Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

So 2013 is coming to a close.  And I need some reflection and goal setting to make sure that 2014 is a successful year.  2013 was a pretty good year for birding for me.  Neil Hayward has a bit of a better one (LINK HERE and ANOTHER LINK) but I didn't do to shabby.  Here's a run down of 2013 by the numbers.

Birds Seen This Year: 277
In Connecticut: 209
New Birds: 74
States Visited: 12 (ME, NH, CT, MA, NY, NJ, PA, DE, VA, GA, FL, TX)
Best Birds of the Year: Barnacle Goose, Fork Tailed Flycatcher, Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, and Northern Lapwing, American Golden-Plover

Goals.  I meet almost all of my goals.  The only goal bird that I missed was the Parasitic Jaeger so that will go back on the docket.  Otherwise, I am feeling pretty good about my goals.  Without any set birding trips, I was a bit conservative about my goals and goal birds.  I'd love to hear any feed back and any tips on places to go to and see some great birds.

Life List Goal: Reach 400 (71 to go!)
Year Goal: Reach 250
CT Year List: 225
Goal Birds:
Parasitic Jaeger
Yellow-Breasted Chat
Golden Eagle
White-Rumped Sandpiper
Long-Eared Owl
*Get Beaver Ponds Park in New Haven up to 150 Birds*

In the meantime, as you reflect on 2013, enjoy some great shots of birds!

Black Skimmers in Milford

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak in Maine

Piping Plover in Milford

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck in Texas

Flickers Courting Each Other in Madison

Please feel to comment on my goals and tell me yours.  What do you want birding to look 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Birds of Prey

Happy Holidays everyone.  As 2013 wraps up, I've got a couple things on my mind like a few more books to read and why my goals of 2014 will be.  How do I want to grow as a birder?  I guess I have a few things to reflect on before I can answer that.  I'll save that heavy lifting for another blog.

Some of the birds I admired before becoming a birder are birds of prey.  Admiration for birds of prey are far and wide spread.  Cruises to watch Bald Eagles are often filled and they are almost universally seen across the world as symbols of strength.  The Golden Eagle is the animal that most often appears on shields, family crests, and flags.  It is a symbol of tremendous strength and beauty.  Owls are also seen across the work as 

On one of my last walks in Connecticut, the group I was with was lucky enough to see 2 amazing birds of prey.  A Merlin and 2 Great Horned Owls.  They are 2 amazing birds.  Merlins are small and powerful falcons that prey on other birds.  They were known before as pigeon hawks.  Its easy to see how these powerful birds can prey on other birds and mammals.  The Merlin we encountered presented themselves well to the whole group and everyone was able to get great shots of them.  Merlins are built tough and look the part.

The Great Horned Owl seems to be different as they seem more slender and less stocky than the Merlin.  But the Great Horned Owl is also an incredible bird of prey.  Pound for pound it is one of the fiercest birds of prey in North America.  They can take down a Canada Goose that is almost three times heavier than the average owl.  Seeing them in the wild is an impressive sight.

Recently I visited the American Museum of Natural History and they had 2 cases full of Birds of Prey.  Amazing sights to see and enjoy.  A great exercise to really get a feel for the difference between the different Birds of Prey of North America.  Until next time, go birding!

Most definitely a Merlin

A Merlin for Sure

Can You see the Owl?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wendell Berry, Poetry, and Nature

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to see Author, Poet, Activist, and Farmer Wendell Berry speak at Yale University. While, I was only slightly familiar with his work prior to this event, I was greatly impressed with his capacity to verbalize and enumerate the different aspects of what makes thinking and acting so important. Of course, that is an incredibly vague statement. Apparently, I'm not quite as good as Wendell Berry. But then again that is a short list of people who are.

Caring about the environment and local communities has always been a passion of mine. Berry pointed or during his talk how we have lost values in both of these institutions and the depreciation of both goes hand in hand. As an educator, I'm not only witness to a growing unfamiliarity with all things natural, but also to all things local. My students are always telling me that they can't wait to leave Connecticut and they can't wait to see the world.

I'm not going to lie and say that I was any different at their age, but what they are showing me is the disconnect between themselves and their environs and community. A disconnect that can Anna had proved to be problematic and rope with troubles, issues, and pitfalls. How do we repair these rifts? How do we heal the great schism of our communities and our planet?

I am going to so myself here. I an starting to built my reading list for 2014 and Berry is going to find himself on it. I might throw some Bill McKibben and Paolo Freire on there as well. So I guess my official review of Berry's talk: Go see him whenever possible. Listen, laugh, and think and be prepared to be left with some nagging issues and thoughts that in the end will hopefully bring some wisdom your way.

