Sunday, December 22, 2013

Foggy Morning

Our first attempt, well at least mine, for bobwhite for the Billings competition, was at Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware.

As I'm sure you surmised, we were not successful.

It was a foggy morning and we were there early. Which meant we woke up early. Very early.

Once upon a time, quail had been reported at Bombay Hook (I'm still not sure when the last time a quail was seen here). Near the Allee house.

Along and in the shrubs that defined the edge's of the yard of the house. So we searched and searched.

And one of our party saw a small ground bird, quail sized, dash from the house to the tree line.

So we searched some more.

No quails.

In the field we saw meadowlarks.

And we looked at a red-tailed hawk looking at use looking at it looking at us ...

And many field sparrows.

But no quail.

Oh well, maybe another time.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another Driveway, Another Stakeout

This morning found us standing in another driveway waiting for a bird.

This time the bird in question was a bullock's oriole. A bird that shouldn't be anywhere near here this time of year. But a bird that has been showing up at a feeder in Pottstown, Pennsylvania between ten and eleven every morning this week.

Bullock's orioles are birds that breed in the American west and that spend their winters in central and southern Mexico (range map can be found here).

But this is the fourth winter that this bird has decided to head north and east and spend the winter in Pottstown. In the same back yard. Visiting the same feeders. And watched by birders in the same driveway.

Patty had tried several times earlier this year, back in January, but dipped on the bird. But like clockwork the bird returned. And birders reported it was back. Thus the stakeout.

Patty was first to spot the bird, as it flew into the bush by the feeders, alerting the small group waiting to its arrival.

Ignoring the other feeders, it only goes to this one, pretending to be a hummingbird.

It didn't stay long and as we were sitting in the car to stay warm I didn't get any really good shots. It visited the bush twice and the feeders once. Of course once I set up may camera on the tripod it stayed away. We waited a bit longer and then bid the other birders adieu. And despite the traffic on the Schuylkill, we made it home in time for lunch. Not a bad morning.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mountain Climbing

On a rather small mountain ...

As the Bob Billings Big Year competition draws to a close there aren't all that many birds left to find. One was a northern goshawk. And the place for goshawks is the aptly named Hawk Mountain. So one fine November morning Patty and I headed off to get a goshawk. And to do a bit of hiking.

We did a five mile hike that started on the River of Rocks Trail and began with a vertical descent of 600 feet. Alas, what goes down must come up. And while I'm good at down I'm not so good at up.

The two grayish spots in the above image, just to the upper left of center, are rocks. The part of the rock river that flows in valley and gives the trail its name. We walked down past the far one while following the River of Rocks Trail.

For the up part of the trek we took part of the Golden Eagle Trail. From the trail brochure:

Vertical rise: 800 feet. The Golden Eagle Trail offers a challenging alternate 2-mile rout to East Rocks. These trails connect the Skyline Trail with the River of Rocks Trail and follow a steep grade. The loop formed by all is about 4 miles.

That steep grade led to a number of rest stops along the way up. Did I mention I don't do up all that well? But there were some great views.

We finished the trip via the Skyline Trail, again form the brochure:

This rugged, ridgetop trail follows the spine of the Kittatinny down over North Lookout, crosses East Rocks (a scenic overlook) and meets the Appalachian Trail 2.5 miles from NLO. East Rocks is a good vantage point for the migration. This difficult trail is recommended only for experienced hikers - just off NLO is a 10-foot vertical descent. 

The Skyline Trail had a number of boulder piles that we needed to go up and over. And the end of the hike consisted of a thirty foot vertical climb to the hawk watch lookout point.

It was a fun hike. But what started a sunny blue sky day had changed in the three plus hours of our hike. As you can see in the image above when we got to the lookout point it had become completely overcast. And while we were eating lunch it began to rain.

There would be no goshawk that day.

(But there would be one a week later. On a day when for the two hours we were there only four (four!) hawks flew by.)


As part of Patty's Bob Billings Big Year quest, we often found ourselves in Cape May. And one such time coincided with the New Jersey Audubon Fall Cape May Weekend and The Bird Show. Where we got to see a number of friends.

And where we encountered several birds of prey.

Including this red-tailed hawk.

This long-eared owl.

And this eastern screech owl.

As you can see all three are sitting on gloved hands. They are all residents of Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge. Sadly, they are all permanent residents, having injuries or behaviors that preclude their being returned to the wild. So to earn their keep they travel to bird shows, green festivals, and other nature oriented events serving as ambassadors from their world to ours.

Most people would never have the opportunity to to be this close to one of these magnificent creatures. Mainly because the bird wouldn't hang around. But these three are old hands at this. And the crowd milling about at the Cape May Convention Center didn't faze them at all. For the time we were there they sat quietly and looked back at the people looking at them.

Most of the folks at the Bird Show were there because they cared about birds. So these three didn't gain many converts to the cause of protecting wildlife and wildlife habit that day. But as they travel about and people encounter them up close and personal as the cliche goes, they hopefully get a better appreciation for the fellow residents of our world.  And in turn will help make our world a better place for them and us.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Good Bird Photo of the Week

After our successful driveway stakeout, we head off to find a ruffed grouse.

We were not successful.

Our consolation prize was this eastern towhee, signing it's heart out and paying us little mind.

I think the old name, rufus-sided towhee, better suits the bird.

Regardless, the bird kept signing out, imploring us to enjoy some tea. Alas, we had none.

And I'm still waiting to find my first ruffed grouse.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Driveway Stakeout

An email report of bobwhite quail in Pennsylvania, in the DVOC area meant only one thing, Patty had to see these quail.

And she did. Check.

My Life Bobwhite

The birds were visiting feeders every day and the owner of the feeders, and the driveway, responded to Patty's email that she could come and see them.


One for the Bird-Butt Field Guide

You see, I had never seen a bobwhite in the wild.

In seventh grade, my English teacher, Mr. Barabee, would stick his head out the window of the classroom and call, "bob -white, bob-white", and the birds would answer. We students were not impressed. Sadly, due to the all to familiar problem of habit destruction, there are no quail anywhere near my junior high. Nor much anywhere else in New Jersey.

So she emailed again and yes, she could come back and bring her friends. So Patty, her friend Rachel, and myself headed out on a cold April day, rising before sunrise, to get there in time for the morning feeding.

The owner met us at the end of the long driveway, as he was heading out for the day, and welcomed us. He was surprised that we were the only folks that had expressed any interest in "his" quail. He headed off and we walked down the driveway to stand in the sun and await the birds. It took awhile but they finally came. Very cool.


It was Rachel who gave me the title for this blog post. It was at a fundraiser at a local bar when she told the story about us "staking out some guy's driveway to see a bird" as she introduced us around.

The fundraiser was the kickoff for her annual summer challenge for Parkinson's disease, a disease her mom suffers from. This years challenge was to climb Mt. Whitney. And she did, raising over $4500.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Closer to Home

In my last post there were pictures of my life scissor-tailed flycatchers. One week later I saw one in Cape May, NJ, much closer to home. In August there was one at Whitesbog in New Jersey's Brendan Byrne State Forest, even closer.

And then there was this one at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia I saw on November 17th, not more than ten minutes form Patty's house.

The bird was found on the 16th, but we weren't able to visit until the next morning. As  we walked to the field we were joined by another birder, all of us hoping the bird had spent the night. As you can see it had. We found in within ten minutes of arriving. The bird was sitting up nicely when a guy with a big scope and two dogs (!) approached a bit to close and frightened the bird away.

We were then joined by a couple of birding friends. We waited hoping it would return. Happily for everyone it did and very cooperatively posed while we shot away.

Sadly, this bird may be a goner. This time of year these birds should be heading south, not east to our area. If this bird continues to migrated east it will head out over the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps thinking it is the much smaller Gulf of Mexico. A trip it will not survive.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Texas Hill Country

Piggy-backing on a business trip, this past May Patty and I spent a weekend in Texas hill country. We saw bats and more bats. We also saw some birds.

There were two birds we specifically wanted to find, the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler, lifers both, and we saw them at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  And while we had some great looks I didn't get any good pictures. In fact I didn't get many good pictures of birds on this trip. But that won't stop me form showing you some ...

This is the best image of the bunch and winner of the close but no cigar award, a black-throated green warbler (and not a golden-cheeked).

We had hoped to see scissor-tailed flycatchers, and right on cue, just as we were asking some local birders where we might see them, this pair flew by, harassing a crow.

