Saturday, January 31, 2009

Last "live" post for about a week.

At this time tomorrow, Pam and I will be escaping this particularly cold and snowy New England winter for a slightly warmer climate - our destination? Trinidad & Tobago. I have been dreaming about going there for years and years, and that dream is about to come true. We will be spending 4 nights at the famous Asa Wright Nature Centre & Lodge in Trinidad, then 3 nights at the Blue Waters Inn in Tobago. We booked the trip through Caligo Ventures, which is the only way to get there from the US, and we've happy with the way everything has gone so far. (If you want to get a idea of what we will be experiencing, check this out) This will be my first time birding outside of the ABA area and even though I have been studying field guides for weeks, I know that it is going to be more than a bit overwhelming. I fully expect to be able to share lots of photos and reports upon my return, but in the meantime, I have scheduled a few posts to the blog while I am away, and will update from T&T if the opportunity presents itself.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Skywatch Friday 1/30/09

The sun setting on Plum Island last Saturday as our Superbowl of Birding team was finishing p the last few minutes of our 12 hour competition.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Woodpecker Weekly Roundup 1/30/09

Weekly Woodpecker Roundup

Well this week's roundup is going to be short - I've had a pretty busy week at work, and my "web surfing" time (i.e. lunch breaks) have been taken up with blogging about the past weekend, as well as researching birding on Trinidad and Tobago where I will be heading next week.

That is not to say that there weren't any woodpecker related blog posts out there that crossed my radar.

Tom over at Mon@archs Nature Blog had a great post on Sunday about what woodpeckers eat.
(NOTE: at the time of publishing this post, I was having difficulty getting this page to load, but I am keeping the link here in hopes of the problem being fixed soon - it really is a great post, so if it doesn't work, please try checking it again later!)

Connie at Birds O' The Morning lives in the area of the US where both yellow-shafted and red-shafted forms of Northern Flicker occur, and posted about the intergrades that she sees (and photographs with her Wingscpes BirdCam) in her yard and how she identifies them.

Eva at The Flying Mullet watched Red-bellied Woodpeckers excavate a nest cavity, and has now seen Red-bellied babies.

Kelly of Red and the Peanut posted some superb photos of a Red-bellied Woodpecker defending it's favorite from a starling.

Sharon the Birdchick encountered 4 endangered species in one day while at the SpaceCoast Birding Festival - one of which was a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. She posted a pic of the bird as well as a nifty pic of a cross section of a cavity (from a tree that came down in a storm that is used for display now)

And Kyle from As the Mind Wanders made it in just under the wire this morning to get his third mention in a row on the WWR (not that he's trying mind you, but I still enjoy those posts) with a Red-bellied Woodpecker that he found trying different materials for drumming resonance.

That's it for this week. Next week I'll be away, but plan to have a post of cool woodpecker links that you can check out while I am gone.

And, as always, if you have some cool info or a post about woodpeckers, drop me a line - I'd love to know about it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bloggerhead Kingbirds weekend - part 3 Post-game

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds

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After an intense 12 hour day of competitive birding, (not to mention several hours of driving/flying the day before) you'd think that most people would look forward to sleeping in on a Sunday. Well not the Bloggerhead Kingbirds! Nope, now way, uh-uh! After the reception Saturday night we headed to a restaurant to order a few beers to celebrate the day, and figure out what we wanted to do on Sunday. There were a few birds we missed during the competition, and towards the latter part of the day, we really didn't have time to stop and take photos of anything, so the plan was to remedy both those situations.
Sunday morning at 6:30 found us together again and heading north to Plum Island in search of Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike and Snowy Owl. Let me tell you folks, it was cold. I mean really cold. Really bitterly cold. The hair on my face was cracking within moments of stepping out of the car. But we had our targets, and within a few minutes of being on the refuge, a potential Snowy Owl was spotted far out on the marsh. The cold was forgotten as we grabbed scopes and confirmed the id. Unfortunately, distance and shimmer prevented any photography of this individual, on this day. There was enough detail visible for me to know that it was he same immature bird that I has seen just a few days earlier a bit closer:
(We did not see the bird this well on Sunday)
We continued to the south end of the island and back without noting another, or a shrike or, the single Rough-legged Hawk that has been seen occasionally this winter. We left the island and headed through Newburyport, stopping briefly at the famous seawall where the Ross's Gull was found so many years ago. We tried briefly to find one today, but instead had to be contented with an adult Bald Eagle that flew past and landed on the distant ice.
We then continued on towards Salisbury, and to the state reservation and campground where the White-winged Crossbill show has been fantastic this year, and where the guys wanted to spend a little bit of time getting some photos. (And I can't blame them - the trees the birds visit are quite low and the birds are often eye-level with great light for photography.) Quintus was asking about the frequency of Long-eared Owls here (and I was mentioning that they are occasionally seen, but the one seen this year flushed and was not found again) when we came upon two photographer with their set-up low to the ground and point up into a tree. It was quickly clear that they were not photographing crossbills - there was not activity near the top of the tree, and the angle simply wasn't right. Within a few moments, we were all getting unobstructed looks at a beautiful Long-eared Owl that was roosting comfortably in one of the pines. This one had chosen his spot very well - a very dense coverage at eye level, protecting him from the wind and barely visible unless looking up into the tree.

