Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Woodpecker - the Movie

Something else Pamela and I did this weekend was go to see a film at a local independant film festival called "Woodpecker." I had heard about it through the local birding list-serv, and thought it was the documentary about the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that I had heard about some time ago. I actually didn't read any more about it other than the time of the showing, knowing I wanted to go. We went, got good seats in the great old "Coolidge Corner Theater" and looked around. Mostly artsy types and film school kids, that kind of crowd - didn't see any birders that I recognized. I thought to myself that the fervor over the 'rediscovery' of the bird had certainly died down in the last two years without the million dollar photo that everyone had hoped for.
Eventually, a few more birder-types showed up, including David Sibley and his family. It was soon apparent that this wasn't the documentary that I thought it was going to be, but instead the story of one individual that believed he was going to be the one to get that hard evidence. If I had to liken him to any character in movie history, it would have to be Bill Murray's "Carl Spackler" - the greens keeper in Caddyshack. Thankfully, this was a scripted film - written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Alex Karpovsky - and this particular IBWO searcher is not a real individual. The story is almost a modern retelling of Don Quixote. (He even has a sidekick who has no lines, but is hilarious) It was definitely worth the time to see the film, and in fact, I would like to see it again. If you see it coming to an independent film festival near you, I would heartily recommend seeing "Woodpecker"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Highlight bird from this weekend

Prothonotary Warbler at Ell Pond in Melrose MA

Work has continued to be very busy, so I've not had any time to get out for lunch breaks to do a little birding during the week, which helps to break the day up nicely. Nor have I even had much time to do any of the other things I usually do on my breaks. (Post-processing of photos, entering sightings, blogging, eating etc) That being said, I still have every intention of posting a trip report soon from our trip to Texas with Paul & Diana. I just need to finish entering all our sightings into Avisys (have 3 out of 9 days done so far) and finish transcribing my notes.

I know that we saw over 160 species while there, and Pamela got her 500th ABA bird. So did Diana. Paul had just reached that mark before we left. I didn't reach any plateaus myself but I did get 8 or 9 'lifers' on this trip which puts me 'in spittin' distance' of 600.

We have made it out for birding on the weekend though. The highlight was the bird shown above. It seems each year one or two are spotted in the area, but they only stick around a very short time. They are not common around here, and I'm guessing they have overshot their destination and after a day or two of re-fueling, head south again.

All for now. I will try to enter a more verbose post soon...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More photos

I came in to work particularly early this morning so that I could upload a bunch of photos from Texas to my pBase site while on a higher speed internet connection than my wireless at home.
I uploaded a total of 55 photos (several of which are Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, but what else would you expect from me!) to this gallery.

One that I didn't upload is this guy...










is commin' to getcha!

This is probably the creepiest photo have ever taken.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jail Birds

So I am in the process of going through all the photos I took in Texas and I almost forgot about this. We visited the Kerr Wildlife Management Area to see the Black-capped Vireos. While there we noticed these trailer-cages. Unfortunately, you cannot see the 'inmates' in this photo, but they are all Brown-headed Cowbirds. We suspect that since the Black-capped Vireos are a threatened species, these brood parasites are captured here during the breeding season so as not to interfere with the vireos. I wonder what they feed them and if they simply release them at the end of the vireo's breeding cycle.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Back from Texas

Wow, what a trip. Got in late last night (about 12:30am) and was back in the office at about 6:50 this morning. I've been playing catch up all day, but really wanted to post something.

A quick summary of the last ten days would include:
Having our initial flight plans from Boston to San Antonio on Thursday the 10th cancelled by American Airlines, but we all (Paul, Diana, Pamela & myself) managed to get out on Friday morning.
Spending 3 nights at Neal's Lodges in Concan, experiencing the Frio Bat cave, and seeing the Golden-cheeked Warbler & Black-capped Vireo, as well as dozens of other birds, many right at Neal's Lodges.
Spending 4 nights at the Chisos Mountains Lodge in Big Bend, and finding the Colima Warbler (after a very long hike) as well as finding several nesting species in the park, including Crissal's Thrasher & Common Black Hawk.
Spending 1 night at the Indian Lodge in Fort Davis searching fruitlessly for Montezuma Quail, but enjoying ourselves nevertheless.
And returning to San Antonio to 'do' the Riverwalk and see the Alamo.

I took over 2000 photos (I've already deleted almost half of them) and a dozen or so movies, and have 9 pages of notes to plow though. As soon as I can write up a trip report, I will add it to the links at the right side of this page, and I'll also be posting photos to my pBase page when I can get to them. Of course, I'll be posting more about the trip right here, as thoughts and memories come to me.

And just to add some visual candy to the post, here is a movie I took the first night when we went to the Frio Bat Cave, where millions of Free-tailed bats exit their daytime roost every evening - an amazing spectacle of nature...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Off to Texas - maybe...

I was hoping that this post would say that I wouldn't be blogging for the next 10 days or so as Paul, Diana, Pamela and myself were supposed to fly out of Boston tomorrow to San Antonio to begin our birding trip to the Edwards Plateau and Big Bend. Unfortunately, I was notified by American Airlines at about 5pm today that we were going to get screwed along with thousands of others - in other words, that our flight had been cancelled. I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of it right now because I am still fuming about it. (grrrrr)

Diana and I both immediately called the customer service number that they supplied on the message, and after being disconnected 4 times by an automated answering service that I am sure was flooded with calls, I got Pam and I re-booked onto a flight going out at 7:30 Friday morning. Diana managed to do the same for her and Paul. Now we keep our fingers crossed that Friday's flight doesn't get caught up in in this and that we can start our vacation then.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekend of colorful birds

No, not warblers, not yet. Another few weeks before those colorful birds are here.

