Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our Year of Warblers 2013

If you weren't aware before, we weren't really hard-core birders when the year started. Sure, we were casual birders, but nothing like we are now. I know I've always kept a house list with my myriad of feeders, and I had been in a lab with real ornithologists (I worked on beetles) for about 12 years, but I hadn't really gone out and been a birder.

That all has changed.

I can't speak for Paul, but in reality, all it took was going out consistently birding and every week it seemed I was at least twice as good as I was the week before. It happened slowly, but for the first couple of months I was gaining in my birding ability and, most importantly, comfort in birding and being around other birders. But migration was approaching and I was dreading the influx of warblers.

How silly is that? Dreading having to figure out the warblers? Seriously? It just seemed intimidating, but I went out and soon I had to deal with the warblers.

And I loved every minute of it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bobo-Links for December 13

Ok, we are trying something new hear and we'll see how well it works out weekly. There are lots of things going on in the world of birds and birding, and while we know the majority of people rely mostly on The Year of Birds blog for their birding fix, there are other blogs and news sources out there. We would not want your insatiable appetite for this blog to have caused you to miss out on them!

Some weeks we may have themes of what we link to, some weeks may have lots of links, some weeks may have few. Some weeks may have links that are tangentially related to birds (I tend to do stuff like that sometimes).

Also, I'm not married to the name, but it is cute. Any suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Weeks 39-48 Paul's Update

I have recently been on a sabbatical from birding. This isn't really by choice but instead largely due to the end of the Fall term, several over-lapping proposal deadlines, and other somewhat trivial, time-consuming job related responsibilities. Despite all of that, I have been able to continue my birding activities, albeit with a lower intensity.

As this lull coincides with the onset of the long Canadian winter, my birding results have been somewhat sparse. In the past two months, I managed to see only 2 new species. One was a warbler flitting through the treetops in early October before all of the warblers left by the end of that month. The other bird was a Common Gallinule (or as previously referred to- the moorhen) which was seen on Lake Ontario during a short road trip with my parents.

Monday, December 9, 2013

North American Warblers: Ranked, part 2

It snowed at least 8 inches here yesterday and it is pitch black by 5:30 p.m. This morning it warmed up enough to be about 35 degrees, so there is also a good deal of slush. I have to face it: the days of long, warm days are a ways away.

On these days of cold and drear, I dream of warblers.

Previously, I started my ranking of all the North American Wood Warblers, starting with the top 14 along with an explanation on their ranking. I won't go through all the rules for ranking (you can read the previous post for them), but obviously this is a subjective list, albeit the best damn subjective list ever made.

Today I go through the next segment of warblers, you know, those that were pretty good but not good enough to sit at the cool warblers' table in school. If you want to think of a theme for this post, it is: black and yellow.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Weeks of October 1 - November 30

Yeah, we missed posting last months monthly birds, but it would have been a bit boring anyway. I got six total for October, with most of them ones that I should have gotten earlier in the year. But November was a different story!

I won't go into stories of my adventures too much, but November was a mix of getting birds I should have gotten in the winter plus a few rare birds that I chased down, including me finally tracking down a Snowy Owl.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Accuracy of eBird and the Precision of eBirders

I have a love/hate relationship with eBird. I love it because it is awesome, but it is full of people and I hate people. No, that isn't quite fair since there are plenty of people I don't hate, but any endeavor that involves people, especially interacting people, is bound to have annoyances.

This is a common theme here on The Year of Birds, so much so that we have a tag for "other birders", but it might as well be called "other people". Also common is when we whine a little about eBird, but that is more so because it does so much well that it is glaring when things aren't so good. One thing it is good at, though, is giving you lots information about a birder just from look at the lists they take.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Damon Wants in on the Snowy Owls

I've been on a bit of a roll lately in terms of getting to rare birds after people have been posting them. Note, this doesn't mean that I've been good at finding rare birds, but instead that I've been good at going to locations that people have reported a rare bird is and seeing it. That said, I did find a Connecticut Warbler at Taylor Arboretum near my house earlier this fall, but for the most part when I see a rare bird it is because I've just been following others who post it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Year of Birds by the Numbers, Part 3

Damon and I have now passed the 3/4th mark of our competition, which means its time for the 3rd installment of Year of Birds by the Numbers!

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Regular-sized Binoculars

Foreshadowing!

I've been done with my old pair of binoculars for quite some time. They are fine, I guess, but they aren't. Here, I wrote about that!

I've been wanting to get new binoculars for quite some time now, but haven't been able to afford it. My standard line to people was "once my kids stop needing things, then I'll get new binoculars" which allowed me to have some folksy charm while deflecting the fact that my old binoculars were barely usable. Funny thing, though, is that my kids haven't stopped needing things (god, they never stop with the 'needing'), yet here I am now with this:

Happiness in my hand....uhhh...you know what I mean!

Monday, October 14, 2013

My Little Binoculars

I've written about this before, and alluded to it even more throughout my writing, but my binoculars are not what most birders use. They are small, they fog up too easily, they aren't sharp, their field of view is narrow, they aren't bright, and I constantly have to readjust the focus on the right eye. They work fine enough for many things (especially because I try to not rely on optics too much), but they aren't that great. That, of course, hasn't stopped me from amassing 193 birds so far this year without leaving the general area while working and having kids. So they are functional, but limited.

My god, they are smaller than my hand!
The real issue with them is that they give off a bad impression. I know this sounds weird, especially coming from me, but people see my binoculars and don't take me seriously. This started way back in January, only days into my Year of Birds, when a couple pointed said there was a Crested Caracara nearby and zinged me on my binoculars.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tribute to the Great Blue Heron

Through the mist I could just make out the silhouette of the bird. It was standing motionless, watching and listening to cacophony that is the early morning of the pond. The patience, the poise, the plumage were all marks of what I consider a truly great bird. As I moved closer, I could see it more clearly and it was The Great Blue Heron.

Monday, October 7, 2013

North American Warblers: Ranked, part 1

Birding is great because you see all sorts of birds, but deep down we know some are just better than others. No, we don't admit to others (maybe even not to ourselves), but some birds are lame while others are awesome. Willow Flycatcher? Boring. Scissor-tailed flycatcher? Awesome!

Now, the relative abundance and ease of seeing a bird greatly affect its awesomeness. If I found a Clay-colored Thrush in my yard I would be calling everyone I knew, despite the fact that it is sort of like an American Robin, but even more boringly blander. I was excited when I saw a Connecticut Warbler despite the fact that it was young and an incredibly boring and drab bird. It had a nice eye-ring though.

With that in mind, I have decided to take it upon myself to rank all the North American Wood Warblers. What were my criteria? First, they had to be regularly found in the USA/Canada region, even if only a small sliver of it. This leaves out the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Rufous-capped Warbler, and Golden-crowned Warbler, but the Tropical Parula, Colima Warbler, and the Golden-cheeked Warbler barely squeak by.

Second, the rankings are based mainly on adult male breeding plumage, though a considerably crappy winter male or female plumage may detract from its rankings. Also, song doesn't play a role in this, even though I may change my mind on a few warblers. This is more practical, because I'm not going to try to listen to all the western warblers that I haven't seen to evaluate their songs. For the most part, I'm going to stick on the showy male plumage.

Finally, this is all subjective except for the fact that I am totally correct in these rankings. Once this ranking is published, there is no going back and all you warblers that are vaguely patterned with yellow and black will have to deal with it forever. Either that or it is just my opinion. I like the first explanation better though.

The Official and Conclusive Ranking of North American Wood Warblers

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Improbable Double Rare Bird Whammy

I knew it would happen sooner or later (it being me seeing a rare bird), I just didn't expect it would be in the swamp behind my house.

All of this started when I took an evening walk on Wednesday of last week. The weather was beautiful, warm for September, sunny, and was topped off with a nice light breeze. There were lots of birds flying around and I figured I might see something interesting. Perhaps I would see a new warbler species or something like that? On my way back to my house, I was walking across a grassy field next to the empty construction lot when I spotted a sparrow sitting in a bush. I took a look at it with my binoculars. 

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our eBird Rankings!

We'll talk more about this soon (with reviews!), but both Paul and I have the eBird app called BirdLog  for our phones (yeah, I got it to work) which allows us a much easier time to create and make lists of birds we see as we see them and it immediately goes into eBird. We now do this all the time, and our eBird lists have taken off.

We both have also gone back and inputted some of our sightings retroactively into eBird (and I even have a couple from earlier in the year that I actually did input when they happened), but sometimes our hand-written records were spotty and inconsistent in terms of writing down important information, so our earlier data on eBird is can be spotty (for example, I only have 187 birds inputted but have seen 190 this year). But it is close enough that we can see our rankings.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Weeks of September 1 - September 30

Yep, we've not been posting weekly updates, but here is a monthly one! And while new birds haven't been coming fast and heavy like in the spring, I still did pretty damn well.

One thing I did do was I started to use eBird more. Like every single time I go birding. Ever since I got the BirdLog app working (we both will review it soon enough) I have found it easier to use that to log my birds than to keep sparse and inconsistent notes in my notebook. It also helped me figure out that I forgot to write down a bird in my list book, but an hour or so later of double checking (yes, I wasn't going to stop until I figured it out) and I noticed that while I mention it in my post about Nummy Island, I don't actually record Clapper Rail in my list of birds for the year. Yay, free bird!

Weeks 35-38 Paul's Update

I am having trouble keeping up my birding updates, though it shouldn't really be that hard to write a bit on my birding and tally up what I have recently seen. But I look up, and then I am nearly a month behind on the posts. Maybe this is ok because I find that I write my most interesting birding adventures into separate posts anyways. So now I will be posting every month on my recent progress. And each of these will be a nice summary of the birds and the seasonal changes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Immaturely Funny Bird Genera

I’ve touched on immaturely funny bird names many times before, but there is an untapped goldmine of snickers and guffaws within the scientific names of birds. Today I will be focusing birds that have a funny genus. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny species names, but today we are just going to discuss genera.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sunday Shorebirds: Sanderling or Red Knot

It was Sunday morning and time to get the family out of the house for the day. Perhaps we could go Birding?!? I had been looking at eBird to see where we might go, but there have been very few reports lately. Very few. Two or three during the entire month of August for the few spots along Lake Ontario where we normally go.

However, one of the most recent posts (from a day or two ago) listed several shorebirds that I hadn't seen (including the Stilt Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper). It was for a place I hadn't been before: the Brock Street bridge in Whitby, Ontario. Nearby, at the Lynde Shores Conservation Area, there were also reports of similar shorebirds along with the Common Gallinule. (The Common Gallinule used to be called the moorhen, and not many people get excited about seeing this duck-like bird, though I don't recall ever seeing one before and, of course, this would be a nice addition to the year list.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Preliminary App Review: BirdLog NA, by Birds in the Hand LLC

It finally happened. I have gotten over my butthurt about eBird and decided to use it, embrace it, even love it. What caused this? The Top 100 lists for each region! Yep, you can go to the website and see the Top 100 for whatever region you want (country, state, county, continent, etc.), which is automatically compiled by the data. Yeah, I went there and saw the Delaware County and Philadelphia County lists and I could easily be in each of them, if not the top 20. Hell, just estimating, I'd be in the top freaking five for Delaware County, top 15 for Philadelphia County, and probably top 50 in New Castle County in Delaware (and I am only there for work). I want that fame!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Weeks 31 and 32 Paul's Update (Summer Birding)

The strange thing I find about writing two-week updates on birding activity is that tends to group very different birding activities together. Of course, birding has been slower this summer so I don't have much really to write about the past two weeks. Looking at my list, I guess that's not entirely true as I saw 7 new species over this time period.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Weeks of August 4 - August 17

Previously I mentioned that birding was slow up in the Philly region so I headed down to Cape May, and boy am I glad I did! I spent every morning for the week getting up at 5:30 so I can head down and put a good many hours of birding before my family was even awake. The best way to not feel guilty for spending so much time birding while on vacation with your family? Sacrifice sleep! Ok, I did go to be early every night, so my sleep didn't suffer.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tangential to Birding Music Review: The Carpenter by The Avett Brothers

It happened again this last week. Yes, I got judged by my binoculars.

This shouldn't be a problem and it doesn't really bother me, except when people insist "you should borrow some binoculars" after I politely say no thank you that I am fine with the crappy ones I have. Even then it doesn't actually bother me so much, but more annoys me because it can come across as condescending, and I could only imagine how that might turn off new or beginning birders.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Birding Nummy Island, New Jersey

The summer drags on and any serious birder would have gone to other parts of the country by now to get new birds. Now, I am a serious birder, but I am also a father of three, so my options of birding migration are limited. Luckily, I live very near Cape May, New Jersey and can go visit relatives in the area fairly often. So I did!

Shorebird migration is in full swing, and even though we get some peeps around here and even an occasional larger shorebird, the real fun is happening in New Jersey. So when I went down to Cape May and went on a couple birding walks with the Cape May Bird Observatory I made sure to ask about where good places to go to find stuff on my own. I was directed to go birding on Nummy Island.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Oregon Birding IV: The Coast

As I mentioned in my last update post, I went birding on the Oregon Coast with my family a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't been to the Oregon Coast, I highly recommend it even if you are not a birder. There are scenic vistas, quaint light houses, fresh seafood, beaches, tsunami escape route signs, salt water taffy, tide pools, and (if you have more time) you can go deep sea fishing, clamming, and crabbing. All good times. But what about the birds? I had high expectations for the coast. Damon had told me previously of his trip years ago to Seattle and how he got like a dozen new bird species just stepping off the plane. New gull species, nesting pelagic birds, strange and exotic shorebirds! The sky was really the limit. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Weeks of July 21 - August 3

Yeah, summer is slow and we slow down with our weekly reports so that they are every-other week, only we put an extra week into that. But, hey, both of us have plenty of birds to report for these weeks!

Weeks 29 and 30 Paul's Update (Oregon)

I realized a couple days ago that I neglected to post my last two week update, but Damon didn't post his on time either so I don't feel too bad about it. But looking back, I do have some birding to report over the past few weeks!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tangential to Birding Book Review: Playing at the World by Jon Peterson

Ok, I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now, trying to get the subtleties of what I am saying to come forth into writing. It hasn't worked, so I'm doing the next best thing: writing this while tired and after having a couple beers!

There is a section at the beginning of The Big Year (holy shit, it is only $6 on Amazon, go buy it now if you don't have it!) where the author (Mark Obmascik) talks about Sandy Komito as joking around and having fun during birding, while others around him were more serious acting and rolled their eyes or acted in a way that showed they disapproved. Now, I don't have the book in front of me (I lent it to my brother who I am sure is reading it right now) to quote it, but this stands out to me for a few reasons. First, Sandy Komito is one badass birder in the book, yet he still makes jokes and enjoys himself while doing it; no one can say after looking at his year count that he isn't serious. Second, this is something I've exactly noticed while birding.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Nova Scotia 2: Cherry Hill Beach

After seeing pelagic birds on a whale watching tour, I wasn't sure whether there would be other interesting birds for me to see while we kicked around the Southern Shore of Nova Scotia. We drove down to Cape Sable Island because we heard that this was quite a bird magnet. There were a lot of shorebirds there but they were all (with the exception of a few Willets) out of binocular range. However, we kept hearing about the Piping Plovers that nest on Nova Scotia beaches and I that decided we should try to track one down! I looked through my options and found a beach close to our rental cottage that looked promising.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nova Scotia 1: Bay of Fundy

When we decided to go to Nova Scotia for a mid-summer vacation, I had visions of all kinds of north Atlantic birds dancing through my head. I would see new gulls, terns, pelagic birds, shorebirds; it would be bird heaven. And then I realized that many of these birds head to the Far North for the summer and that many others of these birds spend most of their time away from seashore. How would I have a chance to see any of these birds?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Birding Down to Maryland: A Short Trip

Paul went to Nova Scotia recently, but before that he went to eastern Oregon. Yeah, he gets around more than me, but I do the best I can with my little corner of the world! So after his Oregon trip, I took a trip down to Maryland for oddly similar reasons. While travelling there, I decided to do a little birding and keep a list of all the birds I saw that day. A big day? Nahhh, not that big, but here is my travelogue (along with other information added later and various musings)!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Year of Birds by the Numbers, Part 2

We have reached the 1/2 point through the Bird of Year competition and, much like I did for the 1/4 way mark, it is time for another numerical analysis of our progress!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Weeks of July 7 - July 20

Ok, I don't quite have the neat stories as Paul (no trips to New Scotland, no pelagic birds) and I haven't been to Cape May during this last couple of weeks, but I did get a new bird each of the weeks!

