Saturday, April 27, 2013

West Texas Bird of the Day: Elf Owl

We set up near an old house with a telephone pole that had a perfect looking hole. As dusk settled, we spotted two Elf Owls on a wire near a different, distant pole, but they proceeded to fly right to us, with one landing first on the wire over our head and then entering the nearby hole, sitting there for prolonged scoped views with its head sticking out. With Lesser Nighthawks flying past and stars overhead, it was a perfect finish for our last night in Big Bend.

Friday, April 26, 2013

West Texas Bird of the Day: Common Black-hawk

Speaking of birds that do stuff, we were lucky enough to be at the Common Black-hawk nest in Rio Grande Village,TX when the pair changed places. One bird sailed in low over our heads (above) and the sitting bird left the nest and perched nearby as the incomer took its place. The former sitter roused and preened as if very glad to have a break from incubation. Very cool!

Today we're off to the desert on this Audubon Naturalist Society/MG Nature tour.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

West Texas Bird of the Day: Greater Roadrunner

 I love it when birds do stuff. We spotted this Greater Roadrunner in Rio Grande Village, TX, and watched it for a while from the van-come-bird blind. That's key, we watched it, we didn't just look and drive on. And low and behold it leaped forward and snatched a lizard from the leaves and proceeded to make a great show of smashing it senseless against the ground before running off triumphantly with it, perhaps to a nest. Fantastic - I chuckled all the way home to the Chisos Lodge.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

West Texas Bird of the Day: Black-crested Titmouse

[Black-crested Titmouse, Davis Mountains, TX April 23, 2013. Click to enlarge.]

Tomorrow we hike to Boot Spring, or as far as we need to to see Colima Warbler. Won't be carrying the camera for that little 11 mile expedition. . . .

West Texas Bird of the Day: Scaled Quail

 [Scaled Quail, or "Cottontop," on the campus of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, TX, Sunday April 21, 2013. Click to enlarge photos.]

[Bonus bird of the day: this lovely adult Swainson's Hawk soared over our Odessa, TX hotel.]

Greetings from the hot, dry, and only somewhat birdy Davis Mountains, TX, where the Montezuma Quail elude us thus far but Scott's Orioles, Mountain Bluebirds and others have been nice consolation prizes. I'm leading a tour here with Mark Garland, and as such won't have much time for blogging, so I'm going to go with a "Bird of the Day" theme, and see where that takes us.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Small Wonders

[Fledgling Northern Mockingbird, maybe one that should have stayed a nestling a little longer, Odessa, TX April 20, 2013. Click to enlarge.]

Like I told the group, I love finding rare birds. I love seeing exotic birds in exotic places. But I REALLY love striking incidents and behaviors provided by familiar birds, like the baby Northern Mockingbirds next to the hotel tonight, and their parents which diligently fed them on the ground. These little guys maybe should have stayed in the nest, except we think we found the nest and the three fledglings together would not have fit in the nest any longer. This kind of thing happens all the time, baby birds falling or jumping from the nest seemingly too early. But they have a chance, a good one, of surviving. Certainly, the parents will tend to them there on the ground. A wonderful thing to watch, a wonderful way to end the day here in Texas (a day that included Bullock's Orioles, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, 4 species of dove - and the tour hasn't begun yet!)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Howdy From Texas

Well, we're out in west Texas for a week, hitting Big Bend and the Davis Mountains. I'm not sure how often I'll be able to update here, so bear with me and we'll get back on schedule when I return, maybe with some west Texas goodies to report.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday: Mirror

"I'm a mirror. If you're cool with me, I'm cool with you, and the exchange starts. What you see is what you reflect. If you don't like what you see, then you've done something. If I'm standoffish, that's because you are."
- Jay-Z

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Where You're Supposed to Be

 [Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at Higbee Beach WMA, Cape May, NJ Saturday April 13, 2013. The black eyebrow indicates this is a male. Click to enlarge images.]

Do you ever suddenly feel like you're exactly where you're supposed to be? Hang onto those moments, the way I'll hang onto this simple April morning which began at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ, where birds cooperated maybe a bit more than usual and the sun shone, but other than that it was just another spring day and that leaves me wondering, does the feeling come from outside or within? If you could make a pill that put this feeling in a person, the world would beat a path to your mountaintop.

Sometimes I get bored with writing just bird reports. We feel feelings behind these feathers. You can tell from the pictures I saw gnatcatchers and Palm Warblers and some turkeys, and you can add this and that, a Blue-headed Vireo heard scolding, a Black-and-white Warbler singing. About what you'd expect at Higbee in early April, along with Vince Elia and Bill Boyle sightings, and Virginia and Molly and Karen and later more friends at the Beanery. Maybe that was it, good spirits all around, avian, human, and the Mourning Cloak lifting ahead on the trail.

I like it when birds let me get close, and today a few did, so that was good.  When a sweater is enough and a jacket too much. When today is Saturday so tomorrow is Sunday and not Monday. When the bluebells are mulched with leaf litter and the lawn doesn't yet need cutting and the dog snores next to me. Goldfinches on the feeder. A nap in the offing, more time with friends and a loop around the meadows tonight.

Hang onto these moments.

 [One of a small flock of Palm Warblers at Higbee this morning, in the second field, recently tilled, which they apparently liked.]

[Wild Turkey bringing sexy back.]

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Fri-D:" Golden-plover

 Karen and Brian Johnson found this American Golden-plover, above, at Heislerville, NJ today, Friday, April 12 2013. Compared to a Black-bellied, it has a finer bill and darker cap which contrasts with the pale eyebrow. It is also slimmer and longer winged, with wings projecting slightly past the tail (on Black-bellied the wings are about even with the tail.) Compare the Black-bellied, below.

