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Mourning Warbler – Garret Mountain August 18th, 2014

Mourning Warbler
Mourning Warbler

Always a great bird and one of my favorite less common species in New Jersey we had a wonderful Mourning Warbler today in the wet area down from the tiered lot. This guy even sat a preened for 5 seconds and let me get a couple photos (a feat in itself with skulky and quick Mourning Warblers)! Great Bird!

Mourning Warbler
Mourning Warbler

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Possible Neotropic Cormorant – DeMott’s Pond, Clinton – April 12th, 2014

Possible Neotropic Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant

This past Tuesday a possible Neotropic Cormorant was found by Rob Fergus in a tree in the center of DeMott’s Pond, in Clinton New Jersey. (Read his account HERE) There has been much debate about the ID (as you would expect for a bird normally seen in Texas) with some of the “heavier” discussion over on the American Birding Association ID Frontiers website.  I had to go down and take a look for myself. Definitely a smaller bird with a longer tail and lacking the yellow facial skin that a Double-created would show. It will be interesting to see how/what the records committee determines. Either way congrats to Rob on the awesome bird!

Jeanette and I also went to Garret to see of the Yellow-throated was still around and to see if anything else new came in. No Yellow-throated Warbler but plenty of Pine and Palm and I saw two different Louisiana Waterthrushes sharing the stream behind the boat house. What a beautiful 70+ degree day today!

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush

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Garret Mountain – April 8th, 2014

Mourning Cloak
Mourning Cloak

Quick Post for today. Nothing new for me for Spring at Garret other than 2 Wood Ducks sitting up in the trees on the hill at the end of Wilson. I did see the Louisiana Waterthrush on Wilson today with all the additional water and flow from all the rain from last night/this morning.  4 Palms, 1 Winter Wren and the Red-headed Woodpecker. A circling Osprey and quite a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets mixed in with the Golden-crowned. No Pines today.

Louisiana Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

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Book Review – The Warbler Guide

Time for another Bird Book review! I was excited about this one as it detailed one of my favorite bird species the Warblers! As a relatively newer birder, the process of working through which Bird Guide best suited me and allowed me to identify birds most accurately is still fresh in my mind. With all of the selections available today (to say nothing of the wonderful online/app choices) this process is loaded with options. As you progress in your birding, so too does the need for advanced clues to the tougher identification challenges that present themselves. The single colorful picture you sought to eliminate possibilities early, turns into a disadvantage as bird plumage and age make themselves known to you. This usually calls for multiple guides or, like in the case of The Warbler Guide, a single reference point packed with valuable information about a target set of species.

When I personally dove into Warbler identification (the species that helped bring me to birding in the first place! Could those colorful birds really be in my backyard in Central New Jersey?!) I pieced together multiple guides that had information on undertail covert colors and tail patterns, as well as song detail and plumage specification. I had to use multiple sources then for what this guide accomplishes itself. That, to be honest, is putting it mildly.

The first thing you come across is the standard (yet much more colorful and advanced overall) Parts of a Bird or “Topography” of a Bird. The “real” pictures of actual birds are well suited for this examination and new birders would be well to learn the lingo and terminology referenced within. The following sections start to “bake” out the basics of thoughts on identification with references to things like color, size, shape and behavior (Peterson has a similar, and I think valuable, introduction prior to the plates or bird pictures). Again, the use of real bird pictures provides wonderful examples to drive the ideas home. Specific references to the head, body, top of head, bill color, necklaces, side stripes and rump give the birder tons of identification points that other guides glaze over (or don’t go into as much detail) and this would again provide newer birders with key points of focus to add to their mental playbook.

I mentioned the undertail area earlier and once mastered (or for newer birders with photographs) the next section, combined with the Quick Finder shots of the undertail covert and tail patterns, surpass even the Peterson “Warblers” Guide in usefulness. (In my humble opinion of course) I often went to the pictures of the underside of different warblers all lined up together to differentiate a tough species that I wasn’t initially sure about. I’ll get into the usefulness of the Quick Finder in a bit.

A section on aging and sexing warblers is next and while I thought this expressed the concepts fine, it could have been even more beneficial had it included Fall pictures of Blackpoll and Bay-breasted to hammer the point home. (A nit-pick to be sure)

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Princeton University Press info on The Warbler Guide

The next section I found fascinating. As the specialized aspects of birding evolve quickly with technology, so too should the guides evolve that we use to interact with birds. Understanding Warbler song structure and Sonograms has it own, significantly long, section with harmonic details and structure references. This part has been the section I have read myself a few times as I have dabbled in song recording and identification of tough to ID birds (A possible Pine Flycatcher in Texas for example). I am curious how useful the birding community finds this as our hobby makes its way into the technological future.

