Friday, December 18, 2009

Twas the night before Christmas.......

To continue this holiday poem tale, here's another poem I came across a couple years back thanks to an inquiry on a listserve.  Thanks to Sean Conrad for sending this my way.  Enjoy!


Twas the Night Before Christmas 
(Bird Count that is) 
by Henry Lappen, Amherst, Massachusetts 
  
 'Twas the night before Christmas (count that is) 
           when all through the dark 
   not a creature was stirring 
           not even a lark. 

   

The stockings were hung 
        on their feet with care 
   in hopes that real frostbite 
           would not settle there. 

   The birders were quiet 
           listening for owls 
   filled up with coffee 
           which gurgled their bowels. 

   And Jan in her kerchief 
           and Scott in his cap 
   were straining their ears 
           to hear any yap. 

   When out in the field 
           there arose such a clatter 
   we sprang from the forest 
           to see what was aflutter. 

   When what to our wondering 
           eyes should appear 
   but a miniature flock 
           of eight tiny Killdeer. 

   I got out my camera 
           lively and quick,  
   I knew in a moment 
           I must have a pic. 

   More rapid than eagles 
           the birders all came 
   and they whistled and shouted 
           each calling a name. 

   They're buntings. No, warblers.  
           They're swallows. No, grouse.  
   They're Mallards. No, nightjars.  
           Or maybe titmouse. 

   To the tops of the trees 
           the birds flew away all.  
   Oh dash it! Oh darn it!  
           Did you hear a call? 

   As varied opinions that before 
           no proof will fly 
   the arguments of birders 
           will mount to the sky. 

   They're sparrows. No, bobwhites.  
           No, alcids. You dolt:  
   They were Black-headed Gulls 
           in second-year molt. 

   And then in a twinkle 
           we heard from the air 
   a trilling or chirping 
           or something unclear. 

   As we drew in our heads 
           and were turning around 
   down to the clearing 
           they came with a sound. 

   They were all dressed in feathers 
           from head to their foot,  
   they were dark as if tarnished 
           with ashes and soot. 

   A bundle of speckles 
           they had on their breast 
   their belly and shoulders 
           but not on the rest. 

   Their eyes-how they twinkled,  
           their mandibles-how pale.  
   Their cheek patches brownish,  
           not much of a tail. 

   Their dull little coverts 
           were brown like the wing 
   and their backs and their heads.  
           They had no eye ring. 

   They were chubby and plump 
           all filled up with berries 
   and also from composted 
           maraschino cherries. 

   A wink of an eye 
           and a twist of a head 
   soon gave us to know 
           we had something to dread. 

   They sprang to the air 
           to our team gave a whistle 
   that sounded as raucous 
           as an incoming missile. 

   But we heard them exclaim 
           e'er they flew out of sight 
   many starlings to all 
           and to all a good flight! 

Two nights before Bird Counts

The following poem was composed and posted to the Minnesota bird listserve a few years back by Roger Schroeder. 
It is one of my favorite Christmas bird count period pieces and helps describe how difficult it can be to decide where to go each year.  I have reposted it here (as I do somewhere every year). I hope you enjoy it. :D  


Two Nights Before Bird Counts-- by Roger Schroeder 

Two Nights before bird counts And I'm, wide awake;
Been tossing and turning Since a quarter past eight.
The birds and the places have my heart full of cheer
But I just can't decide who to help out this year
 
A Snowy Owl turned up in the County of Murray.
Now Janet is hoping the bird does not scurry.
She's trying to get in place a good team
So Audubon accepts this count with more glee
 
Gray Jays are flooding in to the northwest
For DL and Crookston that may be the best
Now, Tamarac and Warren may get them too
But how will I get to them all? WHAT TO DO?
 
But three! Not just one Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
Seem very reliable  - that may be a cinch
Though Carlton-Cloquet is across the whole state
And would mean a long drive after its already late
 
But darn it the Marshall Count's on the same day
 ( Maybe I'll pass it off and get far away. ) 
I've always wanted to help the count in Duluth 
 (I'd like to live there to tell you the truth)
 
Now what about those counts in the Southeast
that get titmice and eagles to the just the least
Winona, I think, would be a neat place to go
I'd rack up some new county birds then, you know.
 
La Crosse-La Crescent - one of my favorite locations
Consistently get waterfowl while on their migration
Then perhaps I could join Hockema on Rochester's count
Wait. That's the same day... that idea's out.
 
The Falls are quite scattered to travel by car
International, and Fergus might be just too far
Redwood is closer, Little I've done
(And I mean the location, the count there was fun!)
 
Oh how I long to bird all these great places 
That congregate together so many nice faces
Grand places like Rapids, and also Marais
(Places I'd also love to permanently stay)
 
Cook, and Mankato, and Itasca State Park
Owatonna, New Ulm, and Rice Lake NWR, 
Pine County, Long Prairie, Crosby, Battle Lake
Wild River and then Albert Lea - - heaven's sake!
 
I've already done Beltrami Island, and Big Stone
And know I can't make it to Ely by my own.
Aurora and Bemidji I'd both like to try
And want to get to Wabasha 'fore I die
 
New Year's day offers its set of challenges then
I want to try Pillager, and do Philbrook with Ben.
Mountain Lake-Windom is closer to Home,
But how I would love to again Baudette roam.
 
The vast metro area always turns up good birds 
Maybe for Northern Wright County this year's my turn.
Excelsior, Afton, Cedar Creek Bog, Hastings-Etter
The possibilities just get better and better.
 
One in Minneapolis - There's two in Saint Paul
How can I possibly get to them all!?!
There's more than 70 Christmas Bird Counts this year!
The choice will be difficult, that's perfectly clear.
 
WOW! The news from Bloomington is something to say!
Will that Slaty-backed Gull stick around two more days?
Austin that next day then might be it,
But that conflicts with Two Harbors, oh I quit!
 
Sorry, Dad, I can't cover your ground there in Hutch
For me, this list is growing way too much.
Willmar, Virginia, Sherburne NWR
Morris, just maybe, or Isabella by car.
 
I should help out the portions close by North Dakota;
Moorhead, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
Yet Fairmont and Roseau and Hibbing need help
as they all too often are stuck by themselves.
 
Sax-Zim, Faribault, and Henderson would be new.
But St. Cloud-Collegeville needs some help too.
How can there possibly be this many choices
Thirteen days could be filled with birds and their voices.
 
Now I'm getting stressed, and I'm losing sleep
This frantic a pace - although fun - I could not keep.
I suppose its the same old thing this year again
Lamberton, Cottonwood, and Lac qui Parle...
                                        ... with good friends.
 
Strange how we see each other but just once a year
Yet the room comes alive with refreshing new cheer.
Reliving the day, and the days that have gone by
Perhaps close to home are the best counts to try.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Do YOU bird by GISS?

GISS, or jizz as it's sometimes called is a mnemonic for "General Impression of Size and Shape." 
It's a term that many birders use this term to describe the way they bird. However, is it truly what we use?   

This post at the Bell Tower birding blog offers some insightful comments as to what we really do:  http://belltowerbirding.blogspot.com/2009/11/is-it-giss-or-what.html

Definitely one of the more interesting blog posts I've seen lately.  Enjoy! 

How would you like to win a free trip to Peru??

I'm not joking. Seriously.  Kolibri Expeditions out of Lima, Peru has pulled a massive PR stunt. They are offering 14 free places on 14 tours to Peru. Destinations are Manu and Carpish/Satipo Road. 

Check it out! 

It's an awesome offer! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Robert Frost

I have been sort of suffering from writers' block recently. Ever time I go to post something, I get stuck, then distracted and never finish. I currently have a whole post about chasing Ivory Gulls that is still in the works, as well as one about the Port Washington Kittiwake that I have yet to start. Not to mention at least two posts in progress for the ABA's Young Birder's blog "The Eyrie."  

Since I have little to say myself, I thought I'd let someone say it for me. The following is one of my favorite poems, by my favorite poet: Robert Frost.  

Frost was born in 1874 in San Fransisco, CA and was named after confederate general Robert E Lee.  In 1886, he moved to New Hampshire where he finished school and then attended college at Dartmouth.  He doesn't even finish the first year of school and leaves, bored with the whole thing. During the same year, he also becomes engaged to his girlfriend and fellow student Elinor White.  in 1897, he entered Harvard as a freshman but drops out at the end of the school year. It will be his last attempt at college.  Over the following years, his family is ravaged by disease and death, but despite this, he takes, and subsequently drops, several teaching positions and still manages to write several pulitzer prize winning poems. He also moves several times during this period. After several years of ongoing medical problems himself, in 1941, he moved to Cambridge, MA where he would remain the rest of his life. In 1959, he predicts the election of John F Kennedy and is appointed to three-year term as Honorary Consultant in the Humanities at the Library of Congress.
In 1962, he falls seriously ill with pneumonia and is hospitalized.  In 1963, he is awarded the Bollingen prize for Poetry. Not long after, he suffers a pulmonary embolism and dies Jan 29th, 1963. 

A more complete biography of Frost's life can be found here

So, without further ado, here is one of my favorite poems ever. 
It is entitled "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening."  Enjoy. 

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who do YOU bird with?

Here's a question for my faithful followers, who do you go birding with?   Is there some local club that you join on monthly field trips?  or do you go birding with the best of the best?  or just a group of friends? or do you have just one friend who you call every time you go out?  or do you just find yourself on your own most of the time?  

Do any of you go birding with a young (i.e. under 25) birder at all?  

I very often find myself on my own.  Do I like it that way? I don't mind it.  Sometimes it's better because you can stay out as long as you please without having to worry about someone else's schedule. However, I like birding with other people just as much as the next person.  While I don't have any one person who I go birding with all the time, there are several people who I'll call from time to time depending on where I'm going that day.  Bird club and Audubon field trips are also fun ways to get out birding with other people. I have attended many and now occasionally lead them.  

What about young birders you ask?  Unfortunately, they are scattered; few and far between.  Most are concentrated around cities.  I am fortunate to live only a few hour's drive from Chicago where there are 4 YBs I know of. It is still a long ways to drive just to go birding though.   With the Ancient Murrelet currently in Southern Michigan, I took the opportunity to spend a couple days birding with a couple YB friends. I'll usually take any chance I can get since I don't get to go birding with others my age very often.  Since we're all so scattered around the country, we usually end up seeing each other only during camps and conferences, or specially arranged trips or wild chases. Just a random birding day doesn't really make it economical to pull off. I'm only fortunate in that some of my good friends don't live all that far away. Others aren't so lucky.   

