Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cape May Ducks

I've been a bit busy lately and haven't been able to go birding as much as I would like to (which, in case you don't realize, would be every day), and this past weekend was no different. Sure I was down in Cape May, but for other reasons that did not involve birding.

The standard lighthouse pictures. Cape May, NJ. By Damon Orsetti
So instead of running around with others on the two-day course on sparrows, I managed to grab an hour to go birding around Cape May Point to enjoy the raptors and ducks. Now, the raptors are neat but hard to get pictures of (and they aren't quite my thing), so after seeing some Yellow-rumped Warblers I knew I had to get into the winter frame of mind. I concentrated on the ducks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Bald Eagle Streak

There is a part in The Big Year near the beginning of the book where Al Levantin sees a Bald Eagle during the first day of the year. His comments were to the effect of other birders may be jaded with Bald Eagles, but he thinks they are great, with a certain subtle sense of superiority because he still appreciates them.
Bald Eagles at Heinz NWR, 9/14/2014 by Damon Orsetti
It was a small part of the beginning, but it felt odd to me for two reasons. First, almost every birder I've run into (including hard-core listers) still do appreciate Bald Eagles. Hell, they appreciate all birds (including the damn European Starlings). But the other reason is that, while many of us appreciate and like Bald Eagles, we realize that seeing them is not really a big deal in terms of likelihood.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

More Dragonflies at DuPont Environmental Education Center

Fall migration is upon us, and we owe you a few more posts about birds, but first let's look at some more dragonflies!

Like previously, at my work there is a nice selection of dragonflies, and some actually perch for pictures. Some will migrate away soon, and when the weather gets cold they will be all gone, so let's enjoy them before we turn our attention to hawk watches and big sits.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Other Flying Creatures at DuPont Environmental Education Center

Let's try something different for this post!

Today, while working at the DuPont Environmental Education Center down in Wilmington, DE, I walked around and took some pictures. I spent way too much time taking pictures of Least Sandpipers, but they were only about 10 feet away and were just asking to be photographed.

Least Sandpiper, DEEC 8/9/14
The entire time I was hoping more shorebirds would swoop in and I would have to work hard because of the rarities. While the first part did come true (more shorebirds!), they were all Least Sandpipers.

But I am not just a birder, I am also a nature-loving naturalist guy too! So I kept my camera out and went after the dragonflies instead.

Now, I don't know my dragonflies, so take any identification I give with a bit of caution. Also, at DEEC there are probably a dozen or two different species out now, and many of them don't like to perch for pictures for very long. The result? Me getting a handful of pictures that I spent way a bunch of time trying to ID. Using General Impression of Size and Shape doesn't work as well with Dragonflies.

So, without further ado, I will unveil the first Year of Birds dragonfly picture post! Over the next couple weeks I'll try to do this once or twice more, and who knows, maybe Paul will post some too? Do they have Dragonflies in Canada?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Nummy Island in Early Summer, a Photoessay (with words!)

Cape May, New Jersey is full of fun places, but right nearby is a bunch of really good birding places as well. One of them is Nummy Island.

Nummy Island is an odd place, but I've been been there before and so I knew what to expect in terms of bugs and the fact that it really is just walking along the side of the road. I say that because many people just stay in their car with their binoculars, but those people are missing out! Sure there are bugs, but just wear long sleeves and long pants (thin because, you know, summer) and you should be fine (I eschew soaking my body with anti-insect chemicals).

So, on one of the earliest light days of the year, I set my alarm clock for 4:30 a.m., got up and drove down from my in-laws' house to Nummy Island.

(as always, all pictures by Damon Orsetti....please don't steal them)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Damon's Spring Warblers (with pictures!)

I love warblers, but honestly who doesn't? Gulls are fun and challenging, ducks have a nice variation, tend to sit on the water to be watched, and both groups are there to help pass the dreary winter months. They are good. Eagles and hawks and falcons are showy and neat, but are usually a dot on the sky and aren't that common. They are good, and even non-nature people know that. Woodpeckers are great and hummingbirds are charming and sparrows make you focus on things you should, but they just aren't warblers.
I'll let Kenn Kaufman explain a bit (from the Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding):

"No group of birds in North America separates birders from non-birders so sharply as the warblers. The average person may have never seen a warbler, even unknowingly, and may not know that such birds exist. Birders, on the other hand, may focus a major amount of their energy on warblers, especially in spring and fall. The arrival of warblers migrating north from the tropics is a highlight of spring for many birders, especially in the East. The challenge of identifying fall warblers is an absorbing puzzle for many observers, and the search for vagrant eastern warblers is a major preoccupation for many western birders, particularly in fall."

