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….

The Merry Month of May

Was very busy!  I only submitted 24 lists, most of which were megathon outings from fieldwork for either kestrels or turtles because May has been a very busy month (as has June!)  In addition to the birding,  I worked extra hours every week, defended my thesis, completed my Masters Program, and moved!

May saw 32 life birds, 113 different species, bringing the total to 150 for the year.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Cormorants sunbathing after work.

Apparently I’m on a cormorant kick. Hopefully more posts as we settle into the month, including another kestrel research update from the most recent outing.


On Monday, I successfully defended my thesis once we found a sufficiently warm classroom and  had the technology successfully up and operational.   I’m including the opening slide.  Voila!


The day of my defense, I began the morning by joining my advisor and a friend for two hours of birding back at Garrett Mountain.  This time around we picked up 43 species, including Spotted Sandpiper, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo,  Yellow Warbler, Prairie Warbler, and Baltimore Oriole which were lifers, and Greater Yellow Legs, which was new for the year.

So now that the thesis is out of the way; the only changes I’ll need to make are the fine-tuning revisions as we prepare for publication, I can return to birding!


5 Star Day

Or perhaps, this post should be called the 5 Bird Day post.

Recovering from my sudden bout of the flu last week, I submitted up final thesis edits on Monday night.  Last night I received approval to distribute my thesis to the committee.  Which I did and then promptly vomited.  (I’m chalking that one up to brushing my teeth too soon after drinking orange juice.)    Really sounds like a five star day, doesn’t it?

I also received a second email from my adviser last night inviting select students for an impromptu birding excursion this morning to Garett Mountain Reservation.   Two of us took him up on the offer and we met up at 7am.  (Well I made it there by 7:10 since I had an unnecessary detour through Paterson.)

Birding with John is an experience typical of birding with most master birders.  He does much of his birding by ear.   We were joined by one other student, the one who runs the turtle research at the SOC.   She’s “more interested in animals” (her phrase) than birds and has only birded the last year or two.  She was overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds and he was underwhelmed by the lack of it.   I am getting most of the common birds at this point, if not all their variations, I at least have a number for which I am approaching adept.  The really high pitched buzzy, trill stuff does not even register on my radar.  It didn’t help that there was lots of landscaping going on!

John had 38 birds on his list.  I had 33.  I dropped 5 because there were a number I didn’t get eyes/ears on so I figured it wasn’t fair to count – especially if they were FOY or lifers.  But we did pick up five lifers, so it was definitely a good morning.  New for me were the Warbling Vireo, Wood Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole.   So that was a very good day.

Full Moon Hike

There are days when when I definitely have the best job in the world.  (TM)  Stayed on campus, working on thesis revisions until 2am on Wednesday before driving home.  Revised the entire thesis in about 8 hours.  Which is ridiculous at some level.  Which probably explains why I am now sick.  It started off as a sore throat, became an annoying cough, and today is a very hoarse voice and truth be told, a painful cough.  But I am still going to work because I am the only one in this morning and because there is something very bird related I need to do!

Yesterday, I went on an amazing bird-related adventure for work, which I will relate later.  In the evening, I led a 2-hour full moon hike.  Not much of a hike as the group wanted to stand and watch the things we saw.  I forget that people don’t realize how amazing all the wildlife and ecosystems around us really are – I see it all the time, and teach it all the time, so even when I’m not there I know, but most people don’t.  We saw a Wild Turkey running down a trail, watched the Red Wing Blackbirds setting up their territories, the Canada Geese come home for the night, a Great Blue Heron finding its final meal of the day, bats come out to scatter around the sky searching for insects, we heard bull frogs, spring peepers and one other species of frog wake up, spooked a deer and one other thing we couldn’t identify.  The bats swooped across the night sky and dipped into the pond creating ripples along the flat surface.  We watched the sun set and the moon rise.

Birds and Butterflies: Thesis Progress

Still need a title for my thesis.  Mentally, I keep calling it “In Defense of Kestrels” and “Plight of the Kestrel” by they don’t quite have the professional ring I’m looking for.

Submitted first draft of thesis Saturday evening.  Had feedback on Sunday morning while I was doing turtle fieldwork that the first draft was very impressive.  Yay!  Met with my adviser this afternoon to discuss revisions.  These mostly fell into the minor edits and formatting types.   Those are due 48 hours from now.

As of 20 minutes ago, I had confirmation from all members of my committee regarding my defense date.  It looks like I will be defending on May 6th at 1pm.  Exciting!

