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Saturday, December 31, 2022

Top 10 Birds of 2022

Another year in the books, and another year where I didn't leave the U.S. and hardly traveled outside of Pennsylvania. Here's to more travels in the new year!  eBird has me down for only 279 species this year, with 224 of those right here at home in Delaware County, PA. So for sure I need to get out more!  That said, here are my Top 10 Birds of 2022.

Gray-headed Swamphen--Overdue new life bird for me, I picked it up on a quick trip to Florida for my youngest daughter's singing competition in May.  Been waiting to see this one for decades since they first became countable after escaping and colonizing Florida in the early 1990s. #Lifer

Gray Kingbird--Another overdue lifer for me, finally in Florida the right time of year for it. #Lifer

Hermit Warbler--a first record for Pennsylvania and Delaware County, found by visiting birders over the Thanksgiving Weekend and subsequently seen by hundreds of local birders as it played peek-a-boo with birders in a row of pine trees between an apartment building and a suburban church parking lot. Breaks the mind to imagine how many rare birds are lurking out there in unbirded marginal habitat! #NewCountyBird

White Ibis--a mind-bending new county bird for me. While not completely unexpected, it was found by a hiker along Ridley Creek in a heavily wooded section of the park, so another bird in a seemingly random spot. #CountyBird

Barnacle Goose--A new county bird for me, spotted by friends in a large Canada Goose flock that we monitor for rare geese at Springton Reservoir. It flew to a nearby Middle School field to forage and I was able to connect with it there. #CountyBird

Little Gull--another new county bird for me, long-wished for by several of us in the county, first one reported here in decades. I spent many days watching the river behind the PHL airport hoping to find one mixed in with migrating Bonaparte's Gulls, and on the best day finally was able to find a beautiful breeding plummeted adult bird very close to shore with over 400 Bonaparte's Gulls. #CountyBird

Long-eared Owl--very hard to find locally, a friend spotted one being mobbed by Blue Jays and a few of us were able to get there before it disappeared. A new Delaware County bird for me. #CountyBird

Arctic Tern--there was a major invasion of these birds in the Delaware Valley after strong onshore winds during their spring migration. I missed most of them and didn't get great looks, but a new county bird for me, so I'll take it! #CountyBird

Alder Flycatcher--a rare local migrant, great to get this for my yard list--a bird calling in the early morning of 31 May while I was listening in to my NFC microphone recording live on my rooftop. #NewYardBird

Horned Lark--another scarce local bird, heard flying over my house in October. #NewYardBird

Honorabler Mentions

Rare County Birds--Connecticut Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Red-necked Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Stilt Sandpiper.

Rare Yard Birds--King Rail (NFC), Evening Grosbeak, Swamp Sparrow (new)

Monday, October 31, 2022

My 20th eBird Anniversary

 October 18 marks my 20th anniversary as an eBird user!  Can't believe it has been 20 years!  

As an old man, I now look back and see that on 18 Oct 1982, 20 years before I started using eBird, I was a young teenage birder with only 152 birds on my life list. 20 years before that I wasn't even alive and the Beatles had just released their first single, "Love Me Do."

20 years ago, eBird was brand new and still pretty clunky and rudimentary. I only used it a few times before I lost my password. I didn't start using it on a regular basis until creating a new profile in July 2005 when I was working with Audubon and starting to collaborate with Cornell Lab of Ornithology on the Great Backyard Bird Count and eBird promotion.

Here's what eBird looked like back in October 2002.

This was back in the days before the Google Maps functionality, when eBird had its own proprietary mapping function (which got Cornell and Audubon some cool patents that Google and others have since used). 

So 20 years of eBirding for me.  My first bird entered into eBird? A rare Northern Goshawk at Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Facility, my old stomping grounds. I never entered any notes on that rare sightings--I should probably go back and do that sometime :-)

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

2022 Southeast PA Quad County Birding Challenge

 Back in 2020, I challenged birders in Philly, Delaware County, and Montgomery County to see which county could--

  • Find and report the most birds for the year on eBird
  • Have the most eBirders report 200+ species in the county that year
  • Have the highest eBirder total
  • Have the highest eBird yard list for the year
  • Have the most birders report over 100 species for their yard on eBird
It was a lot of fun, and boosted local birding big time (more details to be published elsewhere soon!). We ran the contest in 2020 and 2021, then added Chester County this year. I post monthly updates on social media to spur on the local birding.  Here is the latest update for the end of September.

We are having a lot of fun, even if other counties are kicking the crud out of my DelCo birders. I'm mostly interested in the eBirders over 200 and Yards over 100 categories, as they are categories anyone can really aspire to and represent increased levels of local birding for most birders.  

More People Enjoying More Birds More

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Great White Heron Chase in Philly

 For the past week or so, a Great White Heron has been hanging out on the Manayunk Canal in NW Philly about a half hour from my house. This morning I braved the traffic on I-76 and headed up there. I shouldn't have worried about parking, there was ample 2 hour street parking nearby, and I took the stairs down to the canal to look for the bird. I didn't have to even look for the bird, it was standing right there at the bottom of the stairs, twenty feet out in the canal, with a couple people standing their looking at it already.  Beautiful bird!

This is the presumed sixth occurrence of the Great White Heron in Pennsylvania, and a first for Philadelphia. Since 1973 it has been considered a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias occidentalis), but many consider it to be a valid species (see note here). It is normally restricted to south Florida and the Keys, so a great bird to see up here in Philly.

So a great bird, but also in a great spot. The steps down to the canal were covered in mosaics and murals, and the canal itself is a scenic pathway next to the Schuykil River. A great spot to spend a few moments watching a great bird.

Back up in the neighborhood, I spotted a sign for tomato pie, which induced me to stop at Marchiano's Bakery. A half pie (an enormous 12x18 inches) was $9.25 so I was helpless to resist. Love me some tomato pie, a great Philly and NJ dish if you haven't had it, well worth a stop!

Good bird, scenic neighborhood, great food--makes for a nice urban birding adventure!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Birding Providence

My house is right on Providence Rd, in the township of Nether Providence in Pennsylvania, so when I am yard birding, I am literally birding Providence.
Birding Providence

But that's not the Providence I'm thinking of this week, after some interesting birding experiences.  For centuries, Providence has been used as a name for Deity, or for the foresight or beneficial intervention of God.  No matter your theology about Providence (there are even naturalistic or atheist traditions addressing it), it is fun to ponder and consider the magic that sometimes happens in birding.  Here are two examples from just one day this week.

1) My wife woke me up at 12:30 in the morning because she needed help with something.  While I am a Latter-day Saint, I am no angel, and am especially grumpy after being awoken from a deep sleep.  But after I composed myself, I got out of bed and helped her for half an hour.  After that, since I was already awake, I decided I would listen to my NFC microphone recording in progress, to see what might be migrating over my house.  I fell asleep with the earbuds in, but was awoken again just after 3am by the distinct loud churr call of a King Rail migrating over my house.  This is a very rare bird in my county, with very few records after their local breeding habitat was mostly destroyed by a Philadelphia airport expansion project over 20 years ago. If I hadn't gotten up to help my wife, I wouldn't have put in the earbuds, and I wouldn't have heard this cool bird and added it to my year and county list. So that was very Providential!

King Rail CHURRR call, Nether Providence, PA

2) Later that day several of us were social-distance birding together at the Delaware River behind the Philadelphia airport.  One of my friends went home for lunch, and missed a pair of Least Terns, rare for the county, as they flew past us.  We commented on how sometimes we make the wrong choices.  He texted us a few minutes later, with cell phone pics of a Mississippi Kite, another rare and hard to find migrant in the region, that had just flown over his house while he was doing yard work! Maybe he didn't make the wrong choice after all!  Forty-five minutes later, I had the thought that I should let my friends in Haverford know about the kite sighting.  They went outside as soon as they got my text, and almost immediately saw and photographed a Mississippi Kite flying over their yard!  This was ten miles away from where the bird was first seen, and its impossible to know if it is the same bird--what would the chances be? And what are the chances that I would think to text them at the exact moment they would need to go outside to see the bird--a lifer for one of them?  And my birding friend that missed the terns?  He later rejoined us just in time to see a second pair of Least Terns fly by. Amazing! Providential!