Wendell Berry in conversation with Jeffrey Brenzel and Mary Evelyn Tucker (Photo by Michael Marsland)
Wendell Berry at Yale (C) Michael Marsland

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why I Christmas Bird Count

Why do I participate in the Christmas Bird Count?  Well, the first thing is to give back.  The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a great way to help get accurate counts of birds and participate in a historic count.  This year was the 114th edition of the event and my 2nd year participating in it.  There is a lot of history to the CBC and here are some videos to help you know the long history of the CBC:

But why do I CBC?  The short answer is that I can give back a little to the birds and the ornithology that powers my birding.  The accurate counts have provided important windows into the world of birds.  Scientists have used the data to confirm the effects and damage done to birds with climate change and habitat loss.

It is also an opportunity to give back to the birding community.  Birders all over the region participate and help with the count.  Its a great time to spent getting to know your local digs and the local birders.  In the end, service to others, provides service to the self.  Over the next few weeks, if you haven't already try to find your way onto a CBC Team!  Until the next time, go out and bird!

Audubon Magazine - 11 Reasons the Christmas Bird Count Rocks
Link Here

WXEdge Article by Patrick Comins
Link Here

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Snowy Invasion

Can You find the Snowy?

Most birders are aware that we are experiencing a massive invasion of Snowy Owls.  Last time we had this, winter of '10-'11.  I seemed to constantly dip out the owls.  I was forced to drive a couple of hours to Rhode Island where I got one at Sachuet Point Nation Wildlife Refuge.  The drive and the anticipation, combined with several hours dipping on other Snowies made the visit to Sachuet Point risky and exciting.  Seeing the bird and enjoying amazing views of it made the trip worthwhile.  These amazing animals are being found throughout North America and even some are being seen in Bermuda!

What's the reason for their exodus and journey?  Well, the food on their normal wintering grounds is suffering.  Snowy owls usually stay in the northern forests and enjoy a selection of rodents and especially lemmings.  When Lemmings suffer, so do the Snowys.  While Snowy Owls are fairly adaptable when it comes to food and hunting, it is important to remember when see them, they are looking for food and their population is being stressed.  Enjoying their presence and beauty is best done while respecting the animal.  But definitely don't miss seeing owl as they are wonderful birds!

While I warn you about respecting the space of the Snowy Owls, you can do no worse than what the Port Authority was ready to do.  Since Snowy Owl enjoy open spaces, airports make natural refuges for them.  However, for a while, the Port Authority of NY and NJ was ready to shoot these birds.  However Logan Airport of Boston captures these birds and releases them elsewhere with great success.  They also use a falconer and their bird to chase the birds away.  While we seem to struggle with our place in the natural world, there are some who actually find ways to protect rather than destroy.  There are many lessons here, but I simply leave you more pictures of birds.  Until next time!

Snowy Owl at AllAboutBirds

Article from Audubon Magazine - Link
CT Post - Link

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I like my Mergansers how I like my sweatshirts, Hooded

Waterfowl are truly amazing birds.  They are tough, fast, and adaptable.  Its hard and almost insane to say that anyone one group is preferred to almost any other, but the waterfowl hold a special place in my heart.  This is namely because as I learning to bird, I walked the lakes near my home.  These were home to all sort of waterfowl throughout the year.  Wood Ducks, Common Mergansers, Pied-Billed Grebes, Hooded Mergansers, Mute Swans, Gadwall, Mallards, and more!

As I was learning to identify birds, waterfowl were my loyal companions.  They weren't as flighty as a hummingbird or a kinglet which made working through the ID book easy and a great learning experience.  This made one very appreciative learner and life-long lover of waterfowl.  PBS recently made a documentary about the wonders of waterfowl and I've included the link below.

My question to you all out there is, what is your favorite waterfowl?  Post your answers below and enjoy some pictures of the Hooded Mergansers!

Male and Female Hoodie

Various states of Hooded Merganser

A Hooded Merganser landing in the water

Enjoy PBS Nature's Original DUCKumentary - Link Here

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pass the Fork-Tailed Flycatcher

The Fork-Tailed Flycatcher is an amazing bird.  The Greys, Blacks, and Whites of this bird make its an amazing specimen.  Now add on to the fact that this bird is quite rare in North America.  By rare, I mean, when you look it up in Sibley's, Peterson's, or Crossley's, and you see the range map, there are a lot of marks for rare and very rare.

The bird is extremely beautiful.  The colors are amazing and a wonderful study in the power of contrast.  We were lucky to see this bird so close to home.  Seeing this bird, you can't help but be hit by the unicorn effect.  Plus the joy of sharing the moment with so many birders only adds to the excitement.  Of course, I would love to go see the bird on its home turf.  Oh, the possibilities and wonder!

Just like with the BCHU earlier, I was stuck wondering what brought this bird here.  How did it travel from its typical grounds in Central America and South America?  What made the bird come here to Hadlyme, Connecticut? The Journey is long and dangerous and while I am happy to see such a bird,

Want to see this lovely bird?  Look for the CT Birding Email List.  That will have all recent sightings and updates

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book Review: Feathers by Thor Hanson

All Images (C)Thor Hanson/Basic Books Unless Noted
A Cast of Archaeopteryx lithographica

All birders love feathers.  Well maybe not love, but they know how to appreciate the power of the feather.  Any time we go "ohh" and "ahh" about a bird, we are admiring the feathers.  Hanson's book is a great walkthough on the natural and social history of the feather.  Without getting boggled down on too much of the science, Hanson describes the origins and possible origins of feathers.  In fact, this is one of the real strengths of this book, it describes the debate over whether or not birds are dinosaurs.  Using experts to explain and explore the debate, Hanson journeys through the evidences and thoughts.  While, more and more seem to be leaning towards agreeing that birds are dinosaurs, Hanson does a good job of exploring the questions, counter-questions, and the evidence.  Fossils around the world continue to emerge revealing more and more evidence of dinosaurs with feathers.  I'd share more of Hanson's  explorations and tests, but then you might not read the book.

The last few chapters have to with human fascination with birds and feather.  Hanson focuses on the Victorian Naturalists' obsession with the New Guinean Birds of Paradise.  They valued the birds for the feathers and wanted them to complete their collections.  This brought the birds to the brink of extinction.  Of course, Humans desire for feathers has gone beyond scientific interest.  When Feathers in women's hats became the rage, birds wee the ones who paid the price.  The Great Egret, Hanson tells us, also almost went extinct.  While they've recovered, fashion has definitely taken a toll on birds (along with many other things).

Overall, the book is a great guide to appreciating the beauty and the evolution of feathers.  Hanson writes a great history of the feather.  This book can help illuminate a much appreciated feature of our avian (and dinosaur) friends.

Thor Hanson's Website

NPR Article on the Book

Monday, November 25, 2013

Between a Rock and Hard Place

This blog isn't about birds.  Well, not entirely.  Recently the Peabody Museum (Link here) ran a geology hike though New Haven's East Rock Park (Link here) lead by Copeland McClintock, one of their Geologists.  The idea of understanding more of the geology and natural history appeals to me.  While I didn't expect to become an expert after just one walk, I thought that any information would benefit my understanding of the natural world.

Thoughts of a simple passive walk were quickly disspelled by the fact that when I first arrived, articles, clipboards, maps, and colored pencils were shoved into hands.  We were also put to work learning the three different kinds of rocks (sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic) and then we were quizzed with samples.  McClintock then took us on a whirlwind history tour of the planet and then East Rock.  We were introduced into the Cooling Columns of Basalt and the New Haven Formation of Arkose.  The Triassic New Haven Arkose and the Jurassic Basalt helped us understand how rocks interact and showcase our planet's history.

We also learned to look at and use the tools of a geologist.  Learning how to look at rocks, measure angles of rock intrusions, and how to identify the evidence of glacial activity.  While I am not going to even pretend to think that I could do this on my own, I did enjoy learning how to see the world how a geologist see it.  As a birder, I most often use that lens to see the natural world.  Geologists look at East Rock and see the movement of rock, intrusions of igneous rock, and the evidence of glacial activity.  I enjoyed the Peabody's walk and can't wait to get out and see more of the natural world!

Told you there would be some birds on this one

Cooling Columns of Basalt at East Rock Park

A Geology Station in College Woods

A Sample of the New Haven Formation, mainly Arkose

More Arkose!

Above, a demonstration of a Sill Intrusion

This is an example of a Dyke Intrusion

These are pebbles that have been sheared into the Basalt by a Glacier

Lunar Scars of left by a Glacier and a Pebble

Monday, November 18, 2013

A First for Connecticut

For a few weeks, Connecticut Birding experienced a first, a Black-Chinned Hummingbird.  While I had seen my first one of these beautiful birds in Texas in May, it was great to see one in CT and see this record BCHU.  This wonderful find turned up at a private residence and the owner was kind enough to let a number of birders see this record little fella.

Record birds represent an interesting facet of ornithology and bird migration.  How did the bird get here?  How is it surviving in a strange environment?  What is compelling it to stay?  Are we even sure this is a rare bird?  Not that I have any answers to these questions.  I think its worth reflecting on the voyage that this migrant has made before it leaves and hopefully returns to its flock.

That last one was inspired by what I always say when I see a rare bird.  Am I sure that's a rare bird?  For this BCHU, I am fairly certain that it is a rare bird.  Since it was a CT First I decided to fill out a Rare Bird Report Form.  Even if this form wasn't the best one, I really enjoyed the experience of filling out the form.  As a closing, I leave you with a selection from said form. Until the next time...

"Since CT is home to the Ruby-Throated that was the first bird that I compared the bird I found to.  The first thing that I noticed was the unusual chin markings and eye markings. The Chin markings are the ones that lead to me to verify that this is a BCHU.  They are clearly different from a RTHU and the photos match the descriptions found in Sibley’s Bird Guide. "

A Black-Chinned Hummingbird in Connecticut

Another View

In Flight and Feeding

A Real Joy to Behold, a Texas Treat in Connecticut

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Selling Nature or Not

(C) Toys R Us

This commercial was aired recently by Toys 'R Us as they gear up for their busiest time of year.  This may be a surprise, but I am a big believer in diverse methods of play and lots of outside time for kids.  This Toys R Us Commercial both down plays the power of nature and forces it to compete with a commercial enterprise in a commercial medium.  The commercial isn't fair on many levels and isn't accurately portraying what kids need.  There are several ways to critique this commercial, but this is a nature blog and I will stick to that theme.

Is it possible for kids to be excited about nature?  Is discovery exciting?  The power of nature has an incredible effect on kids and their education.  The 'ranger' belittles the people who work at making nature exciting for kids and helping those kids discover and learn.  Nature has played a large part in my own education as a kid and an adult and I often can't wait to get back out into nature.  Finding something new or seeing something I don't understand is a great that joy than can help kids better understand the world.  My school took us into local parks and I remember finding an American Eel that had washed up on a river bank, seeing a monarch hatch, and playing the different parts of a tree in a skit for class.  These interactions were valuable to who I am today and who I continue to be.

I don't mean to critique toys and toys stores.  I have many fond memories of Toys R Us and has a fan of several cartoons, Toys R Us is often one of the few places to get the toys I am interested in.  I don't appreciate how toys and nature are made into enemies in this commercial.  We all need to work together to help improve children's education, relationship with nature, and future conservation efforts.  I'm not sure how this looks but I know that it will look better if we cooperate.  I know that Toys R Us cares about our children and their future and this incident of prank advertising hit the wrong mark.

Friday, November 8, 2013

ABA Rarity in My Backyard

While the Barnacle Goose is no longer my nemesis, hearing that one was in my backyard made me excited to add this rarity to my CT list.  The challenges of going on a wild goose chase are great.  You have to be prepared to sort through hundreds and hundreds of Canada Goose to find 1 or 2 odd balls out.  This particular challenge has to be one of bird's equivalents to finding a needle in a haystack.

Nonetheless, the possibility of adding a Barnacle Goose to my CT list not only makes the task doable, it makes it exciting!  Although getting a Cackling, Snow, Greater-White Fronted, Pink Footed Geese also fall into this category, I guess it doesn't take much to get me to look at a group of Canada Geese.  Back to the story.  I drove to the site where this flock of 450~500 Canadas had been hanging out and I hunkered myself down for a long search.  I scanned, scanned, and scanned... then I scanned, scanned, and scanned some more...

Then I realized the Barnacle Goose was no more than 75ft in front of me...  There's nothing like seeing an ABA rarity fairly close.  After locating the bird several other birders popped by and were able to enjoy it before it was scared off by a manure truck.  Of course, without the manure truck, the field wouldn't attract these birds.  Its also worth noting that also without the truck, the field would be a new development!

I was able to snap some photos before dipping on another bird that showed up in CT, a Short-Eared Owl.  While I never like dipping, it does give a much better appreciation when do get to see rare bird.  Until the next outing, enjoy some great shouts of a Barnacle Goose!

