Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One-year Blogoversary

A little earlier today, I realized that this is the first anniversary of the Picus Blog. Well... kinda.
It's actually the anniversary of when I started posting to it regularly. You see, I really started it in January 2007, setting up the page and making the initial post (including a piece I wrote for a newsletter a few years ago to introduce myself.) Then, nothing for almost a year. Last December 31st, in a sort of New Year's Resolution, I thought I'd make another try at it. Low and behold, I actually stuck with it this time, posting 179 times in my first year or blogging, although frankly I feel that much of it was lacking in the way of substance. But, I've had a great time at it and have every intention of keeping it up again this year, will try to post some more thoughtful writing, and maybe start making it a bit more personal as well, including more than just bird and birding-related posts. (No promises though.)
Frankly, one of the best aspects of keeping up with this (and I am quite confident that many bloggers would agree), is the people that I have met through blogging. Via comments and links, as well as social networking sites like "twitter", I have learned about a lot of other fantastic blogs, but more importantly I have met a lot of you, and am thankful for the friendships that are developing through it.
So, thank you all for visiting (and especially to those of you that come by regularly) and for leaving the kind and encouraging comments. You are a great group of people, and have really made me glad that I tried to carve a little space out of the blogosphere for myself.

And, since this will likely be my last post of 2008, I want to take this quick moment to wish you all a very happy, healthy, and safe new year.


Wordless Wednesday 12/31/08

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Birding Highlights

The guys over at 10000 Birds, and then Patrick at The Hawk Owl's Nest have both posted about their birding highlights for the past year, and that has got me thinking about some of my best birding moments of the past 364 days. 2008 has been a pretty good year for me, both birding and in general (notwithstanding the economy which I am sure has given everybody a solid boot to the pants). Pamela and I traveled quite a bit this year which led to several of the following highlights, but the top moment of the year was certainly our wedding.
So now, without any further ado, here are my top birding moments for 2008:

In January, Pamela and I escaped from the New England winter to Florida's Gulf Coast for a week, and although I did not get any life birds on this trip (I've been lucky enough to bird in Florida several times before) we saw every single "target" bird and I did get some really nice photos, including my favorite photo so far of Pileated Woodpeckers.

In late February/early March, my friends Pica & Numenius who host the Feathers of Hope blog, graciously invited me to stay with them in California's Central Valley where I managed to pick up a solid 21 life birds. It's hard to pick highlights out of a number like that, and even though many of the birds were very cool or difficult to find aywhere but in the central valley (ie Yellow-billed Magpie), the highlights for me had to be an incredibly accomodating Red-breasted Sapsucker and finally seeing the only regularly occuring woodpecker in the US that I'd not seen yet - the Nuttall's Woodpecker.

In April, we traveled to the Edwards Plateau and Big Bend with our friends Paul & Diana to see the specialties there: Black-capped Vireo, Golden-cheeked Warbler, and Colima Warbler. We hit a grand slam with all three species, working harder for some than for others, and everybody getting a good number of "lifers" on the trip.

In June, I led a trip up the Cap's Ridge Trail in NH's White Mountians, where a number of the participants got their "life" Gray Jays - especially satisfying to see their faces when that life bird flew in to take food from their hands.

Throughout the summer we were lucky in New England to have not one, not two, but three Mississippi Kites, and they successfully nested and fledged chicks. Visiting these birds on occassion was quite a thrill.

In September, Pamela and I were married outdoors on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Moments after the ceremony started, I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling off in the distance. I was very good though and managed not to crane my head and look for it. For our honeymoon, we decided on a Princess Cruise-tour to Alaska, with several days on land, followed by a cruise down the inside passage. While on our honeymoon, I spotted my 600th ABA bird from the deck of our cabin - a Pink-footed Shearwater. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a pic of #600. I did get one of #599 though earlier that day, a Wandering Tattler.

