Snow Break for the Birder

On Saturday I met up with my adviser, his wife and a friend from grad school and we headed back to Sandy Hook, home of the Snowy Owl spotted during our Big Day. I was excited to do my first real birding since my return from the Galapagos, but as departure time approached and I thought of all the snow out there, the thought of trudging through snow and cold caused me to drag my feet.  Granted I should have been thrilled that we caught a break between the storms and we were all free, but it wasn’t registering.

But it wasn’t so bad. There was no wind and the snow was manageable. You might notice there’s something off about the photo….

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Trekking over the white sand beach. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

No footprints!  For the most part we were able to walk entirely on top of the snow without leaving footprints.  It felt very magical and many a remark was made about elves.   But also no owl.  I didn’t do any of the planning or scouting for this trip, so it went overlooked that the last time a snowy owl had been spotted was on January 20th.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows.  Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Surprising flock of Field Sparrows. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Like last time we also had nice views Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. New were Bald Eagle, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, American Robin, Common Goldeneye, Black Scoters and Field Sparrows. I got a glimpse of a Merlin while everyone else was mesmerized by a flashy immature Bald Eagle. So slow start to NJ birds, but getting good birds.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water.   Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Horned Grebe finds a calm patch of water. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Working Sandy Hook is slowly improving my identification skills of a few birds I only see about once per year. so yay! Just need to actually order my scope, so I can be a real birder.

Hermit Thrush. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Hermit Thrush. False harbinger of spring. Sandy Hook, NJ. Taken on February 8, 2014.

Call me crazy, but winter is rapidly winding up. While it cannot end too soon for many people (another several inches of snow predicted for this week?! whee!), to me I see the closing window of opportunity for Snowy Owls and Long-eared Owls.

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Life in Motion

As I was editing photos last night, I came across the image below.  I was eager to see how it turned out.  As an unedited image, it was pretty disappointing.  I was shooting in difficult conditions: cloudy with lots of diffuse light, in the canopy of a forest with birds swiftly flying through shadows.   Hopefully I’ve salvaged something worthwhile from it:

Galapagos flycatchers. Floreana, Galapagos, Ecuador. Taken February 7, 2014.

Galapagos flycatchers chase each other through the understory.
Floreana, Galapagos, Ecuador. Taken January 7, 2014.

(I think I have a thing for translucent primaries.)

We were hiking up Floreanna,  ostensibly looking for tortoises.  The obvious translation in my book was birding.  It was lovely; it was surreal; it was very different from anything we had seen on San Cristobal (even when we visited El Junco).  The air was alive with birds: chirping, calling, singing, perching, gliding, flying.  The air practically glimmered, shimmered, and dripped birds. But ridiculously hard to photograph. A commotion caught my eye, and I became distracted from my efforts of photocapturing Medium Tree Finches by the raucous behind me.  Spinning about, I witnessed two Galapagos Flycatchers dipping and darting in and out of the trees. Mating season had begun.