile I have blue moments. Today, as I read the latest BirdLife International assessment of the impending loss of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper--a bird I've dreamed of seeing since I was a kid--its hard not to be depressed. These little birds depend on a world that modern societies are hell-bent on taking away, a world of extensive coastal estuaries and mudflats. What most politicians and developers see as inexpensive flat land to be drained and converted into cash producing real estate, have been the migratory haunts of these unique little animals for millions of years. Now there are less than 300 pairs left.

What do we do, as a species, when a small bird gets in our way? While most people as individuals would never knowingly back their car over a small bird in their driveway, when a whole bird species can be wiped out by headless economic development, as a society we lament the loss but do little to prevent it.

I like our modern world. I like being able to travel and enjoy a comfortable existence. But when a whole species like this is threatened, we need to take it as a sign that we need to find another path--a path that will allow us to enjoy the luxuries that we've created over the past few decades, while allowing Spoon-billed Sandpipers and countless other species to enjoy the type of life that they've enjoyed for millions of years.

To help save critical habitat for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, read the story here, and then go here to send an email of support.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Great finds this morning

This morning after walking the fields at Sailor's Point, I was headed home but got the feeling I should check out the more weedy field at Pine Run. I'm glad I headed over there, as I was able to find a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (local rare migrant) and a Sedge Wren (a Pennsylvania rarity). I also had another strange pipit-like bird that got away before I could really identify it. Lots of fun walking through the weeds, but since I had shorts on my legs got all cut to pieces by multiflora rose. Oh well, worth it to find some nice rare birds.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Come see my talk to the Bucks County Birders

Program: How Birds See the World

Speaker: Rob Fergus
Senior Scientist | Urban Bird Conservation
National Audubon Society

Date: Tuesday October 23, 2007
Time: 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: Peace Valley Nature Center-170 Chapman Rd.
Car access to PVNC on Chapman Rd. is from New Galena Rd. only. Entry will be from the side door near the bird blind. If anyone needs directions, go to All are welcome.

Have you ever wondered what its like to be a bird, or how birds see the world? Rob Fergus will review the latest research on bird vision and how birds use their senses to perceive and interact with their world. Obtaining a real “bird’s eye view” of the world will help you better understand bird behavior and can enhance your appreciation for their unique ways of life.

Rob Fergus moved to Bucks County in December 2004 to take a position at the National Audubon Society Science Office in Warminster. He is formerly the founding director of the Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory and was the first executive director of the Travis Audubon Society in Austin, Texas. As a Senior Scientist for Audubon, Rob works on programs to encourage urban, suburban, and rural landowners to create and maintain habitat for birds. He also works on a range of bird-related issues including avian influenza, windpower, and alternative energy development, and helps coordinate the Great Backyard Bird Count and eBird. He lives in Bucks County with his wife and their three young birders.

Big Jay Flight

This morning while birding Sailor's Point at Peace Valley, I had 8 groups of 10-30 Blue Jays go over heading south during the 45 minutes I was walking the fields. More species than yesterday, but no real surprises. Nice to see a small flock of juvenile Cedar Waxwings.

Canada Goose 260
Mallard 5
Ruddy Duck 6
Double-crested Cormorant 9
Cooper's Hawk 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull 5
Mourning Dove 12
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 140
American Crow 4
Carolina Chickadee 2
Carolina Wren 1
House Wren 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 8 Flying high moving south.
American Robin 30
Gray Catbird 4
Northern Mockingbird 15
European Starling 50
Cedar Waxwing 6
Eastern Towhee 3
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 1
Savannah Sparrow 40
Song Sparrow 35
Swamp Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 5
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Northern Cardinal 6
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
House Finch 15

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2

Monday, October 08, 2007

They're Heeeeeeear!

Sparrows that is. I always like it when the sparrows are heading south. Today at Sailor's Point at Peace Valley I had dozens of Song Sparrow and Savannah Sparrows, as well as my first Lincoln's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrow of the fall. I love trying to catch glimpses of these guys as they play peek-a-boo in the brush. Its like a sparrow-human ballet!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More Pine Run

Quick stop at Pine Run this morning. No sign of the buff-breasteds. Still a few shorebirds: Solitary Sandpiper (1), Lesser Yellowlegs (1), Pectoral Sandpiper (1), Semipalmated Sandpiper (1), Least Sandpiper (4), Killdeer (30). Also a juvenile Northern Harrier there when I first arrived. It was tough to see what was out on the lake at Peace Valley because of fog, but did see the number of Ruddy Duck there had inched up to seven.

Most interesting bird of the morning was a leucistic (partial albino) Egyptian Goose at Peace Valley. The bird has been around for at least a month.

(Photo: Howard Eskins)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Buffies in the Morning

(Photo: Howard Eskins)

This morning I stopped by Pine Run, where the water levels are down and a few shorebirds are starting to show up. Best birds were what appeared to be a male and female Buff-breasted Sandpipers--always a good bird in this area, and on the late side for them to be moving through. Also 1 Pectoral Sandpiper, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 6 Least Sandpipers and 45 Killdeer. I also heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the woods--looks like it may be a good year for them down here. At Peace Valley, I saw my first Ruddy Ducks (3) of the fall, as well as a nice juvenile Ring-billed Gull, which I usually only see later in the year when they've already molted into their first winter plumage.

Howard Eskins was able to get over and photograph the Buff-breasted Sandpipers on his lunch break. In addition to this shot here, see his other photos of the birds here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Free Bird Feeders and Seed

How far are you willing to go to get some free bird feeders and bird seed? If you are an experienced backyard bird watcher, and willing to count the birds at your feeder for 45 minutes every other day, then Project Wildbird will send you a whole load of good bird feeding equipment to participate in their ground-breaking research on seed and feeder preferences in backyard birds. If you can't commit to that level of bird observing, there are other ways to participate--but you'll have to provide your own feeders and seed.

Project Wildbird has already greatly expanded our understanding of what seeds are preferred by different birds, and how those preferences vary across the country and over the course of the year. I got a sneak preview of some of the initial study results, and I'm anxiously waiting to hear more as the study progresses. If you haven't heard of this project, take a look at the website, and contact my friends over at Project Wildbird to sign up to help out with the study.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Birdchaser on the Radio

This morning I was on Bridget Butler's BEEKS radio program up in Vermont. We discussed the new Audubon Birds to Help resources. There seems to have been some static in the line, but you can listen to the online podcast. Our conversation took up the last 1/3 of the program.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bird Puzzles

Check out this cool online feature. Click the image to do the puzzle online. Click to Mix and Solve

Monday, September 17, 2007

Birding Monhegan

Last week our Hog Island Audubon Camp cruised out to Monhegan Island on the camp's new boat the Puffin V. On the way offshore we saw lots of Northern Gannets, a Red-necked Phalarope, and some scoters, but the highlight was this Mola Mola swimming next to the boat at point blank range.

On Monhegan we saw lots of warblers and other migrants, including a Lark Sparrow--a bird usually found much farther west, but that shows up here each year as a vagrant. It was fun to see some Great Cormorants on the rocks at White Head, and we watched a school of tuna attack some baitfish--with some of the larger fish clearing the water while lunging at their prey. A few of us were lucky enough to see a Minke Whale as well. I also had a close encounter with a green snake while hiking back from White Head. Merlins were flying all over the island, and the group got very close looks at a Rusty Blackbird perched on top of a spruce tree.

On the way back to Hog Island, the best bird was a juvenile Sabine's Gull first seen on the water (and photographed by Scott Weidensaul) and then seen in flight. It has been a long, long time since I've seen one of these beauties--so a special treat. Red-necked Grebes in flight and a few Surf Scoters and White-winged Scoters rounded out the birds as we cruised back into port. A great day of birding with some great company. (photos: Scott Weidensaul)

Hog Island Camp

Had a great time up at the Migration and Conservation workshop at Hog Island last week. Fun to bird with Scott Weidensaul, Peter Vickery, Alicia King, and the Hog Island staff and workshop participants. Great looks at over 120 bird species, including many warblers, migrating falcons, shorebirds, and some nice seabirds.

