Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Some photos of Birds from Alaska

It just recently occurred to me that, although I talked a bit about the birds that we saw in Alaska, I haven't really posted any photos yet. There is good reason, in that that I don't feel that I got any really good ones - it was dark and wet most of the time so the images are very "noisy" and many are slightly out of focus. OR they are rather distant, and I know what they were and they serve as a good reminder of the birds we did see, but they are nothing to really show off.
Now that I have made that disclaimer, here are a few that are mediocre at best...

My 'life' Spruce Grouse

A Black-legged Kittiwake

A Pelagic Cormorant

A Glaucous-winged Gull

Another Glaucous-winged Gull

American Bald Eagles

My 'life' Wandering Tattler

Mew Gull

My 'life' Fork-tailed Storm-petrel

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly 9/29/08

Red Crossbill

Eddie over at Birdfreak, the Bird Conservation Blog, a few weeks ago, started encouraging bloggers to post a photo of a bird a week and linking to his site for the purpose of:

"What better way to promote birds and bird conservation than by featuring a cornucopia of wonderful bird photos? Thus, we encourage you to join the weekly excitement of Bird Photography Weekly."

To be perfectly frank, as much as I love reading about birds all over the world when I'm stuck behind the computer, I enjoy looking at great bird photography that much more. An added benefit it that I've also found a few more blogs that I'd not stumbled across yet.
So if you are interested in seeing some great bird photos, follow the link - and add one of your own photos each week. There is no reason that this can't be as big as a "Wordless Wednesday" or "Skywatch Friday"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Celebratory post

So I was just checking my stats and noticed that I hit two plateaus on my blog recently.
Yesterday's 'Skywatch Friday' post was my 100th post to the blog since I started it earlier this year. (Actually started it in 2007 with a single post then promptly did nothing with it for another year) And today I had my 2000th SiteMeter 'visit' since I put the counter on the page.

Now I know that compared to many of the excellent bloggers out there who update daily (and some several times a day) and are extremely talented writers and post amazing photos, this may not seem like much of a landmark. But to me, this is pretty exciting. I wasn't sure I'd ever get that many people visiting. (or that I'd actually keep up with it!) And for those that did, I wasn't sure after finding this page that anybody would come back. I'm glad to see that at least a few of you come by regularly to see what is going on in my neck of the blogsphere. Hopefully I've managed a post or two with an image that you like.

(And, if you've come here looking for Madonna's brother, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I just happen to share his name - no relation otherwise!)

Excuse me, what's that?
Oh, "why the photo of the owl?" you ask.
Just because I like it and I thought you might too!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Skywatch Friday 9/26/2008

Photo taken during our whale watch excursion out of Juneau, AK.

Click below to see more great photos!
SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some insects from Alaska

I am relatively good at identifying birds - not great, but not bad. Pretty confident in my id's at this point. On the other hand, I don't know much about spiders, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, etc. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing 'em - I just don't know what I'm looking at most of time. I'm always trying to learn though. Anyway, here are some photos I took our second morning in Alaska. There were (at least) 4 types of moth and a spider on the outside wall of our lodge. (And White-winged Crossbills cracking cones in the trees above us.) Any help with id's would be greatly appreciated. (I do know that there are lots of helpful websites out there, for id-ing spiders and moths, I've just not had much time to surf since getting back...)

The flash really washed this one out. It was a nice rich saffron color...
The following guys were funny - they all had their heads tucked into a corner, so at first glance, they looked like little slats of wood tucked into the cracks.There were a lot of these. I actually ran across a photo of one recently on another blog, but I cannot remember where now...Unfortunately, this one came out a little blurry

Just in case you didn't know...

I found this very amusing. Seen at the edge of a lake in Alaska
(soon after I saw my 'life' Spruce Grouse).

Now that I think of it, I don't think that is what they told us in my Red Cross swimming classes when I was a kid...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 9/24/08

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some non-avian wildlife from Alaska trip

I'm still working on getting through my photos from the trip. Because it was overcast or raining most of the time (typical for Alaska this time of the year) a lot of my photos are dark and very noisy. (Not in terms of sound, but visual noise which comes from trying to lighten dark images and from shooting at too high a film speed)

In the meantime, here are a few photos & videos of some of the animals we got to see.

First up, the bull moose we saw in Denali National Park:
and the video:

Next up, the porcupine that we saw munching on pine needles near the Mendenhall Glacier:
and the video:
And finally, a few Humpback Whale flukes...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Birds of our Alaska Honeymoon

So here are the birds that put me over the 600 mark on my ABA list:
#594 - Northwestern Crow
#595 - Spruce Grouse (a rather unexpected but very welcome bird, seeing as I lived in NH for a few years and never stumbled across one before!)
#596 - Trumpeter Swan
#597 - Fork-tailed Storm Petrel
#598 - Marbled Murrelet
#599 - Wandering Tattler (another unexpected bird - flew past and perched on an outlet pipe right next to the dock!)
#600 - Pink-footed Shearwater
#601 - Sabine's Gull (yet another unexpected bird. It flew past our balcony as I was walking out. Couldn't believe my eyes - my first thought it was just another immature kittiwake that looked a little odd, but stayed within sight long enough to confirm!)
#602 - Cassin's Auklet

Other birds of note we did see: American Bald Eagles (have to be blind to miss 'em up there), Ravens (ditto), White-winged Crossbills, Glaucous-winged & Mew Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwake, Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres, both Pomerine & Long-tailed Jaegers, and thousands upon thousands of Surf Scoters.

