Wednesday, December 22, 2010

www.NemesisBird.com

I have decided to stop trying to update this blog and Nemesis Bird.com, so I am going to stop posting to this blog for the time being. Thanks to all my readers, and I hope you will all enjoy my posts that will now be featured on Nemesis Bird. Here is the link.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rough-leggged Hawk - Centre County

For the past week a Rough-legged Hawk has been hanging around CREP fields along highway 220 in Centre County. The habitat is beautiful and loaded with raptors but unfortunately all of the property is owned by the state prison. The best area to view the hawk from, was along 220 which has tons of traffic, so all in all, the hawk really couldnt have picked a worse place for birders to see it from. Luckily, it seems the Roughleg has chosen a new, more convienent location to be viewed from. If you take exit 78 off 220 and follow the road south, there is a gravel pull-off near an entrance road to the prison and an old barn. From here the Roughleg hunts close to the road on the east side. Anna Fasoli (http://annafasoli.blogspot.com) and I spent a while today trying to get decent photos of the hawk and to also determine what color morph and age the bird was, since no one has been able to get a good, long look at the bird yet.

(Photo by Anna Fasoli)
We determined the hawk is an Intermediate Morph Adult Rough-legged Hawk. The "intermediate" morph is sometimes considered a heavily marked "light morph" type.

The following criteria was used to come to this conclusion; dark underwing coverts, dark and very obvious subterminal band on the trailing edge of the wings, dark underside with very dark areas creating a belly-band and a dark breast, light-colored tail with a very dark subterminal band shown on both the upperside and underside. That last bit of info is crucial for deciding the bird was not a dark morph since on a dark morph, the upperside of the tail would be dark and not shown any white on a dark morphed bird. As far as why the bird is not a juvenile, the upperside of the wings were solid dark brown. In a juvenile, the upperside of the wings would be light brown/grayish on the primary flight feathers much like how a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk has lighter-colored primary feathers on the upperside of the wing. (Photos below were taken by Alex Lamoreaux)



References:

Wheeler, Brian K. Raptors of Eastern North America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bald Eagle State Park 12-14-10

Today Drew Weber, Josh Lefever, and I birded Bald Eagle State Park from 12:00pm till 3:45pm. It was my last day birding in Centre County for this year and I really wanted to find a few more species I hadnt seen yet in the county. The state park was pretty exciting with a nice assortment of waterfowl in decent numbers and plenty of other species. A massive raft of 252 Common Mergansers was neat to see along with 9 other waterfowl species. Two Golden Eagles were also a treat. They were seen a quite a distance migrating south along the Bald Eagle Ridgeline. Below is our full species list from today with highlights in red font:

Snow Goose 105 - 3 flyover flocks, heading southeast over Bald Eagle Ridge
Canada Goose 175 - 1 GreylagXCanada Goose Hybrid; all at swimming beach
American Black Duck 2
Mallard 1 adult male
Redhead 37 - 34 adult male, 3 female-type
Bufflehead 2 - 1 adult male, 1 adult female
Hooded Merganser 18 - 7 adult male, 11 female-type
Common Merganser (North American) 252 - 87 adult male, 165 female-type
Red-breasted Merganser 4 - 2 adult male, 2 female-type
Ruddy Duck 16 - 6 adult male, 10 female-type
Great Blue Heron 1 adult
Bald Eagle 2 - 1 adult male, 1 adult female; local pair
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 7 - 4 adult, 3 juvenile
Golden Eagle 2 both were most likely adults
American Coot 6 - 5 adult, 1 juvenile
Killdeer 3
Ring-billed Gull 75 only 1 was a juvenile, all the rest were adults
Herring Gull 1 adult
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
American Crow 30
Common Raven 1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Eastern) 2
Eastern Bluebird 30
American Robin 30
European Starling 218
American Pipit 8
American Tree Sparrow 26
Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) 125
Northern Cardinal 2 - 1 male, 1 female
American Goldfinch 30

I added 2 new county bird for myself at Bald Eagle State Park; American Tree Sparrow and Snow Goose. On the way home we tried to find a Rough-legged Hawk that had been reported near State College and we were successful, adding another new species for me in the county. I tried to get some photos of the RLHA, but it flew pretty far away and it was getting dark out, the photo below is the best photo I could get.