Do you know a young birder?  someone who you've birded with from time to time who hasn't been able to find anyone their own age to bird with?  Direct them here, and I'll see what I can do about introducing them to the network.   

Anyway, some things for you to think about. You are welcome to comment with your answers, questions, stories, ect. I'd love to hear them.  


Happy Holidays and Happy Birding!  

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Murrelet twitching


It was a chilly, gray, November morning when three birders arrived in the still, half light of dawn, at the end of the pier in Tiscornia Park in St Joseph, MI.  Not a word was spoken as they set up spotting scopes and began scanning the water.  Even though the sun wasn't fully up, there was already a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls just off the end of the pier.  Finding very little on the lake, I took a quick scan through the gulls. Each Bonaparte's had a large white triangle on the leading edge of the primaries. I was just about to go back to scanning the lake when I noticed a bird that did not display the white triangle. As it banked, I could see that the entire underside of the wing was dark.  "Alison!" I called. "Take a look at this gull. I think I've got a Little Gull." 
Alison Vilag turned her scope towards the flock and quickly confirmed my suspicions. "Yep, that's a Little Gull."   "Ooh, where?" Asked Libby Zeman. I quickly pointed out the bird to her. "The one with the dark underwing. Straight out at the top of the flock."   I was pretty happy to have picked out the gull on my own. It was a lifer for both of us. 
In the meantime, Alison had turned her scope back to the lake where she quickly picked out a Common Loon among the flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers.   
The morning wore on. Flocks of Mergansers flew by, several Common Loons were diving just offshore, a pair of White-winged Scoters flew by at one point as well as a few flocks of Greater Scaup. Even a sub-adult Parasitic Jaeger graced us with it's presence for about half an hour. 
By about 9:30, the number of people on the pier was beginning to grow. By around 11:30, there were at least a dozen people scanning the lake and still no sign of the Murrelet.  Alison, Libby and I were discussing where to go next where suddenly, Joe Lautenbach said "I've got it."  He said it so casually that everyone just gave him a startled look. I was the first to react. "got what??"  "The Ancient Murrelet." He replied.  Mass panic ensued as everyone scrambled to get their scopes on the bird.  It was surprisingly difficult to find even though it was only a few hundred yards off the pier. Eventually though, everyone got a look at the bird through the scope. I was possibly more ecstatic about seeing this bird than I have been for almost any other lifer. After doing my ecstatic little dance on the pier and giving both Alison and Libby a quick congratulatory hug, I grabbed my camera and ran off about 30 photos of the bird before it suddenly vanished as quickly as it came.  Though we were on the pier for another hour, it never reappeared. I heard later that it didn't come back til almost dark that evening.  
Then, Alison took us on a quick tour of the Lakeshore to see if we could get a few more lifers for Libby.  The female Long-tailed Duck at the near end of the pier gave us excellent looks (photo coming later)  
We were successful in finding Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a couple Thayer's Gulls at various stops, as well as Horned Grebes and more ducks. Try as we might though, we couldn't find any more scoters. I gave Alison a hard time about not getting her traditional daily Black Scoter quota, but she's off the hook since the Murrelet more than made up for it.  

Combined with the Black-legged Kittiwake that I found at the lake on the previous Sunday, it was a 3 lifer week for me! It's going to be a long time and a lot of luck before I can pull that off anywhere in the Midwest again. 

Til next time! Happy Birding! 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lake Michigan today

I know. It's been a month.  Have I been neglecting my blogging duties? yes.  Do I have an excuse? no.  I somehow keep getting distracted. I go to post something, and end up not writing anything. This time, I'm going for gold and post my adventure from today.  

This morning, I got up and headed over to The Lake.  My goal was to find a Black Scoter for my year list. I have never been able to see all three species of Scoter in one year. I always see at least two, but am never able to track down the third one. Interestingly enough, it's always a different Scoter too. Never the same one twice in a row.  
It's now Nov and I'm still failing.  I saw one Scoter all day and it wasn't the Black Scoter that I need.  It was a lonely, miserable Surf Scoter. Oh well, next time.  

I did however, see some cool birds.  

It all started around 11:00 this morning when I and my "trusty" Ford Taurus arrived in Port Washington, WI.  Parking at the harbor, I hopped out, grabbing my scope before I locked the door and headed towards the pier.  The winds were light and from the west. The skies were clear. A Cooper's Hawk sailed overhead. It was going to be a good day.  I scanned the harbor briefly with my binocs before turning my scope on the breakwater. Nothing unusual. Just the regular suspects. Canada Geese, Mallards and a large flock of gulls way too far out in the heat waves to ID. Ignoring them, I turned my attention to the closer group sitting on the breakwater. Through bins, they all seemed to be the same. I decided to take a look with my scope just to be sure. "Hmm, typical, just Ring-bills. Oh, there's a Herring; more Ring-bills; a few more Herrings and....... hey!  What's that???"  The gull with the dark mantle stood out like a sore thumb.  "Hmm, dark back, clean white chest, slightly streaked head. Seems to be a Black-backed Gull. Probably Lesser Black-backed...... hey wait a minute......... It has greenish, pinkish colored legs and a massive bill........ hmm.... let's compare with the Herring Gull next to it..... GEEZ! That's a big bird!!"
Of course, by this time, the typical thoughts were running through my head "Kelp Gull?? No way, the mantle isn't dark enough and those legs are pinkish, not straight green...... Of course!! It's a Great Black-backed Gull!!"  
Great Black-backed Gull, while definitely an uncommon bird, isn't exactly rare for Wisconsin. We do get a fair number of them every year. This was the first time I'd seen one in Wisconsin for quite some time though. I don't get over to the lake very often.  
Feeling a bit elated, I stopped at one of my favorite sandwich places in Port Washington (fortunately right there at the harbor) to grab a bite to eat and to post my findings of the morning. 

After lunch, I headed north along the lakefront, stopping at various accesses along the way.  
One of my first stops was the County D access at Harrington Beach SP.   
As I pulled up to the end of the road, my thoughts were running back over what had been seen here in recent weeks. Red-throated Loon, Black-legged Kittiwake and Little Gull were a few of the goodies that had turned up just off the point at Harrinton Beach. For some reason, that stretch of lake is always productive.  Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned species turned up for me. I was doomed to an hour of sorting through Greater Scaup and, even though it was a year bird (as pathetic as it might seem), literally thousands of Horned Grebes.  
As I stood on the beach, scoping the ducks, I happened to glance up and notice a slightly larger gull flying towards me. As it came closer and the angle changed, I was quick to note the complete lack of any sort of black markings on the wings. It was as if someone had taken a Herring Gull and painted it white. My brain went into overtime thinking "I bet that's a...... GLAUCOUS GULL!!!" I happily finished out loud.  Glaucous Gulls are regular winter residents along the Great Lakes and can be quite common but on my side of the state, they're quite rare so I was happy to see one.  My next stop was the Oostburg access.  I parked, hopped out and started scanning the lake. More (several thousand) Scaup, few hundred more geese, a few thousand of the same gulls I'd been watching all day...... "Hey...... that gull is tiny!"   Once again, my brain went into overdrive. "Kittiwake? No, it didn't have the black "M"....... Little Gull perhaps? It did have the dark spot behind the eye......."  Then the bird turned towards me, displaying a white leading edge to the wing. Starting narrow at the wrist and broadening through the primaries.  "Dang it..... it's a Bonaparte's Gull........"  While always fun to see, Bonaparte's Gulls (or "Bonies" as they're commonly referred to) are quite common during migration. Especially near the coasts. When I was in Louisiana several weeks ago, I saw quite a few Bonaparte's Gulls along the beaches.  Sometimes, you can see hundreds or even thousands at a time. 

Me next stop was the Harbor in Sheboygan. One scan with the bins was all that was needed. Dead.  I headed a little farther up the lake to North Point. In the past, North Point has had some crazy birds. Glaucous-winged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Kittiwakes, Sabine's Gull, Jaegers, ect.  I parked and started walking south along the shore. Mallard, mallard, more mallards. Not even a Scaup which had been so plentiful farther south.  I turned around and headed north to the shelter at the point. A quick scan revealed only more Mallards and all Ring-billed Gulls. Not even a Herring Gull. I turned and started heading back to the car. As I did so, I happened to glance at the lake and noticed (to my surprise) a smaller, slighter duck working it's way south along the edge of the rocks.  I lifted my bins. A moment later, my suspicions were confirmed. It was the female Harlequin Duck that had been wintering at this very spot for the last 5 years. Looks like she's up for her 6th year now. Perhaps one year she'll stay into the summer and bring a male with her. Perhaps......... 

Having little light left to work with, I started driving the long 3 hour drive home.  
In all, it was an excellent day. The weather was perfect. Not too cold and almost no wind at all. The birds were cooperative and I was able to see a few species that I don't see every day.  In the case of the Harlequin Duck, it was only the 3rd time I'd ever seen that species and only the 2nd time in the USA. In both cases, it's highly likely the same bird, so my count still holds. I've only ever seen 2 Harlequin Ducks. One on Moraine Lake in Banff NP, Canada and one at North Point, Sheboygan, WI, USA. 

I'll be attending the Lansing Loop field trip on Sat so hopefully I'll find time on Sun to post about that. 

Til next time, 

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weekend at the beach. Literally. (Pt 1)

This weekend was the first major birding trip I've taken since I got home.  Fri evening, I drove to Riverside Park in Milwaukee where I camped for the night. Arising at O'dark thirty the net morning, I walked down to the Urban Ecology Center to meet the banding crew for that morning. We loaded up as people slowly trickled in. Then we walked down to the banding site. 
The area around the center was loaded with White-crowned Sparrows. As we walked down to the banding site, we heard good numbers of White-throated Sparrows calling.  
Arriving at the site, we set about setting up the nets. The mist nets consist of two metal poles staked to the ground with the net stretched between them.  Placed against a backdrop of woodland, they are nearly invisible when viewed straight on. 
After the nets were up, we sat down to wait. We would check the nets at 20 min intervals to see if anything had flown into them.  The trees around us were dripping Kinglets but not very many birds appeared to want to fly into our nets. In all, we caught only 4 birds that morning. 1 Swamp Sparrow (that we caught twice), 2 Song Sparrows and 1 Winter Wren. 

