What #WorldShorebirdsDay Means to Me

September 6th is World Shorebirds Day: a day bird lovers celebrate the monumental migrations undertaken by shorebirds such as Red Knots (well known for their dependence on Horseshoe Cab eggs), Bar-tailed Godwits (as many as 9 days without rest),  and Arctic Terns (pole to pole migration). It’s the launch of fall migration.

I celebrated #WorldShorebirdsDay with the start of classes and participating in the hashtag by  uploading some of my recent photos from a few days spent on Long Beach Island, NJ.


September 6th  is also a day conversationalists rally around shorebird conservation, particularly the focusing attention on stopover grounds, the important refueling refugia. Which is why it was so alarming that this week a piece was published out in Washington questing the value of radio-tags, geolocators and other tracking technology. Without the use of such technology in conservation we wouldn’t know that Bar-tailed Godwits don’t stop as they circumnavigate the globe. We wouldn’t be able to identify stopover migration hotspots in remote regions. In larger organisms we wouldn’t be able to see how they  are internally  responding to the stresses we are putting on  their bodies through the changes we wrought in the environment.


These are important lessons.

These are the reminders being shared right now in Hawaii at the IUCN Congress (#IUCNCongress), an international meet up of governments, scientists, policy  makers, NGOs, to take a harsh look at the human  impact on wildlife. But to merely describe it as such is limiting to the scope of what is on the table and what is at stake.

  • Oceanic animals are migrating poleward 1.5 times faster than land animals are migrating north. (link)
  • Pandas have been moved off the IUCN Endangered List (link), but  4 of 7 Great Ape species are now Critically Endangered.  (link)
  • Thousands of strange blue lakes are appearing in Antarctica, and it’s very bad news. (link) We saw this happen in Greenland a few years back. It resulted in  much faster ice melt than models predicted.
  • Poaching of wild elephants is on the rise. (link) To recover from 10 years of poaching will take African Elephants 90 years to recover. (link)

Every  morning I get up and I read these messages and the longer articles that come along with them. If you were to sit down and read them all, your heart would break. But this isn’t all I read. Interspersed with these updates are the #NoDAPL updates. Which seems ironic really  because this struggle is exactly  what the IUCN Congress is all about. The controversy surrounding #NoDAPL is that a corporation has decided the most expedient route for the pipeline is through indigenous lands in the Dakotas. This land is steeped in great environmental and cultural heritage. Within the proposed corridor pipeline are at least 27 burials, 16 stone rings, 19 effigies & other sacred sites (link).  The juxtaposition  is striking.

What is nature without clean  water? Without clean air? Without unspoiled land?

The  shorebirds we’re valuing today depend on clean water, clean air, clean land. So do the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all the indigenous  groups around the world responsible for stewarding 24% of  earth’s land (link). We also depend on these things.

Without nature, there is no life. Later is too late.*


Suggested Reading List:

*IUCN  quotes


From Woodcock to Worms

Check out my ongoing research.

Woodcock Watch, NJ

The official window to survey for woodcock displays ended earlier this month.  As I have time between finals, grading, and preparing for my qualifying exam, I’ve been entering data. So far it looks promising (?)…. But I’m curious to begin exploring the possible explanations for why we found woodcock in some locations and not in others.  I don’t want to wait until next season!

One thing worth noting is that New Jersey has been in a mild, prolonged drought state most of the spring. Perhaps this has some impact on woodcock distribution (impact of drought on woodcock has been  studied elsewhere). Earthworms are sensitive to soil moisture levels. They don’t like it too wet (they come up out of the soil in  the rain and then fry when  the sun comes out), but they probably don’t like soil that’s too dry either.

USDoought_May12 Drought map showing northern New Jersey  (where all…

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Much Ado about Mammals

Woodcock Watch, NJ

20160323_191151-02 A clearing along the Franklin Parker Trail to the South Conservation Area at Schiff Nature Preserve. Photo on March 23, 2016 by Kathleen Farley. Edited with Snapseed.

On March 23, I returned to Schiff Nature Preserve. This time I surveyed the Franklin Parker Trail leading to the South Conservation Area.  Along with me was a recent undergraduate recruit.

We found a clearing that was much closer to water (promising) and hid ourselves in a central brushy area.  We gave it a good hour after the sun set.  We probably had deer rustling in the brush near the water, a number of dogs barking, two very determined, unidentified mammals rooting about in the brush across the way, several bats swooping overhead and a mouse nearly ran over his foot.  But no woodcock.  The joys of fieldwork!