Birds that we missed that I was hoping for: Willow & Rock Ptarmagins, Horned & Tufted Puffins, Albatross of any sort (not really expected though), Short-tailed Shearwater (actually had a few potential candidates, but were too far away to rule out Sooty which were also seen closer) Kittlitz's & Ancient Murrelets, Rhino Auklet (again, had good potential for a few, but just couldn't make out enough detail in the fog to be positive)

As for non-avian wildlife, we had a few misses - no bears (although often evidence of very recent bears) or Orca/Killer Whales. We did have great looks at Humpback Whales, Stellar Sea Lions, Otters, Moose, a few distant Dall Sheep, and a Porcupine that sat in a pine tree eating needles relatively close to a viewing platform for the Mendenhall Glacier.

Back from Alaska

Whew - seems like I have been away from the computer forever!

One of the views in Denali National Park

We got in late on Saturday from our honeymoon, and spent the day yesterday getting caught up with regular life again. We went to Alaska on a Princess Cruise Tour that lasted 11 days/10 nights, and included three days on land and then seven days at sea. There is no way that I will be able to blog about the whole thing in one post, so I'll be breaking it up into smaller bits of info as I can get to it.
Since this is a 'birding blog' I should say that this is not the Alaska trip to take if you are specifically going to seeing birds. Often times you are on a schedule that doesn't allow for taking one's time to explore the parks and natural areas, and the cruise ship certainly will not stop or chase that possible Kitlitz's Murrelet. If you want to see Alaska's birds you are much better off going with a bird-specific tour. (I plan to go with Bill Drummond in the near future. I understand that High Lonesome Bird Tours also lead fantastic trips there.) I did manage to get a few life birds out of the trip, and 'cruised past' the 600 mark!!!
On the other hand though, it is a beautiful part of our country that I feel everybody must see. Our cruise was a good way to get a taste of the south and southeastern portions of the state, and we had a great time. The scenery and paks were beautiful, the glaciers were breathtaking, and we lived like royalty. I'll have plenty of photos for Skywatch Fridays for a few weeks!

More to come...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Gone for two weeks!

I love stuff like this! If you move the cursor back and forth over 'my' head, you'll get a sense of what it is like talking to me during migration (or if there is a woodpecker nearby.)
Click the play button if you wish to hear what I sound like. (But I don't blame you if you don't!)

I'll blog when I return from my honeymoon!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Eastern Mass Hawk Watch Annual Meeting

Last night, Pam and I went with Paul and Diana to the Eastern Massachusetts Hawk Watch Annual meeting, which is always an enjoyable evening. There is a social hour, where just like any other gathering of birders, there is lots of talk about latest sightings, migrations, where people are traveling to next, or where they've recently gone to, etc. They also bring in a few vendors, a local bookseller that specialize in bird and nature books, Swarovski, Zeiss (who had their now famous Gummi-Binoculars packets) and others. The EMHW itself is an all-volunteer group that helps study and conserve raptors through monitoring annual migration, organizing hawk watches, and compiling information. Good group of people!
The stars of last night's show were Marcia & Mark Wilson, who brought their live owl program "Eyes on Owls" and talked about the local owls of eastern MA as well as a few that have traveled a bit to get to us. They are, of course, fully state and federally licensed to keep and care for permanently disabled owls and use them for educational purposes. I've seen their program a few times, and they are always wonderful. The highlights are the live owls. They first brought out two of our smaller owls - a Saw-whet Owl which migrates through here in large numbers in the fall, and the resident Eastern Screech Owl. Both of which are molting this time of the year, so these guys were looking a little ruffled!

They then moved on to some larger owls. There was a female Barred Owl, who unfortunately received severe damage to her right wing, and it could not be saved. She is otherwise living a very happy and healthy life with Marcia & Mark. They also brought along Great Horned and Snowy Owls, both of which are a treat to see up-close! Next up were two owls we don't get to see here in the US unless that are a part of an educational program like this one. The first was an Eurasian Eagle Owl, which is related to our Great Horned Owl.
Then they wrapped up with one that I have never seen live before and which I now feel the need to find in the wild - a Spectacled Owl.
Besides that smooth beautiful plumage and intense looking face, get a load of that beak!!! Wow.