Spring migration is over, and I already miss it, but instead of wallowing in pity over it being done, I thought it would be better to celebrate the wonderful birds that we did see. This works well because I got my new camera just before migration started (not a coincidence) and I tried to get as many pictures as I could.

So what warblers did I see this year? I saw 26 all of last year (lame!), but this year I did much better and saw 30, though remember this is just for spring (come on fun fall warblers!). There are a couple that I could have gotten but didn't, which I'll go over first, along with my excuses.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fish Crow Predation on Barn Swallow Chicks, a Photoessay by Damon Orsetti

While migration is long over (fall migration is right around the corner though!) we can still see interesting things while birding. Sure, there are those that get more interested in breeding bird stuff this time of year, but the best things we see are often those we don't expect.

When I was at John Heinz NWR the other day I was lucky enough to find something I was not expecting (see my eBird for that trip checklist here). You see, on the boardwalk there they have lots of Barn Swallows nesting underneath and apparently a Fish Crow found out about the delicious and tender, yet crunchy, morsels that are Barn Swallow chicks.

I first noticed this when a huge (probably at least a hundred) swarm of birds was absolutely freaking out on the boardwalk. They were mostly Barn and Tree Swallows, with a couple Baltimore Orioles and a single Eastern Kingbird and Red-winged Blackbird. And they were pissed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Upcoming Goodness on The Year of Birds

Yeah...we've been busy.

Since we last posted we've had migration come through, and this time we were prepared. There was a point where I was WAY behind Paul, but then I not only caught up, but surpassed him in year total. But then a week later the birds got up to him and he re-took the lead.

As always, migration seemed far too short and we already miss it some. Paul keeps insisting he is out of birds to find, yet he adds one or two every so often. I feel like I am tapped out around here (besides the nesting Kentucky Warblers nearby that I've unsuccessfully tried to get a few times), but I still have Cape May to go to so I can add some shorebirds and terns. So the game is not over!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rare or Noteworthy Birds at Pennypack on the Delaware Last Week

Besides looking for warblers last week, I also took another trip to a more distant part of Philadelphia to a couple good spots for birds. So, with my kids off from school and impending thunderstorms, I got up early, picked up a birding friend of mine, and headed out to Glen Foerd on the Delaware. There were nesting Osprey and soaring Bald Eagles, but I was more interested in the Red-breasted Nuthatch and numerous singing Chipping Sparrows. I was also intrigued by these guys.

Not a bird.

Wild Turkey at Glen Foerd, by D. Orsetti

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Warblers at Heinz National Wildlife Refuge Last Week

Some birders like hawks, some birders like owls, some birders can't get enough of Great Blue Herons. I love warblers.

I've written about them before, and I will write about them again (have to finish the warbler ranking list!), and during the winter months I will dream about them. But today is not a winter month, oh no, today is a spring migration month. And that means....warblers!

It was slow, with only a trickle of Pine and Palm Warblers coming through (even slower than normal), but soon the Yellow-rumped arrived and then, while not quite a floodgate, there has been a nice amount coming through. Hooray for warblers!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Winter Birding in Ontario

I haven't contributed to the Year of Birds lately. This is not to say I haven't been birding; I just haven't had much to say about my winter birding. It struck me, though, that there are some strategies to winter birding in a northern location, like Peterborough, Ontario that I could share. If you want to see birds knee-deep in snow in the middle of winter, where do you go and what do you do? Here are my observations of winter birding in Peterborough:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birding The Willows in Early April, a Short Photoessay

The Willows is a smallish (47 acre) park surrounding an old mansion in Radnor Township in the north part of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It isn't right close to me, but it is a quick drive up a main road to get to, so I've been going there every now and then birding.

Just like Taylor Arboretum near me, The Willows is one of the eBird hotspots that is dominated by a single person's listing effort (with Taylor dominated by my listings), with one person birding it many times in one week (I bet it is during her lunch break or something). It is at both times an underutilized and well documented spot.

So when I saw that there were some warblers spotted in it the other day, I had to stop by and get myself my first Palm Warbler of the season. I also had to try out my new camera! (Yeah, those warbler pictures sort of suck...I'm just learning about my camera and learning how to imbed pictures from Flickr).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Going Wild, by Robert Winkler

I chose this book entirely by happenstance. It happened that I went into a cheap book store while on a recent trip to the passport office in Whitby, Ontario. While browsing the nature/outdoor books, I saw this book, Going Wild, for sale for the princely sum of $7.99 (Canadian). The photos of the large binoculars and hawk on the front of the book sold me on this being a book about birding that I just might like reading.

Are those 12x50s? Might as well just use a scope.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bobo-links for March 7, 2014


The other day I went to spot on the Delaware River to see what sorts of ducks and other waterfowl I could see within my home county. It was disappointing, not because of the lack of ducks, but because it was useless with on my binoculars. When I'm at work or when I am volunteering I have access to a spotting scope to see the distant ducks, and most times when I am birding I don't need a scope, but this was one of those times where it was very obvious to me that I was at a disadvantage without a scope. Heck, even the local high school birder kid has a scope he goes around with. But I have to remind myself of something that the good people in Cape May told me (to paraphrase): "good optics doesn't mean they are a good birder, it just means they have money."

I, however, do not have money (I do have kids....there is a relationship between those), so I just have to dream about scopes for now. Luckily there are lots of good resources for those who want to dream or even buy scopes:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Medium Birder

Within the blog description we call ourselves "casual birders", but that isn't quite right. Sure, we don't have the time or ability to go out and birding all the time, but we are not just casual. Trust me, I run into casual birders all the time and, while there is nothing wrong with being casual, the term "casual birder" seems to imply someone who doesn't quite have that obsession with birding. It isn't an insult to be called a casual birder, but I don't think Paul and I are really casual.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 6 (Tour of King's Ranch)

After a morning full of exotic south Texas birds, I really didn't think I would see anymore as we were headed for the historic King's Ranch. We had decided to take a tour around the ranch partly because we thought the kids would have fun and partly because we wanted to see a real Texas longhorn.

We arrived at the visitor center a bit early and were killing time until the 2:30 start of our tour. There was a short promotional video (heavy on the 'promotion') about King's Ranch and there was an area where the kids could play. While they practiced their roping skills, I poked around the garden surrounding the visitor center. They had some feeders which were attracting hoards of House Sparrows and some American Goldfinches; perhaps there was another bird in the mix? This was, when I noticed a hummingbird landing on a tree near the hummingbird feeders and cacti in bloom. After a short crisis involving my middle sized boy and a hill of sleepy fire ants, I was able to focus on the bird and realized it was a Buff-Bellied Hummingbird.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You Aren't Fooling Anyone: Birds That Feel Wrong as Different Species

Grizzly bears and Kodiak/Alaskan big brown bears used to be considered different species, and everyone knew it was B.S. They were pretty much the same animal except that the Kodiaks were somewhat larger, though not always, and there was overlap in size anyway. The species range was a relatively arbitrary line along the Alaskan coast, which would be odd since these bears can wander widely. It was like that for a long time, and even my young self could tell it was an artificial distinction when I got my first Peterson Mammal Field Guide back in middle school, yet it persisted because people wanted to believe that they were different.

Hell, when I was in middle school (my obsession was overwhelming...I was an odd kid) I got an older book from the Community College about North American mammals (it was a two volume set of huge books), and they had grizzly bears broken up into dozens of species. If you've seen the range map of the bears and know how much territory they need then you would have to assume that some species only had maybe 20 bears total, which would be quite the genetic bottleneck. But, obviously, there weren't that many species of grizzlies, just like there weren't two species of North American brown bear. In fact, when people went out and tested the genetics of the populations they found that, not only were they the same species (obviously), but that all brown bears in North America, Asia, Europe, and formerly North Africa were the same species.

Looking back, it seems obvious, right? But it persisted for years (along with things like the Kaibab/Abert's squirrel distinction) despite what now seems to be obvious simply because there was a set precedent. I blame typological species thinking and use of type specimens, but these things lasted well within the time of the Modern Synthesis.

Today I am going to look at birds that seem to be like that, you know, birds that we all know are probably the same species but don't want to say anything because it will winnow our life list down. But instead of using science and all to figure this out, I am doing this simply by impression and feel when I see them. So let's start out with some rules and notes!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Product Revew: Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards

It all started out as a scheme to get my daughter a bit more into birding. She is a great kid and super smart, and she is interested in birds and nature and outdoor stuff, but she has a stumbling block: her twin brother. He is also a great kid and super smart, but when he is interested in something he gets really interested in it, so much so that I think it turns his sister off of it because she sees it as "his thing" (I can't imagine which parent he inherited this obsessiveness from!). It has been like this for years with dinosaurs and, to a lesser extent, animals in general, so it is only natural that it was like this for birds (they are dinosaurs after all).

So I worried that she might miss out on a hobby or activity that she actually likes and is good at. Just to be clear, my daughter is actually pretty good at identifying birds: she knows many common yard birds, can pick up Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows, and Carolina Wrens by ear and can tell Fish Crows and American Crows apart. She actually is a great birder for her age and is a better birder than many adults. Her twin brother, however, must have gone through his Sibley Field Guide many times and does things like identifying Broad-winged Hawks soaring over his school.

The interest was there, but how could I get her something more that would get her on a more solid footing as her brother (so she wouldn't feel like his junior partner if we were looking at birds)? Her little brother!

