Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Birding and Coffee

Who doesn't love coffee?  Well lots of people I guess but the majority of people drink coffee and coffee is increasing its reach around the world.  Coffee hasn't always been a global drink but it became popular with the expansion of the Muslim Empire.  Trade spread the drink and the tree followed.  Once Europeans made contact and spread civilization across the Atlantic, the tree soon followed.  Fast forward 100's of years later and coffee has spread across the world.  Its definitely one of my go-to drinks, especially before birding. But the truth is that coffee is one of the main causes for loss of habitat for our Neotropic Migrants.

What does that mean?  The coffee I drink to bird, to get through the day, to relax, can be harming my environment?  In a word, yes.  With the growth of coffee, coffee plantations are under more and more pressure to make more and more coffee.  They decide to ignore the tree's natural growth environment as a sub canopy/shade tree and put the trees in direct sunlight.  While not awful for the coffee tree, the elimination of the other trees destroys countless acres and areas and habitat for birds and countless other creatures. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has a lot of information about the biology and science of why shade-grown coffee protects the wintering grounds of birds.

While I'll direct you to the SMBC for information about certification, science, and finding bird friendly coffee, I want to talk to you about what I am going to commit myself to doing.  The first is that I am going to drink as much bird-friendly coffee as I can.  Once again, SMBC is a great resource for finding these companies.

I am also going to commit myself to talking to coffee servers, companies, coffee retailers, and coffee drinkers about the reasons for bird-friendly coffee. Talking to people, creating awareness, and having a discussion about what we consume and how it impacts the world around us can help people make more ecological choices.  I can't speak for how persuasive I've been when talking about bird-friendly coffee, but I know that I am doing my part when I ask about the coffee that I am drinking.

I also want to extend an invitation to a larger discussion about how we can talk more companies and servers into joining the Bird-Friendly Coffee family.  What are the best ways to get more coffee drinkers to be responsible coffee drinkers?  I've got a few ideas, but I want to know what other people are doing as well.  The latest issue of Bird Watching Magazine has a list of the biggest "offenders" so I'll refer you to them to see the list!

In the end, I want to be able to enjoy birds for a long time.  It would be a real shame if birds were to stop travelling and migration because we needed a cup of coffee.  I've hope that I've given you something to think about and something for us, the birders of the world to ponder... over a cup of coffee?

Some pictures of birds that depend on shade grown coffee:

 Northern Parula winters in Mexico and the Yucatan
 Baltimore Oriole winters in Central America and Northern South America
Black-and-White Warbler winters in Mexico, Central America and Northern South America

Links to read more:
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Link Here
SMBC Bird Friendly Coffee Link Here
Bird Watching Daily "The True Cost of Coffee"
NPR "Coffee for a Cause"
Birds & Beans http://www.birdsandbeans.com/

Monday, April 29, 2013

Warblers, Warblers, and More Warblers

The massive migration of Warblers is underway.  Birds are showing up in our backyards from the Neotropic regions.  Its easy to just admire the bird once they show up and forget everything thing else facing that bird.   The migratory birds face shrinking environments, climate change, and the Human World.  These warblers overcome huge challenges to make it back to their breeding grounds.  Its important not to forget the perils of migration and the role they play in making their species healthy and successful.

Warblers don't tell this story themselves.  They just do what they do.  It is our responsibility not to make their voyage easier, but to respect their journey and to understand the role they play for our world.  Simple things matter a lot and simple choices can change a lot about our world.  There's an increasing awareness about bird-friendly coffee and that is something that I care a lot about.  I am working on a full post for that and hopefully it will be up soon.  In the meantime, look for new migrants outside!

 Black-and-White Warbler
Yellow Warbler

2013 Year List: 146
Black-and-White Warbler
Chimney Swift
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Baltimore Oriole

Friday, April 26, 2013

First of the Year

When it comes to migration, there's a lot of pressure to see the first of the year.  To be the first to see something or record your first sighting of something.  Sometimes, these can be great moments.  The bird can be tired from their migration and just too hungry to really care who's around.  I saw my first House Wren of the season.  I was excited because it was the first of the year for me.  There's a lot of hype about the first of the year.  Everyone wants to see the first of the year birds and migration just makes the fervor even worse.  I don't want to sound self-righteous, I get caught up in the fervor.

Many write that birding is not unlike hunting.  The quest for the first of the year is indeed tied to the instinct to hunt.  Searching through the thicket, trees, and marshes, its a primal need and skill.  Being close to the earth in that way is amazing.  One of the main reasons I got into birding was to find a way to interact with nature beyond knowing the difference between a tree and a bush.  I wanted to understand something more about nature and certainly birding has changed the way I see my environs.

I will certainly keep looking for those FOYs.  I hope you do too!

What I was looking for...
(C) Gerry Dewaghe 
2013 Year List: 138 (62 Needed)
House Wren

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Migration is Coming...

This is a a well known fact that spring is on its way.  Every day my phone lights up with bird alerts from around the state.  This makes for exciting outings.  Every time you go out, there's seems to be something new.  As the past week worked out, I saw all sorts of new birds and sights.  I've attached some pictures below from my travels.

I am hoping to get many more pictures of migrants as they pass through.  There are some impressive sights to be had.  At Bombay Hook, I have over 150 American Avocets.  Seeing Shorebirds move in and warblers move in really helps me to understand and appreciate the journey the birds make.  Migration is an amazing feat.  Well, enough writing and get outside!

Purple Martins
American Avocets
Blue-Winged Teal
Bass Spawning
Hermit Thrush
Carolina Wren

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mystery Goose

While bicycling today, my wife and I happened upon an odd looking goose.  Before we could grab our "bins" or a camera, we could tell it wasn't a Canada Goose.  We took several pictures and sent them off to a birding friend of ours.  It is a hybrid geese of some sort.  What this bird really reminded me is that surprises are waiting around every corner.  With Migration starting to pick up, there are all sorts of birds passing through.  I've posted the pics below:  Take a look!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Birding with Legends

This week, I was birding with legends.  Well, Legend.  I drove down to the National Audubon Society Sanctuary at Mill Grove.  While a nice and very walk-able sanctuary, there is a hidden secret.  This site was Audubon's First home in the US.  You might call it the birthplace of American Birding, Conservation, and Environmentalism and there's definitely an argument to be made for that.  Audubon's prints and magnificent publication, The Birds of North America, has definitely changed the way Americans view their environment.  Its hard not to look at the book and its prints and find yourself getting lost in the blend of nature, science, and art and also realize how much our world has changed.  The center had up Audubon's prints of the Passenger Pigeon along with skins from the collections of local colleges.

Despite those changes, there are plenty of birds still around Mill Grove.  Carolina Chickadees, Cardinals, Hawks, Bluebirds, Swallows.  Its easy to see how a Young Audubon would have fallen in love with the natural world.  Also his future wife lived up the road so he would've had to climb through the grounds several times to see her.  But the variety of habitat makes this a great place to go birding.  There is a museum and exhibits about Audubon's life and work that is worth a visit as well.  Spending time following in Audubon's footsteps is a great way to reflect on the nature of birding and the future of birding, the environment, and conservation.

 A Northern Cardinal
 Eastern Bluebird
 Red-Tailed Hawk
Mill Grove

2013 Year List: 137 (63 to go!)
Forster's Tern (Lifer)
Black-Necked Stilt (Lifer)
Lesser Yellowlegs
Brown Thrasher
Purple Martin
American Avocet

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Piping Plover

Imagine a beach.  What do you see?  Sand?  Obviously. A scattering of shells? Perhaps.  An endangered bird... maybe not so much.  But that's part of the problem.  We don't look for or expect anything at the beach other than sun and fun.  Perhaps that's been part of the problem.  We don't expect nature to be on our back door or in our parks or on our beaches.  Real Nature, the kind Hobbes describes or the kind we see on National Geographic, seems to be far away or locked in the deep forests of the inner continental wilderness.

Sadly not true.  Along the Beaches and coastlines of the Eastern US there is an endangered bird that needs your help.  The Piping Plover.  You can do some simple things to help:

  1. Don't leave any trash on the beach.  Trash attracts a larger than normal number of gulls and gulls can eat the Piping Plover. 
  2. You can not play or quiet the music you bring to the beach.  This scares the Piping Plover from eating and if it can't eat, it can't survive.
  3. Don't ignore warnings about breeding areas on the beach.  Disturbing sensitive breeding areas can lead to abandoned nests.
  4. Go out and look for the birds!  Seeing them in their habitat can lead to a great appreciation of the bird, its part in the ecosystem, and the beach itself.  The Beach, not just for tanning anymore!