Well it’s exciting right now.  I’m sure as the hour approaches, there will be butterflies, but butterflies are exciting, right?

Now, I have two weeks to pull together a defense. My adviser is putting together a copy of his archives of kestrel photos – hopefully they’re the photographer’s.  He has a photographer who likes to join him in the field for a day every season and take photos.  If anyone else has kestrel photos they want to share, I’d love to see them.

Best part about my defense date?  It’s the same day my 2 papers are due for evolution and I have my last evolution exam.

Kestrelets!  Or very ugly ducklings.

Kestrelets! Or very ugly ducklings.

Here a Kestrel

Here a kestrel, there a kestrel, everywhere a kestrel.  Or, if that were the case, I’d need a new thesis topic!  It’s thesis writing week for me.  So there don’t anticipate many posts, unless they’re reflections.   What I can share is that I’ve gotten about 2800 words down so far and I spent most of this afternoon making a table.  (I’m very excited about this.)  One of my favorite quotes is by Oscar Wilde.  I think I spent most of a year in high school English pondering the quote.  He says, “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”  The table feels like my comma. ( Hopefully I won’t have to take it out!) I think if I spent less time thinking about the quote and more time writing, I’d be further along, but I’m pleased with my progress so far.

However, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a real photo. So I’ve dug out an appropriate photo from the archives.  Enjoy!

Male American Kestrel prepares for take off!

Male American Kestrel prepares for take off!

We’ve just finished banding and tagging this adult male kestrel and he’s about to be released.   He looks big and fierce, doesn’t he?  Mind you he’s being held by a six-year old.   Quite a professional six-year-old, too!  She comes out in the field with us as her mother is runs the Sussex team and she can do pretty much everything competently at this point except carry the ladder and drive the vehicle.

The Moment You Knew

Everyone has that moment of clarity when they realize their calling to bird.  When I figure out what mine was, I’ll let you know.  (We all have those moments, we just don’t all remember them!)  What I wanted to recall today was watching someone else’s moment.

At work we will frequently all run to one side, not because the building is listing, but because someone has just spotted a noteworthy bird.    We spent nearly a week determining whether our visiting hawk was a Red-Shoulder or a Cooper’s Hawk.  Every time the bird appeared, there’d be a run to the windows and a phone call to the lower offices to alert them as well.  This is what happens when you work at a nature center.

The only avian activity this week has been the woodpeckers.  Apparently there was a false alarm a few days ago regarding a Pileated Woodpecker sighting.  We do have them, but bird in question happened to be a Red-bellied Woodpecker.    So today, when the real Pileated made an appearance close to the center my co-worker was elated.   He was the one to spot it and had enough time to run inside to grab binoculars for a better look.    Standing in the cold sans coats, we watched a Red-bellied and Pileated systematically climb up the snags searching for grub.  When he walked in well after the rest of us, he was glowing and not from the cold.  In his future he perceived making plans and investments for a continued search for feathered friends.

Another birder is born!  Trips to the Meadowlands are closer than they appear.  Then Cape May, Hawk Mountain, and then the world!

In other news, “thesis” outline submitted to adviser!

New Visitors

Not too much birding this week with the snow, work and school, but there were two new visitors!  At the folk’s place where the only ducks I’ve ever seen are mallards and the domestic ducks that have cross-bred with the mallards, but I finally saw something new and different!  So exciting! Unfortunately, I was the only one in at the time to witness it.

Hooded Mergansers swim upstream in the creek next to the pond.

Hooded Mergansers swim upstream in the creek next to the pond.

Then yesterday at work, when I was supposed to be leaving for class, I was called into the office.  Truth be told, I was lured in by the sound of excited murmurs.   They happened at the same time.  Lo and behold the unidentifiable surprise visitor from yesterday afternoon returned.    Everyone was excited I was there to help solidify the identification.  Speculation was between a Northern Goshawk or a Rough-legged based on the field marks people picked up previously.  However, with my camera capturing the detail for better study, we settled on a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.  [However, after receiving comments regarding the photo, it appears it’s actually a Cooper’s Hawk.] Still exciting!  Anyway, how awesome is it to wish to spend more time at work in order to see birds?


Red-shouldered Hawk  Cooper’s Hawk rests in a tree near sunset in Tenafly, NJ.

Also, finalized “thesis” defense committee, have people who actually want to attend, and submitted data (again!) So progress!

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.