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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the porch

How many people take vacation days just to hang out on their porch? Work in the garden? Not drive if at all possible?

Apparently, I do. I get a fair amount of travel in with my work, but not enough time to do stuff around the house.

So this week I'm off, and not doing a whole lot.

Before tackling the garden, while hanging out on the back porch, I got my 20 bird RDA in about 15 minutes. Best bird was a female American Kestrel, a new yard bird and 2008 BIGBY bird, sailing by in the brisk morning breeze.

The House Sparrows are really loving all the bare dirt in my dug-up yard, dust bathing and chasing each other around. The local Song Sparrow pops in now and again to check out the wreckage of all the weeds. And while I couldn't get a Turkey Vulture to save my life yesterday, this morning several were soaring around down by the playground, and a family of crows was chasing a Red-tailed Hawk about half a mile away over at Lene Lennape Park.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On the porch

My laziness continues. This morning I got my Bird RDA by hanging out on my back porch. Nothing overly remarkable, but nice to watch the Chimney Swifts soaring overhead. A pair of Gray Catbirds chased each other around the neighbors bush. A Northern Flicker flew from down by the creek all the way across the park to a power pole in the alley. A flock of a dozen Cedar Waxwings winged by. The earth is full of birds. And fortunately a good number of them are visible from my back yard.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Falling off the wagon

I've pretty much fallen off the birding wagon this week. I've done just the minimum to get my Bird RDA driving to work most days, and taken a couple walks at work, but haven't updated my BIGBY list or submitted anything to eBird. I've picked up Eastern Wood-Pewee (at work) and Willow Flycatcher (on my walk this morning) as new BIGBY birds, and a couple other new county year birds, but I've just been kind of tired and not in a really birdy mood. This morning I just went down to the creek and sat for awhile--a badly needed mental health break. A kingfisher flew by, and that's where I heard the Willow Flycatcher. I'm sure I got my 20 species Bird RDA, but I haven't gone to eBird yet to do the tally.

Maybe I'll do that now. Or maybe I'll just take a nap!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sweet Birds

What if you were only allowed one tiny square of chocolate a year. Would you savor it? Nibble off tiny little pieces and let them just melt on your tongue? Make it last as long as you could?

Sweet birds are those that you only get to see once a year or so. Maybe even less.

On Thursday, during my lunch break I walked down to the creek, surprised that there were very few migrants around. Then, as I was watching some catbirds across the creek, I noticed a beautiful Canada Warbler (a Yellow WatchList bird), flitting in the trees.

Canada Warbler is a sweet bird for me. I only usually see it a couple times each year, during migraion, as it heads to its northern breeding grounds, or its southern wintering haunts. I love the brilliant yellow underside, slate gray back, and sharp black necklace and face markings. Stunning. And a sweet bird.

According to eBird, I saw my first one on September 21, 1995, after moving to Texas. I've only seen a couple since moving to Pennsylvania in 2004. So seeing it at work was very sweet. That's one of the great things about migration--you never know what sweet birds or old friends are going to show up on any given day. That's why you have to go birding every day. Who wants to miss out on their only chance during the year to bump into a sweet bird!?!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Birdchaser in IATB #75

I'm in the very best of company in the latest I and the Bird blog carnival at Gallicissa. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Help kid birders--win a free book

The guys at 10,000 Birds are giving away copies of the new Young Birders Guide (see their review here). Check out the contest post for details!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top 10 ways to be a better birder

