Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Midwest Crane Count - Cloudy, Cold, and Craney

April 13th I participated in the annual Midwest Crane Count, a citizen science project my dad and I have done for several years in a row now. Our goal is to record any crane sightings (Sandhill or rarely, Whooping) and document any breeding pairs.

Each year we have the same spot: an unassuming, small marsh that is easy to overlook if you’re not aware of its existence.

Moody Marsh

Moody Marsh

In order to count cranes I was up at 3:30 in the morning to get ready, pick up my dad, and make it to our spot by 5:30 when the official counting began. We set up chairs and tuned our ears to the sounds of the marsh coming alive.

It sounds crazy to voluntarily sit/stand in below freezing temperatures for two hours in the middle of a murky marsh, not really anticipating seeing a lot. But to hear Wilson’s Snipe fluttering above us and surprising a Swamp Sparrow from his slumber just a few feet away make the frozen toes and numb ears go away.

We spent the first hour not counting any cranes. The sunrise was a bit of a dud and it even began to snow a bit.

A Wilson’s Snipe flew back in forth above our heads, but was difficult to photograph.

Wilson's Snipe

After a serenade of Red-winged Blackbirds, and a few passbys of a Northern Harrier, we finally heard our first crane. Then our first unison call, indicating a breeding pair!

We were up to seven total cranes, two of which were pairs, by the time we were ready to depart. But before the two hour count period was up, we heard bugling nearby and a beautiful pair of cranes floated in out of nowhere and landed in the adjacent corn field.

Sandhill Crane in Flight

Sandhill Crane

Three total breeding pairs. Not a record for us but also better than some years.

Sandhill Crane

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Fog of Warbler

I was gone all weekend, and missed some good local birding--a buddy found 16 warbler species while I was away.  This morning the weather turned ugly and I ventured out into the rain to see what I might be able to find.

Here's the best bird, shot after two hours in the rain and before the battery on my Nikon P500 died.

Can you tell what it is in black and white?

Another black and white shot.

No, not a Black-and-White Warbler.  Here's perhaps the best foggy shot I could get in the rain.

Yep, Swampfire!  I never thought I would ever prefer a black and white photo of the stunning Prothonotary Warbler, but there you go...somehow in all the drizzle, the black and white renderings seemed appropriate and fitting for the mood.  Prothonotary (I prefer to say it Pro-Tho-NOTARY) Warbler is a local rarity here in Northern New Jersey, so I was happy to find this bird that was reported over the weekend at Bulls Island along the Delaware River near Stockton, NJ.  

So I only managed 8 warbler species in the rain, but nothing like a beautiful local rarity to celebrate the start of leaf-out and the spring warbler season!

Cold, wet, but happy after a successful warbler search.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wading Bird Feeding Behavior

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Reddish Egret
I can't stop photographing wading birds; I've tried, but I'm addicted.  Part of the reason is the sheer beauty of the birds, but I've become convinced that the main reason for my addiction is their behavior.  The more I observe them, the more I'm amazed at both their skill and creativity in capturing prey.  It turns out that ornithologists have studied and categorized the kinds of feeding behavior they've observed, and you can read a helpful summary here. But I thought it would be fun to offer a photographic, non-scientific summary of the kinds of behavior I've observed and photographed among herons, egrets and bitterns.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Great Blue Heron
Stand/Cling and Strike: Perhaps we most frequently think of wading birds standing motionless in shallow water.  Slowly the head lowers toward the surface the water.  Then, strike!  The bird has captured its prey. I'm particularly impressed with Least Bitterns and Green Herons, who seem to have a knack for doing this when clinging to reeds or branches with their heads facing down.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Snowy Egret
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Great Egret
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Least Bittern
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Green Heron
Head Swaying:  As an interesting variant I've seen on the stand and strike method, I sometimes see Little Blue Herons and others sway their head from side to side before striking.  I can only guess that they are trying to improve their aim by viewing their prey from different angles. Obviously, it's difficult to show this behavior in a still image, but here's a Little Blue Heron in the process of swaying his head.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Little Blue Heron
Walking/Running:  Some wading birds can be found walking or running as they pursue their prey.  Reddish Egrets seem to be the most accomplished at this, and you can sometimes identify them by their behavior alone. Wading birds do not limit this technique to their activities in the water; they can also be seen using this technique on land.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Reddish Egret
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Cattle Egret
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Great Blue Heron
Canopy Feeding: Reddish Egrets also have the habit of spreading their wings toward their heads to create shade.  This gives them a better view into the water so that they can see their prey more easily.  It also creates wonderful scenes that photographers love to capture in their images.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Reddish Egret
Flight Feeding: I'm amazed that birds can fly low over the water and capture fish in flight. I see Snowy Egrets do this most frequently.  Often I see them flying low and dragging their feet in the water, and then they plunge their bills in the water to capture prey during flight.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Snowy Egret
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Snowy Egret
Theft:  Wading birds are not always respectful of their neighbors property, so when one bird catches something desirable, another may try to steel it.  A little while ago I was at Viera Wetlands and I saw a Great Blue Heron lunge into the grass in an attempt to steal a frog from an American Bittern.  The bittern was able to evade the would-be thief, though, and it flew right by me to my delight.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
American Bittern
So I suspect my addiction will not end soon; there's too much joy and fun in watching these birds in action.  And If I've passed on a little of my addiction on to you, well, I don't feel so bad.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Boise Bird Festival - Idaho's Pledge to Fledge Event

