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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Getting back in the birding groove

Today I didn't want to push things too hard, but wanted to try and shake some of the bad karma from yesterday's Slaty-backed Gull search. So I stopped by Lake Nockamixon on my way to drop off my rental car in Quakertown. Nothing really unusual there, the usual four gull species. Some scaup. A nice Hermit Thrush hopping around on the ground in the open. Far out on the ice was a dark young Bald Eagle. The usual suspects.

At work, the regulars at the feeders welcomed me back from my roadtrip. Nothing unusual. No surprises. Just Nature seeping back slowly into the gaping hole in my heart where a Slaty-backed Gull should be!

I really need to get up early and take a nice long walk tomorrow morning before work!

Day List: 33 species (165% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 221 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Curse of the Slaty-backed Gull

When is it an unsatisfying day of birding even after seeing Common Redpolls and Little Gulls? When you are trying to find a Slaty-backed Gull (a rare vagrant to the Lower 48 from Siberia) that has been around for a week and you can't find it! Since I had meetings all day at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, I thought it was a great chance to finally see this gull, which had been hanging around at the university compost heaps during the mornings, and roosting with other gulls at Stewart Park on Cayuga Lake in Ithaca in the evenings.

So on my way into the lab we stopped at the compost piles. One Lesser Black-backed Gull was with the more common species, but no Slaty-backed.

During lunch we made another run to the compost piles. This time a nice darkish Iceland Gull made an appearance. Unfortunately, a Bald Eagle flew over and a lot of the gulls never landed again, so we couldn't be sure the Slaty-back wasn't there. But meetings were waiting, so we had to leave.

Finally, we got out of our last meeting at 4pm and I raced down to the lake to see if the bird was there on the ice. Lots of gulls were on the ice, and there was a distant flock of Bonaparte's Gulls that had a few Little Gulls mixed in. Half a dozen or more birders were there looking at these lovelies, which were about half a mile out on the lake ("See those white specsk? Wait for one to raise its wings. See the ones with dark underwings? That's them. The white specks with dark wings. Right!)

Just as it was getting dark, I noticed some large gulls--mostly Great Black-backed Gulls out way out on a jetty. Why hadn't I noticed them before? The light was really bad, and the birds were far away. I could ID most of them, but in the crappy light, a few were in poses that made it impossible to make sure they weren't the Slaty-backed. Argh! Darkness fell and we had to make the long drive back to Pennsylvania empty handed.

Nobody else saw that gull that day either, and it hasn't been seen since. But it was a bad miss that put me a bit on edge. Nothing messes up your birding groove more than trying really hard to find a bird and missing it.

What was it that the Buddha said about desire?

This wasn't the first time I've missed this bird. It has suddenly shot to the top of my most wanted list, and become my greatest nemesis bird!

I love you Slaty-backed Gull! I really do! Come to Papa!

Sing with me now. You know the tune:
I want my Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed.
I want my Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed, Slaty-backed.
Slaty, Slaty-backed Gull. Want my Slaty-backed Gull!

Poe had his Raven. I have a white and gray rake from Siberia!

Day List: 27 species (135% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 221 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Mormon Prophet is a Bird Guy

With the death of Gordon B. Hinckley, the apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will ordain a new church president this week. President Hinckley's successor will be Thomas S. Monson, who among other things is a long-time breeder of Birmingham Roller pigeons. According to this NY Times story, President Monson, was disappointed a few years ago when the Boy Scouts of America got rid of its pigeon raising merit badge.

Monson's son Clark is a biogeographer and conservation biologist who has studied Ospreys.

Eagle on the Ice

Yesterday I got to show my two youngest kids a young Bald Eagle out on the ice at Lake Nockamixon. We also saw Mute Swans, American Black Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers. Not a lot of variety, but nice to share the views with my kids. If nothing else, hopefully 2008 will see me spending more time birding with my kids.

Day List: 23 species (115% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 217 species
BIGBY List: 46 species.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New GBBC Buttons

Feel free to steal these buttons and use them to help promote the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up Feb 15-18, 2008.

Check out the GBBC website at

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Slow Sunday

After church today, we stopped by Peace Valley Park to see if I could show the kids a Bald Eagle out on the ice. As we pulled up, an adult eagle was soaring over the lake. We pulled into the parking area, and it soared right overhead after the kids and I jumped out of the car. The kids thought that was pretty cool.

Good thing we stopped there today, as I only got 15 birds on my afternoon walk, so I with the few naked eye birds seen at the lake, I barely managed my recommended daily allowance of birds!

Daily List: 22 species (110% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 217 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Glacous Gull and friends

Stopped by Peace Valley and Tullytown on my way into the office today. Peace Valley had lots of Canada Goose, including one that was temptingly small and boxy-headed, and may have been a Cackling Goose.

At Tullytown I saw a Glacous Gull, Great Cormorant, and Fish Crow for my year list. Also two and possibly three Iceland Gulls. One was pretty dark looking, especially on the primaries, making me wonder if it might be a Thayer's Gull, but I ended up thinking it was probably just a dark Kumlein's Iceland Gull. Tens of thousands of gulls were over the dump and on the river, making it a challenge to find the more unusual gulls mixed in.

At the office, a Purple Finch and Eastern Towhee were highlights at the feeders.

Daily List: 47 species (235% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 217 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Friday Quickie

Just a quick stop at Peace Valley Park after dropping the kids off at school on Friday. Managed 38 species in just under an hour. Very few ducks today, but Red-breasted Nuthatch at the Nature Center continues, and I got a Purple Finch in the trees above the bird blind there. A female Sharp-shinned Hawk came through and scattered everything at one point, so I left. An adult Bald Eagle on the frozen lake ice and a female Northern Harrier were the best birds down by the dam.

Daily List: 39 species (195% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 212 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Thursday, January 24, 2008

If Birds Could Vote

Tired of the normal talking heads speculating about the 2008 presidential campaign? Here's an entirely new perspective--how various North American birds might vote in the upcoming elections, if they had a vote.

Northern Cardinal
Vote: Huckabee
This bird is red, red, red. And religion might be a factor.

Eastern Bluebird
Vote: McCain in primaries, Obama in general
The bird is red up front, but really mostly blue when you get down to it.

Great Blue Heron
Vote: Hillary
Huge, blue, and a bit dangerous, if it gets within two feet of you it can poke out your eye with that sharp dagger of a beak!

California Gull
Vote: Romney
Very white, little gray on the sides. But really, this is the state bird of Utah, 'nuff said?

Mexican Jay
Vote: Richardson
Living in the American southwest, this bird is a true blue democrat, and liberal on immigration.

Black-necked Stilt
Vote: Huckabee
Those goofy pink legs make it stand taller than it should, otherwise everything's pretty much black and white with this guy.

American Avocet
Vote: Paul
Stooping to enter the fray, this guy is mostly black and white, but check out that burnt orange head and neck--that's the official color of the University of Texas, so gotta support the native son.

Red-winged Blackbird
Vote: McCain
This bird is black, but carries a red-patch on its sleeve!

Common Grackle
Vote: Obama
This bird is black, but check out that blue gloss!

Song Sparrow
Vote: Edwards
Sings a pretty song, but kinda plain and doesn't get much attention when up against more gaudy birds.

Of course, maybe you shouldn't judge how folks'll vote based on where they live or what they look like.

And with over 700 species of birds in North America, this sampling is too small to predict who would win the overall bird vote anyway!

How would your favorite bird vote?

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Bust in NY Times

Check out the sad story here.

Egyptian Goose Records in Pennsylvania


A couple months ago on the PA Birds email list I asked for reports of Egyptian Goose from across the state. These exotic geese turn up from time to time, with individuals sometimes persisting at a location for lengthy periods of time or even returning in consecutive years. They have bred at least twice in the wild in Pennsylvania. So far, I have 36 reports of Egyptian Goose from 11 counties. High count is 10 at Nockamixon in 2003, where free-flying birds were breeding in 2003 and 2004.

Here's a quick summary of reports:
1994, Crosslands Pond, Chester Co
1997 (5 Mar),Green and Angelica Lake, Berks Co
1999, Angelica Lake, Berks Co
1999, New Brighton, Beaver Co
2000 (Oct), Sweet Arrow Lake, Schuylkill Co
2000 (Feb),Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2000 (25 Apr ) , Heller Rd, Richaland TWP , Bucks Co
2000 (Jan-Apr ) , Nockamixon SP , Bucks Co
2000, Shippensburg, Cumberland Co
2001 , Saltsburg , Westmoreland Co
2001 (Mar ) , Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2001 (Feb-May 02 ) , Nockamixon SP , Bucks Co
2001 (to Mar 03 ) , Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2002 (Dec ) , Nockamixon SP , Bucks Co
2002 (6 Mar ), Bedminster , Bucks Co
2003 (Apr-Nov ) , Lake Nockamixon , Bucks Co
2003 (14 Nov ) ,Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2003 , Stoyer's Dam , Schuylkill Co
2004 (Jun-Spe ) , Lake Nockamixon , Bucks Co
2004 (21 Mar ) , Doylestown , Bucks Co
2004 (17 Jan ) , Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2004 (3 Apr ) , Nockamixon SP , Bucks Co
2005 (5 May-Spe ) , Lake Nockamixon , Bucks Co
2005 (Winter ) , Belvediere Bridge , Northampton Co
2005 (27 Mar), Oakmont, Allegheny Co
2005 (22 Apr ) , Bender's Pond , Franklin Co
2006 (27 Mar ) , Gotwall's Pond , Berks Co
2006 , Hwy 611 N. of Doylestown , Bucks Co
2006 (winter ) , Belvediere Bridge , Northampton Co
2007 (fall ) , Schuylkill River , Philadelphia Co
2007 (fall ) , Pine Run/ Peace Valley , Bucks Co
2007 (8 Dec), Peace Valley, Bucks Co
2007 (29 Dec-12 Jan 08), Bedminster TWP, Bucks Co
2007 (18 Feb ) , Nockamixon SP , Bucks Co
2007 (Feb) , Peace Valley , Bucks Co

It looks like a small number of these birds are probably always flying around SE Pennsylvania, though without more reports it will be hard to know exactly how many and if they are regularly breeding anywhere. We really need people to keep bettter track of sightings of these birds, so we can get a better handle on how many there are and if they might be breeding regularly. Perhaps we can add them to the eBird filters for Pennsylvania.

Thanks to the following individuals who reported sightings (either to me or to PA birds): Chris Bohinski, Howard Eskin, Bill Etter, Mike Fialkovich, Pol Heiney, Len Hess, D. Husic, Thomas Ford-Hutchinson, Katrina Knight, Dennis Miller, August Mirabella, Ed Richards, Ruth Ann Smith, Adam Sabatine, Bill Stewart.

Turkeys Gone Wild

This morning I stopped by a couple places at Lake Nockamixon after dropping the kids off from school. The Wild Turkey flock on Three Mile Run Rd was easily visible along the road, adding another species to my 2008 year list. Lots of ice is forming on the lake, so waterfowl were concentrated and mostly visible from the Fishing Pier, Three Mile Run Boat Launch, and the Marina. 8 Mute Swans at the Fishing Pier were interesting, as I don't see them up there a lot. 7 Hooded Mergansers, including 5 males were great to see. A Hermit Thrush was a bird that is reported up there all the time, but one I saw today for the first time up there in winter. Otherwise mostly the usual local species--I saw 29 species in under an hour. Only added a couple more later in the day--a Great Blue Heron in town and House Sparrows behind my house.

Day List: 31 species (155% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 212 species
BIGBY List: 46 species

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Birdchaser BIGBY

Along with all the other birding fun I'm having this year, I've decided to throw my hat in the Big Green Big Year (BIGBY) ring and see how many species of birds I can see in 2008 while on foot from either my home or office. Since as of the start of 2008 my office yard list is only 121 species, and my home yard list is only 57 species, this may not be the biggest list in the world--but it will be another excuse to get out and take those daily walks that are so important for my (mental) health. I'll keep my BIGBY list posted here and update as needed.

BIGBY List (Updated 5/28/2008): 105 species

Great Blue Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Purple Finch
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2 Feb)
Hooded Merganser (5 Feb)
American Black Duck (5 Feb)
Fish Crow (9 Feb)
Common Merganser (24 Feb)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (24 Feb)
Brown Creeper (24 Feb)
Ring-necked Pheasant (8 Mar)
Eastern Phoebe (8 Mar)
Killdeer (8 Mar)
Peregrine Falcon (Mar 10)
Wild Turkey (Mar 18)
60-Rusty Blackbird (Mar 21)
61-Fox Sparrow (Mar 23)
62-Wood Duck (Mar 25)
63-Pine Warbler (Apr 7)
64-Osprey (Apr 7)
65-Palm Warbler (Apr 12)
66-Broad-winged Hawk (Apr 15)
67-Swamp Sparrow (Apr 15)
68-Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Apr 15)
69-Hermit Thrush (Apr 18)
70-Chimney Swift (Apr 19)
71-Black-and-white Warbler (Apr 19)
72-Tree Swallow (Apr 22)
73-House Wren (Apr 25)
74-Ring-necked Duck (Apr 25)
75-Purple Martin (Apr 25)
76-Warbling Vireo (Apr 30)
77-Gray Catbird (May 1)
78-Northern Waterthrush (May 1)
79-Chestnut-sided Warbler (May 1)
80-Black-throated Green Warbler (May 1)
81-Solitary Sandpiper (May 2)
82-Blue-headed Vireo (May 2)
83-Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (May 2)
84-Blue-winged Warbler (May 2)
85-Northern Parula (May 2)
86-Yellow Warbler (May 2)
87-Chestnut-sided Warbler (May 2)
88-Magnolia Warbler (May 2)
89-Black-throated Blue Warbler (May 2)
90-Prairie Warbler (May 2)
91-Ovenbird (May 2)
92-Scarlet Tanager (May 2)
93-Baltimore Oriole (May 2)
94-Barn Swallow (May 2)
95-Loggerhead Shrike (May 5)
96-American Redstart (May 5)
97-Indigo Bunting (May 5)
98-Eastern Kingbird (May 5)
99-Veery (May 6)
100-Wood Thrush (May 6)
101-Great Crested Flycatcher (May7)
102-Red-eyed Vireo (May 7)
103-Eastern Wood-Pewee (May 19)
104-Willow Flycatcher (May 23)
105-American Kestrel (May 28)
106-Ruby-throated Hummingbird (July 18)
107-Eastern Screech-Owl (July 31)

Just another day

So today I didn't have time for a morning walk, or for really much of anything. So here's how to achieve a minimum recommended daily allowance of birds without trying to hard:

1) Stop at Peace Valley Park for a few minutes on the way to work. Scope out the Canada Goose flock and gulls, picking up a couple Hooded Mergansers and Mallards along the way. Substitute for your own local lake or pond if available.

2) Keep eyes on feeder intermittently during the day. That can almost be good for 20 species in and of itself at my work. If you don't have a window at work, or feeders, think hard about getting a new office...or job!

3) Keep eyes peeled on commute to and from work. On my half hour into work, I got Red-tailed Hawk. On my way home, Eastern Bluebird.

4) Take your kids/grandkids/neighbor kids owling. Reprising our Owl Moon adventure last night, I took all three of my kids out to see the Eastern Screech-Owls tonight. We heard three and saw one at the first place we tried, and got another one to land right next to the car at an additional place on the way home.

Day List: 25 species (125% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 211 species

End of Ruff Times

I'd been nervous for the past week after having seen a Ruff west of Phoenix. I was the only member of my birding party to see it, and it was a quick view before the bird flew off with a bunch of Greater Yellowlegs. Fortunately, the bird was relocated again yesterday. Whew! It's bad form to see too many rare birds that others can't see.

Owl Moon

I really like the children's book Owl Moon, about a father taking his daughter out to look for owls at night. I've really enjoyed taking my kids owling, and last night after a church activity, I took my oldest daughter out to look for the Eastern Screech-Owl I called up last week. We pulled up to the spot, rolled down the windows, and played an owl tape. Within a couple minutes the small owl flew over the car. It played peek-a-boo with us for several minutes on each side of the car. Finally it landed on a branch were we could get a pretty good look at it silhouetted against the night sky. It called softly after we turned off the tape. A great daddy-daughter moment, even if a bit late on a school night.

Daily List: 35 species (175% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 211 species

New Year Birds

While I was happy to get my Bird RDA each day over the weekend, I was aching to see something new for the year. Fortunately, a female Purple Finch showed up at the feeders at the office today, and a walk down along the edge of the woods netted me a couple Field Sparrows with the flock of Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and a couple American Tree Sparrows.

After seeing lots of Cassin's Finches in Utah a couple weeks ago, it was nice to see this female Purple Finch. These two species can be quite similar looking, and while the facial pattern on the female Purple Finch is more distinct, Cassin's can also have a strong facial pattern that is pretty similar.

Monday Morning Walk

Monday I spent most of the day working on my dissertation, and only had my morning walk to really give me my minimum recommended daily allowance of birds. It wasn't quite as cold as Sunday, and the birds were very active. Most unusual bird was a Mute Swan seen flying with a flock of 35 Canada Goose. Usually I see a pair of feral Mute Swans in Sellersville a mile or so away, and they don't move much, so not sure if this was one of those birds or another roaming individual.

Daily List: 28 species (140% of Bird RDA)
Year List: 209 species

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Day of Rest

Yesterday I went a little crazy trying to find one more bird for the year. I did manage to hear a few Swamp Sparrows at sundown at Quakertown Swamp, but only after driving around for over an hour in what can only be considered a mania. So I wasn't sure it was really worth it.

Saturday Day List: 32 species (160% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 209 species

So today I took it easy and consciously decided to end the quest to see a new year bird every day. I put it to rest, so to speak. For me, Sunday is a day mostly for church and family. So I did take a walk after church, and ended up meeting my Bird RDA in the cold blustery wind. But it was mostly just a walk. No more mania. A chance to catch my breath. Sundays are awesome!

Day List: 27 species (135% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 209 species

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bird fortified morning

I was easily able to reach my recommended daily allowance of birds on my snowy, icy, slushy morning walk this morning. I identified most birds by their calls through the crunchy sound of snowy footfalls. American Robins were very conspicuous, and Eastern Bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers were foraging on the ice in a flooded field. A Hairy Woodpecker, first heard then seen, was a new bird for the year.

Here's the report from eBird:

Location: Perkasie, Bucks County, PA, US
Observation date: 1/18/08
Number of species: 24

Canada Goose 15
Mallard 2
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 5
Carolina Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 7
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 7
Eastern Bluebird 12
American Robin 25
Northern Mockingbird 3
European Starling 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 7
Eastern Towhee 1
White-throated Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Northern Cardinal 6
House Finch 4
American Goldfinch 2
House Sparrow 3

Thanks to eBird I don't even have to keep a running count of the species I see. I just enter them when I get home and it counts them up for me!

Daily List: 28 species (140% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 208 species

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Before the storm

Today I stopped by Peace Valley Park for a few minutes on the way to the office. Not a lot there--several hundred Canada Goose and Common Merganser, but nothing much else.

At work there were at least 20 species around the feeders today for our Project Feeder Watch count. Best bird of the day, and new for the year, was a female Eastern Towhee scratching around under one of the feeders. I also had a Sharp-shinned Hawk swoop past me and around the corner of the house scattering all the Mourning Doves as I walked to my office from the car this morning. A male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was another treat today, a bird I usually see only a couple times each winter.

On the way home from work I got caught in a snowstorm and it took me two hours to get home, as opposed to the usual 30 minutes. Horrible driving conditions. Wonder how this will shake up the bird world tomorrow.

Daily List: 28 species (140% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 207 species

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Another day, another bird

Not a lot of time for birding today, just quick stops at Lake Nockamixon and Quakertown Swamp while taking kids to school and dropping stuff off at the thrift store. I was able to add Common Grackle and Winter Wren to my year list at Quakertown Swamp, and a lone Tundra Swan was a nice bird on Lake Nockamixon.

Day List: 28 species (140% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 206 species

Eastern Screech-Owl saves the day

While I was able to meet my Bird RDA for the day, I was feeling lousy about it being the first day that I hadn't added a new species to my 2008 year list. I'm not really doing a real Big Year, but I am trying to see as many species as I can this year. Eventually the day will come when I don't add a new species to the year list, but after two great weeks of birding in UT and AZ I wasn't ready for that day to come just yet!

I got a call that I needed to help out with something at church, so after I tucked the kids in bed I took off. On the way home, I stopped at a couple places to play an Eastern Screech-Owl tape. On my second stop, an owl flew up onto a branch near my car and called softly in response to my tape. Always great to see an owl, doubly great to see it when it adds another species to my year list.

Daily List: 22 species (110% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 204 species

Birding on the Run

So, meeting the minimum recommended daily allowance of birds (Bird RDA) of 20 species is pretty easy if you are actually birding. Where it becomes a challenge is when you are busy and don't have much time. Yesterday was one of those days that makes getting the Bird RDA really tough.

I checked in at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport around 6am in the dark. As I sat in the terminal, it got light, and I was able to see my first four birds of the day while waiting to board my plane--Rock Pigeon, European Starling, House Sparrow, and Great-tailed Grackle. No surprises there.

In flight we were told we'd arrive early--which would give me time for a quick stop at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum just south of the Philly Airport on the way home. But in reality, despite 120 tail winds, we got into Philly late (no surprise there either, unfortunately). By the time I got my luggage and my car, it was after 3:30. I had to dash home to pick up kids from school and wouldn't have time to stop for birding. I did pick up Ring-billed Gull at the airport as I waited for my luggage. Five down, fifteen species more to go. Ouch!

Despite being in a hurry, I slowed down passing Tinicum just long enough to pick up a few more species--Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, American Coot, Common Merganser, Mallard, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, and Great Blue Heron. Thank goodness for large birds that you can identify even at freeway speeds (the sparrows were seen on a quick pull over). Pulling off I-95 onto I-476 I only needed five more species to achieve my Bird RDA.

You would think that would be pretty doable driving 30 miles on the freeway and 10 miles through town. But after 10 miles and no new birds I was starting to sweat. Finally I got an expected Red-tailed Hawk on a powerpole. Then a couple more. But where were the crows? Finally a family group of four American Crows flew over the freeway. Followed shortly by a flyby Cooper's Hawk. Whew! Only two more species to go as the sun started to set.

As I pulled off the freeway I was feeling pretty confident that I could find two more species as I drove through town with my windows down. A flyover American Robin showed up near the Lansdale toll booths. One more to go. After five minutes of seeing absolutely no birds, I started worrying again. Where were the jays, cardinals, or House Finches? And what does a guy have to do to get a Mourning Dove in a pinch? Finally a Mourning Dove did show up on a wire, followed by a few more. That was it. I'd met my Bird RDA of 20 species. The resident pair of Mute Swans near my house after dusk made it 21 species for the day.

Leaving Arizona

After a week of meetings, talks, and birding I left Arizona with 203 species on my 2008 year list and 162 species for the year seen in Arizona--including four new ABA birds for me (Bendire's Thrasher, Northern Jacana, Ruddy Ground-Dove, and Rufous-backed Robin). I also got to see some birds that I haven't seen for many years (such as Black-chinned Sparrow, LeConte's Thrasher, and Eurasian Wigeon) and see some good Arizona rarities including Varied Thrush, Painted Bunting, and Ruff. I also saw a species to put on hold pending eventual ABA rulings (Peach-faced Lovebird) and generally became better acquainted with dozens of birds that I don't get to see very often. All in all a great trip. Since I saw practically every single one of the species I really tried to see, it would make me sound petty to complain about missing Aztec Thrush and Crescent-chested Warbler that one slow morning in Madera Canyon!

2008 Great Backyard Bird Count

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up February 15-18. Mark your calendars and make plans to go birding that weekend, or to at least count the birds around your home and neighborhood. There are tons of great prizes available this year as well, though none of us really needs prizes as a motivation to go out and enjoy some birds, right?

Once again I'll be posting GBBC notes from behind the scenes as I help coordinate this count for Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. However, instead of sitting at my desk in Pennsylvania, this year I'll be working the count from my laptop while attending the Fourth International Partners in Flight meetings in McAllen, Texas. Should be loads of fun!

Phoenix Area Waterfowl


Monday morning I drove around Gilbert, Chandler, and Scottsdale looking for the many waterfowl species reported from lakes and ponds in the area. Highlights included Eurasian Wigeon, Ross's Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Greater Scaup, White Pelican, Brown Pelican, and Western Grebe. Most of these birds had been reported earlier by folks scouting out the ponds for the upcoming Phoenix Area Urban Aquatic Bird Survey--a great citizen science effort that is showing just how important urban lakes and ponds can be for waterfowl in the arid southwest.

I had trouble finding the Eurasian Wigeon in Scottsdale until I ran into Henry Detwiler from Yuma, who pointed me to the right pond (Lake Angela), but the other birds were pretty easy to find at known spots. As far as I know, I'm the first to report the Greater Scaup this year from the Arizona State University Research Center ponds in Tempe, but they have been there in years past. I was also happy to find the Western Grebe for my year list, as well as three Harris's Hawks flying over an urban pond in Scottsdale.

Day List: 59 species (295% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 203 species

Grey Go-Away Bird in Arizona


The Peach-faced Lovebirds weren't the only African birds I saw at the Gilbert Water Ranch. A Grey Go-Away Bird or Grey Lourie (Corythaixiodes concolor), a pheasant-sized gray turaco from Southern Africa has been hanging out at the ponds there since at least last summer. Unlike the lovebirds, this is a single escaped individual that isn't expected to make a lasting impact on the local wildlife scene, but it has become a bit of a local celebrity and was quite noisily flying about the ponds at the water ranch while I was there on Sunday.

