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!

With that in mind, I took some notes of my little travels on last Saturday. Sadly, I didn’t get any GPS locations like Paul and didn’t take many pictures (the ones you see here are actually from a couple days later), but you can always go look at my previous photoessay for a visual representation of most of where I went.

Travel Notes for Birding Day: April 20, 2013

-Left the house at 6:15 a.m. and heard a chorus of Mourning Doves (1), Northern Cardinals (2), Song Sparrows (3), and Carolina Wrens (4). Saw American Robins (5) on the way to the car.

-While driving I heard many birds, only a few I could actually identify. Damn, I need to learn my birding by ear better. Sparrows then shore birds then gulls then birding by ear.

-I was tailgated twice on my short trip (even without much traffic), including a side street. Why doesn’t it surprise me that both cars had Delaware plates?

-Saw Starlings (6) and some crows on the drive, but around here you can’t identify the crows without hearing them (American and Fish Crows are both common enough to warrant this).

-In the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge parking lot: Red-winged Blackbird (7), Brown-headed cowbird (8), what looks like a family of Northern Flickers (9) were in the road, and a stray Wild Turkey (10, I would see a bunch more in a few minutes). Tree Swallow (11) and two Great Blue Herons (12) flew over and I could hear the White-throated Sparrows (13) sing and Common Grackles (14) chatter.

-At the first part of the lake saw a group of Green-winged Teal (15), a small group of Blue-Winged Teal (16), some Mallards (17), and a single Northern Shoveler (18). A few weeks ago I would have already seen dozens of Green-winged Teal and maybe 50-100 Shovelers, but they have all left. Later I would run into a woman who’s favorite duck was the shoveler who was glad when I pointed out that single one. I also saw more Cardinals and Tree and Barn Swallows (19).

-Dozens of swallows (both barn and tree) around me, flying and perching, as I set on the bench on the boardwalk bridge.

Barn Swallows
A lone Tree Swallow watching the Barn Swallows
Swallows on the bridge
I saw Wood Ducks (20), Mute Swans (21) on the pond and a couple of Bald Eagles (22) fly over. I heard Canada Geese (23) and then see them fly by, and a Great Egret (24) flies by and lands in the lake. Four hours later I would see a Great Egret in pretty much the exact same spot.

-I leave the lake are for now and head into the woods, but before I go more eagles fly over as well as an Osprey (25).

-Once the path left the lake I saw a white-tailed deer; a good sign! While chasing sparrows I spotted an Eastern Towhee (26) and Yellow-rumped Warblers (27). The Yellow-rump Warblers are everywhere. I spent too much time chasing yet another one. Male? Easy! Females? Always get me.

-The sun is now high enough to make it very difficult to bird anywhere east of me without the sun streaking my eyes. A Blue Jay (28), luckily, is perched to the west of me.

-Yellow-rumped Warblers are still everywhere. Saw a sparrow that looked like a new possibility and was intrigued and convinced it wasn’t just another White-throated, but then it started singing about sweet sweet Canada. Sigh. Saw a Tufted Titmouse (29), but no chickadees yet, which is odd.

-Heard Tree Sparrows (30) singing and heard and saw a Downy Woodpecker (31) and Brown Thrasher (32). Amongst the still common Yellow-rumped? A Palm Warbler (33)!
Palm Warbler amongst the leaves
Palm Warbler in a tree
-In the back stretch by the lake there are Tree Swallows everywhere, a couple of Osprey overhead, many Great Blue Herons in the lake, with Red-winged Blackbirds and Tree Sparrows singing. This is the area where it is easy to find Rusty Blackbirds (34), which I do find, and there is a stray young Hooded Merganser (35).

-Near the Tree Swallows in the back corner of the lake I find a new bird for the year: Northern Rough-winged Swallow (36)! There are a bunch of them (the whole place is lousy with swallows), and I see a Double Crested Cormorant (37) fly by.

-American Coots (38) are in their usual spot, and Yellow-rumped Warblers are everywhere (this is a theme).

-On the way back to the nature center I saw a Turkey Vulture (39) fly over and finally heard and saw a Carolina Chickadee (40). I run into the birding group and chat about what we found, and I can’t believe I missed out on the Prairie and Pine Warblers, gnatcatchers, and Scarlet Tanager. I’ll have to come back and go with them to find it, but I actually get to the refuge and go birding an hour and a half before they do, so I’ll just have to do some solo birding beforehand.

-The long chats with the other birders had me feeling good because they were so welcoming and accepting, and then while chatting with another group of casual birders I looked up at a gull. Hell, gulls are boring, but I still need Herring Gull for this year so I check every gull. Only this wasn’t a gull, but instead was a Caspian Tern (41), a new bird for the year! In fact, I added it to the checklist in the nature center, and I was the first one to add it this month. Even if I boycott eBird, I still contribute.

-I leave the Heinz refuge after five hours of birding. I still haven’t heard any crows for an identification.

-After a drive home and a lunch of a Lebanon bologna and Munster cheese sandwich with Grey Poupon mustard and Herr’s Chips, I left with the family to (assistant) coach my oldest son’s baseball game in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (we lost 3 to 1). While they played I saw the regular assemblage of suburban birds, but that included House Sparrows (42) and American Crows (43) chasing a Red-tailed Hawk (44).

-Now I am home, 4:00 p.m. and tired. I work at noon tomorrow and have to leave for it by 11:15 in case of traffic (it only takes 20 minutes without traffic, but I-95 is not a given to be traffic-free), so if I get up early tomorrow I can get 1.5 hours of birding in and then meet the 8:00 birding group in Heinz for an hour or so to look for those warblers and tanagers and gnatcatchers.

-I had one more outing of the day to get pizza at a local place, but saw no more birds for the day. Hell, I’m pretty exhausted and probably am going to bed early tonight because I need to get up extra early so I can actually shower before I work. But 44 birds? Not amazing, but still more than Paul’s previous test run, though I know he had a damn good day today in terms of new birds (and probably overall number of birds). [I was right about that!]

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