In October, while we were again birding with Paul and Diana, looking for fall migrants, I happened to spot this Golden-winged Warbler - one of the few (and maybe the only - I've not found any other records yet) ones seen in Massachusetts this year.

There are a few other moments that stand out in my mind also as I think back on the year - those unexpected up-close-and-personal moments you sometimes have while birding:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #18

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Archilochus alexanrdi

We spotted this beautiful little girl putting the finishing touches on her nest on the last day of our Texas trip last April in a public park just outside of San Antonio.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 12/24/08

Christmas Seal

Merry Christmas!

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #17

Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus

I am posting another photo this week from when I was in Florida last January, when I was so much drier and warmer that I am now. (We got almost 24" of snow in the last few days and the temps are remaining well below freezing) Just looking at that bright moorhen with a bit of vegetation in it's bill warms me a bit.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Birder's Christmas Ornaments

The weather here in New England this weekend has been very wintery - snow has been falling almost non-stop since Friday afternoon. It's still beautiful and white, which helps to bring on the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, my Christmas Bird Count today was cancelled because of it. (Most CBCs are usually just delayed by weather, but one where you need to schedule a boat are harder to re-schedule I guess.)

Anyway, since we have been spending our time indoors this weekend, we've been 'birding' in other ways. On-line - looking at various trip reports and photo galleries; on the TV - watching David Attenborough's "Life of Birds" (again - I just cannot get enough of it); and around the home - but not in the way you might think. We live in a condo that we bought last year, and have not tried to put up feeders yet. No, I have been noticing how much bird-related stuff we have here. In addition to the things we've bought ourselves, there are the many bird-related gifts that we've received over the years. I think that I will soon post photos of some of the more interesting bird stuff we have here. But for today, my plan was to share a few of my favorite bird Christmas ornaments that we have on the tree this year, like the partridge in a pear tree that started off this post. Since Pamela and I got married this year, we received quite a few "1st Christmas" ornaments like:

We have also each brought a few of our own ornaments to the tree from the years before we were together. For instance, Pamela had a few that I consider a more 'traditional New England' style birding ornaments:

I had accumulated a few Snowy Owl ornaments myself (at one point, I thought I would have a tree completely decorated with Snowy Owl ornaments)

And, new to our tree this year:

We got this handsome carved owl while in Texas last spring

Maybe someday I will have the tree with just Snowy Owls

I have to have a few woodpeckers on the tree. I've had some resin ones in the past years but couldn't resist this beautiful Austrian glass one when we saw it in Newburyport a few weeks ago.

But without a doubt, my favorite ornament on our tree is one that Pamela gave me a few years ago after she returned from a trip to Costa Rica (we had only been dating a month or so at the time) - a beautiful hummingbird, hand-carved from a Tagua nut:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Skywatch Friday 12/19/08

The skies here in New England lately have been pretty boring (at least during the times can get outside). Mostly grey and cold.
So I am reaching back to one from a warmer time. This was photographed in January 2005 in (if I remember correctly) the San Pedro River valley. And in fact, it is looking in the opposite direction of my second ever Skywatch Post which can be seen here.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Do One Thing for Nature

This video is simply too funny not to share! After watching, go to Do One Thing and encourage others to make this year the one you do one thing (at least!) for nature.

Wordless Wednesday 12/17/08

Eight-spotted Forester

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Six Random Things Meme

Within days of my "life list meme" post, where I mentioned that I had never been 'tagged' by anyone to do one, Kyle from the As the Mind Wanders blog tagged me with this interesting one.
Full rules are below, but the jist is that you tell six random things about yourself. Neat way to learn about your fellow bloggers. I've been giving it some thought for a few days, and I've not really come up with anything terribly interesting, so I decided that I would just start and see what comes out. So, here are Six Random Things about me:

1. Born and raised in Poughkeepsie, NY, in the house that my father was closing on when my mother went into labor to have me. I was a big baby (in the neighborhood of 10lbs), nicknamed "Bruiser" by the nurses in the maternity ward. I'm going back to that house in about a week to celebrate Christmas.
2. I share the same exact name as the brother of a famous female musician, who just wrote a tell-all book about her. Which is the main reason I don't use my full name on my blog, pBase page, or any social networking sites. I simply get inundated with mail that is not for me (and have received some unbelievably rude and crude comments by those that did think I was him)
3. Attended university in Buffalo, NY - before I got into birding (think of all the gulls I missed, and the easy visits to the Lab of O. I could have made!) While going to school, I also worked full time in a pro photo lab, and have been connected with the industry ever since.
4. I'm a pretty adept juggler. Started a lifetime ago in High School (the ceiling in my old bedroom can attest to that!) and once you learn, it's not something you really lose. At this point, as long as I can pick something up and throw it in the air, I can juggle it. (Yes, that includes, torches, axes, small rodents, and once even a chainsaw for a few throws (not at the same time as the rodent)
5. I've played a variety of sports over the years, but never really excelled at any. Most time was spent playing baseball. The first ball that was pitched to me in an organized league when I was 5, I closed my eyes, swung the bat, and hit a home run! 11 years of playing in various leagues after that, I never hit another one. (I have hit a few since playing in our local softball league, but that's more based in putting my weight behind the swing, and that I have no desire to run, so my plan is to hit the ball so far that I don't have to.)
6. Other than birding, I am also very interested in 19th century history and literature (mostly British and American). An armchair victorian, I enjoy authors like Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope, as well as almost any historical items from art (from the impressionists to the likes of Martin Johnson Heade) to exploration (I love the tales of travel into the unknown world at the time), music and drama (Gilbert & Sullivan operas), all aspects of daily life, and especially the murky underworld of the time. I think one reason I wound up in New England is the immense amount of 19th century history that surrounds everything here.

Here are the rules for Six Random Things:

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Post the rules on your blog.
  3. Write six random things about yourself.
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
  5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
And here are the people that I am going to tag:
1. Patrick from the Hawk Owl's Nest (because he said himself that he loves meme's - hopefully he's not done this one yet...)
2. Quintus from the Owl Box Blog
3. N8 from the Drinking Bird
4. Corey from 10,000 Birds
(OK those first four might be obvious as they are my teammate for the upcomming Superbowl of Birding, and this is an interesting way to find out more about the guys that will be stuck in a car together birding for 12 hours!)
And to bring this international...
5. Amila from Gallicissa, a birder in an endemic hotspot
6. Tom from the Bird Snapping blog

I apologize if any of you have already done this already - just link back with the one you did previously. And if you don't have the time or inclination, hey - no big deal! Life's to short to feel like you have to oblige something like this! But I have to say, as difficult as it was for me to try to think of 6 random interesting things about myself (and I'm not saying I succeeded!) it was fun!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Weekend birding wrap-up, Dec 12 &13

I am still exhausted from this past weekend. On Saturday, Pamela and I headed up the NH coast just to see what we could find, and see if birds were getting active after Thursday night's ice storm. This is an area I used to bird regularly when I lived in NH, but now only go every now and again. Some of the usual suspects were seen. Checked through all the Horned Larks and Snow Buntings for a Lapland Longspur but didn't find any this time round.

Along the coast we spotted several Long-tailed Ducks. This is the best shot I have so far. I hope to do better soon. Digi-scoping ducks on the ocean is very difficult the way I do it (camera is hand-held, I don't mount anything), and trying to follow the birds on the rises and swells with the scope and camera is almost impossible. Nevertheless, you can tell that this is a nice drake and hen.
We then headed inland a little bit to see if the Lesser Black-backed Gull that often winters in Newmarket was around. This was a bird that we could regularly count on for our CBC. I think the last time I saw it, it was a very distant 3rd winter plumaged bird. On Saturday it was a beautiful drive-up adult at the edge of the boat ramp. I have never seen a LBBG this well!

It was going to be hard to top that, so we pretty much wrapped up the day there, and decided to head back into town to pick out our Christmas tree, and for me to go to bed early. I knew that Sunday would be a long day because Paul and I were going to meet up between 3:30 and 4:00am to go owling for our local CBC. Chirstmas tree picked-out and on the back porch, we watched a little bit of TV (Tropical Rainforest episode of 'Planet Earth' and went to bed.

Sunday, December 14th 3:25am and I am awake before the alarm. It is 17°f outside, and I am layering on clothes to spend the next few hours outdoors, while thinking I must be crazy. It was a beautiful and clear night with almost a full moon and very bright, and having that first Eastern Screech Owl respond to the tremelo whistle makes it all worthwhile. (Paul is amazing at this - I'm okay, but still get stage-fright in front of others) Several hours and a few more screech owls later I am back home to adjust layers and head back out again. I was only able to participate until about 3pm, as I needed to go home, shower, and head out to work in the evening until 11pm (and that's the reason I am still so tired).
We didn't have any extraordinary species this year, but one of the highlights (for me anyway) were the numbers of Brown Creepers that we found. I wasn't the one keeping the list, but I can say for sure that we saw at least 11 different individuals in 6 hours! Never having had the opportunity before to try and get a photo of these cryptic little birds, I tried firing off a shot or sixty. The best one of the whole group is:

Another bird that I took a few shots of were the Coot that were close to the edge of the water at Horn Pond. I always have had a hard time with these all dark birds with the bright white bills. One of a couple of things happens - body is too dark and no facial definition to speak of (looking eyeless - eww!) or the bill is glowing to the point of losing definition. Today the sun was just right for a few shots. But typically, the moment they are in the right spot - splush, down they go!

And I think with that thought, it time for me to hit the sack and try to recover before next weekend's Christmas Bird Count. (Which will be at the Isles of Shoals - stay tuned!)

Bird Photography Weekly #16

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Like last week's BPW, this was photographed at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL.
I'm dreaming of warmer climates as winter has descended up on us here in New England, (with temperatures in the teens this weekend and an ice storm this past Friday that has knocked out power to thousands of people) and remembering when Pamela and I were in Florida last January. Early one morning this sweet little bird was performing it's morning ablutions in the dew that had collected overnight on the leaves. He would hop to a wet leaf, rub himself again it soaking up the water, then shake it all off, and move on to the next leaf.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Skywatch Friday 12/12/08

Another Skywatch Friday photo from the Parker River NWR on Plum Island in Newbury, MA. This is a sunset shot over the salt pans from two weeks ago, when there was still open water. It has since frozen over and thawed a few times.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My first Meme - top five desired life birds

I've never been tagged for a meme before, but there is currently one going around asking for your top five desired life birds. Boy howdy, that is not an easy one! My first thought was leaning towards ABA area birds. This has always been the 'big' list for me as I have not yet done any international traveling. But if I am to be honest, my top five life birds are probably going to be beyond the ABA border. (And we are starting to travel beyond the US, so I am starting to think more about world birds.)
So I am going to post two lists, and maybe this will start a new meme. Leave me a comment if you pick-up on this meme - I'd love to see what is on other people's lists!

For my life list:
1. Magellanic Woodpecker
2. Red-and-yellow Barbet
3. Lilac-breasted Roller
4. Grey-crowned Crane
5. Superb Fruit Dove

For my ABA list:
1. Gyrfalcon (preferably a nice white one, but I won't be too picky)
2. Tufted Puffin
3. Bluethroat
4. Spectacled Eider
5. Flammulated Owl

And of course, my top dream bird would be Ivory-billed Woodpecker (one can always hope).

And if you really want to know the reason why Magellanic Woodpecker is #1 on my life list, watch my hero in action here from "The Life of Birds."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 12/10/08

Leopard Moth - Hypercompe scribonia

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Notes from the weekend

Usually, by now I have posted a weekend wrap-up of whatever birding I had done over the last three days. This past weekend, we really didn't get much birding in - we did put in a quick stop on Plum Island, but there was little of note other than a really nice female Tundra Peregrine with a somewhat unusual light crown. Unfortunately, she was too distant even to digi-scope so no pics at all from the weekend. We really spent more time on getting some Christmas shopping done (and thankfully finished most of it - just a few more people to shop for) . Even though winter is descending upon us, and there is still great birding to be had in New England, there are other things to do too - holiday things (aside from shopping). Last week Pam and I went to the Boston Ballet's production of the Nutcracker, and over the weekend, we went with Paul and Diana to a local theater group's production of "Greetings!" Both of which help to bring on the Christmas spirit.

The next few weekends I'll certainly get my share of birding in - I'll be participating in our local Christmas Bird Count circle this coming weekend and then the weekend after, I'll be doing the Isles of Shoals CBC, which I used to do when I lived in NH but haven't been able to do for the last few years. Cold, windy, and wet, but still I always enjoyed being on a boat full of birders, counting gulls, looking for Snowy Owls flying around the islands, hoping for some good rarity or vagrant.

The other item I was happy to able to accomplish this weekend was finally finding a good location for my team members to lay their heads while in town in January. What team members, you ask?
Well, some time back I posted about Massachusetts Audubon's Superbowl of Birding, an annual birding competition here in Massachusetts, similar to the World Series of Birding. I thought it would be fun to put together a team of birding bloggers to compete, so I sent out a few discreet e-mails to see what kind of response I would get. The responses were very enthusiastic, and although a few wanted to join but just couldn't make it this year, I had a team together in no time at all. So now, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce to you, a group of great birders and bloggers whom I am sure you all already know and love, the other members of
The Bloggerhead Kingbirds
Patrick from the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey from 10,000 Birds
Quintus from the Owl Box
Nathan from The Drinking Bird and the Nature Blog Network Blog

So, if you are in eastern Massachusetts on January 24th, and you hear a group of guys yelling "Great Audubon's Ghost!" stop over and say "hi" & wish us luck - but don't expect us to stick around for long, we have a contest to win!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bird Photography Weekly #15

Purple Gallinule

Digi-scoped at the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in January of this year. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this place is a birder's and bird-photographer's paradise.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Friday, December 5, 2008

A little Christmas music

I've had the misfortune to work in retail around the holidays, and as anyone who is exposed to holiday music that much while surrounded by crazed shoppers - it has an almost Pavlovian effect. Lucky for me, it's usually just been only a few hours each week, part-time at a local Barnes & Noble, but that's still a lot of Chirstmas music, and I get sick of it pretty quickly. Were I at home with it playing gently in the background, with a warm fire and that whole Dickensian Christmas spirit, I might enjoy it more.
Anyway, I was forwarded this last year, and I loved it. Now that the holidays are upon us, I wanted to share it with you...

Skywatch Friday 12/5/08

Another photo from Plum Island in Newbury, MA. This was the dawn over the sand dunes last Friday morning.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Trinidad & Tobago, here we come!

For the last few weeks, Pamela and I have been working on trying to figure out what our next vacation will be. Ever since I picked up my first birding magazine I have been entranced (obsessed) with the idea of going to the Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge in Trinidad. I regularly go to the website for Caligo Ventures and read about the different tours and the associated costs.
Now that dream is going to become a reality. Yesterday we scheduled our flight and mailed out the registration materials for a "Birding Venture for Independent Travelers." This particular choice of trip from Caligo is a bit shorter than some of the other options, and doesn't involve as many guided tours to different parts of the islands, but it is a good deal less expensive (which is a necessity in the current economy), and I think we'll be able to buy into an additional guided tour or two from the lodge if we feel like we are going to miss anything that we really want to see. Frankly, I think I am going to be overwhelmed as it is. I've already started dreaming about Bearded Bellbirds, Channel-billed Toucan, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamars Squirrel Cuckoo, Scarlet Ibis, Violacious Trogon, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, honeycreepers, hummingbirds, and of course the woodpeckers: Red-rumped, Golden-olive, Chestnut, Linneated, and my most hoped for (and least likly to see I think) Crimson-creasted Woodpecker. (And that list is just off the top of my head - there will be hundreds more bird species).

So now I want to hear from you. Have you been to Trinidad and/or Tobago? Did you write a trip report or blog about it? Any recommendations or suggestions for while we are there? (Other than to not miss the rum-punch in the afternoons!)

Got an bug? Don't know what it is? Do ya' wanna' know?

Then have I found the web site for you!
Check out BugGuide.Net!

What a fantastic site. I ran across this some time back when I was trying to identify a moth larvae that Pam and I found on our last trip to Arizona, bookmarked it, then lost it with the change ovre of computers. Well, yesterday I posted a photo of a beetle for Wordless Wednesday - I figured it was a good choice for the post because I didn't know what it was, so I couldn't say much about it. Unfortunately, that just didn't sit well with me. I hate not being able to put a name to something. (Possibly one reason I got into birding) So when I had some free time, I started combing the net to see what I could find out, and again I ran across this site. The description of the site says that they "are an online community of naturalists who enjoy learning about and sharing our observations of insects, spiders, and other related creatures. We enjoy the opportunity to instill in others the fascination and appreciation that we share for the intricate lives of these oft-maligned creatures." So it's almost like a Wiki for bugs. They do have a tremendous collection of photos and information that I'm sure I will be referencing again and again! At first I couldn't find any photos that matched what I had (which I now know was more an issue of my ignorance & impatience) so I submitted the photo for identification, with as much additional information as I could supply. Within 40 minutes, I had a clear and concise answer from one of the contributing editors of the site.
I have to admist, that much of the time I spent on-line yesterday was exploring the site, and trying to identify photos of spioders, beetles, butterflies, moths, etc that I had taken over the years. What I enjoyed the most was that I'd find a photo of something on the site, then remember - "hey! I have a pic of something that looks like that!" then was able to go back, find my photo and compare for an id.
If you haven't been there yet, definitely check it out - I almost guarantee that you'll be adding it to your "Bookmarks" list!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wordless Wednesday 12/3/08

I'm posting this little critter for Wordless Wednesday, because I have no idea what the heck it is. Photo was taken at the visitor center of the Santa Ana NWR in southern Texas.

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Belated post from Sunday

I've already posted about most of this past (long) weekend's birding. Sunday did not bode very well weather-wise compared to the other nice days that we had over the holiday weekend, so if we were going to go anywhere, we decided ahead of time that we'd be "car-birding". It was cold and damp, and we had intermittent snow that at times hardened into almost hail. After much hemming and hawing about where to go, I chose Mt. Auburn Cemetery. It's a beautiful drive, even if there are no birds around, and I was still smarting from missing the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers the previous weekend. (And the Screech Owl, but I knew it wouldn't be sitting out on the edge of a cavity on a day like this). Within a few minutes I heard a sapsucker call, so I killed the engine and walked around a bit to find the bird. (That link is of the call from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds web site.) It had started to rain a bit, so I decided to listen for the call again from the protection of a tree that still had leaves on it - and the next call came from right above my head! For the next several minutes I was able to watch it checking several sap wells that it had drilled previously and obviously had been enjoying success from.

(Certainly not my best photos, but not bad in low light and rain.
I did have to lighten them a bit)
Notice the shape of the red on the crown and how it changes based on angle and the bird's "alert" level.

We did spend a bit of time looking for a second bird (there was a pair last weekend), but came up empty., then finished up our car birding by sitting quietly in front of a feeder that is near one of the small ponds, that attacts mostly House Sparrows, but also come other common feeder birds like chickadee, titmouse, cardinal, blue jay, and a few red-winged blackbirds.