Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chasing Idaho Rarities

While I was in California visiting family for Thanksgiving, and not birding, I continued to receive e-mail reports about some nice rarities in Idaho that I was missing out on...a Yellow-throated Warbler (3rd in Idaho) and a Northern Parula (likely to be the 12th accepted sighting by the IBRC) .  Yesterday, I had my wife drop me off near the Boise River Greenbelt to do my twitching while she ran errands.  Unfortunately, I struck out on seeing the warblers.  What was worse were the reports from other birders seeing them shortly after I left.

Fortunately they stuck around and are still being seen today!  I had one solid glimpse of the Yellow-throated Warbler, but no photo ops.  The 1st Winter Northern Parula was a lot of fun to watch. What a beautiful warbler! It came in close and if it wasn't for the skys being overcast and threatening snow, I could probably have gotten better photos, but these are pretty decent.

Now, in preparing to move out east, I have been gearing up mentally for spring warblers. Now I'm thinkin', crazed vagrant warblers are coming to me in Idaho - in the middle of a snow storm!  It seems the warblers were finding plenty to eat...for now.  I wonder if these first year birds will survive an Idaho winter.  Hopefully they wise up and move down to Arizona or some place warmer.

I also had unsatisfactory views of my life Long-tailed Duck at Deer Flat NWR yesterday afternoon at a long binocular distance, but good enough to clinch the identification.  Three life birds in two days is not bad at all!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eastern Bluebirds

My new job requires a lot of drive-time and I am often on the road throughout the rural mid-Atlantic and Carolinas.  One aspect of this travel that is enjoyable is the abundance of Eastern Bluebirds seemingly everywhere I go.  These photos were taken in Irvington, Virginia where we were repairing a country home.  There were at least 100 Eastern Bluebirds lighting on the fence posts and in the fields.  They seemed like flying jewels or ornaments creating a spectacle that brought a huge smile to my face.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch photographed at Hickory Hollow Nature Trail in Virginia.
Easily recongnizable by their loud wank-wank calls, Red-Breasted Nuthatches are simply fun and cute.  They are curious little guys that seem to respond quickly and approach closely when pishing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

A gang of Wild Turkeys I recently found in Deltaville, Virginia
I have a lot to be thankful for this year.  This year has come with some humbling trials which looking back upon have helped me become better.  My family has spent a lot time literally counting our blessings.  We recognize the abundance of divine tender mercies with which we have been blessed.  From our family to yours, may your lives so be blessed and may you each enjoy this day of thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Birder Profile: Kim Wakelin

Kim Wakelin
Cloverdale, British Columbia, Canada

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

Sadly, I got into birding after my dad passed away, in July of 2007. Why is it sad? Well, some of my earliest childhood memories are of my dad and me sitting on our backyard deck, listening to birds. When I was very young [maybe 4 or 5 years of age], my dad built a very impressive bird house with several perches. From each perch, he hung a wild seed bell or, in winter, some homemade suet. We also had a bird bath, and since our property was lined with old cedars and pine trees, we were able to observe many different species of birds, year-round.

My dad seemed to know the name of every bird we saw, and those we couldn’t see, by sound. I can close my eyes and hear my dad calling out to a Black-capped Chickadee who always returned the favor. I remember rolling my eyes whenever my dad did his “chicka-dee-dee-dee” call. Now, 30 years later, I find myself calling the Chickadees and now, my own kids roll their eyes at me.  I’m ashamed to say that, growing up, I paid very little attention to my dad’s fascination with birds.

Shortly after my dad’s passing, my husband and I purchased our first house. To honor my dad’s memory, I hung a few feeders in the yard. Days melted into weeks and not a single bird visited the feeders. I changed the seed mix. Nothing. I moved the feeders around. Nothing. One day, I was home, sick with the flu. As I sat at the kitchen table, looking out at my lonely feeders, I looked up to the sky and said aloud, “Dad, if you’re up there…send me a bird.” A couple of hours later, I heard the call ~ of a single male Red-winged Blackbird. I kid you not. It’s a true story!

From then on, I was hooked. In spite of the Red-winged Blackbird being the bird that triggered my interest in birds, I consider the Black-capped Chickadee as my SPARK bird. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad, whenever I hear one call.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

My hours at work have been reduced, due to the economic slowdown, and as a result, I find myself free for 1 or 2 days during a week. In addition to that, If the weather is nice on the weekends, I take my sons out with me.

I regularly bird Elgin Heritage Park and Blackie Spit at Crescent Beach, both in South Surrey, and the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island, British Columbia.  My favorite would be Blackie Spit, at Crescent Beach, without question! This location has the greatest variety of birds in the area ~ shorebirds, songbirds, woodpeckers, falcons, eagles, they’re all there!

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

Absolutely! If you head east on Ladner Trunk Road and hang a left at 72nd Street in Delta (map), you’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time to when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Here, the trees are loaded with Bald Eagles; generations of them. The best time to see them here is from late September – January. I believe it’s the Kings Link Golf Course [with plenty of tasty sitting ducks], the Turf Farm [home to herds of meaty rodents], and the chubby [and always jumpin’] fish of Boundary Bay that keep the Bald Eagles returning year-after-year. I’ve seen many Peregrine Falcons, Northern Harriers, Merlins, and Red-tailed Hawks at this location, as well.

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

I think most birders are aware of the Serpentine Fen, but because it’s right off the very busy King George Hwy in Surrey, and is plagued by nearby road and overpass construction, it’s very often over-looked. I’ve been there many times and haven’t run into a single person. I’ve seen as many as 15 Great Blue Herons in the marsh, at one time, and there’s always a fantastic variety of ducks, especially in the Fall/Winter. The Red-tailed Hawks hunt there and the Bald Eagles perch in the trees, overlooking the Serpentine River.
How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I’m a bird watcher that keeps a list. I’ve been known to chase a bird or two, as well.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Certainly nothing fancy: A pair of Bushnell Bins, a Canon Rebel XSi w/ 50-250mm lens, and a Canon Powershot w/ wide angle/tele lens kit. This year, I’m asking Santa for a scope!

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

When I’m in the field, I use the WildLab app, for iPhone, to record sightings. I can export my list to eBird once I’m home. I use Wildlab because, as history has proven, I can’t seem to retain a list of more than 10 items on it. I use eBird because it’s easy to use and I also like to see the list of rare bird sightings in my area.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

The Long-billed Curlew! My friend and birding partner, Robbie Piper, and I went out to Blackie Spit in search of the bird. We searched high and low, braved the mud flats, and had all but given up. We were only a few paces from the car when I noticed a couple of birds on the shore, adjacent to the parking lot. They had their rumps to us. I said to Robbie, “Are those Gulls…or something else? They look a little…odd” Suddenly, the Curlew turned and I got a glimpse of the profile. Needless to say, I was back out in the mud within seconds.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I enjoy “WildBird” Magazine and often visit my local birding forum, on-line, to see what others have spotted and where.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Sibley’s, hands-down! I’ve tried other guides but find this one far easier to use. They also have a version for iPhone so I can take it with me wherever I go.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

- The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

- The SIBLEY Field Guide to Birds
- The Birds of Canada
If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I have a basic knowledge of most birds found in and around the Vancouver area but I wouldn’t call myself an expert, by any stretch of the imagination.

What future birding plans do you have?

I’d like to travel to the interior of British Columbia, this summer, to see the Quail and Sage Grouse.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

Not yet. When my boys are a little older, I’d like to get more involved with Nature Vancouver or perhaps volunteer out at OWL [The Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre] or at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

What is your nemesis bird?

OWLS! I have only seen one and, even then, it was because there were a dozen photographers staked out beneath the tree.

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

Last Fall, Robbie and I went out to bird Blackie Spit. The tide was way out but through our bins, we could see a nice flock of Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, some Dowitchers, and one or two Marbled Godwits. Foolishly, Robbie and I decided to head out to the mudflats to get a closer look. We were about halfway when Robbie sank up to her waist in the mud. After a whole lot of tugging, we finally got her out…with only one boot and one sock. My only real regret was not pausing to take a photo or two, at the time.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

A Hooded Merganser ~ I really dig the punk rocker hairstyle.  Male or female? They both have punk rocker hairstyles, but... I think the female Hooded Merganser is goofier lookin', so I'm going with that one.

Total life list?

182 and counting

You can follow Kimberly Wakelin on her blog LadyWoodpecker's Birds & Beyond and on @BCBirder on Twitter.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Brown Creepers are so cool!

Can you find the creeper?  Pretty good camouflage, huh?  Here it is below, zoomed in.

Here's another one...Can you see it?
 Okay...here it is zoomed in.

Now and then you can see the clean white underside of a Brown Creeper as they zip up and down tree trunks.  If you can still hear your higher register sounds, you can enjoy their calls too. 

