Pure Holiday Foolishness – Bird Music (slight return)

31 12 2008

Marissa Nadler - Songs 3

Marissa Nadler - Songs 3

Not to be outdone my brother sent me some bird related music goodies to go with my previous post. I particularly like the Marissa Nadler track. This has now become a few of my friends favorite pub game – a great test of music nerd prowess!

Marissa Nadler – Bird on your Grave

Leonard Cohen – Bird on a wire

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like an Eagle

Neil Young – Birds

Devendra Banhart – Wake up little sparrow

Christmas Bird Count 2 – Westport

31 12 2008
White-winged Scoter - Larry Flynn

White-winged Scoter - Larry Flynn

After lousy weather was predicted (and arrived) on December 21st Jim (my co-compiler) and I  made the decision to bump the Westport Christmas Bird Count up to this Saturday, December 28th. Obviously these kind of last minute changes bring the usual problems with team members dropping out due to previous commitments and no guarantee that the weather would be any better this weekend. In the end it wasn’t ideal but we struggled through the mist and a need to quickly build a scratch team to cover parts of Westport on the morning itself to get the count done.

All in all we had a great count with a representative number of species found (115 with most areas submitted). As always a few goodies were found and a few regular species were missed. The most uncommon species of the count were the continuing Snowy Owl seen from the beach in Penfield (amongst 6 species of owl seen) as well as a flyover White-winged Crossbill. Highlight though was the flock of 1169 White-winged Scoter that Larry Flynn and Alex Coffey found from the boat out to the Norwalk Islands, the first time a flock of this size has been seen on the count for over 30 years.

Most importantly everyone seemed to have had a fun day out and were thankful that we hadn’t tried to run the count the week before. We had a good number of new participants, which was fantastic, and something we hope to expand upon next year.

Also up was the number of feeder watchers. These feeder watchers make up an important part of the count and those I contacted seemed to have had great fun taking part. We didn’t have anything out of the ordinary at the feeders (like the Yellow-throated warbler on the Greenwich count) but it certainly helps us have a much better representation of what is out there.

Too many people to thank individually here but I just wanted to pass on thanks to all of those that helped out in the field, watched their feeders, helped publicize the event and got stuck in with all of the other organization that is required to make these kind of things happen with only a volunteer group. It was much appreciated.

Hopefully I learned a few things about how to make it even more successful next year. Until then, thanks everyone for getting involved.

Local Coverage in the Norwalk Hour (not quite what I remember saying but anyway these things happen with reporters) and The Advocate.

Curt’s Northern Hawk Owl Day Gallery

28 12 2008

Thanks to Curt McDermott for passing on these great pictures from the trip to Peru and letting me stick them up on the blog! Great pictures of the Owl and some nice shots of parts of the Waxwings flock.

Boxing Day Owl – Peru New York

28 12 2008
Northern Hawk Owl - Curt McDermott

Northern Hawk Owl - Curt McDermott

About a week back on the Christmas Bird Count in Peru New York they managed to find a Northern Hawk Owl. A beautiful and much sought after diurnal northern owl, which although it irregularly wanders in winter is tough to find anywhere within the US (see range map).  When I realized one was hanging around a ‘mere’ 4 hours from home it immediately got my twitching senses going and I kept tabs on the latest reports to see if I might make a mad holiday dash for it.

I had spoken to my friend (and Saw-whet whisperer) Chrissy Guarino and she was equally excited about the possibility of seeing the bird and so along with her parents Shari and Val we arranged to make the mad dash up there the day after Christmas. So Friday morning arrived and shock horror my car had decided to completely freak out on me. A couple of tear filled phone calls later 😉 and they had generously offered to swing out of their route and pick me up a little closer to home.

Luckily from Danbury it was pretty much a straight shot up I87 to the bird with just a few brief stops for fuel (coffee, beef jerky and trail mix) and bathroom breaks (caused by the coffee). The scenery along the way was magnificent especially after we left Albany and started to hit the Adirondacks. No time to stop and take in the view but plenty of pictures of these stunning ice and snow covered mountains, dense pine forest and northern bogs were reeled off from the car as we whizzed past – maintaining the appropriate speed limit the whole way of course 😉

I  think  Shari, Val, Chrissy and I all tend not to make too many forays into the field chasing birds but this was a special bird. My guide for twitching is ‘how likely am I to see this bird somewhere else?’ and with the difficulty of finding Northern Hawk Owl anywhere in the world (except perhaps Alaska), having one so close was too good to miss.

On arrival we were not disappointed. This was one absolutely stunning bird (and pleasantly easy to find). The bird has the head of a skunk and a beautifully barred body as well as beady eyes, which gave the bird a cute but kind of tough appearance all rolled into one. About as big as a crow it flew from lamp post to lamp post along the edges of the local orchards searching for prey (mainly small mammals such as voles). The way it flew is kind of cool, flying down and swooping up onto the poles much in the same way a Northern Shrike tends to swoop up on it’s perches.

Whilst there we ran into Chrissy’s friends Curt and Ken McDermott who had snapped some great pictures of the owl (which he kindly donated for the blog – thanks Curt!). Curt you may recall was the guy who had the Hoary Redpoll visiting his feeders last year over in NY State which was probably one of the last birds I bothered chasing after, and which made the focal point of a great Sunrise Birding trip over state lines last winter.

Whilst we were chatting about the owl Chrissy mentioned seeing a flock of something in flight, as I looked down the road I spotted a bunch of waxwings perched in a tree. I decided we had to get a better view of these birds, seeing how far north we were. Curt and Ken raced ahead in their car, quickly followed by myself, Val, Shari, and Chrissy. As I got out of the car I heard Curt say ‘they are all Bohemians’, but by then they were all suddenly up and in flight and making their way up and over the horizon – disaster.

As birding gloom was about to set in, Chrissy or Curt (at that point I was too deliriously tired to recall) suddenly spotted another waxwing flock in another tree. I got on them first and noticed the waxwings had turned into Starlings! Confused, I told Chrissy it was Starlings in the tree, but she was insisting it was waxwings and then aha! the penny dropped – we were looking at two different trees! As I corrected my sights I realized that there were 20 or so Bohemian Waxwings sitting in a nearby tree, and all of a sudden another flock arrived with 40 or so more birds joining the first (with one Cedar Waxwing) – an amazingly fortuitous addition to an already brilliant birding day.

We drove a little further down the road and soaked up the sight of these magically beautiful birds. For me this was the end of a long quest. I remember as a five year old kid reading my dads Readers Digest guide to British Birds and being drawn over and over again back to the Waxwing illustration and thinking about the day I might see these beautiful birds and here they finally were. I had been teased back into the word of birding by their US cousins but here they were, the real deal, and not the sad one or two I could have twitched in Connecticut last year but a huge chirruping flock. Absolutely magical and the kind of unexpected bonus that makes birding so exciting.

A wonderful Boxing Day treat with great birds, great people and a beautiful scenic route to the bird – one of those days that reminds you why you love birding so much.

Happy Holidays Everyone

25 12 2008
My cat 'Fatty' gets festive!

My cat 'Fatty' gets festive!

I hope everyone is having a great Holiday Season. I popped out for some Christmas Day birding, all in all it was pretty quiet but nice to be out of the house birding after a few days of work, shopping and CBC craziness. I got a load of Christmas presents completely unrelated to birds for a change and best of all a bicycle repair manual which will come in very handy for my BGBY!

In keeping with holiday cheer my parents sent me this heartwarming story about rehabbing hawks and teaching them to fly again with the aid of paragliders.  I guess it’s pretty much the same process that they have used successfully with Whooping Cranes.

Pure Holiday Foolishness: Bird Related Music

24 12 2008
Pieces of a Man

Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man

A couple of years back my brother, who is a big music nerd, was trying to come up with music mix CD’s that reflected the recipients interests. So his girlfriends father (who loves jogging) got a CD stuffed with such classics as Bryan Adams ‘Run to You’ and Springsteen’s – Born to Run’ – clever eh!

I was thinking about that again the other day and wondered whether I could come up with a ‘twitching’ mix CD that I might listen to in the car on my way to look for a Varied Thrush or some such. Well I was surprised how many good records (at least in my opinion) I could come up with that either had bird names in the track title or the band name.

Thanks to some help from the folks at Birdforum and the skillz of Eric ‘the frog’ Kupper I think I have built a decent little collection of tunes. I can’t say they are all my favorite records (apart from Gil, The Decemberists and the perfect Eels track) but I could at least tap my toes to most of them – and no godawful ‘Hotel California’ required thank goodness!

