Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Biggest Week in American Birding!

Once again, for my 5th year in a row, I will be blogging and leading field trips at The Biggest Week in American Birding! The biggest birding festival in the country! Based at Maumee Bay State Park just east of Toledo, OH, this is THE festival for seeing spring migrants, especially warblers!  

Most of my blogging will be live updates during the festival, but I'm posting this to get you set for that.

If you haven't attended this fantastic festival yet, I highly recommend that you come on down and see what we're about!  The Boardwalk at Magee Marsh is fantastic for viewing migrating warblers on their last stopover before they cross Lake Erie. Not just that, but all the places the field trips visit are amazing in their own right!

Now, most of the trips have filled up already, but there are still some that have space available! I've annotated some of them with some background on just why you should sign up for them.
Here they are:

May 8
Van #10 Catawba/Marblehead Birding Hotspots (an excellent field trip that is not to be missed!) 
12:30 pm workshop: Owls of the North Woods, by Erik Bruhnke (Self-explanatory. Owls are just awesome and this presentation is given by my good friend and fellow guide, so you have to go see it. Seriously, it's worth the mid-day break in birding. :D )
7 pm - R Bruce concert (This will be a fantastic concert and a must-see event!

May 9

12:30 pm – My Junior Big Year, by Gabriel Mapel ("In 2011, 11 year-old Gabriel Mapel from Virginia embarked on birding's first ever "Junior Big Year".  His quest was to enjoy a child's version of a "Big Year", with a goal in this case of seeing at least 400 species of birds within the United and Canada in a single calendar year.  His travels took him to Florida, Texas, Alaska, Arizona, Ontario, and to right here at the Biggest Week.  Along the way he encountered many amazing birds including the Brown Shrike, Gyrfalcon, Horned Puffin and Black-vented Oriole.  The question is--did he reach his goal of 400 species?  Come and find out as Gabriel, who is now 16, takes us on a journey through some of the most memorable moments of his Junior Big Year adventure.  His informative talk mixes a sense of humor with the sheer delight and wonder of a pre-teen discovering the world of birding in the adventure of a lifetime.")

2:00 pm – History and Projects of the American Bird Conservancy

May 12
2pm – Birds to Words: Nature Writing to Inspire, Inform and Conserve (Drew Lanham) (Dr. Drew Lanham is one of the most eloquent speakers I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. This is not a program to miss!) 

May 13
7 am – Composing Images of the Natural World (photography workshop, Steve Gettle)

May 15
12:30 pm – Bird Song Ear Training Techniques (Lisa Rainsong) (There are many ways to learn bird songs. Dr Lisa Rainsong teaches you some of the best and easiest ways to go about learning them)
2 pm – What We’ve Learned and What We Still Don’t Know About Birds (Chuck Hagner) (Editor of Birdwatching Magazine, Chuck Hagner is an excellent speaker and this presentation is one of his more interesting topics. There is still a lot we don't know about even common birds and Chuck will explore what it is that we don't know)
7 pm – Movie: From Billions to None (passenger pigeon) (If you haven't seen this yet, you HAVE to. It's a fantastic film and Dr Joel Greenberg is just a cool guy all around anyway. :D ) 

May 16
9 am – Poetry of Nature: Expressing a Love of Nature Through Creative Writing (Nicole Robinson) (Expressing your love of nature can be done through many media and means. Poetry is one of the finest ways to do so and Nicole Robinson is an expert at it. I highly recommend this presentation if you have the chance to attend!) 

If you want to register, visit:

And hey, even if you haven't registered for anything, come on down anyway! It's always tons of fun!
Hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aurora Borealis!

Aurora to the left, city lights to the right

 St Patrick's Day received a fantastic auroral display!  Some parts of the midwest had displays that were easily visible to the naked eye. Not so in my corner of the state, but at least my camera could pick up the colors.  It's been some years since we've had a decent aurora so I couldn't miss this one.

The best display was before sunrise while I was still asleep.  Fortunately, it persisted throughout the day, so I went out last night to have a look.

The Aurora Borealis as it is known (aka the Northern Lights) is caused by a curious interaction between the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field.  There is always an Aurora Borealis and Australis going on, but normally it is restricted to the Arctic and Antarctic circles respectively.

On occasion, a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) is directed at Earth. This stream of charged particles plays havoc with our magnetic field. As the particles collide with each other over Earth's atmosphere, photons are released. This is what creates the spectacular light shows that we see.  The more particles there are hitting the Earth, the stronger the light show, and, usually the farther south it can be seen.

Last night, the aurora was seen as far south as North Carolina.  Pretty impressive.

Below are some more photos:
Or view them on Flickr:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Twitching a wayward finch

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis). 

This is a species that many birders make a special trip to see.  It's fairly common in high elevations of the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, but in the lower 48, it is restricted to only a few mountain peaks and high passes.  

I've seen this species before, both in the Canadian Rockies and at Glacier National Park, but my home state of Wisconsin had but 2 previous records.  

Last Friday, that changed.  Word came 'round that one had turned up at a feeder in a back yard near Mellen, WI. A potential 3rd state record if accepted.
Mellen, I thought to myself. That's way too far to chase on my own. My car needed new tires and 700 miles of driving would be rather pricey, even with the lower gas prices lately.

Then, wonder of wonders, my friend Jim E called to say he was going and to ask if I was going to be twitching it.  Of course I would twitch it! But, only if he was driving.  Fortunately, he had one extra seat left in the back of his Suburban.  I took it!

I met the group at 2:30am at the interstate and we took off.  The group was composed of my friend Jim and some other awesome people from near Waukesha: Mark K, Ryan and Derek S and Ryan's girlfriend Bri.

We had a great ride over the next four hours, chatting about traveling, old WI vagrants that had turned up over the years, birding in various exotic places around the country and the world, etc.
The usual birder chatter on long road trips.

We arrived shortly before 7am and set up our stakeout where the homeowners had said birders could stand to view the bird.  20 minutes later, as the sky was steadily getting lighter and Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks began to sing, a small brown blur zipped through my field of view and to a railing that was just out of sight around the corner.  "What was that?" I asked, suspecting exactly what it was.  "Get on that bird!"   Those to my right had a better view of the railing.  "It's the Rosy-finch!"  and so it was.

The bird sat on the balcony for a good ten-fifteen minutes, enough time for me to sneak around the other side so I had a better shot. A few minutes later, everyone else joined me.  We watched the wayward bird feed heartily on the offered sunflower seeds, then darted into the Spruce tree a few feet away.  A few minutes later, he popped out and sat on a branch, in the open, for the next 45 minutes.
All who were present (by that time a few other friends: Tom P, Ted K, Dan B, had all shown up) enjoyed spectacular looks at the bird.  Finally, the bird darted away into a nearby tree and took off.

Feeling that we'd had the best looks we were going to get, we exchanged high-fives and piled into the car.  Another successful chase in the books and a new state bird for all of us!

More photos and a video on my Flickr page: