RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prowling Peacocks

Don't laugh, but prowling peacocks are a real problem for some homeowners. I get several emails each month from folks looking for help with peacocks roaming their yard or neighborhood. If you've got a peacock problem, or are just interested in what this might be all about, check out my Prowling Peacocks post over at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bringing Nature Home

What do most of our songbirds eat, or at least feed their young?


What do bugs eat? Why native plants, of course. So what's the best way to help birds get the food they need? Plant native plants!

What's the best way to get up to speed on the connection between native plants, bugs, and birds? Where can you go to find out what plants each of your favorite butterflies wants to eat as a caterpillar, or get nectar from as an adult? What's book will totally rock your world no matter what you think about plants or crazy space-alien-looking caterpillars and grub-gut-sucking wasps?

Bringing Nature Home.

Awesome book by Douglas Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

See my review of this must read at Urban Birdscapes.

Hawks from Every Angle

Last fall I was birding at Lake Nockamixon near my house, when a bird of prey came flying past. By the time I saw it, it was already parallel to me. By the time I got my binoculars on it, it was heading away in a glide and I couldn't see its head. I first thought Peregrine but then it flapped and the wings didn't look so falcon-like. It swooped up into a tree, and I got a good look at its wings--dark grayish blue above with blackish "hands". By the time I got it in the scope, I only got another brief look at it. It wasn't the best view, and in some circumstances I might have had to let it go unidentified.

But fortunately I had been brushing up on raptor ID by reading Jerry Liguori's Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight (Princeton, 2005). Based on what I had read, I had seen enough to be able to identify it as a male Northern Goshawk. Sweet! I don't get to see many of these birds around here, and though they are a cinch to identify with a good look and when they are perched--they can be tougher at a distance or in flight or at an awkward angle--just the type of ID that Hawks from Every Angle is set up to help us with.

Some birders love to study their bird books. Others may be more like me, and more likely to read something else for fun rather than a bird identification book. But to stay sharp, birders need to study. Its one thing to be able to take notes or remember enough about a tricky bird to look it up in a library of field guides and other references when you get home. But to be really sharp in the field you have to be able to at least know what to look for when you are presented with a tough bird. That only comes from lots of experience combined with study.

So how is Hawks from Every Angle as a study aid? I'll admit that I haven't read it cover to cover yet. I just don't have the fortitude to do that all at once. But the good thing about Hawks from Every Angle is that you can study it at different levels. You can focus on the more than 370 photos and read the brief but informative captions. That will show you the most important points. Or you can skim the sections on each of 19 raptor species that are most commonly seen from hawk watch sites in the United States, where bolded statements in the text help a reader focus in on key marks. If you are really awake and have time to concentrate, you can read the full text of those species accounts and drink from the fire hose of descriptions of the key characteristics of each species as seen form below, head-on, wing-on, or flying away.

While there is probably too much in Hawks from Every Angle to absorb in one or even a few sittings, Jerry Liguori has written in a readable, clear, and concise style. Hawks from Every Angle is a great book to keep on the bed side table. Ten minutes of perusing this beautiful and helpful book now and again is a great way to become familiar with key field marks, as well as the gestault of each bird so that when that tricky raptor speeds past you in the woods, or that distant hawk flirts with you in the shimmering heat waves, you'll be ready!

(Review based on review copy provided by Princeton University Press)

Parrots of the World

Over at Urban Birdscapes I've posted a review of the new Princeton Field Guide Parrots of the World (Princeton, 2010). May be especially helpful for urban birders trying to figure out what those free-flying exotics are during the World Parrot Count.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yard Bird List Rankings

eBird now has the ability to track and compare yard bird lists. As you can see, I'm currently ranked 13th in the state of Pennsylvania. Not bad for a 18 foot wide row home lot. Time to do more birding from my back porch--and prepare to ID nocturnal migrant call notes when the birds head north again in a few months (my best chance to significantly boost this list since I've got almost no yard to speak of).

So start tracking the birds you see in your yard on eBird. You could be a winner!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Mossad Spy Vulture

A Griffin Vulture carrying a GPS tracking device and an R65 identification tag from Tel Aviv University has been arrested in Saudi Arabia as a Mossad spy. Israeli ornithologists are going to have a hard time convincing some folks that this is part of an innocent migration tracking project using standard bird banding and tracking technology. It's a crazy world out there. Reminds me of the spy pigeons arrested in Iran a couple years ago.

Mayan Bird Talk in DC

My talk coming up this week in DC

Birds and Bird Lore Among the Ancient and Modern Maya

Friday January 7, 6:45 PM
Pre-Columbian Society of Washington DC
January Lecture

Birds have played important roles in Mesoamerican cultures for thousands of years. Rob Fergus explores the connections between birds and various Mayan cultures as revealed in their ancient art and his ongoing field work with seven modern Mayan communities in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. In addition to reviewing the role of birds in Mayan writing and iconography, if you want to know how the Turkey Vulture got its red head, which bird you can burn to a crisp to make into a love potion, why you can't have sex before you plant your corn crop, or how to cure warts, this is the program for you!

