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Monday, November 14, 2011

Rufous Hummingbird Recaptured in Northampton County, Pa

Male Rufous Hummingbird
      Scott Weidensaul, who is one of Pennsylvania's most renowned hummingbird banders, was fortunate to recapture a male Rufous Hummingbird in Northhampton County on Monday November 14, 2011. To his surprise the bird was already banded. Read his story below.

     Thanks to Rick Wiltraut, I was able to capture the adult male rufous hummingbird coming to a feeder at Jacobsburg State Park this afternoon. The bird was already banded - and it wasn't one of the bands that I or my subs (Sandy Lockerman and Ember Jandebeur) use. A foreign recovery of a hummingbird is a first for me in 10 years and several thousand hummingbirds, so I'm pretty psyched. Despite missing some feathers from the back right side of his head (somewhere there's a hungry but unlucky sharp-shinned hawk), the bird was in good shape, and it was my pleasure to release it from the palm of Rick's lovely mother, who was there for the fun.

  I just reported the band to the Bird Banding Lab's website, something I do dozens of times a year for saw-whet owls but rarely with such anticipation. Unfortunately, the BBL does not have any information on the bird, meaning that the original bander hasn't yet reported the banding. That tells me he was probably only banded in the past couple of months.
  I'm also going to report the band number to the hummingbird banding listserve, which most of the hummer banders belong to - hopefully the bander will get in touch with me about it, and we'll figure out where this little guy came from.

The story continues:

  I just learned that the rufous hummer reported by Rick Wiltraut, and which I caught today at Jacobsburg State Park in Northampton County, was banded Jan. 9, 2011 in River Ridge, Louisiana by famed hummingbird bander Nancy Newfield. Although he's now in full adult plumage, he was an immature male at the time, so we know he was born in the summer of 2010, and is on his second migration.

  Nancy is the one who really started banding and studying these western vagrant hummingbirds back in the 1970s, and she's been a friend and colleague since I got into hummer-banding in 2001. To catch one of Nan's birds up here is a particular treat.

  My guess is this male spent the summer on his breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies or Alaska, and is on his way back to the Gulf region, taking this circuitous eastern route that more and more of them appear to be using. Nancy said she caught him last winter in one of her best yards (some of these properties get nine or 10 western hummers of several species), and I hope he checks in with her when he arrives back in Lousee-anna.
     Posted with permission from Scott Weidensaul.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cape May Weekend Extravaganza

     Gary Becker and I enjoyed a two day stay at Cape May on Friday and Saturday. We started in Brigantine on Friday morning and were treated to quite a display of hunting by a family of three Peregrine Falcons. They would dive down of flocks of Green-winged Teals which were in flight and the teals would go head first out of the air and into the water with a big splash. Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Black-bellied Plovers padded the trip list and along with thousands of Brant and a few Snow Geese and Hooded Mergansers. But the fun didn't start until we arrived in Cape May. 
Western Kingbird (Click to Enlarge)
     Almost as soon as we arrived we noticed people stopped on the side of Sunset Blvd. It turns out that they had spotted a Western Kingbird. The bird was real cooperative and allowed for photos as it would propel itself into the air and retrieve a delicious insect for a snack. We then head to the bunker pond and the hawk watch. The pond was filled with Am Wigeon, Gadwall, Am Coots and many Tree Swallow circling above.
American Coots
Gadwall and American Wigeon
     We went over to Lily Lake next and as luck was with us I picked up a new state bird, a Cackling Goose. At this point we retired for the day because the lighting was disappearing quickly. Plans for tomorrow were to catch the first ferry to Lewes, Delaware to do a poor man's pelagic trip crossing the Delaware Bay.

Gary Becker waiting for a Lifer
      We boarded the ferry for the first crossing of the day at 7:30AM. Almost immediately we spotted dozens of Gannets. We were lucky to find a few Bonaparte's Gulls also. We would end the day with a total of seven species of gulls. 
Northern Gannet getting ready to attack Gary
      As we were crossing the bay we would add all three species of Scoters, Common Loon, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Long-tailed Ducks. As we were approaching the jetties outside of the Lewes docking area I noticed a small gull coming towards the ferry. I told Gary to get on this bird because it was probably another Bonaparte's. But as it zipped by I saw the "M" shape black markings on the upperwings and yelled to Gary that it was an immature Black-legged Kittiwake. We could also see the black necklace across the top of the nape. This was Gary's lifer and only the second one I have in Delaware.
      After we docked again in Cape May we finished up birding and didn't really add too much in the way of new birds so we headed home. It was a delightful two days. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Birding Club of Delaware County Night at the Movies
     With the premier of the movie "The Big Year" twenty six members of BCDC showed up for the viewing of a fun and whimsical look at birders. I think everyone enjoyed the show, I know I did, although I kept getting nasty stares and elbows in the ribs by my wife every time something in the movie reminded her of me, which was often. I won't give a review of the movie but will say that the photography of the birds was well done. To those of you who couldn't make the show, make sure you go see it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

White Pelican at Cape May, NJ

White Pelican - Photo by Eric Weislogel
     Another unusual bird has been making its presence known around Cape May in recent days: the American White Pelican.  This bird is more commonly found on the west coast and it breeds along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  So this bird is a bit north and east of usual.

     Kellie and I were in Cape May to enjoy a fantastic fall weekend of birding - not to mention a little more time on the beach, a last grasp at the summer gone by.  Although we had heard the text-messaging chatter about a White Pelican in the area, we did not have it as one of our aims to see it.  After all, this was not like the rare but very cooperative Brown Booby, who was quite content routinely to pose on a specific channel marker so you could ride the Osprey right up to her and snap photos as long as you’d like.  The White Pelican was one moving bird reported over a relatively large area.  As still-beginning birders, our goals for this trip (besides just having a wonderful time) were to try to see some fall warblers and to brush up on our raptor identification.  We had not been thinking about the White Pelican.

     We had just finished our first guided walk of the weekend, the Friday morning stroll around Higbee Beach with Mike Crewe and the great volunteer naturalists of the Cape May Bird Observatory, and we had decided to spend just a little more time on our own in the field.  As there were a lot of hawks moving around (and we had already been buzzed by a low-flying adult Bald Eagle) we were looking up as much as we were scanning the trees and fields.

     At first when the big white bird cruised into view and circled lazily overhead, we weren’t sure what we were seeing (having forgotten about all the reported sightings).  But we finally snapped out of the trap of expectations, and realized what we were enjoying:  the White Pelican.  Although its scientific name, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, suggests its most distinguishing feature might be a “red beak” (erythro = “red”; rhynchos = “beak, snout”), its bill actually seems more yellow and pinkish.  Much more striking is the beautiful figure it cuts in the air, a bright white bird with deep black primaries.  It is quite graceful while soaring.  We were able to have good, long looks at this magnificent creature, before it finally glided away from our view. 
--Eric Weislogel

Photo by EW October 7, 2011, 9:50 am, over Higbee Beach, Cape May, NJ.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nighthawk Spectacle

If you haven’t been out at dusk gazing at the sky, perhaps you have missed it. The good news, however, is that you’ve still got about two weeks left to catch a glimpse of Common Nighthawks during their annual migration. Where are they coming from and where are they going? I wish I knew exactly. In a general sense, they nest throughout our region and north into Canada; they winter in South America. On any given night, however, they are almost as likely to be flying north or northwest as they are to be heading south.

From my perspective, having watched them for more than a decade, it seems as if they prefer to fly into the wind or at an angle to the wind, as opposed to with the wind as migrating raptors do. My guess is that this helps insects get swept into their mouths, making for a convenient meal as they go. Their erratic feeding flight is noticeable even at long distances.

Common Nighthawks are easily recognized by their long, pointed wings with prominent white slashes near the base of the primaries. Their flight can be rapid and direct or groups of birds may circle in kettles, just as Broad-winged Hawks might do, and then head off in a “stream.” Tonight, one such stream carried more than 200 birds through my field of view in about ten minutes time!

Over the course of the past eleven years, the Nighthawk Watch from Haverford College has generally recorded 1700-3100 birds per season. This year, we appear to be on track to set a new record. Come join us at the Observatory from 6-8 PM any evening between now and September 11. Cloudy nights with little wind make for ideal viewing conditions with a glorious sunset as an added attraction.

Where else can you count 648 migrating birds in two hours as we did tonight? Total 2011 count to date: 2757 Common Nighthawks (plus 1 Osprey, 1 Kestrel and 1 Great Egret).

All photos courtesy of Andy Pesthy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August Day of Birding in Delaware

Upland Sandpiper at Cartanza

                                                         Written by Derek Stoner 

    Sunday I birded around Delaware with Chad Kauffman and Al Guarente, enjoying some of Delaware's fine late summer birding. We found 118 species on our tour that took us from Ashland Nature Center south to Cape Henlopen.  Here are the highlights:

      Pre-dawn at Thousand Acre Marsh we heard a Least Bittern calling.  No rails heard, but plenty of buzzing mosquitoes. Near the Smyrna Prison on Paddock Road, Al's ears picked out a calling Grasshopper Sparrow along with singing Horned Larks. At Taylor's Gut we had a flyover Dickcissel (calling) along with a few Bobolinks. At Bombay Hook there was a nice variety of early waterfowl including Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, and Ruddy Duck.  Northern Harrier, Northern Bobwhite, and Little Blue Heron are other notables at Bombay today.
      While sitting at Port Mahon in a deluge, Al picked out a Wilson's Storm-Petrel skimming along the gray chop of the Delaware Bay. And the birds of the day must be the Upland Sandpipers that Chad spotted along Cartanza Road just before the lashing rain and lightning rolled over us.  Their beady black eyes just barely poked above the top of the furrow in the potato field. We finished the day with 21 species of shorebirds, a nice surprise given the huge shift in habitat resulting from the heavy rains of the past week.

Brown Booby at Jarvis Sound, Cape May, NJ

Brown Booby at Jarvis Sound, NJ

On Monday, August 22, 2011, a group of about a dozen or so eager birders set out on the Cape May Bird Observatory sponsored "Birding by Boat" cruise aboard the Osprey.  Captain Bob and naturalists David Lord and Tom Johnson take birders and others on a two hour cruise in the backbay and inland waters around Cape May. 

We arrived early and were met at the dock by David, with whom we have birded on foot on several occasions.  He said, "I bet you're here to see one bird in particular!"  Now you should know my wife and I relatively new birders (just starting our second year, as a matter of fact), and had planned this excursion two weeks in advance just for the fun of it.  If we had not happened to have checked the CMBO blog the night before, we'd have had no idea what David was talking about.  But we did know:  The Brown Booby (sula leucogaster).

As we waited to set sail, other folks started to arrive -- several with very large and elaborate camera setups.  A woman who arrived not long after us told us she heard about the Brown Booby sighting and decided to drive down from New York City to see it.  Others had made similar efforts to get here just for this bird.  Their excitement was infectious, and we could hardly wait to see this rarity.

I had done a little due diligence.  The following is from a fact sheet put out by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Virgin Islands (where you might expect to see a brown booby with some regularity):
Brown Booby on Channel Marker #475

"The Brown Booby is a medium-large seabird characterized by dark brown coloration except on the breast, abdomen and underwing, which are white in the adult.  Females are larger than males, but in the Virgin Islands sexes can be distinguished by bill color (pinkish-yellow in females, greenish-yellow in males)….  The genus Sula is from the Icelandic word Sulan, meaning 'an awkward fellow.'  The name 'booby' comes from the Spanish word bobo, which means 'stupid fellow' referring to the bird's lack of fear of man and clumsiness on land making them easy to catch.  Although awkward on land, their cigar-shaped bodies and narrow wings reflect a superb aerodynamic design, which is specially adapted for plunge-diving.  Their dagger-shaped bill is long and pointed with serrated edges, ideal for swift seizure and grasping of slippery fish.  The external nostrils are closed, but secondary nostrils beside the mouth are covered by moveable flaps when the bird plune-dives into the sea.  A semi-transparent third eyelid closes to protect the eyes in bad weather and underwater. The [yellow] feet are totipalmate (webbed between all four toes) to help the birds to swim well.  They have strong skulls and rib cages to withstand the pressure of diving into the water.  Air sacs under the skin also help to cushion the blow when diving for fish. […] Boobies are powerful high-speed soaring birds that can torpedo after a flying fish or fall straight down like a falcon."  I'd love to have seen that!

I have to be honest here.  Once or twice in the last year I've heard about a rare bird sighting near my home and took a shot at trying to see it.  No luck, not even once.  In fact, often on bird walks the group I'm with will be training their binoculars all in the same direction while oooing and aaahing, and I can't see a thing.  So my excitement was tempered by a generous portion of pessimism.  I expected - at best - to maybe catch a glimpse of some dark outline flying fast in the opposite direction, prepared to feel left out while the experience birders were exchanging high-fives.

But as it turns out, the brown booby is a bit of an exhibitionist, quite content to give us all long, close looks at her (it was a female we were seeing, determined in part by the pinkish bill color).  Normally, this bird is found in the islands south of Florida, but for reasons unknown this lady got herself badly lost.  If this bothered her, however, she gave no indication.  She contentedly perched on a channel marker in Jarvis Sound, occasionally taking wing to test the fishing.  (We did not get to see her feed, unfortunately).  She has been seen for a number of days now and can be seen by scope from the shore.

One birder - whose camera setup up was approximately as large as my wife's Honda Civic - said he had seen the Brown Booby before in the Dry Tortugas, but (and this is the good part) not as up-close as we were seeing her in Jarvis Sound!

If you are not doing anything more important than birding today (and what could that possibly be?), why not take a run down to Cape May? Maybe take a cruise on the Osprey.  We saw much more than our wayward Booby:  Ospreys in the dozens, American Oystercatchers, Whimbrels, Black-Bellied Plovers, Black Terns, Tricolored Herons, Yellow-Crowned Night Herons, Belted Kingfisher, and much more.  It was a great trip, and we're looking forward to the next time. Who knows what we'll see?

--Eric Weislogel