Monday, March 31, 2014

Comfort in the Familiar

[American Robin at the National Conservation Training Center, West Virginia. I've always loved the intricate patterning on American Robins - which most people never notice.  But look at the fine markings on the face and throat.  This is one special bird.]

As alluded to in my previous post, there hasn't been much time for birds, birding or blogging of late, but this afternoon I emerged from the classroom at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia determined to see some nature, and was not disappointed. Four species of woodpeckers - Downy, Red-bellied, Pileated and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - foraged right outside my room, and an Eastern Phoebe sang cheerfully from the eves.  A Red-shouldered Hawk called angrily when a Red-tailed Hawk flew overhead. "Only" the American Robins posed for photos, but that was okay.  I love robins.  A passing classmate in the training I'm taking shared the sentiment, and we paused together to watch the robins forage on the roadside lawns for a while. 

I remember talking with a geologist friend once about how we go about orienting ourselves to new or strange places.  For him, it was the rocks, the folds in the earth, and the commonality of processes that made them.  For me, it's always been the birdlife, whether watching egrets and herons in an unfamiliar African wetland or robins and woodpeckers doing what they do at a North American location.  What would we do without robins, woodpeckers, phoebes, hawks. . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Here It Is

[Ring-billed Gull, Norbury's Landing, NJ, March 23, 2014. Click to enlarge.]

Here it is, the one bird photo I took this weekend.  I suppose I could challenge you to think of all the reasons this isn't a third year Herring Gull or a Mew Gull, for practice, but I won't.  I think breeding plumage gulls are stunningly beautiful, common or not, which is why this Ring-billed Gull that cooperated so nicely at Norbury's Landing, NJ merited a photo.

Only one photo for a whole weekend seems to indicate a poor weekend, and birding wise it was.  Worse, I'm coming into a serious period of what will be bird-deficit-disorder (BDD) circumstances, involving three weeks worth of training, and a week of regular work, and not  lot of time or place to dally with the birds. I'll try to keep things up here at the Freiday Bird Blog, but it's going to be tough, so I ask your forbearance and encourage you to ride along until things are right again. We might be looking at this gull together for a little while, and not much else, longing for free times with arriving spring migrants to share with each other.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Oystercatchers

[Stone Harbor Point, Sunday March 16, 2014.  Click to enlarge.]

Sunday, March 16, 2014


[Pair of Wood Ducks at "Lake Champlain," a little pond/detention basin in the Villas on Saturday March 15, 2014.]

I thought about going to Belleplain State Forest this weekend, but sensibly talked myself out of it.  Relatively speaking, Belleplain is still like a tomb in March, with only the hope of a phoebe among the few residents to break the silence of migrants yet to come.  Not the Belleplain of April or May, with its butterflies and breeding birds galore.

If it's migrants you want, March is a good time to look for ducks. So I did, and found a few.  Wood Ducks on "Lake Champlain" in the Villas, a glorified detention pond that deserves a little glory, since it was good not only for the woodies but for 3 Red-necked Grebes, shovelers, ruddies, Hooded Merg, etc.  Delaware Bay has plenty of scoters, Bufflehead, and a few more Red-necked Grebes, one can say cavalierly this winter with the big influx of the latter species, big enough that I don't even report RNGR to normal rare bird channels anymore.  This year.  Don't take the grebes for granted, it'll likely be a different story come next winter.  Rounding out the duck report, both Eurasian Green-winged Teal and Eurasian Wigeon are spicing Lighthouse pond at Cape May Point State Park, or were on Saturday.

[Pair of Bufflehead shows their wing pattern as they land in the Cape May canal on Saturday.]

What else.  Two pairs of Mourning Doves are on eggs in feeble stick nests in my tiny yard already, and cardinals are singing from high places everywhere, rushing spring along. The doves can nest so early because they, like all doves, will feed their young crop milk, a slurry derived from cells sloughed off the walls of their crops, to which will be added partially digested seeds as the young mature and can handle that. Hence, no need to wait for insect to feed their offspring.

I've been doing a good job of striking out on the rare gulls that are found along Delaware Bay near where I live every late winter, i.e. Black-headed and Little.  It's a tide thing, and it seems like you want to be at the hotspots like Miami Beach (Villas, NJ, has its own Miami Beach as well as Lake Champlain. . .) about two hours before high tide, when the tide pushes the gull flock close to shore but there still is enough shallow water and sandbars for the birds to feed and rest.  I haven't hit the tide just right yet, even though I live here, and have only seen one Black-headed, once, this spring.  There are apparently at least four, plus a Little Gull.  This morning I was up at daybreak and head to Miami to find, about an hour before high tide, not a single gull of any description.  Aaargh.