Of course it doesn't always happen that way.  Sometimes we don't see the bird.  Sometimes we barely miss it.  But it happens often enough that whether you call it God or karma or whatever, magic like this happens.  Sometimes you think of an unlikely bird, and then see one shortly thereafter. Or bizarre "coincidences" happen to put you in just the right place at just the right time to have a completely unexpected, yet providential, bird sighting. That's one of the things that I love most about birding--the skill, hard work, luck, and dare I say Providence, that has to come together to find a bird you are looking for, or to discover one that you couldn't expect.

Birding Providence.  One of my great joys of birding.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

In Praise of the Sun

The sun, dominating the horizon during my first hour of Outdoor Church
I missed sunrise this morning, as I didn't get outside until 45 minutes later.  But during my 4 hours of Outdoor Church in the yard, I became increasingly cognizant and appreciative of my relationship to the sun.

During the first hour, with the sun low on the horizon, the local weather station was showing a temperature of 36F, but there was still frost on our cars.  I was constantly dancing with the sun, to get warm, to position my body so that I could better see the birds in my yard.  Eventually, the sun climbed higher, as did the temperature.  But I was constantly looking around the sun--avoiding looking directly at it, yet looking to see where its light was most effectively making it possible to see and identify the loons, cormorants, and other birds as they passed by (see my eBird list here).

It was a perfect Sun day.  And though we still have one day of the week that carries its name, we are a culture committed to severing ourselves from the sun.  We use subterranean fossilized sunshine for most of our energy needs.  We are Hadean, rather than Celestially oriented. Our daily cycle, dominated by artificial lighting, is less and less tied to the sun.  Even our calendar, once dominated by Moonths and the passage of the sun, is now more dominated by fiscal years and quarterly financial forecasts.  Past societies literally built their most prominent buildings to line up with the passage of the sun.  The sun is shining, but we mostly just use it as a light source for our outdoor entertainments.

But sitting in my yard, I ponder all the ways the sun still sustains us--all the plants in my yard, also dancing to best catch the sun's rays, all the birds, all the other life forms, moving in daily and seasonal cycles with the sun.  All my food that needs the sun to grow. Light, warmth, and comfort. As a birder, I dance with those birds, as they dance with the sun.

It was a perfect Sun day, as should be they all!

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Birding the COVID-19 Shutdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed many people and disrupted the lives of many more.  While it is a terrible tragedy and scary for all of us, I've been birding a lot from my yard as well as local hotspots I can get to without having to bump into too many people.  I've got my NFC station up and running, and have already had a couple of Virginia Rails caught on tape.  I am currently #1 on eBird for the Delaware County this year, and my yard list is currently #1 in the county and #6 in Pennsylvania.

Today I was looking for Horned Larks and American Pipits--two tough birds to get in my county.  No dice in a field where they were seen yesterday (and missed by me later in the afternoon), but I did manage to get a photo of a Vesper Sparrow that has been hanging out there.  And just as I was going to leave, a Wild Turkey wandered across the field--my first for Delaware County and my overall county bird #235.  So, yay!

Vesper Sparrow, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania

After the fields at Glen Mills, I headed down to check my local patch, the Delaware River behind the Philadelphia Airport.  My first Forster's Terns of the year were hanging out on the low tide sandbar until the local Bald Eagles put them up.  21 Wilson's Snipe in a ditch, and 13 American Kestrels hunting on the airport runways were high counts.  On my way home, an American Coot--surprisingly tough to see in the county, was bird #128 for me in the county this year.

My heart goes out to everyone who is suffering.  For those who are able, enjoy your yard birds or birds close to home.  Be safe, be healthy, be well!
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