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All Work, No Woodcock

Check out my new blog following my research!

Woodcock Watch, NJ

20160322_193917-01 Moon rise at Laurel Hill in Secuacus. Photo taken by Kathleen Farley on March 22, 2016. Edited Using Snapseed.

So I gave away the punch line.  Last night three teams were out from Woodcock Watch NJ and we all struck out. There were no displaying woodcock to be had at Plainsboro Preserve, Lenape Park in Union County, or Laurel Hill in Se caucus.

Despite the beautiful full moon and the warm weather, none of us could see a single spiral or hear a single peent. Hopefully we will have better luck throughout the remainder of the week – stay tuned!  Like many other organisms (but not all!), woodcock are typically more active when there’s a full moon.

Learn more:
How the Moon Affects the Nocturnal World – livescience.com
6 Wild Ways the Moon Affects Animals – livescience.com
Lunar Phobic Bats Dodge the Moonlight – BBC

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Rusty Bird, Rusty Birder

On the following Sunday, I joined the Boonton Christmas Bird Count.  I did it last year as well and it’s a very  different experience from the LSP bird count in that we survey multiple localities throughout the day.

We began at Troy Meadows in an obscure fog. (Not just from  the early hour!)  The marsh could have been filled with silent, stalking birds and we never would have known.  The fog insinuated itself between the reeds and wrapped itself around every tree and high tension structure on the meadow.  With the silence, it was not the most promising of mornings,  but at least it was warm!

We did pick up  a few ducks (mostly Mallards, with two  American Black  Ducks) as the morning wore on along with Canada Geese,  Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles in flight.

From the boardwalk in Troy Meadows we made our way to  an abandoned airstrip where we were able to begin picking up some song birds. We got Song Sparrow, and Fox Sparrow, American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird. Things were beginning to look up  even if we had yet to see the sun.

The place, like most abandoned places, seemed deserted — save for the flock of black birds at the far end of the strip. We made our way back there as the flock kept fluttering out of view.  It was here we picked up 100’s of Common Grackles (to supplement the ones we worked so hard for earlier!) and interspersed in the flocks of grackles were clumps of Rusty Blackbirds.  We probably had a conservative 60-70 Rusty Blackbirds there.

After Troy  Meadows, we tried our luck in Montville and Lake Valhalla which was surprisingly devoid of waterfowl despite the open water.  It seems as though all the water fowl decided to stay north this winter.   We did pick up Red-headed Woodpecker mid-day though, that was a nice find!

It was a pleasant day, albeit a bit quiet and slow. It wasn’t horribly cold or sunny or windy.  It was a good way to ease back into birding and brush up on the birds.  It was also nice to get to chat a bit with other birders and learn about what birding everyone else does in between Christmas Bird Counts.


Fox Sparrow surveying the abandoned landscape. Boonton Christmas Bird Count. Photo taken December 27, 2015.


Song Sparrow clinging to the reed. Boonton Christmas Bird Count. Photo taken December 27, 2015.


Common Grackle attempting to consume an acorn. Boonton Christmas Bird Count.  Photo taken December 27, 2015.

We contributed 46 species across our sites. We got nearly all the woodpeckers in the state.  We only missed Pileated. (We got Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed and Sapsucker!)


Entering the Bird Void

On a recent Sunday, I participated in the Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count surveying Liberty State Park for the third year running.

While we did not find a skeleton this year, it was still an atypical day. We did not stumble across any crows,  wrens, robins, or blackbirds. So, what did we see?

Well, we did see a dead mouse on a castle. And this…


Not actually a Great Blue Heron. Wood Stork would be more appropriate for this bizarrely placed lawn ornament. Liberty State Park,  NJ. Photo taken  December 20, 2015.

We may have had to modify our tally after a closer view.  They say to expect the unexpected, but who expects to find fake herons on  their bird count?! Fake ducks I’m cluing into and fake owls are at least owls, but this is a whole new consideration when  playing bird/not bird.


We did find Yellow-rumped Warblers basking in the rising sun: our only warbler. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken on December 20, 2015.


Herring Gull, silhouette, flying with food. Liberty State Park, NJ.Photo taken December 20, 2015.

Everything seemed bathed in golden  light for at least an hour following sunrise,  but we could have used more birds. Some Golden-crowned Kinglets or very Common Goldeneyes would have made our  eyes shine. Perhaps  a glowing Ruby-crowned Kinglet or want-to-be gleaming Orange-crowned Warbler? We would have even settled for a Rusty Blackbird, or any blackbird really. Or any bird.


Hardy House Finch.  Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.


Male and female Buffleheads recorded during Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

Baffled by Buffleheads without any Common or Hooded Mergansers we did one final pass for ducks around Liberte Point. We dipped on Wigeons over the course of the day, but were good with Gadwalls.


We looked really hard for birds.  Here we were scouting for coots and mergansers, but how many birders can you see? Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken on December 20, 2015.

Having examined the shoreline and the open water. Failing on Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Ducks, and Loons, we headed inland  to The Interior.

Then I tweeted this because it was true:owlcountry

Every year I go into the interior and spend so much time gazing into every evergreen I find every poky stick, but never any owls. Clearly I need to spend more time looking.

The afternoon lighting was strong and it made for beautiful sightings of what little we did see. As we walked through, the silence seemed very apocalyptic. Other than the drumming from the downy and chittering of the chickadee…


The bird team crossing The Interior after our numbers dropped by  three. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.


The afternoon  light provided bold colors on the woodland birds we could find, such as this Downy Woodpecker. Liberty State Park. Photo taken  December 20, 2015.


And Black-capped Chickadees came so close, they were nearly too close for the lens I was using. Not a complaint! Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015.

So, for a day  of birding with no crows,  wrens, robins, or blackbirds, we got a total of 44 species. Record low, replacing 46 after Sandy when apparently things were Just Bad.Total number of individuals across all species: 1226. Roughly 33% lower than the previous low record.

So why were there so few birds? Who knows. A quick guess may be that it was linked to weather patterns.  We had some cold weather earlier in the season, but the fifth  warmest November in the state this  year.  We  were in  short-sleeve weather the week  before.  Then  the temperature dropped, requiring winter gear for  this outing, so  perhaps the birds that might have lingered this far south had already headed out and birds that might have traveled down here, are hanging our further north? That’s my guess: it’s a bird void.


See all the birds? Nope we didn’t either. Instead, Statue of Liberty and Ellis  Island from Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken December 20, 2015. 

Same Old Goals

So, somehow, getting out to bird and blogging about birds has not happened as much as I  would have hoped  for 2015 (but I think all birders feel that way!) So here’s to more birds on 2016! The resolve of birders worldwide.

For the last two  years, I resolved that I would…

  • Continue working on warbler identification (this one for 3 years!).
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)
  • Submit at least 1 paper for publication.

Reviewing the resolutions:

  • Warbler Identification: Still a work in progress, but isn’t it always?  Did some birding in the spring, but most of experience I gained through  the Bander’s Workshop I participated in at Braddock Bay Bird Observatory.
  • Birding by Ear: Spent the entire summer birding by ear as ~97% of all bird detection is done by ear in the tropics!
  • Camera: Fail. As you may recall, my lens broke upon arrival in Honduras.  I’ve just now replaced it and tested the new lens out.  Blog entry forthcoming (photos are edited, write up still needed).
  • Publishing: Working towards.
    • Kestrels: Are collaborating with other kestrel researchers throughout North America. Have submitted my components so publication timeline is beyond my control.
    • Migration: Need to send out our initial results to a recent ornithologist who visited campus and is interested in the results and will hopefully give us some new insights. In the meantime, I need to revisit some of the code and run it with  a larger subset of the data.
    • Rapid Bio-Assessment: Doing some analysis of species area curves for cloud forests assemblies.  Still working on coding and analysis. Much further behind on that then I want to be, but that’s what the break is for, right?

New bird resolutions for 2016:

  • Bird/blog more consistently. I live too close to a good patch not to do it more. One visit per month to my patch (unless extended travel comes up).  And one write up, even if it’s very brief or just photos per month.
  • Read one book on birds. This is probably my biggest shame. I read all the time, but when my life is overwhelmed by work, all I can stand to read in my limited spare time is light fiction. I surpassed my reading goal last year, so this year I will merge the two and try to finish one non-fiction bird book. I started Bird Sense over a year ago, I should finish it.  Last year with the best of intentions I acquired a number of other books as well.  I mostly read Lost Animals (previously mentioned here as inspiration for  an  older post.), and also have The Ghost With Trembling Wings and the Bedside Book of Birds. So, options.
  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)
  • Submit at least 1 paper for publication.

Male and female Buffleheads recorded during Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count. Liberty State Park, NJ. Photo taken on December 20, 2015.

Best Birds 2015 Edition

Truth be told, I am actually surprised I birded and generated a list at least once every month! I did cut it rather close with February and November. Perhaps  I should change my  handle to badbirder….  Anyway 27 minutes until the clock strikes 12….

So how many lists did I submit? It was an  up and down year, but over all lower than  in years past.  This was also the first year that I was in grad school for the entirety of the year. Grad school and birding do not go as well together as one would think!

Lists Submitted to Ebird by Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January  50 2 26
February  34 4 1
March  25 4 4
April  22 26 12
May  24 36 13
June  16 10 15
July  5 3 19
August  22 6 6
September  4 9 2
October  8 17 4
November  5 5 1
December  8 9 5
Year 223 131 109

So still respectable?  In regards to species, it became even more extreme with ups and downs.  I had a drop of 98 species between September 2014 and September 2015, but an increase of 101 from January 2014 to January  2015.  Travel makes a difference!

Species By Month

month 2013 2014 2015
January 70 30 131  (65) *
February 52 39 17 (0)
March 60 46 40
April 48 87 52
May 114 162 101
June 64 85 54 (0) **
July 37 32 48 (0) **
August  65 40 45 (13) **
September  72 102 10
October  57 114 34
November  63 86 6
December  79 90 65
Year 200 222 287 (169)***

* Includes Florida birding efforts.NY/NJ totals in ()
** Includes Honduran birding efforts. NY/NJ totals in ().
*** Global total. NY/NJ totals in ().

In Florida, Tara and I picked up 100 species, and while I don’t have all the records updated yet, I believe I also observed 100 birds in Honduras (ebird currently has 81 listed).

As I compile this review, what surprises me the most is now many life birds I picked up.  Traveling for nearly  3 months really helps!   So  91 new lifers added to the list.  I won’t bore you by listing them all.

However, I will close with some of my favorite photos already  shared this year:

And my  clock  warns me that I have less than  5 minutes remaining…

12 Days of Birding

I suppose it began with renditions of “Merry Schismus” and “O! Schismus Tree” during lab meetings earlier this month, but trudging through an empty Liberty State Park today on our annual Lower Hudson Christmas Bird Count, I began to sing the following in  my head.

Sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas” (or not,  if you’re ill-favored like me) because there weren’t enough birds in it already. 


On the first day of CBC,  Audubon sent my way: a Saw-whet in a pine tree.


On the second day of CBC, Audubon sent my way:  two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the third day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the fourth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the fifth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the sixth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the seventh day  of CBC, Audubon sent my way: seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers’ Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the eighth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: eight Northern Pintails, seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the ninth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: nine Cedar Waxwings, eight Northern Pintails, seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the tenth day  of CBC, Audubon sent my way: ten Ring-necked Pheasants, nine Cedar Waxwings, eight Northern Pintails, seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the eleventh day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: eleven Piping Plovers, ten Ring-necked Pheasants, nine Cedar Waxwings, eight Northern Pintails, seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers’ Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the twelfth day of CBC, Audubon sent my way: twelve Pileateds, eleven Piping Plovers, ten Ring-necked Pheasants, nine Cedar Waxwings, eight Northern Pintails, seven Orange-crowned Warblers, six Hooded ‘Gansers, five Goldeneyes, four Mockingbirds, three Moorhens, two Coopers Hawks and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.

On the 13th day of CBC, Audubon  sent to me frostbite, warbler neck,  blisters, and a runny nose so the song ends here.


Please do add your own verses and variations in the comments!


Image sources: Pileated Woodpeckers, Piping Plovers, Ring-necked Pheasants, Cedar Waxwings, Northern Pintails, Orange-crowned Warblers, Hooded Mergansers, Goldeneyes, Northern Mockingbird, Common Moorhens,  Coopers Hawks, and a Saw-whet in a pine tree.


Totally remiss. No entries all semester. You were left hanging after several weeks of Honduran birds. No end in sight. At least you weren’t hanging off a cliff.

Completely different topic.  Especially if you are a birder in the American mid-Atlantic. You are problably well aware of #Painted Bunting, now residing at @ProspectBunting. no?  Well, now you are.

Heard about the painted bunting in Prospect Park, Brooklyn through through twitter. (Perhaps I could have head it through  vine, but  I don’t use vine, so couldn’t learn it through the grape vine, alas.)  On Thursday, I was convinced to chase it on Sunday. (The earliest and only opportunity. Talk about putting all the eggs in one basket!)