 [Northern Cardinals are singing all over, a delight that always reminds me of the first cardinal song I ever heard.  I didn't know what it was, and just had to track it down.  That was, my goodness, all of 35 years ago.]

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday: Of Grebes and Naturalists

[Pied-billed Grebe, Villas, NJ, March 11, 2014.]

"There were many grebes, making spreading wakes in the water as they swam, and I was counting them and wondering why they were never mentioned in the Bible.  I decided that those people were not naturalists."
-Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills Of Africa

"And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
- Genesis 1:20

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Spring is Here

[Laughing Gull, Miami Beach in Villas, NJ, March 11, 2014.]

Sunday, March 9, 2014

No Camera

Did you ever for a brief horrifying moment believe something valuable of yours had been stolen?  You retrace your steps, first in your mind and then for real, searching for that precious object, certain foul play has occurred.

Until you remember where you left it. That was me with my camera this weekend.  It's at work, I know exactly where I left it after I led a field trip for the Pinelands Short Course at Forsythe NWR.  Happily, it's in a safe spot. Unhappily, it's not with me, and wasn't for the rest of the weekend's birding, so no new pictures for the Freiday Bird Blog today.  And yes, I do feel kind of naked without it, which means I've perhaps evolved finally from a birder/naturalist to a photo-birder/naturalist. 

Or maybe, dear reader, it just means I love to share what nature hands out, and so today I'd maybe be sharing photos of Brown Creeper at Lizard Tail Swamp or even the Black-headed Gull at Miami Beach, Villas, NJ, if I could have gotten a photo of either of them.

I dunno, this deserves further reflection.  Does the camera make you a worse naturalist, or a better one?  I virtually never photograph a bird I haven't identified and watched through binocs or scope first, so I'm not using the camera as an i.d. crutch there, taking pictures and identifying them later or even worse, taking pictures and then shipping them off to someone else for an opinion. Ah, but what about bugs, dragonflies and damselflies and butterflies and such?  I often i.d. such critters after the fact, and on occasion do send photos to others for help.  Is that bad?  I guess not, I learn a little bit every time. 

Here's something else:  I often spend much more time with a subject when I'm trying to get a good photo of it than I would if I was "just" birding or butterflying or whatever.  I've many fond memories of hanging out with a particular loon or sea duck foraging near a jetty, waiting for the perfect, close shot and in the process learning more about how they foraged and even what they were eating.  That's how I learned how often Common Loons feed on crabs, not fish, in winter. 

There.  The camera makes me a better naturalist. And I miss it.

 [This is actually a shot from 4 years ago, but it illustrates the point:  you can learn a lot watching wildlife through a camera lens, like for example what they like to eat. Common Loon, click to enlarge.]

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday: Dove Love

“In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove; In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”

 - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Mink

[Mott's Creek near Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, March 1 2014.]

Saturday, March 1, 2014

By the Sea

[This adult Razorbill was "naked-eye" on the north side of the 8th Street Jetty in Avalon, NJ.]
I love the sounds of the late winter ocean, and I'm not talking about the surf crashing, though that's nice enough. No, I'm talking about the courting ducks, the plaintive whistles of male Black Scoters and the barking of Long-tailed Ducks. That's what you hear when you get out of the car at Avalon, NJ now, from the many ducks that have accumulated there at the mouth of Townsend's Inlet.
Today there was also a nice close Razorbill, which set me to thinking about why I don't find rare birds more often.  The first reason is one of my favorite birding theorems:
But there are other reasons. Like, I don't look hard enough.  I left several thousand dollars worth of scope and graphite tripod sitting in the truck because I didn't feel like carrying it. Having the scope in hand interferes with quick binocular and camera use, but without the scope you are obviously range-limited.  I'm even more range limited at least some of the time, because when I'm thinking about pictures I'm thinking about, and looking for, close birds, i.e. naked eye birds, which is what the Razorbill was.  You'd be surprised how far away you can identify a bird naked eye once you try it, but even so, you find more birds if you scan with binoculars and scope.
Another thing that limits my rare bird finding is that I just don't enjoy looking for one species, no matter how rare.  This explains why I drove by Stone Harbor Point today, thought briefly about searching for the Smith's Longspur that was there a few weeks ago, and just said, nah, I'd rather not devote a lot of time looking for one rare bird when I can spend the same time looking at many common birds.  Like the flocks at Avalon.
It's not even that Razorbills are all that rare from shore in the winter.  I'd describe their status as "You usually don't find one, but now and then you do."  The Ebird filter doesn't even flag a single Razorbill in Cape May County, though I wonder a little about that, maybe it should.
[The Razorbill flew briefly out to the end of the jetty but soon worked its way back in to about the halfway point, where it spent a lot of time underwater.]