After the hefty info on bird vocalization we come to the Quick Finder I mentioned earlier. These 16 pages (including the two on Western and Easter Undertails) alone should be greatly appreciated for those working through their Warbler ID fine tuning skills. I really liked the tough Fall Warblers and views of some of the odd positions you often view Warblers in. (A case of Warbler neck can often lead to unsatisfactory views of the bottom of the birds which is considered here!) Another quick reference grouping of some warbler song classification (Buzz/Trill/Rising and Falling) leads us to the meat of the guide and the individual Warbler species.

The spread given to each species (as can be done in specialized guides) is outstanding and it would be hard to come away from a review wanting for detail. Many views and photos, comparison species (I really liked this) and highly detailed age and plumage information hit their mark. I could see this being a lot to process for newer birders but again, if you have sought out a specialized guide for Warblers, you are probably looking for that edge to sharpen on to your identification tool kit. The plates and bird details are about as solid as it gets and the enhanced images of bird positions (similar to, but less thought out than the Crossley guide-type strategy to show mass viewing angles) further adds to the function of picking these guys out from whatever vantage point you’re in.

I also appreciated the detail on some of the more rare vagrants that show up occasionally on our side of the US border as this is often overlooked. I would look to others on the accuracy of the Range information, but from my perspective it seems sufficient and I like the attempt to display when in a migration band the bird would show up. (early in Spring and then late in Fall for example) The book closes with information on hybrids, highly useful flight shots (maybe these could have been with the main birds in their section?), and even a quiz and review! I love that the entire purpose of the book to identify Warblers is tied up with a bow in the delivery of a quiz to assess your comprehension of the wonderful information you have been provided. Perfect.

I obviously recommend this guide about as highly as I could and I look forward to utilizing it in my future birding adventures! Check it out!

Check back soon for more birding book reviews!

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Info Post – The World’s Rarest Birds

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With the arrival of Spring my mind once again returns to thoughts of tracking down wonderful and elusive birds.  While often those birds are local, I have allowed my mind to start wandering to places beyond.  Inevitably, the more experience one gets as a “birder” the more one yearns to learn about birds from around the world.  As you start to gain knowledge of these rare birds, you begin to understand the threats they face for survival and the amazing conservation efforts in place to help support them and their habitat. Threatened birds all over the world face similar challenges, and the best of us rise to face these challenges in the any way we can. To that end, Princeton Wild Guides (publisher), to help support BirdLife International‘s Preventing Extinctions Programme, have produced an outstanding book by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still entitled The World’s Rarest Birds.  The book highlights over 500 of the most critically endangered birds globally and is a dramatic collection of pictures, statistics (endemic densities, localized and global threats, and most impressively QRC codes for each bird that route you to the relevant species factsheet on BirdLife International’s website) and population information.

While I found the book amazingly detailed, I personally have little experience with most of the birds described (I did see one of the North American representatives in the highly localized Golden-cheeked Warbler in my trip to Texas in 2011).  I hope, over the rest of my life, to rectify that problem.  Jeanette and I took part in such an activity this past Fall in a trip to Hawaii.  Hawaii has an amazing ecosystem and its endemic birds are incredibly threatened by dwindling habitat and disease from Mosquitoes and human introduced animals to the archipelago.  It was an amazing experience for us and we were lucky enough to see and photograph two stellar representatives of this highly threatened group in the ‘Akikiki on Kaua’i and the Akiapola’au on the Big Island.  I was happy to find them listed and sad to be reminded of their plight.

If you are like me, it is hard not to get attached to the birds we seek out and it is impossible to avoid the predicament they face in the modern developing world.  Do yourself a favor, and become personally aware of the conservation priorities associated with the birds we have such a passion for. Learn not only more about the threats they face, but also more about the amazing birds themselves each at the edge of a dwindling populace around the globe.  Its a great read and a exceptional contribution the the global Ornithological community. Check it out!

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White-tailed Kite – Barnegat Township, New Jersey

White-tailed Kite
I
finally joined the many other avid NJ Birders who have seen the reported White-tailed Kite on Sunday. Although distant (uh very very distant), it was great to see this southern bird doing it’s namesake “kiting” above the Barnegat Township marsh. Didn’t think I would see a White-tailed Kite before I saw a Mississippi Kite in New Jersey! Guess thats how nemesis birds go!

White-tailed Kite

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