The Rare Barnacle Goose

Profile Shot of the Barnacle Goose

The Rarity is Flying Away!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

9 Things for the Mexican-American Birder

Recently Drew Lanham wrote an article entitled "9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher" in Orion Magazine (Link Here).  This article was written with some good humor and a couple of reality checks for the birding community.  Indeed, the birding community could use better outreach into the different communities that make up our diverse nation.  Better Outreach means more effective monitoring of birds, conservation efforts, and a stronger community.

When I first became a birder, I could hardly tell one site from another and distinguish between the different kinds of warblers.  But as I grew and became a better birder, people started to know me, welcome me, and help me.  That was great of course, but I wondered how outreach from the birding community worked.  I know that many people going into school, spend their time mentoring and helping out science classrooms

The blessing of nature is that it helps people connect better to each other and better connections to nature help create better communities. We all have a responsibility to share the wonders of the natural world with each other for our own health and the health of the world.  While this didn't turn out to be much of a list, it is as the article was to me.  A great mental exercise and reminder of why we are outside and why we should try to share our joys with others.  Until the next, go outside and enjoy some pictures!

Coming Soon: an ABA Rarity, and a Reaction to a Commercial

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sparrow Me the Bird Puns

This Weekend was definitely sponsored by the Family of birds called Sparrows.  A couple of trips added a number of sparrows to my year list and even my life list.  Looking for and finding sparrows can be a great challenge for any birder.  Sparrow Identification can be fairly tricky and takes a great eye to distinguish between the different species.  Here are some of the keys I use for sparrow iding:

Breast Color and Streaking -  This can often be difficult to use depending on the glimpse.  However it is important to start distinguishing between clean breasts, streaking, dots and the differences in colors in those.  Remember that streaking can be messy, blotchy, fine or clean.  The Colors on the Breast can be tricky as often contrast can be minimal.  Finding the contrast can go a long way to

Beak - The key here is to look for the color of the beak and whether or not there is one or two colors.  Some sparrows have two colors in their beaks, some have light colored beaks and some have dark colored beaks.  Distinguishing the beak colors can help parcel sparrows apart.

Head - With this I am including the eye, even though some separate the two.  Learning how to id patterns and color of the head is essential.  Chipping Sparrows, White-Throated, White-Crowned, Golden-Crowned Sparrows all have unique heads and one can learn a lot by studying the heads and eyes of sparrows.  Of course, Vesper Sparrows are a famous for their eye ring and Clay-Colored Sparrows are also famous for their signature heads.

Tail -Long or Short, White or Dark, can help you distinguish between different kinds of sparrows.  Knowing how to look at the tail can be a useful tool to distinguishing between common and uncommon sparrows.

Obviously this isn't a scientific list.  This is just the process that I use when I look at Sparrows.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear

An Immature White-Crowned Sparrow

Savannah and Song Sparrows

Lincoln's Sparrow, a lifer for me!

A Lark Sparrow, another lifer!

Here are some links to Sparrows by AllAboutBirds and Cornell Lab:
Song Sparrow
White-Throated Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow
Lark Sparrow

2013 Year List: 269
Notable Additions

Friday, October 25, 2013

Becoming a Citizen-Scientist

Since signing up for eBird (, being a citizen-scientist has become something that has been increasingly on my mind.  A couple of weeks ago, an opportunity presented itself.  A local New Haven Park, Beaver Ponds Park (link) was look for people to monitor a couple of bird boxes that went up.  The opportunity was one that I did not want to pass up.  The task is simple and the park itself is one that worth spending time in.  The park has received a lot of attention from lots of groups including a very active group of local neighbors.  Seeing the park getting such care and invest makes for a good place for people and birds.

Since I volunteered to monitor some nest boxes, I wanted to get to know the Park and its seasons.  If I want to do the best job I can, this means becoming familiar the park, its birds, and its habits.  Having been to the park, many times before I was excited to return and begin to become reacquainted with the park.  I've seen Least Terns, Green Herons, and American Coot all at this site.  I am hoping to be able to see how the park changes with the seasons and how the birds and other animals adapt to the seasons.  I am going to try to dedicate a blog to the park once a month until July 2014.  This should provide a real good look at the changes in the park.

I want to be able to contribute to the world of birds and birding and this project is one little way that I can help.  While there are lots of people adding their efforts and time to the world of birding and I know that my project is but a small one.  I feel that I do need to contribute beyond just listing on eBird.  Not saying that's not important, but I can apply myself and my skills in other ways.  I intend to do just that so that I can starting giving back to something that has given me so much.  Until then, get outside and bird!

Can you find the Carolina Wren?

Eastern Phoebe

A Soaring Raptor

A Blue Jay

Hairy Woodpecker

2013 Year List: 265