After the banding concluded (due to the wind picking up), I birded my way back to the car. Coming up almost empty handed, I hopped in the car and headed over to Lake Park. 
Lake Park proved to be the most productive of the entire day.  Keeping the wind in mind, I walked along the edge of the hill. I finally succeeded in finding a mixed flock. It was mostly Kinglets of both species but I did manage to pick out an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Gray-cheeked Thrush.  
Dropping down into the ravine, I found another flock. This one more diverse. 
Fitting among the leaves low in the ravine, I spotted a Redstart, Nashville Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, 2 Winter Wrens skulking in the creekbed, a lone Blue-headed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler and another host of Kinglets.  
Arriving back at my car, I headed south along the lake.  Warnimont park was dead and the lake was empty so I moved on. Sheridan park was also just as dead. It only picked up a bit when I reached Grant Park. Despite the city surrounding it, Grant park was easily the largest park I've visited along the Lake Michigan shoreline.  Birding was slow here too but I did manage to find a flock of White-crowned Sparrows as well as both Swainson's and Hermit Thrushes.  Scoping the lake was, again, useless since the only birds in view besides Ring-billed Gulls were Cormorants. 

Wind Point in Racine provided my 4th species of warbler for the day. A lone Palm Warbler hunting insects in the long grass.  
A little frustrated, I again turned south. This time right into the dark rain clouds that were looming ever so close.  By the time I arrived at Winthrop Harbor, it was drizzling.  I decided to call it quits for the day and headed to Illinois Beach State park for the night.  
Arriving at the park, I set about finding a campsite. 

In all, everywhere I went, there were Kinglets dripping off the trees but almost nothing else. 
It was one of the slowest days I've had for quite a while. 

Continued in part two.  

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Settling in at home

Hey everyone!  Sorry I've been rather absent from the blog world lately. I've been either swamped with birding, swamped with photo editing, swamped with scheduling, swamped with traveling, or just plain swamped.  I'll try to get back into the grind and crank out some more blog posts soon.  I've mentioned this before, but I've been unable to post any new photos lately since my computer hard drive has, inevitably, filled up. I have spent the last several days backing up photos and deleting them from my computer.  Hopefully, I will soon have enough space to upload all the new photos from my trip to California and my trip back home.   I will then be able to fully relate my adventures on the far western coast of the USA.  

As for now, I am settling back into "normal" life back home here in WI.  

After I returned home, my friends and I attended the WSO's Jaegerfest weekend  at WI Point. 
Unfortunately, this year was slower than last year with passerines being almost nonexistent.  We had a good show of Parasitic Jaegers with at least 6 being seen and a single flyby Long-tailed Jaeger.  
Just like last year, the weather was perfect, the lake dead calm and not much in the way of birds except for the thousands of Ring-billed Gulls present.   
Hopefully next year will be more productive. 

Here in WI, we're starting to wind down towards the tail end of migration.  Warblers are still moving through, but in much smaller numbers. Species diversity has also dropped and numbers of Yellow-rumps have increased.  

This weekend, I am attending a banding session at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee on Sat. Then, I am camping at Illinois Beach State park that night where I am meeting some other young birders and birding the Chicago lakefront on Sunday.  Should be a fun weekend. 

Hopefully, I'll be able to post about my CA adventures sometime soon.  Just as soon as I can upload the photos off my camera. 

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Friday, September 25, 2009

Press release: Great Backyard Bird Count

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For release: September 25, 2009


Take a Mid-Winter Nature Break With the
Great Backyard Bird Count
February 12-15, 2010



New York, NY and Ithaca, NY—Bird watchers coast to coast are invited to take part in the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday, February 12, through Monday, February 15, 2010. Participants in the free event will join tens of thousands of volunteers of all levels of birding experience to count birds in their own backyards, local parks or wildlife refuges.

Each checklist submitted by these "citizen scientists" helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how the birds are doing—and how to protect them. Last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 checklists online, creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

"Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds—all at the same time. Anyone who can identify even a few species can provide important information that enables scientists to learn more about how the environment is changing and how that affects our conservation priorities," said Audubon Education Vice President, Judy Braus. "Everyone who participates in the GBBC—families, teachers, and young people—will get a chance to hone their observation skills, learn more about birds, and make a great contribution to the future!"


Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org. One 2009 participant said, "Thank you for the opportunity to participate in citizen science. I have had my eyes opened to a whole new interest and I love it!"

"The GBBC is a perfect first step toward the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change," said Janis Dickinson, director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab. "Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way—citizen science—to gather data on private lands where people live and doing this across the continent over many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape."


Bird populations are always shifting and changing. For example, 2009 GBBC data highlighted a huge southern invasion of Pine Siskins across much of the eastern United States. Participants counted 279,469 Pine Siskins on 18,528 checklists, as compared to the previous high of 38,977 birds on 4,069 checklists in 2005. Failure of seed crops farther north caused the siskins to move south to find their favorite food.

On the www.birdcount.org website, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count. The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. Many images will be featured in the GBBC website's photo gallery. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs, and many other great birding products.

For more information about the GBBC, visit the website at www.birdcount.org. Or contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473 or (outside the U.S., call (607) 254-2473) or gbbc@cornell.edu, or Audubon at citizenscience@audubon.org or (215) 355-9588, Ext 16.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible, in part, by generous support from Wild Birds Unlimited.
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Editors: Please go the GBBC News Room for high-resolution images, top-10 lists, FAQS, and results of the 2009 count. To interview a participant in your area, please get in touch with one of the media contacts listed below.

Contacts:

Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (607) 254-2137, pel27@cornell.edu
Delta Willis, Audubon, (212) 979-3197, dwillis@audubon.org
Images by 2009 GBBC participants: Black-capped Chickadee by Rodney Smith, WA; Bird watcher at window by Terie Rawn, NY; Pine Siskins by Steve Gillespie, WV.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a nonprofit membership institution interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Cornell Lab's website at www.birds.cornell.edu.

Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation. www.audubon.org

Cornell Lab of Ornithology
159 Sapsucker Woods Rd, Ithaca NY 14850
Call toll-free: (800) 843-BIRD (2473)


National Audubon Society
225 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014
Call: (212) 979-3000

Friday, August 28, 2009

California: Day 1

Sorry I haven't uploaded any photos yet. I'll get there. 

Today was day one of my all too short trip to California.
  
I drove to Phoenix last night, where I spent an altogether too short night.  Awaking at 3am, I hopped on the highway and flew through the city and out into the desert.  A call from my friend Neil alerted me to the presence of a Great Knot in San Diego. Not all that far south of my destination. I changed plans and headed to San Diego via the Salton Sea. 
Arriving at the sea around 10:00, I slowly worked my way down the coast until I finally found 4 Yellow-footed Gulls at a random boat launch just north of Red Hill.  
Having seen my target bird, I flew on through and arrived in San Diego around 2:00pm.  The spot was a bit hard to find at first and then I had to walk about a mile to get there, but there were the birders. All clustered around scopes and cameras. All fixed on one subject. The Great Knot.  Now, it should be known that there is some speculation that this is not a pure Great Knot. Many people think it hybridized with a Surfbird. If it did (we're still waiting for the verdict) it would be even rarer. in fact, so rare, that this would be the first documented occurrence of this hybrid.  Still, a cool bird to see.  
Then I hopped back on the interstate (this time I-5) and headed on up to my friend Neil's house where I'm spending tonight, tomorrow and tomorrow night. We'll be birding around Orange County tomorrow. 

California is an interesting state with their own laws and their own customs.  Here, you will see Surfboards strapped to the roofs of cars rather than skis or snowshoes.  The balmy temperatures (conditioned by the cool breeze off the ocean) are a far cry from the super dry, oven-like conditions found in Tucson. 
It's almost always sunny here too. People will welcome you to "sunny california." They're proud of it. :D 
All in all, it's a cool state and has some great birding. Just, it's a bit hard to navigate. I've already gotten lost about 5 times...........

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Update and return from blogging hiatus

To all of my faithful followers, SORRY!!! I haven't posted in over a month.  Each time I went to do a post, I would get distracted by something. It's been an insane summer. 
I won't go into all the details just yet (save those for a dreary winter day :D ) but I will fill in on some of the stuff that has happened. 

As usual, for most of the summer, I've been chasing rare birds around southeast Arizona. Some of the birds that have turned up since my last post have been: Plain-capped Starthroat (as pictured on my blog header), Aztec Thrush, Brown-backed Solitaire (a potential first ABA record), a Green Kingfisher at San Pedro (which has repeatedly refused to appear for me), 2 Black-bellied Plovers at Wilcox (Found by me), another Aztec Thrush in the Chiricahuas (again, found by me) and several other awesome birds. 
A Wood Stork has been hanging around in Phoenix over the past week (I'm not chasing it) and a Blue-footed Booby turned up on a lake just east of Albuquerque, NM (might chase it). 

Other than that, it's been absolutely crazy.  I've been kept pretty busy. 

Oh! I wanted to tell you the most fun part of the whole summer! I got to help out with Camp Chiricahua! 
Some of you might remember me mentioning this last year when I attended Camp C. 
This year, I actually got to hang out with the group.  
It was a younger group of kids this year, but a very awesome and highly interested group. 
You could show them a bird 3 or 4 times and they would still look at it. You could show them plants, and they would look (Dave was very happy about this). 
Anyway, it was one of the most awesome groups I've ever hung out with. This year, instead of the usual one person not interested, it was the opposite. Everyone was interested and everyone was a good birder! Not like some groups you get where one person isn't a birder at all (Dave was pretty happy about this too. :D ) 
This year's camp counselor (Rebekah Rylander from Austin, TX) was awesome and did her job well (keeping the kids out of trouble.... lol ). Definitely a good person for the job and more creative than most. She gets high marks from me. ;) 

Camp C this year was highly successful (we even got to camp at Rustler Park this year. Got rained out last year.) The high point of the camp for almost all of the kids (I, unfortunately couldn't join them that day) was the finding and documenting of the ABA's potential first record of a Brown-backed Solitaire.  I heard from them a couple hours later and then drove over to join them that evening. They were ecstatic (It was the first time any Camp Chiricahua group had found a first ABA area record). Dave seemed to be almost more ecstatic than they were! :D 
As you can imagine, I wasn't very happy. ;)  But I did take them to Patagonia to see the Sinaloa Wren and then on to Florida Canyon to see the Black-capped Gnatcatchers. 

After dropping them off in Tucson, I headed back to Sierra Vista the next morning and headed up Ramsey Canyon. Fortunately for me, my luck held and I did not even have to wait. The bird sang as I walked up the canyon. 5 minutes later, I was looking at the ABA's first potential record (well, first to potentially be accepted anyway) Brown-backed Solitaire. 
Fortunately for everyone, the bird stuck around for a few weeks which gave me time to go back and photograph it. 

Unfortunately for the campers, an Aztec Thrush was found in Ramsey Canyon a few weeks later. I had the good fortune to be able to go see and photograph that bird as well. 

A couple weeks later, a Plain-capped Starthroat showed up in Patagonia at the Spirit Tree Inn. 
I had just happened to be in Sierra Vista when the bird was reported so I was able to be there the next morning. Again, my stroke of good luck held. The bird came in every 30 minutes (hence the photo on my blog header)  Unfortunately for others, that was the only day it did. 

Other than that, it's been rather quiet recently. 

Onward to upcoming news! 
I am driving to Tucson tomorrow, getting some stuff checked out on my car, and then I am driving to Monterey, California on Friday!! 
I'll be doing it in stages. I'll drive to L.A., spend some time puttering around there, then drive north along the coast to Monterey where I will be catching the Aug 31st Pelagic trip with Debi Shearwater!! You can tell I'm excited. :D 
It will be my first Pelagic trip ever so I'm expecting lots of lifers.  I'm buying another CF card so that I can take lots of pictures.  I'll need it. I expect that the first 200 or so photos will be blurry. I'll need a few hours of practice to get sharp photos from a moving boat. 

Anyway, I'll give a full report about that when I get a chance.  

I will be back in Arizona on the 4th of Sept. I'm picking up Dave Jasper from the Airport on the 5th and will be back in Portal that night. I will be in Portal on the 6th (packing mostly) and then starting the long drive home on the 7th.  I will be home by the 15th. Just in time to leave for Duluth on the 16th.  I'll be home for good by the 21st. 

Sorry for the lack of photos in this post. I felt bad, so, same as the last post, here's my Flickr url: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swallowtailphoto/


Happy Birding!! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More photos

Visit my Flickr page for some more photos from the last two weeks: 


Update

Sorry! I haven't posted in over 2 weeks! I've been swamped.  Here's a summary of what's happened since I posted last: 

Jacob Cooper and I drove up to his house in CO for a relaxing 3 days. I drove up to Jacob Lake (west of Marble Canyon) and met him there. While I was there, we managed to do Sunset and then sunrise at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. That was pretty awesome! We hopped in his truck and headed north. Our first stop was Zion National Park where we picked up California Condor! 



Then we drove up to Grand Juntion, arriving late at night.  The next day, we slept in late, Jacob's mom made a full breakfast for us and we hung around the house most of the day which his mom did laundry, Jacob got some stuff done, ect. That night, we went to see the new Transformers movie.  The next day, we did pretty much the same thing except go to look for Gunnison Sage-grouse. We failed, but I did find my first Brewer's Sparrow in a loooong time. It was a good year bird. On our drive back home, we stopped in Ouray, CO where we picked up Cassin's Finch, Black Swift and Western Grebe. I also got my year Barrow's Goldeneye. 

We arrived back at the Grand Canyon where I spent the night. Then I drove back home the next morning. 

When I hit Tucson, I picked up my friend Andy Johnson from the airport and we drove to Willcox, AZ and twitched the Pacific Golden-plover that was being seen there.  
Andy and I then spent Sun, Mon and Tues birding around the Chiricahuas. He picked up all the lifers that he had missed last year including the high elevation birds like Olive Warbler and Short-tailed Hawk.  We also saw the now resident Flame-colored Tanagers and a nesting pair of Berylline Hummingbirds. 



On Wed, Andy and I took off for the Huachucas. We arrived mid morning and started at Ramsey Canyon. Not much there. A quick jaunt into Miller Canyon produced the usual hummingbirds at Beatty's. White-eared, Berylline, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Mag, ect
Mary Jo's in Ash Canyon had both male and female Lucifer Hummingbirds.






 Thurs, we hit San Pedro in the morning for Tropical Kingbird and then ran to Patagonia where we had excellent views of the Sinaloa Wren! 


 Paton's feeders had the usual Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Thick-billed Kingbird.  

On Fri morning, we birded Patagonia Preserve and added Beardless Tyrannulet to the list. Fri afternoon provided a fruitless search for Rufous-capped Warblers in Florida Canyon but we did find the lone Five-striped Sparrow that has been hanging out by the Sycamore tree there. 


Fri night, we planned on camping at Catalina state park. When we arrived in Tucson, the rain was coming down so hard, that you couldn't see the road in front of the car. Water was pooling on the road and people were hydroplaning everywhere. We drove into the state park, but when we came to the first wash, I took one look at the amount of rain coming down and quickly nixed the idea. We ended up camping in a hotel parking lot. 

Sat morning, we went back to the state park. The wash was covered with about a foot of sand. If we had camped in there the night before, we would have been stuck for a few hours. 
Having nothing to do at the park, we drove down to Sweetwater Wetlands where we talked to some people, saw a few water birds and then saw a family of Burrowing Owls: 




Then I dropped Andy at the airport and drove home to Portal. It was an amazing two weeks! 

Since then, I've been birding around the Chiricahuas, looking for new work and waiting until tomorrow. 
Tomorrow, VENT's Camp Chiricahua will be in town for the week! Camp Chiricahua is an ecology camp for high school aged kids. Although, the primary focus of the campers is birds, they do many other things too. It's an amazing camp and one I highly recommend. 
The leaders are Dave Jasper and Rob Day. Rob is an excellent cook and Dave is the most amazing trip leader ever! I could swear that he knows by name every living thing that resides in the Chiricahua mountains.  If you have a chance to go to this camp, do it! it's worth it! 

Til next time, Happy Birding! 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Change of plans!

Well everyone, Texas is out.  One of Jacob's co-workers had to leave on an emergency so he has to cover their work too.  Now he'll have only 4 days to take off work.  

We decided rather than waste those 4 days, we'd take advantage of them.  As soon as he has some dates nailed down, I'll drive up to Flagstaff and we'll start from there.  Before we head out, we'll run over to the Grand Canyon and pick up California Condor. Then we'll head north to Grand Junction, CO.  At Grand Junction, we'll go looking for Gunnison Sage-grouse. On day 3, we'll go pick up Black Rosy-finch.  Day 4 will be birding our way back south and pick up White-tailed Ptarmigan and Brown-capped Rosy-finch!  I couldn't ask for 3 better lifers.  

Wish us luck! 

Tomorrow, I'm headed to Patagonia to attempt to photograph that stupid Sinaloa Wren.  I'll probably be there until Sunday.  Hopefully the bird will hop out into the open. Keyword here is Patience. 

Happy Birding!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Car problems


On Saturday, my friends Jacob, Tyler and Andrew invited me to come spend the day with them in the Huachuca Mountains.  They left my house (where they had stayed on Fri and Sat, but that's a whole other post) and drove over to Carr Canyon.  I had to stay for a high school group out from Tucson that I was taking Owling that night.  
Needless to say, the Owling went well. They all thought I was amazing after I pulled 3 species of owls out of 20mph winds and rain.  It was pretty cool. I almost thought we weren't going to do it, but the owls cooperated in the end. 

Anyway, I left Portal around 10:00 and arrived (after driving up the steep, narrow, winding mountain road) at the top of Carr Canyon.  Since I had arrived so late, I slept in late while Jacob and Tyler walked off to see their year Greater Pewee and Buff-breasted Flycatcher.
When I finally woke up, we walked up the trail in a futile search for Eastern "Azure" Bluebird. 
We did end up finding a Virginia's Warbler though. Interestingly enough, this bird is not at all common in the Chiricahuas and was a new state bird for me.   

Not finding the Azure Bluebirds, Tyler, Jacob and I decided to head to Miller Canyon. Andrew stayed to record flycatcher vocalizations. 
We dropped Tyler off at the Hummingbird feeders to wait for his lifer Berylline Hummingbird and walked up the canyon.  1 young male Black Bear and some Red-faced Warblers later, Tyler had seen his Hummingbird and we headed out. Over lunch, Tyler found out about a pair of Elegant Terns at a small city park in Tucson.  Needing that bird for my state list and for the year, I followed them down to the park. The small lake is surrounded by concrete shores but does have fish in it. It's the weirdest place I've ever seen an Elegant Tern: 




After seeing the Terns, I said goodbye to Jacob and Tyler and headed home.  Just outside of Tucson, I stopped in the small town (well, not even a town) of Vail to top off my tank.  After topping off the tank, I started the engine and it immediately started making a high pitched screeching sound. I quickly pulled forward into a parking place and popped the hood.  
I killed the engine and opened the hood. As I did, there came a cracking noise and the serpentine belt snapped clean in two right in front of me.  Well, you should have heard me curse my bad luck.  2 hours and several phone calls later, a tow truck came and took me and my car to a nearby mechanic. However, this was late on a Sunday afternoon so there wasn't anyone open. I booked a room at the nearby Holiday Inn and settled in for the night.  The next morning, I called the guy and had him look at the car. Fortunately, he managed to get to work on it right away. He called me back at about 4:00pm yesterday and said that he wasn't going to be able to finish but he would pay for a hotel room for that night. I settled right back in at the nearby Holiday Inn.  This morning, one of his mechanics accidentally broke the evaporator. Fortunately for me, they replaced it free of charge.  I'm rather glad because I'm sure I would have had to have replaced it someday anyway.  It did take longer though and now, I'm waiting for them to finish some minor repairs. My car should be ready very soon and I'll be on my way back to Portal after spending 2 more days in Tucson than I had planned.

Hopefully they did everything correctly. If they did, I should be able to drive the car all the way to Brownsville and back with no problems. I took some time and filtered down all the problems and it all seems to boil down to one cause. The A/C on the car has cause all of the problems I've had so far. Since the Serpentine belt runs everything, if one thing isn't working, nothing works.  
Now, the car has a brand new A/C system so it should work forever.  

Jacob and I leave for Brownsville in two weeks. We'll probably take my car now that I've replaced almost every moving part on it. It should work great right?  At least, I hope so! 

Til next time, Happy Birding!