Birds on the Wire

A question posed in my graduate colloquium this morning suggested that the news didn’t have any relevance.  As I spent the morning reading bird-blogs (totally relevant!) and working on data analysis, I couldn’t recall any news stories of note, but upon returning to my computer there were a number regarding birds!

  • Washington Post reports that the largest comprehensive study on the impact of American cats on wildlife: “Outdoor cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds a year”. Feral cats killing more than outdoor cats.  Death by cat vastly overshadows death by windows-crashes or deaths from wind turbines.  Data suggests that 10% of adult land birds are killed by cats yearly.
  • Also worth noting, in Where the Wild Things Were, a  frightening look at how the loss of predators has eroded community stability, coyotes in Arizona keep cat populations in check and bird populations at healthier levels.
  • Earlier this month, a New Zealand economist began pushing for legislation to do gradually eliminate cat ownership due to it’s toll on biodiversity.
  • Also from New Zealand, a couple have created a farm to increase the Korora, White-Flippered Penguin population.  The population has doubled in the last decade reports the New York Times and Scientific American.  The conservation efforts in that region has also heralded the return of other bird species, including another species of penguin, the Yellow-eyed Penguin.

Publishing Progress!

I’ve made progress!

As mentioned in my bio, I’m  a graduate student within the Biology Department at Montclair State University.  I’ve been working under Dr. Smallwood for four seasons.  Dr. Smallwood’s, and subsequently my research, has focused on the American Kestrel. Monitoring breeding populations in New Jersey has lead to the Kestrel’s recent reclassification as a Threatened Species.

On Monday, I submitted my data.  This afternoon we met to discuss next steps.   I’m headed back into the data to look more closely at what my results do and don’t suggest, which shouldn’t take too long…. (yeah…).

Then it’s write the first draft of my paper and present findings into my newly forming “thesis” committee.   I say “thesis” because I’m not doing a traditional thesis where the committee is established prior to data collection and there’s a long-winded paper that will eventually gather dust in the university library system.  Instead, I’ll be writing a paper intended for publication.

Goal is to present in March or April.  Write/edit manuscript during the summer. Not to mention work and taking four classes this semester.  Totally manageable.

Weighing American Kestrel nestlings. 2010. Photo by Barb Gilbert.

Weighing American Kestrel nestlings. 2010. Photo by Barb Gilbert.

Banding and Tagging adult American Kestrels. 2010. Photo by Barb Gilbert.

Banding and tagging adult American Kestrels. 2010. Photo by Barb Gilbert.

Oh Deer!

Oh dear, distractions abound.  First there’s the kitten-cam which my sister sent me last week that has been running on my computer for the last 4 days. Be warned, it’s addictive. Then there’s the bird feeder, not to mention the paper I’m supposed to be writing for class.

One evening last week, I filled the feeder which I do regularly because it empties within two days.  So it was very much to my surprise when it was empty the next morning.  As far as I am aware, feeder birds and squirrels are diurnal.  So while things are occasionally squirrelly here, I can’t hold the squirrels responsible. However as I was diligently typing away on my paper, I caught sight of something moving the feeder.  Running to the window, I discovered a new suspect!

Image

Three deer stopped in for a bit of a snack.  They were more off-put by my sudden appearance at the window than the thumping on the glass or Rumpelstiltskin behavior that followed.

Sis has taken to calling the feeder “the water cooler”.  I think it’s been christened.  Can’t wait to see who shows up next?  Raccoons?  Bears?  Oh my!

One by Land, Two by Sea?

How many lists should one make?  I  enjoy making lists in general.  I like their ability to track progress. They keep me focused.  So of course, I adore ebird.

My parents have a really lovely set up for backyard birding.    The feeder sits at the edge of the middle garden bed.  Just in the next bed there’s plenty of cover from a small tree and wild rose bush.  The birds frequently sit in both the tree and the rose bramble.  Outlining both beds are rows of large rocks that the Dark-eyed Juncos are especially fond of scrambling around.  Moving away there are trees dotting the landscape in all directions of varying ages most upward of 30 years.  The property line to the west is also provides good cover and to the south we have edge.  So that’s a convoluted way to say there is lots of good cover.

However on the north side of the house it’s quite a different habitat.   Just across the street is both a stream and a pond which compromise a County Park / Wilderness Refuge.  We tend to get mallards, a domestic duck unit, in recent years we’ve had Red-winged Blackbirds, in addition to the anticipated forest birds.  We also see Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.  About a decade ago, I saw my only true rail, the Virginia Rail creeping along. All visible from the house!