Peach-faced Lovebirds in Greater Phoenix

At the Gilbert Water Ranch I saw at least eight Peach-faced Lovebirds--a bird which has become established in the Greater Phoenix area. These small South African parrots were pretty easy to find feeding on the ground with Red-winged Blackbirds. They've been in the area for more than 15 years, and their breeding documented in the Arizona breeding bird atlas. Once the Arizona bird records committee votes to accept them on the Arizona state list, the American Birding Association will vote on whether they should be added to the ABA bird checklist for North America. If they are added to the list, birders from all over will be coming to Phoenix to see these birds and add them to their lists.

Officially listable or not, I'm more interested in these birds as another example of exotic birds that have become established in North American cities. While they do nest in cavities and may potentially interfere with other native birds, so far they are restricted to urban habitats and seem to get along well with other wildlife. Our cities create new environments full of exotic vegetation that many foreign birds find inviting. So, stay posted for news on these lovebirds--you may be hearing more about them if they are added to the ABA list. Meanwhile, if you are in the Phoenix area, keep your eyes peeled for these small green, orange, and blue parrots. (

Gilbert Water Park

Sunday afternoon I stopped by the Gilbert Water Ranch, a water treatment system that incorporates 4.5 miles of trails and a series of ponds. Lots of fun birds in the ponds including dozens of Long-billed Dowitchers, Great Blue Herons, and Great Egrets. I was lucky enough to find the Northern Parula that has been hanging out there this winter, and also found a Common Yellowthroat for my year list.

Day List: 80 species (400% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 193 species

Ruff in Arizona

Sunday morning I was lucky enough to see a Ruff in a flooded field between Buckeye and Arlington with 40+ Greater Yellowlegs and 300+ Long-billed Curlews. Unfortunately, a Northern Harrier and a Peregrine Falcon were both working the area and the birds all flew off before anyone else could see this rarity. This is probably the same bird that was reported last month a few miles away, and the birds are moving around a large agricultural area visiting ponds and flooded fields.

Other fun birds we found this morning in the Arlington area included Burrowing Owl and Rock Wren.

LeConte's Thrasher

Sunday morning I joined a couple birders from Desert Rivers Audubon to bird western Maricopa County--especially to look for LeConte's Thrasher, a Yellow WatchList species. I hadn't seen one of these birds for a long, long time and had never gotten a great look. So I really enjoyed seeing two of these birds at the traditional spot west of Phoenix. The birds were singing and sitting up on the short salt brush. Also in the area, at least five Sage Sparrows, another bird I haven't seen that often lately.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rio Salado Restoration Project in Phoenix

Spent most of the day in an Audubon Arizona Council meeting, but started off the morning joining a birdwalk at the Rio Salado Restoration Project area near downtown Phoenix. Great to see lots of birds in the native vegetation planted along this stretch of the river. I was lucky enough to see the Varied Thrush and Painted Bunting--locally rare birds that have been here for a couple weeks. Other year birds for me were Osprey, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Green Heron, Snowy Egret, and Costa's Hummingbird.

Daily List: 38 species (190% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 177 species

Patagonia Rest Stop

After a morning of meetings and a conference call at Audubon's Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, I drove over to the Patagonia Roadside Rest Stop on my way back to Phoenix. Within a few minutes I was able to see the American Dipper reported from there this week, in the rapids across from the shrine north of the main rest stop pull out. A couple other birders got a glimpse of the bird, but another couple had just left after waiting over an hour and not seeing the bird. Just like yesterday in Madera Canyon, you win some and you lose some. Fortunately I've had pretty good luck on this trip.

While birding in the rest of the area was pretty slow, before I left I was able to pick up some additional year birds--Canyon Wren, Cassin's Vireo, Plumbeous Vireo. Perhaps even better than the birding, at the rest stop I finally met up with Rick of Aimophila Adventures after emailing back and forth for a couple years.

Daily List: 36 species (180% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 169 species

Long-eared Owl

At Audubon's Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch south of Elgin, a Long-eared Owl posed on the road Thursday night, giving me my best looks ever at this amazing bird. Usually I see these owls are on day roosts, where they look groggy or annoyed. Here in my headlights, the bird was a fierce and active hunter--turning its head rapidly 180 degrees back and forth, looking around. After a few minutes it flew off over the grasslands, leaving me with just a memory.

Day List: 38 species (190% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 164

Box Canyon Road

Thursday afternoon I had to head over to meetings in Elgin, so I took the Box Canyon Road cutoff over the Santa Ritas. Not a lot of birds, but some new year birds at a couple stops--Black-chinned Sparrow, Bewick's Wren, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bushtit.

Slow Morning in Madera Canyon

Spent Thursday morning in upper Madera Canyon looking for the Crescent-chested Warbler and Aztec Thrush seen there the day before. Very slow birding in the canyon, only one flock and a couple loose groups of birds--Bridled Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch. No sign of the rarities. Fortunately, the upper canyon is a great peaceful place to spend time--rarities or no.

POSTSCRIPT: Nobody saw the rarities on Thursday, but others were able to refind the Aztec Thrush on Friday and Saturday, and the Crescent-chested Warbler showed up again on Saturday. The warbler seems to move around constantly and is real hit or miss, mostly miss.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Drive back to Phoenix

Birded my way back to Phoenix for my talk to Sonoran Audubon this afternoon. Made a special effort to see Bendire's Thrasher, a bird that had eluded me on previous AZ trips. Great bird seen several times off Fuller Rd 20 miles west of Tucson. Stopped by the Marana Pecan Grove (not much there) and Picacho Reservoir (again, Redhead and Greater Roadrunner for the year list, but not much else). Finally saw a Gilded Flicker after driving through the saguaro forests west of Tucson, but it took effort. This is a bird that has declined quite a bit in recent years.

Daily List: 60 species (300% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 150 species

Rufous-backed Robin

Drove down to Catalina State Park first thing this morning to look for the Rufous-backed Robin seen there this past week. After 15 minutes of standing around the hackberry trees where it had been seen, another birder (Corey from KS) spotted the bird midway up a hackberry. We watched it for a few minutes before it disappeared. We saw it again about 15 minutes later. This is one of two known birds of this species in AZ this winter.

Other birds in the area--Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia, Canyon Towhee, Hermit Thrush, Curve-billed Thrasher.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Arizona Rarities

After arriving in Phoenix about noon, I drove down to Casa Grande and was able to see the Northern Jacana that has been hanging out there on the golf course pond. The Long-tailed Duck and Snow Goose reported there earlier this month was still there as well. Never thought I'd see a jacana with these two northern waterfowl species. Thanks to Bob from Virginia who I met there and helped me find the jacana.

Next I drove down to the Santa Cruz flats area and saw lots of good birds, including Mountain Plover, Ferruginous Hawk, Crested Caracara, Brewer's Sparrow, Lark Bunting, and Prairie Falcon. I had a Long-billed Curlew fly over the road at one point--a good bird for the area this time of year. Since it rained yesterday, the dirt roads were a mess and it was a bit scary driving.

Eventually I made it to the Red Rock feed lots to look for Ruddy Ground-Dove. Lots of Eurasian Collared-Doves, a couple White-winged Doves, but no small doves. Finally I found six Inca Doves and a female Ruddy Ground-Dove in a mesquite tree in the corner of the house at the feed lots.

Last new bird of the year was a Burrowing Owl north of Eloy at dusk. A great day, lots of new year birds and a couple ABA birds for me (the jacana and ground dove). Very cool.

Daily List: 60 species (300% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 131 species

Monday, January 07, 2008

Busy Day

Lots to do today to get ready for my Arizona trip tomorrow. But between running errands, catching up on work at the office, a quick stop in at Peace Valley on the way to work, a couple quick looks in the fields and woods at work, I managed to exceed my Bird RDA.

However, there was another little goal I had in mind--I wanted to see 100 species the first week of the year. By the time I left work today I was at 99 species. So, my goal inspired a quick trip up to Lake Nockamixon after picking up my oldest daughter from school. Happily, I was able to easily find a first winter Iceland Gull at the marina and four Hooded Mergansers at the fishing pier to put me over the top.

This 100 birds a week is another interesting goal idea--it definitely got me out birding a few more times this week than I might otherwise have done. Would I drive myself crazy if I tried to do this every week? Not sure its sustainable at this point. The Bird RDA is probably pretty sane. A consistent 100 birds a week is probably not doable for me with everything else I'm doing right now.

Daily List: 33 species (165% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 101 species

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Join the Birdchaser in Arizona

Next week I'll be giving a couple talks to Audubon chapters in the Phoenix area. On Wednesday January 9 I'll be talking to the Sonoran Audubon Society in Glendale about the Audubon Common Birds in Decline and the 2007 Audubon rare bird WatchList report and on Monday January 14 I'll be helping roll out the new Arizona Audubon At Home program at Desert Rivers Audubon in Gilbert. Of course, there's a lot of birds and bird habitats to check out in Arizona as well, so lots to see and do next week.

Day of Rest

Took it easy today, but on my way home from church I stopped in at Peace Valley for a few minutes and was able to add Great Black-backed Gull, American Black Duck, and Turkey Vulture to my year list. After lunch I took a nice four mile walk and found a Red-breasted Nuthatch on my street for another year bird.

Daily List: 29 species (145% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 94 species

Back in Pennsylvania

Got back into Philadelphia early in the morning on Saturday and didn't get up until late. On my 3 mile walk in the morning, I was able to barely exceed my recommended daily allowance for birds. Nice to see familiar birds such as Northern Cardinal, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Chickadee, and Blue Jay and celebrate them by adding them to my year list.

Daily List: 23 species (115% of my Bird RDA)
2008 YTD: 90 species

Cache Valley Swan Song

On my last morning in Cache Valley I cruised around for an hour to say good-bye to a half dozen Sharp-tailed Grouse in Paradise, then stopped by the 20-20 ponds west of Nibley. Five swans were asleep on the ponds. When one adult raised its head, it was clearly a Tundra Swan. I thought the other two adults and two immature swans would probably also be Tundra Swans, but one young bird raised its head and looked good for Trumpeter Swan. The others never raised their heads. Before leaving Cache Valley for the Salt Lake airport in the afternoon, I exceeded my minimum recommended daily allowance of birds and added a few new species to my year list.

Daily List: 30 species (150% of Bird RDA)
2008 YTD: 79 species

Rare Gulls in Salt Lake County

On the afternoon of January 3 on my way to visit friends in Salt Lake City, we stopped at the Lee Kay Ponds west of town to look for rare gulls reported there recently. While I didn't see all the gulls I was hoping for, I did see seven species of gulls, more than I've ever seen in Utah in a single day, including:

Western Gull-1 adult
Lesser Black-backed Gull-1 2nd winter bird
Glaucous-winged Gull-1 1st winter bird
Thayer's Gull-1 1st winter bird
Herring Gull-8 various ages
Ring-billed Gull-150
California Gull-1200

California, Ring-billed, and Herring are the only really regular gulls in Utah--the rest range from very uncommon (Thayers) to downright rare (this is only the second verified Western Gull in the state).

I ended up the day meeting my minimum recommended daily allowance of birds and adding several new species to my 2008 year list.

Daily List: 27 species (135% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 76 species

Shrike in Paradise

Spent a nice hour driving around with my father-in-law out to see some birds on the morning of Jan 3. We had a Sharp-tailed Grouse in the usual spot on 9000 S in Paradise, then drove out west of town and saw a Northern Shrike, Golden Eagle, and Rough-legged Hawk in the snow. My father-in-law is a dairy farmer who has spent most of his life in Cache Valley, it was nice to be able to share some new birds with him.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Calling Grouse

Spent a few hours on January 2 driving around Cache Valley. I just had to check in on some of my favorite local birds, the Sharp-tailed Grouse in Paradise. I was pleasantly surprised to find a flock of 30 of these birds in town. At one point there were a dozen birds in a pine tree calling to each other--a low chuckling sound that is really cool. I was able to pick up a couple new birds for my 2008 list, including Mountain Chickadee, American Tree Sparrow, and a late Savannah Sparrow.

Daily List: 23 Species (115% of Bird RDA)
2008 List: 69 species

Bridgerland Audubon Field Trip--Jan 1

I spent New Years with about 20 other birders from Bridgerland Audubon on a field trip around Cache Valley. Lots of great birds--including Barrow's Goldeneyes at the mouth of Logan Canyon, Dipper up the canyon, lots of ducks, at least 20 Rough-legged Hawks in the western parts of the valley, and three species of owl: Great Horned Owl, Western Screech-Owl, and Short-eared Owl.

Daily List: 66 species (330% of Bird RDA)

First Bird of 2008

It's tough to be in Cache Valley, Utah and not have Black-billed Magpie as your first bird of 2008. These birds were already calling outside when I woke up. This was also my first bird of 2000 when I spent Y2K in Cache Valley. Farmers there don't like them, but I do. They are smart and sharp-looking--a real Native Spirit of the Intermountain West. (photo: Jim Rorabaugh)

Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds

Most people don't eat enough vegetables, or fiber. They also don't see enough birds. This year I've decided that I need my minimum Recommended Daily Allowance of Birds. For me, and for most folks in the Lower 48, a good Bird RDA is probably 20 species. It takes a little work to see 20 species each day, but it can usually be done.

I can see about 20 species on my 3 mile morning walk. Most folks in the Lower 48 should be able to do the same. If you can't get 20 species within a couple miles of your house, you might want to reconsider where you live! While I'm not too jazzed about getting up early to walk 3 miles, I can get motivated to get my Bird RDA.

Getting your Bird RDA will take work, lead to improved birding skills, and may even lead to weight loss (if you decide to try the brisk morning walk approach).

So, who wants to join me this year in making sure we get our Bird RDA? I'll report my daily bird totals here on my blog as a motivator to help me make sure I get my Bird RDA.

Top 10 Birds of 2007

This past year I didn't get much traveling in, so recorded only 277 species in the ABA area. But birding is always good, and I did have a great year. Here are my picks for my Top 10 Birds of 2007:

1) Ivory Gull. Chased this one with my oldest daughter on a snowy day last February. Very cool bird and fun memory.

2) Yellow-billed Loon. Another rare bird chase with my daughter.

3) Long-billed Murrelet. Another rare bird chase in the morning, and my daughter got to see it after school. Starting to see a trend here?

4) Western Reef Heron. Last year I missed it twice, once while searching with my family on our way up to Maine. This year, I missed it twice at Coney Island and finally saw it with all three of my kids.

5) Ruff. Kids missed this one, but great to finally see one in North America.

6) Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Kids got to see, and hold, this one.

7) Common Redpoll. Not common anywhere I've lived in the last 25 years. Good to see one practically in my backyard.

8) Sharp-tailed Grouse. Another bird I got to share with my kids. And my wife. And my brother-in-law. And my father-in-law. Very cool bird in Paradise, Utah.

9) American Oystercatcher. Fun to chase birds. Even more fun to find birds for others to chase. I found this 5th record for Pennsylvania and caused a birding rave at Lake Nockamixon near my house. Even got to take my daughter up to see it after school.

10) Sabine's Gull. After not seeing this bird for many years, it was great to see one again up in Maine.

A nice year, with some great birds I was able to share with my family. In 2008 I'll be traveling more for work, plan to see even more birds, and hope to have even better birding moments with my kids. Hope everyone had a great 2007, and here's to an even better 2008!
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