Birder's Eye View

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring dawns and other news

"There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds... There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter..." - Rachel Carson

As I made my rounds to refill the birdfeeders in the gentle light of dawn, the world seemed to echo with the songs of hundreds of birds.

Titmice and cardinals, chickadees and sparrows, wrens and finches chirped out their music, which reverberated through the cool, damp air. They flitted through the trees all around, wary of my presence, but eagerly waiting for me to hang up the feeders so they could come down and feast.

Just as I watched the first light of winter last December, so too did I see the dawn of spring this morning. Although infinitely subtle, spring seems to carry with it a sense of newness. Before the sun rose, I heard my first of the year whip-poor-will, and I have a feeling I will be seeing many new birds this season.

As you have probably noticed, springtime is not the only subject of this post.

Today there was an article in the local newspaper about how energy is contributing to the decline of bird populations. At the end, there was a link to an interesting website called "The State of the Birds," a report by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to analyze the status of bird populations in the US.

According to the report, of the 800 species of birds in the country, 67 are endangered, and 184 are listed as "species of conservation concern." Based on their studies, they found that in the last 40 years, birds living in desert, prairie, and sea environments have declined 30-40%.

The full report can be read online at the link above.

Although the decline in bird species is detrimental, the State of the Birds initiative and other similar and related efforts are hopefully the beginning of change. The more people are aware of how their choices affect the entire world, the sooner we can turn things around.

That said, until next time, happy spring and happy birding!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Most Amazing Kayaking Trip Ever

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. - John Muir

Spring Break: Day 3. Time for another kayaking trip! My friend and I set off around 1pm, destined for a bird preserve/mangrove island in the middle of the bay, across from school. We brought a video camera along just for the fun of it to see what kinds of wildlife we could film from the water.

Our first encounter was around half a dozen species of birds sitting on some old posts that marked the opening of the cove. Royal and Common Terns, Pelicans, Cormorants, Anhingas, and Laughing Gulls all perched side by side, dozing in the hot afternoon sun.

Further in to the cove, we maneuvered our way through narrow "canals," ducking low to avoid decapitation by mangrove branches. This place was incredible -- a jurassic-looking landscape of short, dense mangroves, with long roots and propagules arching gracefully into the glassy water.

Mangrove Crabs scuttled up the low-growing trees, kingfishers, ibis, and herons took off as we approached, and spides sidled up their webs as we drifted past.

At one point, as we were kayaking backwards out of a canal, a warbler began to sing right above us. I got a moment's glimpse, but it was enough to identify it later when I got back -- it was a lifer: a gorgeous male Prairie Warbler! Somewhat ironic, I thought, to see it in a place that couldn't possibly be more different from a prairie.

On our way back to school around 3:00ish, we encountered 3 dolphins splashing around in the water a few yards ahead. Whipping out the camera, I started filming. To our astonishment, the dolphins made their way up to us and began circling the kayaks, coming almost close enough to reach!

It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. They splashed and played and dove around us; I was shaking with excitement. After a while, they moved off out to the larger bay. We got the whole thing on tape though, so I'll try to upload it later (even though it doesn't have much to do with birds... it's still incredible!).

Today was the most amazing day I've had in a really long time. New birds, new experiences, lots of fun.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Exploring my world

There is something to be said for the quiet solitude of taking a walk in the woods alone.

Spring Break: Day 2. All my friends have gone away for the week, so I'm here alone. And what does a birder do when left alone for a few days? Go birding, of course!

I started off with a late morning walk through my usually birding spot, without much luck. Mostly just vultures and scaups, as usual.

Around 4:30ish, I headed out to the palm hammock, a larger preserve area on campus that I haven't explored much before. I parked my bike under a tree pretty far off the road and took off into the woods.
Coming out from under a stand of cabbage palms, I found a scrawny looking osprey chowing down on a fish in a tall snag.

After snapping a bunch of pictures and watching it for a while, I hiked on and saw a Roseate Spoonbill land in a pond near an apartment complex across from the school. I tried to get closer to the bird, but it flew away before I could get anywhere near it.

I just thought this was a cool butterfly picture. Seeing as there was an obvious lack of birds out at that time of day and location, I took to photographing the butterflies and dragonflies that darted about in front of me.

As the sun began to sink lower into the sky, the palm trees cast fantastic shadows, and the exotic-looking vines that hung off of them shimmered with vibrant hues of glowing green. After a while, I headed back, half-afraid I'd get lost or my bike would be stolen when I returned, but I found my way back easily, and it was still there.

As I was riding back to my dorm, I spotted an American Kestrel perched on a wire. Scrambling to get my camera out, it took off for a moment, harrassed by a territorial mockingbird.

However, it landed a few yards down and I was able to get a somewhat adequate photo. It was a quiet day spent alone, but wonderfully relaxing.

Until next time,

Happy birding!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kayaks and year birds

My kayak next to the sketchy overpass I haven't done as much birding lately as I would like, but I did get a chance to start off spring break with a short kayaking trip yesterday.

It felt so great to get back out on the water again. I had missed that feeling of drifting quietly through the mangroves and battling the choppy waves of the open bay.

Perhaps what I love most about kayaking is that feeling of being so free and so close to the water and the mangrove islands and the marine life, and all those wonderful things you can only watch from a distance, when you're on shore.

My friends and I kayaked out across the bay to this sketchy-looking overpass. It wasn't a very attractive place. Huge condos, homes, and office buildings crowded the shoreline, cars roared overhead, and the water was littered with trash. Nonetheless, it was somewhat of a diamond in the rough -- little crabs, fish, and gorgeous seashells were scattered around in the shallows.

We perused the shore for a while, until I realized we only had 20 minutes to get back to the school before the Waterfront closed. We hightailed it back in record time, despite paddling against the current and nearly getting flipped over several times by the wakes of speeding boats.

On a totally unrelated note, I did see a year bird this morning -- a Eurasian Collared Dove! It landed under a tree near my dorm, much to the annoyance of a nearby Blue Jay, which promptly hopped around on the ground, cawing loudly.

Well, that's my rather random post of the day. Until next time,

Happy birding!