My Centre County year list is now up 179, nothing compared to Drew's 210, but I consider it pretty good for only birding in the county for3 and a half months, and only on weekdays. In 2011, I wont be able to start birding in the county till fall again, but I am gonna try to shoot for 200 next year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Review: Birds of Europe (Second Edition)

I recently received a review copy of Birds of Europe (Second Edition) from Princeton University Press Field Guides. Lars Svensson wrote the text and designed the maps for the book, and the illustrations and captions were done by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom. I have never been to Europe, but I reviewed the book as if I were planning on taking a trip there and wanted to use this guide in the field.


This second edition has updated taxonomical changes, newly revised maps, new info on how to seperate similar species, and has 10% more pages due to these revisions yet maintains a small, lightweight size. This field guide covers the 713 commonly occuring species in Europe as well as 50 occassional species, 32 escaped/introduced species; all in full detail with multiple color illustraions of each species in all of their various plumages, as well as another 118 rare species which are just listed and not illustrated. The illustrations in this book make it simply stunning. They are clear, bright, and very scientifically accurate. As I mentioned, every possible plumage type of each species is shown. This is an aspect of the book I really enjoyed. When I am out birding I like to narrow down a species to age and sex if possible and most field guides wont let you do that, since they only show a few of the possible plumages. Many of the plates also show the species in a natural setting - in settings you might typically see that species in the field. For instance, a group of shorebirds huddled together along a sandy beach or an owl hidden in a conifer with a crow species nearby mobbing it.

Since I am sort of obsessed with raptors, that section of the book was the first section I turned to, and I was quite impressed! Each raptor is shown in all of its plumages - male, female, subadult, juvenile, and color morphs if applicable. Each species of raptor is also shown in flight - but thats where it really gets good. Not only are the underside of each raptor shown in flight, but also the upperside for each plumage type! Check out this photo of the Golden Eagle plate to understand what I mean.



Another fantastic aspect of this guide is how often the authors included additional plates to assist birders in IDing difficult species, especially at a distance. For instance, this plate below, comparing Great-crested Grebe and Great Cormorant to Red-throated Loon and Great Northern Loon.


The basic layout of the guide is similar to the Peterson Field Guides. The species' plates are on on the righthand side and their descriptions and color range maps are on the lefthand side. I have gotten used to the Sibley Field Guide system, with species in a column, and the respective info and maps above or below the species, so I was a little disapointed in this aspect of the guide. There is so much info presented on the lefthand side that finding each species section and range map is a bit confusing. With some time in the field using the guide, I am sure any birder would be able to get used to this setup though.

The species descriptions are very, very detailed and well written. Each description starts off with the species' measurements, then a short section on what habitats they can be found in, then tips on how to identify the species compare to other similar species, and finally a description of the bird's voice. Interesting facts are also included in some instances.



The bottom line - this just may be the best field guide ever. The combination of loads of illustrations plus lots of info on each individual species make this a field guide to have. I highly recommend this field guide to any world birder and to any birder who (like me) is always hopeful of stubbling upon a European species out of range here in the US. Also if you just enjoy looking through a beautifully illustrated guide, this one is for you. Below are some more photos I took of two plates I really enjoyed that beautifully capture what this book has to offer.