With that kind of camouflage one can't but declare that Brown Creepers are cool!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

From the brush pile

My job recently took me to a country home in Deltaville located in the far eastern side of Virginia.  Next to the home was a large pile of branches and brush.  It was filled with dozens of birds representing several species, including those photographed below:

Immature White-throated Sparrow - feeling safe and secure while camouflaged in the brush pile.

This Northern Mockingbird was skulking around in the brush pile, but posed on top just long enough for me to take a series of photos.  Autumn is giving me great natural backdrops.
 Brush piles, especially in winter, are fantastic for your backyard birds.  The brush pile provides shelter from the weather as well as cover from predators.  Sprinkle a little wild bird seed in and around it and enjoy the variety of winter birds that visit your nice and accommodating habitat.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Birder Profile: Pat ODonnell

Pat ODonnell
Santa Barbara de Heredia, Costa Rica

How did you get into birding? Did you or do you have a birding mentor and can you tell us about that person? Did you have a “spark bird”?

I got into birding after seeing books about birds in the children’s section of the Niagara Falls Public Library. I was fascinated by and intrigued that such beautiful things as the Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, American Goldfinch, Indigo Bunting, and others occurred in western New York (at least according to their range maps). I didn’t really have a birding mentor when I started out but one of my uncles was very much into the outdoors and my parents were very supportive. I will always be grateful to my father who took the time to bring me on field trips. I didn’t really have a “spark bird” but recall wanting to especially see one of those electric blue Indigo Buntings!

How long have you been birding?

32 years (since I was 7).

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I try to get out birding once a week but when guiding, I sometimes end up birding for most of the week. The places I visit the most when birding on my own are coffee plantations near our house in Santa Barbara de Heredia, Costa Rica, and the foothill, primary rainforests at the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station in Braulio Carrilo National Park, Costa Rica. When guiding birders, I most often end up at Carara National Park, Costa Rica.

Where is your favorite place to bird in your state/province? In the U.S.? in the world?

My favorite place to bird in Costa Rica is the Quebrada Gonzalez Ranger Station in Braulio Carrillo National Park. The dense vegetation and tall canopy of those wet forests make birding a challenge but the high diversity and complexities of that site always make for an exciting time! My favorite spot in the USA is fall at Cape May, New Jersey because I love the combination of birders and amazing migration just about everywhere one looks. It’s tough to pick a favorite birding site for the world but mine is probably Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador because it’s some of the most exciting Andean birding I have ever had.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us?

Sure, here in Costa Rica, spend an entire day in the rainforest at Quebrada Gonzalez, Braulio Carrillo National Park. Careful, quiet birding invariably reveals rare species, plus, I frequently see monkeys and cool herps there too. Another little visited but excellent site is along the road that connects San Ramon to La Tigra. There is a fantastic hummingbird garden and middle elevation forests with amazing mixed flocks that harbor quite a number of rare bird species.

Where in Costa Rica would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential?

Manzanillo immediately comes to mind.  Few birders make it to this out of the way village in the southeastern part of the country despite the excellent lowland forest birding right around town and in the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Reserve. It is close to being on par with La Selva in my opinion. Hitoy Cerere Reserve also comes to mind- a little visited site with excellent lowland forest that supports healthy populations of species that have disappeared from many other areas of Costa Rica (such as Black-eared Wood-Quail, Violaceous Quail-Dove, Great Jacamar, White-fronted Nunbird, and Purple-throated Fruitcrow).

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else?

I suppose I am a “watcher” more than anything else. I keep lists but they aren’t as important to me as watching birds for fun and scientific purposes. I don’t really chase things.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

I use Swarovski ELs, a Swarovski 65mm scope, a handheld Sony Cybershot for digiscoping, and an Olympus LS-10 with Sennheiser microphone for recording vocalizations.

How do you keep track of your bird observations? And why?

I make a list of bird species and numbers observed in Excel after each outing with occasional notes on behavior. I should be putting stuff in eBird and maybe will but that has taken more time to do than I can afford. I suppose I keep track of bird observations to have a record of species found in a certain area at a certain time of year. Maybe some day the information will be of use to future birders (yes, all the more reason to put such information into eBird- I hope to find time to do that in the future).

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it?

Good question! So hard to pick a favorite among favorites. One among many was seeing my first Crested Eagle. Myself and a friend were monitoring a clay lick near Posada Amazonas in Tambopata, Peru when a huge, pale phase Crested Eagle emerged from the jungle on the other side of the river and flew towards us. As it flapped across the Tambopata River, a pair of Red and Green Macaws flew above it, screaming their heads off the whole time. It was a particularly memorable morning because I also espied my first and only (so far) Ocelot.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?