I was glad to see that both the photographers, my team, and others that showed up, all seemed pretty respectful of the bird - keeping their distance, getting their looks photos and (eventually for some)moving on. As far as I know the bird remained there the rest of the day, which is rarely the case when one is found in the pines of the campground - often the reports are that one was seen, and within an hour it flew for deeper cover elsewhere. We then moved on to watch and photograph the crossbills - every second of which was worth it.
The birds were pretty cooperative - I know I got some more good photos, Nate has already posted a few, and Corey was giggling like a little girl when he got back into the car and reviewing his pics. (If you've met Corey, you understand was a disturbing mental picture that can be.) And Quintus? Well, he was so happy he decided to dive into the snow - those crazy South Africans.
He does look happy though, doesn't he?

Next we headed the feeders where the Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissel refused to show themselves for us during the competition. No-show on the blackbird but the Dickcissel quickly showed himself, teasing us with how easy he was to spot when he was around - even among the dozens to hundreds of House Sparrows.
Seeing how well we were doing for time, we decided that we'd head back to Gloucester to try one more pass at finding King Eider and Black-headed Gull, but we had to leave those on the table for this time around. It's ok, just another reason for everybody to come back - we'll get them next year. We headed back to the hotel, returned the rental, and packed up the cars. It wasn't time to say good-bye yet though. The was one big bird we still had to try for. The Ivory Gull in Plymouth had been seen reliably for over a week now, and feeling confident that we would see it, we caravaned down to Plymouth arriving at about 1:30 - precisely two hours after the gull was last seen flying away. We gave it some time, scanned every bird within sight, but finally had to throw in the towel on this bird too. We retired to the restaurant next to where the gull had been seen (just in case it came back, we got window seats so we could bolt outside if needed) to warm up with bowls of some of the thickest clam chowder I've ever had, and the last beer we'd share on the trip. We talked future trips we have coming up, ones we've had in the past, and toasted our luck (both good and bad) and what fun we'd had all weekend.
I cannot say how glad I was that these guys were able to make it up there this weekend. Win or lose, just competing with these guys was great. But for me even just hanging out, having a beer, joking, laughing, chatting, etc with these kindred souls made this an incredible memorable weekend, and I look forward to when we can do it again. Each and every one is invited back again any time they want - and I sincerely look forward to the day that they accept that invitation.

Once again, I encourage you to visit the blogs of the other guys. They've all been posting their takes on the weekend with their own style of writing and sense of humor, and really together helps to paint a much more three-dimensional picture of the weekend!
Patrick at the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey at 10,000 Birds
Quintus at the Owl Box Blog
Nathan at The Drinking Bird

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bloggerhead Kingbirds weekend - part 2 Competition Day

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds

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The competition lasts 12 hours from 5am to 5pm and covers all of Essex country in Massachusetts and Rockingham County in New Hampshire. It doesn't start getting light until after 6-something this time of the year so the early hours are really dedicated mostly to finding owls.
I picked up the team at the hotel at 4:20am on Saturday and we headed out to our first location - a pond where a group of waterfowl roost and keep a bit of open ice near to the roadway. At 5 sharp we started counting - and picked up our first birds of the competition in the dark - Mallards, Black Ducks, Hoodies, Canada Geese, and Coot (the real reason I wanted to start here). After that we worked our way up towards Gloucester, stopping in a few locations that had potential for for owls. Unfortunately, the winds were against us, and I was knew that we were going to have quite a hard time of it. Nathan does excellent Eastern Screech and Barred Owl calls. In no time we added Eastern Screech, and at my friend Denise's house we picked up Great Horned Owl. But no amount of hooting from any of us could convince a Barred to reply to us. (Even Corey's basso-profundo Barred Owl that could be heard miles away wasn't effective - I thought the sound waves alone would knock one out of a tree for us.) As dawn began to lighten the sky, we started picking up some of the feeder birds that we'd need for the day, and waited patiently for a Pileated Woodpecker, which decided that it was going to sleep in that day (I understand that he didn't emerge from his cavity until at least a half hour later than usual on this particular Saturday). From there, we were off and running at breakneck speeds, and the day started to blur - the harbor, fish pier, jetty, and little nooks and crannies in Gloucester for gulls, other waterfowl, and seabirds. No amount of searching would turn up Black-headed or Ivory Gulls though. Finding some species and missing others is par for the course on a day like this, where you really cannot devote too much time to any one location. Of course, one team member spotting an interesting bird will put the brakes on - you need to get a majority of the team to id the bird to count it. In this way we picked up Dovekie in Brace Cove - a 5 point bird that garnered an extra 3 points for being the first team to call one in and a lifer for many on the team (and the only lifer for Patrick on the trip). At Bass rocks, we searched in vain for the King Eider, but were able to lay eyes upon a pair of Black Guillemot - the only lifer for Corey (and I suspect, one of the main reasons he came along). I am not even going to try to recount the life birds for Nathan and Quintus - neither of these two excellent birders had any birding experience in this area, and they were racking them up . (I'm pretty sure that by the end of the weekend, they each had over ten lifers.)
All throughout the competition we were joking, laughing, and having a rollicking good time - and even the big 'misses' didn't slow us down much. We continued on through Rockport and found an Eastern Towhee and Double-crested Cormorant (both 4 pointers!), and stopped at a suet feeder where Yellow-bellied Sapsucker comes regularly (missed it by a few minutes) and then stopped at a feeder where there was a potential for a reported Lincoln's Sparrow, but couldn't turn one up. We then headed off towards Salisbury where there were several 'good' birds to be had. We made a few detours and quick stops, as well as skipping others - time is critical, and we needed to be able to devote time in Salisbury, as well as Plum Island. In Salisbury, we stopped at a feeder that had been hosting a very lost Yellow-headed Blackbird for a few weeks, and where somebody had a Dickcissel earlier in the day. We missed on both, but still a worthwhile stop as we picked up Redpolls and Pine Siskin (a bird that only a few of us saw earlier, but couldn't count) at another feeder there. At the state reservation up the road, we added more birds to our growing list, including the very cooperative White-winged Crossbills and Lapland Lonspurs that have spent much of this winter there. Unfortunately it was getting late, and we couldn't stop to take photos at this point - a point I make simply because we are a team of bird bloggers, and there were a few cameras floating around to try and document the day. But, by the time we hit PI the sun was setting and glaring off the snow that covered the marsh, making it virtually impossible to spot any Snowy Owls that might be out there. Other target birds on the refuge also eluded us as the sun was setting on both the day and the competition - Rough-winged Hawk, Northern Shrike, Horned Lark, Northern Harrier. A small consolation was a fly-by Northern Pintail, a far from common bird this time of the year. And right to the last moment, we kept our eye's peeled for Short-eared Owl, which usually shows up right about 5pm, but alas not for us today.
You will note that throughout my (rather disjointed) description of the day, I noted a lot more of our 'misses' than our successes. On a day like this, when every species counts, I think it's natural to concentrate on the birds that you missed rather than all the ones you did see. As we were heading to the reception and accounting, we reviewed our checklist, and weren't feeling as optimistic as we had when we started the day. "How could we miss this bird?" "Too bad we couldn't get everybody on that bird" etc. The reception was nice, with food provided and a large number of door prizes (which three of our team members took).

But when all was said and done, we tallied up a very respectable list of sightings: 72 species for 136 points, which placed us in 4th place for species and 6th place for points. We managed to get most of the 1, 2, and 3 point birds, as well as a few higher point ones as well. With just a little bit of luck and a few more birds, we could've taken it all - but it's easy to say that in retrospect. If we had stayed 10 minutes longer in one spot and picked up one bird, who knows if we might have missed two others? Next year we will be back, with the same talent, a bit more experience, and the confidence that we can take it all.

Take a good look all you other SOB teams - next year this is the team to beat:
Nathan, Patrick, Corey, Quintus, Christopher

Honestly, so much occurred throughout the day, that I am having a hard time recalling it all now. I really recommend that you check out the blogs of the other Bloggerhead Kingbirds o get other takes on the day and see some photos!
Patrick at the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey at 10,000 Birds
Quintus at the Owl Box Blog
Nathan at The Drinking Bird

For those that are interested, here is the list of birds that we did record, and their point values:
Canada Goose (1)
Mute Swan (1)
Gadwall (2)
American Black Duck (1)
Mallard (1)
Northern Pintail (3)
Greater Scaup (2)
Common Eider (1)
Harlequin Duck (2)
Surf Scoter (1)
White-winged Scoter (1)
Black Scoter (2)
Long-tailed Duck (1)
Bufflehead (1)
Common Goldeneye (1)
Hooded Merganser (2)
Red-breasted Merganser (1)
Wild Turkey (3)
Red-throated Loon (2)
Common Loon (1)
Horned Grebe (1)
Red-necked Grebe (2)
Double-crested Cormorant (4)
Great Cormorant (1)
Sharp-shinned Hark (3)
Cooper's Hawk (3)
Red-tailed Hawk (3)
Peregrine Falcon (3)
American Coot (4)
Purple Sandpiper (2)
Ring-billed Gull (1)
Herring Gull (1)
Iceland Gull (2)
Glaucous Gull (3)
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Dovekie (5+3)
Black Guillemot (2)
Rock Pigeon (1)
Mourning Dove (1)
Eastern Screech Owl (2)
Great Horned Owl (3)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (3)
Downy Woodpecker (1)
Hairy Woodpecker (2)
Blue Jay (1)
American Crow (1)
Black-capped Chickadee (1)
Tufted Titmouse (1)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (2)
White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
Brown Creeper (3)
Caroline Wren (2)
American Robin (1)
Northern Mockingbird (1)
European Starling (1)
Cedar Waxwing (2)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (3)
Eastern Towhee (4)
American Tree Sparrow (1)
Song Sparrow (1)
White-throated Sparrow (1)
Dark-eyed Junco (1)
Lapland Longspur (3)
Snow Bunting (3)
Northern Cardinal (1)
Brown-headed Cowbird (3)
House Finch (1)
White-winged Crossbill (4)
Common Redpoll (3)
Pine Siskin (3)
American Goldfinch (1)
House Sparrow (1)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bloggerhead Kingbirds weekend - part 1

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds

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This will likely be the first of a few posts about this past weekend when Patrick, Corey, Quintus, and Nate, traveled up here to cold eastern MA to meet a few fellow bloggers, make new friends, bird like crazy, and compete in the 6th annual Superbowl of Birding. (oh, and freeze their you-know-whats off!)

For me, the weekend started last Thursday, when I took the day off from work to do a full 'dry run' of our route. I was out of the house at 4:30am to be on location for the 5am start time, and spent the following 12 hours following the route I had been considering for our team. It was a long day of birding by myself in the cold - forcing myslef to stay out when I normally would have run for cover. I did ok for the day, but knew that with additional four pairs of sharp eyes of my team, and some adjustments to the plan, we would be a force to be reckoned with.

Friday was when the real fun began. Patrick was the driver for the first leg of the trip. Quintus joined Patrick in their home state of New Jersey bright and early, and soon after had picked up Corey, and they all continued north, stopping in Providence, RI to pick up Nate who flew up here to compete with us. These guys were dedicated - which is exactly the type of metal you need if you're planning on competing for 12 hours in bitter cold and wind. They arrived in town at about 1:30pm, and after introducing ourselves, checking into the hotel suite we booked, and picking up the rental car, we were cruising up Route 93 to Center Harbor in New Hampshire (about a 2 hour drive) so that we could lay our eyes on the first "good" bird of the trip - a Northern Hawk Owl that has been reliably seen there. (Just in case you missed that, let me just review - these guys drove and flew for hours to get here, and within minutes of arriving, were ready and even anxious, to jump back into a car and drive another few hours to go birding) I think Quintus said it best - we all "got along like a house on fire" and were chatting, laughing, and talking birds the entire way. When we finally pulled up to the Hawk Owl spot, the bird was quickly spotted in the distance (and honestly, I can't remember which of these guys spotted it first).
See that little dot at the top of the tree in the center? Yep, that's him. A little further away than the first time I saw him, but really it didn't matter. We had plenty of optics at our disposal. We jumped out of the van like a crack swat team and in no time at all, we were enjoying views like:

I know it's not in focus, but I really like that shot of him taking off. While we watched, he did a couple of sorties out across the field, but never had a successful hunt while we watched, and one time he even flew within about 25 feet of us as he changed lookout spots for a few minutes. As all this was happening, Quintus was mo-blogging and even posted a phone-scoped pic of the owl to his blog, while Nate Twittered about it.

I think the guys were all pretty happy with the looks we got. What do you think?
Here we have (l. to r.) Quintus, Corey, Nathan, and Patrick. (oh yeah, and the owl above them)

We did walk around a bit to see if we could turn up any other boreal species that might be around, but it was getting a bit late, and things were otherwise pretty quiet. Along the way, we chatted with a few very nice ladies who were very interested in seeing the owl and about the competition that we were about to participate in. Finally, we packed it in, and started heading back to the hotel so that everyone could get some much required rest before tomorow's big day (but not before stopping for some pizza and beer first - we had to celebrate the Hawk Owl somehow!)

Coming up next... competition day! Stay tuned!

In the meantime, be sure to check out the blogs of the rest of the Bloggerhead Kingbirds:
Patrick at the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey at 10,000 Birds
Quintus at the Owl Box Blog
Nathan at The Drinking Bird

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #22

White-winged Crossbill - Loxia leucoptera

This year has been a good irruption year for some of the northern 'winter finches'. Throughout the state there have been reports of Pine Siskins coming to feeders, as well as a few Common Redpolls. There have also been a lot of reports of White-winged Crossbills. I (any many others) been taking pictures of these cone specialists in the low scrubby trees in the campground area of Salisbury State Reserve, where they remain low and esy to see and photograph. This past weekend, this was one of the great places I wanted to bring my friends and teammates from the Superbowl of Birding. I know that they have got some spectacular shots also.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bloggerhead Kingbirds at the Superbowl of Birding

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds

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Well folks, it is all over and done. Full reports will be following on this, and all my teammates blogs soon.

But for now, I can tell you that out of 21 teams that competed this year, we placed 4th for number of species (we got 72) and 6th for point (we got 136). Not too shabby, eh?
(And we didn't lose anybody or any body parts to the cold - trust me, there were a few times when that was a possibility!)

Most importantly, and I think I can speak for the whole team - we had a blast!

As I said, over the next several days there will be more to follow - photos, strategies, blow-by-blow analysis, etc, so stay tuned. And don't forget to check out the various rantings writing from my teammates:
Patrick from the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey from 10,000 Birds
Quintus from the Owl Box Blog
Nathan from The Drinking Bird

Friday, January 23, 2009

Woodpecker Weekly Roundup 1/23/09

Weekly Woodpecker Roundup

Welcome to my my weekly woodpecker roundup, where I try to give a summary of woodpecker related blog posts, news, etc that I have encountered during my meandering through the internet in the past week. This is only the second week where I am doing this, so the legs a still a bit shaky, and we'll see how long I am able to keep it up.

Soon after posting last week's roundup, Kyle over at As the Mind Wanders posted about his first encounter with a Pileated Woodpecker, (and got a few pics to document it) an experience that I am sure many who have had will remember, and those who haven't yet eagerly look forward to. They are simply beautiful works of nature in both function and form.

Speaking of Pileated Woodpeckers, Chris Thomas posted a quick video of a Pileated, which includes both the distinctive call as well as drumming on the Aspetuck Land Trust Blog.

At the BirdingGirl blog, this 'novice' birdwatcher (a self-proclaimed novice who is attacking id issues with the right attitude and tools, as well as participating in citizen science projects like Feederwatch) reviews the differences between Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers.

The guys over at 10000 Birds had a couple woodpecker related posts this week:
First, Corey warmed up a cold day with some spectaular close-up photos of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Prospect Park.
Meanwhile, Mike provided a gripping tale of Stalking the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, with N8 of the Drinking Bird and the Nature Blog Network. I have been lucky enough to encounter this endangered bird in the past - to find out how Mike and N8 did, you'll have to read their blogs.

The Bokerns of WI had a new bird show up at their feeders last week- a Red-bellied Woodpecker - and got some nice pics of it to post for "Bird Photography Weekly" in their blog "Our Neck of the Woods..."

Abraham Lincoln (no, not the one that President Obama and the media have been talking about almost non-stop, but a relation) of Ohio has also posted some absolutely stunning photos of Red-bellied Woodpeckers to his Birds blog.

Tom over at Monarch's Nature Blog posted a beautiful pic of a Downy Woodpecker on Sumac for his Wordless Wednesday post.

The author of A Very Long Hallway posted a very nice pic of a red-shafted Flicker, and talks about the woodpeckers they usually see in their neck of the woods in Michigan.

In Ivorybill news, Cyberthrush of the IVORY-BILLS LiVE!! blog provided links to an open-access paper published by the online journal Avian Conservation and Ecology which discusses the number of pairs of large-bodied woodpeckers that needed to exist in the early part of the 20th century in order for there to be any around now. This is a mathematical model, and not being proposed as proof of existence, but it is an interesting read (if you like these thing) and helps to add to the knowledge pool of info about IBWOs. A nice summary of the paper was posted at ScientificBlogging.

Over at the Beginning to Bird blog, dguzmanjust finished reading Jerome A. Jackson's In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, and shares her thoughts on the book.

Jim Williams of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported in his Wingnut column on Prof Geoff Hill and his fellow researchers from the University of Georgia returning to the Choctawhatchee River Basin in the Florida panhandle to continue their work there on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker for their fourth season. Their team has had some very convincing sightings as well as several sound recordings in past seasons.

Bob, of Birds and Nature in the Forest of Dean blog, posted a nicely composed pic of a Green Woodpecker. (Be sure to click the photo to enlarge it)

As always, for great photos and info on woodpeckers in Europe, check out Gerard Gorman's Woodpeckers of Europe blog. This past week he has posted a pic and some news on the status of Great Spotted Woodpeckers in Ireland. And just today he posted some info from an earlier newspaper article about scientists studying woodpeckrs to build a better hammer.

Sharon from A New England Life wrote me to let me know that she has been seeing two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers at her feeders for a little while now and has posted some beautiful photos of both.

Vrajesh let me know about an Indian woodpecker video that he posted to his My Handicam blog.
I don't know much about the woodpeckers in India, but I think this might be one of the Flameblack Woodpeckers? Can anybody help confirm the id?

Did I miss you or somebody that you know? Leave me a comment or e-mail and let me know!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Superbowl of Birding - pre-game thoughts

The Bloggerhead Kingbirds

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With the rest of the team comming to town tomorrow, I decided to spend the day doing a "dry run" of the route that I was thinking of taking on Saturday's competition. I'm glad I did, because it looks like we're simply not going to have enough time to go to all the places I planned on - and some of the places we are going, we can't spend too much time. So, I know your going to ask how I did now, right? Well, I didn't do as well as I had hoped, but not badly. I identified 61 species that were worth a total of 100 points. With an additional 4 sets of eyes, and a refined plan, we're certainly going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Now I need to sit down with my notes, the latest local reports, and revise the plan.

Thanks to all for the support and well wishes. We're looking forward to the competiton and blogging all about it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Superbowl of Birding

We're almost there. In just a few more days (Saturday, Jan 24th) we will be competing in Mass Audubon's annual Superbowl of Birding. I've mentioned it a few times, and a few of you readers may have seen posts about it on my teammates blogs as well. The name of our team is the 'Bloggerhead Kingbirds' as we are a team composed solely of bird bloggers. Allow me once again to introduce this team of hardy birders that will be braving New England winter weather to see as many species, and accumulate the greatest point total in a twelve hour period:

Patrick from the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey from 10,000 Birds
Quintus from the Owl Box Blog
Nathan from The Drinking Bird
and of course, your's truly.

And at this time, I would also like to unveil the brand spankin' new Bloggerhead Kingbirds team logo, generously designed by the good folks over at
The Bloggerhead Kingbirds
Come on, how cool is that?!? Amy & Arthur did a great job with this, and I'm really happy with the way it came out. When you're done reading this post, go over to their site and show them some love. Buy a shirt, hat, something with your favorite bird on it.

Some neat facts about this coming weekend's competiton.
- the Bloggerhead Kingbirds will be representing 4 different states; NJ, NY,NC and MA
(I bet we're going to be one of the most geographically diverse teams competing)
- Quintus will be mo-blogging the event to the Owl Box Blog (when we can)
- Nate will be posting updates to twitter (when we can). You can follow it at:
(I say 'when we can' because this is a competition, and we are serious about winning this thing!)
- some of the big 'sexy' target birds for the team include: King Eider, Black-headed Gull, Ivory Gull, Snowy Owl, & White-winged Crossbills. (And we have every intention of heading north for the cooperative Northern Hawk Owl,but that's not part of the competition)

Have any questions about the competition? Want to just show support for us? Please leave us a comment!

Second Ivory Gull spotted in Massachusetts

As if one adult Ivory Gull in Massachusetts wasn't enough, it appears that a second bird has been spotted in the state! Barry Burden spotted the second adult bird in Plymouth Harbor, around noon on Tuesday the 20th. The bird continued to be seen throughout the rest of the day, of times feasting on a pigeon carcass.
For photos of the second bird:
Ian Davies addded photos of the Plymouth Harbor Ivory Gull to his gallery of shot from Gloucester here.
Mark Faherty posted his photos of the Plymouth Garbor beauty here.
And Rick Bowes put his photos of the same here.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Need a caption

After this, I promise I won't post any more photos of this owl (at least not for the rest of the week).
Sharon (the Birdchick) suggested that this particular image deserved a caption contest. I know you all have a great sense of humor - so I'd love to hear what kind of caption you'd put to this:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #21

Northern Hawk Owl - Surnia ulula

In light of this past weekend's birding adventure (see below), I am going to post an additional pic of the Northern Hawk Owl in Center Harbor, NH that is giving birders wonderful looks and photos.

To see more bird photos, check out:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ivory Gull in Gloucester, MA

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to learn of this beautiful bird in time to see it before sunset, thanks to the phone calls of few good friends, and the amazing speed with which the information was disseminated among the birding community. I should mention that the bird was found by Jeremiah Trimble late Saturday morning - and he was still there when we arrived at about 4pm! My hope now is that the bird sticks around for a while, so that other will be able to have the same opportunity.

In the meantime, several birders who have already gone to see the bird have already posted on-line albums of the photos they have taken. In addition to my own poor photos, some nice shots can be seen at the following:

Rick Heil gets some amazing photos using only his scope and the camera on his phone. Whenever he posts that he got some 'phonescoped' photos of a bird, I know that we can expect some great documentary shots. He was one of the earlier birders on the scene, and he posted some of his pics here.

Phil Brown is another birder who, whenever he posts photos, I know that I am in for a treat - and today certainly was no different. Check out his pics here.

When I arrived, my buddy Len Medlock was there firing away, and filling up his memory card fast. (I overheard him comment that his entire memory card was filled with pics of Northern Hawk Owl and Ivory Gull - How often can anyone say that?!?) From the day he got that camera he's been posting fantastic shots. His pics from the Ivory Gull are here.

Tom Murray posts some amazing photos, no matter where he is. And Saturday he was another birder/photographer that visited both the
Nothern Hawk Owl and the Ivory Gull. (His Trinidad and Tobago pictures had me drooling long before we made our plans to go, and I still visit that gallery regularly. If you've not visited his other galleries yet, they are certainly worth exploring.)

OK, tired of reading my commentary? Just want more photos? Fine. (I can't blame you either)
Here are more great photos that have been posted in the first 24 hours since the bird was spotted:
Andrew Birch posted a few of his shots here.
William Freed posted his here.
Ian Davies posted his pics here. (Ian went back on Sunday and added even more pics to this gallery!)

UPDATE #1 Matt Garvey braved today's snowstorm and got video of the Ivory Gull, which he posted online here.
Jeremiah Trimble, who first found the bird, has posted an amazing collection of his pics here.
Steve Mirick posted a nice digiscoped pic of the bird from Sunday here.

Mary Kelleher posted some additional videos on YouTube, here and here.
Tom Pirro happened to be in the neighborhood when he learned of the gull and blogged about it here.
Jeff Davis who travelled from Pennsylvania for the gull posted his pics here.
Erik Neilson posted a five photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.
Luke Seitz posted his photos here.
Dan Berard posted his pics here & here.
Dennis Skillman posted a pic here.
Jason Lambert has posted his pics here.
Lanny McDowell blogged and posted photos here.

There were a few others there with cameras while I was there and expect to update this page when they post their photos, so check back!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Life Bird #605 - Ivory Gull

Wow, what a day. I have been waiting for today all week, as a Northern Hawk Owl had been seen almost daily in Center Harbor, NH which is about 2 hours north of Boston. Pam and I had a meeting at 10am, but had planned to pick up Paul & Diana after and head up to see the bird. Diana had seen Northern Hawk Owl before in Finland, and I did a few years ago in Montreal, but I simply couldn't say no to another, especially one that (from the reports) was very accommodating - not to mention it was a life bird for both Pamela and Paul. As we were approaching the town where the owl was, we got a call from our friend Linda that an Ivory Gull had been spotted at Eastern Point in Gloucester. At this point, we were not going to skip the owl (would you?) and continued on our way. Soon we were parked in the line of cars of birders and photographers. The owl was every bit as accommodating as the reports as noted.
At first the owl was perched on a telephone wire where I go the above pic, but soon flew to another favorite perch, where it remained the rest of the time we stayed.

More pics here.

Even at temperatures of about 8°f I would've stayed for longer than 45 minutes if it weren't for the temptation of an Ivory Gull that was only about 2 hours away (and only 40 minutes from home). So after a quick pit-stop to fill up the tank, we were off to Gloucester. At just about 4pm, under skies that were getting greyer with each passing moment, we arrived at Eastern Point. We stepped out of the car, and one of the most beautiful gulls I have seen was standing on the ice about 40 ft. away from us.

This is a bird I've wanted to see for some time, but didn't really expect that I would. I almost drove out to Niagara Falls last year when one was seen for about a week there. Today's bird was great - first spending time on the ice, then when it did take off, it didn't go far but flew a regular pattern relatively closely, thrilling all who were there.

More pics here.

Not only a spectacular bird, but a lifer for all of us and ABA bird #605 for me.