Today was the first Boise Bird Festival, an official Pledge 2 Fledge event for Idaho. There were a couple hundred guests that came to learn more about birds and bird habitat, a majority of the folks being new to birds and birding. There were fantastic volunteers teaching workshops, guiding bird walks, welcoming guests, and educating and interacting at booths. I'm so proud and grateful for all of you! 

Biggest thanks to those people curious about birds that came to learn more. We hope you had as good a time as we did and hope you'll join us in more exciting birding adventures to come!

Scenes from today...
 Bob the Kestrel showing how handsome he is. He was on display courtesy of the American Kestrel Partnership of The Peregrine Fund. Don't forget to check out their Kestrel Cams here. Another Peregrine Fund volunteer has a Kestrel nest box camera going here. Log in as user: Guest (be sure to capitalize the "G" and the password is "kestrel".
 Julie Steele and her husband from the local Wild Birds Unlimited store. She also taught a workshop on bird feeding. Wonderful!
 Boise WaterShed- Environmental Education had a great activity to teach about the importance of our water with this toilet seat tossing game. Trust me. It was a great learning activity. Thanks Aimee!
 Just a couple of the many great volunteers from the Ducks Unlimited youth program called "Greenwings". They had great activities for the kids and a fantastic display. It was so wonderful for birders and hunters to join together in celebrating what we have in common.
 As guests arrived, they were greeted by wonderful volunteers who explained the activities and events and got them pointed in the right direction. Several other volunteers guided many bird walks and introduced small groups to some of Idaho's fabulous birds. I got feedback from guests that they loved the personal touch and guidance of our volunteers. Thanks again! You guys were great!
 Foothills Heritage Park in the Boise Foothills has a circular sidewalk around the park, making for a great set-up for booths. There was a steady stream of visitors all day long.
 Michael Morrison (center) was doing double duty today representing both Idaho Camera and Bird House & Habitat and teaching two workshops. One attendee described Mike this way..."He just makes everyone feel like they are his best friend." I couldn't agree more. What a wonderful mentor for kids and adults. His digital bird photography workshop was very well attended. I'm tellin' ya folks...digital photography is a superhighway for bringing people into birding.
 Monty Thompson was also on hand from Bird House & Habitat educating folks on feeding wild birds.

Steve Bouffard teaching a fantastic workshop on bird song. It gave me a whole new appreciation and a renewed sense of amazement as I consider birds.

Special thanks to others not shown in photographs above...

  • Paul Ostler for teaching a great workshop on Birding by Ear. I love your birding spirit man! 
  • Deniz Aygen from Idaho Fish & Game's Watchable Wildlife Program for the great booth and support during the planning of this event. She's plugged into all things birding in Idaho.
  • Matt Giovanni of the American Kestrel Partnership for helping kids build kestrel boxes and inspiring a future generation of kids who care. Keep up the great work you do for Kestrels.
  • Marla Hicks. She was awesome all day. Personally putting her arm around each new arriving group and welcoming them so warmly and showing the perfect example of why birders are such awesome people.
  • The Bird Walk team of volunteers including Leanne, Bill, Leslie, RL, Jim, Tom, and probably others. Great work! I never would have thought that so many groups would have been interested in the birds walks, but you guys created some amazing experiences for first-time birders.
  • Bob Young, for assistance in promoting this event and for providing a microphone and amp.You and Robin are good people! Bob also blogged about the Boise Bird Festival here.
  • Curtis Cook from the Eagle Camera club. Thanks for lunch. Thanks for your friendship. Glad to know that you're into photography and hope you continue to keep photographing birds.
  • Claudia from Bird House & Habitat for donating seed and loaning us feeders for the feeder garden. The Goldfinches today dazzled so many people that have never "seen" them before.
  • Larry Arnold, for providing hummingbird feeders and making sure they were filled with juice for the last two weeks. We only got one Calliope Hummingbird out of it, but it was worth it!
  • Heidi Ware the Idaho Bird Observatory team for the banding demonstration which is always a highlight!
  • The Golden Eagle Audubon Society board members like Pam and Danette. Always awesome ambassadors for birds and birding!
  • Finally, thanks to Richard Crossley and Dave Magpiong, originators of the Pledge 2 Fledge movement. Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this and for motivating me to do things I wouldn't have done otherwise.

Raptor Creeping

Our weather is stuck in a very annoying loop. Spring birds are coming back, winter birds are still here and every, single, confounded weekend this month it has snowed for two days.

As a result, my birding has been limited to anxiously looking for spring migrants in the yard. We haven’t taken any birding drives this month, but scrolling back through previous ‘spring’ posts on Bird Canada, I found something I wanted to share.

With the release of Richard Crossley's magnificent Raptor ID Guide, everyone is keen to see the returning birds so we can practice our skills. In our area, many of the raptor sightings are of birds perched on farm fence posts, and it can be tricky getting close enough for a good photo before they lift off.

During a previous April (when we didn't have winter every weekend), we took a birding drive south of the city. Rough-legged Hawks were still here, but the Red tailed, Swainson’s and others were returning.

A biologist friend had told me how to get close to raptors on fence posts beside the road. You stop when you first see them, and remain there for a few minutes. Then you creep the vehicle forward about 10 yards, and stop and sit again. You slowly repeat this process until you're close enough for a decent picture. It sounded like a good idea, so we tried it.

The first raptor we saw was a Rough-legged Hawk, and this was our first view.

Slowly creeping down the shoulder, we got closer. At one point he hopped down from the post, and I thought we had lost him. Imagine my surprise when he popped right back up again with dinner.

Either this creeping-forward thing really works, or we found a completely unconcerned roughie. We ended up sitting right beside him, and I took a couple hundred photos plus a few videos.

As with all birding techniques though, there are exceptions. Adult Snowy Owls, Prairie Falcons, Merlins, Peregrines and Bald Eagles could care less if you drive up right underneath them and stop. Juvenile snowies require creeping.

Swainson’s Hawks really don’t give a toss if you stop right in front of them. There was no creeping involved with this guy. We just drove up and stopped about 10 feet across the ditch. He was so close I wasn't even going to take a picture, but then I just had to snap a few. He was still calmly perched there in the setting sun when we drove away.

Ferruginous Hawks can go either way, but this youngster we came across last summer was too busy trying to cool himself off to pay any attention to us.

This is the spot where I would like to produce a stunning photo to show you the results of our creeping up on a Red-tailed Hawk. So far, our camera experience with red-tails is “Oh look there’s a ha...never mind, he’s gone.” This is doubly annoying because when I wasn't birding with a camera, I saw Red-tailed Hawks everywhere. I've considered (briefly) taking a birding drive while leaving my camera at home to test this theory, but doubt my system could stand the strain.

Now the raptors are back for another season so we can resume creeping up on red-tails at the first opportunity. Maybe if I sneak up on them in a snowstorm...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Birding the River of the Pharaohs - The Nile (Por el Rio de los Faraones - El Nilo)

Me gustaría empezar agradeciendo a todas/os la posibilidad de poder transmitir a los amantes de la Naturaleza, el Arte y la Historia este maravilloso viaje por el mundo de los Faraones. No puedo omitir mi entusiasmo en este viaje que combina cultura y Naturaleza. Todos los que os guste viajar os recomiendo si podéis hacer un viaje como este donde cultivareis cultura, ocio y diversión.

I would like to begin by thanking you for the opportunity of sharing with lovers of nature, art and history this wonderful journey into the world of the Pharaohs. I cannot let pass my excitement about this trip that combined culture and nature. For those that like to travel, I recommend this trip as a way to cultivate culture, entertainment, and fun.

Las aves han desempeñado un rol fundamental en la historia y en la mitología egipcia desde el comienzo de la civilización del país, ya que antiguamente se creía que algunos dioses tenían partes de aves, o al menos estos eran representados de esa manera.

Birds have played a key role in history, in Egyptian mythology, and from the beginning of the civilization. It was formerly believed that some gods were part bird, or at least they were represented in that way.

Por ejemplo, el Dios Horus, uno de los más importantes del antiguo Egipto, se creía que se manifestaba físicamente bajo la forma de varios tipos de aves, o también se creía que el ser humano había evolucionado a partir de las aves.

For example, the God Horus, one of the most important of ancient Egypt. It was believed that he physically manifested in the form of various types of birds. It was also believed that humans had evolved from birds.

Debido a que las aves son de gran importancia para los habitantes de Egipto y que el turismo es también muy importante, estos dos factores ofrecen muchos tours para que podáis ir a Egipto para observar aves.

Because birds are of great importance to the people of Egypt and tourism is also very important, these two factors make it possible for many Egyptian birding tours.