Disclosure- I received a complimentary copy of this field guide from Princeton University Press.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snowy Weather Raptors

Between December 3rd and 7th, I spent quite a bit of time hawkwatching at the Dunning's Mtn site on the border of Bedford and Blair Counties. It was very, very cold but raptors were on the move, in very low numbers, but nonetheless, on the move. On December 3rd, I watched a subadult I Bald Eagle fly past the site as well as 6 Red-tailed Hawks. December 4th produced 7 Red-tailed Hawks; 1 Cooper's Hawk; 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk; and 2 Bald Eagles, 1 subadult III and 1 subadult I. December 5th had 1 Red-tailed Hawk. December 7th was great though, with 6 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 Cooper's Hawk, 1 4th year Bald Eagle, and 1 juvenile Northern Goshawk!

I had been waiting all season for a raelly good look at a goshawk and I finally got it. The goshawk appeared over the trees directly in front of us. It was all tucked up in a fast glide. The bird shot right over our heads, glancing down at us and continued, like a bullet, southward and out of view. That quick look made my day and I still try to relive the moment whenever I look through the photos I took of the bird. Plus, I was able to see all three Accipiters in a matter of three hours that day! There is really something special about being outside on a ridgetop, with snow falling down heavy and seeing a raptor coming towards you, cutting through the snowstorm, it really makes me even more fascinated with these beautiful birds. Below are some photos I took of the various birds I mentioned. In some of the photos you can actually see the snow flakes!

Juvenile Northern Goshawk


Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
4th Year Bald Eagle

4th Year Bald Eagle

Adult Red-tailed Hawk

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Early December at Shawnee State Park

The past five days, I have been down in Bedford County, PA birding and hawk watching. It was miserably cold most of the time, especially since the house I stay at doesnt have heat in the bedrooms. With enough layers on, going outside is tolerable though. Shawnee State Park is only about a quarter of a mile away from the house I stay at, so I tried to get over to the park as often as possible to keep track of what species are coming and going. Shawnee State Park is a 4,000 acre park, 451 of those acres are covered by a large lake. The proximity to the Allegheny Front Ridge flyway makes this a very important stop-over lcocation for many migrant birds.

Cackling Goose (front) and Canada Goose (back)

I managed to check out the park a total of 10 times over the course of five days. The birding was good. The highlight of my sightings at Shawnee this past week were three Cackling Geese that mixed in with the large flock of Canada Geese at the swimming beach area of the park. Friday morning (the 3rd) there were two Cacking Geese there, but the next morning more Canada Geese arrived and with them was a third Cackling Goose.

Over the course of the five days, I was able to find 12 species of waterfowl at Shawnee State Park, including: Cackling Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, and Ruddy Duck. Other interesting birds were a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk (the first of this species I have seen at Shawnee), Horned and Pied-billed Grebes, lingering Double-crested Cormorants, and 4 American Pipits. Below are some photos I took this weekend at Shawnee.
Red-shouldered Hawk (juvenile)
American Pipit
Belted Kingfisher
Ruddy Duck
Gadwall

Friday, December 3, 2010

Answer to Mystery Bird Quiz # 7

First off, thanks for all the responses to the mystery bird quiz. Below is the photo again to refresh your memory.


MYSTERY BIRD QUIZ



The top bird and bottom bird seem to be the best place to start in IDing these birds. Both birds are similar in size. Have rather long, slightly drooping bills, grayish heads, white belly, and black legs. Both of these birds are nonbreeding plumage Dunlin. The bottom bird is showing the white underwing, with gray tips to the flight feathers and the top bird is showing the gray upperwing with white area through the middle of the flight feathers. As far as the top bird potentially being a Western Sandpiper, the bill is a bit too long to be a Western and also the overall chunky look of the body doesnt agree with the slim look of a peep. Here is a photo of a nonbreeding Dunlin for comparison.


Dunlin (photo taken at Bald Eagle State Park)




Finally, the center bird with yellow legs. This bird is similar is size to the Dunlin; mostly gray and white; and has a black, drooping bill; but the yellow legs rule it out as another Dunlin. It has grayish armpits and a white supercilium. The first bird that comes to mind is a Lesser Yellowlegs. This species fits most of the descriptions, except Lesser Yellowlegs have a very straight bill without any droop and they are a bit bigger than a Dunlin, roughly 2 inches longer in length and 7 inch longer wingspan. Also Lesser Yellowlegs typically dont show such a profound white supercilium. Greater Yellowlegs can be ruled out also, because once again the bird is not nearly big enough and a Greater Yellowlegs bill is slightly upturned, opposite of the mystery bird. The only other North American species that fits the description is then the Stilt Sandpiper. This species is uncommon to rare in PA, but occurs occasionally during migration. The Stilt Sandpiper has a very obvious white supercilium in the adult nonbreeding plumage, yellow legs, and a somewhat long, drooping bill. Take a look at this photo of the same Stilt Sandpiper as in the mystery bird photo but in a standing posture.

Stilt Sandpiper



These photos were taken at the Kriner Road Water Retention Pond in Chambersburg, PA last October 25th. Ironically there was also a Lesser Yellowlegs present so below are some photos that compare the sizes and shapes of Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, and Lesser Yellowlegs. In the first photo notice the similar sizes of the Dunlin and Stilt Sandpiper, and the much larger appearance of the Lesser Yellowlegs. Also note the lake of an obvious white supercilium on the Lesser Yellowlegs. In the second photo, take a look at the severe size difference in the Stilt Sandpiper and the Lesser Yellowlegs, the lack of a white supercilium in the Yellowlegs, and the shape of each of their bills.


Stilt Sandpiper (left), Dunlin (center), and Lesser Yellowlegs (right)


Lesser Yellowlegs (left) and Stilt Sandpiper (right)
There were many responses, which made this more fun. Most responses I got said that they believed the the top and bottom birds to be Dunlin and they thought the center bird (with yellow legs) was a Stilt Sandpiper, so good job! Quite a few other responses thought the top and bottom birds were Dunlin, but considered the center bird to be a Lesser Yellowlegs. Some folks thought the top bird could be a peep of some sort, maybe a Western Sandpiper. Thanks so much for participating and I am very, very sorry for the poor quality of all of these photos, but I believe they were good enough to explain the identifications.

References:

Sibley, David. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Print

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mystery Bird Quiz #7

Another Mystery Bird Quiz! This photo was taken on October 25th, 2009 by me somewhere in Pennsylvania. Three birds are shown landing. If you want to take a guess at what they are, leave your guess as a comment on this post. Have fun!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

PA's First Ever Anna's Hummingbird!


This afternoon I was able to drive over to the Mountain Springs Camping Resort near Hamburg to see the Anna's Hummingbird that was captured and identified by Scott Weidensaul last Sunday. This is the first time this species has ever been seen in Pennsylvania, so it was quite a treat, especially since just last winter, PA added Allen's Hummingbird as a new state species. That bird was also banded by Scott Weidensaul. Scott identified the Anna's Hummingbird as an adult female. While I was there, the bird showed itself three times. Once at 12:17pm for a few seconds as it landed in a tree outside M75, then again at 12:28pm for a few seconds when it flew over to M69 and fed from another hummingbird feeder, and then finally again at 12:37pm when it perched in the top of a tree outside M75 for about 1.5 minutes. I was able to get some great looks in my scope when it sat the last time.

New Jersey Birding - Part 2

On Sunday morning, November 21st, we started off the day by going to Reed's Beach in Cape May. It was prety slow, and there wasnt too much around, but we did find 5 Boat-tailed Grackles perched in the top of a tree.

Boat-tailed Grackle
Next, we drove over to the Cape May Hawk Watch at Cape May Point State Park. They were having a fairly slow day as far as actual raptors migrating out of Cape May and crossing the Delaware Bay, but plenty of raptors were soaring around. The highlight of the morning was a sub-adult Golden Eagle that first appeared to the northeast, soaring and slowly made its way a bit closer to us for some good looks. Other raptors seen included Red-tailed Hawks (even the famous luecistic one named Lucy that has been hanging around Cape May Point for a while, check out a picture of her at this link), Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, a Peregrine Falcon, Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Harriers, and both vultures. We also searched through the large flock of waterfowl at the various ponds around the state park in hopes of finding one or both of the Eurasian Wigeons that had been reported there on and off for quite a while. We were not able to find them, but it was ncie to see the other ducks at close range.


Golden Eagle (sub-adult)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (juvenile)

Gadwall

Northern Shoveler

Drew Weber drove down to Cape May and joined us for some birding for the rest of the day, until a report of the Anna's Hummingbird in PA sent him back. The whole gang, with Drew now included, drove over to the Nummy Island area. Shorebirds were present in good numbers, but they were WAY out on a mudflat, so could only be seen "well" through a scope. New trip birds here included Willet, American Oystercatcher, Semipalmated Plover, and Marbled Godwit. We then made the quick jump over to Stone Harbor Point to search the dunes for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs. However, out over the ocean hundreds of Northern Gannets, Red-throated Loons, and scoters were migrating past which distarcted me while everyone else continued to search the dunes.....so, I ended up missing the 15 or so Snow Buntings that Drew, Josh, and Tim found. Luckily both Josh and Tim needed Snow Bunting as a life bird. I was pretty content with seeing the gannets and loons though. There were also some shorebirds on the beach that let me get in close for some photos.
Northern Gannet
Semipalmated Plover


For the fourth day of our trip, on the 22nd, we really didnt have anything planned, so we figured we would just spend some more time at the Avalon Sea Watch, since we all had a great time there. So after a quick stop at Higbee Beach (where bird activity was basically nonexistent) we drove over to Avalon. As we expected, Northern Gannets, Red-throated Loons, and scoters were still pushing through in massive numbers. Other highlights of the Sea Watch were some Purple Sandpipers, a banded Sanderling, and getting to see many species of waterfowl flying past on their way south.
Ruddy Turnstone with line wrapped around its leg/foot

Sanderling with leg band

Surf Scoters migrating past
Finally, it was the 23rd, and we had to head home. We decided to take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across the Deleware Bay and then stop at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge before officially heading back to PA. The ferry ride was fantastic. I have ridden the ferry many, many times in the past, but the bird life seen on this particular trip was better than ever. Constant groups of Red-throated Loons flew past the front of the ferry; a few Common Loons; stream after stream of Surf and Black Scoters passed by. Thousands of Northern Gannets were literally everywhere you looked; diving behind the boat, sitting on the water, flying in the distance....they were everywhere. All the Northern Gannet age classes were present too, which was nice to see. By far the best bird of the ferry ride was an adult Parasitic Jaeger that I spotted flying out in front of the ferry, heading south very low to the water. This was a lifer for everyone in our group, except me.
Northern Gannet
Red-throated Loon

Common Loon

By 10:30am we were at Bombay Hook NWR. We basically had the whole place to ourselves and it was loaded with birds. At an observation tower near the start of the auto tour loop, we spotted a group of about 250 American Avocets, along with a few Marbled Godwits, Long-billed Dowitchers, and Dunlin. There were tons of waterfowl around. We searched pretty hard for the Barnacle Goose and White-fronted Goose that had been reported there earlier in the week, but couldnt find them. I did manage to spot a Cackling Goose among all the Canada Geese though, which was a lifer for a few of my friends. Other highlights of Bombay Hook were thousands of Snow Geese, a juvenile Little Blue Heron, Tundra Swans, and the shear number of individual waterfowl.
Bald Eagle

American Avocets

White-tailed Deer swimming through the marsh

So that brought us to the end of our trip. 5 days, 5 friends, 113 species of birds.

To check out all the photos I took from this trip, please visit my Picasa web album at this link.