Weeks 28 and 29 Paul's Update (Nova Scotia)

As Damon mentioned, now that birding has slowed down in the heat of the summer, we are posting every other week updates. I could have posted one last week but it would have been fairly short, and besides that I was on vacation looking for new birds.

And I did find new birds because we went to Nova Scotia and kicked around the Southern Shore for a few days. As it is on the coast and has different habitats, this made it fairly easy to track down a new bird or two. Nova Scotia is also fairly "boreal" giving it some more northerly birds as well. It also helped that we went on a whale-watching boat ride, which was actually a bird-watching trip for me (more on this later).

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman

It is book review time here at The Year of Birds! We will have plenty of these as a relatively regular feature, or at least whenever we have time to read bird-related books and talk about them. And while the format may change with different reviews, today we are having a question and each of us give our own answer to it as it relates to the book. Yes, you can probably note that Damon can be long-winded and meandering, but you've already read enough on this site to know that already.

So, what is the first book of the Year of Birds Book Club? Is it the obvious The Big Year? Nah, since we both read that years ago. Nope, today we are reading Kingbird Highway, by Kenn Kaufman. Is it just a story of him hitchhiking his way in search of birds and the reason for the extraneous second 'n' on his first name?

Week 27 Paul's Update

I really don't have much to update because I saw no new bird species this past week. Hopefully this will change in the couple few weeks, and tomorrow I expect my luck will start to change.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 30 - July 6

Ok, we are back to normal programming, and I am back to not being shutout!

So after not seeing any new birds the previous week, despite desperately searching for both local cuckoos, I knew I had to change tactics. And by "change tactics" I meant "take another weekend trip down to Cape May"! Oh, let me tell you, Independence Day is not the time to go to the shore. Yeah, I've been there many times over the years, but I've never had traffic quite that bad down there as this year's fourth of July weekend. It was bad.

But it wasn't bad when  you get up early in the morning to go driving to Cape May. The first day down there was the Friday after the 4th so there were no birding walks in the morning, so instead I just wandered around Cape May Point by myself. And, oh the terns!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 23 - June 29

I tried this week.

I started the week in southern New Jersey, including a morning trip by myself to Cape May Point to go birding. I saw lots of neat birds (more later), but the 'new' birds on that trip were ones I had seen the previous day.  It really is a nice place, and the walk in the trails was great, so I wasn't complaining. Still, at least show me a skimmer!

Week 26 Paul's Update (Carden Alvar)

We are now half way through the year and I can't believe its already July. The past few months have really been whirlwind of birds and stuff. But something I never imagined during the cold and bleak days of winter is that there is a summertime lull in the birding. Now, I didn't get shut out this week but my opportunities to see new bird species are certainly becoming narrower. Perhaps I will have to take another trip soon to some exotic birding paradise. Anyways, I have been slowing down my birding and making fewer trips afield.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

App Review: Audubon Birds for iPhone by Green Mountain Digital Reference

Smartphones are great. Not just in the overall sense, but for birding they are indispensable, which is funny because I rarely see people get theirs out for anything while I go birding (perhaps it is an age thing, since many birders I run into are older). They are also not cheap.

Ok, in the grand scheme of things the cost for a birding app of $15 - $20 is minimal compared to what you get out of it, but psychologically it is hard to drop that much money on something that you can't really browse beforehand (yeah, yeah, there are 'lite' apps of them I know) and that is not a real, substantial thing like a book. I understand. So when I looked around a few weeks ago and saw one on sale, I jumped at it.

I am fully aware of the number of unupdated apps
This is the Audubon Birds iPhone app by Green Mountain Digital Reference. You can get the full app like I did, or there are other more specific apps (like California or Central Park in New York).

Monday, June 24, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 16 - Jun 22

I am very happy because today is one of those summer days where those great loud thunderstorms come through. They always make me feel like home. Not that we didn't have storms like this in Kentucky, and Arizona certainly did have their monsoon storms blow through, but the east coast summer storms that can pop up through any afternoon are just somewhat different. Maybe it is the feel in the high humidity, or maybe it is the way the thunder rolls through the sky, but it reminds me of listening to it bounce off the buildings through my courtyard facing window in college.

The storms were moving in from the west, not south, so it is unlikely that they would bring many birds with them (I can always hope for a raven blown in form Appalachia though). But I always look outside, just in case we have some different visitor bird hunker down in my yard after the winds pick up. And I did find one! Ok, after watching for a few minutes I saw it was just a Song Sparrow, but it is always good to challenge yourself to find a bird that at first is only some leaf movement.

The tree of the Song Sparrow just minutes after I saw it
Also the Song Sparrow was moving and flying a bit differently than they normally do, so it got me hoping that it was some fun exotic bird. I guess the sighting of a Tropical Kingbird in Philadelphia gets me thinking like that.

Yeah, about that Tropical Kingbird? I am totally going to go and try to find it, but I heard about it on Saturday morning and then I was gone in New Jersey until today and then worked today. Now whether to get up early and try to beat the traffic or wait until my youngest takes a nap?

Week 25 Paul's Update (Lynde Conservative Area)

I broke one of my longest no birding periods (a birding fast if you will) with a short outing on Friday at Lynde Shores Conservative Area in Ajax, Ontario. My spouse was flying into Pearson Airport and I had volunteered to pick her up and, seeing that I was headed into Toronto anyways, why not stop by a conservation area near the lake for a while? I took a quick look at eBird to see what I might find and there was a recent report of Purple Gallinule, Black-billed Cuckoos, and a Red-necked Grebe at Lynde Conservation Area. I hadn't been to this particular conservation area before, but it looked like a nice place for a morning walk with a mix of woods, open shrubby grassland, and a large marsh all set on the shore of Lake Ontario.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Immaturely Funny Bird Names: Australian Edition

I've said this before: by far the most popular page on this blog is Immaturely Funny Bird Names. I did a sequel to it with Immaturely Funny Bird Names: European Edition which, while not quite as popular, is slowly gaining in popularity! And while here at The Year of Birds we are mainly a blog about birds, birding, science, and reading and stuff, I am not above pandering to the whims of the internet audience. So here we have another entry in the series:

The Most Immaturely Funny Bird Names: Australian Edition

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Oregon Birding IV: Succor Creek State Park

After spending two days of being overwhelmed by the number and diversity of birds in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and surround areas, I wasn't sure I was ready for any more birding. Not only that, but birding can be fairly tiring and would I be able to get up at 5 a.m. to go birding? That early morning start would be a necessity, with daily highs in the low 90's and my guess that more birds would be active in the pre-10 a.m. morning. Given my limited opportunity to bird Oregon, I decided I would head off to Succor Creek State Park and have a look around.

It was still dark and the air cool as I headed off the next morning. As I drove along, I had a fly-over of a large nocturnal (but unidentified, dammit) bird, which snapped me out of my early morning haze. Soon after, a hen Ring-necked Pheasant shot across the road in front of me. Bird number 1 for the day! I headed south of my hometown, Nyssa, past Adrian and off into the high desert that borders Idaho. The drive would first take me past an area that is typical high desert, sagebrush and some junipers, and into a fairly large canyonlands region formed from volcanic rocks. It would be about 15 miles of bumpy, dirt road to reach the state park.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Week 24 Paul's Update (Bluebird)

I have only one bird to report on this week. My Dad and his friend, Doug, took me fishing last Sunday on Unity Reservoir. Doug drove the boat (Thanks Doug!) and my Dad kept baiting my hook (Thanks Dad!) and I spent several hours fishing and looking for birds.

