Bird Phone

28 01 2009
eNature - Swainson's Thrush

eNature - Swainson's Thrush

My friend Chrissy sent me a link to a site where you can get bird song ringtones for your phone. There are plenty of sites out there offering this feature but the eNature one was the only one I could find that was letting you use them for free. Other prices seemed to range from $2.49-$2.99.

I notice on the eNature front page that Barn Owl was a favorite. I find that a little hard to believe, although I would think it would certainly make you want to make you pick up your phone pretty quickly.  For me the Swainsons Thrush would be hard to beat although you might end up just wanting to listen to the song more than you want to pick  up the call! I haven’t tried one out yet but i’ll update when I do. Not sure why Audubon or someone doesn’t offer this as a service – might be a nice little fundraiser (I’d be much happier paying a non-profit for this service).

More Owl!

28 01 2009

Northern Hawk Owl and Vole - AJ Hand

Northern Hawk Owl and Vole - AJ Hand

AJ Hand, who last weeks owl prowl participants got to meet in the flesh, sent me this stunning picture of the Northern Hawk Owl from New Hampshire. Brilliantly atmospheric and fantastic timing from the photography aspect. Here is the great story that surrounds the shot in AJ’s own words:

“We were shooting this Hawk Owl on Monday, as he sat perched high in a tree,  alertly scanning the countryside. Not long after we got set up, he started cocking his head left and right, and bobbing up and down. Suddenly he swooped down–right at us–and crashed into the snow not 6 feet away. After a brief struggle he popped up with this vole and flew to this perch where he ripped off the head and ate that, then quickly swallowed the rest, neck first . After we got shots of him chowing down,we checked out the murder scene.

It turns out, the vole had been crawling through his subnivean tunnel and came to a spot where it cut across a deep snowmobile track. To continue his journey,  he had to pop out of the tunnel, get across 16 inches of packed snow and reenter the tunnel on the other side of the track. It looked like the owl got him before he even started across, just as he was just peeking out and evaluating the situation. Never had a chance!”

Owl Prowl – Additional Photographs

26 01 2009

Here are a couple of great additional pictures from the Owl Prowl taken by Steve Ballentine on the day.  Thanks again for sharing them Steve.

Sunrise Bird Walk – Daytime Owl Prowl Jan 24

25 01 2009

What no owl? - Luke Tiller

What no owl? - Luke Tiller

Another weekend, another wonderful birding trip. This was my first attempt to run an owl prowl for Sunrise and it turned out to be a very successful day (even if I say so myself). Part of the problem with owls is that personally I believe one needs to be almost hyper sensitive of their needs as they can ill afford to be expending extra energy. Raptors have a hard enough time in winter as it is and birds that are roosting during the day should be left as undisturbed as possible. At the same time it is nice to show people these birds as they are highly appreciated and often they are difficult to find even when you know where and how to look (part of the trip was an attempt to help people decide where to look for and what to look for to find their own owls in the future).

In the event we managed to get good looks at 3 species of owl and best of all it was all done by a very respectful and appreciative group.  I specifically picked public places to look, where the appearance of a few birders wouldn’t make any real difference to the birds usual routine. Highlights of the trip were obviously LONG-EARED OWL, GREAT HORNED OWL and BARRED OWL. The Barred  in particular gave us a great demonstration of how hard these birds can be to find even when you know where they are, as it finally revealed itself to us after we had walked underneath it a couple of times (as had numerous dog walkers, dogs, hikers etc).

There is something still kind of mystical and magical about owls and I love to see them although I do it  rarely (doing some scouting I found a few other owls but most were too flighty, in too vulnerable positions, or just simply too far from the route to share with a group). Sometimes I think the impression is on CTbirds is that there is an in clique of birders that share these sort of sightings, but in my experience there really isn’t. I generally do not share any owls I find and at the same time I pretty much expect the same from my birding friends. Even when I get a tip off about an owl I generally don’t follow up on it as I don’t want to disturb the bird, and for me the real thrill is finding ones own owls. That moment you suddenly stumble on one is quite unbelievable.

I remember the first time I found a Saw-whet, I looked under a tree and found some pellets and expected as usual to look up in the tree and find it empty but to my surprise there the a bird sat winking down at me. A fantastic experience that will stay with me forever. It is that experience that you want to share with people, but at the same time you are always drawn in the other direction of leaving the bird alone to just get on with its life without disturbance.

On the trip I also mentioned the dangers of getting too close to owls especially when they are nesting. Highlighting this was British bird photographer Eric Hosking who famously lost an eye whilst trying to photograph a Tawny Owl (a member of the Strix family which includes Barred, Spotted and Great Grey in the US). He basically became famous after that attack and his autobiography was amusingly titled ‘An Eye for a Bird’.

Of course checking pine stands in winter you are always likely to turn up some other goodies. Highlights included a small flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, PINE SISKINS – almost ubiquitous this winter (I checked online and it is estimated there are as many Pine Siskins in the US as there are Goldfinches so it’s no wonder they appear to be so many in these big incursion years), BROWN CREEPER, MERLIN, 31 BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES and GLAUCOUS GULL (obviously not in a Pine Stand!!!).

A nice day out shared with old friends, some new faces and some amazing birds. Saturdays really don’t come much better. Thanks to everyone for coming and to Shaun Martin and AJ Hand particularly with help locating a couple of these hard to find birds.

Trip List

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Turkey, Dunlin, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Brown Creeper, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Boat-tailed Grackle, White-winged Crossbill, European Starling, House Sparrow

Sunrise Bird Walk – Penfield Reef

21 01 2009

Red-shouldered Hawk - Luke Tiller

Red-shouldered Hawk - Luke Tiller

It was a freezing Saturday morning when I rolled out of bed to see the temperature reading -1 degrees f. I called a few people and the general consensus seemed to be that everyone was staying tucked up in bed for the morning however after calling around a couple more participants it seemed like some hardy souls were braving the weather and heading out for the walk.

Penfield Reef in Fairfield is usually a great spot to look for shorebirds, gulls and ducks in winter but unfortunately for us on the day the ducks had attracted the attention of the local hunting fraternity (mental note for self to do this trip on Sunday next year when the hunters won’t be out!!!!!) With the constant boom of gunfire and the bitter cold temperature we decided to skip the hike on the reef and head for more sheltered climbs.

Another spot that is good for a host of wintering birds nearby is Pine Creek. We stopped in there and were quickly greeted by a pair of raucous Red-shouldered Hawks who seemed to be either wooing or trying to drive each other away. It was cool to hear them vocalizing so vociferously on such a frigid morning. In between the two duelling Red-shouldereds a young Red-tail sat looking pretty doleful – perhaps they were cramping his style? A couple of other nice finds there included 2 FOX SPARROWS.

After losing a member of the group we then headed towards the bottom of Reef Rd where I have had good luck with half-hardy species in the thickets around there. Even I was surprised to find a total of 6 FOX SPARROWS all fighting for space in a tiny little bare patch of grass along with a cracking male EASTERN TOWHEE and a Field Sparrow.

All in all a nice day out. Just to confirm for me that Sunday was the day to go Charlie Barnard emailed me to say he had a decent day out on the reef on Sunday with 100 Ruddy Turnstones, 1 Glaucous Gull and 1 Iceland Gull (next time!) Thanks to everyone who braved the elements on the day!

Trip Species List:

Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser,  Red-tailed hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Monk Parakeet, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, EASTERN TOWHEE, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, FOX SPARROW, European Starling, House Sparrow

Bigby Surprise – Common Redpolls

21 01 2009

Northern Cardinal - Jamie Van Acker

I was thrilled to add a most unexpected yard and BGBY bird to my list for the year in the shape of a flock of Common Redpolls. I had popped outside to digiscope a Red-shouldered hawk that was loafing around the yard and managed to spot a flock of finches fly in. To my surprise they turned out to be a little flock of Common Redpolls. Bigby year bird 38 and yard list bird 106.

There haven’t been many Redpoll reports this year thus far in Connecticut but I was mentioning to people last weekend that they are creeping ever closer to us, still I was surprised to find the flock here. So far the birches in the yard have made up for the lack of filled Nyjer feeder but today I popped out to get some seed to fill her up. Of course the little buggers didn’t linger long enough to get there photo taken, ditto the camera shy Sapsucker that flew across the yard.

As I don’t have a picture of the Redpolls, I thought I’d post this picture taken by my friend Jamie Van Acker. I think this partially leucistic Cardinal looks kind of cool.

BGBY List – 38 Species (highlights in bold):

Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Coopers Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Barred Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, COMMON REDPOLL, House Sparrow.

New Book Project – Birds and People

16 01 2009

Birds and People - David Tipling

Birds and People - David Tipling

If you have read my post on Holiday Gifts for Birders or perhaps just spent some time with me in the field you’ll know that one of my favorite books on birds and birding is Mark Cockers Birders: Tales of the tribe. He’s, in my opinion, one of the few birders that manages to combine in his work a great sense of humor, a great deal of knowledge and a reverence for the subject all at the same time.

I noted that he has a new book coming out, which was being heavily promoted in the Independent UK Newspaper, the other week (yes in the UK national newspapers are interested in birds, birding etc etc !!!!) The book, Birds and People: A Global Celebration of Birds in Human Culture will be a collection of reflections on our relationships with birds around the globe and they are looking for your contributions! Essentially they are looking for 300 or so word pieces that illuminate our wider relationship with birds, which sounds like an interesting opportunity for all those budding writers out there!

You can read more on this interesting project here. Some of the stories that are going to be included in the book arealready available on the website, as are some of David Tipling’s amazing photographs that will accompany the project – see above (his website can be viewed here). I am really looking forward to publication of this project, it looks fascinating! My favorite section so far is on the Kazakh Eagle Hunters.

When birding goes bad – rarity hoax UK

16 01 2009

It all seemed quite innocent enough, an ex-birder had been out for a round of golf in Wales on a beautiful coastal course and had spotted a lone sea duck in the water. It struck him as something that he hadn’t seen before and so the next day he returned to snap a picture of the bird in question in order to send on to a couple of birders to get their thoughts on the ID of the bird. The fuzzy snap was quickly identified as a rather distinctive female Steller’sEider, a fairly exciting find and perhaps only the 15th or so record for the UK. As is usual the word was rushed out to birders via pagers and mobile phones (the RBA in the UK is a little more advanced than it is here) and birders got in their cars and headed to the site to search unsuccessfully for the bird.

Not so uncommon that a rare vagrant bird flew the coop and so the story might have ended there. However, a couple of suspicious birders thought that some of the description of the find just didn’t ring true and started to do a little digging. Lo and behold the EXIF data from the  camera (which can be found on digital images) did not tally as far as the lens, date of when the photo was supposed to have been taken etc. With a little detective work it was discovered that the picture had been taken in Finland a couple of years earlier and had just been flipped and cropped a little. Quite an amazing and shocking little story. It certainly isn’t the first birding hoax to be perpetrated and I’m sure it won’t be the last, I just hope it won’t catch on on this side of the pond. You can see the hoax picture and the original on the BirdGuides website. ps If you plan to hoax a few good birds it’s probably worth remembering to delete the EXIF data from your stolen pictures 😉

Shade Grown Coffee – it’s for the birds

15 01 2009

ABA - Shade Grown Coffee

ABA - Shade Grown Coffee

If you are, like me, someone who needs a couple of cups of joe before you set off for some dawn birding then perhaps it’s time to think where your coffee comes from.  There was a great article in Birdwatchers Digest this month by Ken Kaufman about the impact the type of coffee we purchase has on birds and specifically the benefit to birds of supporting shade grown coffee growers.

Shade grown coffee is better for wildlife as the plantations are much less disruptive to the native flora and fauna (growing as it does in the understory of a forest, whereas sun coffee requires complete deforestation) and it is also less likely to be as intensively farmed (with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc etc that sun grown coffee  requires to be viable). Other benefits are that purchasing shade-grown coffee tends to support smaller coffee growers and be much better tasting as the beans grow slower, which apparently enhances their taste. You can buy shade grown coffee from the ABA here and there is more information from the Smithsonian here.

Perhaps we need to encourage the Dunkin Donuts at Frash Pond to start carrying a more bird friendly blend, I swear birders make up half of their winter clientele.

Finch Behavior

15 01 2009

At sunset, I noticed that a handful of Pine Siskins were heavily investigating one of the squirrel dreys in my yard, which made me recall  an event from a few years back: after a particularly heavy daytime winter shower I went into the garden and discovered all of these Goldfinches (maybe a dozen or so) appearing from underneath a drey. My guess at the time was that they were sheltering under it during the downpour, which I thought was rather smart.

I then read today that dreys are generally only used as nests by squirrels in the summer (they prefer cavitie nests in winter) and also that the entrances were underneath, so as to protect them from the intrusion of the  elements.  So I wonder: a) whether those Goldfinches those years back were actually sitting out the storm inside the nest? and b) whether birds might use abandoned nests like this for overnight roosts?

Kind of interesting. It certainly seems like they might make the perfect overnight home for a cold finch. I’ll have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to see what, if anything, flys out. Of course the other possibility they were just investigating them for food?