I read just about any bird publication I can get my hands on but as far as websites go, I especially like 10,000 Birds and Bird Forum. 10,000 Birds is frequently updated with informative and fun to read birding related posts while Bird Forum is good for discussing all sorts of birding-related topics with birders across the globe. I like that international aspect of it.

Which is your favorite field guide and why?

Although I dont live in Europe, my favorite field guide is “Birds of Europe” by Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterstrom, and Grant. It’s just so well done with lifelike, beautiful illustrations and abundant, field-garnered identification tips

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

1. Birds of Tropical America by Steven Hilty and Mimi H. Wolf- answers all sorts of questions about the ecology and behavior of neotropical birds and is the perfect read for any birder headed to the neotropical region.

2. The Race to Save the Lord God Bird By Phillip Hoose- every birder interested in the North American avifauna and/or conservation should read this one to hear about how we lost such an amazing bird and important aspect of American natural heritage to greed.

3. Wild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey Around the Continent by a Distinguished Naturalist and His British Colleague by James Fisher and Roger Tory Peterson- as exciting as the title sounds!

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

Yes, I have a biology degree from State College University at Buffalo, NY and during work on a masters thesis in biology at Illinois State University (which I didn’t finish), taught ornithology labs. I have also worked on a number of field studies and bird surveys in Washington, Colorado, Ecuador and Peru.

If a fellow birder had a question about a bird, do you consider yourself an expert (or at least proficient) on any specific family of birds?

I don’t think any family in particular although I love talking about systematics, ecology, and suboscines!

What future birding plans do you have?

I sure hope I can bird Africa, Australia, and Brazil some day, and become more involved with birding education in Costa Rica.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

I am the editor of the newletter for the Birding Club of Costa Rica, and am a member of the Union de Ornitologos de Costa Rica. I also need to update my membership with the ABA.

What is your nemesis bird?

Masked Duck. I can’t believe that I still need this skulking duck!

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

I am married to a Costa Rican woman and we have a 2 year old daughter (who I hope becomes a birder although I realize it will have to be her choice).

Any funny birding experiences you could tell us?

On a pelagic trip off the coast of Oregon, I almost vomited on my lifer Laysan Albatross.

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why?

Peregrine Falcon because they fly fast and go wherever they please.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

I once had a Buff-tailed Coronet briefly land on my head when I was working at Bellavista Lodge in the Tandayapa Valley of western Ecuador.

Total life list?

2,531 for the world and 553 for the ABA area.

Most exotic place you’ve gone birding?

Thailand has an exotic ring to it but gets trumped by the Yungas region of Bolivia. To get to a private reserve called “Apa Apa”, I took a bus, sitting next to an elderly barefoot woman who spat green coca leaf juice on the floor of the vehicle for much of the ride, some of which was on one of the most dangerous roads in the world. We descended through coca plantations and fantastic Andean scenery until finally reaching our destination near Chulumani. It felt like going back in time.

Your mission in life as birder?

See as any species as possible (especially a Wallace’s Standardwing) and get as many people interested in birds as possible

You can continue to follow Pat ODonnell at his website

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mallard Appreciation Day

When I was a popcorn and bread-crumb duck-feedin' kid, I loved Mallards.  One time, when I was about five years old, I was swinging on a handful of weeping willow vines out over the edge a of duck pond.  The vines snapped and I fell into the shallow water.  The water may have been shallow, but the mud was deep and I was certain that it was more duck pooh than mud.  I still loved those ducks. 

When I started birding, I quickly ticked Mallards off the bird trip list.  When I become an eBirder, I counted them.  Now that I endeavor to photograph birds, my thrill with drake mallards has been reinvigorated.

The iridescent green head!  The brilliant violet of the secondaries which are usually hidden, but shown in all their glory here!  What is not to like and admire about these drakes?!  Well, maybe their awful, but easily recognizable honk.

The smoothness of their feathers almost has a fluid quality and grace.  Photos help you zoom in and enjoy the finer texture of the different feathers. 

Strong yellow bills and bright orange feet!  These common ducks are a color buffet!

Maybe one day I will discover a new found appreciation of the plain ol' brown female Mallard...maybe 'cause they're mothers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Birds of the Middle East

Birds of the Middle East - second edition, by Richard Porter & Simon Aspinall must have been a fascinating endeavor to compile.  I'd love to hear the back-story.  I think of the on-going turmoil of the region and wonder how enough information about bird distribution across countries in conflict could have been gathered.  Perhaps the example of birders can provide an example of how to find unity.

With military family members regularly assigned to the middle east, this field guide will have to be lent to them with the requirement of reporting back to me as many of the 850 species mentioned in this guide as they can.  Knowing that they are not "birders", I approach this field guide asking, would this field guide work for a beginner?

First of all, this is truly a field guide based on size and weight; very practical for use in the field.  There is no fluff nor wasted pages in this field guide.  The introductory materials only take up four pages and their are no appendices.  That's how they fit so many species into a field manageable book.  The illustrations are very nice as are the range maps.  The color coding is unique, but easily understandable.  This guide certainly focuses on identification.  Physical characteristics of the bird are in a different and bold font in the descriptive text making them easy to pick out quickly.

The order in which birds appear in this guide stuck me as a bit different than what I am used to.  I read in the intro that the authors chose to use "genetically derived phylology" to determine which order to place the birds in.  Though I'm not totally sure what that is, it seems to work.  This field guide doesn't have the "quick index" common in North American field guides, but the index is adequate and bird names are bolded therein.

I can't wait to vicariously live thru my military relatives as they find me some new birds in the Middle East.  This field guide is perfectly suited to help people of all skill levels identify birds in the Middle East.  I also hope for peace in that region so that the world can enjoy the diversity of wildlife and habitat of the region.  The authors admit in the intro that some regions have "poor observer coverage" and some birds may be more regular than they currently know.  May that change soon!

Birds of the Middle East is another fine product published by Princeton University Press as part of the Princeton Field Guides series.  They provided me a free review copy.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Autumn Feathers: American Wigeon

When I first got into birding, the American Wigeon really impressed me.  I thought it was such a cool looking bird and it made funny sounds.  Then I discovered how abundant in winter these waterfowl are and I noted them for eBird, looked thru their flocks for Eurasian Wigeons, and largely ignored the American Wigeons.  Now that I am adding bird photography to my pasttime I am taking a second deeper and longer look at even the common and abundant birds.  Here are photos from a few Eagle, Idaho neighborhood ponds while I enjoyed observing Wigeon behavior.

Male - buffy forehead, dark green eye/head stripe, smooth color pattern on body.
Juvenile - slightly patterned flanks and dark feathers on upper parts
Males and females in the foreground foraging in the grass - a common sight.  Note how the adult female's flanks are more solid than the juvenile.  The grey-brown head lacks any trace of a future green head stripe.

After nibbling on grass, they move as a flock into the water and all take a sip...well, they can't actually sip or suck, so they get water in their bills and then tip their heads back to swallow as shown here.
Preening - I thought the fluffed-up feathers that are normally concealed looked kind of wren-pattern-like.

Grass foraging - I have seen flocks numbering 1000 birds in Boise area parks.

A handsome male American Wigeon among the autumn leaves.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Avimor Bird Walk - next Saturday

Lazuli Bunting
Avimor is hosting a Bird Walk on Saturday, November 20th, at 9:00 a.m. at the Avimor Planned Community, which is located 8 miles north of Eagle on Hwy 55.  Participants should meet at the large American flag.  For more information, please contact Roberta at 208.939.0343 ext. 209.

Thanks to John Shortis for stepping up and taking these bird walks for me in my absence.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Free Birding Skills Webinar by John Robinson

I recently saw on Jim McCormac's blog Ohio Birds and Biodiversity a mention about a free webinar by John Robinson, author of "Birding for Everyone".  Jim was one of John's guest presenters on Wednesday night.  A webinar is like a conference call where you can see what the presenter is showing on your computer screen.  It looked interesting enough that I signed up for it.  John and his assistant Tracie Church are very good to provide participants recordings of the past webinar sessions you may have missed to allow you to get up to speed.  I watched one of them a couple days ago and then Wednesday night was the first one I listened to live.  It was great!!!

John is sharing some of the fundamental skills in identifying birds by sight and sound that is very helpful to beginners and experts alike.  They have some great tips and tricks from their practical field experience.  The webinars have interactive poll questions and nice graphics.  An e-mail before the webinar gives you the chance to use your newly enhanced bird identifying skills with a photo challenge.  There are even drawings for free birding stuff and a pair of binoculars will be given away at the lest webinar in December.

I found that this webinar format works really well for me, both for the learning style and for the convenience.  It's like a birding festival seminar for free!  Its the next best thing to being in the field with the likes of John and Jim.  I really really really enjoyed it. 

I invite you to join me for the next webinar this coming Wednesday evening.  You can register here.