After the meeting I was all jazzed up to go owling, but we needed to get home and get some rest. Today and tomorrow are going to be pretty big days for us!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Newmarket NH Kites - more than one pair!!!

With all the plans for the wedding and honeymoon, I've not been paying very close attention to the local listserves, but there has been some buzz in NH this past week. It seems that there is not one but TWO pairs of Mississippi Kites in the Newmarket area of NH (not to mention the pair that also nested in CT this year) and both pairs have a chick that they are feeding regularly.
Apparently each chick has fledged, but still returns to the nest to beg and receive food (which by one report included a bat.) They're running a bit later than their southern brethren in terms of migration. Hopefully they'll be fueled up and heading south soon!
Pretty cool stuff!

Skywatch Friday 9/5/08

Evening at the Frio Bat Cave near Concan, TX. The evening flight of millions of Mexican Free-tailed Bat is the second largest in the world. It was amazing to see.
A video can be seen at this post from April.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Big plans for the next few weeks

So all that I've had to "twitter" about lately are my impending nuptials and the following honeymoon, but I've not gone into much detail about either. Things are going to be going at a breakneck speed for the next few days, so I thought I'd blog about it now in case I couldn't get to it later.

Pamela and I will be getting married this Sunday, the seventh of September at Stonehurst, the Robert Treat Paine Estate in Waltham, MA - a beautiful 19th century estate whose architecture was designed by HH Richardson and landscaped by Fredrick Law Olson. (In addition to my bird addiction, I am also a 19th century "armchair historian" so I am thrilled to be getting married here!) The reception will follow the ceremony, which will be performed by Pamela's brother.
It is going to be a wonderful, beautiful day.

The following Wednesday, we fly out to Anchorage to begin our honeymoon. We have booked a Princess Lines cruise tour. Mind you, this is a honeymoon - not a birding trip. Of course, that being said, we will be bringing binoculars, spotting scope, and a few cameras, and our "excursions" will be aimed toward nature sighting including birds, bears, whales etc.
We start our trip with a night in Anchorage then for the next few days, Princess carts us to a few of their lodges in McKinley and Denali. We then take a train from Denali back to Whittier to board our cruise ship to sail the inside passage cruising past College Fjord and Glacier Bay National Park and with stops in Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchican. Pamela found a good deal for rooms with a private balcony on the front left side of the ship, so I expect to be spening a lot of time out there with the scope. With any luck I should be able to spot at least seven life birds on this trip and tick my 600th bird on my ABA list! (And I'm not greedy - it can be just about any bird - they are all going to be good ones!) Pamela, who has not birded the west coast at all yet should be stacking quite a few birds on her list also. (She passed the 500 mark earlier this year when we were in Texas.)

If any of you have done this tour (or one like it) and have any suggestions as to what to do, where to go, and what to look for, I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 9/3/08

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Opposable Chums: Guts & Glory at The World Series of Birding

This weekend I got the chance to view my copy of "Opposable Chums: Guts and Glory at the World Series of Birding" a documentary about... well the World Series of Birding which takes place each spring in New Jersey.

I have never had the pleasure of participating in the WSOB... yet.
(Anybody out there need a fanatical birder to join their team?)
I have, on the other hand, participated in a few Birdathons as well as Massachusetts Audubon's "Superbowl of Birding" which is a similar event, but it instead takes place in January, and only for 12 hours instead of 24.

The film is an excellent documentary of what these intense competition birding days are like, and anybody who has participated in one will certainly see themselves in the film. Scenes depicting a group of birders in a car in the middle of the night waiting for the clock to strike 12:00 to get started, listening for owls, hitting the 24hr Dunkin Donuts shop for coffee and bathroom stops, and progressing all throughout the day until exhausted and exhilarated, you turn in your list 24 hours later. The competition is intense although very good-natured.

If you haven't done a birding competition yet, this film just might help you make up your mind to.

On the other hand, if you are trying to convince a non-birder (or a less intensive birder) to come along on one of these forays into competitive birding, this may not be the best tool in your toolbox. My fiance, who callers herself a WOB (wife-of-birder, although truth be told she's a pretty good birder herself, just not fanatical like me) informed me as we were watching the film, that she is probably going to pass on joining my Superbowl of Birding team this year.
And, although the film does attempt to portray birders as relatively sane individuals pursuing their interest (hobby, avocation, job, or all-consuming passion), at every turn there is something to reinforce the non-birding impression that we are just a little bit 'off.' It's all in good fun though.

If you couldn't tell by now, I really enjoyed the film. (In fact, I watched it twice over the holiday weekend.) Not only did I enjoy the portrayals of the teams at various points in the day, but also the interviews with current and past competitors (with well known names like John Fitzpatrick, Ken Kauffman, David Sibley, and Pete Dunn), the history, and especially the editing style.

Jason did a great job with this documentary, and I highly recommend it!

The internet site for the film is: http://opposablechums.com
Also check out bird blogger reviews by Corey over at 10,000 Birds and by Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest.