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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mourning Dove Headshake

So pigeons and doves are known to do something a little odd--after spying their food, instead of just snatching it up off the ground, they move their head right down close to the ground and quickly pause to apparently focus on the potential food one last time before they grab it.  This happens so fast that it is hard to notice, but if you watch closely, you can see it as a bit of a shudder in the head motion of these Mourning Doves on my patio this afternoon.

How was your birding day?

Many of us keep year lists of all the birds we see each year--either in general, or for some specific location like North America, our home state, or maybe our home county or yard.  A few even keep monthly lists.  But how is your birding day by day?  Do you keep a day list?  If you do (and there are some good reasons to), or if you just want to highlight how well you did on your most recent day birding afield, now you can post a daily birding badge on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter to quickly share your latest birding feats.  The birding badges are now online at Birding is Fun!

Go birding, post a daily birding badge, enjoy!

Me?  This morning I got a Great Horned Owl on a nest, American Kestrel, Pileated Woodpecker and a couple dozen birds more to surpass the 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement and give me a current total of 33 species, making mine a Bonus 30 Bird Day!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Picking Out Cackling Goose

Here in the Mid-Atlantic States, Richardson's Cackling Goose is a rare but regular winter visitor, usually found in flocks of the larger Canada Goose.  While in the best of circumstances, these birds are readily identifiable, it isn't always easy to find them within the larger flocks.

Can you spot the Cackling Goose in this shot?

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese.  Can you tell which one is the smaller Cackling Goose?

Here's another shot, perhaps a bit easier now?

Cackling Goose with Canada Geese, Hunterdon County, NJ (27 Feb 2012)

In the last shot, the Cackling Goose is the upper rightmost bird.  In the first shot it is in the upper center.  I took a bunch of shots (none are really great) and in most of the shots it isn't always easy to tell for sure that this bird is much smaller than the others.  So while Cackling Goose is generally smaller than Canada Goose, depending on the posture of the birds, this can be very difficult to tell.

I first noticed this Cackling Goose on the back side of the flock as it was moving about, and what first struck me was how the bird had a more silvery-frosted look to the back feathers--more silvery and frosty than the brown and tawny of the Canada Geese (due to lighter feather edgings).  I watched it walk up to a very large Canada Goose, and the bird was much smaller.  But as I continued to watch it, depending on its posture, and the posture of the birds around it--it wasn't always that much noticeably smaller than some of the other perhaps smaller Canada Geese.

Size and shape of the head and beak are two other important differences between these two similar species--in the second shot you can see the smaller, more rounded head, and the shorter stubbier beak of the Cackling Goose.  But again, depending on the angle of the bird, this can be tough to judge as well.

Here are two shots of the Cackling Goose with a Canada Goose.  Even with the heads next to each other, in a photo that can be tough to judge.  In real life, you may have to watch the birds for a little while to make sure that you are seeing real size and shape differences, rather than artifacts of unique body positions and viewing angles.

Head size and shape comparison of Cackling (front) and Canada (behind) Geese.

Head size and shape comparison of Cackling (front) and Canada (behind) Geese.  Not always as obvious as you would hope under even direct comparison!

So, perhaps the biggest lesson to draw from this is to be careful when looking for Cackling Geese--you can easily overlook them, but you might also be tempted to claim one based on a poor view of a smaller Canada Goose.  A good view, from various angles, and in comparison with several other birds may be necessary to be sure that you aren't jumping the gun in your Cackling Goose ID.  Size is particularly tricky to judge with these birds, especially through a scope--which often distorts true size even between nearby birds in front of and behind each other.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Apparent Snow x Canada Goose Hybrids


Yesterday I got a couple of shots of these apparent Snow x Canada Goose Hybrids at Assiscong Marsh, Hunterdon County, New Jersey.  Note the body very much like Canada, but with brown chest with white head and neck, shorter thicker neck than Canada Goose.  Bill was pinkish with black base, tip and gape.

