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.
IMG_2237

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

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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…

New Goals, Old Goals

An end of year New York Times tweet admonished, “Before setting new goals, evaluate the previous ones.”  So today I should begin by reviewing 2014’s resolutions. Last year, in what is no longer my shortest post ever, Renewed Resolve, I outlined my resolutions:

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)

Camera Resolution

Considering I’ve uploaded 300 photos over the course of the year, that’s nearly 1 per day I have consistently worked with my camera, most particularly discovering it’s limitations.   I’ve gotten shots I’m happy with, shots I can live with, and shots that only belong in the trash heap.

I’ve also reached a point of frustration with the point and shoot, and the one I have in particular.  So I’ve decided to upgrade to a dSLR.  I haven’t decided which one (Canon or Nikon?), but I’m borrowing a Nikon currently and have rented a 500mm sigma lens for my upcoming trip to the Everglades (I depart tomorrow…. in 9 hours!), so continuing to work on photography will stay on the list.

Sanderling with a snack.  Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Sanderling with a snack. Taken with Nikon 3200 Simga 500mm. Sandy Hook. Photo taken on December 27, 2014.

Songs Don’t Resonate for Me

I think any progress I made has been eroded by time.  This might need to be a life goal.   I did work on it significantly this year.  I can tell you that Tennessee Warblers have a three part (sometimes two) whereas Nashville have a two-part song.  What it sounds like?  Haven’t a clue at the moment.  To my ear, Hooded Warblers sound like they’re saying “Nice to, nice to meet you!” but to other birders that’s the description for a different warbler.  Chestnut-sided?

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Female Hooded Warbler, first of three Hooded Warbler sightings. Doodletown Rd, Bear Mountain State Park. Photo taken on May 17, 2014.

Wibbly-wobbly with Warblers

Warblers and songs sensibly go hand in hand.  I had first looks this year at Blackburnian, Chesnut-sided, Hooded, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Cerulean, Bay-breasted, Grace’s, and Red-faced.  (The last two in Arizona.)  So it was a good warbler year!  I began to really explore two warbler hotspots: Garrett Mountain (New Jersey) and Doodletown Road (New York.), but then the season ended.   Think it needs to go back on this list.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler.  Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Aptly named Red-faced warbler. Miller Canyon, Arizona. Photo taken on June 16, 2014.

Therefore, after serious reflection and a strong need for sleep, I’m just going to keep my 2014 resolutions, thanks.

  • 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

I will add one new resolution, however. I need to get focused and get at least one of the two proposed papers out from my Masters Thesis.  So this way I won’t feel so guilty when I miss birding to work on it….

Best Birds 2014 Edition

The obligatory moment as a handful of sunlit hours remain in the year: time to reflect on birds past.  The year began with a bang, and a trip to Ecuador, and continued strong through the spring.  May saw a whopping 162 species, nearly double what I saw in April and June.

The summer saw a significant drop between running a summer camp and building a bed (it’s a beautiful bed though!).  Returning to Rutgers, saw an uptick of birding opportunities and species which I maintained through the year’s end.

Lists Submitted to Ebird by Month

month 2013 2014 change
January  50 2 -48
February  34 4 -30
March  25 4 -21
April  22 26 4
May  24 36 12
June  16 10 6
July  5 3 -2
August  22 6 16
September  4 9 5
October  8 17 9
November  5 5 0
December  8 9 1
Year 223 131

What I lost in frequency of birding, I made up for in species. The 2013 list is exclusively domestic, specifically the NY/NJ region while my 2014 list is limited to the same region for comparison purposes and for standardizing the geographical limits of The Bet.

Species By Month

month 2013 2014 change
January 70 30 -40
February 52 39 -13
March 60 46 -14
April 48 87 39
May 114 162 48
June 64 85 21
July 37 32 -5
August  65 40 -15
September  72 102 30
October  57 114 57
November  63 86 23
December  79 90 11
Year 200 222

Additionally, I have 39 species from Arizona (28 unique) and 154 from Ecuador (135 unique) for a world total of 385 for the year.   I had an opportunity to post regarding my Arizona adventures (Key to Life, Sunrise Stakeout, Oooooh for Owls, All the Broken Things).  I didn’t get to post as much as I wanted about the Galapagos (where did the time go?) but what I did post is collected under Galapagos Journals.

My best day of birding occurred early in the year: I mentioned it in my brief update from the field, Birding Trifecta Achieved (Wandering Albatross, Galapagos Penguin, Short-eared Owl).  I’m not sure a better day of birding is possible, ever.  (Unless I get photos of all three species!)

wpid-IMAG3342.jpg

Galapagos Penguin at the Lava Tunnels at Isabela Island. Galapagos, Ecuador. An unreal moment in an unreal landscape. Photo taken January 8 2014 with a cell phone.

I’ll be kicking off 2015 leading a trip down to Sandy Hook tomorrow, with the conclusion at the Meadowlands.  Then on the 2nd, I jump on a plane and head to (hopefully sunny and warmer) Florida for the SICB conference, to be followed with some Everglades birding.

Piering Back Through Time

August is often a quiet birding month. If you are fortunate enough to be by the seashore or along a flyway, you can witness the beginning of the migration season as shorebirds move through. Why do shorebirds depart so early?

Well here in New Jersey, we’re quite fortunate when it comes to shore birds!  We have our endangered Piping Plovers nesting on our beaches and the Ruddy Turnstones refueling on their migration, but oftentimes don’t realize the Ruddy Turnstone’s behaviors are more typical of their family (Scolopacidae). Many of the shorebirds migrate to the far northern reaches of this hemisphere. Not sure what marketing strategies they used, but it worked. “Experience Long Days in Short & Sweet Summers”?

Goodness knows I’d response to such an advertisement.  And the shorebirds definitely do.  Take a look at the two maps below.  Gleaned from the riches of the internet, on the left we have a generalized map showing the migration pathways of shorebirds between the polar reaches.  Most of our neotropicals (sciencespeak for summer birds found in the Western Hemisphere) prefer to spend their winters in more climates with a shorter commute.  However, the shorebirds hold most of the records for long distance migration (the way Kenya produces champion Olympic runners).

  • About ~1800 species perform long distance migrations (18%).
  • White-rumped Sandpiper flies 15,000 miles one way.
  • Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica fly 11,000 miles nonstop.

Now the map on the right shows breed locations for Snow Geese.  While not a shore bird, the map depicts the preference for extreme latitudinal breeding grounds also evidenced by dozens of shorebirds.  These habitats are rich with the food resources needed by the birds. So why do shorebirds migrate so early?  Long commute.

So back to birding here in the mid-Atlantic.  August saw me house-sitting once more in New York.   While house-sitting I had a few opportunities to go a birding hotspot in the county known the “the Pier”.  It’s not wooden nor is it like a boardwalk.   It’s a one-mile road once used for military purposes now converted into a paved and tree-lined walk into the Hudson River (that generally keeps your feet dry – bonus!). This is a nice spot for ducks, shorebirds, warblers, and some raptors depending on the season.  It juts out the western shore of the Hudson River as a signal to all weary birds they can find refuge here.  Just south of the Pier is a marsh which further extends sanctuary for these feathered friends.  It’s probably the best/only shorebird birding location in Rockland county.

There have been some enviable birds seen here.  Generally not by me.  But what I’m trying to build for myself is a solid working knowledge of the usual suspects at this site so I can find the fun ones.  So the remainder of this post is the dialogue in my head as I processed and assessed these images.   It’s like a note to myself for in the future when I forget what the shorebirds look it because it happens every year.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Mallard in flight. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

As I continue working towards improvement in bird photography, I’d like to focus on birds in motion.  (Some of this may need to wait until I get a functional camera).  I like this photo though despite the blur and shadow.   The mallards are around year-round, but I do want to try to remember to appreciate them!

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Osprey on the prowl. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Another fairly frequent visitor: the Osprey.  Usually if I remember to look up often enough and scan with the binoculars, I can find at least one Osprey.  Another in motion photo.  In this one, the M-shape that helps to identify the species is less evident.   I know some birders who strongly feel Ospreys must be observed for it to be considered a good day of birding.  Thus the 24th must have been a good day.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper forages among large rocks at high tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

And to close with some photos of shorebirds.  Which is what one particularly seeks in August.   Notorious for traveling in large groups and looking like carbon copies, shorebirds can be very frustrating to identify.   I know when taking these photos in August, my focus was on photography rather than identification.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Least Sandpiper gazes out at the tide. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Both the above photos featured the Least Sandpiper.  There are three small sandpipers in the region collectively known as peeps.  Please don’t eat them, they’re not as sweet as they sound!  In fact I would argue the opposite of sweet is not bitter, but frustrating!  How often is a day of birding either characterized as sweet or frustrating?   The Least is the smallest peep, but when you’re lacking a ruler and distance is an issue 1/4 inch differences don’t help!

The most obvious give away are the legs.  Take a look at the two above: yellow.  Now if in deep water, mud, or shade or poor lighting (90% of all situations +/- 5.5%) the yellow isn’t obvious.

What else stands out to me?  There seems to be a bit more of an intentional eye line, the feathers have more of a rust color, the bill seems a bit shorter?

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Semipalmated Sandpiper hunkers down to wait for better times, or tides. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 24, 2014.

Now this fellow above is different.  Legs are darker.  No discernible eye line. More like an eye spot? Brown-brown feathers.  I’d say this is a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Which I believe in the Mid-Atlantic region is the most common.  (Despite what my August collection of photos appears to indicate!)  Slightly larger, which I know from my bird guide and websites, not the photo!

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water's edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Least Sandpiper scrambles at the water’s edge. The Pier, Piermont, NY. Photo taken on August 10, 2014.

Last and least!  The Least Sandpiper here again.   Note the rust-tinges, yellow legs, eye line.   Also, it seems that the upper breast, just below the neck region is also buffier than in other sandpipers (comparison not yet available).  Note that the Pectoral Sandpiper who is better known for this feature has coloration much further down and is a larger sandpiper.

I also just really like this photo.  It’s one in a series of 5 taken moments apart and all the others are just slightly out of focus with my autofocus.  Thanks, camera.

Additional Reading:
Ecological Studies and Environmental Monitoring at Bylot Island Sirmilik National Park.
Bird Migration. Wikipedia.

The Bet

It’s official.  My adviser and I are competing this year to see who can rack up more birds.  The territory is anything in New York or New Jersey.

Current Status:
Him: 137
Me: 133*

Includes a hybrid species not included by ebird.

More Truths

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single town in possession of a good fortune must be in need of a nature center. In Bergen County, where I live, work, and bird, nearly every town appears to have a nature center.  This leaves one with many choices for good birding.

I finally opened my eyes Friday morning.  I was going into work a bit late and could afford to sleep in.  Or I could until I saw the ebird notifications for what had turned up in the last 24 hours.  I bounded out of bed and was out the door within 20 minutes.  No breakfast, just a cup of tea to get me through.

This was me: Clara with her Tea| Doctor Who Tumbr

This was me: Clara with her Tea | Doctor Who Tumbr

Greater Scaup (1 report)
– Solitary Sandpiper (1 report)
– Greater Yellowlegs (2 reports)
– Bonaparte’s Gull (1 report)
– Northern Waterthrush (1 report)
– Savannah Sparrow (1 report)

Many of these were from New York, just across the border, about half a mile from where my folks reside.  I could make it there, get an hour of birding in and still be on time for work, all while getting breakfast at the local deli, to boot!

But it wasn’t to be.

The second truth universally acknowledged is when you want to get somewhere particularly quickly or badly, there will be traffic. Welcome to New Jersey, home of Bridgegate where we invented more traffic because there just wasn’t enough to begin with.

Despite the early hours, there was bad traffic on Rte 46, leading towards the GWB as a result of an accident.  I wasn’t going to make it to the Pier and to work on time.  Thus I began wracking my brain for an alternative.

I decided to go check out Demarest Nature Center of Demarest, NJ, home of the Redheaded Woodpecker. (We hope it’s occupying the tree for the season.)  Driving in, songs were dripping from the abundant greenery.

First stop was to look for the woodpecker, but there was no activity.  I began working my way along the very muddy trails of the center.  I had about 45 minutes there before I had to depart for work.

Surprise, a Louisiana Waterthrush bobs along the flooded pools. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Surprise, a Northern Waterthrush bobs along the flooded pools. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

While there, I did locate Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, and several Yellow-rumped in addition to our resident birds. I also picked up Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Pileated Woodpecker. Plus, I picked up a Northern Waterthursh (edited).  I had been going with Louisiana because the white screamed white.  However, as Lawrence points out, there are stripes along the throat which indicates Northern. The joys of warblers! This waterthrush nicely jumped up on the branches for a photo op..

I saved a few minutes for a scan of the trees when I returned to my car.  And there it was:

Redheaded Woodpecker remains at the Demarest Nature Center near the playground. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Redheaded Woodpecker remains at the Demarest Nature Center near the playground. Demarest, NJ. Photo taken on May 2, 2014.

Truth #3 achieved. What ye seek, ye shall find.

Processing

When normal people arrive back from 3 weeks of travel, they typically take off for a conference the next day, right? I’m not sure at which point in my travels I gestured to myself and proclaimed “Loco!” but it was sometime after nearly admitting myself into emergency medical services, standing atop a 10-m rock, and climbing 45m into a rainforest canopy.  But Loco certainly fits.  I arrived back in the states on Wednesday evening, made it back to my apartment by 2am Thursday. (The airline managed to misplace the baggage from three arriving South American flights.)  Thursday I spent recovering, and Friday I jetted off to the ANJEE (Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education) conference.

In between I’ve been following everyone’s photo uploads to facebook and processing my own photos.  I’m still on day 1.  I’ve downloaded a trial of Lightroom to play around with based on a recommendation. (Anyone else use Lightroom or have alternative recommendations for photo processing for novices?)

As I’ve recuperated, I’ve been processing what it’s like being home and this is the current list of things I am grateful for (the list is pretty spotty):

  1. Being able to drink water from the bathroom.
  2. Being able to choose what foods I eat.
  3. Downtime.

I captured 4000 photos and videos of my travels with the greater emphasis on birds (obviously).  I’ve spent considerable time processing how I want to share these and haven’t reached any decision yet.  But for now here’s a taste from my first day:

Frigatebird soars over Playa Mann.

Frigatebirds soar over Playa Mann, San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador. Taken January 4th, 2014.

Also, I saw *lots* of birds, but I don’t have the official count yet.

Renewed Resolve

It’s late and I’ve spent most of the day procrastinating and packing, so this will be the shortest post ever.

2014 Birding Resolutions:

  • Continue working on warbler identification.
  • Work on identification by song.
  • Learning more about my camera and how to take better photos. (from Prairie Birder)

Reflections

2013 by the Numbers

  • 200 birds this year, picking up the 200th bird during a CBC.
  • 212 life birds in NJ.
  • 66 new life birds.

2013 was a a good benchmark year. It gave me a sense of where my birding skills stand, what I need to work on improving. I gained valuable experience birding on my own and with others.

Barn Swallow reflection.

Barn Swallow reflection.

I started off 2013 with renewed interest in birding and set three goals for myself:

1. Bird at least 1x per month in Union Co., NJ
2. Use ebird.org to record observations
3. Learn warblers

Goal #1: Fail. I birded all of 1 month in Union.  I didn’t anticipate the toll working far from home would take.  My commute was an hour in the morning and closer to 90 minutes on the return drive.  Doesn’t leave much time for birding. That plus going to school full-time and finishing a thesis. Then I moved out in June and haven’t returned to bird as there have been other, better locations for birding.

Goal #2: Success.  As of the 27th, I’ve submitted 223 lists for the year. More detailed breakdown at the end of the post

Yellow Warbler laments a lack of leaves.

Yellow Warbler. May 2013. Tallman State Park, NY.

Goal #3: Some success. It’ll be an ongoing processes, but a fun one! Saw 22 warbler species this year, whereas I had only seen seven previously.  I saw a few more that were very blurry blobs that I didn’t feel were fair to count and I can’t promise I’d recognize them all again, but at least it’s a start.

month # lists #species  best bird
January  50 70 Red-throated Loon
February  34 52 Pink-footed Goose
March  25 60 Snow Bunting
April  22 48 Black-and-white Warbler
May  24 114 Blue-winged Warbler
June  16 64 Willow Flycatcher
July  5 37 Green Heron
August  22  65 Spotted Sandpiper
September  4  72 American Avocet
October  8  57 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
November  5  63 Purple Sandpiper
December  8  79 Short-eared Owl
Year 223 200  Barred Owl

Now I need to figure out some new goals for 2014 which ideally should reflect that transient nature of my life at the moment.  But I’ll be starting off the year with a blast, somewhere far from cold, cold New Jersey.