Now I just hope they all stick around through next weekend when Partick, Corey, Quintus, and Nate are here for the Superbowl of Birding!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Weekly Woodpecker Roundup - 1/16/09

Weekly Woodpecker Roundup

This is an idea that I have been toying with for a little while now. When I am on-line, (and being the self-professed woodpecker fanatic that I am) anything about woodpeckers tends to jump off the screen at me. And with all the wonderful birding blogs that are out there, I usually come across a few woodpecker related posts each week. I have no desire to become a repository of all woodpecker-related information (well, actually I wouldn't mind that, but I simply do not have that kind of time on my hands) but since a good number of hits to my blog come from woodpecker related searches, I thought that it would be nice to highlight posts that I find each week from my fellow bloggers - everything from a photo that somebody may have taken from outside their kitchen window, to speculation about a witnessed behavior, to an in-depth ornithological study - it's all fair game.

Also - if at any time you have posted something to your blog about woodpeckers, maybe you'll think of me and drop me a line to let me know. I always love reading these posts!

So here are the posts from the last week or so that showed up on my radar for the premier edition of my Weekly Woodpecker Roundup:

Kyle of As the Mind Wanders witnessed a Downy Woodpecker working on a tree near to work and got some pictures of him doing his thing.

Rambling Woods assembled an informative and very reader-friendly post, linking some info from Cornell, about woodpecker damage to homes and suggestions on what you can do to try to prevent it.

From the comments of the above post, I found Betsy's post on her Joyful Reflections blog about their experiences with woodpeckers at their new home, along with some great pics of their backyard woodpeckers (5 species so far - how lucky!)

Amy over at the Magnificent Frigatebird Blog posted a few great videos of Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers that were taken with her Wingscapes Birdcam. (Boy, do I want one of those!)

A little bit more than a week ago (but I'm allowing myself a little leeway this first post) James Smith of Pioneer Birding posted a few digi-binned photos of a immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that was visiting his feeders in Amherst, MA.

John Riutta, aka the Born Again Bird Watcher, got a stellar photo of a Red-shafted Northern Flicker while snowbound during the Christmas Snowstorms in Oregon.

Before heading off to warmer climes, Sharon posted a quick shot of an acrobatic Downy Woodpecker.

I am always interested in any news about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the continued searches - positive or negative. And Cyberthrush is right on top of it with his Ivory-Bills LiVE! blog which always has pertinent news. Whether relating potential sighting reports, news from Cornell and other search teams or individuals, political news, notes on published papers, or well thought-out commentaries, I always enjoy stopping by.

Moving to the international front, Tom of Bird Snapping got some great shots (found in the middle of the post) while out on a rather icy day in Bristol.

Nick in Saskatchewan posted a beautiful head-shot of a Pileated Woodpecker on his blog.

And finally, this week I wanted to highlight another blog that I've been visiting more than occasionally. Gerard Gorman's Woodpeckers of Europe blog is dedicated to the ten species of woodpeckers that breed in Europe, and features some great information and photos of the Picidae family. I expect you will be seeing this blog featured here regularly, but in the meantime, spend a little time going through the archives. If you like woodpeckers at all, you won't be disappointed!
Incidentally, Gerard also literally wrote the book on the Woodpeckers of Europe. I've not been able to get my hands on a copy yet, but if some generous benefactor out there was feeling particularly philanthropic towards a poor blogger, this would be a much appreciated addition to my library. (Cue the violin music)

Did I miss you or somebody that you know? Leave me a comment or e-mail and let me know!

Skywatch Friday 1/16/09

These photos were taken from our balcony while on our honeymoon, cruising Alaska's inside passage. The skies were consistently cloudy and grey dramatic like this.

For more, go to SkyWatch Friday

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cleansing Snow Bunting

I am now going to take a page from Sharon the Birdchick's blog book. (Actually, it's almost blatant plagiarism, but if you are going to take you blogging clue's from anybody, might as well go from one of the best, right?)

After yesterday's grizzly post, I feel the need to provide a 'cleansing' bird:

What could be more cleansing than a nice 'toasted marshmallow' colored Snow Bunting?
Breathe in the bunting... breathe out the bunting.

Feel better?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Birding C.S.I.

OK, this post is going to be a little bit gruesome, but it's something I came across last year and I find it fascinating.
I took the following photo last January, and have gone back-and-forth about whether I wanted to post it to my blog or not, but since I keep going back to it myself, I thought that others might find it interesting too. (For those of you that are a little more squeamish I am going to place the photo further down on the page so that you can skip it if you want.)

OK, so if you made it this far, you are either not squeamish, or I've piqued your interest.
As I said, I came across this scene last year, and there are several interesting aspects of it.
What we have here is a road-killed Cooper's Hawk with a pigeon firmly clenched in it left foot.

So now the Bird CSI part kicks in for me - how the heck did this happen?
One thing that I found a bit odd, was the location where this was found - which was on the snowbank at the end of one of the parking lots on the Parker River NWR (Plum Island). So the 'event' didn't happen there. Somebody must have 'tagged' these birds on the highway (I assume that it was at a higher speed and not at the 20mph refuge speed limit based on the amount of damage) then pried them out of their grill when they parked on the refuge.
I have two theories on what happened:
The first is: I wonder if the Coop had managed to grab the pigeon, but hadn't made the kill yet, and in the pigeon's struggle to escape got into traffic where the both of them met their gruesome end.
The other theory I have is that the Coop had already made the kill and had started dining (the pigeon's body cavity is opened, but the coop's isn't) and had tried flying off with the kill, but the weight was too much and it wasn't able to get out of the way of an oncoming car or truck.
In either case, the impact had to be pretty hard to 'blow out' the eye sockets like that.

Do you have any theories?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Weekend birding wrap-up, Jan 10-11th

It's that time of the week again, where I can try to take a few minutes and re-cap what birding I was able to get in over the previous weekend. (Weekday birding this time of the year is restricted to pretty much what I can see out of my building's windows, which isn't much more than the most basic feeder birds - Downy Woodpeckers, Juncos, Goldfinches and Chickadees.)

This weekend started out on Friday evening with a meeting of the Essex County Ornithological Club. It was members night, where people show off their photos and videos, as well as do book reviews, read poetry and sometimes even sing. It was a pleasant night, and I wish I could make these meetings a bit more often.

Saturday morning was once again very very cold, but cold temps do not stop hearty northeastern coastal birders (as long as their are Dunkin' Donuts every couple miles and a warm car to run back to and return feeling to your extremities!) Paul picked us up around 7am, and we headed north to Gloucester, where we joined a Brookline Bird Club field trip led by our friend Linda Ferraresso.
This time of the year, there are plenty of coastal specialities that we go out for, including a variety of gulls, sea ducks, and alcids, and always have our eyes out for that rare bird that might pop-up. Cape Anne (of which Gloucester and Rockport are a part of) is situated such that it provides relatively close looks from land at passing sea birds, but also seems to catch some nice vagrants. Our group missed the King Eider this time around, although it was seen by others that day (sometimes it's just a matter of him being behind a rocky outcropping that you can't get to the other side of) but we did get some other targets like all three scoters, Glaucuous and Iceland Gulls, as well as a nice yet distant look at a Black-headed Gull. Black Guillemots were also spotted, as well as Purple Sandpipers. An unexpected find was an Eastern Screech Owl sunning itself in the the hole of an owl box which I spotted while Paul and I were "whinneying" and trying to get a chat to pop out. I don't think he was reacting to us at all, just out to enjoy a bit of rare sunlight. Around lunchtime, Paul, Pamela and I splintered off from the group to head up to Salisbury to see if the Yellow-headed Blackbird was still being seen. A few other birders were already there, and the bird put in an appearance a few moments after we arrived. Not the rarest bird, as there seems to be one or two reported each year mixed in with a blackbird flock, but nevertheless a nice bird (and a state bird for all three of us).

We then headed to Salisbury Beach State Reservation to check the pine grove for owls as well as to see if we could get good looks at any of the many White-winged Crossbills that had been seen lately. (I had seen a few females a week before, but really I wanted to get good looks, and hopefully photos of the males) We passed one photographer that looked like he had a flock, but by the time we found someplace to park, the birds flew off, not to be seen again that evening. With the threatening snowstorm that was predicted the skies were darkening early, which also worked to our advantage, because it fooled a Short-eared Owl into thinking it was dusk earlier, and was out hunting over the sand dunes.

Paul and I walked out one of the boardwalks to see how close it would come as it was making it passes, and were rewarded with simply amazing looks as the bird flew within 20ft of us without giving us a second look. Once again - unbelievable experience, but less than stellar photos. Oh well.

Sunday morning we woke to find that the predicted snow storm was still going on, although slightly less then what we expected. By the time we took down our Christmas tree, cleaned up, and made waffles, the snow had stopped with accumulation only amounting to about 6". I shoveled the driveway, and we headed out. My goal again was to try and get a photo of a male White-winged Crossbill, so we headed back to Salisbury - really the best place to photograph them. The fir trees that are throughout the camper area are rather low/stunted from the constant winds coming off the ocean, so when the birds are there, the are pretty close. Upon pulling into the park I noticed one lone bird on a branch and stopped to take a quick look - hoping to get perhaps my first Pine Siskin of the year, but really just expecting a goldfinch. Glad that I stopped, as it turned out to be a Common Redpoll, and within a few minutes was joined by 8-9 more for just a few seconds before the flock flew off - never to be relocated again while we were there. Circling the park, we finally noticed some activity in a tree near the edge of the park - finally a group of crossbills with several males feeding. I jumped out of the car, no gloves and only a baseball cap to protect against the cold and wind, but finally managed a few shots of the beautiful little finches.

Every time I see these birds (or Red Crossbills) I remember the scene from David Attenborough's Life of Birds, where he mentions that crossbills are the only birds that can move their mandibles sideways in order to help crack open the cones, and extract the seeds. I know I've said this before, but if you have not watched it yet, go out now and get yourself a copy of Life of Birds, or borrow it from your local library - do what you have to, but watch it soon - you'll be glad you did.

Bird Photography Weekly #20

White-tailed Ptarmigan - Lagopus leucura

This bird was digiscoped near the peaks above Loveland Pass in Colorado two years height:ago while on a birding trip led by Bill Drummond. To give you an idea of how hard it is to spot these little white birds (and I should note that I was not the person who found it!) this is what the landscape looked like:

OK, can you spot the bird in the above photo? Click to enlarge if it helps. Don't worry if you can't - I took the photo and it took me a long time to find it in my own photo. Scroll down to see where it is.










Yep - that's it. No, I'm not kidding! Just goes to show how powerful digiscoping can be!

To see more bird photos, check out: