Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Birds at Busch Gardens

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." -Douglas Adams

Yesterday my family took a day trip to Busch Gardens, which, expectedly for this time of year, was swarming with thousands of tourists. Regardless, it was fun, and I was able to get some cool bird photos and even see a few lifers.

The only downside (besides all the tourists) is that, apparently -- and understandably -- neither the ABA nor the AOU allows for the counting of captive birds. The upside is, however, that now that I've seen some new birds, I'll know more of what I'm looking at when I finally do see them in the wild. =)

Hooded Mergansers aren't new to me -- a flock of 8 have recently taken up residence in one of my neighborhood's ponds -- but I've never seen one as close as this! There were several males adn females swimming around in the hippo tank, and for me, warranted much more interest than the hippos themselves.

I just thought this was kind of a cool shot. I love how you can see each pefectly placed feather on this one; they're gorgeous birds.

I also thought this one was pretty. She was a very content looking female, floating around placidly with the others.

Finally (finallyfinallyfinallyfinally!!!) saw my Black-necked Stilt! I've been wanted to see one for over a year now, and, although I can't officially count it, I can at least say I've seen one! There were quite a few of them in the aviary, and this one posed quite nicely in the afternoon sunlight for me.

Other would-be lifers I saw included a Brant and several Ruddy Ducks, of which I was unable to get a good photo.

Well, I suppose this will be my last post for 2008!

Until 2009,

Happy birding, and best wishes for a safe, happy, wonderful new year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

After-Christmas birding

"The Hermit is the great tone artist, the Red-eyed Vireo the obligato accompanest... . But every individual sings his own song!" -R. Schuyler Matthews, Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music
Yesterday afternoon, my mom, siblings and I rode our bikes to our local Great FL Birding Trail a few miles down the road to do some hiking and geocaching (and for me, birding!). It was a warm afternoon, but the cool breeze and heavily shaded trails made for a nice hike.
Searching for the geocache, we made many stops along the way to look at the lake, various birds, an armadillo, animal tracks in the sand, and so on.

Really, there is something about such simple explorations that feels very refreshing. It is all at once delightful, exciting, and relaxing to delve so deeply into nature, and fully appreciate every aspect of it.

Hiking down to the bank of the lake, I found this Palm Warbler sitting a tree, posing nicely for a long time. Unfortunately, it was rather far away, so my pictures didn't come out very clear, but I thought the lighting was really cool anyhow.

At last we managed to find the geocache hidden off the trail and burried under a clump of spanish moss. After writing in the log book, we returned it to its hiding spot, and hiked back out to the parking lot. The sun was setting quickly.

About three quarters of the way home, we stopped at the big lake, appropriately named "Lake Pretty." Although I spent the later part of my childhood and teenage years in this area, I had never gotten a picture of the lake. Fittingly, it was sunset, and I was finally able to capture a glimpse of this vista that I see almost every day.

Although I didn't see any new birds (I'm getting pretty used to that now!), it was a fun trip.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holiday Birding!

"The truth of the matter is, the birds could very well live without us, but many -- perhaps all -- of us would find life incomplete, indeed almost intolerable without the birds."
- Roger Tory Peterson

Merry Christmas from Earthbird's Blog!

I'll post more later, but I thought it would be appropriate to feature a Roger Tory Peterson quote today. One of the presents I recieved this morning was the book "Wild America," by Peterson himself and James Fisher. I've started reading it, and can tell it is going to be fantastic.

Happy holidays and happy birding!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Like Birds

"If you're small and on a search, I've got a feeder for you to perch on." -I Like Birds, by The Eels

I recently saw this weird little independent film called "Duck." It was... well, odd... but alright, I suppose.

The best part of the whole movie was this one song in the middle of it called "I Like Birds." So intrigued was I by this interlude, that I created my own music video to it. I don't think I've ever heard a more perfect birding song. :-)

Happy Birding!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Bird Count

6:30am this morning, I was driving down windy, rural roads in the inky blackness of pre-dawn, squinting through the dense fog. I could hardly see 10 feet in front of the car, and the windows kept clouding up. I hate driving. But if it gets me to a good birding spot, I'm game.