It was a really nice morning. We saw grebes and hoards of swallows. There were a few duck fly-overs (mallards), geese in the distance, and a merganser or two as well. To top it off, we saw an Osprey, a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and an American Kestrel. We might have even seen some Turkey Vultures!. There was also an eagle fly-over that had me thinking Golden Eagle for a few moments before we decided it was a juvenile baldy. But alas, there were no new birds until I got back to shore and found a bird box. "Who is living here?" was my first thought, and soon an incredibly blue bird emerged. I don't mean a vibrantly blue bird, but instead one that was blue all over. It was clearly a Mountain Bluebird.

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 9 - June 15

After the type of week Paul had last week, I knew I had to do something to kick myself back into competition, so this week I took a quick trip down to south Florida to pick up a bunch of birds. Oh, wait, no, I still am stuck in the Mid-Atlantic, but at least I got down to Maryland to mix it up!

I was feeling good too, because just from a small stroll around the neighborhood and my drive down to Maryland I saw 29 species of birds. Note, I wasn't actually birding, just going around my neighborhood and driving on the highways. Granted, none of them were new, but there were some oddities of the list like me not seeing any Red-tailed Hawks on my trip (but dozens of Osprey) and my brother questioning my Tree Swallow identification in the twilight of the Eastern Shore of Maryland (he would not write it down in my book).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Music and Surprising Birders

I find it interesting to figure out if famous or semi-famous people are birders.  Sure, there is a Wikipedia page about this (filled with mostly biologist types), but I like to try to find them in the wild through field marks. For example, my favorite baseball writer is Rob Neyer and I've read his work for 17 years now (dammit, that can't be right...yet it is!). I've read all (but one!) of his books, including the ill-fated Feeding the Green Monster. Hell, I have that book in actual physical copy!

Sure, you can get it now in paperback, but it was difficult when it first came out.
In that book Rob talks a little about birds and birding in such a way that you know he is an actual birder (he even says some nice things about Starlings). Maybe one day I'll interview him for this blog about that and go birding with him (he does live in Oregon, though in the civilized part and not the part that Paul is from).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Oregon Birding III: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

It was our second day of birding in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR) and I wanted to get a good early start, so my Dad and I took a morning walk through the town of Frenchglen. We saw many of the same birds from the day before (crows, blackbirds and swallows galore), but on the way back to the hotel I noticed a smallish, robinish bird bobbing its tail in a juniper tree. This was odd and so I investigated it further to find a Say's Phoebe (1) and, soon after that, I saw Common Nighthawks (2) circling through town. I watched one for a while and it landed in a tree.

Common Nighthawk taking a break

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Oregon Birding II: Trip to Frenchglen

Once when I was in high school, we took a biology class field trip out to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (MNWR). We were told that there were lots of birds around, but beyond that I don't remember much from our trip there. Mostly it was a good excuse to get out of class for a day.

I do remember that there are supposed to be a lot of birds there, so, while I was on my trip to Eastern Oregon, I strongly hinted to my parents that it would be fun to take a trip down to MNWR for a day to see what birds we could scare up. They were amendable to this idea and even booked a hotel room for us in the little town (population of a few dozen maybe) of Frenchglen. We headed down on Wednesday morning with the plan of looking for birds on the way, staying the night and then driving to MNWR proper the next morning.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oregon Birding I: Owyhee Canyon

I am in Oregon for a few days visiting my parents; what a great opportunity to see if I can find some different birds! After quick look or two at eBird and remembering what birds I used to see when I lived here, I figured I could probably add to my list. There would be pheasants and quail, perhaps some shore birds, and who knows maybe I would see a Chukar or some other exotic desert bird? I figured I could probably see 20 or, if I were lucky, 30 new bird species.

Well, my first day here was Tuesday and, after pouring my first cup of coffee, I noticed some weird looking doves feeding in my parent's driveway. I had to refer to my book to find out that they were Eurasian Collared Doves (1). Weird, I didn't know they were even here. Then a California Quail (2) came sauntering through the yard and a Black-chinned Hummingbird (3) buzzed by. I hadn't even taken my pj's off yet!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of June 2 - June 8

Holy crap, I will not even compare my week to Paul's. It is summertime here (not quite summer yet, but summertime at least) and the migrations have already passed through, so except for a few rare straggler birds everything is pretty much boring here in terms of new birds. So basically I have three activities I can do:

1) Try to soak up the last few birds that I should have gotten already.
2) Go to new locales to find birds that are not in the Delaware Valley.
3) Go chasing after rare birds as they pop up on eBird.

Ok, I tried #3 earlier this week. Yeah. Paul is doing #2 now and dropped an insurmountable lead on me unless I actually get to travel this year. But his trips are only a few and only every now and then, so it isn't like he is actively using that strategy for new birds. So this week I got to just look around my normal haunts for birds that are here but I just haven't seen yet. And, hey, I got three! If I get three birds a week around my  normal haunts this summertime I will be happy.

Week 23 Paul's Update (Oregon)

This was a good week of birding for me. I visited my parents in Oregon and took the opportunity to look around for a few birds.

Wow!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Birding from Airplanes

I flew home yesterday. No, not my actual home in Peterborough but my home in Oregon where I grew up. Anyways, I was looking for birds around the Buffalo airport and it was a bit difficult; a Starling or two and a Ring-billed Gull were all I could find. After a quick email exchange with Damon about the poor birding opportunities in the airport, he challenged me to start my "Birds seen while on the airplane list". Challenge accepted!

My first flight from was Buffalo, New York to Minneapolis, Minnesota. We would be flying over the Great Lakes, so the birding possibilities seemed quite good. Shorebirds, waterfowl, maybe some high-flying warblers? Who knows?! However, before the birding starts we need some ground rules. For example, should I only count a bird while the plane is in the air? Does seeing a bird while waiting at the gate or taxiing count? I understand from Damon that these questions have been kicked around for awhile and are at the root of several heated arguments, though Damon and I are both of the "If you are in the plane, it counts" category. With that, let's let the plane birding begin.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rain Geese

There have been reports of a few Snow Geese at the Heinz Wildlife Refuge, so I had to go and see for myself. Yeah, I know, I’ll see hundreds of them in the wintertime, but it is nice to go on a little quest to find something every now and then. And besides, there was a white one, a blue one, and one that was a little of both, so that is cool (I’ve always been fond of the blue form).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Magazine Review: BirdWatching

We took the family to the public library yesterday and, while I was watching the littlest of our kids, my wife found a birdwatching magazine for me. It was cleverly titled BirdWatching and sported a cool photo of a hummingbird on the front cover. I decided it would be ok to take a look at it, but was wary lest it contained a lot of campy birdwatching stories and lame tips for how to get the perfect photo. I actually wasn't quite sure what I was to find between its covers, but my curiosity got the best of me. We brought it home that April 2013 issue and I read through it last night before I went to bed. Here are my impressions of this magazine!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Week 22 Paul's Update (Whip-poor-will)

The birding seems like it about to change: the weather is becoming warmer, there are more leaves on the trees, and many migrants have now come and gone. With that in mind, I headed off on Wednesday one last time to Darlington Provincial Park with hopes of seeing a shorebird or warbler (or two).

Damon's Birds for the Week of May 26 - June 1

A nice little week I had! I'm all moved in and I took a trip over the Memorial Day holiday to South Jersey where I got a whole morning to myself to go birding. I bookended a birding walk with trips to Cape May Point, and was rewarded with some birds that I was going to eventually get anyway as well as a Black Scoter and Oystercatcher.

I'll tell you, going to Cape May Point around 6:00 a.m. is a wonderful experience. There are only a couple people around (a couple of people fishing and one jogging) so the birds like the Oystercatcher aren't scared off like later in the day when there are hundreds around. The water is a beautiful dark blue only punctuated by an odd black duck with orange on its head or the many seabirds flying around. Now, these seabirds were all gulls and terns, but there are many of those that I don't have! Sadly, they were all too far out for me to get a good look (especially with my binoculars), except the obvious Herring Gulls and Laughing Gulls. I did get a good identification of Common Terns later in the day from the same spot.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Thoughts of Arizona

It got up to 97 here in the Philly area today. With humidity. I worked and spent most of the day outside in this heat and thought that jeans were a good idea. They were not. So when I came home, I immediately changed into shorts and lied down for a two hour nap. Heat does that to you, especially when you are working in it with jeans on. It is a special tired that working in the heat does to you, and one I’ve known many times over the years, especially since I used to live in Arizona.

What, you didn’t know I lived in Arizona? Yep, Paul and I both did; in fact that is where we met as young, idealistic grad students (time has long since beat out the youngness and the idealism in both of us). If you think the birding is great around here, you should have seen Arizona.

Except I never did.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Damon vs. Paul, a Head to Head Birding Day Matchup, part 1: Memorial Day Sunday

How was the birding this past weekend? It wasn't quite as good as when migration was in full swing a few weeks ago, but all in all Damon and I both had pretty good birding days on Saturday (May 25). He reportedly saw an American Oystercatcher being eaten by a Swallow-Tailed Kite. I asked for photos but all I heard about was a "malfunctioning memory card". Anyways, we both saw a good sampling of birds in our respective regions (Damon- the greater Philadelphia region, but Saturday was mostly southern New Jersey; Me- eastern Toronto and Peterborough) on that day. I thought it might be interesting to compare our lists to see which birds were found in both places and what each of us saw that the other didn't.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of May 19 - May 25

Ok, just as I finally get my house set up and the computer all working I get ready to get some posts up and....my camera refuses to recognize any memory card put in it (they all work, I swear!). So I have no photos for this post, but I'll be busting out the trusty iPhone to get the amazing shots that you are used to for my posts. You remember, shots like "Fuzzy Outline of Bird that Damon Claims is a Black and White Warbler" and "Distant View of Hunting Kestrel".

Week 21 Paul's Update (Shorebirds and Warblers)

Yet another week of birding is complete. You know, it didn't really seem like I saw a lot of birds this week, perhaps because I only really got out in the field three times? There was a Sunday morning trip to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. This is a place on Lake Ontario where I went several times to see waterfowl, though most of the waterfowl is now gone with the exception of a few mallards and some mute swan. The focus now is on finding shorebirds and warblers, which are arriving from the south and stopping over before continuing farther north.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Point Pelee Pilgrimage

Point Pelee, Ontario. This is supposed to be a 'you have to go there' birding spot during spring migration. I have heard this from multiple people on multiple occasions. Point Pelee sticks out into the middle of Lake Erie and the birds like to stopover on their way further north and, because it has this narrow tip, it concentrates the birds into a small area, which makes seeing them easier. Point Pelee also concentrates something else: birding tourists. This was partly the reason for my hesitancy to make the pilgrimage down there, but then my wife encouraged the trip by pointing out the number of warblers and other birds I could pick up in a single day of birding there. And so we decided to take a weekend road trip down to Point Pelee.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of May 12 - May 19

Whew, what a week! I finally got my computer up and running, I totally finished moving by clearing out the straggler boxes from my old rental place (I am NEVER moving again), worked a bunch, and actually got some birding in on Saturday. And, oh, it was a damn good day for birding.

Week 20 Paul's Update (Another week- Another bird)

The birding continued this week with 11 new species added to my list, with two of these birds seen at Long Point Provincial Park (on the eastern end of Lake Erie's north shore). We drove there on our way home from Point Pelee and packed a lunch as we planned to spend a couple hours looking for birds. The birds were there and it seems like a nice enough place, but maybe next time we can choose a day without the gale force winds and perhaps a bit warmer than 45dF? I didn't seem to notice (what with trees full of warblers), but everyone else was complaining about being cold so all I picked up there was the Bank Swallow and the Black-Throated Green Warbler (quite a mouthful, I know).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Birding by Old Photos: To Life List or Not?

I was looking through my electronic photo albums the other day. I have most of my digital photos organized by year and then sub-categorized by month or event, which is handy as long as I can remember that we went to Oregon in 2004 or Maine in 2012. Otherwise, I click through windows and folders like a madman until I find the photo I want.

Recently I was browsing through these folders and I saw one for our trip to Prince Edward Island in the summer of 2008. That was a great trip- we ate seaweed pie, took the Harbour Hippo tour where you cruise through town and then onto the harbor, ate lots of lobster, and went for an evening of deep sea fishing. The fishing trip was quite memorable as we caught a bunch of mackerel, briefly saw a whale, and generally enjoyed being out on the relatively calm Atlantic Ocean. I also remember the ruckus that ensued when the deckhand started cleaning some of the fish that we had just caught. Seemingly out of nowhere a huge flock of birds appeared and grabbed the fish gut tidbits being thrown overboard. It was so loud and chaotic that I even took a photo of the birds.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of May 5 - May 11

Ok, remember how I was hoping that I wouldn't be without internet for a long time? Well, my internet was turned out right away, but my computer and its desk was surrounded by boxes for a good week and only finally got cleared away and plugged in today.  Moving sucks.

I will make it up to you with a pretty damn good week of birding. Actually, it was only a pretty good day of birding, but dammit that was a good day.

Week 19 Paul's Update (Warblers and More)

I picked up the pace of my bird sightings this week. There has been an explosion in terms of number and types of birds arriving in Peterborough, which helps, and also Damon is starting to pick up steam himself, which is a strong motivator to get out and see new birds. Most of the week had me picking around behind my house and I saw several new birds back there including a few warblers, a Warbling Vireo, and a Baltimore Oriole.

Week 18 Paul's Update (Nearly Skunked)

I would never have guessed that I would be flirting with seeing no birds during the last week of April. The spring migration is in full swing and millions of birds are flooding into Ontario. Yet, last week I had a fairly poor week of birding and only saw 1 new species. That's right, I wasn't held to the big zero and my list continued to grow, albeit by only a single bird species. My new bird of the week was the Gray Catbird, which was number 127 for the year.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of April 29 - May 4

Have noticed the dearth of posting on the blog lately? Paul has noticed that I haven't emailed him much at all the past week too, but he already knew why. You see, I am in the middle of moving and, while it isn't quite like the drama that skirted close to disaster that my move from Kentucky to Pennsylvania was, it is still a lot of work. Add onto that that I also volunteered for Earth Day at my kids' school (yes, they celebrated a week after everyone else) and also have worked a bunch lately plus whole bunch of other things and that leaves you with one exhausted and overwhelmed person with little time to go birding and even less energy to write about it.

But what is Paul's excuse?

So that is why I haven't written much lately (and probably for a couple more days, the official internet transition to the new house goes on today, so wish us luck!), there is good news! Now that I have a house and yard of my own again I can start a house list!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of April 21 - April 28

While Paul has been having some pretty good weeks lately, I'm just trying my best to keep up. Luckily, this week I had a better week than him and even passed the 100 bird mark. Yay! Now, I knew I would get 100 birds, just like I know I'll get 150 birds. I'll probably get 200 birds, though that is not a given if I stay put in my area the whole time. But give me a couple little trips and 250 is easily reached. I would need trips to Florida, Texas, Arizona, or anywhere on the west coast if I wanted to have a larger count, but who knows?

Good news? I no longer fear the warblers! Sure, they flit along the trees and move behind branches all the freaking time, but the more I get to know them the more comfortable with them the less I fear them. I think I also read that on an online dating advice column. It also helps when they are around to get familiar with.

Week 17 Paul's Update (With More Photos)

I had a fairly slow week of birding. While it is definitely spring here now, the migration seems to be only slowly arriving. There are reports of new birds everyday and even some rare bird sightings (a Worm-eating Warbler...really?) but I always seem to be day late and a dollar short. Oh well, I am getting out and enjoying nature! I have had several recent walks around the woods/swamp behind my house before 7 a.m., which is a really nice way to wake up and I can't believe how many different species can be found back there. On a typical morning I can see 20+ species with the occasional new bird.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Philly Area Big Day: A Test Run

I don’t really have a Big Day in me quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, I have the energy and absolutely have the desire, but I just don’t have the time. Yet. So until then I will just casually write down the birds I see during a whole day without going out of my way to make it a big day.

Hey, that actually fits within the whole idea behind this blog! We are casually counting birds for the year without going out of our way, and my ‘big day’ is me casually counting the birds for the day without going out of my way. That’ll work!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of April 14 - April 20

Holy shit, I am not even going to comment on Paul's bird count this week. I took a trip down to New Castle, Delaware to find the Brants that were posted there every day for over a week, but I did not see them. Again. Listen, Battery Park in New Castle is pretty much a walking trail with some trees on one side (sometimes), grass around it, and a small beach on the other side. It isn't much of a park, but it does skirt the Delaware Bay so it gets some water birds. Shore birds? Yep, but only Greater Yellowlegs and the damn Killdeer that always get my hopes up that they are some fun plover. But while there were no Brants to be found, I did see a group of Bonaparte's Gulls floating near the shore and being harassed by Fish Crows.

Week 16 Paul's Update (With Photos)

The spring migration is in full swing here in southern Ontario, but you might not know it by the winter weather we've been having. Today's (April 20th) high was a chilly 4 degrees C (that's 39 degrees F for the non-metrically inclined) with a snow/ice pellet/rain mix and a brisk 30 mph wind. Not especially great birding weather. Despite this, I've been getting out a bit and have new birds to report and, as I now have possession of the household camera, I am also making a concerted effort to capture more bird sightings on film. This week's update will feature a few of these photos interspersed with a few notes about my birding efforts.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Spring Trip to Heinz Wildlife Refuge: A Photoessay

I like the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge a lot. I know, perhaps this is just because it is the newest and shiniest place I've found and that I always get at least one new bird there, but the real reason is that it is just a nice place to walk around. So even on days like last Saturday when I only get one bird (a Blue-Winged Teal and that was only right as I was leaving), it is still a good day just to be out and be in nature. I like birding, but I feel a certain spiritual happiness when I am in natural areas that just makes everything better. Also there are warblers.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leaving birds in the field

I went birding with my family this weekend on the shores of Lake Ontario. I chose two spots on the lake partly because its been a cold spring in Peterborough and I figured we would have a better chance of seeing more birds if we went even a little bit further south. That and both of the chosen birding locations (Second Marsh and Presqu'ile) frequently have extensive bird lists posted on eBird. With the knowledge that many bird species were could be seen, my expectations were perhaps a bit lofty as we headed off. Would I add 5, 10 or even 15 new birds to my list? It was certainly possible. Would I see the elusive Northern Pintail, a mythical bird- I've only seen drawings- that reportedly frequents the marshes of Lake Ontario? Perhaps a new shorebird or one of a half-dozen potential gull species? The sky was really the limit!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Avian-Style Baby Names

In a previous life, I would write in my spare time about baby names. I had fun and would sporadically write missives that ranged from “funny” to “probably too bitterly sarcastic” concerning people’s ideas of ‘good’ names. Not your kids’ names, of course, because those are all good. I mean those other kids’ names. All of those suck.

Ok, not all names suck because names all have meaning. It is the ignorance or misapplication of that meaning that makes names suck. So, with that as my vaguely general guidelines for good and bad names, I present to you:

Popular Avian-Influenced Baby Names

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stealing Time for Birding

I still haven’t responded to Paul’s challenge of a big day of birding in April, but oh I will. The problem is that I don’t have a free day for probably another two weeks. This may change, of course, but between work, stay-at-home father things, a board game auction (don't ask), and children’s activities, I have pretty much something going on every day of the week including weekends.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Week 15 Paul's Update

I took my two older boys down to Oshawa, Ontario last Sunday morning because I had seen on eBird several extensive bird lists reported at the "Second Marsh" on Lake Ontario. This is actually the McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve and is a nice large wetland-forest complex, and it sits next to the General Motors buildings that you can see from the 401 as you drive out of Toronto.

Damon's Birds for the Week of April 7 - April 13

You know, every day I think "will this be a week that I get shut out?" There has to be a time where there just aren't any new birds in my area that I haven't seen and I'll have to take trips further away to see any birds. Luckily we haven't reached that point yet, though it helps that the spring migrants have started to arrive.

This was a good week for me, not just for birds, but also because I got to go to a few different places. Sure they are all local, but one was a new spot for me. I started the week with a somewhat guided bird walk at Tyler Arboretum to look for Pine Warblers. I didn't see any, but I did see a Pileated Woodpecker. Later, I would go to New Castle Delaware to look for Brants, but instead saw a Pine Warbler. The lesson of all of this? If I want to see Brants, I have to look for Pileated Woodpeckers!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Immaturely Funny Bird Names: European Edition

Here at The Year of Birds we write about many things: birds, birding, other birders, painful memories of our youth that we work through publicly as a form of therapy that somewhat relates to birds, and trips to go birding. But sometimes we get silly (especially me) and write things like The Most Immaturely Funny Named Bird.

Now, that post was mostly North America centric (with some obvious exceptions) and was just a one-off post that I wrote on the spur of the moment without much effort. Heck, the links to Wikipedia for every species mentioned was more work than the rest of it combined! But you want to know something about that post? It is our most popular post.

Seriously, it is the most popular thing written on this blog by a huge margin, and mostly people get to it through googling things like "funny bird names" (#3 result!). Wow, that is impressive, especially since we aren't even on the first page if you google "year of birds" despite owning the freaking domain name.

So, as we aren't the types to keep the people from what they want, I now introduce to you the second in the series of funny bird names:

The Most Immaturely Funny Named Birds: European Edition

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Huge, Glaring, Embarrassing Omission

There are some birds that you just know you are going to get. No, not those birds where you get a good feeling you’ll see, but birds that you see all the time and are everywhere so much so that you just take them for granted. Of course I always thought of House Sparrows as one of them, but it oddly took me weeks to see one here in Pennsylvania. I wonder if there are any like this that I forgot to put on the list because I just assumed I’ve seen them? (Spoiler alert! Yes, there is one and Paul has already pointed it out.)

So what are the birds that are so common that they are taken as a given, ones that you will see in your neighborhood or driving around with no effort whatsoever? In other words: if you never went birding (and weren’t a good bird anyway), what birds would you get just by default? Here in my area, I would say that would include the following 26 birds:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bird of Years by the Numbers, Part 1

I like to make graphs; It is fun to display numbers in new and interesting ways. I can say this with a straight face because I am a card carrying scientist. The Year of Birds is about seeing the most birds in a single year, which requires Damon and me to collect data on which birds did we see when. Why not analyze our progress?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Ontario Big Day: Test Run

It is starting to warm up here and more birds seem to be arriving daily. The boys and I took advantage of the nice weather to go birding around Peterborough and decided it would be a good day to test our Big Day capabilities. How many bird species could we see in a day of April birding in Peterborough? The kids were ok with leaving early (before 7 a.m.) and first thing we headed south. We then worked our way north and returned to Peterborough around noon. After lunch, we drove north and made it home mid-afternoon.

Here is a quick summary of some of the highlights of our trip of nearly 200 km:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of March 31 - April 6

I have a bad feeling I am falling behind Paul. Sure I am confident that I will pass him, but he keeps seeing birds! Dammit, many of those are the ones that are common for me in winter and have only recently arrived for him. It is great that he gets excited for things like White Throated Sparrows; it is so cute! I even heard on on Sunday sing about sweet sweet Canada Canada Canada Canada, so it was only a matter of time before they left me for him. I'll just bide my time with bitter posts about eBird.

Hey, it isn't all bad, because many birds from further south are coming up to me and not to Paul. Look, the Friends of Heinz Wildlife Refuge even posted a picture on Facebook of a Carolina Wren that talked about looking forward to the forthcoming new migrants!

