Monday, January 29, 2007

The Blue Bird

The lake lay blue below the hill.
O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.

The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue.
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.

--- Mary E. Coleridge

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Arboretum Walk

Yesterday morning I met with a friend for a walk in the National Arboretum. It was a quiet morning, with less human activity than usual until the day warmed significantly. The birds were out, though, in good numbers. We covered my usual circuit to the Anacostia and back, with a detour through the Azalea Gardens.

The biggest surprise of the day was an eastern meadowlark near the Capitol columns. I had heard of meadowlark sightings there before, but I had never actually seen one at the Arboretum. It rose up out of the grass and flew to perch in a shrub as we walked a path through the meadow. It had its back to us, so the yellow and black breast was not visible, but the shape and white tail feathers gave away its identity.

At the river we had several common mergansers and a gadwall, plus some of the usual suspects. A belted kingfisher cruised along the river. One red-tailed hawk flushed from the trees in the meadow at the south end of the trail.

Eastern phoebes were still around - and still finding insect food - despite last week's cold snap. A hermit thrush foraged in the underbrush on one of the Azalea Garden trails.


Canada Goose
Common Merganser
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
Eastern Towhee
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Eastern Meadowlark
American Goldfinch

Friday, January 26, 2007

Loose Feathers #83

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment

  • At least 600 birds have died and many more have been contaminated as the result of an oil spill from a ship that was run ashore near Devon, UK. The ship was grounded deliberately following damage from a storm. Wildlife agencies are still looking for birds affected by the spill.
  • A study by Wetlands International showed that waterbirds continue to decline. Of 878 species studied, 44% has significant reductions in population since 2002. The major area of concern right now is Asia, where economic growth has led to increased urban sprawl and reclamation of wetlands. In other cases, Asian wetlands are threatened by pollution.
  • Over the past year, 71,000 waterbirds have been tested for highly pathogenic avian influenza in North America, but so far no positive cases have been identified.
  • Cuyahoga County in Ohio plans to build 4-10 wind turbines about three miles from the shore. The plan is raising questions regarding whether these turbines will be safe for birds. One issue will be whether deaths at an open-water site can be monitored.
  • The Pennsylvania Game Commission is studying migration routes of golden eagles through the state to determine the best way to avoid collisions between those birds and wind turbines.
  • Here are some tips for feeding birds in winter. It covers different types of food and feeders.
  • Eagles at Blackwater NWR have laid an egg and are incubating it. Here is the live webcam.
  • BirdLife and Nature Iraq collaborated to produce a field guide for the birds of Iraq. The guide features 387 species and is the first comprehensive field guide in Arabic. (Via Wildbird)
  • A hunter in Florida shot a duck, but somehow it survived both the shooting and two days in the refrigerator. Now it is recovering in an animal hospital.
  • Ski trails, especially in forested areas, tend to reduce bird diversity.
  • A Houston homeowner was caught raising about 100 birds for cockfighting.
  • Bats fly more efficiently than birds because their wings are flexible and produce more lift and maneuverability.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tunnel Graffito

It is not a boxcar, but Aydin ought to appreciate this.

Noted on the west end of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I and the Bird #41

I and the Bird has gone Down Under again to be hosted by A Snail's Eye View. Snail introduces us to an early guide to Australian birds, What Bird Is That? by Neville Cayley. Go visit I and the Bird #41 for the best in recent bird-blogging.

Western Maryland and the C&O Canal Count

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, this past Saturday was the C&O Canal Count. This count, in its ninth year, aims to survey bird life along the length of the C&O Canal, which runs parallel to the Potomac River for 184.5 miles from Georgetown in Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland. I was one of several birders who traveled from the DC area to cover a stretch in Allegany County. Since the distance from Washington is so far, our group stayed in the Little Orleans Lodge both Friday and Saturday nights.

At dawn on Saturday there was a fresh coat of snow on the ground. This quickly disappeared as the day warmed. Predicted heavy winds never materialized on this stretch of the canal, though they did further downstream. The canal in the 130s through 150s is generally protected by high ridges and deep bends in the Potomac River. The Little Orleans team spread out to cover 3-6 mile sectors between mileposts 136 and 153. I paired with another birder to cover the area between mileposts 140 and 144.

The two of us encountered a typical winter birding phenomenon: long stretches with few birds and concentrated patches of mixed-species flocks. We saw six woodpecker species, brown creeper, winter wren, my first black-capped chickadees of the year, tufted titmice, dark-eyed juncos, eastern bluebirds, and a few large flocks of cedar waxwings. Eastern phoebe and belted kingfisher were two lingering warm weather species. Near the end of the count we spotted a subadult bald eagle seeking thermals; once it found one, it soared high into the air over the river valley. Oddly enough, the four miles we covered had few sparrows and no cardinals. For an urban birder like me, it was even more disconcerting to see only two rock pigeons and no starlings at all. An evening walk - not part of the official count - turned up a barred owl barking from across the Potomac.

On Sunday, our team from DC took a side trip to do some birding in the Green Ridge State Forest. Those spots turned out not to be very birdy, possibly because the morning was so raw. Three of us pushed on along the canal to see the Paw Paw Tunnel in mile 155. The 3,118-foot-long tunnel is impressive work, especially considering the technology available at the time. After its completion, the tunnel allowed canal boats to bypass some of the many deep bends in the Potomac River. The cut on the eastern end of the tunnel is itself worth seeing; on Sunday the sheer rock was lined with cascades of icicles, as well as overhanging ferns and conifers. A winter wren popped in and out along the rocky slope.

The three of us walked through the tunnel; when we emerged from the western end of the tunnel, snow was falling. Snow continued falling as we backed over the tunnel hill trail and along the canal. Despite the snow, we encountered some active flocks of birds, including more phoebes, creepers, chickadees, titmice, juncos, and a kingfisher. With few people out on the towpath, and no sound except for flowing water and our own footsteps, the walk was very peaceful. Snow made the canal all the more beautiful.

The weekend offered some great birding, but not so much in the numbers of species or individuals. Great birding can also consist of close-up looks at birds, looking for birds in a spectacular setting, or birding with skilled companions. All three were certainly the case this weekend.


A growing list of reported species and individuals is here. If you visit that page, keep in mind that we are still in the process of collecting data from observers and not all reports have been verified. Until we release the final report, the totals listed there should be regarded as tentative. We have set up a gallery with images from the count here.

SPECIES OBSERVED (over two days): 33

Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rock Pigeon
Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Winter Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Blue Jay
American Crow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
American Goldfinch

Friday, January 19, 2007

Loose Feathers #82

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a decision that would set daily limits for pollutants dumped into the Anacostia River. The EPA will need to draw up new guidelines for local agencies such as the WASA.
  • Maryland has posted a list of the top ten actions you can take to improve the local environment.
  • Delaware is considering an offshore wind project as a new source of electricity. The impact this may have on local and migrant sea birds will need to be monitored.
  • One of the more unusual photos I have seen this week is this one of a red-tailed hawk hunting a kestrel. (Via Birderblog)
  • Meanwhile, here is a great blue heron carrying a dead squirrel.
  • Plus a photo of a red-tailed hawk and bald eagle in an aerial dispute.
  • According to a recent study, exurban areas provide better habitat for birds than tree plantations.
  • Birds are in decline in the Sahel of West Africa. Ostriches and bustards have been particularly hard-hit. Overhunting of wild mammals and habitat degradation from agricultural expansion are blamed for the declines.
  • Many bird species in Ireland are in decline because of the booming economy and new development.
  • Hundreds of birds, including many unusual winter warblers, have been feeding at a pile of decomposing Brussels sprouts in California.
  • A rare golden eagle was shot in northern Italy. It may have been the last male in Val Biondino.
  • An Audubon report criticizes the slow pace of pollution cleanup in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
  • Here, at least, is a success story of habitat restoration, from Cape Cod.
  • Here is a profile of a wildlife rescue clinic in Virginia.
  • Birds are being blamed for a building fire in West Virginia; fire marshals suspect that one brought a burning cigarette butt into its roost.
  • Democrats in Congress are pushing forward initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in the United States, with regulations similar to the cap-and-trade system used in Europe.
  • Budget cuts over the past ten years have made it more difficult for federal agencies to monitor the climate.
  • As a result of budget cuts, 27 positions are to be eliminated at National Wildlife Refuges and Wildlife Management Areas in Minnesota.
  • Uncharted islands have been revealed off the Greenland coast as glaciers retreat.
  • The pigeon deaths in Austin are being blamed on parasites and a cold snap.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday Gull Trio

It has been a while since I did a gull photograph post. Here is a trio of ring-billed gulls that I found at the Capitol's reflecting pool earlier this week. I took the photos in quick succession.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Eagles at Blackwater

The Post this morning has an article on watching bald eagles at the Blackwater NWR on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Here is a taste:

Still, there are whole generations of Americans who have never seen their national emblem in the wild. For them, and for all lovers of majestic birds, there is Blackwater Refuge and the surrounding tidal marshes of Dorchester County. On this soggy patch of the Eastern Shore, less than two hours from Washington, is one of the largest concentrated bald eagle populations in the country (the largest on the East Coast outside of Florida). And for the next couple of months, eagle-watching conditions are perfect: The number of birds is at its annual peak; courtship and nesting activities are getting underway; and unlike in summer, when the eagles seek the afternoon shade, they are active all day in the cool open air. Between December and March, eagle-spotting at Blackwater is about as close to a sure thing as you can get in the maddening world of wildlife viewing.
Read the rest.

C&O Canal Count Update

Most mile segments of the C&O Canal will be covered during the Mid-winter Bird Survey on Saturday. However, we still have a few open sections in western Washington County. Any birders in western Maryland or West Virginia who would be interested in covering these segments should email us at as soon as possible to register.

To learn more about the purposes and past results of the survey, visit the canal count homepage.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Open Laboratory

Along with the expansion of blogging, a cottage industry has developed to turn blogs into self-published books. The latest example is not from a single blog, but from a conglomeration of blogs. The Open Laboratory is an anthology of the best writing on science-themed blogs from 2006. Posts cover diverse topics from explanations of key concepts to opinion pieces on current events to humor. Several posts are bird-related.

The anthology was conceived and edited by Bora Zivkovic, aka Coturnix, the proprietor of A Blog Around the Clock. I had a small hand in the publication since I was one of the dozen reviewers who read the nominated posts and recommended which to include. Links to the 50 posts included in the anthology are here; the full list of nominations is here.

The Open Laboratory is available as a paperback for sale at

Capitol Birds

Yesterday afternoon I walked around the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol. Most of the birds there were ring-billed gulls like the birds above. There was a small flock of mallards as well. To my surprise, two lesser scaup - a male and female - flew past and landed in the middle of the pool. I think today was the first time I have seen scaup at that location.

Two red-tailed hawks were circling together over Constitution Avenue and landed on top of the Labor Department. Later I saw the two circling together again, and later still, I saw one perched in a tall willow oak on the grounds of the Capitol. Could we have a pair downtown? This will bear watching.

The Indian Museum wetlands had the usual flock of mallards. I saw that an unusual-looking duck had joined the flock again. My guess is that this bird is a mallard X black duck hybrid. It looks mostly like a black duck, but it has a green crescent running along the top and back of each side of its head.

Today's sunset was gorgeous. There was just the right mix of sun and clouds to make for a dramatic sky. I shot the picture above from next to the reflecting pool; the picture below was taken near the Senate office buildings.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Online Reading

Today marks the first edition of a new blog carnival called Oekologie. It covers themes related to ecology and conservation. The first edition is hosted at Infinite Spheres.

A longer-running carnival, the Carnival of the Green, had its 60th issue posted today at One/Change.

Birds in the News has returned after a long hiatus, with a picture of George (the blackbird) as its showpiece image.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Afternoon Walk

This afternoon I visited the Arboretum for some birding. I was trying to cover some areas that I do not normally visit, and ended up not seeing many birds in them. So now I know why I do not bird in those areas often.

There were few real highlights today. I saw a flock of eastern bluebirds in the meadow near New York Avenue. There were about a dozen, all together. The holly area had a large flock of about 40 cedar waxwings, all chirping. When I turned to walk away, the sound stopped; I looked back, and the flock had disappeared. Elsewhere, a pileated woodpecker flew directly overhead so that I could examine its underwing patterns. I saw that one and heard pileated calls in two other spots. I wonder if the Arboretum has one pair or two. (Or more?)

My only other comment is that this afternoon was excessively warm. The cherry trees are still in bloom. The camelias and other tea trees in the Asian gardens are also blooming, but that is expected at this time of year. Dogwoods (left) are budding. I noticed one bumblebee and many moths in flight.


Great Blue Heron
Common Merganser
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
American Goldfinch
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird

Friday, January 12, 2007

Week in Review

Saturday: Most Wanted Birds for 2007

Saturday: Comment Change

Sunday: First Birding for 2007

Monday: Review: All Things Reconsidered

Tuesday: Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #28: Fox Sparrow

Wednesday: Toasty 2006

Wednesday: I and the Bird #40 / Delurking

Wednesday: Urban Ecosystems and Nature Writing

Thursday: C&O Canal Count Coming Soon

Friday: Loose Feathers #81

Loose Feathers #81

News and links about birds, birding, and the environment.

  • Dead and dying birds caused several blocks in downtown Austin, Texas, to be closed. The 63 pigeons, sparrows, and grackles were most likely poisoned by private individuals to reduce large flocks in the city.
  • A little farther north, in Oklahoma, a raptor has been snatching people's hats.
  • A study published this week established that birds with bigger brains tend to live longer and adapt to new conditions more easily.
  • Wild birds may no longer be imported into the European Union. The move was made as an attempt to stop the spread of avian influenza and other diseases, but should also stop the capture and sale of rare species from their native habitats.
  • Following the major hurricanes of 2005, the number and diversity of breeding birds fell at Pelican Island NWR in Florida.
  • A lawsuit regarding birds killed by Altamont Pass wind turbines has been settled with an agreement by the energy company to reduce deaths. The goal of the settlement is to reduce annual kills by half.
  • The state of Wisconsin plans to kill mute swans within the state. Eradicating mute swans would serve as a preliminary step in reintroducing native trumpeter swans to their former range.
  • The flock of wild whooping cranes on the Texas coast reached a new high of 237 birds this winter.
  • Another ivory-billed woodpecker sighting has been reported from the Florida group. Though the report was apparently at close range, no photo has been produced.
  • A snowy owl has been perched on a construction crane in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. It continues to sit on the crane even as it moves around to support the work of construction crews.
  • A captive breeding program for vultures had its first success with the hatching of a white-backed vulture. The program aims to restore the wild vulture populations that were decimated by pesticides.
  • A rufous hummingbird has been visiting a feeder in Scarbro, West Virginia.
Blogging News
  • The Washington area has a new birding blog: BirdCouple by Warren and Lisa.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

C&O Canal Count Coming Soon

The Ninth Annual C&O Canal Mid-Winter Bird Survey will be next Saturday, January 20. The survey is coordinated by the DC Audubon Society and aims to survey bird life along the entire 184.5 miles of the canal. The canal is divided into 2-4 mile segments, each of which is covered by a small team of observers. Most miles are now assigned, but about thirty miles are still up for grabs. Any birders in the area who would like to participate should email as soon as possible.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Urban Ecosystems and Nature Writing

Yesterday, Grist published an opinion piece by Jenny Price that encouraged nature writers to focus more on cities to revive the connection between nature and the everyday lives of our predominantly urban population. She wants to see five questions addressed: "what and where are the wild things," "how do people use nature as resources," "how do people transform the landscapes they live in, and how does the nature ... act back," "how do different people encounter nature differently," and "how do people imagine and understand nature." (Follow the link above to see the full explanations for each of these.)

I think that it is useful to be reminded that nature is a key part of urban life, and her suggestions for themes are sound. At the same time, I think that some of what Price seeks is happening already, so that Price's frame for the column is a bit overstated. As one of the comments on the opinion piece suggests, "there is a lot of great nature writing about cities - it's just hidden." That comment referred to local resources and guidebooks. Since I am not well-read in contemporary nature writing, I cannot speak for what one would find in print. But I would venture that Price would find more urban nature writing by looking online, particularly in the blogosphere. Just among bird bloggers, I see many that are based in cities and write frequently about urban birding experiences. Aside from this blog, based in Washington, there are blogs based in a DC suburb, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. And, of course, there are a boatload in New York: 10,000 Birds, Birding Life, Brooklyn Parrots, City Birder, Nova Hunter, Origin of Species, Pale Male Irregulars, and Urban Hawks. This list is probably incomplete, and there are many city-based nature bloggers outside of the birdwatching sphere. Together they help to answer at least the first of the questions Price proposes, and many work towards other One could argue that the influence of these blogs is limited, but it is not negligible, either.

I and the Bird #40

This week's I and the Bird, a carnival about birds and birding, has been posted at Peregrine's Bird Blog, a birder and chef from Northern Ireland. He presents us with a feast of bird blogging links in I and the Bird #40.

I read at A Blog Around the Clock that someone declared this to be National Delurking Week. Lurkers are readers who visit a site regularly but never comment on the posts. I believe that this blog must have its fair share of lurkers since the visitor count is far, far higher than the number of comments on any given day. So, use this post to say hello. Even better, keep the spirit of the week in mind as you visit the sites linked in this week's I and the Bird!

Toasty 2006

Last year was the hottest on record in the continental United States. Temperatures averaged more than 2 degrees above normal over the course of the year, and December was the fourth-warmest on record. It was the latest in a nine-year streak of hot temperatures.

Climate experts generally do not make much of temperature fluctuations over one or two years, but Lawrimore said the record 2006 temperatures were part of a long and worrisome trend. For instance, NOAA said, the past nine years have all been among the 25 warmest years on record for the continental United States....

Lawrimore said other NOAA research has found that the rate of temperature increase has been significantly greater in the past 30 years than at any time since the government started collecting national temperature data in 1895. Globally, 2005 was the hottest year on record, Lawrimore said, and 2006 was slightly cooler.
This news has been accompanied by predictions that 2007 will be even warmer than the past two years and may set a new records.

The recent hot temperatures have been blamed on climate change, El Niño, and other regional factors. The blog RealClimate recently ran a post that discussed the interaction of the various factors that affect weather patterns from one year to the next. The post is long but well worth reading. So is this due to global warming? Yes and no.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Birds of the Mid-Atlantic #28: Fox Sparrow

Winter brings visitors from the north, and attracts short-distance migrants into the Piedmont and coastal plain. Among the avian visitors are a host of sparrows, one of which is the fox sparrow.

Fox Sparrow / Photo by James C. Leupold (USFWS)

Field guides do not quite convey how distinctive fox sparrows look in the field. Almost uniformly, they show the bright rufous upperparts and the crisp black chevrons on the breast. While these field marks are sufficient for identification, what really separates a fox sparrow from the most rufous of song sparrows is something that is harder to quantify. Fox sparrows stand out for their size and bulkiness even next to larger song and white-throated sparrows.

Fox Sparrows spend their summers in northern Canada and Alaska. The red, or eastern, form breeds in the boreal forest of eastern Canada and winters in the mid-Atlantic and southern United States. Other forms are distributed farther west. They can be spotted in the underbrush as the scratch through leaves for seeds and insects.

Since fox sparrows breed so far to the north, and only stay in this region for a few months, it is unusual to hear one sing at these latitudes. With all the warm weather lately, several observers in the DC area have reported hearing snatches of fox sparrow songs recently. A fox sparrow sings a clear, warbled song, similar to a purple finch or orchard oriole. It is something to listen for on your next walk in the woods.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Review: All Things Reconsidered

Roger Tory Peterson is one of the premier figures in birding from the last century. In the early twentieth century, his field guides to birds aided the development of a class of amateur naturalists who practice their hobby with binoculars rather than shotguns. There must be few American birders today who are not familiar with Peterson's field guides and who have not been influenced by them. His Field Guide to Eastern Birds was the first that I used, and I still refer to it on occasion.

In addition to being an influential field guide illustrator, Peterson was a photographer and prolific writer. Even though he died ten years ago, he now has one more book to his name: All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures. The book reprints essays from a regular column of the same name that Peterson wrote for Bird Watcher's Digest from 1984 until his death in 1996. The collection was prepared by Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest and blogger at Bill of the Birds.

The subtitle, "My Birding Adventures," applies best to a subset of essays. Peterson was an avid traveler, around the Americas and especially to Africa. These accounts display Peterson's skill as a story-teller as he recounts close encounters with wildlife, as well as mishaps on several trips. The travel narratives are beautifully illustrated, with some of Peterson's own photographs of the native avifauna.

Certain essays describe changes to the birding and conservation scenes in the years since Peterson first began his career. For example, the fortunes of raptors shifted remarkably during Peterson's lifetime, from persecution at migration sites in the early twentieth century, to protection and expansion mid-century, to near-extinction from DDT in the sixties, to a rebound in the century's waning decades. Other essays profile conservation figures and organizations that have come and gone, especially the persons who comprised the defunct Bronx County Bird Club.

As I read All Things Reconsidered, I was struck by Peterson's love of the natural world and his abilities as a writer. I had not read much of his work, so these essays were all new to me. If you have not read much of Peterson's work outside of his field guides, consider reading All Things Reconsidered.

Full citation:

Roger Tory Peterson, All Things Reconsidered: My Birding Adventures. Edited by Bill Thompson III. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Pp. xiv, 354; illustrations and index. $30.00 cloth. ISBN: 0618758623.

To purchase:

Sunday, January 07, 2007

First Birding for 2007

I spent the afternoon birding in the National Arboretum. Because the year began in the middle of the week, this was my first real bird walk of the new year. I could not believe how many trees were already in full bloom. See, for example, the tree above, or the cherry tree below. I photographed these same trees blooming last year in early or mid March!

Despite some searching, I could not locate the pine warbler that spent much of December in the state tree grove. (Maybe it started migrating north.) The grove did sport two yellow-bellied sapsuckers, involved in a territorial dispute. Nearby meadows were full of birds, including the usual local sparrows - song, white-throated, and junco, as well as other common birds.

The river trail had a surprise sharp-shinned hawk. I also found several eastern phoebes and eastern bluebirds in the area of the gate from the Asian Gardens to the river trail. One phoebe was singing an odd song. It had the husky quality of a phoebe song, but with the pitch and rhythm of a wood-pewee song. So the result was something like "fee-a-bee, fee-bee." There were quite a lot of phoebes for early January. I think I saw at least four.

Before I left, I checked around the fruit tree area for finches. There were not many, but I did spot a few house finches. This tends to be a good spot for purple finches as well, but none were apparent this afternoon. Then again, a large flock of robins, such as were present today, makes it difficult to look for other species. The last species for the day was a pileated woodpecker, which I heard and then saw disappear into a hole. It's never too early to start a nest cavity, I guess.

Elsewhere in the park, two great horned owls were roosting together and were slightly different sizes, so I assume that they are a pair. As I stood and watched them for a few minutes, I was struck by how closely their wing feather pattern resembles tree bark. No wonder it is usually so difficult to find them!


Canada Goose
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Horned Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Finch
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Comment Change

Haloscan comments are back!

Comments from the last couple of weeks since the template change will not be visible, but all of the comments from the previous year should be accessible again. I think that overall Haloscan has a better commenting system. It does not have Blogger's clumsy word verification, and it offers the ability to manage all comments from a single page.

Most Wanted Birds for 2007

These are the ten species I hope to add to my life list during 2007. As with last year's list, I am confining myself to birds that are at least regular visitors to the east coast.

  1. Horned Lark
  2. Connecticut Warbler
  3. Virginia Rail
  4. Rough-legged Hawk
  5. Common Redpoll
  6. Greater White-fronted Goose
  7. Whimbrel
  8. Golden-winged Warbler
  9. Golden Eagle
  10. Upland Sandpiper
Horned Lark is a bird that I miss consistently, even on trips when others see the species. It does not help that I rarely get to visit the proper habitat.

While I am at it, here is my 2007 wish list for DC. Some are life birds; others are birds I have only seen outside the District.
  1. American Pipit
  2. Horned Lark
  3. Pine Siskin
  4. Connecticut Warbler
  5. Little Blue Heron
  6. Golden-winged Warbler
  7. Wild Turkey
  8. Summer Tanager
  9. Yellow-throated Warbler
  10. Cattle Egret
(And here is last year's.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Raritan Estuary CBC

For the past three years, I have participated in the Raritan Estuary Christmas Bird Count, along with my mother and sister, both of whom are birders. We have responsibility for a sector that runs along the Raritan River between the Route 18 and the Route 1 bridges. It includes parts of Johnson Park in Piscataway and Donaldson Park in Highland Park. While this sector does not offer many unusual species, the count is a fun way to close out the year. When we started out last Saturday, the skies were blanketed by a heavy cloak of clouds, depressing bird activity and making it difficult to see the few birds that were active. By mid-afternoon, the sky had largely cleared, but by then we were winding down the day's activities.

While the day was not good for hawks generally, it was excellent for peregrines. We had one in Johnson Park and two in Donaldson Park, the latter two sitting together on top of a radio tower. Common mergansers - and waterfowl overall - were down from last year, possibly due to warm weather, with the caveat discussed here. Hairy woodpecker and hermit thrush made the list this year; absent were last year's killdeer, brown creeper, and red-winged blackbird. Canada geese topped the avian biomass for the day, followed closely by herring gulls. Starlings made a good run, but could not keep up with their larger relatives. The biggest surprise was that robins were entirely absent from the two parks on count day; last year we counted 356!

One flock of Canada geese in Johnson Park contained some interesting geese. The first, on the surface, looks a bit like a greater white-fronted goose. It has the white strip of feathers at the base of a pink bill and orange legs, and the overall color patterns look right. However, a closer look reveals that this bird lacks the expected black speckling on the belly and has a light brown cheek patch. In addition, the size of the bird seems too large for a greater white-fronted goose. It is, in fact a hybrid, a mix of a Canada goose with either a greater white-fronted or domestic goose.

As I was studying that goose, I noticed two other birds in the same flock that seemed smaller than the rest - about two-thirds the size of other geese in the flock. They had blocky heads and proportionately small bills. After consulting several resources, I decided that these are cackling geese, probably the "Richardson's" subspecies. (There is more on cackling geese here.)

The table below shows the total species and numbers for our sector.

Canada Goose950
Cackling Goose2
hybrid goose
Common Goldeneye5
Hooded Merganser5
Common Merganser8
Double-crested Cormorant26
Great Blue Heron2
Cooper's Hawk1
Red-tailed Hawk1
Peregrine Falcon3
Ring-billed Gull135
Herring Gull600
Great Black-backed Gull175
Rock Pigeon65
Mourning Dove60
Belted Kingfisher9
Red-bellied Woodpecker15
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker1
Downy Woodpecker15
Hairy Woodpecker3
Northern Flicker3
Blue Jay30
American Crow28
Fish Crow1
Black-capped Chickadee2
Tufted Titmouse40
White-breasted Nuthatch7
Carolina Wren8
Hermit Thrush1
European Starling400
Song Sparrow23
White-throated Sparrow140
Dark-eyed Junco40
Northern Cardinal27
Common Grackle100
House Finch30
American Goldfinch15
Total Species (without hybrid)
Total Individuals3287

The 2005 results from our sector are posted here.

2006 Listing Round-up

I posted some lists of new birds for 2006, here and here. This post covers where some of the various lists stand.

Life List: 285
2006 List: 255

DC Life List: 196
2006 DC List: 168

Other notables (Life / 2006):

  • Delaware: 164 / 123
  • Maryland: 181 / 142
  • New Jersey: 220 / 124
  • Virginia: 143 / 86
  • Arboretum: 135 / 114
  • Kenilworth 141 / 107
  • Rock Creek Park 123 / 99