Track List in Full:

Black CrowesHard to handle

Trashmen – Surfin Bird

One Dove – White Love

Sleeper – Swallow

The Doves – Here it comes

Eels – I like Birds

Buffalo Tom – Birdbrain

Flock of Seagulls – I ran

DK’s – I am the owl

Beatles – and your bird can sing

Stones – Little Red Rooster

The Decemberists – Crane Wife

TV on the Radio – The Owl and the Stork

The Byrds – 8 miles high

Thom Yorke – Black Swan

MIA – Bird Flu

Soulja Boy – Bird Walk

Flamingos – I only have eyes for you

Grant Lee Buffalo – mockingbirds

REM – Swan Swan H

Cymande – Dove

Beatles – Blue Jay Way

Modern Lovers – Roadrunner

Gil Scott Heron – The Bottle

Belle & Sebastian – I’m a Cuckoo

Bird Movies: The Crimson Wing

22 12 2008

Talking of bird movies (see my post on Ghost Bird), it seems as if I was bemoaning the lack of them a little too soon. Apparently Disney will soon be releasing The Crimson Wing which focus’s on Tanzania’s Lake Natron and its  population of Lesser Flamingos.  From the trailer, the cinematography looks fantastic.

The film heralds the relaunch of Disney’s Disneynature company. “We hope these films will contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of our natural world”, said Robert A. Iger, president and CEO, The Walt Disney Company. I hope they do too!

Big Green Big Year

21 12 2008
Big Green Big Year

Big Green Big Year

Last year I managed the Connecticut ‘Big January’. Aimed at getting birders out in one of the more unforgiving birding months and to introduce a little friendly competition, the ‘Big January’ is designed to see which individual birder can see the most bird species over the month. I have taken part a couple of times but being away for the start of January last year a couple of local birders volunteered me to take over the adjudication process.

Listing, whether it be at your local patch, in your yard, across the state or around the globe continues to at least be part of the motivation for many birders. Of course driving up and down the state burning up fossil fuels is probably defeating the point for many birders who have their other eye on conservation issues. Well now I have the perfect solution for all those competitive listers who are also conscious of their carbon footprint in the form of a BIGBY or BGBY. The ‘Big Green Big Year’ is a big year that counts only birds that you can see a) by walking to find your birds or b) seeing birds when you are self-propelled: bicycle, canoe, kayak etc. You can also opt to do a public transport Big Year.

Details are on the following site,  it sounds like a fun and environmentally friendly bit of fun. I am going to do a self-propelled big year starting January 1, as long as I can dig my bicycle out of the shed and it’s still in one piece. I’ll post updates on how I am getting along. If anyone else wants to pick up the gauntlet and join me in this challenge drop me a line at luke.tiller@gmail.com It sounds like great fun and also is a good excuse for me to get some much needed exercise!

It seems like some Boston MA based birders have been giving it a go this year and are doing quite nicely indeed.

Save the Albatross

19 12 2008
Waved Albatross - Luke Tiller

Waved Albatross - Luke Tiller

This June I was lucky enough to have traveled to the Galapagos as a leader with Sunrise Birding, whilst there we got to have the most amazing audience with Waved Albatrosses. I remember vividly the absolute awe and excitement they engendered as they greeted us off of Espanola Island (trip report). Participants on this years Sunrise Birding trip to Alaska were lucky enough to encounter 3 different species of these magnificent birds on the trip including the Short-tailed Albatross (picture here) one of the most threatened birds on the planet, which are currently at about 300 breeding pairs (an actual improvement from a point where it was literally on the brink of extinction).

The sad thing is that this wonderful family of birds are amongst the most threatened on the planet. These long lived birds face a number of threats to their continued survival. The main threats have been the introduction, both deliberately in the case of the Galapagos and accidentally in the case of Gough Island amongst others (see recent story on Tristan Albatross here), of non-native mammals that destroy nests and chicks. Habitat destruction is also a common issue but by far the most important current threat to these birds is the terrible losses caused by long-line fishing.

It is estimated that 100,000 Albatrosses are killed each year by long-line fisheries, amongst huge numbers of other seabirds. There is a solution however, and Birdlife International are working with their global partners to get their recommendations followed up on.  The  ‘Save the Albatross’ site has loads of great information on the various species as well as interesting facts and ways to get involved in the campaign. It’s important to make other birders aware of this sad situation and do what you can to make sure that these birds are there to be enjoyed by coming generations (warning, some of the pictures on the site are a little distressing). Perhaps we need an albatross free tuna campaign?

Westport CBC – Count week begins

17 12 2008

Count week includes the three days prior and three days after the count, so this year it’s tomorrow through next Wednesday. Note should be made of any uncommon species encountered in the circle over the next week and submitted to the compilers (myself or Jim) as count week birds.