Sumner School,
1201 17th Street, NW,
Washington, DC

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Pennsylvania Bullock's Oriole

A Bullock's Oriole showed up this week in Barto, Pennsylvania--about 40 minutes from my home. So this morning before my appointments I drove over to see if it was still around. It was and here are some of the better shots I was able to get through my 7x42 Zeiss binocular (these are stills from video shot with a Canon Power Shot SD780).

Not professional quality (see Howard Eskin's photos of this bird here), but not too bad for handheld point and shoot and binocular (first photo actually shot through an old Bausch & Lomb Discover scope).

Anyway, here's the layout of the place for those who are going to search for the bird. Please follow the directions on where to park at this home from the original post on PA Birds.

While I was there for about 45 minutes this morning, the oriole spent a lot of time perched high in the trees along the creek. It flew in a couple of times as if it wanted to get to the apple trees, but a Northern Mockingbird flew out and chased it off. The oriole did manage to get to the suet and other feeders a few times, but the mockingbird occasionally chased it away from there as well. From the patio you can scope out the trees and see the bird when it comes in to the apple trees or the feeders. At one point it went out to the front of the house as well, but I didn't see what it was doing over there, and it came back shortly.

So, a few happy birders there today. Hopefully the bird will stick around for more happy birders in the days ahead. Many thanks to those who are hosting the bird, as well as those who reported it.

Postscript (1/8/2011): The Bullock's Oriole was seen for three days at this location but has now moved on or disappeared.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Muscovy Menace

Here's a fun email I got today:
I have problems with Muscovy ducks. This is partly my fault because I started feeding them deer corn which I wish I had never done. They are constantly on my porch pooping and/or roosting. Everyone says stop feeding them. Well I did for a while and they went after my cats' food. I have to "guard" the cats while they eat. Help!

I suggested she stop feeding the cats outside, at least until the ducks move on to find other food elsewhere. But the image of muscovies duking it out with cats had me smiling!

(photo: wikipedia)

Cause of Bird Kill in Arkansas

In case you missed the news, there was a major bird kill event in Beebe, Arkansas. Over 3,000 grackles and blackbirds fell from the sky on New Years Eve. What caused this bird kill?

Yeah, it's a scary world out there.

Good thing I found this photo at the feline underground to help confirm this source of the mystery deaths!

First Bird of 2011--Eastern Screech Owl

During the Upper Bucks Christmas Bird Count a few weeks ago, I found 17 Eastern Screech Owls within a couple miles of my house, including one two blocks away in the park. So after we rang the new year in at midnight, I planned to take my three kids out to see if we could call up this neighborhood owl. My two youngest kids were just too tired (normal 7:30 bedtime!), but I was able to take my 8th grader out for a few minutes. Within 20 seconds of blasting an Eastern Screech Owl call from the iPod on my car stereo, the bird flew in and landed on a tree limb above the car in the park parking lot. We watched it fly back and forth several times for about 5 minutes for a lovely way to start the new year. If I can pull this off that easily next year, I think I may have the makings of a new family tradition :-)

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Pennsylvania Anna's Hummingbird

Last month an Anna's Hummingbird showed up in a trailer community at 3450 Mountain Road, Hamburg PA. A couple weeks ago I went to go see it in 20 degree weather with 30 mile an hour winds and struck out. I thought the bird had disappeared in the bad weather, but apparently one of the homeowners (#69) had put a heater on a feeder behind their house and the bird made it through the bad weather. I drove over there again this morning and the female hummer came in after a short wait.

Here's a map of where the bird is to be seen.

The neighbor at #64 has said birders can stand in his yard by the red shed anytime and watch for the bird. Here's what you'll be looking at.

The bird has been coming in to these feeders, and sometimes hanging out in the tangle to the right of the feeders. At other times it apparently disappears to the south, going down along the creek near the sewage plant at the bottom of the map above--which looks like pretty prime Anna's Hummingbird habitat from my experience growing up with these birds in Oregon.

Now that the neighbors know that the hummer is still around, they are putting their feeders back up, so it could be visiting other feeders in the vicinity. Also, it has taken quite a bit of electricity to keep the feeder at #69 from freezing, so any donations to help defray the cost of keeping this bird around are greatly appreciated there.

Neighbors are friendly, but as always, we should be on our best behavior as we are welcomed into this community to look at this great bird. Please don't drive into the community, park as recommended to the right of the guard shack at the campground entrance as shown on the map.

When I was there this morning, I saw the female hummer for a few minutes at the feeders, and got some quick and distant video through my bins with my digital camera. Here's one of the better stills from the video.

Good thing I shot video through the bins--I never would have been able to capture this unless I was shooting video (thanks for the tip from Dale Forbes).

Here's the raw video:

Nature Blog Network Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites