Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last weekend in March

We had a mixed bag of weather this past weekend - Saturday started out a little cool and overcast but then got pretty nice out, then Sunday was cool and rainy. Pamela and I took advantage of Saturday's nice weather to get out and do a little birding after an early breakfast at the S&S in Cambridge, MA. A quick side-note on the restaurant before I go into the birding - I first learned about the S&S when I moved to Cambridge, MA from Buffalo, NY over 10 years ago. I don't think it was on purpose, but for my first 3-4 years here, every time we moved, we got closer and closer to it, until finally I could step out my front door and see if there was a line. I'd not been there in over a year, so it was nice to get back.
After breakfast we headed over to Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Many of you birders will probably have heard of Mt. Auburn as it is a pretty well-known hot-spot, especially in migration. And really it is just a beautiful place, and nice to visit at almost any time of the year. One of the highlights for me was that within about an hour or so, we had seen 4 species of woodpeckers - Downy, Red-bellied, Flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I thought I'd heard a distant Hairy, but couldn't confirm it. (It's ok, I had one later in the evening to make it a 5 woodpecker day)

The other highlight of the day for me were the continuing White-winged Crossbills that we've had in the area. I know that many of you have also had White-wings this winter, as they seem to have had one hell of an irrurptive year, and maybe you're bored by reports of these birds by now, but I really had an exciting time with them. I found a flock of 14-16 birds a few times throughou the day, foraging on the ground among the fallen spruce cones. They seemed little bothered by walkers, joggers, passing cars, etc, and at one point I just sat down about 20' away from them and waited for them to come to me -which they did, and I had quite a few birds come within 2 feet of where I sat! Unfortunately, it was in a shaded area so the photos didn't come out nearly as well as I had hoped...

On the way home, we stopped in Winchester to check in on an eastern Screech Owl that I've now seen 5 out of 5 times. (It's hard to resist visiting a reliable owl when it's so close to home and far enough away to not be disturbed by your presence.) Since I didn't have my digiscoping camera with me, I thought I'd try my hand at "phone-scoping" with my iPhone, with mixed results:

I tried placing the photo here, but didn't seem to work, but if interested, you can see it here.

The day was topped off by hanging out with good friends, eating good food, and having a great time playing Scattagories. (The laughter helps to burn off all the food we ate - really, it does.... doesn't it?)

Oh, and on Sunday morning, we went back to the S&S again with my sister and brother-in-law. Man, I love that place!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #31

Greater Sage Grouse - Centrocercus urophasianus

Photographed on a lek in Colorado a few years ago, while on a trip led by Bill Drummond.

To see more great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday 3/25/09

Heliconia photographed in Trinidad

Get Wordless over at Wordless Wednesday

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is up with waterfowl in New England this year?

Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. But wow, there are quite a few very interesting sightings going on around here.
- Pink-footed Goose in Falmouth back in January
- a likely "wild" Greylag Goose in Connecticut
- Tufted Ducks showing up in RI, MA, and ME
- a flock of 17 Greater White-fronted Geese in Saugus, MA
- Eurasian/Common Teal in various locations
- several "blue" Snow Geese being seen in MA
- Ross's Goose being found in several locations in MA

I'd been looking forward to the weekend all last week as reports had been coming in on a daily basis about a flock of 7 Ross's Geese that were being seen well in Ipswich, MA - which is just far away enough that I wouldn't be able to see them on a work-day. Pamela had not seen one before (well, she saw one for less than an sec from hundreds of yards away some time back, but admiringly never counted it on her list) and my only two previous sightings were when one bird popped it's head out of a group of Snow Geese for a few moments then disappeared again - so it was definitely a BVD (better view desired) bird for me. Seems like many birders I've spoken to have a similar story.

I didn't sleep well Friday night, but this was mitigated by hearing an Eastern Screech Owl not too far away from our bedroom window. This may not sound terribly exciting to some of you, but this is the first time I have ever heard an owl from my home, in any of the places I have ever lived. And I never expected to hear one at the house we bought last year. It is on a small plot in a pretty tightly packed suburban neighborhood. I think my yard list (which I don't really keep) consists entirely of: House Sparrows, Starlings, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Mockingbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, Herring Gull, and Red-tailed Hawk (note that all except the House Sparrows were seen from our yard, not in our yard). So hearing this owl was pretty exciting to me! Anyway...

Thankfully, the Ross's Geese continued through the weekend, and although they were a bit far away for photography (not that I didn't try as evidenced by the photos to follow) we did have wonderful lengthy looks at the flock and were able to study some of the details that seperate them from their larger cousin, the Snow Goose. These smaller geese have rounder heads, stubbier bills, and lack of the thick "grin-patch" that the Snow Geese have.

When we arrived, we found that our friends Laura & Mark were leading a "leader's choice" BBC trip that I had planned to go on, but had slipped my mind, so that worked out well. Also, my friend Jason was there with his family - it's funny, every time I show up to some great sighting that has been posted lately, he's already there! He gets around the area quite a bit, writes and posts photos at his blog, Brewster's Linnet, has recently begun "twittering", and is involved with the Menotomy Bird Club, as well as being the webmaster for the Brookline Bird Club.
After a start like that, the rest of the weekend was bound to be pretty good - we turned up a few other goodies like Northern Shrike and spotted the handful of "blue" Snow Geese that had been seen occassionaly at Plum Island. Pam and ducked out of the trip mid-afternoon in order to run some errands, which I have since discovered was probably the biggest mistake of the weekend, as the group witnessed Short-eared Owls copulating in Salisbury! Check out Jason's post for a full description of the event (as well as the rest of the day).
On our way home, we did make one more pass at the Ross's Geese, just in case they had moved any closer. We arrived just in time to see them take off and head north (where they apparently decided to roost on Plum Island that night).

Sunday morning, Pamela decided to sleep in while I led a trip form the Menotomy Bird Club to Horn Pond in Woburn. This is a trip our friends Paul & Diana usually lead, but since they are in Oaxaca, I stepped in to see what we could find. Cool and overcast, I still had four participants ready to get out and see what spring migrants have shown up. We missed seeing the Great Horned Owls that are pretty regularly found in the pines (hopefully they are off nest-building somewhere) but did have a grey Eastern Screech Owl. The highlights of the trip for me were a very active & singing Brown Creeper, my first Eastern Phoebe of the year (yes, Spring is coming!) as well as a very vocal Red-bellied Woodpecker outside of a cavity that I suspect will be used for breeding this year - nice to find those early!
After the trip was over, I picked up Pamela we got some breakfast, ran some errands, then decided to make a run at the 17 Greater White-fronted Geese that have been hanging around in Saugus, MA. They are at a wildlife sanctuary that does not have easy access, so we tried to spy them from a distance at other locations, with limited success - I saw them, but at such a distance that if I didn't know that they were there, I probably would've overlooked them - but it did count to make it a 5.5 goose weekend - Canada, Greater White-fronted, Brandt, Snow, Ross's and "Blue Goose" (ok, I grant you that the 'blue goose' is just a morph of the Snow Goose, but it's rare enough to get a half-credit in my book)

Bird Photography Weekly #30

Common Potoo - Nyctibius griseus

I remember first hearing about and seeing these birds on David Attenborough's Life of Birds. I was amazed at how much they could look like a broken-off stump of a tree, that they have huge eyes, and the fact that their eye-lids have a small hitch in them that allows them to see (to some degree) while keeping their eye's closed in order to maintain their camouflage. This was certainly a bird I was very excited to see in Trinidad, and we were quite lucky, as this one on the grounds of the Asa Wright Nature Center was pretty easy to see. I'd often heard stories of people looking directly at these birds at a very close range, without being able to really see or distinguish them from the branch they were on. Thankfully it wasn't the case for us. (Although who knows how many others I might have looked at without seeing!)

More info on these fascinating birds can be found here.

Sadly, I think this might be one of my last BPWs with photos from our trip to Trinidad & Tobago. I fear that I am beginning to become a bit redundant with ones I'd already posted in other parts of this blog. The good thing is that spring is finally starting to poke it's head out of the ground here in New England, and hopefully I start getting more shots of our birds in New England as the come in and through.

To see more great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Friday, March 20, 2009

A few links you might want to click on...

For those of you that follow my blog that may not be avid followers of other birding blogs:

Click here to see the State of the Birds Report that just came out.
Why is this important? Birds are indicators of the health of our environment. Information about the declines of the numbers of birds around us, and especially the numbers of endangered species, should be setting off all kinds of alarms in our collective conscious. The site is very user-friendly, and really worth exploring, so please take a few minutes and check it out.

Also, the latest "I and the Bird" has been posted by Rob Fergus from the Birdchaser blog, and he has done a great job of making it especially fun and interesting this go-around.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another waterfowl "lifer"...

...that I can't add to my ABA list.

This evening after work, Pamela and I took a quick trip to Newton, MA where a Common/Eurasian Teal has been seen since this past Sunday. Apparently, it is considered a subspecies or "form" of Green-winged Teal. (There is an American and a Eurasian form)

A little more about Green-winged Teal, and photos of the American form can be seen at Cornell Lab's All About Birds site.

The bird that we saw today looks different from the American form in that it has a white horizontal stripe along the upper wing, instead of a vertical white stripe at the front edge of the wing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bird Photography Weekly #29

Barred Antshrike -Thamnophilus doliatus

To see more bird photos, check out:

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Greylag Goose in E. Wallingford, CT

Today, Pamela and I joined a last-minute trip led by Strickland Wheelock for Massachusetts Audubon to Connecticut to see a what appears to be a 'wild' Greylag Goose. In the US, it is not unusual to see a "barnyard" goose that is descended from Greylag goose, but the barnyard variety seems to be plainer looking, and has a deep pot belly. The bird that is being seen now in CT seems to be a good candidate for a wild bird, and has spurred quite a bit of discussion. I'll be curious to see what the various committees decide on it's origin, and if they'll deem it a 'countable' bird. For some other comments and photos you can visit Nick Bonomo's Shorebirder blog or James P. Smith's Pioneer Birding blog.
And here are a few photos I took today as well as a video:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Swarovski bin repairs & Cedar Waxwings

I need to start by saying that I'm not getting to blog as often as I like these days. I think I mentioned I started a new job and I've not had as much free personal time to blog as I had before, and I feel like the blog is suffering from it. I've missed several meme's that I used to participate in more - specifically Wordless Wednesdays and Skywatch Fridays. I've not even been able to do my Weekly Woodpecker Roundup the last few weeks! Hopefully things will change - especially as woodpecker activity is up here in the northeast as they are declaring territories. Also, there have been new rumblings about the IBWO. For a quick review see John's Ivory Bill Madness post, Cyberthrush's Ivory-Bills LiVE blog, and especially the new Ivory Bill Photo Project courtesy of Gary Erdy, Mary Erdy and Steve Sheridan.

One of the main reasons for this post is to tell you about a great experience I had with Swarovski Optik North America (SONA). I mentioned that last weekend I met Gail Fisher, the repair manager for SONA, and she encouraged me to send in my ELs to be refurbished. I sent them out on Tuesday, fully expecting to be without them for a week or so. I was surprised when a packaged arrived for me today - lo and behold, my binoculars were returned, and they were like new! I took a picture of them before I sent them out - you might be able to tell from this pic that they've seen some good hard use for the last five or so years. I'd worn off the black around the "Swarovski" on the barrel, and they even still have some dried mud on them from when I went down on a muddy leaf-cutter ant mound in Trinidad. What you can't tell is that the eye-cups were really worn and torn. Well, they completely cleaned and refurbished them and I think that that must've been slightly out of alignment and they fixed that too. This is what they came back looking like!I know that these are mine because the hinged areas are scratched/worn on the metal in the same places as what I sent to the - but otherwise, they look and feel brand new! They replaced the logo, the eye-cups, the rubber armor, and I can't be sure, but I think they might have even replaced some of the optics! Gail - you and your team did a fantastic job!!!

This evening on my way home from work, I noticed a bit of activity in a tree alongside the road. I pulled over and there was a small group of Cedar Waxwings eating the fruit on the tree, and I got a few quick shots off:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A little more on this past weekend...

If you've been reading my posts lately you know that Friday and Saturday were pretty full days. On Friday night, I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by Kenn Kaufman about migration from a birds point of view, in support of a shade-grown Bird-friendly Coffee program that is being administered by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. I am not as eloquent in my descriptions, so I will just recommend you to a few sites to do a little research on your own, and let you be the judge of your own actions:
Birds and Beans
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Saturday was very long day. Massachusetts Audubon held their annual Birder's Meeting, and I as attending as a vendor representing the Brookline Bird Club. Paul & Diana were there also to help with setting up as they have done for the last several years, so Pam and I picked them up about 6am and headed west to Worcester where the meeting was being held this year. The BBC table was set up between Lanny McDowell, another of New England's fine nature and bird photographers (and let me tell you we do have quite a few - a little intimidating for a guy like me posting point-and-shoot photography) and the Pentax and Swarovski tables. Cool - I knew that it was going to be a good day. I also had a chance to chat with Kenn a bit in the morning, who is really a genuinely nice and humble guy with a great sense of humor, and it was a true pleasure to meet.
As a vendor, I wasn't able to attend all the lectures and workshops throughout the day because we had to make sure somebody manned the table and was there to answer questions. (I wasn't the only BBC member there - I was accompanied by Jonathan C so we could tag-team and visit other tables, pick-up swag, etc - I picked up a few books, because as Pamela so succinctly put it I am "addicted to books") During one of the early presentations (and when there were few people around) a Red-tailed Hawk came by, swooped down and grabbed a rodent, then flew back up to a branch with it's breakfast and very quickly ate it. Of course, anybody in the vicinity got killer looks (no pun intended) as it all happened about 50 ft outside the windows where the Pentax and Swarovski tables were set-up. I spent a good deal of time chatting with the Swarovski rep that was there - Gail Fisher, who is the repair manager - and I'll be sending my EL's out to her today to get them 'serviced' after 5 years of very hard use. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but when is ever a good time to be without your favorite bins?
Also in the vendor area were tables set up from several of the National Wildlife Refuges in the New England area as well as one or two of the "friends" groups. There was a real emphasis on connecting birders with the USFWS and the NWR system at this meeting. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the associated programs, so I cannot say anything about them. As long as I have been birding and been aware of it, I have been a big supporter of the National Wildlife Refuge system, and purchase a few duck stamps each year in support of them. Are you a birder? Do you have a duck stamp? If not you should really help do your part to conserve land and preserve space for both for our birds and other wildlife. You can read more about the program here.
There were a few programs I was quite determined not to miss though - the first was one by Kenn, who gave another great presentation with the same goal, but with a different approach. Then Lee Allen Peterson spoke about reflections and the legacy of his father, Roger Tory Peterson. I've read the recent bios that have come out about Roger, so I was familiar with his life story, but it was interesting to hear anecdotes from the families point of view. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much Lee looked like his father!
In all it was a good day, with lots of socializing with like-minded (bird-minded) individuals.

Sunday morning, I woke up, threw on some clothes and joined Paul for a Menotomy Bird Club walk at Horn Pond in Woburn, which is just a few blocks from our house. It was fine day, with some nice birds, including two Great-horned Owls. The GHOs have been there for a few years, and we know that they must be trying to breed there, but haven't been able to confirm it yet. (Paul is dying to confirm it for his block on the breeding bird atlas project.) Knowing where they tend to hang out, we were able to get pretty good looks while keeping a safe distance. And this was the first time I was able to get a few (mostly) unobstructed photos in lighted area. Not the best photos, and rather heavily cropped, but some of my better ones so far. I only took a few quick ones then left as we don't wish to disturb them.

The rest of the day was spent catching up with my sister and her husband for breakfast, doing a few chores, and getting outside for some more warm fresh air before heading back to work. (And before the next snow hit.)