Yesterday we had fantastic looks at the very colorful pheasant. Today we had a pair of Wood Ducks that ventured very close to our group. (Paul and Diana led a birding trip to Horn Pond in Woburn this morning.) It was overcast, cold and windy- very different from what we will be experiencing later this week when we (Paul, Diana, Pamela and myself) head out to Texas to bird the hill county and Big Bend.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saturday Birdin'

So I was scheduled to lead a birding trip this morning for the Brookline Bird Club (the woodpecker walk I referenced in an earlier post.) It was raining lightly when I woke up, which turned into a heavier rain by the time the walk was scheduled to start, so it was a no-go.

Instead, Pamela, Paul and myself headed up to Plum Island to see what we could find, which turned out to be a pretty nice day (bird-wise that is). We started with a Golden Plover that has been seen pretty regularly for the last week on the Plum Island turnpike, and proceeded to bird the refuge, where I managed to add another eight species to my Plum Island Year list contest. Most interesting sighting on the refuge was a cock Ring-necked Pheasant seen alongside the road at the same time as three Snipe and a flock of 19 Snow Geese.

This evening I received an e-mail from my friend Mark who just recently returned from leading a private birding tour to Arizona, and included this fantastic photo of a Gilded Flicker:

Photo ©Mark Suomala, 2008

Note the grey on the head with the red malar stripe and the gold in the tail feathers (which is in the wings as well) - all the field marks for this beautiful bird. It reminds me of my "life" Gilded Flicker that I had with Mark some years back at Patagonia State Park in SE Arizona. I've known him a few years now and have had some great birding experiences with him - he is a great birder and a really excellent guide! One of the great things about birding with Mark is that he doesn't just know the birds, but really knows gets into the entire ecology of an area. He knows the birds, mammals, plants, history etc. I think that as much as he loves the birds, he really likes to make the tours he leads a more encompassing nature tour - and I think that anybody who birds with him appreciates that knowledge. I know I do! I've gone with him to SE Arizona, Delmarva, Appledore Island off the coast of NH, and various other places in NH, and I always learning with him. Keep an eye on his web site: http://www.marksbirdtours.com/ and get on one of his trips if you can. I haven't had a chance to travel internationally yet with him, but hope to someday (either Iceland which he really loves, or Africa)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Turkeys at work

While I was writing my earlier post, I was notified by my boss that "our" turkey was back, and had brought some friends.

To go back a bit, for several weeks in November and December last year we had a Wild Turkey that would almost always be in front of our building when the 'early morning crew' arrived. (My boss, the office manager, and myself.) At some point he learned that when I filled the feeders, there would be seed on the ground that he could eat, and would actually head towards the feeders when he saw me. Many of my co-workers got a kick out of him (especially so one day when he flew across the parking lot and to the top of one of the nearby pine trees) and so he became 'our' turkey. Lots of jokes were exchanged, as well as several stories - this is one species a lot of people have experience with in one form or another. One day he wasn't around and nobody has seen him since.

We've had turkeys in this office park before (the top photo is one that I actually took a few years ago) so I don't know if this is the same guy that was hanging around earlier in the year, but I'll be curious to see if they are around tomorrow morning and what he'll do when I go out to fill the feeders.
I ran out to take a few pictures this morning, and just now had a few minutes to download and re-size them for the blog.

Flying Penguins!!!

Anybody who knows me probably knows that I love the BBC nature specials, and anything done by Sir David Attenborough is tops in my book - the man is brilliant! (I wish you could have him as the voice on my TomTom gps unit!) One of my favorite clips is when he fools a Magellenic Woodpecker. You can see the video here, because BBC Worldwide won't let me actually place the video on this page. (But I can link to it!)

I am also a big fan of Monty Python, and anything that any of those guys have done since. So it only seems natural that the following is one of my favorite links at the moment:

Read the story here:
Flying penguins found by BBC programme

Then watch the footage here

I laughed so hard that I am in pain. I hope these links stay active forever.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Weekend birding

Next weekend I will be leading a "Woodpecker Walk" for the Brookline Bird Club and Menotomy Bird Club, so this past weekend I felt like I ought to do a bit of scouting. I woke up entirely too early on Saturday morning and decided that I wanted to head out to a heron rookery that last year had TWO Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was right about this time last year that they were first reported, so I thought I'd give it a shot. No luck this time around, but I may try again after the walk on Saturday. Other woodpeckers were in evidence - Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied - as well as a few Great Blue Herons, a Kingfisher, several Wood Ducks, and an Eastern Phoebe.

Next I continued on to Mt. Auburn Cemetery where sapsuckers are regularly reported. Within a minute of being inside the gate I spotted one of the day's highlights - a coyote.

Also spent some time watching and photographing a flock of very cooperative Cedar Waxwings. Couldn't decide which was my favorite photo so I'm just going to post three.

Mount Auburn Cemetery is really where I started birding, so (like many others) it is a special place for me. One of the birds that caught my interest way back when, was the Red-tailed Hawk. At the time, I had no idea how common they were, and I used to go there and spend hours watching them. They have been nesting here for years are are pretty easy to find. Most people that visit Mt Auburn probably have a story or two about an experience that they've had with them. Anyway, this day was no different with several of them being seen and one working it's way through a female mallard.

OK, I know that last photo was a little gorey, but I cropped out the carcass for those of you with slightly weaker stomachs. If you felt at all quesy about that last photo, definitely DO NOT play the following video. I'm still not showing the carcass, but you certainly get the point...

I never did come across the sapsuckers.

On Sunday, Pamela and I started out at Crooked Pond (at Bald Hill Reserve in Boxford) which is where my trip will be meeting next Saturday, and found Pileated Woodpeckers exactly where we expected them, as well as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers. No Hairy WPs this morning, but hopefully we'll get them there next weekend.