So the question is this:  as I am birding the backyard, do I list species I see/hear concurrently in the stream/pond on the same list or should I create a second list?

Reasons for 2 Lists:

  • Two different habitats
  • Can bird each separately
  • One is public land, the other is private
Reasons to Make 1 List:

  • 2 habitats are separated by 100? feet
  • Can be birding from the same location (within the house)

Last Hurrah?

What a whirlwind the last ~24 hours have been!

I have picked up one additional new species for the 2013 list (hello, Killdeer!) and three new species for the life list!

I didn’t get a chance to write about it previously, but on the evening of the 18th, at dusk, I headed out to the fields where as the sunset I saw plenty of American Robins roosting in a tree, a few Red-tailed Hawks, and the long-awaited Short-eared Owl.  From a distance in the dimming list they look almost like Northern Harriers. It’s not helped that their habitats are identical!  However, the Northern Harrier’s flight tends to be more purposeful whereas the Short-eared Owl looks like a Harrier on lots of sugar flying here, then there, and everywhere all at once.

Then the following morning, I went on a sunrise stroll as noted previously and then spent the afternoon birding in Central Jersey.  I didn’t see lots of diversity, but diversified my list.   We drove down to New Egypt where we saw the Northern Lapwings.  I have National Geographic’s Birds of North America, and their sketch doesn’t do it justice.  In the cowpats, and mulepats, the birds were positively gleaming.  With the aid of borrowed scopes we had very nice views of the three lapwings amongst the Killdeer.  We also ran into other birders we knew!  Such a small world! Chris and Ray were arriving just as we were.

We stayed there for a bit before heading out to Colliers WMA in hopes of finding the feasting Red Crossbills, but despite driving around searching the premises for quite a good while, we had no luck.

From there we decided to head northward with the waning light and try our luck for the our old friend the Pink-footed Goose, as well as the Tundra Swans, Northern Shrike, and Barnacle Geese reported in the Assunpink  WMA.  We struck out on all four, alas, got a bit lost, but we did pick up a Red-throated Loon.  So all was not lost.  On Tuesday, it’s back to school again!  While school is local and I’ll still be in the area, my time will become much more constrained and I will be down to one day per week free.

So this was my last big hurrah bird-bird-bird day for time-being, but I’ll be checking my calendar to see when I can get out again.   And as the days get longer, I’ll have more opportunities for birding post work and class.

Early Morning Blues

I decided to walk myself over to Cushetunk Lake for a bit of birding by ear. (aka my binoculars were locked in someone else’s car!)

It was a very pleasant sunrise walk.  Solo birding is a different experience.  Because it’s based on your own inclination and there’s no distraction of company, you experience the world in a different way.  I had a very enjoyable hour, attempting to listen to calls and identity each individual.  Quite a number of blue birds!  No Belted Kingfisher or Eastern Bluebird to round out the blues mix, alas, but I did see a number of Blue Jays and a Great Blue Heron. I had luck identifying the American Crow, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch.

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Mallard
Great Blue Heron
American Crow
Turkey Vulture
Mourning Dove
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

After visiting the dam, I headed through a patch of woods before wandering back.  Among the branches I could hear a symphony of unidentifiable wonders.I could identify the 16 mallards swimming and great blue heron fishing in the stream.

I also saw four deer and a swimming muskrat!   So cool!  Following my hour ramble, I was in a much better frame of mind.  As I walked back into the house, I surprised a Carolina Wren who nearly flew into me in its haste to book it out of there.  Now I’m mentally all ready to hit the road for a day of birding in….. Central Jersey!

Avi’s Blue Heron

“Maggie walked back to the cottage, entered with caution, and climbed into the loft. As she lay in her bed she kept thinking of the heron. How beautiful it was. How magical. Never before had she experienced such a sense of magic, real magic.‎” – Blue Heron, Avi

One of my favorite childhood books, Avi’s Blue Heron tells Maggie’s fascination with the habits of the blue herons at a summer cabin on the lake.    In 2003, I had an opportunity to share some of Maggie’s experiences when I worked at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center.  During freetime, I would take a kayak to explore the creek and follow the herons as they silently stalked their prey.  It was definitely magic.

Which is why I was so excited when birding on the 15th to see so many herons!  Unfortunately, we came across one dead heron (really?! who sees a dead heron?) but we also saw three live ones.  We found the first two at Deer Path Park in Readington, NJ and the other two we witnessed at Cushetunk Lake in Whitehouse Station.

While the other half of the party focused on two bizarre looking Canada Geese. I marveled at the majestic manner in which the great blue heron slipped through the water.  I saw twice, the heron snatch at fish.  Unfortunately my camera was in the car, otherwise I might have tried for decent photos.  I did get one with my phone.

IMG_20130117_183241

Great Blue Heron fishing at Deer Park.

Rockafellows Mill Road:
Canada Goose
Mallard
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed hawk
Blue Jay
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Wren
American Tree Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch
Assiscong Marsh:
Canada Goose
Gadwall
American Black Duck
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Turkey Vulture
Ring-billed Gull
Blue JayDeer Path Park:
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker
Mallard
Gadwall
Canada Goose

Lake Cushetunk:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall
Mallard
Great Blue Heron (2)
Belted Kingfisher

De-lek-table Turkeys

Today was apparently the day for Turkey.

  • When I arrived at work, there were 8 or 9 turkeys wandering down toward the aviary.
  • At Rockland Lake, there were 14 turkeys (at least!) prowling at the edge of one of the seasonally closed parking lots.

Wild Turkey

Turkey displaying at the Tenafly Nature Center in Tenafly, NJ.

In both cases, they were a collection of males and females.  From what reading I’ve done during the winter males and females don’t flock together…. so seeing them together makes me wonder if turkey breeding season is approaching.  There were definitely males displaying this morning.   Unfortunately I can’t find any information on the Internet regarding when turkeys form leks.  Leks are the breeding system choice for turkeys.  In a lek, males gather together and compete for females.  Imagine a boxing ring of turkeys where they rush at each other and bump chests – that is at least what grouse do and I imagine that turkeys do something similar.  The females select the most fit males from the center.  The favored male entertains all the females.

Lots of birding today!  4 lists for the e-bird today!

Bird Feeder:
1 Mourning Dove
1 Black-capped Chickadee
5 Tufted Titmouse
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Song Sparrow
2 American Goldfinch
9 House Sparrow

Tenafly:
1 Black-capped Chickadee
1 Red-tailed Hawk
8 Wild Turkey
2 White-breasted Nuthatches

Rockland Lake:
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall (5)
Mallard
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Wild Turkey
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Red-tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Blackback Gull
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Winter Wren
Carolina Wren
Marsh Wren – new!
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Congers Lake Memorial Park:
1 Ring-billed Gull
7 Mallard
6 Common Mergansers
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Song Sparrow

The Gang’s All Here!

Birding on Christmas Day.

I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday — too busy doing some major household rearrangements, but I did have a bit of a chance to bird.  Also updated a few of the pages on the blog to provide more content: the life list is now up.  I am currently at 154 life species and 60 species for 2013. Woo!

On weekends I spend with my parents, I enjoy watching their feeder.   I love having the feeder here.  It was a Christmas present for my father that the whole family enjoys.

An old  pair of binoculars and two bird guides, DK’s What’s that Bird?: a beginner’s guide and National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America (5th edition) now live on the table along with the most recent copy of the New York Times.

We have a delightful mixed flock that visits daily, near as I can tell.  I’m in and out a few times a week, but whenever I’m here, if I spend long enough at the window or check frequently enough I can count on seeing Tufted Titmice, House Sparrows (ugh!), Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches and one Song Sparrow.   Other very frequent visitors include the Black-capped Chickadee, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinch, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Once or twice we’ve had a White-throated Sparrow, Carolina Wren, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and a Northern Mockingbird visit the yard, if not the feeder.

Spotting the Red-tailed Hawk.

Yesterday’s Feeder List:
4 Blue Jay
12 House Sparrows
20 European Starlings
1 Northern Mockingbird
1 American Goldfinch
2 Northern Cardinals
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Song Sparrow
1 Carolina Wren
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
1 Tufted Titmouse
2 Dark-eyed Juncos

Today’s Feeder List:
4 Tufted Titmouse
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
8 House Sparrows
1 Song Sparrow
1 Northern Cardinal
3 American Goldfinch
2 Black-capped Chickadee
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Mourning Dove

S’no Buntings!

Alas! Today we went to the fields off E. Main St. in Annandale were hoping for an additional view of Horned Larks and to add Snow Buntings to my avian repertoire.  Others have seen Horned Larks and Snow Buntings there this past week. We spent nearly an hour there and picked up White-crowned Sparrow (new for the year) and American Tree Sparrow (life species), but despite our perseverance we couldn’t find any Snow Buntings.

Fields off E. Main
Canada Geese
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Bald Eagle
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Downy Woodpecker
American Crow
Common Raven
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal