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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.
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