(C) Me

2013 Year List: 121
Piping Plover
Eastern Towhee
Yellow Warbler
Northern Gannet
Glossy Ibis

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crossley Raptor Guide - A Review

Everyone seems to be writing a review of recently released Crossley's Raptor Guide.  So I thought I'd put my own 2 cents in.  The Guide's best aspects are its plates.  This is a continuation of the work in the Eastern Guide.  One of the things that I liked about the old guide were the plates that showed the birds in different aspects, lights, and perspectives.  I thought that would make the guide better would be comparison plates.  And Crossley, one up'ed me.  There are challenge plates.  These plates are great.  The questions they ask (because they come with answers!) help practice ID skills and learning about the birds.

The descriptions are excellent as well.  I would have liked to have seen more descriptions in the Eastern Guide, but that would have made the book huge.  My overall recommendation of this book is that it is excellent for hawk watching and encountering raptors.  In many ways, it seems to be the raptor version of the Shorebird book published so many years ago.  And I mean this as a compliment through and through.  The Crossley Raptor ID Guide is a great addition to any collection and to anyone who enjoys Raptors and the highlights of Fall Migration!

(C) Crossley Book and Princeton UP

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Birding Photos... or at least trying...

What do the above photos have in common?  They were my attempts to photograph a Golden-Crowned Kinglet.  I visited a park that had yielded many thrushes and warblers and was hoping for an early surprise.  The only find were a couple of very active golden-crowned kinglets.  I tried to snap a quick picture of them and then explore the park.  I don't want to say that birds are cooperative photo subjects.  But the Kinglet, by its nature, its very active.  The pair of them took about 40 photos to get one in good focus.  While I got a couple of good shots, I thought about the arduous task of trying to capture nature in photo.

In the end, i got my picture of the GC Kinglet, but more importantly, the practice of getting the photo, really helped to experience the life and habits of the Kinglet.  I had read that they were fast moving and "flirty" as some call it.  But to have a personal experience and struggle with it, means that I will remember how the kinglets move about.  When I began birding, I kept a note book and write down observations and questions, and I would even go back and draw other pictures from what I saw and could find on the internet.  Sadly, I've moved away from that and I hope to return soon.  But more on that later.

Below are the best picture I got of the birds and a clip from Youtube so you can see how active they are:

(C) Garth McElroy

2013 Year List: 117 (83 to go!)
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Pectoral Sandpiper
Piping Plover (next post!)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Don't Mess with my peeps

And by peeps I mean shore birds.  I've read, and re-read The Shorebird Guide and hoped that it would help me with the difficult task of distinguishing different shorebirds.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The Song of the Shorebird is intricate, subtle, and puzzling.  Which means for some birders the task of sorting shorebirds is a exciting as anything else.  Shorebirds are awesome.  They migrate massive distances, live in conditions that humans can only take for a few months of the year.

So in honor of shorebirds.  I've posted 3 pictures of flats that shorebirds love.  Make your guesses as to what you see below.  Enjoy the challenge!

Picture #1
 Picture #2
 Picture #3

Leave your guesses in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Birding by Car

Ebird has my favorite descriptions of how I bird.   If I go for a walk to get to a birding site, I opt for Traveling.  If I get to a specific site, and spend time waiting around for birds to show, then I opt for Stationary.  Then there's the option for when I am doing something else and I see and id a bird and I can't help report it then and there.  Incidental birding.  I've been known to be an Incidental birder, but who among us hasn't?  Who hasn't been tempted by the odd movement in a tree behind the person you are talking to?  Or the odd non-plane flight while driving? To be fair, to be a birder, can and often heightens the senses, while lowering the sensibilities and social graces that make one good conversation.

I had such an incident Monday night.  I was driving home from work and by a lake when a movement in the lake caught my eye.  I saw a two-toned short bill and slight head and a solitary bird.  A Pied-Billed Grebe.  Not my first Pied-Billed Grebe in the State or ever, but a good bird to get nonetheless and good addition to my Year list.  I often can't help but look around while I am doing other things.  I guess my saving grace is that while I look at birds, my dog enjoys lounging in the shade and my wife will always stop to look at plants, trees, and fungi.  Here's to many planned outings and the not planned ones as well!

File:PodilymbusPodiceps 6865.JPG
Pied-Billed Grebe by Davefoc

2013 Year List: 114 (86 to go!)
Pied Billed Grebe