I gave fair warning that the bunting would probably vacate the premises  with my luck by Saturday.  The office seemed emptier on Friday…

So the plan  was to get to Brooklyn ($23 in tolls, with another $8 to leave!), meet up with my sister. Find  the bird. Visit my parents.

After a nightmare of confusion wherein I decided that “parking on the southwest side was just like parking on the northeast because how  big  can the park be, really?” and my phone decided not to work while trying to load either of two maps programs and three chat programs (was also handling another issue that was time sensitive, whee!) , I eventually  made a modified plan, and found  the park.

In the park, which is lovely by  the way, (I had never been before, because Brooklyn and I do not get on.  Seriously, Brooklyn has been bad news for me!) I immediately got lost on the little jogging paths that wandered through the woods as I tried to reach  Central Ave to meet up with my  sister.

Isn’t Prospect park lovely?  These are the photos I took on the way to finding my sister.  Those  stairs were a definite mistake! Ended  up on  top of a hill looking down at the avenue I needed!

Google Maps once again saved the day. (At this point, Google Maps probably needs a superhero cloak!) I  found my way down and as I was walking towards my sister, I enacted the park of the plan entitled “find the bird!”

I. Find a birder. This individual will be obvious by their equipment. They will most likely have a long lens, and possibly a pair of binoculars tucked away  upon their body as well. (Now remember, this is New York. This means that everyone wears black and thus binoculars are harder to spot than birds!)

2. Get directions and hints.

3. Find a brood of  birders. (Unlike their normal state, they will not be brooding, but likely elated.).

4. See bird.

It all went relatively according to plan. And so we found the  bird. The end.

Okay. Fine. But I do need to head to work  incredibly soon.

We walked through the park, past some lovely water with  American Coots, Mallards, Canada Geese and an  inquisitive Mute Swan.  My sister’s response watching the coot’s  bobbing swim was, “it’s coot! (cute).”

Shortly after a detour  around the ice rink, we located a group of people clumped around clumps of dying plants. We crept up and discreetly joined their ranks. Or we were trying to until sis announced, “We found the bird paparazzi!”

The important take away from this moment is that no one likes being called paparazzi.  So we got some dirty looks.

Indifferent, she continued on, to begin  to narrate the poor bunting’s plight. Something like  “All these people taking photos of me. Can’t you guys just give me directions?! I didn’t mean  to come here. Hey, stop, with the camera now.”

The difference between my sister and all the other non-birders who were present, is that she understood this is very well a death sentence for the bird. Being my sister she hears the science side of things. And also being my sister, she’s not phased by much and says what she thinks.

While she wasn’t loud enough  to disturb the bird, she was certainly disturbing these very broody birders with  “I’m learning so much about your people!” probably didn’t go over well either.

So why do I bring her? I can usually get her to do something bird-related once a year or thereabouts. Well, to the birders reading  this I’m sure that doesn’t explain the why so:

1. She’s my sister.
2. She’s rather funny.
3. She enjoys watching birders more than she enjoys watching birds.
4. Shes awesome at spotting  birds. We make a good team. She spots them, I identify them.

So, people, well birders, were less than  impressed by her.  Fortunately, the bird spooked soon after this (How often is a spooking bird fortuitous?)  And the group reshuffled and we found ourselves in a flight of friendlier folks with better senses of fun.

Her parting shot before The Reshuffling was “You people might have a better reputation  if  you developed some levity.”  Point (even if I almost got blacklisted from birding in New York!).

We watched the bird for about an hour. It mostly hid behind asters and clumps of dried grasses. Mostly out of sight save for the swaying grass.

We pointed the bird out to a number of people who wandered by as well. Then the light faded and it got really cold and we had other commitments to commit to.


Sis on photo duty with her iphone.  Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with an iphone, by my sister.


Can you see the Painted Bunting? It’s that blurry bit nearly dead center, all green, blue and red. Oddly enough  it’s  the green that’s most easily spotted. Painted Bunting. Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015 with  an iphone by my sister.


Sunset at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. Photo taken December 6, 2015.

Also, check out:@ProspectBunting. It may not be a GSP savvy bird, but apparently it is social media aware!

There’s also the very necessary #PaintedBunting.

And the totally worth reading coverage of what the Painted Bunting means to Brooklyn, birding and life by David J. Ringer. Since you made it all the way down here, you should go there!