Monday, August 31, 2009

Return To The Blogosphere

I'm back from vacation, where we were (happily) offline most of time. Not enough birding, but lots of photos taken and lots of blog fodder spinning in my head. I'm hoping to translate them into actual blog posts in the next week or two, once the pile on my work desk has cleared a bit. Wish me luck.

Tonight looks good for migration, especially in our area. I stepped outside during the last throes of the fading light and almost immediately heard flight calls from at least two Veeries. The skies are clear, the waxing gibbous moon on the rise, and the radar is popping.

Migration appears along the eastern seaboard, especially in eastern Virginia.
Radar image captured at 8:36 PM EDT from NCAR's RAP Real Time Weather Data.

Helpful hint to generate your own up-to-the-minute map: click on the link in the caption, then click on the words "Contiguous US" at the top of the map on the page that appears. If you're more daring, click on a specific radar site for a more detailed view of that area.

Alternately, if you get a chance, step outside (bundle up a bit if in the northeast!) and turn an ear skyward, and check out your favorite migrant patch tomorrow morning.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Have You Seen These Birds?

BirdLife International is launching a quest to find 47 "lost" bird species, some of which haven't been seen for 184 years. Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International's chief executive, says

History has shown us that we shouldn't give up on species that are feared to have gone to their graves because some, such as the Cebu flowerpecker, have been rediscovered long after they were feared extinct, providing hope for the continued survival of other ‘long-lost' species.

Who is on the list? Everything from a petrel (Jamaican) to a duck (Pink-headed), a woodpecker (Ivory-billed) to a quail (Himalayan), a seedeater (Hooded) to a curlew (Slender-billed).

Can you pick out which is the Slender-billed Curlew?
Image from

See more of the species, and the Cebu Flowerpecker (emblem of the program), on the BBC's web site, and read the full story at BirdLife International. Then grab your camera and go birding!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

On The Whole, I'd Rather Be In Philadelphia

And I am. In Philadelphia, that is, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, attending the 127th stated meeting of the American Ornithologists Union.

It's been a while since I've attended a scientific meeting and I'd forgotten how exhilarating they can be. Yeah, I know that sounds dweebish, but you know how it is, or at least I hope you do: when you're amongst your own chatting about everything and anything that relates to your passion you can't help but be energized. It's like a positive feedback loop that spirals into exciting ventures with old friends, newly-made acquaintances, and newly-minted ornithologists.

It's hearing the stories about major events in your field from the people who were at the center of those events.

It's discovering what we've recently learned about the subjects we're most interested in, what questions we've addressed and plugged those answers into the general body of knowledge . . . only to uncover more questions that need attention.

Good stuff.

Today started with Scott Weidensaul, author of absolute-must-reads such as "Living on the Wind" and "The Ghost with Trembling Wings" and others, presenting our host city as the Ornithological Cradle, a historical perspective how ornithology in the New World is all about Philadelphia. Bartram, Wilson, Audubon, and many more; the first banded birds, the horrific scenes from the Kittatinny Ridge that lead to the establishment of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, and so much in between.

We all listened to Bob Ricklefs illuminate what he's discovered about Bird Comings and Goings in the West Indies. I listened to researchers present results of their long-term studies (still in progress; shouldn't they always be that way?) that showed effects of weather and habitat on a species or a suite of species. I learned what recent research is saying about bird collisions with windows, communication towers, and planes.

Unfortunately too many other sessions ran concurrently; I couldn't hear everything - I hope others are blogging about their sessions! Or at least there are some web archives somewhere.

Tomorrow will come too early - thankfully the coffee is free and bird-friendly.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Rising of the Moon

Two important things about tonight, as far as I'm concerned. First, it's late and I'm tired so this won't be as detailed as it deserves. Heck, it probably won't be as focused as it deserves. Second, tonight's moon is beautifully full and worth spending a few minutes gawking, or at least staring, at it.

Full moon by Luc Viatour, courtesy

Take some time to watch the moon, preferably through a scope so you can watch for birds flying across its face, though let me say this up front: WARNING: a full moon is bright, especially through a scope! Don't damage your retinas!

Here in the northeast, it looks like a good night for migration and a good night for observing it. Under a full moon you can observe migrating birds not only by ear as many give a characteristic flight call, but by sight, too, as they pass in front of the full moon. I spent some twenty minutes outside photographing the moon (not my image above, though, they're still on the camera). To be perfectly honest, I didn't see anything cross the moon as I stared through the camera, which wasn't optimal but I was too lazy to swap the camera for the scope on the tripod.

I did hear several flight calls, and by mid-morning tomorrow I'll know what my roof-top microphone recorded. I've been testing a new recording unit since early June, and I've impressed myself by analyzing each and every recording within a day or three after it happened. Things I've learned:
  • I record a lot more cuckoos, both Black- and Yellow-billed, during the breeding season than I see.
  • The local Ovenbirds give a beautiful flight song pre-dawn on our hill.
  • A Dark-eyed Junco likes to perch on the microphone.
  • Northern Cardinals are the earliest songsters.
  • Migration has already started. So far I've recorded American Redstarts, Yellow, Canada, Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes, Chipping and White-throated Sparrows, and several yet-to-be-identified species. That's off the top of my head, not a complete list.
  • My neighbor's dogs bark a lot.
  • The resident coyotes howl a lot.
  • We have several vocal amphibians in our pond, and they have the stamina of a Tour de France competitor.
  • My other neighbor likes to blast classic rock every Friday night and occaisionally Saturday.
More to come as the migration season continues.

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