Friday, August 29, 2008

Skywatch Friday 8/29/08

Blue sky over South Beach (near) with clouds over South Monomoy Island (far) in Chatham, MA.

There are several bird bloggers (and bird blog readers) out there that might recognize this scene from recent posts by Helena the Bird Girl, Sharon the Birdchick, Corey from 10000 Birds, Ben from 600 Birds, Julie Zickefoose, John the Born Again BirdWatcher, Birdfreak, and Dakota.
(I don't think I'm missing anybody there.)

These folks have great blogs, with great photography and excellent interesting writing that makes you want to go back again and again to see their latest posts. (The wole point of a blog, right?) I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that these, and other blogs like them, were the inspiration for me to try and carve out my own bit of the blogosphere, although frankly, I know I do not have the writing skills to ever be in the same class as these guys!

SO, if you come here only via Skywatch Friday and you have some time, check out some of these folks - you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Happy Birthday to...

Roger Tory Peterson.

Of course, if you are a birder reading this blog (and I expect most of you are) you already know that today is the 100th anniversary of his birthday.

There are a lot of very well written blogs out there discussing his life and work this month, and today in particular. And frankly, adding my voice to the choir of hymns being sung, would be nothing more than a drop in the ocean.

I can say that I have read the biographies that have come out recently, as well as "All things Reconsidered" which is a collection of his writings edited by Bill Thompson III (of Bird Watcher's Digest and "Bill of the Birds" fame) and have got my copy of the newly published Field Guide to the Birds of North America (as well a handful of his other guides.)
I enjoy his writing, the field guide is excellent, and the biographies are well written and provide a window to the world of the man who helped make birding, and it's popularity, what it is today.

So... Happy Birthday Roger, and thanks!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 8/27/08

Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend stuff and yet more Mississippi Kite photos

With our wedding and honeymoon coming up (in only 13 days now), my weekends are a little less "bird-oriented" and a little more wedding focused. Things around here are a bit slow bird-wise. I know that there are shorebirds about, and fall warblers are beginning to move through - but I have to be honest, those are probably my two least favorite birding options. I still struggle with the fall warblers, and do not get a big thrill out of trying to puzzle out a quiet drab warbler. And as for shorebirds, (and I expect that this will change as the years pass) , but I'm not at the point where I like standing on the beach in the blazing sun going through hundreds of peeps trying to find the rarity. I do make a few outings each year and try to pick up my yearly shorebirds - a few trips to Plum Island, one or two trips to South Beach. But once I've had my fill from those few days, it's hard to get me back out there.
Of course, that is not to say that I didn't get any birding in this weekend.
The Mississippi Kites that nested in Newmarket NH (and who I've blogged about more that I planned) are still around and the chick has not fledged yet. It's such a rare event to have them here that I feel drawn to them, trying to see them as often and as well as possible. I know that this past weekend was my last opportunity, as next weekend will be filled with wedding-related stuff, and the weekend after that is the wedding itself. (I'll go into the wedding and honeymoon on another post.) So Sunday morning I went to see them for the last time for about an hour. As I said, the chick has not fledged yet and the parents are still bringing in food. It looks like it is ready too, and hopefully they will all be safely on their way south soon.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Skywatch Friday 8/22/08

Storm clouds rolling in over Plum Island in Newburyport, MA.
Note the clear sky to the left and the rain on the right.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Like Spiders?

IF NOT, then don't click on these photos!

This little lady ( I think) was in the office of one of my co-workers. I got her out in the sun for a few close-ups before letting her go on the opposite side of the building. A little on-line research leads me to believe that this is a "Rabid Wolf Spider." Not actually rabid - just a description of people's reaction to it I think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 8/20/08

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mississippi Kites in Newmarket, NH (still)

On Sunday, I convinced Pam to take another run by the now famous Mississippi Kites that have nested in Newmarket, NH. I must give her a lot of credit, because to me it doesn't seem like far away (I used to live a few blocks from where they are now nesting), but it is, in fact, a bit of a haul. These are beautiful birds that are rare enough to see in New England, never mind have nesting. Whenever I do see them I try to (finally) get a good photo, but the problem I've been having has been an issue of lighting, with the sun being high in the sky whenever I can get there, so the contrast is almost unbearable. Perhaps one of these days I can get there in the early morning to catch some of that beautiful light. Mind you, I have NO intention of getting any closer to the nest than a several hundred feet away (more than just across the street like many I've seen) - and in fact, have watched and warned a few people that were getting too close who don't seem to have a barometer of what is sensible and what is not. The kites certainly do not seem to mind the birders, nor the traffic which consists of a almost steady stream of cars and loud motorcycles, as well as walkers.
And, as I said in a past post, there is really no need to get any closer. The adults are impossible to miss, and even the chick, although well hidden in the leafed-out tree, can be seen with a bit of patience.
One obsevation from this past weekend was that the adults seemed to be flying directly to the nest with food, as opposed to the previous weekend when they would perch for a little while on an exposed branch before and after going to the nest (see above). Only once in the 50 minutes I was there this weekend did one land on the previously favored branch. This might have had something to do with the number of Broad-winged Hawks I noticed. When we first arrived, one of the kites was escorting a Broad-wing away. But there were almost constantly two or three Broad-wings visible circling high in the sky.
Incidentally, as far as I can tell, the chick seems to be doing just fine. Getting plenty of food and growing well, and feathering out nicely. We did watch it stand up, stretch it's wings and flap them a few times too. I expect that due to the very northern latitude of this nest, that things are running a bit later than the kites further south (who I understand have just begun to migrate.) I wonder how long it will be before the chick fledges and the whole family heads south?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Weekend birding - Tree Swallows

