Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review on Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives

Not long ago, I had a conversation with my friend Howard on birding in India. It is a place that is on my to-do list and I am hoping to get there this year or early next year. Imagine my surprise and delight when I recently received a review copy of the Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and The Maldives (second edition) in the mail from Princeton Guides. I spent some time reviewing this edition and also compared it to the first. I am pleased to report that this is a home run or if you are from the sub continent and familiar with cricket, it is a massive SIX out of the ground!!!

This 2nd edition, addresses many of the shortcomings of the first edition and includes one very important aspect where, updated range maps now appear next to the species. This eliminates the time wasted flipping through pages searching for them. The text and plates have been updated with many new species added based on recent taxonomic changes, as well as ornithological field work. The drawings in this book are excellent, the descriptions very detailed, and the range maps very helpful.

The additional information has made the second edition a bit hefty as it grew from 528 pages vs. 384 for the first edition. However, this is still a manageable book in the field and a worthwhile trade off for what I feel is a comprehensive guide. So if you are planning a trip to the sub continent, this is the guide you want in your backpack. I know this is the one that I will be taking with me when I do go!

Tags: ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 24, 2012

Today's Photos - Sharp-shinned Hawk...

Today a Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), decided to hang out in the backyard all day long. Despite the rain and wind, I decided to practice digiscoping and videoscoping him as he hunted House Sparrows. Here are a few shots - all digiscoped. Some softer than I would have liked, but the wind and obstructions did not make it easy. I'll post a video of him later.

Tags: ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reporting My First Banded Ring-billed Gull...

I have been spending a lot of time looking at Gulls in an effort at getting better at ID'ing and aging them. This will be a long process and I have approached it methodically. In studying Gulls, I often wondered when I would get to document my first banded bird. Recently, I did see a banded Herring Gull when I unsuccessfully chased a Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus) in Duchess County NY, but I was unable to get the tag numbers or photograph the bird.

On Sunday February 12th, I lucked out seeing and photographing my first banded Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) in Brooklyn while out birding with Heydi Lopes. It was Heydi who spotted the banded Gull and we subsequently took some photos. I was very interested in documenting this bird because it would be my first banded Gull that I was going to report. Regular readers of this blog would remember that most of the banded birds I have reported on were all shorebirds. This would be my first report of a member of the Laridae family.

I submitted my report to two sites.  The first was to the banding station in Quebec Canada where there is an ongoing research program on the ecology of Ring-billed Gulls. It appears that Canada is interested in creating a management program for Ring billed Gulls. In response, I received a confirmation from Professor Jean - Frances Giroux (see below) that showed when and where the bird was banded.

The second site I reported the band was to the United States Geological Survey site. In a matter of days, I received confirmation that the data was received and matched to the subject banded in Quebec Canada. I even got a certificate for my efforts. Banding birds is an important method used in avian research to track the movement of individual birds. So, if you are out in the field take a close look at the birds you are looking at, you might just find a banded bird and get an opportunity to be a citizen scientist in helping out avian research.

Tags: , , ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday...

Orange Crowned Warbler in the Bronx NY.

Orange Crowned Warbler in Manhattan NY.

Orange Crowned Warbler in Queens NY.
Share with Bookmark and Share

Monday, February 20, 2012

Van Cortlandt Bird Walk Report 1-18-2012...

On Saturday, we began our bird walk by first scanning the parade grounds at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx NY. We focused on the enclosed area since a casual glance at the surrounding areas did not show any of the usual flock of Canada Geese feeding. Alex Pirko, one of our regulars arrived and informed the rest of us that he had seen a Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) while crossing the parade grounds. This was a new bird for the year at Van Courtlandt Park, so I took the group to look for the bird. As we made our way onto the field, small groups of Canada Geese began to fly in from the VC lake and in one such group, I spotted our local star. The Greater White-fronted Goose; unfortunately, the bird did not land and instead chose to fly over the field heading in a south easterly direction until it dropped out of sight. We speculated that it may have worked its way toward the golf course.

By then, we were joined by Arthur and Rose who I found out to be new birders. Our regulars made them felt right at home with the group and it was not long before Arthur and Rose began picking up life birds. We continued working the parade grounds and found the Killdeer hunkered down in the grass trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. Everyone had good looks and it was nice to see Arthur and Rose get their life Killdeer.

From the parade grounds, we immediately went to the small bridge near the golf course and picked up another new year bird for Van Courtlandt, in Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca). A drake that provided a nice look at size comparison with the Mallards in tow. We spent quite a bit of time in this area as other birds made their presence known. We were treated to great looks at Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) and Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus). With the Red-winged Blackbirds and Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) singing, it felt like Spring.

As much as I would have liked to stay in the area, we had to move on, so I took the group up into Vault Hill where we looked for the Eastern Phoebe that was reported last week by birder/naturalist Tom Fiore, but for the second week in a row we could not find that bird. Since it was such a nice day, I decided to take the group into the North Woods; the hike into the North Woods is a long one, but the group were up to the task and we birded along the way. Our best bird in the area was a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) that "found us". The GHO was a first for our walks and it was disappointing that most in the group only had "flying away" looks. A deviation off the main trail checking out potentially birdy looking habitats did not yield much, but we did pick up Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), a bird that I had heard earlier on the trail. 2 Brown Creepers (Certhia americana), made a brief appearance then were gone. We had the usual assortment of Woodpeckers and other smaller passerines, but no surprises. Arthur and Rose who had kept up with the group despite the long trek, decided to leave and the rest of us kept on birding. We eventually made our way back out of the North Woods where we saw Arthur and Rose taking a break. They reported having good looks at male Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens); I was impressed and pleased that despite feeling tired, they kept on birding on the way out. For new birders they were off to a great start!

The rest of us took the steep trail back into Vault Hill where again we poked around looking and listening patiently for anything that would give away the presence of an Eastern Phoebe, but we came up empty. From Vault Hill we made our way back across the parade grounds where I scanned the flock of Geese for the Great White-fronted Goose, but it was not there. It did not help that many folks blatantly had dogs off leash running around chasing those Geese which had dared to venture out on the open field. I was rather disappointed seeing this behavior especially since the ranger station was right next to the parade grounds.

I ended the walk shortly thereafter at the restoration area. In all we saw a total of 38 species.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) 2
Gadwall (Anas strepera) 2
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes) 3
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) 19
Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca) 1
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) 2
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) 3
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 6
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) 1
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 4
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 4
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 3
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 2
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) 8
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 3
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 5
Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) 6
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) 7
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 5
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) 26
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 2
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 3
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 6
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) 14
Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) 1
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 345
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) 1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) 2
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) 4
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

Tags: ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count 2012...

Today, marks the beginning of the 2012 GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count) that will run through Monday, February 20th.   This is the 15th annual count, which is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Canadian Partner Bird Studies Canada and sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count website.  As a participant and Ambassador of the event I have been spreading the word in my county and drumming up support. For more information, please visit the GBBC website.

Share with Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday...Hot Redheads!!

Share with Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Van Cortlandt Bird Walk Report 2-11-2012...

On Saturday, despite the dreary weather conditions 4 birders joined me for our bird walk at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx NY. We were missing a few of our regulars, but those who came out enjoyed a nice walk in the cold snowy weather. We began with our now ritual scan of the parade grounds, which yielded nothing of interest, then we made our way to the Van Cortlandt Lake and began scanning the flock of Canada Geese in the water and on the shore.

I was pleasantly surprised when I spotted the star of Van Cortlandt Park for now 3 months and counting. A Greater-White fronted Goose! (Anser albifrons) This bird had not been reported for over a month, so I was uncertain if it was still around, but there it was. It was a life bird for 2 of the birders who were coming out with us for the first time and we took our time to observe and discuss the bird. After getting excellent and prolonged views, we continued along the lake, birding as we walked. We spotted Hooded Mergansers and Ruddy Ducks among the Canada Geese and despite making several passes of the 500+ Canada Geese, I could not pull out a Cackling Goose, although, there were several smaller Lesser Canada Geese that teased with their smaller size.

We finally made it to the bridge near the golf course and as expected, it was there we picked up many of our passerines, with 6-8 Rusty Blackbirds (Euphagus carolinus) putting in a nice appearance. This was another life bird for Jim and Kathleen who now had picked up two for the day. We spent some time near the bridge picking up more birds as they flew in to feed on the bird seed that was laid out near the bridge for them.

During that time I received a message from Tom Fiore a New York birder and naturalist. Tom after reading my message (which I posted from the field) about the Greater-White fronted Goose, responded and informed me of an Eastern Phoebe that he and a few other birders had seen the day before near Vault Hill. Tom provided the location for the bird and I took the group minus Jim and Kathleen who departed, to look for the bird.

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate for us as the snow flurries intensified and we came away empty handed. I later learned that Tom had shown up at Van Cortlandt Park after we left and found the Phoebe in the same area. Maybe next week we may have better luck seeing this bird. On our way back out from Vault Hill we came across the Greater White-fronted Goose on the parade grounds and I stopped to scan the flock of Canada Geese. Frank and Alex, who had stayed with me to this point departed as they had enough of the cold. After spending some time studying the flock, I left and continued birding the Bronx. Here is of birds seen from our walk.

