Monday, March 31, 2014

Now That's Better

Same bird ...

Same place ...

Better luck!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bad Bird Photo of the Week

It had to turn its head just as I hit the shutter ...

Golden-fronted woodpecker, taken on a rainy day at the National Butterfly Center in Texas.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Familiar Faces

February is the time to visit Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, the time to see the wintering waterfowl. And perhaps something unexpected.

The day of our visit was a nice one, no wind, and surprisingly few people (or shorebirds). We did see these familiar faces (can you name them all?):

One of the few people we saw was sitting not far past the lighthouse on the walkway before the jetty, camera with very big lens aimed at ... nothing. Hmmm. So I asked, "what are you waiting for?" "Whatever," he replied. We chatted a bit, with him mentioning that he was down for the weekend form Massachusetts just to shoot the waterfowl. We then wished each other luck and Patty and I headed down the jetty. But there was something ...

As we were leaving we met up again as he was photographing the lighthouse. I then mentioned that I thought we had seen each other before. And it turned out that we had.

We had last seen each other each other in January. In Vermont. On the side of a snow covered dirt road. Looking at this:

A (much too distant for good photos but cool to see through a scope) northern hawk owl. This is a bird that normally inhabits Canada and Alaska and is rarely found in the lower forty-eight. We saw it on a weekend getaway.

We chatted some more and I asked where I might see his photos. He looked for a card but couldn't find one. So I made a note of his website. Still there was something nagging at a corner of my mind ...

When I got home I went and pulled my Trinidad and Tobago field guide from the shelf. And found his business card. We had first met at Asa Wright Lodge in Trinidad, Christmas week 2012. He had helped me set my flash so I could take the pictures of the bats using the hummingbird feeders, after I realized they were using them (he got some very nice shots).


His name is Chris Ciccone and you can find his excellent images here. Enjoy!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Smith Barney and Associates

Last weekend we went chasing two rarities, both lifers for me, and got them both. Along the way we saw a number of other birds, including another lifer for me.

Our target on Saturday was a smith's longspur which had been found, disappeared, and then reappeared at Stone Harbor Point.

The first Saturday after it had been reported over a hundred birders had descended on the park and all left disappointed. No doubt the horde scared the bird away. So our plan was to get there first thing before the expected throngs arrived. We were delayed by the bird on the wire. Still, we got there before the crush. And before the bird had been found. We, along with perhaps a dozen or two others, spread out across the dunes checking every bird that moved. A key field mark is the very obvious white outer tail feathers. As we walked and flushed up birds we were repeatedly disappointed until, "There it is," Patty and I cried in unison. We, along with another searcher, had found the bird. It flew 20 or so meters ahead, and another 20 as we approached.  After which it settled down eating among the reeds as the crowd around it grew.

Then my camera battery died. Of course the bird was at the bottom of the island, the "point" in Stone Harbor Point. I trekked back to the car retrieved my backup battery and read a text from Patty, "It flew." So I started back, the urgency in my step gone. Another text, "re-found". D'oh, pep back in my step. By the time I got back it had been lost again. We re-spotted it but it flew off starting another round of searching. 

The search would eventually be successful, but along the way we found this guy, a lapland longspur.

Unlike the smith's, this guy had started to transform into his more colorful breeding plumage. A third of the group stopped to get good looks at this guy and several others in the area. A third went after the smith's (new arrivals that hadn't yet gotten good or any looks?). And a third decided that it was time to go find breakfast.

After wandering about a bit more and chatting with friends and acquaintances, we decided to move along as well. As did this american bittern, who flew over on its way elsewhere.

Our next stop was the Avalon sea watch for the scoter show. We had visited a few weeks prior and there had been a thousand or so scoters, black and surf. The calls of the amassed ducks had been very cool and eerie. Alas, the surf was rough and the ducks were elsewhere (perhaps with the bittern?). So we had to satisfy ourselves with purple sandpipers.

It was then off to Cape May Lighthouse State Park but along the way we received a text about a ross's goose in a field off of Seagrove Ave, which was on the way. 

As we drove up we found a group observing the bird. Now geese are almost never found alone. Even birds well away from home will find the local geese to associate with. But not this one. One large white bird in an otherwise empty field. Quite unusual. After a quick look in a scope already set up, we went back to the car for our scope and cameras. the front door of the house we had parked outside of opened, "go ahead and walk down the driveway to get a better look," she called. We said "thanks" and did. This was my second lifer of the day.

It was then off to the state park, where we ran into another acquaintance who told us that there were red-necked grebes on the first two ponds, close enough for good photos. So off we went. But to the wrong ponds.

We did get to see the mute swans chasing any and all canada geese.

While scanning for the grebes a friend came up to tell us that he thinks he had relocated the common teal (aka eurasian teal) that had been reported. It was tucked into the reeds on the far side of the lake and after a bit of searching we were able to find and confirm his ID. We all then headed off to find those grebes, but not until after the ross's goose flew over.