At one point Scott and I were singing a little duet while I was driving one of the camp vans--a moment caught in this sketch by camp participant Susan Beebe.

We were just joshing around. I'm not all that competitive. OK, I'm pretty competitive when I'm birding. But only in the sense that I'm out to see, and help trip participants see, as many birds as humanly possible.

Birdchaser on TV

This past week a TV crew filmed us at the Hog Island Audubon Camp migration and bird conservation workshop. Click here to watch the spot online--including a shot of me wolfing down blueberries.

Friday, September 07, 2007

When Merlins Attack

On my way into the office this morning I stopped by Pine Run, hoping to find some shorebird habitat. Water levels were pretty high, so no luck. But I did get to spend a few moments watching an immature Cooper's Hawk working the edges of the lake, scattering a few Killdeer in its path. Then out of nowhere a very dark Merlin dive-bombed the young accipiter, then just as quickly it rose high in the air and winged off to the west. Seems like more than half the times I see a Merlin its a bird harassing a larger bird of prey. Feisty fellows, these small falcons!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Buffy Run

While some folks are launched from their couch by the news of a closeout sale at Target, I was ripped from my laptop after my most recent post by an email letting me know that a few Buff-breasted Sandpipers were at Green Lane just 25 minutes from my house. The sun was going down, but I hopped in the car and zipped over there, arriving just as the sun was dipping down into the trees to the West. In the gathering darkness I was able to see one American Golden Plover with the dozens of Killdeer, a couple dozen Least Sandpipers, a handful of Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a couple Pectoral Sandpipers. Finally, barely discernible in my 20x scope was one Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I've loved these guys since I saw my first vagrant juvenile on the Oregon coast back in the 1980s. In Texas they were uncommon but regular migrants at Hornsby Bend and stock ponds east of Austin. But this is the first one I've seen in Pennsylvania. It was running back and forth in the drier and sparse grassy section of a mudflat. Dainty and dovelike, a palomino-maned visitor from another world. It was a nice reunion with an old friend.

Have we all lost our minds?

The recent Birding photo quiz presents us with a picture of three unidentifiable birds. But that didn't stop many of us from speculating what they might be. What does the willingness to pin a name on these blurs say about the state of birding in America? If the photo hadn't been taken in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker search area, would we even bother looking at it? If a novice birder showed up at your birding club with this photo in hand, would you even bother trying to identify it? It is perhaps the worst bird photo ever published anywhere. I'm trying to be careful with what I say here, since some good friends of mine were willing to play along and submit their identifications. But at best this photo can only serve as a birding Rorschach test exposing the inner workings of our imaginations. Maybe we've all gone a little crazy lately.

Birder or Birdwatcher?

Would you rather see a bird you'd never seen before, or watch a bird you see all the time do something new and unusual? I have to admit that usually I'd rather see a new bird. Perhaps that makes me more of a birder than a birdwatcher. But since new birds are few and far between for me these days, I have a growing appreciation for watching unusual bird behavior as well.

Today during lunch, I saw a Downy Woodpecker. Now I just checked and I've reported 115 Downy Woodpecker sightings to eBird over the past two years. That's just the ones I've reported from birding trips, not the ones that I see or hear everywhere but don't bother to enter. So a bird I probably see or hear a couple times a week--and almost every time I'm actually out birding.

Today I saw one do something I hadn't seen before. A female woodpecker perched on a horizontal branch stretched its neck upwards as if looking up. Then it flew/hopped/jumped directly up and landed upside-down on the bottom side of an overhead branch. I've seen woodpeckers moving along the bottom side of a branch, but had never seen one fly up and land on one like that. It was pretty cool. Wish I had it on film. Probably speaks more about how little I have paid attention to these birds in the past than to how rare this behavior might be.

So how about you? Are you more of a birder or a birdwatcher? How do you compare seeing a new bird to seeing an old bird do a new trick?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Join the Birdchaser in Maine

Next week I'm off to Hog Island for a Bird Migration and Conservation workshop. Last I heard there were a couple spaces left if you want to join me and Scott Weidensaul, Peter Vickery, and Alicia (Craig) King and the Hog Island staff for a week of birding, great food, and inspiration. Come walk where Roger Tory Peterson walked, and see where Steve Kress was inspired to bring Atlantic Puffins back to the Gulf of Maine.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Overheard today at the bird blind

Middle-aged man to his friend after a few minutes of watching birds at the feeder:
"You're right, this is better than Prozac!"

Bald Blue Jay

Snapped a shot of a bald Blue Jay this morning at Peace Valley park. Sometimes molting jays and cardinals look like this--see Cornell's page on this here.

Friday, August 31, 2007

New Online Bird Game from Audubon

Another cool bird conservation outreach tool from Audubon. Fly flocks of birds over various landscapes and help them find safe and healthy stopover habitat. Click here to play!

A lesson from puffins

There's a great lesson from all of us that I get reminded of every year when I'm up at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine. Stephen Kress was working at the camp there when he conceived of Project Puffin, an attempt to bring puffin populations back to abandoned nesting colonies on islands in the Gulf of Maine. The puffins we get to see out at Eastern Egg Rock during the camp are only there because of Dr. Kress's efforts.

While most of us don't have access to remote islands to practice the restoration of bird populations, many of us do have yards or property that can be improved for birds. Can you do on your property what Steve Kress did on his? Can you create a better environment that will attract and support birds that might have abandoned your neighborhood as homes and lawns replaced native habitats? Audubon's Birds to Help resources and other Audubon At Home materials are created in this spirit. Make the world a better place for you and the birds. You probably won't get a puffin in your birdbath, but you can make your property or yard more inviting to other native birds that need your help to thrive in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bird Envy

To some, birdwatching is a casual pursuit--an activity to do for relaxation. For others, it can approach something of a blood sport. For the latter crowd, the green-eyed monster of envy can become a serious and constant companion. I see enough rare birds that I'm at least partially immune from this malady. I don't begrudge anyone their rare bird sightings, which I do celebrate. But as a birdchaser, I do face occasional bouts of "wish-I-could-have-been-there" syndrome. So, with only the slightest twinge of envy, I celebrate some amazing bird sightings made by others this past week or so!

A Jabiru in Mississippi.
North America's first record of Brown Hawk Owl in Alaska.
A sighting of a rare Macaronesian (Little) Shearwater off Massachusetts.

If any of these sightings make you want to turn off the computer and go out birding, they've done their job. To that end, they also serve as a self-diagnostic for bird envy. How did you fare? Do you suffer from bird envy?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hog Island Audubon Leadership Camp

Last week I got to help out with another Audubon Chapter Leadership Camp on Hog Island, Maine. We had 27 Audubon chapter leaders there for workshops and birding and magnificent food. In between exploring tide pools, hiking, and taking boat trips to see Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Common Eiders, we spent a lot of time looking at warblers--some still tending their young and some migrating through. Highlights for me were a couple of Cape May Warblers--a warbler I don't get to see that often.

In addition, this year a pair of Ospreys nested right above one of the camp buildings--so we could watch the three fledged young at almost point blank range as they practiced flying and ate fish brought in by their parents. They were calling to each other almost constantly all week long. Amazing to live in such close proximity to these spectacular fish hawks.

Another high point for me this year was that my family got to join me for the first half of the week so my kids got to enjoy the Ospreys and see the Atlantic Puffins out at Eastern Egg Rock. They were begging me to wake them up so they could go birding with me at 6am each morning--sweet music to a birding father's ears!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Birds 2 Help

Earlier this summer Audubon released a report on common birds in decline. Now Audubon has produced Birds to Help--a resource suggesting birds that homeowners and other private landowners can help in urban, suburban, and rural areas. While these aren't all the birds that need help, these are some of the birds that landowners can most easily help. They also represent birds that need help to thrive in most residential areas--so they are a good place to start if you want to help local birds.