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)

Tags: ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Monday, February 13, 2012

Today's Photo - Immature Red-tailed Hawk

Share with Bookmark and Share

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Freeport Pelagic 2012...

On January 28th, my friend Heydi Lopes and I joined a bunch of intrepid birders on a pelagic trip from Freeport LI, NY. The pelagic trip was run by Sealife Paulagics, led by the gregarious Paul Guris and his crew of talented spotters, many of whom are some of New York’s finest birders.

Some people never left their posts and stayed on point all day.
The weather looked to be good and turned out to be fantastic...almost unfair for a pelagic - it was that good. We departed on time with a not too crowded boat. Immediately on our way out we had some excitement as Paul thought he spotted a Black Brandt loafing with the thousands of Brandts (Branta bernicla) near the shore. He took some distance photos and upon looking them over confirmed that he had made the correct call. The boat turned back and we looked unsuccessfully for the Black Brandt, which was presumed to have disappeared into the midst of the flock thus making it tough to find from the boat.

Razorbills in flight - a common sight all day.
After giving the Brandt flock a fair look, we continued out of the inlet and it was not long after, that we began to encounter small flocks of Razorbills (Alca torda). Many of them were seen in flight and we really did not have any sitting Razorbills that allowed us to get very close to them, at least this is what I observed, though I am not sure if others had better luck from where they were stationed on the boat.

Common Murre appears to be the "Bridled" form with the spectacled look.
With the great weather conditions, it was easy for us to begin picking out Common Murres (Uria aalge) as we got further offshore. Interestingly, we had better luck getting close to the Common Murres than the Razorbills and we had a great time getting good looks and photo opportunities for those of us with cameras. Paul indicated that the previous record for NY was broken that day, so that was cool to be present for that. We also picked up another pelagic specialty in Dovkie (Alle alle) though the looks were fleeting and we did not have any that we were able to get close to in the water.

Black-legged Kittiwake (my favorite bird of the day).
All along this time chumming went on unabated and a few of us who had taken up gull watching duties were wondering when we were going to get some gull action. Then it happened the star of the show arrived; an adult Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) came in and stayed with us all afternoon. The bird provided fantastic views and I thoroughly enjoyed picking it out from the mass of gulls when it flew off into the distance. Other notable birds that came into the chumming were the usual Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) and two Iceland Gulls (Larus glaucoides). Despite the lack of variety in gulls it was a fantastic trip and I encourage birders in our area who have not tried this pelagic to do so the next time around. The crews led by Paul Guris are very professional and do their utmost to find and get you on the birds at sea. Mind you there is no guarantee, but if there are birds out there, they will get them for you.

Black-legged Kittiwake
Here are the numbers from the trip as reported by Paul, which is a compilation of sightings from all the spotters on board.

Long-tailed Duck - 225+
Common Eider - 250+
Surf Scoter - 2
White-winged Scoter - 8
Black Scoter - 3
Surf/Black Scoter - 32
Red-breasted Merganser - 40
Red-throated Loon - 23
Common Loon - 26
Northern Gannet - 200+
Peregrine - 1
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE - 29 (incl. a single 1st-basic)
Bonaparte's Gull - 12
American Herring Gull - 700
ICELAND GULL - 2 (ad and 1st-basic)
Great Black-backed Gull - 75
COMMON MURRE - 86 (3 breeding, 1 heavy molt)
RAZORBILL - 481 (incl. one bird well inside the inlet)
large alcid sp. - 52

Harbor Porpoise - 4+
Short-beaked Common Dolphin - 5+
dolphin sp. - 25+
whale sp. - 3

Notable birds from inside the Jones inlet and along the Loop boat channel.

Double-crested Cormorant - 11
Great Cormorant - 1
Great Blue Heron - 21
Peregrine Falcon - 2

Share with Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Princeton University Press Bird books honored with "The Prose Award"....

The Professional and Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) recently announced the winners of the 2011 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (The PROSE Awards) and not one, but two, of Princeton University Press’s bird books were honored.

The Crossley ID Guide by Richard Crossley was awarded the PROSE for best Single Volume Reference/Science book, and also took home the highly prestigious Award for Excellence in Reference Works.

And Avian Architecture was awarded the PROSE for best book in Popular Science & Popular Mathematics.

Details on the awards here.

Tags: , ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

Wordless Wednesday...

Share with Bookmark and Share

Friday, February 3, 2012

Today's Photo - Leucistic White-throated Sparrow...

Leucistic White-throated Sparrow found by Eric Miller.
Share with Bookmark and Share

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Year End Review - Top 10 Birding Moments of 2011...

Despite a lackluster shorebird season that I would like to forget, 2011 was another excellent year of birding, made so by the quality of birds that showed up during Hurricane Irene. Views of Band-rumped and Leach's Storm Petrel, Bridled and Sooty Terns from Jones Inlet was magical and something I doubt could be repeated.  But I am from the school of thought "never say never", so I am planning and awaiting the next hurricane.

Here are my top birding moments of 2011.

Number 1 : Hurricane Irene Birding, which produced probably an unprecedented number of gulf stream birds in our region.  I missed an opportunity on doing a blog post of this spectacular event, but this was undoubtedly the top birding event of the year for me.  Looks from Jones Inlet of Bridled and Sooty Terns, Leach's Storm Petrel and the most stunning sight of all a Band-rumped Storm Petrel will be hard to repeat.  Sharing these sightings with friends Shai Mitra, Patricia Lindsay, Doug Futuyma, Steve Walter, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Andy Guthrie, Seth Asubel and C. Finger made it all the more special.

Number 2Gray-hooded Gull at Coney Island Beach was the summer hit in Brooklyn.  Stunning find by a couple of birders who made an incorrect ID, but all was not lost thanks to the birders taking a photo and an alert region eBird reviewer. The reviewer questioning the timing of a Black-headed Gull report, requested a photo and all hell broke loose once the correct ID was determined.  Birders traveled far and wide for this one.  Read about it here.

Number 3:  LeConte Sparrow found by Tom Burke and Gail Benson on January 8th.  It takes serious talent to pick out a bird while driving and even though it was at a crawl, Tom Burke and Gail Benson show cased their skills in pulling out a LeConte Sparrow at the Calverton Grasslands on LI while driving on an icy runway.   Read about it here.

Number 4:  My life Crossbills at President Park New Jersey on January 24th.  Having neither of the species, I pulled off seeing both White-winged and Red-winged Crossbills with friends Seth Asubel and Isaac Grant.  Not only did I get outstanding looks, I also managed to get great photos of these cool birds.  I am hoping to add them to my NY state list in 2012.  Read about it here.

Number 5:  Joe Giunta and I made our second on what is now our annual Adirondack trip from March 4th to the 7th and had a spectacular time.  I added Hoary Redpoll, Bohemian Waxwings and Gray Jays to my life and state list with great looks.  We even had Gray Jays eating out of our hands.  Read about it here.

Number 6: 1st Summer Artic Tern on LI.  While neither a life or state bird, this was a special day for me as I was able to study and engage in a lively ID discussion led by the ternmeister Shai Mitra.  Shai, Patricia Lindsay, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Doug Futuyma along with a few other birders spent some time with this bird  enjoying the looks and opportunity to study the subject.  Read about it here.

Number 7:  The very next day, I went back out to LI and found my own Sandwich Tern.  Unfortunately this bird did not stick around too long for studies, but I was lucky to get flight shots for proper documentation.  Read about it here.

Number 8: Picking out my own life and state, Thayer's Gull - I spent a lot of study time in the field, especially on Gulls and was rewarded with finding my own Thayer's Gull in the presence of gullmeister Willie D'Anna while on a Buffalo run with Joe Giunta. 

Number 9: Mountain Bluebird under duress. When this bird was reported I had no method of getting to the location as my mode of transportation was in the mechanic shop.  Anxiously watching the time, as soon as the car was off the lift, I raced out to LI and got my life Mountain Bluebird just before the rain came.

Number 10: There are many moments that could make number ten, but the love I have for my backyard and the species I have been lucky to record makes this one a special mention.  Yellow-breasted Chat in the backyard, not one but two, making this the second time I have noted 2 Yellow-breasted Chats in my yard.  I was lucky to get good photos of this bird.  See here.

A recap of my top ten birding moments for 2011 would not be complete without an acknowledgment to many of the birders, naturalists and photographers who were willing to share their knowledge and time with me.  Thank you, thank you!!!  Many are considered friends and being in the field with them makes the moments even more enjoyable.  Special thank you to some of the folks I spent time in the field with - Joe Giunta, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Shai Mitra, Patricia Lindsay, Joan Quinlan, Eric Miller, Doug Futuyma, Willie D'Anna, Betsy Potter, John Hass, Jeff Bolsinger, Frank Donovan, Rich Kelly, Bobby Kurtz, Bob Adamo, Don Riepe, Steve Walter, Seth Asubel, Isaac Grant, Corey Finger and Ken Thompson.

Tags: , , , , ,

Share with Bookmark and Share