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