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Tuesday, September 27, 2005


This weekend I had the feeling that I should finally check out Pine Run, a small pond east of Peace Valley that attracts shorebirds. Monday morning, on the way to work, I stopped by and found a juvenile American Golden Plover and a few other shorebirds. When I got to work, I saw on the Pennsylvania birding email list that a Red-necked Phalarope (12th record for the county) was seen there all weekend. Ouch! I would have spent more time looking there if I had known it was there. Apparently it was seen later in the day yesterday as well.

This morning, on my way to work, I spent an hour scanning the mudflats and didn't see the phalarope. The plover was still there, as were 29 Pectoral Sandpipers, 3 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 8 Least Sandpipers, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Lesser Yellowlegs, 24 Killdeer, and 2 Spotted Sandpipers. One of the Semisands looked suspiciously like a juv. Red-necked Stint, but got away in the early morning light before I could get the best look. Sometimes, birds get away.

I didn't check the very northernmost part of the lake because it was muddy and obscured by trees--if the bird is being seen up there, I'll have to go back and risk the mud.

There are some great grassy areas above the pond, with lots of sparrows. Walking through it, I couldn't help but wonder if it might be a good place for a Northern Wheatear to show up. I look forward to getting to know the place much better.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Deep Twitching

Last week, Sheri Williamson and I slipped out of an Arizona Audubon meeting for a couple hours so I could go see my first White-eared Hummingbird at Beatty's Guest Ranch near Sierra Vista. While discussing stereotypical bird listers that don't care about conservation (we both emphatically denied being such crass listers), Sheri mentioned that what we needed was some new concept of Deep Deep Ecology, something that gave more conservation substance to our love of chasing after new birds.

This past week I've thought alot about Deep Twitching, and maybe something like Deep Listing, or even Deep Birding. Towards that end, I propose an initial rule for Deep Twitching:

Only birds reported to a larger citizen science bird conservation project can be counted.

That goes for life birds, state birds, county birds, yard birds...whatever. They only count if they are entered into a bigger data set that can help guide conservation planning. If you just write them in your book, the birds don't count.

And the good news is that with the brand new release of eBird 2, Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology have just made it easier than ever to Deep List. You can now keep track of your Life, State, County, and Yard (or any other location) lists online at eBird. Just go to

enter in your location, click a couple boxes, and in less time than it takes to read this message, you can report all the birds you've seen so far this morning.

The new, improved eBird2 lets you see all your sightings, all your lists, as well as maps of everyone else's sightings. By reporting all your sightings here, your data isn't lost in your notebooks, it goes towards helping chart the distribution and abundance of the birds in your yard, county, state, and the whole country...

..which makes your sightings eligible for Deep Listing!

And here are some great ways to encourage Deep Listing with eBird:

--Get backyard birders to enter their backyard sightings.
--Get nature centers or refuges to keep their sightings online
--Have all competitive state, county, or ABA listers submit their lists
--Have a contest to see who in your Audubon chapter or birding club can submit the most lists in a year...the most sightings...visit the most places in your area, etc.
--See how many of your club members can submit the most historical sightings from their old notebooks

Use your creativity. Get folks fired up. You don't have to have an ABA list of 800+ to be the best Deep Lister. But you do have to enter your bird sightings.

Check out the new eBird 2. Its fantastic. And can be a great tool for your local bird conservation efforts.

What if everyone in your local area regularly reported to eBird the birds in their backyard? The interesting birds they see on the way to work? All the birds they see at the local state or city park? You could then use eBird to generate maps of bird distribution in your area...and seasonal abundance checklists, or...

What if when the next Big Real Estate Development comes to your community, and you want to do something about it--and you actually have real data on local bird abundance and distribution from eBird to back you up in your attempts to influence a zoning board, county board of supervisors, developer, etc.

Let me be the first to take the Deep Twitching pledge...
I will only count bird sightings that are entered into eBird or some other citizen science database!

While that means that my ABA list has just dropped down to 206 species and my Texas list has only 1 (shameful!!) species (as of this morning)...its just a matter of time before I get my old sightings entered into eBird so my Deep Birding lists will grow.

Deep Twitching...more than just an obsession!

Friday, September 16, 2005


In Mexico, the Chupacabra ("goatsucker") is an evil monster stalking the night. In reality, goatsuckers are a family of nocturnal birds that include the Whip-poor-will. Out west, the most common urban goatsucker is the Common Nighthawk--when I lived in Austin, Texas, these birds were commonly found hunting for insects by flying around parking lot lights in town. Out here in Pennsylvania, they are much less common and mostly seen during migration, so I was pleased to see one flying over the fields behind my office after work earlier this week.

September in Arizona

Southeastern Arizona has some of the best birding and most wonderful scenery in the United States, so I didn't complain when I had to attend a couple meetings there earlier this month.

Driving from Tucson to the Audubon Research Ranch near Elgin, I was able to pick up a couple new birds--Rufous-winged Sparrow and Botteri's Sparrow. While most people aren't interested in little brown birds, these are some very cool creatures. Rufous-winged Sparrows live in the Sonoran Desert, and are threatened by habitat destruction. I was able to find three of them singing in a dry wash off a dirt road, but road equipment and the sound of nearby housing construction made me wonder how long the birds would be able to persist in the area.