For each of the thirty birds to help, there is a printable "recipe" telling what the species needs and how you can provide those needs. Lots of good information on these birds. In the future we look forward to providing habitat guidelines for additional species as well.

I've been working on this project for a couple years and am glad to see it finally online. Eventually we envision folks being able to enter their zip code and get an even more targeted list of birds to help in their specific region. Until then, here's a start. Check it out and find a bird to help in your yard or on your property today!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Other Goldfinch

I got a call at work about a male European Goldfinch coming to a feeder near Core Creek Park in Langhorne. Its only 20 minutes from work so slipped over there on my lunch break. After half an hour of standing in the drizzling rain the bird came in and fed at the feeder for about 6 minutes at 12:30pm. (photo credit: Trev Feltham)

These guys show up every year or so in southeastern Pennsylvania. They're usually presumed to be escaped cagebirds, though as with this bird, there is usually no obvious cage wear and no band. Julie Craves at the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Michigan has been tracking European goldfinch sightings in the Midwest since a large importer was rumored to have released a large number in 2002.

Unfortunately, since we don't have a good handle on the status and distribution of these goldfinches and other European birds in North America, its almost impossible to determine what might be legitimate vagrants from escaped exotics.

But that's only something of interest to birders keeping lists (exotics don't count) and a few researchers interested in the dynamics of new invading species. For some of us, seeing a European Goldfinch is just a real treat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Downtown Bird Habitat

Downtown Salt Lake City has some unique bird habitat. Here's a California Quail right on temple square downtown. The dome in the background is the historic tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

My favorite patch of habitat is the rooftop garden on top of the LDS Conference Center. How many other places let you walk around on their roof? Not many. Even fewer have a three acre meadow of native grasses and pine trees up there. So there's a lot more to do on temple square than getting a quick overview of Mormon history and beliefs. If you find yourself with a little time in downtown Salt Lake City, check it out. And let me know what birds you find on temple square.

Birding Outdoor Retailers

Just got back from a week out in Utah leading morning and evening birding trips for the Outdoor Retailers Summer
in Salt Lake City. Lots of fun showing American White Pelicans, White-faced Ibis, Burrowing Owls, Golden Eagles, Snowy Plovers, and dozens of other birds to a wide range of experienced and brand-spanking-new-birders. It was especially fun to take out some folks who had never even thought about birdwatching before, and to see them get excited by some great birds.

One morning we saw a Peregrine Falcon chase a flock of ducks and fly low almost directly overhead. On a quieter trip we got great scope views of a Sage Thrasher. Another morning provided looks at 35 Snowy Plovers (including some fuzzy chicks). The rarest bird of the trips was a juvenile Summer Tanager, about 250 miles out of range, that popped up on a gate to the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve--a restoration project of Kennecott Copper on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. There literally wasn't a tree in sight for this woodland species to land on, so it was in very atypical habitat.

It was exciting to see different birds each day. To visit the same place over and over for five days and learn some of the rhythms and schedules of a few individual birds, and to be constantly surprised by the appearance of new birds along my birding route. Birding truly is a joy, and as far as I could tell, there was much joy had by all!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Go Go Gadget Birds!

Ever hear of a Google Gadget? Its a small add-on to your Google search page that provides customized information to your browser. Now there's a rare bird Google Gadget that can bring you the latest rare bird info in real time as it is submitted to eBird. The eBird rare bird gadget sits right there on your Google search page, and whenever a rare bird is reported in your area, it shows up immediately--along with a note of who saw the bird, whether it has been confirmed by an eBird reviewer, and--perhaps best of all--a Google Map showing exactly where the bird was seen!

Will this revolutionize the way rare bird information is reported and disseminated? Only time will tell, and the value of the service depends on the willingness of the birding community to report rare bird sightings to eBird. But its already fun to see who on the birding email lists is reporting their rare birds to eBird, and who isn't. I've already had a couple gull sightings show up on the PA rare bird gadget, and my NY Western Reef-Heron sighting was added as soon as I entered it into eBird this morning.

So check out the rare bird Google Gadget and report your bird sightings--rare or otherwise--to eBird!
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