By the time I arrived at the preserve's research center, the sky was beginning lighten, just a little. When I got into the building, there were about 15 birders inside. I signed in, was introduced to people, and after a few minutes, we were all given the run-down on how the CBC would play out.

There were 4 people in my group; one woman who had only been interested in birds since the spring, a man who had been birding for about 3 years, and another birder I had met last year.

Strapping on my binoculars, camera and water bottle, I followed my group out to one of their cars, and we drove to the education center trail, our assigned area.

By then, it was beginning to get light outside, but the fog was still fairly heavy, muting all the sounds. Nonetheless, we picked up several Gray Catbirds, butterbutts, and Carolina Wrens on our first couple stops.

Everything was covered in a blanket of dew. Water droplets sparkled like little twinkling stars caught on the tips of the pine needles. It was a beautiful morning, even for all the fog.

Eventually we parked the car and began hiking our assigned trail. Before we even left the parking lot, I pointed out an American Kestrel that gave us a tremendous aerial display. It was shrieking and swooping about, a dull silhouette in the gray sky.

From there, we saw many more common species, as we entered the powerline strip. On two side-by-side towers, we counted 156 Black Vultures roosting. Not far past that, a Cooper's Hawk flew right over us, counting as a life bird for me.
Next, we followed a trail that two of the birders called something like "Web Alley," for the hundreds of spiderwebs spun in the surrounding foliage. I wasn't looking forward to walking through this area (spiders and I don't tend to get along so well), but was delighted to see the small, intricate webs covered with little beads of dew. When the sun began to shine a little, the spiderwebs glittered.
In this area, we counted American Crows, Palm Warblers, a Great Blue Heron and Great Egret, as well as several other species.
As we came out of Web Alley, the other birders noted that Eastern Towhees could be heard calling in the distance (another lifer!). We couldn't confirm any sightings, but we were able to count them by sound.

We saw many woodpeckers, including the above Red-bellied, which posed obediently in front of us for a while.

Some hotspots we found were swarming with Palm, Pine, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Tufted Titmice, and I even identified an Eastern Pheobe flitting around in some trees.

It took us about 4 hours to complete our route, and we finished with a grand total of 30 species. I was hoping to see more, but considering we had one of the shorter routes, I suppose it wasn't too bad.

After having done this, I'm eager to participate in more CBCs. It was a ton of fun, I got to meet some cool people, and see a couple new birds. There's another CBC in January that I'm going to try to attend at another nature park, which I have heard is far more competitive. I say, bring it on!

Happy birding!

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Friday, December 19, 2008

CBC, Here I come!

Okay. I'm psyched. I just signed on for my very first Christmas Bird Count.

I was kinda-sorta planning on maybe trying to get involved this year, but I didn't quite expect it to unfold the way it did.

While I was volunteering at the nature preserve today, I was chatting with one of the staff members, and he told me that the local CBC would be doing part of their count at preserve on Sunday.

The next thing I knew, he had left a message with this lady who is apparently in charge, and then about an hour later, she actually showed up, and handed me the phone number of someone else I was supposed to call.

When I got home, I called the number, and after explaining who I was, the man said that he had been told about me, and had a spot left open for the CBC!

So, I am set to meet everyone at 6:45am on Sunday at the preserve's research center. I'm a little freaked out -- I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm not sure if anyone I know will be there. But hey, life's an adventure.

Happy birding!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hiking, Biking & Birding... again!

"As I grew up I was fervently desirous of becoming acquainted with Nature." --John James Audubon

I feel like I can really relate to the above quote by John James Audubon. The older I get, the more intrigued I am by nature; and the more learn about it, the more I immerse myself in it, the more I want to know.

And so, I took another biking/hiking trip to the park today, this time with my brother tagging along.

It was a beautiful morning, with temperatures in the upper-70s, and quite a few birds flitting around.
A Butterbutt butt!! (sorry, I couldn't resist).. About 8-10 Yellow-rumped Warblers were feeding in a little grove of wax myrtle trees.

Couldn't get any great pictures, but I got a few shots.

We came across a turtle crossing the path at one point.

I couldn't resist going back to the mudflat. The gulls were still there, but I didn't see that any new species had joined the flock. There were three Common Terns there, instead of one, and lots of herons and egrets.
There also appeared to be Grebes in the distance. I couldn't get a good picture -- by the time we got to the other side of the lake, they were gone. I'm guessing they were Pied-billed Grebes, since that's the only kind I've seen in this area, but it's possible they might have been some other species.
My bird list for the trip topped out at 12 species:
  • Gray Catbird
  • Pied-billed(?) Grebe
  • Laughing Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Tricolored Heron
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Osprey
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Blue Jay

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hog Island closing

"If only the island could be saved, it would do more for us than we could possibly do for it." -Millicent Todd Bingham

Yes, you read it right. Hog Island is closing. Apparently, one of the students who had attended the Coastal Maine Bird Studies camp 2 years in a row had sent out an email about it two weeks ago, and I didn't see it until last night. Needless to say, I was mortified.

Maine Audubon is having economic troubles and had to cut back on several programs, one of which was Hog Island.

Fortunately they are allowing people to comment on their website, so I encourage you to do so. If you have ever visited the island, you will know what an important place it is. I implore you to share with them your story, and ask them to reconsider their decision to shut it down.

Hog Island is the most incredible place I have been, and, while I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it, I hope you will help out in ensuring others have that opportunity in the future.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hiking, Biking & Birding

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." --Aristotle

This morning my sister and I decided to ride our bikes to a park (which also happens to be one of the Great FL Birding Trails), about 3 miles away. The bike ride itself took a little less than 20 minutes, and we spent a little over 2 1/2 hours hiking and birding.

The best birding spot I found was -- unfortunately -- right on the corner of two roads, where it was loud and hard to see in some of the trees. However, there were at least half a dozen different species in one tree, including Cardinals, a White-eyed Vireo, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Once we got away from the road, we came to a lake surrounded by a sea of tall, brown grass. It was fairly quiet, but there were a few wading birds.
My sister and I decided to go off the trail, seeing as no one else was around, and we ended up hiking through a marsh where the grass was taller than we are. We were surprised to find hundreds of rabbit burrows there, as well as raccoon tracks and possible aligator slides (that part was somewhat unsettling to see!).

We eventually found an animal trail we could follow out onto a mudflat with a large flock of gulls. There were larger aligator slides here, so we tried to stay away from the bank as much as possible.
We found Sundew (a carnivorous plant) and Bog Buttons growing here. As we got further out, flocks of Ruddy Turnstones (I'm fairly sure that's what they were) exploded out of the reeds.

Sitting among the Ring-billed Gulls, there was a lone Common Tern (correct? I'm terrible at IDing terns!), a pair of Sandhill Cranes, several Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets.

Although I didn't see any new species, I consider the trip a success. We had a bast, saw lots of cool stuff, and a decent number of birds.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Home sweet home

Aaaaaaah. Home for the holidays!

That's such a weird thought. Being homeschooled by entire life, I was always "home" for the holidays -- and all other days of the year as well. But the past four months (as you will know if you've been reading my blog) I have been away at college, so it is a completely new experience to be coming home.

Well... that doesn't much to do with birding, does it? Just a random reflection I had while waiting for my latest movie to upload on YouTube.

I was hoping to see some birds at my feeders today, but the weather is rather cold and dreary, and nothing is out this morning. Oh well.. Hopefully in the next few days I can get out and do some actual birding.

Looks like my movie is uploaded! Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Birds in Art/Art in Birds

My mom just sent me this link to a Cornell-sponsored art contest for birders called "Birds in Art/Art in Birds."

Apparently, anyone can submit any form of art -- photography, writing, painting, sculpture, etc -- and the first 50 entries will recieve Julie Zickefoose's "Doves and Pigeons of North America" poster.

Sounds pretty cool, huh?

I thought so. So get creative! (I'm going to try!) The deadline is January 29, 2009. Visit their website for submission information.

Happy birding!