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Friday, August 31, 2007

New Online Bird Game from Audubon

Another cool bird conservation outreach tool from Audubon. Fly flocks of birds over various landscapes and help them find safe and healthy stopover habitat. Click here to play!

A lesson from puffins

There's a great lesson from all of us that I get reminded of every year when I'm up at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine. Stephen Kress was working at the camp there when he conceived of Project Puffin, an attempt to bring puffin populations back to abandoned nesting colonies on islands in the Gulf of Maine. The puffins we get to see out at Eastern Egg Rock during the camp are only there because of Dr. Kress's efforts.

While most of us don't have access to remote islands to practice the restoration of bird populations, many of us do have yards or property that can be improved for birds. Can you do on your property what Steve Kress did on his? Can you create a better environment that will attract and support birds that might have abandoned your neighborhood as homes and lawns replaced native habitats? Audubon's Birds to Help resources and other Audubon At Home materials are created in this spirit. Make the world a better place for you and the birds. You probably won't get a puffin in your birdbath, but you can make your property or yard more inviting to other native birds that need your help to thrive in our neighborhoods.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bird Envy

To some, birdwatching is a casual pursuit--an activity to do for relaxation. For others, it can approach something of a blood sport. For the latter crowd, the green-eyed monster of envy can become a serious and constant companion. I see enough rare birds that I'm at least partially immune from this malady. I don't begrudge anyone their rare bird sightings, which I do celebrate. But as a birdchaser, I do face occasional bouts of "wish-I-could-have-been-there" syndrome. So, with only the slightest twinge of envy, I celebrate some amazing bird sightings made by others this past week or so!

A Jabiru in Mississippi.
North America's first record of Brown Hawk Owl in Alaska.
A sighting of a rare Macaronesian (Little) Shearwater off Massachusetts.

If any of these sightings make you want to turn off the computer and go out birding, they've done their job. To that end, they also serve as a self-diagnostic for bird envy. How did you fare? Do you suffer from bird envy?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hog Island Audubon Leadership Camp

Last week I got to help out with another Audubon Chapter Leadership Camp on Hog Island, Maine. We had 27 Audubon chapter leaders there for workshops and birding and magnificent food. In between exploring tide pools, hiking, and taking boat trips to see Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Common Eiders, we spent a lot of time looking at warblers--some still tending their young and some migrating through. Highlights for me were a couple of Cape May Warblers--a warbler I don't get to see that often.

In addition, this year a pair of Ospreys nested right above one of the camp buildings--so we could watch the three fledged young at almost point blank range as they practiced flying and ate fish brought in by their parents. They were calling to each other almost constantly all week long. Amazing to live in such close proximity to these spectacular fish hawks.

Another high point for me this year was that my family got to join me for the first half of the week so my kids got to enjoy the Ospreys and see the Atlantic Puffins out at Eastern Egg Rock. They were begging me to wake them up so they could go birding with me at 6am each morning--sweet music to a birding father's ears!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Birds 2 Help

Earlier this summer Audubon released a report on common birds in decline. Now Audubon has produced Birds to Help--a resource suggesting birds that homeowners and other private landowners can help in urban, suburban, and rural areas. While these aren't all the birds that need help, these are some of the birds that landowners can most easily help. They also represent birds that need help to thrive in most residential areas--so they are a good place to start if you want to help local birds.

For each of the thirty birds to help, there is a printable "recipe" telling what the species needs and how you can provide those needs. Lots of good information on these birds. In the future we look forward to providing habitat guidelines for additional species as well.

I've been working on this project for a couple years and am glad to see it finally online. Eventually we envision folks being able to enter their zip code and get an even more targeted list of birds to help in their specific region. Until then, here's a start. Check it out and find a bird to help in your yard or on your property today!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Other Goldfinch

I got a call at work about a male European Goldfinch coming to a feeder near Core Creek Park in Langhorne. Its only 20 minutes from work so slipped over there on my lunch break. After half an hour of standing in the drizzling rain the bird came in and fed at the feeder for about 6 minutes at 12:30pm. (photo credit: Trev Feltham)

These guys show up every year or so in southeastern Pennsylvania. They're usually presumed to be escaped cagebirds, though as with this bird, there is usually no obvious cage wear and no band. Julie Craves at the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Michigan has been tracking European goldfinch sightings in the Midwest since a large importer was rumored to have released a large number in 2002.

Unfortunately, since we don't have a good handle on the status and distribution of these goldfinches and other European birds in North America, its almost impossible to determine what might be legitimate vagrants from escaped exotics.

But that's only something of interest to birders keeping lists (exotics don't count) and a few researchers interested in the dynamics of new invading species. For some of us, seeing a European Goldfinch is just a real treat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Downtown Bird Habitat

Downtown Salt Lake City has some unique bird habitat. Here's a California Quail right on temple square downtown. The dome in the background is the historic tabernacle, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

My favorite patch of habitat is the rooftop garden on top of the LDS Conference Center. How many other places let you walk around on their roof? Not many. Even fewer have a three acre meadow of native grasses and pine trees up there. So there's a lot more to do on temple square than getting a quick overview of Mormon history and beliefs. If you find yourself with a little time in downtown Salt Lake City, check it out. And let me know what birds you find on temple square.

Birding Outdoor Retailers

Just got back from a week out in Utah leading morning and evening birding trips for the Outdoor Retailers Summer
in Salt Lake City. Lots of fun showing American White Pelicans, White-faced Ibis, Burrowing Owls, Golden Eagles, Snowy Plovers, and dozens of other birds to a wide range of experienced and brand-spanking-new-birders. It was especially fun to take out some folks who had never even thought about birdwatching before, and to see them get excited by some great birds.

One morning we saw a Peregrine Falcon chase a flock of ducks and fly low almost directly overhead. On a quieter trip we got great scope views of a Sage Thrasher. Another morning provided looks at 35 Snowy Plovers (including some fuzzy chicks). The rarest bird of the trips was a juvenile Summer Tanager, about 250 miles out of range, that popped up on a gate to the Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve--a restoration project of Kennecott Copper on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake. There literally wasn't a tree in sight for this woodland species to land on, so it was in very atypical habitat.

It was exciting to see different birds each day. To visit the same place over and over for five days and learn some of the rhythms and schedules of a few individual birds, and to be constantly surprised by the appearance of new birds along my birding route. Birding truly is a joy, and as far as I could tell, there was much joy had by all!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Go Go Gadget Birds!

Ever hear of a Google Gadget? Its a small add-on to your Google search page that provides customized information to your browser. Now there's a rare bird Google Gadget that can bring you the latest rare bird info in real time as it is submitted to eBird. The eBird rare bird gadget sits right there on your Google search page, and whenever a rare bird is reported in your area, it shows up immediately--along with a note of who saw the bird, whether it has been confirmed by an eBird reviewer, and--perhaps best of all--a Google Map showing exactly where the bird was seen!

Will this revolutionize the way rare bird information is reported and disseminated? Only time will tell, and the value of the service depends on the willingness of the birding community to report rare bird sightings to eBird. But its already fun to see who on the birding email lists is reporting their rare birds to eBird, and who isn't. I've already had a couple gull sightings show up on the PA rare bird gadget, and my NY Western Reef-Heron sighting was added as soon as I entered it into eBird this morning.

So check out the rare bird Google Gadget and report your bird sightings--rare or otherwise--to eBird!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Junior birdchasers score!

Last night I figured out that with a little juggling I could manage a 15 minute stop at the Western Reef-Heron site in Brooklyn on my way to another appointment. I spent a restless night wondering if it was worth hauling my three kids over there after so much heartbreak. The bird had never been seen three days in a row, so it seemed a bit crazy to try again. And with limited time to search, it seemed like a recipe for failure. Besides, the polluted Coney Island creek inlet is hardly scenic, has been the scene of some strange goings on, and not the kind of place I'd really want my kids to spend a whole lot of time.

But at 8am we pulled up to the Home Depot, I jumped out, ran across the softball fields to the creek and there, just as it should be, was the bird feeding a mere 30 feet off shore. After so much heartache on my previous two attempts to see this bird (three if you count last year's attempt in New Hampshire), you'd think I'd savor the moment. But no, I ran back to the car to get my three kids. We ran back to the creek, where the bird had moved off about 50 yards, and we all got looks through the scope and binoculars. My kids are for sure my lucky charm, as I rarely dip on a bird chase when I have them along. Junior birdchasers, don't leave home without them! (

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Killing Me

So, for the last two days my nemesis bird, the Brooklyn Western Reef-Heron has been putting on a show back on Coney Island Creek, but I've been unable to chase it. Yesterday I drove to Orange County, NY to visit a friend who was an LDS missionary with me in Ecuador back in the day. Sundays are usually reserved for church and family, so no chance to make the long drive today. While I must say I wouldn't trade family, friends, and church for anything, it is killing me a bit to have that bird so close yet so far away!
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