At work I've had an American Tree Sparrow at my feeders the last two days. With all the snow on the ground, lots of activity at the feeders. Had a Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Downy Woodpecker in the same binocular feeder at one time. Wild Turkeys are running around, they ran out from under the feeders as I showed up at work this morning. Even a mockingbird, which usually stays away from the building, is up at the feeders this morning. And we had our first Pine Siskins of the winter at the feeders a few moments ago. Lots of good birds out in the snow!
Its been a good year working on eBird. Check out our annual report online here. If you aren't reporting your bird sightings on eBird...take a look at it again. Lots of good stuff helping us track bird populations across the Western Hemisphere (and New Zealand, and soon the whole world!).
After a late night of work, I took a walk and called up a Great Horned Owl and a couple of Barred Owls. Nice to be out away from city noise. I also seemed to get a pack of coyote excited--they were yipping and calling and running around. Just another sign that I'm not in Philly anymore!
So I'm in Mississippi for a couple days of meetings at Tara Wildlife, a 17,000 acre hunting preserve and Important Bird Area on the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg. This morning before breakfast had a nice walk with thousands of Snow Geese and Blue Geese flying up off the river to head out to their foraging fields. I'm always amazed at how common Eastern Towhees are in the forests down here, since I've mostly lived where they are much more scarce. Looking forward to some nice roaming around down here over the next couple days.
Stopped by Lake Nockamixon "on my way" to work this morning. No crossbills at 9am, but two flyover siskins. Went down to the marina and saw the Red-necked Grebe out in the open water. Back at the crossbill site at 9:15 I immediately heard the cracking of spruce cones as I got out of the car. The flock of White-winged Crossbills was pretty easy to see in the top of a spruce, but only for about 20 seconds. 25 birds took off calling, circled the grove, and headed off--apparently startled by a gull flying low overhead. Then it was off to work. Not a bad way to start the morning!
I didn't get to take a walk until almost dusk today, and the little red screech owl was back in his tree hole again (he wasn't there Saturday). Wonder if I could call him up to my house with a screech owl tape...
This afternoon on my walk I stopped to look in the tree holes where I had seen the birds going crazy yesterday, and sure enough, there was a red phase Eastern Screech-Owl sticking its head out in the mid-afternoon sun! The birds had undoubtedly seen it in there yesterday.
I went home and got my son, but when we got back there the owl ducked back into the hole and wouldn't come back out. We did see several chickadees and titmice stop by, look in the hole, and start calling excitedly before flying off. We also watched a Belted Kingfisher dive into the creek and come out with what looked like a crayfish.
On my walk, before I saw the owl, the most interesting birds were a pair of American Pipits in an open area along the hike and bike trail. Didn't see any of those on my walks last year. There's always something different out there!
2008 was a pretty decent birding year. I'll do a recap in a moment, but to start, here are my best birds of 2008.
1. Northern Jacana: I started out the year in Utah, then spent a week on business in Arizona, where I was able to see this Mexican bird at the golf course in Casa Grande. Pretty cool!
2. Bendire's Thrasher: After missing this one a couple years ago near Rodeo, NM it was great to finally run into one out west of Tucson.
3. Rufous-backed Robin: Nice bird for my North American list, at Catalina State Park in Arizona in January.
4. Brown-capped Rosy Finch: I had been too early to see this bird in Colorado a year ago, but made a run up to Sandia Crest while in New Mexico to give a talk in March. Nice to see all three Rosy Finches swirling around 2 miles almost directly above suburban Albuquerque.
5. Wood Sandpiper: I've been looking for this bird for a long time, and was thrilled to be able to chase one found in Delaware last spring.
6. European Storm-Petrel: This one is a bit controversial, I was the only one to see it on a pelagic trip off Oregon Inlent, NC this Spring, but I got good close if brief looks. Great two days of trips with many nice birds and Sperm Wales, sea turtles, etc.
7. Little Egret: Another bird chase to Delaware got me this bird at Bombay Hook NWR in June.
8. Sharp-tailed Grouse: Still fascinated by these birds I saw almost every day I was in Utah for New Years last year, sitting in people's yard trees in Paradise, Utah south of Logan.
9. Totoweh: This was my favorite bird name from my Belize ethnographic research trip. It's the Mopan name for the Barred Antshrike, which has a characteristic call of totototototototototoweh! A common bird, but a great call and name.
10. Atlantic Puffin: My youngest daughter was finally old enough to go on the boat out to see these guys on Eastern Egg Rock near the Hog Island Audubon Camp where we've been going the last few summers. A great bird to finally get my whole family to enjoy!
Some great times this past year. I had originally hoped to see 500 bird species this year, and to see at least 100 species in at least 5 states. How'd I do?
I saw about 537 species last year, but not all in North America (which was my original intention). I only saw 417 species north of Mexico. I did see 100+ species in Pennsylvania, Utah, Texas, Arizona, and Maine.
I also started the year wanting to get my Bird RDA of 20 species each day...I did that every day until sometime in June or July, when I missed a day. After missing one day, it was easy to miss more days. I still tried for the RDA most days, and probably got it on over 300 days last year--but I lost track. I'll see how it goes this year.
I was also doing a BIGBY to see how many birds I could see on foot from home or work--I got over 100 species that way, then lost interest and ambition to push that list higher.
A lot of the loss of birding ambition came late in October when I finally realized I could actually finish up my PhD dissertation on Urban Bird Conservation in the Geography Department of the University of Texas at Austin. 2008 will always be the year I finally got that done and became Dr. Rob.
Now that that is behind me, what are my birding goals for 2009? For the first time in many years I don't have any! I think I'm going to have a busy year, and birding will be important for maintaining my sanity, but I don't have any specific goals in mind. I'll be birding wherever I travel this year, and hope that includes a lot of new locations as well as old favorites. I haven't been out to see my family in Oregon for over 3 years, so hoping to do that this year. So far I have work trips scheduled to Mississippi, New Mexico, Florida, Texas, and Alaska.
We'll just have to see how it goes and enjoy the journey! Happy New Year and best birding to everyone in 2009!
While checking my email this morning, I got word that some White-winged Crossbills were feeding in spruce trees at Lake Nockamixon about 10 minutes from my house. So I jumped in the car and headed up there. Unfortunately, by the time I got there nobody was seeing the birds. I heard them once on the far side of the spruce grove, but never got to see them. Not the most satisfying conclusion, but since I saw a bunch in Maine last summer, at least I got to hear them today--the first I've heard in Pennsylvania. They've been moving south since last year, so maybe if I keep my eyes and ears open I'll get to actually see some around here soon.
The first bird I saw this morning while I was peeling an orange for breakfast was a Blue Jay perched in my back yard--making it the first bird of the year and christening 2009 as the Year of the Blue Jay. That's fine with me--Blue Jays are intelligent, handsome, and gregarious--not a bad inspiration for a year in which I have a lot of things to do!
After my quick breakfast, I took a 3 mile walk and found 22 other species. Mostly I just walked and listened, but I did stop at one point where 9 Blue Jays and a couple of Tufted Titmice were calling and peeking into a hole in a tree. There was probably a screech owl in there. For a brief moment I thought I saw the reddish feathers of the owl's head in the bottom of the hole opening, but it was too quick to be sure. I'll have to go back down there by the creek with my owl tape one evening and see if I can call it out.
It was really, really cold and windy out, but nice to have the hike and bike path along the creek mostly to myself and the birds. Happy New Year everyone.