Week 14 Paul's Update

I started this week of bird off with a long drive from Montreal to Peterborough with my two older boys. To break up the drive, we stopped at Presqu'ile Provincial Park. With the ice mostly off the marsh, the ducks were more dispersed and several species are now noticeably absent. Nonetheless, we found green winged teal and song sparrows to add to my year list. More birds were added with a couple of after-work drives on Monday and Tuesday when we spotted wood ducks and a solitary tree swallow.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

WTF eBird?!?!

Ok, I can’t let things go, I know that about myself, and this whole eBird thing is bugging me. I mean I absolutely saw a Marsh Wren and did the right thing and reported it in my list of birds for that day to eBird, but they just casually dismissed that sighting without even inquiring simply because it was a ‘rare’ sighting. Right? Was there some other reason?

At first I thought it was because I didn’t include a picture (I don’t usually go birding with a camera, and when I do my camera is pretty crappy), but that isn’t true at all. Sure, you can look at the bird alert listings for each county and see some with pictures, but many of them do not have pictures and are still confirmed. When I saw a Red Headed Woodpecker earlier that was listed as a rare sighting, I didn’t take a picture and it was accepted.

I wasn’t denied because of the lack of picture.

Friday, April 5, 2013

eBird Hides My Way!

Last weekend I went to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge again, as it is my new favorite place to go birding. It is a nice place, a nice walk that is a bit long for good exercise, and it has a lake, wetlands, and forest habitat that gives a nice range of birds. Of the four times I’ve visited in the last week and a half (including a really short visit), I recorded new species each time. It is a nice spot and lots of birders go there because there are lots of birds there.

So I woke up last Saturday before the sun and got to the park a little after sunrise. It was a nice day with not much wind (though it gets windy near the lake), and I was heartened to see a red fox using the long foot bridge to cross the lake. Not a bird, but red foxes are great indicators of wildness in the area. I did see a brown creeper finally, but then I saw another one on the other side of the lake (you see, once you see something once then you will constantly see it). I also met up with a photographer who was lining up a good picture of a great blue heron and we chatted for a bit and looked for the owls together (we saw the Great Horned Owl nest, but the Saw Whet Owl apparently has gone). The lower wind and nicer temperatures brought out a bunch of photographers and birders, and I was happy to be there on such a perfect day even though I only added three new birds. Hey, three birds isn’t bad, especially since one was an owl

Thursday, April 4, 2013

eBird Guides My Way!

In book The Big Year (the patron saint book of this blog!) they refer to a service where pay to call into a hotline to hear about rare bird sightings. Yeah, it was in the movie too, but Paul and I both read the book years before the movie came out, so we will reference the book to remain cool and hip on the cutting edge of birding in popular culture.

Anyway, that hotline where people would find out about rare bird sightings? Yeah, not needed anymore because of The Internet. Sure, the internet is good as a reference and knowledge base, but the best part of it is that it allows free and easy exchanges of information in real time. Want to know where the Pink Footed Goose sightings have been? It is easy to type it in Google and find out.

Or you can just hop on over to eBird.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Snow Geese in Quebec

I'd been spending a few days in Montreal and was thinking about new birds that I might be able to see. As I already had snow buntings, snowy egrets, snowy owls, I figured the next one to see should be a snow goose (well, that and eBird showed some recent sightings outside of the city). And by recent sightings, I mean flocks of between two and ten thousand up and down the St. Lawrence River. That was all I needed to decide that it was time to find some snow geese. 

Our primary objective: snow geese.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Week 13 Paul's Update

Another week is gone and I have a few more birds to show for it.

Damon's Birds for the Week of 24 - March 30

This week was a bit of a slow week for birding because my kids had spring break (kids ruin everything) and I had other things going on, so it was very hectic and I had little time to go birding during the week. Oh, I did drag my kids to Heinz Wildlife Refuge for an hour or so, but it was a little cold and my kids weren't that interested in not whining. I did see a Brown Headed Cowbird at the feeders there. Great, I go to a wildlife refuge to see a freaking cowbird.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Warbler Time, Yay?

Back when I visited my brother and birded on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge I saw my first warbler: the warblers are on their way! Dang, it is not going to get easy from here. Oh, I do like that I get them before Paul and I do like that I added one to my list, but I will tell you (and I alluded to this before) that I am not ready for warblers.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Early Spring in John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

When I have an hour so that is free and want to walk around, I often take a short trip over to Tyler Arboretum. It is a nice place and has programs that my kids are involved in, but I think I have exhausted much of the birds from it. Sure, there will be more in the spring, but it isn't quite wild enough where I can get a handful of birds every time. Taylor Arboretum is a little more wild, but it is smaller and I just don't get that many birds there (though me and my oldest son saw another red fox there the other day). I still like Tyler and Taylor and I still go to both regularly, but I think I have my new go to spot when I want to go birding nearby.

I knew about it for awhile and had planned to eventually get there, but what really spurred me to go to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge was notices on eBird that there was a consistent spotting of a Saw Whet Owl there, as well as Great Horned Owl and other things. Owls! I can't let Paul have all the owl fun, I must get involved in the owl spotting too (though not exactly like Paul did). So I took a trip to Heinz Wildlife Refuge.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Early Spring in Petroglyphs Provincial Park

My birding destination on Sunday was Petroglyphs Provincial Park, which is about 40 km north of Peterborough as the crow flies. I chose Petroglyphs because it sits on the very southern edge of the boreal forest and there are some different birds that can be found flying around its forests. Heading off my short list of possible new birds included hairy woodpecker, brown creeper, golden eagle, barred owl, crossbills, yellow bellied sapsucker, and maybe if I was lucky, I would find the black backed woodpecker that I heard had recently been seen somewhere in the park.

Diagram of the crow flying

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of March 17 - March 23

This week was a good week. Continuing my productive birding ways of last week, I did my best to catch up with Paul, except he also continued to go birding and won't let me pull ahead (it is very Red Queen-esque). As of now, I am only 10 behind him, but I didn't make a nice graph to show it yet (data presentation will be soon!).

Week 12 Paul's Update

I had a pretty good week of bird watching. Last Sunday, I stopped by Little Lake near downtown Peterborough and spent some time looking for a black duck. I had seen them reported and knew they were around. Yep, there was one there hanging with the mallards. On Thursday it got a lot better. I added a trumpeter swan, bald eagle, merlin, and northern harrier. That was quite a collection of sightings and to top it off I added a tundra swan the following day.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It Was a Swan

In the eyes of its mother every turkey is a swan
       -Luxembourgan Proverb

Ah, but the real question is what type of swan? Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself; Let's start from the beginning.

On Thursday, I went bird watching with a real birding pro (he's the one who took me out last week and is a well-established birder here in the Peterborough area). For the purposes of this post, I will simply call him, "The Birder". So anyways, I picked up The Birder at 7:30 a.m. and we headed up the Otonobee River where we stopped at a couple of places to count the geese, goldeneye, and the odd mallard here or there. It was otherwise uneventful until we came around a bend in the river, just past Lock 25 (sidebar: the Otonobee River has a series of locks which allow for the safe navigation of boats from Lake Ontario into the Kawartha Lakes, and these locks provide simple markers of one's position) and that was when I saw the three swans.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Red-Headed Woodpecker at Sandy Point State Park

Last Sunday I went hiking at Sandy Point State Park with my oldest brother. Just like when we went hiking at Terrapin Nature Park the previous day, it was just the two of us exploring a nice nature area without a huge amount of other people around (the wind blowing off the bay was probably too cold for most people). There was some guy with his dog (who couldn't believe that the park ranger person told him to leash his dog) and a couple other people, but otherwise it was just us walking around and seeing birds (though it took at least a good hour and a half before we saw something besides black or turkey vultures).

It was a good trip, fun to be out in, and I got some new birds for my list (see my update at the end of the week for details!). One thing I thought I might see was a pileated woodpecker, and I might have from a distance, but it didn't count because for us at The Year of Birds it has to be a real, complete identification to count. A shame, but one woodpecker I did see was a red-headed woodpecker.