10) Skip work to go birding. Seriously. Unless your job is to find and identify birds, it isn't helping your birding as much as going outside to look for birds.
9) Take regular birding breaks from work. OK, so you can't skip work. You still get that 15 minute break every four hours, right? Go outside, look up, and see how many birds you can see during your break.
8) Make sure you get your Bird RDA. That's a minimum of 20 species every day. If that seems like a challenge, you need to rearrange your schedule a bit. Ideally, you should get those 20 species before arriving at work. If you work the graveyard shift, that means owling (but hard to find 20 birds at night), or taking the long way home in the morning (even better).
7) Load up your iPod with bird songs and calls. Get as many birds as you can on there. If you are downloading them from CDs, you can use Audacity to strip away the human voice announcing the names of each bird, and split up the tracks so that you have just one bird per track. Then you can quickly flip to any species you want to hear, either on the run, or on your computer at home or work.
6) Take a friend birding. You never learn as much about birds as you do when you are teaching somebody else how to find and identify birds. Nothing like those "what color are the legs of a Song Sparrow?" type questions to help you realize how much you still need to learn about birds!
5) Use eBird. Keep track of all the birds you see, no matter where you are. eBird will keep track of all your state, county, and yard lists so you don't have to. Then you can go back and see all your sightings. Its way cool. Its great to click on the name of a bird in your eBird life list to see all the times you've ever seen that bird listed there!
4) Play birding games. Nothing like a big day or a big year to sharpen you up, to make you learn how to find and identify birds better and faster. Keeping a county list will force you to explore all those nooks and crannies in your area that might have birds you haven't seen yet. Go exploring. Have fun. See more birds!
3) Draw birds. Sketch them while you watch them. Take notes of their plumage and behavior. Again, nothing like a "how many colors of blue are on a Blue Jay?" type questions to get you to really look at and better appreciate even the common birds around you.
2) Have fun. The best birders are the ones that have the most fun. So do whatever it is that makes you happy. If chasing rare birds turns you on, go for it. If you just like to spend hours watching the feeder out your kitchen window, spend an extra 15 minutes doing that.
1) Turn off the computer right now and go birding! What's more fun, reading about birding or heading out to see some birds? Go now! Have fun! Be wild! Stop wasting your time on the computer! Especially if you don't even have your Bird RDA yet today!

Full disclaimer: I'm entitled to blog about birds right now because I've already got my Bird RDA and entered today's bird sightings on eBird!

Heading to Guatemala

OK, not yet. But just got my ticket to head down there again in August for more ethno-ornithology work with speakers of a couple different Mayan languages. Last time was great, so looking forward to more fun!

Birdchaser's Texas Birding Record

Texas has a great new website to list Texas birding records. Right now I have the highest reported Travis County list and Travis County Year List (2002). I need to go through my records to see how many Texas counties I have 200 or 100 species in. For all you birdwatchers who think listing is kooky. Sorry. Its just a whole load of fun!

Ottoman Bird Houses

Do they not abserve the birds above them, soaring and beating their wings? None can uphold them except God most gracious: Truly it is He who watches over all things.
—The Qur'an, Sura 67 ("Dominion"), Verse 19

In addition to algebra and much of the sciences, Islamic civilization helped bring something else we enjoy to the West--birdhouses!

From at least the 13th Century, Ottoman architecture featured ornate multi-compartment birdhouses on their buildings. Much more sophisticated than the later Western bird bottles that early colonists brought to the Americas, these birdhouses have a long and storied history. See also this article, concluding with this poem:
Bird Houses
The outer walls of houses should be bird houses
That take wing when children laugh.
Even if it’s winter outside,
The summer sun should rise inside the walls
And happiness will also warm the birds.

--Mehmet Zaman Sacliolu

Monday, May 12, 2008

Glossy Ibis Run

Just before I had to leave work, I saw an email that a Glossy Ibis was being seen in a small retention pond near one possible route home. When I got to the given intersection, there was no pond to be seen. I drove around for a bit, and fortunately saw the ibis flying around a little ways away. I then drove into a new subdivision, and was able to see the pond, and the bird, there in the shadow of the new neo-colonial homes. A new county bird for me, one that I'd missed a couple times before elsewhere in the area. So a nice bird to get on my way home from work.

Stealth birding in Virginia

This past weekend I had to go down to Lexington, Virginia for a family get together. Not a lot of time for birding. Actually, no real time for birding, so I had to get my Bird RDA on Saturday and Sunday on the sly. Not many birds on the freeway. Fortunately, birds were singing in Lexington, so I was able to get such goodies as Great Crested Flycatcher and Gray Catbird while nobody was looking! Eastern Bluebirds outside my hotel window, and a Pileated Woodpecker flying across Highway 11 right in town were highlights.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Birdathon in the Rain

Today was my annual birdathon for the Wissahickon Watershed Association, and it was pouring rain most of the day. When I woke up I was thinking we were going to have a rough day, but we ended up having a great day and finding as many birds as usual--but getting some great looks and having a blast.

Started the morning at Four Mills, and it was wet and miserable, but did manage to see the Northern Waterthrush hanging around there. A stop by the Ambler Reservoir got us three species of swallows, as well as the expected Green Heron. Then we headed over to a known rail marsh and called out two Virginia Rails--they came within five feet of us and we could see them calling. I don't think I've ever seen the inside of a Virginia Rail beak before! Very cool.

We were wet, but continued to find birds--including five shorebird species at the Morris Arboretum pond--including two parents and four baby Killdeer. Nice! We ended up having five Solitary Sandpipers at three locations today.

After lunch we went back to Four Mills, and the best bird of the day was a Prothonotary Warbler I heard singing by the bridge over the creek. Tough bird to get in these parts.

We ended the day at Militia Hill at Fort Washington State Park. Not as birdy as I might have hoped, but we did get a few more warblers including Blackpoll Warbler. We ended the day with a nice red Eastern Screech-Owl in a roost cavity. I tallied 73 (365% of Bird RDA) species for the day, and thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked in the rain. Made me remember Christmas Bird Counts in Oregon as a kid!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Wood Sandpiper, yeah baby!

So last night I got the email that a Wood Sandpiper was in Delaware (check out my buddy Jeff's photos here). So, as a dedicated birdchaser, the only real question was how early would I have to get up to chase this baby before work!?!

The answer, 4am. A 140 mile drive got me there about an hour after sunup. A couple guys said they saw the bird right at first light, but by the time I got there, it had disappeared.

Finally, after over an hour of searching, we finally found it across the road from where it had been seen before. What a beauty!

After half an hour of watching this Asian shorebird, it was time to get out of the rain and head back to the office. I made great time heading back, until Dick Cheney's motorcade locked up traffic on the PA Turnpike for over half an hour! Luckily I was perched on top of the Hwy 611 overpass where I had a direct look at his motorcade when it pulled onto 611 at the Willow Grove exit. Fortunately, I was still pretty jazzed about seeing the rare bird, so my grumbling about the VP-caused gridlock was kept to a minimum (that is to say I stopped fuming about it fairly soon after it was over!).

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When Shrikes Attack

On my lunchtime walk yesterday, I heard a noise I hadn't heard for a few years and looked up to see a Loggerhead Shrike buzzing past, having just flown up out of a brushy field, through some trees, and out into the open area near the hike and bike along the creek by my house. Just a quick look, and the distinctive buzzy, burry, call notes of the shrike as it went by. These guys have really declined in the Northeast, and its been probably 20 years since one has been reported in my county, and I'll have to do a write-up for the Pennsylvania Ornithological Records Committee. Hopefully it will stick around so I can get an even better view!

Birdchaser 2008 BIGBY turns 100

During my lunch break today I took a walk down to the creek at work. Pretty quiet, but Baltimore Orioles and Warbling Vireos were singing. A Solitary Sandpiper took off from the creek bank, and a female Common Merganser popped its head up over the bank around a bend upstream. Walking back, I flushed up a Veery (BIGBY #99). At least it looked like a Veery, but it sounded like a Wood Thrush. Actually, that's because a Wood Thrush was singing from back behind it. BIGBY #100. Clear skies, gentle breeze. A beautiful day to be out by the creek.

Day List: 37 species (185% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 360 species

Friday, May 02, 2008

Cumbia birds

Nice morning walk, but there were too many birds around to do any power walking, so most of the exercise this morning was from lifting binoculars, rather than a proper cardiovascular workout. Lots of new birds for the year. Great to see all these birds coming back from the Caribbean and Latin America. Maneuvering through the poison ivy to see these little guys is a lot like a dance, a neotropical migratory bird cumbia.

Location: Perkasie, Bucks County, PA, US
Observation date: 5/2/08
Number of species: 57

Canada Goose 12
Mallard 7
Wild Turkey 1
Great Blue Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 2
Osprey 1
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Rock Pigeon 1
Mourning Dove 8
Chimney Swift 5
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Downy Woodpecker 4
Northern Flicker 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 15
Fish Crow 2
Barn Swallow 8
Carolina Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 10
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 2
House Wren 5
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 30
Gray Catbird 5
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 25
Blue-winged Warbler 1
Northern Parula 1
Yellow Warbler 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler 2
Magnolia Warbler 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 55
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 7
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Ovenbird 2
Northern Waterthrush 1
Common Yellowthroat 2
Scarlet Tanager 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 14
Field Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 15
Swamp Sparrow 4
White-throated Sparrow 8
Northern Cardinal 35
Common Grackle 5
Brown-headed Cowbird 8
Baltimore Oriole 1
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 14
House Sparrow 7

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(


Welcome to the ancestral bird family tree Eoconfuciusornis, a 131 million year old bird described recently from China. Read all about it here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Fresh Spring Arrivals

Not much time for birding today, but between shuttling the kids around and a quick walk down to the creek, I got 36 species and four new BIGBY birds--Gray Catbird, Northern Waterthrush, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Nice to think of these birds, which spent the winter in the Caribbean or South America, hanging out along my local creek on their way north.

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