In the view below of the golden-plover, you can see the golden-plover doesn't have much of a wing stripe, while a Black-bellied would show a prominent white wing stripe.

[Karen and Brian also had this Black-necked Stilt at Heislerville - pretty good evening of birding for them!]

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday

"Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings."
- Salvador Dali

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The First of Seven Wonders of Cape May

[Northern Gannets talking behind the Cape May-Lewes Ferry on Monday. Click to enlarge.]

There are certain can't-miss natural events tied loosely to the calendar that are unique to Cape May, NJ. I don't know if there are 7 or 9 or 5 that really make the cut. I haven't gotten that far thinking this notion through. But believe me, I will - The Seven Wonders of Cape May beg to be written about, and I'm sure the problem will be there are more than 7 worthy contenders, what with warbler fallouts and hawk flights and monarch butterflies and Laughing Gull colonies and on and on.

Anyhow, if there are 7 wonders of Cape May, I think the first on the annual timeline might be the gannets in the Delaware Bay. Maybe this is giving some winter events short shrift, like courting Long-tailed Ducks for example. But hey, it's my list, right? My rules. It's got to be big, and the gannet thing is. You can leave me a comment with what you think the other wonders are, but don't try to talk me out of the gannets.

And someone is going to complain about the "unique to Cape May" thing, so yes, I know you can see a lot of gannets elsewhere. I can't remember if it was Audubon or Wilson who saw the gannet colony at St. Mary's in Newfoundland from a distance and thought his boat had chanced upon a rare spring blizzard over the rocks ahead. I feel lucky to have been to St. Mary's, and loved it, but the drama of gannets moving north in spring is compelling. The morning flight along the bay always puts the light of sunrise behind you, unless fog compresses everything to a flight of white and black over dark gray water and under pale gray sky. If there's any fog in the coming week or so, I suggest going to Sunset Beach or another bay viewing point, in case the flight turns close to shore and becomes epic.

Fog or not, in late March and early April they concentrate here, and south or southeast winds and maybe a rising tide all seem to pack them up into Delaware Bay, out of which they fly, often in the morning, which happened on Monday when, I hear, for a while they were a hundred a minute or so.

I had occasion to be travelling south on Monday afternoon, and chose to do so by crossing the Bay on the ferry. The day's gannets had thinned by then, but at one point almost 50 pursued the ferry, and delightfully kacked at each other as they jockeyed for position. A couple other birders were on board to notice, but most other passengers were oblivious, though the Captain's call about dolphins on the left side of the boat got some people out of their chairs to look. There were dolphins, indeed, and Red-throated Loons taking off in front of the ferry, too. But the gannets, they were the wonder. The first of seven. More or less.

[Red-throated Loon takes off in front of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. I've never had a bad trip on ths boat.]

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Size, and Goals

 [Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, the center two are the greaters. Compare overall size and bill proportions. Heislerville WMA, NJ April 6, 2013. Click to enlarge photos.]

It was a cool and windy morning at Heislerville on Saturday, and I discovered that although the tide was right (high), the early morning light is not optimal for checking both impoundments thoroughly, because the more eastern impoundment has you looking right into the light. That's the one that would have had the Ruff, if you could have seen into it.

I don't know, something's always conspiring against you if you let it, so I decided not to let it, and took advantage of a place where the light was perfect just to watch and listen to the flocks of Dunlin and yellowlegs. This was in the little triangle-shaped pool to the west of the main Heislerville impoundment, and with the sun over my shoulder I could sit in the truck, out of the wind and with the truck as a blind, and study. And truthfully just enjoy watching the birds feed, swirl, shuffle, feed some more, scatter when the Merlin flew over, and so on.

[Dunlin are about the size of a soda can. Notice how this one has a couple new feathers on its shoulder, as it starts the molt into breeding plumage.]

A Barn Swallow twisted by in the wind as I watched the shorebirds, one of two year birds for the weekend. The other was a singing Yellow-throated Warbler in Belleplain, where other than Pine Warblers and frog noise it is still pretty quiet.

I was asked by a friend this weekend if I had any particular birding goals for the year. I've been birding as much as I can, which means weekends mainly, and by virtue of living in Cape May and making a couple chases for rarities, have a pretty good "score," i.e. state year list total. The total's just a number, but the birds have been great.

So do I have any particular goal? Not really. I'm not doing a big year, not chasing down any rarity that's not convenient.  I guess I want to learn, to keep the knife sharp. What I mean is, if you don't bird a lot, you get a little slow and dull. You forget the hard stuff first, like flight calls, and lose your calibration for subtle i.d.'s like the yellowlegs. So there it is, have fun birding and stay sharp, that's the goal for 2013.

Monday, April 1, 2013

We're Off to See the Wigeon. . .

[Eurasian Wigeon drake, Cape May Point State Park, NJ tonight, found originally by Matt Webster.]

Emerging from the tax accountant's at 6:00 p.m. and discovering it was still daylight, I thought, what better way to celebrate the prospects of a tax return that might cover a new camera body than to run off and chase the male Eurasian Wigeon found by Matt Webster in Cape May today? So that's what I did. The bird was exactly where Matt reported, between Lighthouse Pond east and West at Cape May Point State Park, so one had only to walk in on the red trail boardwalk past the deafening trills of Spring Peepers, lift binoculars, and say "check." With a nod to the 5 Purple Martins circling overhead, another year bird for me. I admit little skill was involved in this endeavor, but it did take the gumption to forego the celebratory beer for an hour.