Except eBird doesn't believe me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Waterfowl Weekend 2013

We still have snow in southern Ontario and winter doesn't seem to want to end, but the spring migration is upon us. The red-winged blackbirds are back and singing next to the pond in my backyard. The geese are flying and there seems to be a lot more birds around. Some of the earliest birds to return to our area (or pass through anyway) are waterfowl. Hence, "Waterfowl Weekend"  was being held at Presqu'ile Provincial Park this past week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bird of Brothers

My oldest brother is not good at identifying birds.

The other day he called me to ask about a bird he saw because he had no idea what he saw, but said it had a crest and wasn’t a blue jay. When I asked if it may be was a tufted titmouse, he said he didn’t know because he didn’t know what a tufted titmouse looked like. It turned out to be a cedar waxwing.

He is not good at identifying birds. He is, however, a good birder.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of March 10 - March 16

Last week I was shut out. Was I shut out again this week?

Not even close.

Week 11 Paul's Update

I have returned to Peterborough after several weeks of trips here and there. You might think this would slow my bird count down but, alas, spring migration is upon us which has allowed me to continue my accumulation of new bird sightings.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gyrfalcon: The Great Snow Bunter

My kids had last week off for spring break. I don't know why 'spring' break in Canada is during winter and so much earlier than what I was used to in the U.S., but it was, so we had to find something for the boys to do all week. I took them skiing on Thursday and, after my snow-shoeing knee bruising, tube breaking finger cutting, and skiing induced aches and pains, I decided something more mellow was called for. So why don't we go bird-watching?!?! The kids were really excited by this prospect! Well, somewhat excited. Not really. But they had no choice.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sparrows in Tyler


The weather started to warm around here, yay! It was snowing in Peterborough when I talked with Paul last night, but down here in Pennsylvania we have been having spring-like weather. And with such weather comes easier excursions to go birding.

On Monday I headed over to Tyler Arboretum, because it is my "go to" place when I have a free hour or two and want to be in nature. This time I decided to venture further out into the more wildernessy trails, so I picked a trail that was by a stream so I could also enjoy the frogs calling. And boy, my god, were they calling in a deafening chorus that sounded like truck traffic. But those aren’t technically considered birds.

With the warmer weather comes more birds, but for the main part of the arboretum (the one I had to walk through to get to the trail) that just mean more titmice, nuthatches, finches, red-winged blackbirds, and chickadees. It also means lots of little flower starting to come up and carpet the fields and even an occasional mallard on the little pond. None of those birds mattered to me on this trip (I’ve seen them all most of my visits, and I visit Tyler all the time), but I checked the feeders anyway.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Snapping Turtles and Eagles

I turned 38 last week. Damn it. My 20 year high school reunion is looming, and I’m not sure I want to go. I know some people who aren’t going and some people who are, but for me my life growing up was hardships and difficulties and things like that stay with you. I wasn’t fond of the place when I was a kid.

I still vividly remember my childhood, and even if it wasn’t always great I guess it still gave me things in life to build on. Like stories. One fact about having a poor and tumultuous childhood is that it gives you lots and lots of stories.

I tell my kids my stories and they actually listen, but they have to because I tell them at dinnertime while they are eating. That isn’t fair, though, because they actually prod me to tell stories in general, and even ask for specific ones.

So, today, I will tell one of their favorites.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The First Fly-Over of the Year

Damon recently mentioned that he started a new job at an environmental centre where he will be able to casually watch for birds. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I do this all the time in my own backyard. 

Paul's backyard. (And no, that's not an UFO in the sky)
As you can see, I have a pond and marsh to watch while I am sitting on my deck enjoying a cold beer. I haven't been able to do this yet this year because of the 2 feet of snow and 1 foot ice covering the pond, and needless to say, the birds visiting the pond during winter have been a bit sparse. However, once it warms up, we should have a nice collection of birds frequenting our backyard including plovers, kingfishers, ducks, geese, herons, and red-winged black birds. 

While I am waiting for the thaw and anticipating the return of the birds, I still occasionally take a look out over the pond. I did this a few mornings back and couldn't believe what I saw. Two Canadian Canada geese doing a low fly-over the pond. This was the first sighting of waterfowl in my backyard for the year and perhaps even a first harbinger of spring. I realize these were probably local birds scoping out open water or feeding areas, but this did elicit a tinge of immediate excitement when it reminded me of something from days gone by.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Damon's Birds for the week of March 3 - March 10

Paul is on a roll, isn't he? Wow, you would think he would slow down after going to Louisiana, but he has kept the momentum up. Damn, what will I do to keep up?  Will I take back the lead?

Week 10 Paul's Update

Winter is coming to an end and, while this means that I expect the bird watching to pick up, it also means I am losing my opportunity to see the birds from the far north that may or may not be lurking around southern Canada. I crossed off two more of these birds off my list this week (snow bunting and gyrfalcon, chronicled in a post coming soon) and saw a horned lark as well. I also got a flavor of the potential bird viewing that is migration.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Winter Birding at the Experimental Lakes Area

After enjoying a week of warm weather and birds in Louisiana, I headed off to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern corner of Ontario. Usually ELA is a place to visit in the summer when its not under three feet of snow and ice, but this year we decided that a winter sampling trip was in order. I packed my long-johns, wool socks, and extra-warm gloves and caught a flight to Winnipeg last Sunday.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of February 24 - March 2

Sometimes I feel like I am falling behind Paul. Sure, the actual numbers of birds seem to indicate that is true, and sure the distance between us has changed from me ahead to me behind with an ever widening gap, but what am I to do? Should I sit idly by and watch a Canadian birder best an American? No, I must not.

But I have been busy this week. Yeah, I am always busy and all, but this week I had a lot of house buying activities that kept me busy in the actual sense as well as the mental sense. But, luckily all seems fine and I can stop obsessing over houses and go back to obsessing over birds.

Week 9 Paul's Update

My bird list grew modestly this week with several birds seen during my trip to the Experimental Lakes Area and one new bird from the Peterborough area. As winter drags on into March here in Canada, I feel like I am playing a waiting game.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Damon's Birds for the Week of February 17 - February 23

I was not shut out this week, yay! I was also not in New Orleans like Paul, so I didn't get to see pelicans and Bonaparte's gull  (I already had black vulture, great blue heron, and northern mockingbird though). I would like to say I am not bitter, but dammit I am bitter!

Luckily I can leverage my job into more birds on my list. You see, part of my job (at times, including last week) is to not just watch for birds and other wildlife, but to identify it and point it out to people. So as I stand on a perch three stories above a wilderness area that has a marsh and a river running through it, I actually see many different species.

Week 8 Paul's Update

My bird list nearly doubled last week and all from a 1 day birding trip to Grand Isle, Louisiana. This had been part of my plan from the beginning- to casually bird watch and pick up odd local birds near Peterborough and then make a big day here or there when I am traveling somewhere.

The Grand Isle trip (as chronicled in my three part blog saga) was quite an adventure. In summary, I saw a fair number of birds that will likely be observable in Ontario during summer (Great Blue Herons, American Kestrels, Northern Mockingbirds, Pied-billed Grebe), but getting them on my list now is ok. There were several other birds that I probably won't see again (Snowy Plovers, Black Vultures, Caspian Terns, Brown Pelicans). So with these birds, I am now at 51 birds and in the lead. Here is my tally for the previous week:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Paul's Grand Isle Bird Fest (part 3)

Previously on The Year of Birds: Paul was in New Orleans for a conference, but took a side trip one day to see birds, and guess what? He found some! Now, we start the third, and final, chapter in a series we like to call "Paul's Grand Isle Bird Fest"

The beach was well behind us and we headed to the Sureway Supermarket, behind which there are some woods that birds are often seen. And groceries. Migrants sometimes fall into these wooded areas after a long trip north or south, but the lack of migrants at this time of year made this more of a long shot. However, we quickly saw a first bird!

Another mockingbird.

After traipsing through a nice woodlot, we heard some more birds in the distance but only saw two or three squirrels. There were really no birds around (besides a stray pelican soaring) which, sadly, was our sign to keep moving.

Grand Isle, Louisiana