We would spot three red-necked grebes in Cape May. Two at the state park and one just up the road at Lily Lake.

The first was clearly transforming into breading plumage, the eponymous red neck obvious.

The second was not as far along, the neck not all that red.

The third somewhere in between.

After the grebes we walked along the beach hoping for a snowy owl or snow buntings. We saw neither. We then went across the street to try for a painted bunting that had been in the area for several weeks. "It was here about an hour ago," we were told. We waited awhile and saw a number of birds, including some cedar waxwings.

But no bunting (we had seen it last time we were in town, so it wasn't that bad a miss). After stopping to see the third grebe we headed off for lunch, soup and fried clams and scallops at the Lobster House. Very yummy. And then back home.

The next morning we were again up much to early to find the second of the principles in the title, a barnacle goose that had been reported at Rahway River Park, in north Jersey. The reports noted that the bird left its night roosting lake by 7:30 each morning. We arrived at 7:00. We weren't first and there was a scope on the bird and we got nice looks. Lifer number three for the weekend for me.

The bird was distant and the light wasn't great so neither were the photos. Barney is the leftmost bird up against the snow, white faced looking directly at us. It should be in Europe. But has apparently been in the states long enough for at least two hybrid canada x barnacle geese to have made it through at least one winter. The two hybrids are visible in the picture, starting from the barnacle goose and going to the right, they are the first and third birds along the snow (note the white forehead patch on the third bird). The other geese in the picture are all canada geese.

We then headed to Forsythe NWR where we saw the two snowy owls and the peregrine on the sign.

The last bird of the weekend was this one, which flew in front of us as we were leaving the refuge.

A red-shouldered hawk.

This weekend we slept in.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Birds on Signs

Patty had Presidents day off in February (I didn't). So she went birding with a friend. One of the places they visited was the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR. There they saw and photographed a young peregrine falcon that had developed the habit of perching on the signs along the refuge road.

Seeing her pictures prompted me to make the trip the following Sunday (she came along). And sure enough there was the bird perched on the sign. We pulled up and I started firing away.

There was just one problem. In our excitement we didn't notice that this was not a peregrine falcon. It wasn't until later that we realized that it's a red-tailed hawk.

This is a peregrine falcon.

Perched on the sign. At the Forsythe NWR. Just like it supposed to be. The bird flew up and landed on the sign as I was taking the two distant owl pics in this post. It didn't stay long and I wasn't able to get quite as close as with the red-tail. 

And about that bird that Patty saw that started this all? Well, there's a reason she's won the DVOC photography contest twice. Here are two of her images of the peregrine falcon.

The girl got skills.

Still Snowing

Before this year I had seen one snowy owl. This year I've seen six, including three last weekend.

We were heading down to Stone Harbor on Saturday in a quest (successful!) to see a smith's longspur, a rare visitor from the central US. As we were driving along the causeway we spotted a woman on a bicycle using her phone to take a picture of a bird on a wire. My first thoughts were, "why is she taking a picture of a gull?" But as were drove by Patty said, "That's a snowy!" a quick turn around and we got very good looks at this bird.

The woman on the bicycle noted that this was the first snowy she had every seen, and was she was quite excited. We thought it was pretty cool as well.

Then on Sunday we took a ride around the impoundments at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge at Brigantine. Where saw not one but two snowies.

As we drove the loop we kept an eye out for white blobs. So when Patty said stop I did and started to scan the horizon. I spotted the owl below ...

... and Patty spotted this one.

We got some good looks through the scope, but obviously, not so great pictures (I need a bigger lens!). Still, it is amazing to see so many of these owls. One wonders how much longer they will be around, they must leave eventually, right?

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Patty is on a Quixotic quest to see as many  snowy owls as possible. So to that end we traveled to Island Beach State Park (which is not to be confused with Long Beach Island). Three of the owls had recently been reported there.

We didn't see any.

We did see this sign as we entered the park.

And if you look very closely, after clicking on the image to bigafy it, you might just see a fox. Follow the white line and look for a smudge. That's the fox.

Here's a better look as it trotted by the car:

It kept going as we had no food. And besides we were on a quest!

"Turn around so we can get some pictures!"

So much for the quest ...

After a while she even let me use the camera. (Note to self, always bring two cameras.)

We saw at least two fox, perhaps more, as they would go in and out of the brush at the side of the road only to return a few minutes later.

We only ever saw two at any one time, one very red and one much paler.

Despite the sign, they had clearly associated cars with food. But they did not come up to the car begging. Rather they would run along the road whenever a car drove up.

They cared little about people, as a number stopped and got out to take pictures, us included.

It was late when we arrived and had become completely overcast. Not the best conditions for photography. So we plan to go back on a nice sunny day with plenty of time to setup and get some good shots. We've also been told that there are grey fox at the park, so we'll keep a weather eye for them. And if we time our trip right perhaps we could get some kits. I'll keep you posted.