Another Neck-Collared Canada Goose

On Tuesday I spotted this neck-collared Canada Goose at Amwell Lake in southern Hunterdon County.  I've submitted the band reading to the Banding Lab and will post again when I find out where the bird is from.  Keep an eye on your local geese, as it is a lot of fun to find these banded birds and find out where they come from!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

30 Birds make a Bonus Bird Day

As a birder dedicated to getting my 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement, I'm getting pretty good at finding 20 species close to home or on my commute down to South Jersey twice a week.  But some days you just want to go a little bit farther, see a few more birds, make an extra effort.  It takes going the extra mile to get 30 birds in a day--perhaps not a full morning of birding, but usually at least an extra stop or two.  If the effort to get your 20 Bird MDR is like doing a half hour of cardio, getting to 30 is like adding some weight training to your workout.  Those extra 10 birds are always nice bonus.

Today I was able to get 20 birds in an hour by driving around Spruce Run and stopping by Demott Pond on the way home--highlights being a continuing Snow Bunting with 13 Horned Larks, as well as a Horned Grebe.  By working all day within sight of my bird feeder, I was able to see 17 species in my yard.  By mid-afternoon I was up to 28 birds.  With just a little extra effort, I was able to see a Turkey Vulture and Rock Pigeons to bet to 30 as I ran some late afternoon errands.

So today was a good 30 Bird Bonus Bird Day.  It took a little extra work, at home and on my drive, but nice to get a little extra reward for that effort.

Squirrel Discovers Bird Feeder

OK, it was just a matter of time once I put up the new bird feeder last month.  This afternoon I watched a squirrel finally figure out how to get to the feeder.  Bummer!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Snow Bunting Migration

Snow Bunting at Spruce Run Recreation Area near Clinton, NJ (13 Feb 2012).  Digiscoped with Canon PwerShot SD780 IS Digital Elph and Bausch & Lomb Discoverer scope.
On Saturday, I saw a lone Snow Bunting on the roof of a utility building at Spruce Run.  Today what seems to be the same bird was with six Horned Larks in the parking lot at the boat launch area.  There were a few of both species around in November, but as far as I know, not seen since.  My guess is they are moving around again now, heading north.  They are a late fall and early spring migrant, so looks like migration is underway!

Otherwise a cold and breezy day without a lot of birds.  I managed my 20 Bird MDR by driving around Spruce Run and hitting Demott Pond in Clinton.  No surprises.  The Hooded Mergansers that were hanging out at Demott Pond have mostly disappeared, one lone female was there today.  I've got a few birds coming into my feeders, so may see a few more birds today, but as of mid-afternoon I've seen 23 species for the day.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Goose from Greenland in NJ

A couple weeks ago I saw a Canada Goose with a yellow neck collar in Flemington, NJ.  I submitted the sighting to the bird banding lab, and today I got this great note about the bird I saw:

GC6 was indeed a goose that we banded in Greenland, part of a project to mark Greenland White-fronted and Canada Geese in west Greenland in the summers of 2008 and 2009, and your observations are of great interest because as you will see, this individual was reported from Connecticut last winter, but to date we have had no reports of its whereabouts this winter, nor have we had any news from the breeding areas in subsequent years, so we are delighted with your resighting!
The goose was first captured and banded on a lake simply known as Lake C to the catching team (very few lakes in this area have Greenlandic names) which is at 67°06’26.6"N 50°28’38.4"N in an area known as Isunngua, immediately north of the airport at Kangerlussuaq in west Greenland. This has been a study area for our investigations on and off over many years. On that occasion, it was banded with a yellow collar, yellow tarsus band bearing the same engraved comnbination and a metal Copenhagen Zoological Museum leg band. It was an adult male captured on 15 July 2007, part of a catch of 10 adults and 23 juveniles.
Very cool!  So keep your eyes out for geese with colored bands around their necks, and if you see one, try to see the letters or numbers on the band and report them to the banding lab!  There's sure to be a cool story behind that bird!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

New Jersey Ross's Goose

This morning I got a text with a report of an immature Ross's Goose on Good Springs Road north of Asbury in Warren County, 20 minutes from my home.  I zipped over there and found the Senchers on the side of the road next to a pond covered with over 2,500 Snow Goose.  The young bird had flown, but they had just seen an adult Ross's Goose.  A few minutes later we relocated it on the far side of the pond.  Then it disappeared in among all the Snow Geese.  Five minutes later we refound it on our side of the pond.  We watched it and got some photos for a few minutes, then it disappeared again.  We looked for it for almost an hour without being able to relocate it.  Very frustrating, since when you get a good look at it, the bird is obviously smaller and distinct--but scanning the flock, it was somehow able to hide.  Anyway, here's the flock.  See if you can find the bird.

Can you see the bird now?

Here it is from the center of the shot above.
All photos shot with my HTC Incredible phone camera, the closeups are digibined through my Zeiss 7x42s.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Cape May Pelagic Trip

Keep on scanning, keep on scanning...there are Dovekie everywhere!
 Early Saturday morning, operating on only an hour and a half of sleep, I drove three hours down to Cape May to participate in a See Life Paulagics birding trip.  Great trip, with about 35 participants.  We went out over 35 miles off Cape May and saw lots of great birds, including 1000+ Dovekie, 18 Atlantic Puffin, 15 Razorbill, 4 Common Murre, 3 Northern Fulmar, and 2 Black-legged Kittiwake, as well as hundreds of Northern Gannet, and a constant stream of Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls feasting on chum off the back of the boat.
Dovekie partially eaten by a Great Black-backed Gull.

Note the Northern Fulmar at bottom left.  Not everyday you get a picture of one through a  camera phone :-)

Atlantic Puffin captured with an HTC Incredible Android phone and Zeiss 7x42 binocular.
Dovekies were everywhere out beyond 15 miles offshore.  At literally any time I could scan the ocean on my side of the boat and see 4-5 Dovekies in the water or flying by.  Much tougher to find Atlantic Puffin on the water as they rarely flew, and Razorbills were tough to see on the water--all but one I saw were in flight.

Dovekies must be a major food source for gulls out this far, we saw Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, and a Northern Fulmar eating Dovekies on the water.  We scared one gull of a Dovekie and scooped it up for a museum specimen.

Long trip (12 hours) on very smooth seas (thank goodness!).  I only saw 16 species out on the ocean, but fortunately there was a little bit of light as we pulled into the harbor, so I got to see another dozen species or so, including Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Great Cormorant, and Long-tailed Duck.

So, if Dovekie is still a mythical bird for you, time to get out on one of these winter pelagics, lately they've found that Dovekie is by far the most common species once you get out far enough.

More of my own photos are on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

January 2012 Birding Status Report

In 2012 I'm committed to several birding goals, including getting my 20 Bird Minimum Daily Requirement as well as posting at least one eBird checklist every day. I'll give a quick report each month of how I did with those goals and the resultant highlights for the month.

In January I got my 20 Bird MDR every day! There were three days where I didn't get 20, but I was able to do a Makeup Birding Day the following day and see at least twice as many birds as I missed the day before. I averaged 27 birds a day, with a high of 48 on my busiest birding day and a low of 11 on my lowest day. I have a provision for doing a Birding Shabbat and skipping at least one day a week to let the birding brain rest--but instead of taking real breaks I chose to make up those days when I only incidentally saw a few birds in the yard or on my way to church. That may have left me a little frazzled and suffering from some slight Bostick Syndrome, so first lesson learned this year is I need to take some real Birding Shabbat days to rest up. Also, I drove a total of 1168 miles for birding last month--I'd like to drop that down a bit.

 As far as eBird checklists, I submitted at least one for each day and ended up submitting a total of 84 checklists this month (average 2.7 per day), so pretty good! I saw 97 species in January--not bad for mostly birding a couple of local patches (mostly Spruce Run-20 visits, Assiscong Marsh-8 visits, and Demott Pond-20 visits). I'd like to do better than that in February and do some more exploring to see new places and some additional birds.

I am also dedicated to filling a few more holes in my ABA list this year. In January I saw two new birds for my North American list (Common Chaffinch and Razorbill), which is as many new ABA species as I got all last year. So, more chases and some strategic trips for me this year will be nice. Easiest bird I still need for my ABA list is Dovekie, so we'll see if I can knock that one off here soon :-)

Best local birds that I was able to see by birding every day this month were locally rare (trigger eBird notices) Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Brant, Common Teal, Iceland Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Snowy Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Common Chaffinch. There is some question about whether the Common Chaffinch that spent a month at some backyard feeders a few miles from my home here in NJ is a wild bird or escaped cage bird. Since I've seen these guys in the UK, Germany, Denmark, and New Zealand, I don't really care :-)

I saw a lot more birds this month than I would have without taking the eBird challenge and being dedicated to my 20 Bird MDR. Life is good!
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