Another fun sighting were the pair of Burrowing Owls sitting on the top of tombstones in the cemetery next to the San Xavier del Bac Mission on the Tohono O'odham Nation just west of Tucson. This is a well-known location for seeing these birds, but while I was walking along the road there, a couple tribal policeman told me it wasn't allowed, so I wasn't able to stay long. I had been told not to enter the cemetery, but apparently birders shouldn't even walk the area.

The Audubon Research Ranch is a great place where I was able to spend the night. Acorn Woodpeckers, Botteri's Sparrows, and Cassin's Kingbirds were some of the fun birds there, and I was able to start my morning off there with a nice male Vermilion Flycatcher. Hundreds of studies have been published from research conducted here on the ecology of desert grasslands--its a fabulous place where I was also able to see a stock tank filled with tadpoles and emerging baby spadefoot toads.

I was able to slip out of meetings in Sierra Vista for an hour to visit Beatty's Miller Canyon Guest Ranch, a well-known hummingbird Mecca, where the high-point was a stunning male White-eared Hummingbird, a Mexican species that can regularly be found here but almost nowhere else in the United States. Thanks to Sheri Williamson of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory for accompanying me to this place and introducing me to the hundreds of hummingbirds swarming about the feeders there.

Another highlight of the trip was spending my birthday on the top of the Chiricahua Mountains near the New Mexico border--pretty much the only place north of Mexico where the Mexican Chickadee lives. I was able to find several of these little gray, black, and white birds in the Douglas-Fir forests 12 miles up a dirt road in country that looks a lot more like Montana than typical conceptions of Southeastern Arizona.

But my happiest birding moment came on my last day in Arizona. On my way back to the airport in Tucson, I stopped for a couple early morning hours in Scheelite Canyon on Fort Huachuca, where I hoped to find Mexican Spotted Owls. This is the best-known place to search for these birds, and since I had missed Northern Spotted Owls several times as a kid in Oregon, I was really hoping to find these birds. After hiking almost a mile up the canyon, the guidebook said that the birds most often roost in the righthand canyon fork, and only infrequently use the left fork. However, I had a strong feeling I should take the left fork, and after a couple hundred yards, I was rewarded with a sighting of two Elegant Trogons--a very cool tropical species that nests in the mountain canyons here and throughout Southeastern Arizona. I hadn't seen these birds yet on this trip, so I thought I was getting a great reward for following my hunch to take the left canyon fork.

As I started back down out the left fork of the canyon, I suddenly looked up towards the canyon wall and there was a gorgeous Spotted Owl sitting in the open about 30 yards away. It sat there for 10 minutes, mostly sleeping but occasionally looking around, until I had to leave it there in the early morning sunlight. It was a magical moment in an enchanted place. The drive back to the airport and the plane ride back to Philadelphia were merely a blur after finally seeing one of these great threatened birds.

Hither and...Yawn

For the last few weeks in August I traveled to meetings in Midland, Michigan, where I pretty much didn't see any birds. Then I flew to Utah to pick up my family and drive to my sister's wedding in Oregon. The week in Oregon and Utah was mostly for family, without any real serious birding. However, it was good to see a few birds from my childhood, including a pair of Vaux's Swifts--small aerial insect eaters closely related to the Chimney Swifts of the Eastern U.S.--that buzzed over my parent's garden while we were setting up for the wedding reception.

In Utah, I mostly spent time with family and helping on the farm, but did get up Logan Canyon for an evening hike with the family, where we did see a pair of American Dipper--a great little bird that feeds on insects it catches while walks underwater along the bottom of fast-moving mountain streams. They are named for their habit of bobbing or dipping up and down as they stand on rocks above the water.

Another fun bird to see were the flocks of White-faced Ibis all over Cache Valley. these long-legged wading birds nest in the Great Basin and spend their winters farther south in Central America. In late summer, flocks of adults and young birds are all over Cache Valley feeding in wet fields and the marshes west of Logan.

August in Maine

For a week in August, I helped put on an Audubon Chapter Leadership Seminar on Hog Island, Maine. Very cool place, with lots of Common Eider and Black Guillemot swimming around the numerous lobster traps in the bay. The highlight of the week was a daylong boat trip out to Eastern Egg Rock, where Stephen Kress (head of Audubon's Project Puffin) first restored populations of Atlantic Puffin by bringing young birds down from Canada and placing puffin decoys on the rocks to lure adult birds back to breed.

We got great looks at about 40 puffins as they swam around the island, perched on rocks, or flew right past us on the boat. It was late in the season and we were worried about missing them before they head out to the North Atlantic for the winter, but these birds looked like they weren't going anywhere. Very enjoyable to watch as we circled around and around and around the island--getting greener and greener bobbing up and down while trying to look through binoculars. We also saw may terns on the island, and I got a pretty good, though distant, look at one flying Roseate Tern--an endangered species that nests on the island.

Heading back from the island, I told some folks that I really wanted to see a storm petrel, so despite being a little bit queasy from bobbing up and down on the water, I started scanning the water. Within a couple minutes, I was able to spot a small bird flying low over the waves in the distance. It turned just right so I could see the oval white rump on the otherwise dark bird, as well as the characteristic storm petrel shape--a nice Wilson's Storm Petrel.

Great birding, great food (lobster, duck, clam pasta sauce...), good company--a fantastic week.
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