Además, un importante aliciente para esta actividad es que gran parte del territorio egipcio es un hábitat perfecto para gran variedad de especies de aves. Hay aproximadamente unas 150 especies de aves autóctonas de Egipto, además de muchas otras especies de aves de paso, por lo que el turismo que aprecia la observación de aves, tiene a Egipto como uno de los mejores lugares del mundo donde combinar historia y observación de aves.

In addition, an important incentive for this activity is that much of the Egyptian territory is a perfect habitat for a variety of bird species. There are approximately 150 species of endemic birds from Egypt, as well as many other species of migratory birds. Tourism appreciates birdwatching. Egypt is one of the best places in the world where we can combine history with birding.

Hay un factor que hace muy atractivo este viaje la mayoría de los lugares de visita arquitectónica coinciden para satisfacer también la observación de las aves, como ejemplos Abu Simbel si tenéis un momento para despistaros del grupo podéis observar en las cercanías una variedad de aves como las Tórtolas Senegalesas, Palomas Torcaces, Collalbas de Brehm, Currucas y varios Mosquiteros, por los cielos que rodean Abu Simbel vuelan majestuosos los Milanos negros.

Another factor that makes travel here very attractive is that the major architectural interests coincide with great birding locations. Abu Simbel is an example, if you have a moment to break away from the group. Nearby you can see a variety of birds such as the Senegalese Doves, Common Wood Pigeons, White-crowned Wheatears, Warblers and several flycatchers/gnatcatchers. Through the skies surrounding Abu Simbel fly the majestic Black Kites.

Assuan, visita en barco al poblado Nubio, mí consejo barquito pequeño y una propina al piloto, un par de euros serán suficientes y decirle que al pasar por la reserva natural os acerque a las orillas, podréis ver con facilidad Calamón de Madagascar, Martín Pescador Pío, Garzas, Garcetas, Cormoranes, Gaviotas Reidoras, Águila Pescadora, Avefría Espolada en fin seguro que mas pero dependerá de los días, cuando lleguéis a la zona de camellos fijaos en los pequeños arbolitos con nidos de tejedores.

Aswan, visit the Nubian village by boat. I recommend you rent a small boat and to tip the driver a couple of euros and tell him to go through the nature reserve. On the banks as you approach you can easily see Purple Swamphen/Gallinule, Pied Kingfisher, Herons, Egrets, Cormorants, Black-headed Gulls, Osprey, Lapwing and more. When you get to the camel area, look in the small trees for weaver nests.

En la mayoría de los parques de las ciudades tendréis Cornejas Cenicientas, Bulbul Naranjero y Buitrón Rabilargo.

In the majority of city parks, you will find Hooded Crows, Common Bulbul, and Graceful Prinia.

En Como Ombo si tenéis paciencia veréis que hay una pareja reproductora de Halcones Peregrinos en una de las esquinas de las ruinas.

At Como Ombo, if you have the patience, you will see the breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons in one of the corners of the ruins.

Isla de Filae - la barca os llevara un pequeño recorrido donde veréis Porrones, Garzas y Gansos del Nilo. 

Philae island - the boat will take you on a little tour where you will see Pochards, herons and Egyptian or Nile Geese. 

En fin no seguiré para no quitar la ilusión de descubrir por vuestra cuenta algunas aves que seguro serán interesantes y curiosas, viaje completo para no aburrir a nuestras sufridas parejas o amigos solo con nuestras aves, buen viaje.

So that I don't remove the illusion of your own discoveries of interesting and curious birds, I'll end here. It was a great trip that didn't bore our long-suffering friends with just birds. Bon voyage!
 Spur-winged Plover-Hoplopterus spinosus-Avefria Espolada
      Turtle Dove- Streptopelia turtur-Tórtola europea
Hooded Crow-Corvus corone cornix-Corneja cenicienta
Little Green bee eater-Merops orientalis-Abejaruco verde
Little Green bee eater-Merops orientalis-Abejaruco verde
Grey Heron-Ardea cinerea-Garza real
Purple Gallinule-Porphyrio Porphyrio magadascariensis-Calamón de Madagascar
 Spur-winged Plover-Hoplopterus spinosus-Avefria Espolada
Osprey-Pandion haliaetus-Aguila Pescadora
Osprey-Pandion haliaetus-Aguila Pescadora
Common bulbul-Pycnonotus barbatus-Bulbul naranjero
Hooded Crow-Corvus corone cornix-Corneja cenicienta
Graceful Prinia-Prinia gracilis-Buitrón rabilargo
José Miguel en las Piramides
Hooded Crow-Corvus corone cornix-Corneja cenicienta
Pied Kingfisher-Ceryle rudis-Martín pescador Pio
Pied Kingfisher-Ceryle rudis-Martín pescador Pio
Pied Kingfisher-Ceryle rudis-Martín pescador Pio