Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bulk Uploading for eBird

The bulk upload tools for eBird that were previously in beta are now officially released. You can read more about them here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Jersey's Peregrine Falcons

Peregrine falcons are now more numerous in New Jersey than they were historically.

“Falcons are a top-of-the-food-chain species, like eagles,” Clark said. “They were never as abundant as deer.” Twenty nesting pairs, she said, are more than the state had in the early 1900s.

“There were at least six pairs at the Palisades Cliffs,” she said. “And we have some historical data that there were four to five pairs along the upper Delaware River. That’s it.” ...

“We never set a numeric goal for the population, because when we started, we didn’t have good historic information,” Clark said. “But one of our milestones was always to get them back into historic habitat.”

That natural habitat is Palisades Cliffs. Early attempts to place fledgling falcons at what are called “hacking” sites at the cliffs failed. “The release of young birds didn’t work in the cliff area,” Clark said, “because they were eaten up by great horned owls.”

Hacking, or hack sites, refers to feeding the falcons, while allowing them to fly and go wild as they learn how to hunt for themselves.

Adult falcons can stand up to the big owls, but the fledglings weren’t yet strong or smart enough. So the state shifted its repopulation efforts in the 1980s to towers in salt marshes.

There were fewer predators there. As a result, the birds did well in New Jersey and other states. “The salt marshes were the engine that fueled the recovery,” Clark said. “Here and in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.”
According to a report (pdf) on the state raptor website, there were 20 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons statewide in 2007. Of those, 4 nested on cliffs in the Palisades, 13 on towers and buildings, and 3 on bridges. New Jersey sent 12 young falcons to Virginia and West Virginia to help recovery programs there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Rare Bird by Subway

This morning I went to see the Scott's Oriole that was reported from Union Square Park in New York City. The oriole has been sighted repeatedly over the past several days in a small garden on the southwestern corner of the square. Apparently it was first seen in December, but at the time someone misidentified it as an orchard oriole. The bird's true identity was only established last week.

When I arrived, several birders were present, but the oriole was not. As we waited, several raptors flew through the park, including a peregrine falcon, an American kestrel, and a Cooper's hawk. There was a single yellow-bellied sapsucker tapping at the trees and a marge mixed crowd of white-throated sparrows and house sparrows picking through the garden.

About a dozen people had gathered by the time the oriole appeared. It sunned itself for a short time at the top of a tree and then flew to the ground to feed. After a few bites it flew into a nearby bush and perched there for about fifteen minutes. While I was watching, it did not display any of the aggressive behavior noted by Corey.

The Scott's oriole was my 300th life bird.

Several photos of this Scott's oriole are available around the internet, especially on Flickr. I noticed that the feathers of the back and head, rather than being plain black, have an intricate pattern of black, gray, and green. Some of that can be seen in this photograph, but the effect is much more striking in person.

As a side note, a building across the street from the park has a speaker that plays peregrine calls to scare away the pigeons. The pigeons do not seem to be bothered by this at all since they sit on a ledge above the speaker, even while the calls are playing. They only budge when a real peregrine appears.

Birdcamming - Recent Visitors

After deserting the feeders for the last two months of last year, the birds have suddenly returned in large numbers again. House sparrows are still mostly absent, but others are coming back.

There have been house finches and dark-eyed juncos...

...and cardinals...

...and wrens...

...and mourning doves.

One of the squirrels managed to open a suet feeder and run off with the cake, which was still fairly large when I last saw it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Mate Choices of Lark Buntings

A study of Lark Buntings shows that female songbirds look for different traits in prospective mates, depending on the conditions present in a particular year.

For male lark buntings, reproductive success depends on whatever traits are in vogue among females that season. By staying flexible and seeking out partners with the physical qualities most needed at the moment, females ensure that more chicks successfully leave the nest. If the prairie is overrun by ground snakes, for example, mother birds might choose the most protective males -- a quality that might be signaled by wing-patch size. If grasshoppers are scarce the next year, maybe they will look for partners with big beaks, which might make them good providers.
Apparently this is the first time changes in preference have been documented in female songbirds.

A link provides some good pictures and videos of lark bunting mating displays.

Big Garden Birdwatch

As John mentioned, this weekend is the Big Garden Birdwatch in the U.K. The event is run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to monitor trends among common European birds. Results from previous surveys indicate severe declines in the population of house sparrows and starlings. Meanwhile, chaffinchs and great tits have grown in number. According to the BBC, over 400,000 people participated last year.

North America has similar event coming up in a few weeks - the Great Backyard Bird Count. As always, the GBBC will fall on Presidents Day weekend, February 15-18.

New Post Ratings

I added a new ratings feature to my blog posts. So far it only seems to appear on the newest post on the homepage, but it does display each individual post page. I added it to get another source of information for which posts are most interesting to readers. So, if you like a post, give it a good rating, and I will try to write more like it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two New Birding Websites

Nature blogs now have their own toplist: the new Nature Blog Network developed by Mike of 10,000 Birds. Toplist sites rank member blogs according to traffic levels, given an idea of how your site is doing compared to others. The list is similar to other birding toplist sites like Fatbirder 500 or Bird Top 100. The new toplist is limited to blogs and is open to naturalists other than birders. As more people join, the site will help bloggers find out about other bloggers who write on similar themes.

The second site is Birdstack, created by David of Search and Serendipity. This is a bird listing site for world listers. You can add observations of any bird species from anywhere in the world, with a great amount of detail about the birds and locations. It also provides forums and sidebar widgets for websites. Eventually the site will provide an easy way to share sightings from the western hemisphere with eBird. Unfortunately I have been too busy the last two weeks to try it as much as I would like, but the site looks promising.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Loose Feathers #134

Common Merganser / Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

I and the Bird #67

Trevor wants to take us all on a birding holiday in honor of the 67th I and the Bird. I'd say that is a very generous offer given the number of bloggers involved.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Counting on the Canal

Last weekend I put the "DC" back in "A DC Birding Blog" with a return trip for the Tenth Annual C&O Canal Midwinter Bird Survey. This count is sponsored by the DC Audubon Society with the help of several regional bird clubs and many birders. (About 80 birders participate each year.) For the last two years I have helped to coordinate the count by providing web support and contacting volunteer observers from previous years.

For this year's count, I counted birds with two other coordinators, Mary and Denise, on some segments close to D.C. We spent the morning covering miles 4 and 3, which includes the Chain Bridge and Fletcher's Boathouse. Our party included some special guests, including officials from the Interior Department, National Park Service, and National Audubon Society.

We recorded 37 species in the two miles. The highlight for me was a small flock of American tree sparrows, a species I have seen only twice before in D.C. We were also treated to common mergansers, both kinglets, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and several flocks of eastern bluebirds. Near the Chain Bridge, we picked up belted kingfisher, ring-necked ducks, and wood ducks. The last birds for the morning were two pileated woodpeckers that visited Fletcher's Boathouse while we stopped for photos and coffee. Our guests seemed to enjoy the morning. I certainly enjoyed being back at one of my old birding spots.

The afternoon session was a (slow) race against time, as Denise, Mary, and I needed to complete a four-mile stretch before the light became too dim to see birds. Starting at Edwards Ferry, we had to backtrack for almost a mile to cover all of mile 30 before heading west towards White's Ferry. Our first mile was full of woodpeckers, including four yellow-bellied sapsuckers. We also saw several red-shouldered hawks, a species I rarely see in New Jersey. As we made our way through subsequent miles, flocks included a hermit thrush and several winter wrens, one of my favorite birds.

The real highlights, though, were the owls. As the afternoon light faded, barred owls became more active. We saw our first when it flushed from close to the towpath and landed in a tree farther back in the woods. It sat and looked directly at us for a long time. The second flew in and landed at close range before flying off again. As I have remarked before, watching a barred owl at close range is one of the true privileges of bird watching. Seeing two is even better. Later, as we trudged along the towpath in the dark, a great horned owl gave its booming call. In the course of walking six miles, the three of us managed to record at least 47 species of birds, not bad for a winter day inland.

Saturday's C&O Canal Count received positive press from several Washington-area newspapers. The most notable was a Metro section article in the Washington Post, which assigned a reporter to follow our group in miles 3 and 4. Reporters from other local papers interviewed count volunteers near Williamsport, MD, in Frederick County, near Cumberland, MD, and at Edwards Ferry.

Data from the count is trickling in; a running tally is available in the right sidebar here. Totals are provisional until the data has been reviewed. We already have some good sightings confirmed, though. The highlights so far are a golden eagle in mile 152 and four chipping sparrows in mile 4. The latter is a first record for the canal count. Photos from the count are being posted here and here.

No OLF at Pocosin Lakes

The Navy announced yesterday that it would drop plans to build an Outlying Landing Field near Pocosin Lakes NWR.

The Navy also announced that it is abandoning four other North Carolina sites previously under consideration in Craven, Bertie, Hyde and Perquimans counties. Instead, the Navy will consider two new sites in North Carolina -- Sandbanks in Gates County and Hales Lake in Camden/Currituck counties -- and three in Virginia - Cabin Point, Mason, and Dory.

Congress failed to provide money for the project in this fiscal year and taken steps to de-authorize funding for the project in the future. Previously, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Navy had violated federal environmental laws in planning for the OLF.

For five years the Navy has attempted to locate a landing field to practice jet take-offs and landings 3.5 miles from Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts more than 100,000 snow geese and tundra swans, and other waterfowl each winter, which would be greatly affected by the Navy jets that would use the OLF to practice each day. In addition, the Navy’s OLF plans prohibited farmers from growing corn, wheat and soybeans – staples of the local farming economy – on 25,000 acres of farmland surrounding the proposed landing field....

The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the National Audubon Society, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife and the law firm of Kennedy Covington, representing the community interests in the case, filed a lawsuit against the Navy in 2004, arguing that the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act in planning for the OLF. This lawsuit resulted in rulings from a federal district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Navy had indeed violated national environmental laws in selecting the site for the OLF.
The project was vehemently opposed by environmental groups and local residents and never gained any support among North Carolina's federal legislators. Senators Dole and Burr both opposed the OLF site, as did Governor Easley.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Loose Feathers #133

Common Eiders and Harlequin Ducks / USFWS Photo

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dying in Fish Guts

Dave of Bird TLC pointed out this sad story from the Anchorage Daily News:

About 50 eagles were watching and waiting for a meal outside the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant when the uncovered dump truck pulled out of a garage, said wildlife biologist Brandon Saito, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Once the birds began landing to gorge themselves, their massive numbers pushed others down into the sludge, which was about the consistency of quicksand, Saito said. Factory workers, who had apparently moved the truck out only for a few minutes, pulled it back inside when they saw what was happening.

"It's not a very big space for that many eagles to get into," Saito said. "Some of the birds got crushed and buried. Some were drowning in the slime. It was really heavy, thick stuff."

Temperatures in Kodiak on Friday afternoon were in the midteens, causing some of the soaked eagles to "flash freeze" when they were pulled free, Saito said.
Many of the eagles survived but were in urgent need of medical care for injuries or oiling. Dave has updates on their condition.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Upcoming Event: C&O Canal Count

The 10th Annual C&O Canal Midwinter Bird Survey will take place next Saturday, January 19th. This count is coordinated by the DC Audubon Society with the help of several other bird clubs and numerous individuals. Each January, teams of observers fan out along the 184.5-mile canal to count birds along short sections of the towpath. Last year, at least 80 birders participated on count day. Somewhere between 100 and 150 birders have participated at least once during the past ten years.

The count was begun to monitor the winter birdlife in the C&O Canal National Historical Park, which follows the course of the Potomac River from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland. The park's biodiversity is impressive; volunteers have recorded 113 species over nine years, and over 80 species will be found in a typical year.

We hope that the bird survey may eventually reveal how some long term trends affect the park's birdlife. Counties of Maryland and Virginia west of DC have undergone a remarkable land use transformation in the past two decades. Former agricultural areas have been paved over to create suburbs and exurbs. In addition, climate change has altered migration patterns of many species, with some wintering farther north and others not coming south in lower numbers.

Most of the mile segments have been assigned, but there is still time for DC-area birders to sign up and participate. (Currently miles 30-33, 39, and 76-80 have no volunteers at all.) Just send an email to and let us know your skill level and what areas of the canal interest you the most.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Via xkcd.

Prior to this post, "died in a birding accident" returned zero results on Google.

Meanwhile, "died in a blogging accident" now returns 6,830 results.

Loose Feathers #132

Northern Pintail Pair / Photo by Donna Dewhurst (USFWS)

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

I and the Bird

The first I and the Bird of 2008 has been posted at Born Again Bird Watcher.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1 in 1,000,000

I have written about eBird on a few occasions on this blog (for example, here and here). EBird is a website, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that solicits sightings reports from birders across the Americas. Data from the submitted checklists is used by scientists at the CLO for population and distribution studies. The site's public software allows registered users to view their own submitted data, along with data submitted by other birders.

Since late summer, I have been contributing lists of my bird sightings to eBird. In December, one of my lists became the one millionth checklist submitted to eBird.

The one millionth checklist was one I submitted for a recent trip to Liberty State Park. Shortly after the submission, I received a notification from eBird that my name would be featured in a press release and that they would send me a pair of Zeiss binoculars as a gift to commemorate the occasion. The news came as a real surprise. I had no idea that eBird was planning a prize for the one millionth checklist, or that the one million-checklist milestone was even approaching.

The press release is now online.

Here is the millionth checklist.

Location:Liberty State Park
Observation date:12/15/07
Notes:30degF; 20mph wind
Number of species:34

Canada Goose150
Mute Swan1
American Wigeon3
American Black Duck30
Ring-necked Duck1
Greater Scaup170
Red-breasted Merganser3
Ruddy Duck60
Horned Grebe5
Double-crested Cormorant8
Great Blue Heron1
Black-crowned Night-Heron1
Northern Harrier1
Sharp-shinned Hawk1
Ring-billed Gull180
Herring Gull40
Great Black-backed Gull3
Rock Pigeon100
Mourning Dove1
Downy Woodpecker1
Horned Lark3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet1
Northern Mockingbird3
European Starling40
American Tree Sparrow3
Song Sparrow2
Snow Bunting60
American Goldfinch4
House Sparrow20

Green Energy Links

More and more companies and individuals are using "carbon offsets" to balance their contribution to global warming. A "carbon offset" basically puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions - pay x amount of money per y amount of carbon dioxide to an offset company, which then puts the money into "green" projects. Common examples include investment in wind or solar energy and tree-planting. Now the FTC is investigating the claims made by offset companies.

Carbon offsets are essentially promises to use money in a way that will reduce carbon emissions. Panelists at the F.T.C.’s session on Tuesday raised a number of questions about certifications behind the claims, wondering if the offset companies might be double-counting carbon reductions that would have happened even without their efforts.

There is even disagreement over how much carbon dioxide can be neutralized by tree-planting, which is the type of offset that is easiest to grasp., for example, which provides offsets to companies like Amtrak, U-Haul and Allstate, uses the offset money in three ways: to plant trees; to subsidize wind and solar power so that it can be sold at more competitive prices; and to purchase credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange, which barters among hundreds of companies trying to reduce their emissions.

Even the companies that market carbon offsets say they have wondered if the providers were living up to their promises. When Gaiam, a yoga-equipment company, began selling offsets for shipping to consumers through the Conservation Fund, a nonprofit organization, Chris Fischer, the company’s general manager, says he insisted on visiting one of the tree sites in Louisiana.
Right now the offset market is largely unregulated. Some guidance from the FTC could be very useful.

Also, new research shows that switchgrass is a far better feedstock for ethanol than corn.
Switchgrass yields more than 540 percent more energy than the energy needed to produce and convert it to ethanol, making the grassy weed a far superior source for biofuels than corn ethanol, reports a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Collecting data from 10 farm sites in Nebraska, North and South Dakota in which farmers grew switchgrass in fields ranging from 7 to 23 acres over a five year period, Marty Schmer, a researcher with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and colleagues found that, on average, switchgrass produced biomass equivalent to 320 gallons of ethanol per acre — more than 60 percent more the average yield for an equivalent area of corn after factoring in fossil fuel use for fertilizers and pesticides. The study also found that average greenhouse gas emissions from cellulosic ethanol derived from switchgrass were 94% lower than those from gasoline.
I am not sure if this finding is sufficient to make biofuels fully viable, but it enhances their credibility. Corn-based ethanol is a loser for many reasons - including fertilizer runoff and higher food prices. If ethanol is to be a viable long-term energy source, it needs to lose its dependency on corn as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sandy Hook Solitaire

Today felt unbelievably like spring - so warm that some butterflies (orange sulphurs?) were flitting around. It was a fine day to visit Sandy Hook and check for some recent sightings. At first, it was slow going - the Bohemian waxwing was not with the waxwing flock, the Townsend's solitaire was not by the maintenance building, the king eiders were not at Lot C, the orange-crowned warbler was not at Spermaceti Cove, and the western kingbird was not at the North Beach Pavilion.

The Hook was not bereft of birds. The holly forests around the scout camp and maintenance areas were full of golden-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers, along with a couple hermit thrushes. A handful of tree swallows were still present. One of the more interesting sights of the day involved some very common birds. At the North Beach Pavilion, a northern mockingbird was vigorously defending its perches from the intrusions of numerous European starlings. It was thirty against one, but that one mockingbird succeeded in chasing them away.

Finally, a second try in the late afternoon netted the Townsend's solitaire. It landed in the top of a tree in front of a large yellow maintenance building on Randolph Road. After flying again to a second tree, it perched in full view for several minutes before diving back into the shrubs. My impression was of a very nervous bird as it kept twitching its wings and tail. This bird has persisted at Sandy Hook for over a month and has been seen by many birders (e.g., here and here).

In the end I missed five potential lifebirds but saw a good one.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Turbines in State Forests?

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is holding hearings on whether to allow a private wind company to lease state land for a wind farm.

A Pennsylvania company, U.S. Wind Force, is asking the state for leases in Potomac and Savage River state forests so it can clear about 400 mountaintop acres and erect about 100 wind turbines, each about 40 stories tall. The turbines would be visible from Deep Creek Lake and much of Western Maryland.

The agency has moved the first public hearing from an elementary school, which had a small capacity, to the larger Garrett College Auditorium at 687 Mosser Road in McHenry. This hearing has been moved back a week, from the original Jan. 23 date to Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

The second hearing, also postponed for a week, will now be will held at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 31 in Room 161 of the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St. in Annapolis.
Comments may also be submitted online.

I generally support the use of wind power as a source of cleaner energy, but this project seems dubious to me. One concern with wind power is what effect turbines may have on birds in a particular location, particularly during migration. The most obvious threat is the possibility of birds hitting the turbines. A more insidious threat is the reduction of habitat by 400 acres, and the degradation of surrounding forest with the introduction of more edge areas. Answering that concern would require significant field research; I would hope that the DNR would have that data on hand before granting permission for the project. (There is at least some cause for concern.)

My second concern is the use of public land for private gain. State parks and forests should primarily benefit the public - by conserving natural resources, preserving historic sites, and providing opportunities for recreation. Some commercial use of public lands is acceptable. For example, I would certainly endorse leasing fields for agriculture in WMAs since the practice benefits both the leaseholder and wildlife. A 400-acre wind farm is something else entirely. It would present a substantial and permanent intrusion into one of the wildest areas of Maryland. All of the profits would go to the energy company while the citizens of Maryland would be left with a smaller state forest and possibly less wildlife.

Overall, I think this is one project that the DNR should drop. What do you think?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Linnaeus's Legacy

Linnaeus's Legacy is a relatively new blog carnival that showcases blog posts about biodiversity. As one might expect from the name, taxonomy is one of the carnival's core topics. However, the carnival also accepts posts about evolution, endangered species and extinction, ecology, and other related subjects.

Greg Laden has posted the third edition of the carnival. The next edition will be in February.

2008 BIGBY List

BIGBY is an acronym for "Big Green Big Year." This is a list of all the species that I see in 2008 while using only foot, self-propelled vehicles, or public transportation. For a longer explanation, see here.

Common NameLocationDate
1Snow GooseJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
2BrantJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
3Canada GooseDonaldson Park1/1/2008
4Mute SwanKearny Marsh1/28/2008
5GadwallJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
6American Black DuckJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
7MallardDonaldson Park1/1/2008
8Blue-winged TealCape May Point SP8/27/2008
9Northern ShovelerJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
10Green-winged TealJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
11Greater ScaupJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
12BuffleheadDonaldson Park1/21/2008
13Common GoldeneyeJohnson Park1/6/2008
14Hooded MerganserDonaldson Park2/23/2008
15Common MerganserJohnson Park1/6/2008
16Red-breasted MerganserJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
17Ruddy DuckJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
18Common LoonJohnson Park1/6/2008
19Double-crested CormorantDonaldson Park1/2/2008
20Great CormorantDonaldson Park1/1/2008
21Great Blue HeronJohnson Park1/6/2008
22Great EgretJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
23Snowy EgretCape May Point SP8/26/2008
24Little Blue HeronCape May Point SP8/27/2008
25Tricolored HeronCMBO Hawk Watch9/1/2008
26Green HeronCape May Point SP8/26/2008
27Black-crowned Night-HeronCape May Point SP9/4/2008
28Glossy IbisCape May Point SP8/26/2008
29Black VultureNew Brunswick4/26/2008
30Turkey VultureDonaldson Park2/27/2008
31OspreyJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
32Bald EagleDonaldson Park2/23/2008
33Northern HarrierJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
34Sharp-shinned HawkJohnson Park1/6/2008
35Cooper's HawkUnion Square1/28/2008
36Red-tailed HawkDonaldson Park1/1/2008
37American KestrelUnion Square1/28/2008
38MerlinCMBO Hawk Watch9/1/2008
39Peregrine FalconUnion Square1/28/2008
40American CootCentral Park3/29/2008
41Semipalmated PloverCape May Point SP8/26/2008
42KilldeerDonaldson Park2/21/2008
43American OystercatcherJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
44Spotted SandpiperCape May Point SP8/29/2008
45Solitary SandpiperDonaldson Park5/19/2008
46Greater YellowlegsCape May Point SP8/26/2008
47Lesser YellowlegsCape May Point SP8/26/2008
48Ruddy TurnstoneCape May - The Rips8/24/2008
49SanderlingCape May - The Rips8/24/2008
50Semipalmated SandpiperCape May Point SP8/27/2008
51Least SandpiperDonaldson Park5/19/2008
52Baird's SandpiperCape May Point SP9/4/2008
53Pectoral SandpiperCape May Point SP8/27/2008
54Short-billed DowitcherCape May Point SP8/26/2008
55Laughing GullCape May - The Rips8/24/2008
56Bonaparte's GullDonaldson Park1/30/2008
57Ring-billed GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
58Herring GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
59Lesser Black-backed GullJohnson Park1/6/2008
60Great Black-backed GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
61Least TernCape May - The Rips8/24/2008
62Gull-billed TernCape May - Sunset Beach8/26/2008
63Black TernCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
64Common TernCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
65Forster's TernCape May Point SP8/26/2008
66Royal TernCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
67Black SkimmerCape May Point SP8/30/2008
68Rock PigeonDonaldson Park1/2/2008
69Mourning DoveHome1/1/2008
70Long-eared OwlCentral Park1/28/2008
71Chimney SwiftDonaldson Park5/19/2008
72Ruby-throated HummingbirdCape May Point SP8/27/2008
73Belted KingfisherJohnson Park1/6/2008
74Red-bellied WoodpeckerDonaldson Park1/2/2008
75Yellow-bellied SapsuckerUnion Square1/28/2008
76Downy WoodpeckerJohnson Park1/6/2008
77Hairy WoodpeckerDonaldson Park1/21/2008
78Northern FlickerDonaldson Park1/2/2008
79Eastern Wood-PeweeHigbee Beach8/31/2008
80Least FlycatcherCape May Point SP8/27/2008
81Eastern PhoebeJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
82Great Crested FlycatcherCape May Point SP8/29/2008
83Eastern KingbirdDonaldson Park5/19/2008
84White-eyed VireoHigbee Beach8/31/2008
85Warbling VireoDonaldson Park5/19/2008
86Philadelphia VireoCape May Point SP9/4/2008
87Red-eyed VireoCape May Point SP9/3/2008
88Blue JayDonaldson Park1/2/2008
89American CrowDonaldson Park1/1/2008
90Fish CrowJohnson Park1/6/2008
91Purple MartinCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
92Tree SwallowJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
93Northern Rough-winged SwallowDonaldson Park4/11/2008
94Bank SwallowDonaldson Park5/19/2008
95Barn SwallowDonaldson Park5/19/2008
96Carolina ChickadeeDonaldson Park1/25/2008
97Black-capped ChickadeeDonaldson Park1/2/2008
98Tufted TitmouseJohnson Park1/6/2008
99Red-breasted NuthatchCentral Park1/28/2008
100White-breasted NuthatchDonaldson Park1/2/2008
101Brown CreeperJohnson Park1/6/2008
102Carolina WrenDonaldson Park1/2/2008
103House WrenDonaldson Park4/23/2008
104Golden-crowned KingletJohnson Park1/6/2008
105Blue-gray GnatcatcherCape May Point SP8/26/2008
106Hermit ThrushJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
107American RobinDonaldson Park1/2/2008
108Gray CatbirdDonaldson Park4/23/2008
109Northern MockingbirdHome1/2/2008
110Brown ThrasherHigbee Beach8/31/2008
111European StarlingJohnson Park1/6/2008
112American PipitDonaldson Park2/23/2008
113Cedar WaxwingCape May - Sunset Beach8/26/2008
114Blue-winged WarblerCape May Point SP9/2/2008
115Northern ParulaHome5/15/2008
116Yellow WarblerHome5/1/2008
117Magnolia WarblerCape May Point SP9/2/2008
118Black-throated Blue WarblerCape May Point SP8/26/2008
119Yellow-rumped WarblerJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
120Prairie WarblerCape May Point SP9/2/2008
121Black-and-white WarblerHigbee Beach8/31/2008
122American RedstartCape May Point SP8/26/2008
123OvenbirdHigbee Beach8/31/2008
124Northern WaterthrushCape May Point SP8/29/2008
125Common YellowthroatCape May Point SP8/27/2008
126Western TanagerCentral Park3/29/2008
127Eastern TowheeHome4/30/2008
128American Tree SparrowDonaldson Park1/2/2008
129Chipping SparrowHome4/14/2008
130Savannah SparrowDonaldson Park2/23/2008
131Song SparrowDonaldson Park1/1/2008
132White-throated SparrowHome1/1/2008
133Dark-eyed JuncoHome1/1/2008
134Northern CardinalDonaldson Park1/2/2008
135Indigo BuntingSouth Cape May Meadows8/28/2008
136BobolinkCMBO Hawk Watch9/1/2008
137Red-winged BlackbirdDonaldson Park2/7/2008
138Rusty BlackbirdJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
139Common GrackleDonaldson Park1/25/2008
140Boat-tailed GrackleJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
141Brown-headed CowbirdDonaldson Park2/19/2008
142Baltimore OrioleHome5/8/2008
143Scott's OrioleUnion Square1/28/2008
144House FinchDonaldson Park1/2/2008
145Common RedpollJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
146American GoldfinchDonaldson Park1/1/2008
147House SparrowHome1/1/2008

Last updated: 9/6/08

2008 Year List

Common NameLocationDate
1Snow GooseJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
2BrantSandy Hook1/8/2008
3Barnacle GooseCalifon2/16/2008
4Canada GooseDonaldson Park1/1/2008
5Mute SwanGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
6Tundra SwanWhitesbog1/12/2008
7Wood DuckGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
8GadwallTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
9American WigeonGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
10American Black DuckGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
11MallardDonaldson Park1/1/2008
12Blue-winged TealCape May Point SP8/27/2008
13Northern ShovelerTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
14Northern PintailGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
15Green-winged TealGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
16Eurasian TealRichard W. Dekorte Park2/2/2008
17CanvasbackRichard W. Dekorte Park2/2/2008
18Ring-necked DuckTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
19Greater ScaupFort Wadsworth2/9/2008
20Common EiderSandy Hook1/16/2008
21Surf ScoterIsland Beach State Park4/5/2008
22Long-tailed DuckIsland Beach State Park4/5/2008
23BuffleheadSandy Hook1/8/2008
24Common GoldeneyeJohnson Park1/6/2008
25Hooded MerganserCalifon2/16/2008
26Common MerganserJohnson Park1/6/2008
27Red-breasted MerganserSandy Hook1/8/2008
28Ruddy DuckJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
29Wild TurkeyC&O Canal - Edwards Ferry1/19/2008
30Red-throated LoonSandy Hook1/16/2008
31Common LoonJohnson Park1/6/2008
32Pied-billed GrebeEtra3/30/2008
33Horned GrebeSandy Hook1/8/2008
34Northern GannetSandy Hook1/16/2008
35Brown PelicanTwo Mile Beach7/1/2008
36Double-crested CormorantDonaldson Park1/2/2008
37Great CormorantDonaldson Park1/1/2008
38American BitternGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
39Great Blue HeronGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
40Great EgretJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
41Snowy EgretSouth Cape May Meadows7/2/2008
42Little Blue HeronCape May Point SP8/27/2008
43Tricolored HeronCMBO Hawk Watch9/1/2008
44Green HeronTwo Mile Beach7/1/2008
45Black-crowned Night-HeronHereford Inlet6/30/2008
46Glossy IbisSouth Cape May Meadows7/2/2008
47Black VultureI-287 (Somerset Co.)1/5/2008
48Turkey VultureSandy Hook1/8/2008
49OspreyManasquan Reservoir3/15/2008
50Bald EagleGunpowder Falls1/20/2008
51Northern HarrierGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
52Sharp-shinned HawkJohnson Park1/6/2008
53Cooper's HawkPerth Amboy - Waterfront1/27/2008
54Red-shouldered HawkGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
55Red-tailed HawkDonaldson Park1/1/2008
56Rough-legged HawkGreat Swamp NWR - Overlook1/5/2008
57American KestrelI-287 (Somerset Co.)1/5/2008
58MerlinCMBO Hawk Watch9/1/2008
59Peregrine FalconUnion Square1/28/2008
60American CootTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
61Semipalmated PloverCape May Point SP8/26/2008
62Piping PloverSouth Cape May Meadows7/2/2008
63KilldeerDonaldson Park2/21/2008
64American OystercatcherJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
65Spotted SandpiperCape May Point SP8/29/2008
66Solitary SandpiperDonaldson Park5/19/2008
67Greater YellowlegsNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
68Lesser YellowlegsCape May Point SP8/26/2008
69Ruddy TurnstoneCape May - The Rips8/24/2008
70SanderlingSandy Hook1/8/2008
71Semipalmated SandpiperCape May Point SP8/27/2008
72Least SandpiperDonaldson Park5/19/2008
73Baird's SandpiperCape May Point SP9/4/2008
74Pectoral SandpiperCape May Point SP8/27/2008
75Purple SandpiperFort Wadsworth2/9/2008
76Short-billed DowitcherCape May Point SP8/26/2008
77Laughing GullIsland Beach State Park4/5/2008
78Bonaparte's GullSandy Hook1/16/2008
79Ring-billed GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
80Herring GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
81Lesser Black-backed GullJohnson Park1/6/2008
82Great Black-backed GullDonaldson Park1/1/2008
83Least TernTwo Mile Beach7/1/2008
84Gull-billed TernSouth Cape May Meadows7/2/2008
85Black TernCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
86Common TernTwo Mile Beach7/1/2008
87Forster's TernCape May Point SP8/26/2008
88Royal TernCape May - The Rips8/27/2008
89Black SkimmerHereford Inlet6/30/2008
90Rock PigeonDonaldson Park1/2/2008
91Mourning DoveHome1/1/2008
92Yellow-billed CuckooLord Stirling Park5/24/2008
93Black-billed CuckooCross Estate6/21/2008
94Great Horned OwlC&O Canal - Edwards Ferry1/19/2008
95Barred OwlC&O Canal - Edwards Ferry1/19/2008
96Long-eared OwlCentral Park1/28/2008
97Short-eared OwlSuydam Road3/1/2008
98Chimney SwiftDuke Farms4/19/2008
99Ruby-throated HummingbirdDismal Swamp5/17/2008
100Belted KingfisherJohnson Park1/6/2008
101Red-headed WoodpeckerGreat Swamp NWR - Overlook1/5/2008
102Red-bellied WoodpeckerDonaldson Park1/2/2008
103Yellow-bellied SapsuckerC&O Canal--Fletcher's Boathouse1/19/2008
104Downy WoodpeckerGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
105Hairy WoodpeckerTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
106Northern FlickerDonaldson Park1/2/2008
107Pileated WoodpeckerGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
108Eastern Wood-PeweeLord Stirling Park5/24/2008
109Willow FlycatcherLord Stirling Park5/24/2008
110Least FlycatcherCape May Point SP8/27/2008
111Eastern PhoebeManasquan Reservoir3/15/2008
112Great Crested FlycatcherWashington Crossing State Park5/10/2008
113Eastern KingbirdFranklin Parker Preserve5/3/2008
114Northern ShrikeGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
115White-eyed VireoHigbee Beach8/31/2008
116Yellow-throated VireoBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
117Warbling VireoDismal Swamp5/17/2008
118Philadelphia VireoCape May Point SP9/4/2008
119Red-eyed VireoBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
120Blue JayDonaldson Park1/2/2008
121American CrowDonaldson Park1/1/2008
122Fish CrowJohnson Park1/6/2008
123Purple MartinVillas WMA7/1/2008
124Tree SwallowSandy Hook1/8/2008
125Northern Rough-winged SwallowDonaldson Park4/11/2008
126Bank SwallowDonaldson Park5/19/2008
127Barn SwallowNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
128Carolina ChickadeeTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
129Black-capped ChickadeeDonaldson Park1/2/2008
130Tufted TitmouseGreat Swamp NWR1/5/2008
131Red-breasted NuthatchCentral Park1/28/2008
132White-breasted NuthatchDonaldson Park1/2/2008
133Brown CreeperJohnson Park1/6/2008
134Carolina WrenDonaldson Park1/2/2008
135House WrenDonaldson Park4/23/2008
136Winter WrenTrenton Marsh1/10/2008
137Golden-crowned KingletJohnson Park1/6/2008
138Ruby-crowned KingletC&O Canal - Edwards Ferry1/19/2008
139Blue-gray GnatcatcherScherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary6/21/2008
140Eastern BluebirdC&O Canal--Fletcher's Boathouse1/19/2008
141Townsend's SolitaireSandy Hook1/8/2008
142VeeryBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
143Hermit ThrushSandy Hook1/8/2008
144Wood ThrushWashington Crossing State Park5/10/2008
145American RobinDonaldson Park1/2/2008
146Gray CatbirdDonaldson Park4/23/2008
147Northern MockingbirdHome1/2/2008
148Brown ThrasherDismal Swamp5/17/2008
149European StarlingGreat Swamp NWR - Overlook1/5/2008
150American PipitDonaldson Park2/23/2008
151Cedar WaxwingSandy Hook1/8/2008
152Blue-winged WarblerLord Stirling Park5/24/2008
153Northern ParulaNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
154Yellow WarblerNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
155Chestnut-sided WarblerCross Estate6/21/2008
156Magnolia WarblerWashington Crossing State Park5/10/2008
157Black-throated Blue WarblerWashington Crossing State Park5/10/2008
158Yellow-rumped WarblerSandy Hook1/8/2008
159Black-throated Green WarblerDismal Swamp5/17/2008
160Pine WarblerAssunpink WMA3/30/2008
161Prairie WarblerFranklin Parker Preserve5/3/2008
162Palm WarblerDuke Farms4/19/2008
163Black-and-white WarblerWebb's Mill Bog5/3/2008
164American RedstartCape May Point SP8/26/2008
165OvenbirdFranklin Parker Preserve5/3/2008
166Northern WaterthrushD&R Canal, Weston Mills4/19/2008
167Louisiana WaterthrushBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
168Common YellowthroatNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
169Hooded WarblerScherman-Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary6/21/2008
170Scarlet TanagerBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
171Western TanagerCentral Park3/29/2008
172Eastern TowheeNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
173American Tree SparrowDonaldson Park1/2/2008
174Chipping SparrowHome4/14/2008
175Field SparrowNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
176Savannah SparrowDonaldson Park2/23/2008
177Grasshopper SparrowNegri-Nepote Grasslands4/26/2008
178Song SparrowDonaldson Park1/1/2008
179Swamp SparrowC&O Canal--Fletcher's Boathouse1/19/2008
180White-throated SparrowHome1/1/2008
181White-crowned SparrowRichard W. Dekorte Park2/2/2008
182Dark-eyed JuncoHome1/1/2008
183Northern CardinalDonaldson Park1/2/2008
184Rose-breasted GrosbeakBowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve5/10/2008
185Indigo BuntingGriggstown Grasslands6/1/2008
186BobolinkGriggstown Grasslands8/16/2008
187Red-winged BlackbirdGreat Swamp NWR - Overlook1/5/2008
188Rusty BlackbirdJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
189Common GrackleGreat Swamp NWR - Overlook1/5/2008
190Boat-tailed GrackleJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
191Brown-headed CowbirdDonaldson Park2/19/2008
192Baltimore OrioleWebb's Mill Bog5/3/2008
193Scott's OrioleUnion Square1/28/2008
194House FinchDonaldson Park1/2/2008
195Common RedpollJamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge3/29/2008
196American GoldfinchDonaldson Park1/1/2008
197House SparrowHome1/1/2008

Last updated: 9/6/08

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A New Life Bird for the New Year

Rough-legged Hawk on Power Lines / Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth (USFWS)

The Great Swamp in winter provides opportunities to see some unusual birds, if you know where to look for them. This afternoon, my mother, sister, and I set out to find some of the more interesting species reported recently.

Our first stop was the wildlife center on Long Hill Road. We quickly encountered a northern shrike, perched high in a tree above the first of the blinds along the boardwalk. I would have passed it off as just another gray bird on a gray day, except that it struck fear into the smaller birds gathered at the bottom of the tree. Dark-eyed juncos froze with their heads turned sideways to look at it. A flock of black-capped chickadees mobbed the shrike until it finally flew across the meadow where it set off another explosion of alarm calls. It turns out that chickadees are better at identifying members of the genus Lanius than I am.

Another surprise waited inside the blind. Just outside the blind's windows, not ten feet away, an American bittern stalked through a puddle. Being a bittern, it stood very still and moved its feet very slowly. I have never seen a bittern for so long and at such close range before, so it was my first chance to study the subtle and intricate feather patterns on the bird's back. Field guide illustrations do not do justice to this beautiful bird. An American tree sparrow at the feeder - normally a noteworthy bird for me - almost seemed banal by comparison.

The "Friends" blind - the blind at the far end of the boardwalk - had an assortment of waterfowl gathered into one huge flock. I saw wood ducks, black ducks, an American wigeon, a green-winged teal, northern pintails, as well as the unusual suspects. My sister added a gadwall to that list. There were probably other species as well - either too distant or obscured by larger birds. Near the blind a pileated woodpecker called repeatedly before it flew across the trail.

A subsequent drive along Pleasant Plains Road yielded two rough-legged hawks (life birds!) perched in two separate trees. I think that both were light morph, rather than Patrick's dark morph hawk, but it was difficult to tell with that light and viewing angle. Also present along the road were a few northern harriers, American kestrels near the bookstore, and red-headed woodpeckers near the gated bridge. Several small groups of wood ducks flew back and forth across the road. At dusk, hundreds of red-winged blackbirds and thousands of common grackles flew past the overlook. Unfortunately neither owl species reported from Pleasant Plains Road made an appearance today, even at dusk. Maybe we will have better luck another time.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Loose Feathers #131

Black-capped Chickadee / Photo by Donna Dewhurst (USFWS)

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment
Birds in the blogosphere
Carnivals and newsletters

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

BIGBY for 2008

BIGBY stands for "Big Green Big Year." The concept of a green big year grew out of discussions on listserves and blogs about the impact of listing on climate change. The amount of greenhouse gases that most birding trips add to the atmosphere is probably relatively small compared to other sources. However, it seems good for birders to be mindful of how their hobby affects the environment.

The writers behind the Sparrowworking blog came up with some criteria for a green year list. The list should include only bird species seen in locations reached by foot, self-propelled vehicle, or public transportation. The "self-propelled" category can include canoes and skis, though it primarily refers to bicycles. So far 118 birders have signed up to attempt a BIGBY this year.

This type of undertaking is going to be easier for some birders than others. City-based birders should have a decided advantage. Those in New York City, in particular, have access to a dense public transportation network that links to some very good birding sites. Birders in DC can bird by Metro. People living in suburban areas are likely to have a harder time, since 20th-century housing developments were generally not designed to be walkable and transportation options are more limited.

I decided to compile a list of birds I see while meeting the BIGBY requirements. In about half a year of birding, I saw 93 species within walking distance in 2007. That figure does not include spring migration, when most species are easier to find and identify by voice. Plus, an occasional birding trip by public transportation is a real possibility. So for 2008, I should be able to build a good BIGBY list.

Primaries Coming Soon

Cartoon by Tom Toles

The Iowa Caucuses are tomorrow, January 3. Soon after, there will be another series of primaries, culminating in a big primary day on February 5. It's hard to believe that we will have nominees from both parties so quickly, but this is an unusual election year.

For whom should birders vote? Our next president needs to make conservation a priority and change the long-standing American opposition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. After the regressive policies of the last seven years, we need significant change to come quickly. Which candidate offers the best hope of doing this remains an open question.

To help answer this question, Nate of The Drinking Bird, assessed each presidential candidate's views on conservation and other bird-related issues. Grist also has some good resources, including fact sheets and interviews for every candidate. The resources at Grist emphasize climate change and energy issues. The League of Conservation Voters has its own assessment.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Top 10 Nature Moments of 2007

Tai Haku, who writes the Earth, Wind & Water blog, challenged fellow nature bloggers to name their own top 10 nature moments of 2007. The theme has since been taken up on many other blogs, so it is time for me to do it.

Here are my top ten, listed chronologically.

  1. Watching eastern phoebes and black-capped chickadees in the snow on the C&O Canal.
  2. A day for "little brown jobs" around the Mall and Hains Point.
  3. Welcoming the early spring migrants at Hughes Hollow.
  4. My first visit to the wetlands at Poplar Point, when I saw my 200th species in D.C.
  5. Listening to barred owls in Rock Creek Park.
  6. Discovering the Franklin Township grasslands sites (and their avian inhabitants).
  7. Listening to the grunting of harbor seals at Bolinas Lagoon in California.
  8. The visit my sister and I made to Jamaica Bay to look for shorebirds.
  9. Seeing clapper rails and an American bittern at dusk at Sandy Hook.
  10. Finding lots of white-crowned sparrows (and a Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow) at Sandy Hook.
Do you have favorite nature moments from 2007? If so, please share them in the comments (or on your own blog).

Meanwhile, I have already seen my first birds of 2008. The very first was a dark-eyed junco. (These photos were taken a couple days ago with the Birdcam.)

Happy New Year!