Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 10/29/08

Bobcat in Madera Canyon in AZ

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Weekend birding - yeah, I know, it's predictable...

So this weekend Pamela and I headed up to Plum Island again. If it seems like we go there a lot it's because well, frankly, we do - not as much as some people who live a lot closer. (There are some birders that visit 4-5 days a week!) It's a fantastic place to go birding any time of the year, and it's particularly special for us because it really where we met.

This weekend turned up some regulars and a few first birds of the year for me.
At lot one, (right after you enter the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge) I checked the boat ramp for American Bittern, which I hadn't seen on the island since last December, but came up with nothing. Around lot one and the entrance gate, immature White-crowned Sparrows were still around, as well as the expected Song and Savannah Sparrows. (This is a good place to check the Savannah's to find one from the 'Ipswich' race) Also had a Tufted Titmouse here, which really isn't common for the island at all. While at lot one, did a quick check of the ocean from the viewing platform. There were plenty of Common Loons around with several Red-throated loons as well, and Gannets plunge-diving in the distance.

Next we move on to the Salt Pans, which is a good place for scoping ducks. Long-tailed Ducks, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal have joined the ranks of the many Mallards and Black Ducks here. Every year we seem to get a Eurasian Wigeon mixed in with the American's, and this year is no different. We finally caught up with it this Sunday, and I tried doing a little digiscoping with a newer camera that I am struggling to get to work well. The photos aren't great, but they'll do for now.

(Another post will follow about the trials and tribulations of my birding 'equipment'...)

The salt pans are also a good place to catch up with some shorebirds. The ubiquitous yellowlegs are still around, as well as Dunlin and a few White-rumped Sandpipers (many of which are immatures, showing a little bit of rufous coloring in the scapulars so they may appear to be Westerns.)
We progressed on to the "Wardens" which is where a few storage sheds are for refuge equipment, and managed to spish up a few sparrows - mostly Savannah's again, but the light was nice so I snapped a few photos. No luck on the Clay-colored seen earlier.

The next stop is the North Pool Overlook. This is where the bittern is most commonly seen, and I finally got my year bird for the island - and a very cooperative one he was too. Walked almost all the way around the border of this end of the pool - sometimes freezing and pointing it's bill straight up next to the tall marsh grass and almost disappearing on the spot, and other times, putting it's head down and almost sprinting along the muddy edge of the pool. A very entertaining and fascinating bird - we watched it for probably about a half hour, before he finally disappeared from view.

We continued on to the Hellcat parking lot and wandered around a bit there, as somebody had spotted a Western Kingbird early on Saturday, but hadn't been seen again. We did have a late and extremely cooperative Baltimore Oriole that sat in a bush a few meters from the car, picking berries and eating the seeds out of them.

At the far south end of the island, we stopped quickly at lot 7 to scan the ocean again. In addition to the aforementioned species, I also spotted a single Common Eider, large rafts of Black Scoters, many White-winged Scoters, and a few Surf Scoters. Also had a immature Black-bellied Plover that just begged me to take a photo.

And last but not least (they are pretty common around here and nothing I would usualy take a photo of), there was a Great Black-backed Gull that was banded so I took a quick pic so I can remember to report him to the proper authorities.

Male pattern blogging

I've noticed that I'm falling into a pattern with my blogging, and I am having a hard time breaking out of it. It seems to go like this:

Monday: Bird Photography Weekly post
Tuesday: a post about the past weekend's birding (usually takes me until Tues morning to weed through photos, etc)
Wednesday: is Wordless Wednesday - trying to post something other than photos of birds for my WW's
Thursday: nothing. I've been at work since Sunday afternoon and there is nothing I want to blog about at either of my jobs
Friday: Skywatch Friday post (although I'm going to have to make an effort on this one - I'm running out of interesting sky photos!)
Weekends: this is my time to get out, and I only use the computer to check e-mail and maybe start looking as some photos from the weekend if I have time.

I was going to write and say that I vow to fight to break out of the pattern, but maybe the reason I have fallen into the pattern is because that is what works for my schedule. SO the pattern may remain for a while. And if I can (and I have something that I think is interesting to post -like last Friday night's owl banding - now that I think about it, that was outside of my pattern!) I will. And if not, well... you can count on my being here at the above times!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #9

Saw-whet Owl

To see more bird photos, check out:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saw-whet Owl Banding

On Friday evening, I attended a Saw-whet Owl banding demonstration courtesy of Kathy Seymour and Massachusetts Audubon. I have attended a few demonstrations before (run by Strickland Wheelock in Northbridge MA) but they are always exciting. Kathy has set up her nets at the Mass Audubon Drumlin Farm Sanctuary in Lincoln. It is very nicely appointed and aside from retrieving the owls from the mist nets and later releasing them, all the work is done indoors.

After the owls have been extracted from the mist nests, they are brought in - one at a time - to record information and band them. At demonstrations like this, Kathy and her helpers are careful to not demonstrate too much with any one owl. The owls are first weighed, then additional measurements are taken.
The "wing chord" is measured, which is the length form the bend of the wing to the end of the outermost primary feather. The weight and size of the bird helps to determine the sex of the bird. (Like most raptors the females are larger than the males)

The wings are extended and inspected to look for feather wear and for molt pattern.
Like most birds, the owls do not molt all their wing feathers at once, and they do follow general patterns, so determining the age of feathers and molt pattern help to determine the birds age.
A really neat fact is that newer feathers glow a pinkish color in ultraviolet light.

After all the information is recorded, the bird is banded and released.

The band number, and all the birds information is sent to the bird banding lab at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center where the informaiton is stored and compiled for research. More information about banding birds, licensing, etc can be found at that link.

Of course, at an educational demonstration like this, you can also get a closer look at some neat features of the birds. Everyone know that owls are extremely stealthy hunters. One reason for this is that on the front edge of the outermost primaries, most owls have a soft fringe or comb on the margin of the outer vane, which "softens the contact between the air and the leading edge of the wing." (Quoted from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Handbook of Bird Biology") This feature helps the owl to remain silent in flight. Some owls that hunt during the daytime, such as the Northern Hawk Owl, do not have this.
At the business end, owls have a zygodactyl foot like woodpeckers, in which two toes point forward and two toes point back. But unlike woodpeckers, owls can move their 4th toe can be used in either the forward or backward position. (Osprey can do that too)

Are you done??? Can I go now?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 10/22/08

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Monday, October 20, 2008

Weekend birding - Fall transition on Plum Island

It's a very interesting time of the year on Plum Island. It's become just cold enough that the beach-goers are not showing up in any quantities now, so it's a easier to get onto the refuge a little later in the morning without having to wait in line at the gatehouse. At the same time we still have some of our summer birds, such as the Great Egrets that stand out against the marsh pretty easily.

We still have some of our fall migrants coming through. The warblers are a bit more scarce than they were a few weeks ago, but there are still a few around. I've been trying whenever I can to catch up with an Orange-crowned Warbler this year, and have just kept dipping on it. Yesterday there were two right near the gatehouse (as well as a White-winged Crossbill) and later in the afternoon someone spotted a Tennessee Warbler as well. Yep - I missed all of them! We did stumble upon this Magnolia Warbler. I think it might be a hatch year bird. Comments?

Other migrants in the area this weekend included a lot of immature White-crowned Sparrows. Not a very unusual bird around here but by no means common.

UPDATE: Thanks to Hap in MN who noted that these photos are actually basic-plumaged Chipping Sparrows, and not the immature White-crowned Sparrows I head seen earlier in the day!

Then there are all the birds that herald the coming winter. To me, summer's end is always punctuated by the arrival of Dark-eyed Juncos.

Plum Island is also a great place for a good variety of ducks. Plenty of Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, and Green-winged Teal. About this time of the year, we get a lot of American Wigeon with males showing the nice blond streak and glossy green masks (and sometimes a Eurasian Wigeon, which was seen late last week, but not over the weekend).

There are also the occasional Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, and Northern Shovelers. All three merganseres can be seen from the island at one point or another. Also it's a good place for sea ducks as well - Eiders, all three Scoters, and Long-tailed Ducks (formerly 'Oldsquaw' before it was felt that it was politically incorrect) can all be seen here too.

(Never mind that it is also a great place for loons, grebes, alcids, gulls, warblers in the spring, shorebirds in late summer/early fall, migrating raptors and sparrows in the fall, snowy and short-eared owls in the winter... the list goes on and on)

There is really no question about it - this is definitely one hot spot every birder has to visit at least once!

Bird Photography Weekly #8

Pileated Woodpecker

To see more bird photos, check out:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Skywatch Friday 10/17/08

Have had some beautiful sunsets this week in MA, with low clouds reflecting the evening sunlight, and the warm autumn tones of the changing leaves.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, October 16, 2008


more at

Nothin' much to blog about today, but this cracked me up!!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 10/15/08

Feeling like looking at photos without all that annoying text?
Then head on over to
Wordless Wednesday to see more!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fall migration

We've been enjoying some really great early Autumn weather around here for the last few weeks, and the birding has been pretty nice. There's nothing quite like spring migration, but fall migration has it's appeals too. One thing that we always enjoy is seeing the Monarch butterflys. We do see them all summer, and Pamela and I always point them out to each other, but in the fall when they are migrating south, they seem to be everywhere. Beautiful bright spots that can bring some color to the dullest of overcast days.

And as all the fall warblers move through, we are left with the stalwart yellow-rumps. Jumping from branch to branch, usually in good numbers, very responsive to pishing, and you have to look through all of them if you want to find something unusual.
Red-breasted Nuthatches, although a year-round bird here, always seem to be around in larger numbers for me in the fall. Maybe it's just where I go birding this time of the year...

And, of course, when fall comes around, many start thinking about sparrows - those seed-specialist little brown jobs that can be confusing for many beginning and even experienced birders. Go to your local community garden this time of year (when everything is going to seed) and it's a sparrow bonanza. And as a bonus, they seem to be more responsive to pishing this time of the year - popping up to check you out for a few seconds, letting you get a relatively good look at them, and maybe even a photo or two if you are quick (or lucky) enough. For me, it's all luck!
Savannah Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #7

Black-tailed Godwit

To see more bird photos, check out:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mega in Maine - European Golden-Plover

Local hotlines have been all about reporting a transtional plumaged EUROPEAN GOLDEN-PLOVER that was seen first on Friday then again today at Scarborough Marsh in Maine.
I didn't go today, and won't be tomorrow (and I'm sure I'll be regretting it for a long time to come!)
Some info regarding this fantastic rarity:

From Peter Vickery on the Maine birding list on October 10th list:
Lysle Brinker phoned today to report that he had seen a bird that he thought was an adult European Golden-Plover at Scarborough March. It associated with 2 juv Am Golden-Plovers. I joined Lysle and we watched and photographed the birds at close range; brilliant white underwings, short wings that were essentially the same length as the tail, pot-bellied, small-headed structure, white flanks all noted and photographed, to be posted elsewhere. Lysle also heard it's softer, simpler call. This trio was seen a day or two earlier but the identity of the adult was only confirmed today.
We know this is going to cause substantial interest among the birding community.
Scarborough Marsh is owned by the state and managed by Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The area is assessable to the public and there are a good number of duck hunters doing their own type of birding on the marsh.
Given the considerable interest this bird is likely to generate as the first New England and east coast record south of Newfoundland and perhaps Nova Scotia, it's reasonable to expect hundreds of birders.
Both of us think that protecting the habitat and the use of Eastern Road/Eastern Trail by many joggers, bikers, walkers, etc ... both need to be foremost in everyone's mind.
The birds were located far out on the marsh, south of Eastern Road/ Eastern Trail (same road). The trek out to the point where we saw the birds is long with plenty of hidden pot holes, ditches, and other wet spots. I nearly lost my boots on several occasions. So, be forewarned. The birds were on the marsh during high tide and then flew off to the Scarborough River at half tide. We relocated them down river from our original point of observation. Not surprisingly, they are moving around.
The three plovers (E Gold-Pl, and 2 j Am Golden-Pl) were together on the Scarborough River and then separated as they flew from the river. They may not be together tomorrow.
Pine Point, at the mouth of Scarborough River, might be a promising viewing point from mid to low tide.

To reach Scarborough Marsh take Rt. 9 off Rt. 1 in Scarborough. Rt. 9 is southwest of the marsh. About 1+ miles from Rt.1 you will see a sign for ET on the left. Turn left onto the short dirt track and park in the small parking lot. Cross the bridge over the river. As I mentioned, the birds were seen well to the south of this dirt road looking toward the distant railroad track. It's possible that the parking lot will be full with hikers, bikers, birders. If that' the case, it's easy to park along Rt. 9, just be careful of traffic.We really want folks to honor the habitat and the many people who use the ET for their own non-ornithological purposes. Please do everything to protect habitat and honor the various uses of the marsh.

From Richard Heil on October 10th:
A transitional adult EURASIAN GOLDEN-PLOVER was discovered earlier today (10 Oct. 2008) in the Scarborough Marsh, Maine by Lyle Brinker. This constitutes the first documented record for the lower forty-eight United States! The bird is frequenting the salt marsh and associated pans to the southeast of Eastern Road, a dirt walking/bike trail through the marsh. Jeremiah Trimble and I travelled there this afternoon and were able to relocate the bird and obtain a number of close photographs. The rather brightly spangled plover is slightly larger and distinctly shorter-winged than an American Golden-Plover with a chunky rather 'pot-bellied' look at times. In flight the underwings are strikingly gleaming white. The bird called each time it took flight, a soft, plain, single syllabled "puue".

Richard's photos can be seen HERE.
Jeremiah Trimble's photos can be seen HERE.

James Smith also went up on Saturday and posted about the trip on his blog.

Many thanks go to Lysle Brinker for identifying this bird, and to Peter Vickery, then Richard Heil for getting the word out about this great find.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Skywatch Friday 10/10/08

Dawn in Big Bend National Park

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 10/8/08

Falcon Sphinx Moth Caterpillar

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A new book written just for me (or at least it seems like it)

Have you ever encountered something that you feel exists almost especially for you?
My friend Pica from the Feathers of Hope and Bird by Bird blogs recently alerted me to the publication of a new book that seems like it was written with me in mind:
"The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America's Most Iconic Birds." This new book, published by Mountaineers Book contains the writing and photography of Paul Bannick, and includes a CD with audio recordings by Martyn Stewart. (If Martyn's name sounds familiar it might be because he also supplied the audio CD that accompanied the book "Arctic Wings" published a few years ago.)
I have to admit that I have not had a chance to read much of Paul's text yet because I find it hard to pull my eyes away from the absolutely stunning photography, but from the little I have read, I'm going to really enjoy it. Paul has obviously spent a great deal of time in the field photographing and taking field notes about the members of both these families, and really seems to have pulled together a fascinating book. I like to think that I know quite a bit about woodpeckers (and not a little about owls), but there are always interesting bits of information about behavior that can be gleaned from another's experience, that one has not read about or encountered oneself. Rather than just listing species in taxonomic order, I like the way that the book is broken out into different habitats (Northeastern Forests, Arctic Tundra, etc) and then discussing the members of each family that inhabits it.
This book will appeal to any birder, and really anybody simply interested in nature and how it's inhabitants affect, and are affected by it. But if you are a fanatic about either or both families (like myself) this is definitely a book that you will want to add to your library.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #6

In light of my earlier posting today, I am presenting a photo of an Atlantic Puffin that I took back in 2004 when I visited Machias Seal Island. Definitely something I recommend that every birder do at least once!

To see more bird photos, check out: