Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A little more about the Bloggerhead Kingbirds

The Superbowl of Birding is only four days away... and in three days, that juggernaut of birding talent - collectively known as the Bloggerhead Kingbirds will assemble again for some hardcore competitive birding in the wintry wild of New England.  The members of this year's all-star team will likely be familiar to you.  They are, in no particular order:
Corey of 10000 Birds
Nate of the Drinking Bird (and the Nature Blog Network)
John from DC Birding Blog
Andrew, the Birding Dude
Mike from the Feather and the Flower
(And, of course, your humble host)

A little history on the team.  I'd previously been competing in the Superbowl of Birding with a group of friends for several years, and although we'd had a deliriously good time, for a number of different reason we weren't able to pull together another team.  I knew that I wanted to keep competing and decided that I wanted to captain my own team.  It would not have been a difficult task to get some local friends together to compete (I've got a few friends - blogging and otherwise that I'm pretty sure I could've convinced to join me), but I decided that instead, I wanted to try to bring together some on-line nature bloggers from outside of New England.  This served a number of reasons but first and foremost, I thought it would provide a great vehicle to get to meet people that I'd only known in the on-line universe.  I expected that if we got along well in the blogosphere, there was a good chance we'd get on well in-person (and I wasn't at all mistaken).  I also thought it would be good exposure for the competition, a good chance to get some out-of-towners here into MA for some birding, and it would make for some great blogging.  I tested the waters by sending an e-mail out to some of my favorite bloggers, and in almost no time at all, I had a number of positive responses with Patrick, Corey, Nate and Quintus having the distinction of being the the first Bloggerhead Kingbirds. Then, the great folks over at Birdorable generously took some ideas that we had, and created a killer logo for us.

Well, we didn't win the competition last year, but frankly I really didn't mind too much.  I had such a great time meeting and birding with this group of guys for the weekend, it was a no-brainer that I'd be doing this again and again.  Honestly, my only regret is that I can't have more teams!  There are so many great bloggers out there that I'd like to meet and compete with.  The team has been a guys-only team so far - and trust me, I don't think I know a single woman that would've enjoyed being in that van full of guys last year!  That observation was made last year too, and there was a bit of talk about forming a blogging gals-only team to give the boys a run for their money, but it hasn't appeared yet.  I just happen to know a female blogger from Essex county that I know would be an excellent captain if the idea should re-surface.  (She knows who she is, and I don't think it would take much to convince her to do it, as she already competes and enjoys it as much as I do - so maybe next year we'll have more than one team of bloggers competing.)  Sound like I'm throwing down a gauntlet? If so, it's only because I know how much fun it is to get a group of bloggers together for the weekend, and I believe this is a case of the more the merrier!

As you would expect with a team of bloggers, anybody that wishes to join us vicariously via the interwebz will be able to do so through a number of media. You can be sure we will all be blogging about it, each with their own take of the day, and written in their own individual style. And we also have some pretty active users of both Facebook and Twitter so even if there isn't a constant stream of invective updates (we are competing after all), there will be at least periodic posts to both, and we'd love to get support and feedback along the way.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #74

Toasted marshmallows. That what I always think of when I see these birds. In their alternate (breeding) plumage they are purely white with black, but in the winter when they come down into the northern US, we see them in their basic plumage - still a lot of white, but they develop some areas of color that remind me of a marshmallow that has been held over an open campfire. I always enjoy these charismatic little buntings, and while scouting for next weekend's Superbowl of Birding, I couldn't help taking the camera out and shooting some photos of this small cooperative flock.

Surveying it's domain

Stopping by the public pool

I'm ready for my close-up

How could something so cute look aggressive? Well, like this...

I like this shot as you can really see the feather tract detail and the neat pattern on the back

Umm... Nothing funny here

I called this one Narcissus

Snow Bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

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

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #73

Ivory Gull - Pagophila eburnea

Rarely a bird found outside of the arctic circle (see range map here), this gorgeous little gull was delighting birders and photographers alike this weekend at Race Point in Provincetown, MA.  It's a bird like this than could really make a birder into a larophile - not only is it a rare and beautiful gull with it's snow-white plumage, yellow-tipped blue-grey bill, and black legs and feet - it is also incredible cooperative for those wishing to see it.  You didn't really have to look hard for the bird (it stood out like a beacon) and it is completely unconcerned about people.  Those that were there to see the bird didn't feel the need to try to approach closer for better looks or photos - you just sat down on the beach, and with a little patience, the bird would just walk past you, often within 10' as it picked its way along the wrack line.
Interestingly, this is the second year in a row that it is being seen in Massachusetts.  Last year, there was an adult found first in Gloucester, MA which was amazing enough - then a SECOND one was spotted in Plymouth, MA.

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Birding into the new year

It's been a while since I posted last, and even longer since I posted about any recent birding.  The winter so far hasn't cooperated with me much for getting out in the field.  The weather on the few days that I have had off has often been bitingly cold or had blinding snow (or both).  That's not to say that I've not made it out at all - just that it has been much more abbreviated than usual.  Here is a summary of the birding that I have been able to get in since the new year started.
Of course, on January 1st, we had to go out and start our new year lists, and as with every year, we join our friends Mark and Laura on their annual Brookline Bird Club New Year's trip. Paul and Diana joined us early morning to check on a Saw-whet Owl that I had seen a week earlier in the same spot that one was found last year - would have made a very nice way to start the year, except that we were not able to find it.  (BTW, my first bird of the new year was an American Crow - go figure! We then began working our way up towards Newburyport to meet the BBC group.  Along the way we stopped to watch a large group of European Starlings that were feeding on sumac.

We then joined the group for a few hours birding in Salisbury, adding some of the standard New England coastal birds to our year list - Common and Red-throated Loons as well as Common Eiders were quickly added, and a few minutes sea-watch added White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed duck to the birds seen on the ocean, and Common Goldeneye in the harbor. We also added Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and a single Lapland Longspur.  Of course, being the first day of the year, all the more common birds are breifly exciting too (if you keep a year list) so we were able to add our more common birds - Blue Jays, Cardinals, chickadees, Mallards, Blcak Ducks, Red-tailed Hawk - the birds you see on an everyday basis around here.  Then, our contingent wrapped it up early due to prior commitments. That Sunday was an absolute wash - the snow was terrible and driving was very dangerous.  (Yes, I tried, but we had to turn around and go home.)  I undrestand that there were still a few CBC's that didn't cancel though - I hope everybody was smart and stayed safe.
This past weekend we had our annual Brookline Bird Club Owl Prowl led by our friends Eddie and Mark.  The goal, of course, is "to find by sight or by sound all seven species of owls wintering on the Massachusetts mainland in one day." Paul and I started the day at 2am at Horn Pond to see if we could find any of the many Eastern Screech Owls that reside there.  The night was clear but very cold, and in the few minutes we could spend before heading out to meet the group we were unable to coax any to respond to our calling (which frankly is somewhat odd).   Swinging by to pick-up Pam, we then headed to the meeting place on the north shore at 3am and the day kicked off in full swign.  I am not going to give a complete blow-by-blow of the entire day (15 hours total) but we turned up 5 species of owls - Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Snowy, Short-eared, and Saw-whet.  Try as we might, we were unable to turn up any Long-eared Owls this year, and Barred simply evaded us in all the locations known to any of the participants.  Our Saw-whet from last year did make for a nice sighting, as well as a life bird for a few in the group:

Some additional highlights from the day was seeing many Rough-legged Hawks, of both light and dark morphs, as well as picking up some unexpected sparrows for the year list, including a brief look at a Chipping Sparrow and a relatively cooperative Swamp Sparrow.  (But honestly, the owls really do win the day)

This Sunday broke clear and cold - very cold.  It was only between 11 and 13 degrees depending upon what weather service you trust, and with the light breeze, it felt like it was in the mid-single-digits.  Pam and I slept in (trying to catch up on a bit of the lost sleep from Saturday's all day owl prowl) then decided to go back to Dracut MA to see the Red-headed Woodpeckers that have been reliably seen there for some time now (want to add them to the year list while I can, and let's be frank - when do I ever need an excuse to go watch woodpeckers!)

Within a few moments I was able to locate both an adult and a juvenile Red-headed, although other woodpecker activity was low.  (I was rather expecting Red-bellied and maybe a Pileated, but neither made their presence know while I was there.)

Still in a woodpecker frame of mind, and only a few hours to go before I had to go home and get ready for work that afternoon, we then headed back into Cambridge where we stopped at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in hopes of turning up both Red-bellied Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  The sapsucker obliged, but the Red-headed continued to elude me.  No matter, with the way that their population has grown in the last few years, I fully expect to see them in no time.

And for no other reason than I like this photo - here are a few Downy Woodpeckers that were "facing off." 

The photo doesn't show it, but they had been doing the typical woodpecker confrontation moves - fanning their tails, wing fluttering, and waving their bills from side-to-side (almost like a conductor's baton).  I always enjoy seeing behavior like this in advance of the breeding season when they are working on setting up their territories.

Hopefully as the month progresses, there will be plenty more to blog about - including the Superbowl of Birding, where the Bloggerhead Kingbirds will be competing again this year!