My daughter loves to teach my youngest son, so I jumped on Amazon and looked for some flashcards that I could use with my youngest, and my daughter could help me out. It wasn't coincidence that it just so happens that the best way to learn something is to teach it, so while my youngest might learn some birds, my daughter would learn even more.

There were a couple of options for flashcards, but I went with Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards. This seemed an obvious choice, as I love the Sibley Guide and was assured to have good quality images. So let's see what I got!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 5 (South of Kingsville)

Our plans for the mid-southern Texas gulf coast included: birding the seashores, taking the Whooping Crane tour, and, on our last day a visit to the King's Ranch (which sits outside of Kingsville). They offer tours and it sounded like something the kids would be interested in doing, but alas the tours were running only at 12:30 and 2:00 p.m. What would we do in the morning?

My wife helpfully suggested that I do a bit of research and see if there were any good birding spots close by. After a few minutes of eBird, I had located something good about a half-hour south of Kingsville: Kaufer-Hubert Memorial Park. It is located at the mouth of a small estuary that opens into the intercoastal waters of the gulf and recent bird reports were quite promising. It also looked like a good place for a picnic lunch. Our plans were settled then.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 4 (Port Aransas Day 2)

Our second day in the Port Aransas area (see the first day here) and we had big birding plans. That's right, plans to see the tallest native bird of North America: the Whooping Crane. They overwinter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is a fairly short boat ride out of Rockport, Texas.

We had made reservations with the Whooping Crane Boat Tours, which run on the Wharf Cat (a 80 foot catamaran). While anxiously waiting the departure of the boat, we noticed a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting on a post in the harbor. Just like that, in the harbor? Anyways, as we pulled out of port, the captain helpfully detailed all of the birds we were likely (and then commenced to view) to see over the next hour as we motored out to the Whooping Cranes. These birds included: Laughing Gulls, Common Loons, Forster's Terns, American White and Brown Pelicans, Double Creasted and Neotropic Cormorants, and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 3 (Port Aransas Day 1)

It was Day 3 (see here for Day 1 and Day 2) of our "Escape from the Canadian Winter by Driving Around Texas Looking for Birds" trip, and we were headed to the Gulf Coast. First, though, we briefly stopped at The Alamo to have a look. The birding was dismal, with only House Sparrows and Rock Pigeons, but the kids had fun and learned something about U.S. history.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Damon's New Year in Cape May, Part 2 (Two Mile Beach to Stone Harbor)

New Years in Cape May happened. I previously wrote about the morning section of the day with a count of 62 birds. How many more birds could I get? Would I get anything to top the Painted Bunting and White-winged Dove? Could I keep up the pace of Paul in Texas? Was the day awesome?

Well, the day certainly was awesome, and as I finished my lunch of Wawa Italian Hoagie and sliced apples and let my phone charge some more I scanned over the dunes of Two Mile Beach, even though it was only Yellow-rumped Warblers around. But I knew some things we were going to see because others in the parking lot had already let out that there was a Snowy Owl just down the beach.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 2 (Texas Hill Country)

On the second of our Texas adventure (see here for part 1), we headed for the hills. The Texas Hill Country that is. Our first stop would be the Hamilton Pool, which is a very large and very blue pool of water at the bottom of a small canyon. In the summer, folks go swimming there but we went to walk around it and I hoped to see some new and interesting birds.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Damon's New Year in Cape May, Part 1 (Trip down and Cape May Point)

I knew that Paul was going to start his new year in South Texas. Damn, that's hardcore birding. Really, if you think about it, where would else you want to start your bird list? There are few other choices; maybe South Florida or Arizona? It was a power birding move, well disguised as "being invited to present at a symposium", and one that would lead to Paul having dozens of birds that neither he nor I would otherwise have any chance of getting. How could I even hope of competing against that? I had no other choice.

Cape May.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Paul's Texas Trip Part 1 (Austin Birding)

Birding can be a bit slow in Ontario during the winter and it's only natural to want to go elsewhere to see birds. Just take a look through any field guide and you start to wonder: could I see these strange, exotic birds that populate the south half of America? So when the chance to go to Texas arose a year and half ago, I jumped at it. Actually I planned this trip mostly to see my cousin, Mark, and his family, who happen to live in Austin and to give a talk at a conference. But it also turned out that this was my chance to go birding: Texas style!

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Year of Birds

Happy New Year to all (buon anno a tutti)!

It was a nice year for us here at The Year of Birds, and though we are already in 2014 and looking forward to great things for this year, we are going to take some time to wrap up last year. Paul will be along soon enough with the data analysis (like he did at the quarter mark, and the halfway mark, and the three-quarters mark), but until then here is a short preliminary discussion of our year.