For those of you who may not know, I will be getting married in just under three weeks, so this past Saturday, we had my bachelor's party, in which we - you guessed it - went birding! Eight of us met at Plum Island in the afternoon (one who had actually been there since early in the morning leading a shorebird ID trip for NH Audubon) with the intention of birding the island until we decided it was time for dinner. Apparently, nobody told mother nature that this was a guys-only event because she quickly showed up and made herself very evident.
The clouds that had been staying somewhat distant moved in, with a little rain - which never really stopped anybody - but the thunderclaps, as well as lightning hitting the ground within a quarter mile of us, made us think twice about sticking around for long. It did eventually pass and we got a bit of birding in. A pair of fawns, which evidently didn't quite understand humans yet, casually trotted past us.
The birds were typical for this time of the year, with plenty of Eastern Kingbirds, and one that simply sat and posed for me, so I couldn't resist a shot or two...
Once again though, the big story on the island was the tens of thousands of Tree Swallows. I blogged about this last weekend, but the numbers have continued to grow, and it is simply amazing. I took a lot of photos because it seemed that the only way to try to convey the numbers...

It (finally) occurred to me to try to capture it in video. It looks great at home, but not sure if the YouTube quality will transfer well here. Nevertheless, here it is:

We then headed off to the world famous Woodman's Restaurant in Essex for dinner, where the Fried Clam was invented, and where you will never go away hungry. The quantity of food at our table was staggering. (As were the constant puns - I'm starting to wonder if this is a "birder thing" of if the whole world is like this. Although I have to be honest, it would be hard to beat the quality of puns we have with this group. The were more groans from the jokes than the full stomachs!) We topped it off with some ice cream, then to a bar for some beer and billiards. In all, a great day.

Thanks to Mark, Kurk, Mark, Eddie, Mike, Rob, and Paul for celebrating with me. I had a blast!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Skywatch Friday 8/15/08

A Rough-legged Hawk hunting over the Plum Island marshes at dawn on January 1, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 8/13/08

Monday, August 11, 2008

Marbled Godwit and the Newmarket, NH Kites

Sunday morning found Pam and I heading north to one of our favorite spots - Parker River NWR on Plum Island. We haven't had much opportunity this summer to head that way - and with gas prices being what they are, the 100+ mile round trip isn't something we'll do often. But, a Marbled Godwit had been reported at the south end of the island, which is also where the Piping Plovers and Least Terns nest, and there are always good shorebirds, gulls, etc to be seen, so we decided that it would be a good day to go. The godwit was quite close and gave a large number of birders excellent looks.

As expected there were plenty of other birds also - the typical Semi-palmated Plovers and Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, Piping Plovers, Least and Common Terns, and Great Black-backed, Herring, Ring-billed, and Bonapart's Gulls. This is one of my favorite photos that I've taken of terns to date...

Plum Island is also a staging area for Tree Swallows to gather before migrating south in huge flocks. In August the numbers start to become staggering. This phenomenon is beginning now, and there wasn't a moment on the island where you couldn't see hundreds (and at many times thousands) by simply looking up.

We then stopped for a quick lunch at Bob Lobster on the Plum Island Turnpike and I decided that I wanted to go further north to Newmarket NH to see the Mississippi Kites that are nesting there. This really is a remarkable event. It seems that birders are for the most part being respectful both of the birds and of the property owners in the area, which is nice to see. I was there for about an hour, and watched adults bringing food to the nest. A pattern was quickly discernible - they would fly in and land on a branch across the street, adjust the food that they brought, then go to the nest to feed the chick. After feeding, they would fly back out to the same branch, and preen a bit, and take off to hunt again. The nest itself is quite difficult to see - usually you only get glimpses of a bundle of sticks. I expect that if you got closer to the tree or under it, you might be able to see it better, but I wasn't going to try. And there really isn't any need to. The light wasn't great for photos (very backlit) but the adults provided crippling looks!

Adult after coming back from nest.

Preparing for takeoff...

Heading off to hunt


Food acquired


This will be the first post of two from this past weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, Pamela and I took a short walk at Horn Pond, and although the birds were pretty quiet (which I frankly expected) we did come across this cicada that looks like it just broke free from it's nymph shell.
When we got home, I pulled out my Kaufman Guide to Insects of North America as well as doing a quick google search (because I know embarrassing little about insects) in hopes that this was one of the 'periodical' 17 year cicadas that I had heard about earlier in the season. (I guess this is an expected year for them) It turns out to be one of our regular ol' annuals. But it was pretty cool nevertheless. The color on it was amazing.

It seems that the nymphs, after going through several molts underground, and when the temperature is right (and who know what other myriad factors might be involved) crawl up to the trunk of a tree, and the adult breaks out of the nyphy shell, and hangs out there until it's wings dry. I think we just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see this guy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Skywatch Friday 8/8/08

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Indoor birding when it's miserable outside

This link was forwarded to one of the list-servs that I subscribe to, and I've found it quite addictive. It is an on-line bird identification game from Swarovski Optik to help promote their new EL binoculars. If you play the game and register, you could win a new pair of bins. The location is in Austria, so US birders that have never crossed the pond may find some of the id's challenging (well, at least I did!), but there are hints and a "field guide" to help you out. Of course, there are also several birds that we have in the US, so it's not entirely discouraging.
It's very similar to an older "birdwatching" game that I remember coming out several years ago that Pete Dunne endorsed called "Bird Watcher, The Interactive Birding Game", where you spotted an icon, clicked on it, then it showed you a photo of a bird that you have to identify. I don't remember any more details beyond that it was fun, if not a bit slow going.
Also quite similar, and something that I have visited every now and again for a while, is the "Birding Break" over at the Virtual Birder website.
Once you master these games, you could always cruise on over to the Fatbirder web site and try your hand at some of the quizzes that they have linked to in their "Miscellany and Fun" section.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 8/6/08

Sunday, August 3, 2008

South Beach Shorebirds

On Saturday, Pamela and I joined Glenn d'Entremont's BBC trip to South Beach in Chatham, MA. For those not familiar with the area, South Beach is a sandy island across from Monomoy NWR in Chatham, MA at the southeastern tip of Cape Cod. It is a great place to see large numbers of shorebirds, but especially so in August during migration.

Short-billed Dowitcher (one of thousands)
The BBC usually has a few trips each year, as do most of the bird clubs in the area. Glenn, who is very active in the South Shore Bird Club as well as the Brookline Bird Club, has birded here for many years and has a good sense of the area, as well as what could be seen and when. We started out meeting at the causeway at 7:30 to take the Rip Ryder Ferry across to South Beach. We had large numbers of shorebirds, many still showing good amounts of alternate (breeding) plumage. Also, we had some "birds of the year"- or in other words, young that hatched this year.
Juvenile American Oystercatcher
The little puff-balls of baby Piping Plovers drew "aw's" from many, and juvenile Oystercatchers with their growing dark bills (as opposed to the large "carrot-like" bills of the adults) were cool to see.
Adult American Oystercatcher
Among my favorite shorebirds (probably because they are readily identifiable to me, unlike a number of others) were the Ruddy Turnstones and Red Knots, both of which we had in good numbers as well.
Red Knot
I love the pied, harlequin patterns of the turnstones, and I'm not sure why, but I always enjoy seeing knots in breeding plumage. (Probably because their basic plumage makes them look superficially like all the other shorebirds out there.)
Ruddy Turnstone
I like the big colorful, easily identifiable ones - turnstones, oystercatchers, whimbrel, godwits, etc.
Black-bellied Dunlin (showing the eponymous black belly)
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Other popular sightings included several Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows, many Hudsonian Godwits, a pair of Marbled Godwits, a few Roseate Terns, one Black Terns and a Black Skimmer.
Hudsonian Godwit
A couple more photos from the day can be seen here.
As you might be able to determine, I am not a huge shorebird nut - I just am not to that point in my birding career where I enjoy puzzling out the various subtle differences. I know that body shape and jizz come much more into play when identifying these birds. I do well enough - I can pick out a White Rumped Sandpiper pretty quickly, and am pretty confident in seperating Leasts from Semi-palmated Sandpipers. I guess I just don't have the patience to go through thousands of shorbirds trying to find a Little Stint or Red-necked Stint.

If you are that kind of birder - say hello to Monomoy NWR and South Beach. You'll love it here!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Skywatch Friday 8/1/08

This was our late afternoon view from our rooms at the Chisos Lodge in Big Bend National Park in Texas. I must admit that I took a little artistic license in enlarging the moon about 50%. (It never is a big in photos as it looks to the naked eye.) I know the reasons for this, but wanted to have the photo give the impression that I remember...