They never landed close enough for a good shot, always moving a bit further as we approached. I did manage this shot of the female (the bird with the shorter tail).

We had wonderful views of painted buntings ...

... loudly singing dickcissel ...

... a distant ladder-backed woodpecker ...

... and a very well camouflaged black-chinned hummingbird.

We knew exactly where this bird was, but when we tried to find it on our second visit we saw nothing until it flew off and back.

We enjoyed our time in Balcones, which is less than an hour from Austin, Texas, and well worth a visit.

Blurry Bombs

Sometimes point and shoot doesn't quite work as intended ...

... although it may still result in a pleasing image.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bombs Bursting In Air

I managed to fit in a bit of fun while at my conference in Florida. It was at Disney World after all. One night we had dinner at EPCOT after which we had a prime spot to enjoy dessert and watch the EPCOT fireworks show (we even got to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks show in the distance, as you can see below in some of the images).


I used a new camera for these shots, a Sony RX100 II, a high end pocket camera. Given that it can hide behind my iPhone, it easily fits in my pocket (it is a couple of times thicker than the phone). The camera is still relatively new to me so I'm still learning what it can do (the lack of a manual doesn't help). So my  "technique" for these shots was just to point and shoot.

I'm not a big fan of Sony gear, having had a number of subpar experiences, and had stopped even considering them when shopping for audio equipment. But I wanted a camera that I really could put in my pocket, albeit one that took good images, and all of the reviews pointed to this unit. I've not been disappointed, as this camera succeeds at both.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In The Shadow

If you've spent any time perusing this blog, you know that rockets aren't the only flying things that catch my interest. And on my recent Florida trip I was able to enjoy more than just rockets.

Kennedy Space Center is surrounded by and is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

And I spent I very nice day wandering about the refuge, both with and without company.

I arrived in the morning and while at the visitor center I learned that there was a guided tour that had just started. They trip started with a walk around the visitor center's lop trail, so I hurried off to find the group.

I headed down the boardwalk trail, enjoying the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

I was sidetracked as I stopped to photograph what, once I joined the group, would learn are banana spiders.

There were quite a few of them hanging in large webs above and beside the trail. Note the size disparity between large female and the rather small male.

There were other spiders, like this one which had a very large web.

I caught up with the group as they were spying on a Florida cooter sunning itself.

We also saw the Florida soft-shelled turtle. the reptiles were finished out with a nicely patterned lizard that I wasn't able to get a good image of. Our guide had hoped to find a rattle snake, but came up empty. Bummer.

The boardwalk part of the trip ended with ...

... damsels and ...

... dragons flying about (much easier to photograph when stationary).

We then loaded up into our cars, each car with a radio, and we headed out to explore.

We got good but distant looks at mottled ducks and reddish egrets, both life birds for me, as well at these feathered friends ...

We ended the tour searching for manatees.

During which time we saw a variety of fish swimming about.

Our fist two spots for manatees resulted in fish and lots of folks in boats.

But at our last stop of the trip ...

... success! With a pair of the large mammals swimming by.

Back at he visitors center I mentioned to the guide that I wanted to find a Florida scrub jay, and he told me that he knew exactly where they would be and that he would guide me there. So we hopped into my rental car and headed off.

And sure enough ...

... they were there. A family group feeding, with one bird always at the top of the tree as a sentinel. Another life bird for me.

I ended the day driving a ten mile loop around some impoundments. The road wasn't in the greatest of shape, but I was able to navigate around the ruts (had I my Ford Escape hybrid, I would have had no problems).  I did get lost at the end, but it turns out any way I picked would have led me out to the main road.

I got very nice looks at a variety of shorebirds and waders, including this nice godwit.

The refuge is in the shadow of the space center, and I wonder how many people are like me and visit both. Given my admittedly small sample, it would seem not many. I had the refuge pretty much to myself as I drove around all afternoon.

In a way that was nice, it was a vey pretty place and crowds would have spoiled my enjoyment. I know, rather selfish of me.

The National Wildlife Refuge system is a true treasure. And it is one that pays back more than it costs. For every tax dollar spent on the refuges close to five are generated for the local economies. A five hundred precent return. Naturally, the tea party assholes want to defund it.