Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Highlights

Personally, 2015 looks like a promising year for birding so far. I have already had a sweet slice of birds for NC this month:

  1. Lapland Longspur & Snow Buntings- Not only did I see a LALO, but a LALO hanging out with four Snow Buntings in North Carolina. Quick, pinch me. I think I'm dreaming. Oh wait, I'm not because I got a photo.
     For one of the most numerous North American birds, this species is a rare winter visitor to NC. Only seen in their basic plumage in NC, they breed in the high arctic tundra then winter in the central US with a few that stray into the Southeast. Most birders in NC most often see them in plowed fields on the coastal plain, dunes and beaches or the Charlotte Motor Speedway has been a reliable spot with its extensive shortgrass.
  2. Yellow-crowned Night Heron- This guy was the best. He was out in open feeding!
  3. Saw-Whet Owl- Yep, I saw whet
  4. Lesser Black-backed Gull- Saw a lot at Cape Hatteras. I love theses gulls because of their interesting increased presence in North America. 20-30 years ago these guys were considered a very rare winter visitor, but now are regular winter residents in Eastern North America. They are common at Cape Hatteras in the winter and rare, but found annually inland in NC. 
  5. Short-eared Owl- Got a decent view through a scope as it sat out in a field at Alligator River NWR.
  6. Snow Goose- A great Wake county bird because they are rare for the piedmont.
  7. Surf Scoter- Had an excellent view of a few that flew past Oregon inlet. 
  8. Virginia Rail-Best view of a rail I have ever had! They hardly took notice of me and other birders watching them from a boardwalk at Bodie Island feeding about ten feet from us.
  9. Orange-crowned Warbler- An uncommon warbler for NC, mostly found at the coast, but I got a great opportunity to see one in the Piedmont for a nice Wake county lifer.
  10. Common Merganser- Felt good to find one on my own in the piedmont. Spotted a female in a huge flock of Double-crested Cormorants at Jordan Lake.

Current Species Tally: 136 with my last bird a, . . . drum roll please . . . Chipping Sparrow.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The 26 Fun and Then Woeful Birds of 2014

The Fun Birds this Year and Why
1. Gregory(GREG for short)-I can always count on you to be there no matter the birding debacle. I had no rEgrets.

2. Whimbrel- Closest I could get to a Long-billed Curlew.

3. Orange-crowned Warbler-Do you EVEN have any Orange? You wouldn't be on here if you weren't hard to find in the East.
4.Harlequin Duck- THANK YOU for spending your winter in NC. Prettiest duck I've ever seen.
5. PUSA!-Cool Bird and fun to shout.

6. American Woodcock- Timberdoodling is a fun word and your courtship displays are spectacular.
7. Rufous Hummingbird- Awesome Wake County Bird
8. Western Kingbird- Felt good to just nail this vagrant for the East Coast
My reaction.

9. Swainson's Warbler- Felt good to get a photo of one of the least observed North American birds.

10. Kentucky Warbler- Has side burns like the ones I grow sometimes.

11. Red-necked Grebe- A nice break from Horned Grebes and a great winter for them
12. Band-tailed Pigeon- Fun rarity for NC.

13. Swainson's Thrush- Cool bird and even cooler to see in local park.
14. Veery- Heard a the whole landscape irrupt with their beautiful song.
15. Virginia Rail- If Marsh Pigs are a thing, it would this bird.
16. Swallow-tailed Kite-Surprise fly over driving in SC
I made this one.

17. Black-throated Green Warbler- Wake County lifer!
18. Chestnut-sided Warbler- Saw in the Smokies and Wake County.
19. Least Flycatcher- another empid other than Acadian is always fun. Especially when it gives its ID away with a "Che-bek!".
20. Philadelphia Vireo-Awesome views in Wake county. Lifer.
21. Clay-colored Sparrow-Awesome views and got photos.

22. Common Merganser-Good Wake County bird.
23. Terns- Fun to see 6 species: Least, Gull-billed, Royal, Caspian, Sandwich, and Forster's in ONE day at Huntington Beach State Park, Georgetown County, SC.
Least Tern

Caspian Tern

Royal Tern

Sandwich Tern

24. Least Bittern- did not think I would be able to find one.

25. Blue-headed Vireo- All over 'em Smoky mountains. A nice "write in" for the big day during January in SC.
Not my photo.
26. Orchard Oriole- Trying to catch this bird at Prairie Ridge was quite a challenge because he never wanted to fly anywhere close to a mist net. However, it paided off.

The Woeful-"Y'all need to show yo self!"

  1. Canada Warbler- Missed in the mountains of NC
  2. Red-breasted Grosebeak
  3. Any Pelagic Birds- wished to have seen a Jaeger from shore, a Hurricane, or more time to go on a Pelagic.
  4. Willow Flycatcher
  5. Bachman's Sparrow
  6. Iceland/Glacous Gull
  7. Reddish Egret
  8. The CUSA that never was. It is a hard one to talk about.
  9. Bufflehead and Red-cockaded -Why did you disappear on my January Big Day in SC?
  10. I think Black Rails have already gone extinct.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Field Mark Diagrams!

I made a diagram of field marks for Clay-colored Sparrow to help separate from Chipping Sparrows. I photographed this Clay-colored Sparrow on a recent trip to Wilmington. It was feeding in the grass beside the parking lot of the NC Aquarium. October 18th, 2014. (notice the new logo in the upper right corner?). *Also Juvenile Chipping Sparrows is another similar plumage similar looking to winter adult. Other diagrams of Chipping Sparrow diagrams.

Photo of sparrow taken off google images, not mine.

The new Cackles logo!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Remembering My Field Marks

A tern flies by beating its wings and I bring it into view. I sit twenty two birds birds shy from breaking into the 200 species zone for Georgetown County and Caspian Tern is one of those twenty two. But where do I look? The bill? Oh wait it's hard to tell if that is the deep red I am looking for in a Caspian in this terrible light. Moving on, the wings? If the wings are my best bet, will primaries be my best option? Upper Surface or undersurface? Man, this is TERN-ing into a big headache. Oh wait, it's already far enough down the beach where I can hardly make out that bird I just saw was a tern!

These are similar questions that run through my head when the opportunity to put an ID on a bird I've been tirelessly pishing too: a sparrow finally sticks his head out of the grass, a warbler appears out of the canopy, or a shorebird flies by. What do I look at first? Well, here are my thoughts: if birders can keep a list for every species we encounter in small counties to our entire life, why can we not make a numbered list of field marks on a species to help us remember? Something as simple as notes you write down on a scrap sheet of paper folded up in your pocket with any sketches that help. Field guides and apps are convenient, but sometimes I feel like they speak a whole other language with too many colors that are too "ishy" and clumped together with descriptions in blocks of paragraphs. Taking the time to note the field marks and dictate your own words in a language you understand on paper, just stick better with me and now I have a reference to refer too.

I attempted to make a list of helpful field marks of the Caspian Tern and comparing it to a similar species like the Royal Tern.
1. Wingtips (Underside of Primaries)

Caspian Tern with whole primary feather dark on the underside. Seen today at Huntington Beach, as well as other terns pictured on this blog.

Royal Tern, with only the edges of primaries dark on the underside.

2. Bill

3. Head Pattern
I kind of butchered the bills on the terns, so don't laugh too hard.
Caspian Tern with the streaked head.
The best would be to make another list of field marks with similar species to make sure you don't generalize too much and misidentify a bird such as , "I did see some darkness on those underside primaries, so it must be my bird, the Caspian Tern" because the darkness on the underside primaries of the Royal could be enough to make you think think Caspian, especially if you are looking for one like I was.

Trying to keep a list of field marks to look for can turn into a well kept journal with a chance to practice sketching and learn from your own birding experience that you can always look back on for quick reference when you encounter that species again. You might even want to turn your list of field marks into the next best-selling field guide.

Here are other photos that highlight my trip to Huntington Beach State Park today. There was a GREG fallout, along with many other wader species, due to a large number of fish. Mullet Pond was bleached white with Egrets and storks.

Least Tern Taking a dive.

Tricolored Heron
Clapper Rail

Black-crowned Night Heron

Something's fishy

Wood Storks

Female Black Scoter

Clapper Rail

Sandwich Tern, you can barely see the mustarded tipped beak.



Glossy Ibis

Least Sandpipers

Friday, June 13, 2014

Warblers at Howell Woods

I finally got a chance to visit Howell Woods in Johnson County this past week. I was astonished with the amazing habitat diversity at Howell Woods from bottomland forests to longleaf pine forests, all within one property. It is a breeding sight to a few noteworthy warblers such as Kentucky Warblers and one of the least observed North American birds, the Swainson's Warbler. I have missed many opportunities to take trips down here with my friends, so I jumped at the opportunity when I got in contact with a family friend, Gary, who wanted to find a good place to see Swainson's and Kentucky Warblers.

 Our morning began with dim light at 6:00 a.m. strolling down the dirt road at Howell woods. We were greeted by an Indigo Bunting singing on an exposed pine tree and continued to our first trail recommended by my friends, Outside Slough. I wiped another layer of sticky bug spray across my arm to combat the cloud of thirsty mosquitoes buzzing by my ear for a drink. We were both standing on the trail cupping our ears at our first song of a Kentucky Warbler with Yellow-billed Cuckoos chuckling in the crown of the trees.
Copperhead on the side of the trail

As we made our way farther down the trail, the Kentucky Warbler's churee came closer and closer. We played a call back and eventually one came in close enough for a shot.

You can just barely see his "side burns"

 We eventually heard a Swainson's Warbler singing, but after much patience and anticipation we had no luck and tried a different trail. We tried a more appropriately named trail to fit our needs, Warbler Way.
The trail had very little activity and we were both getting very anxious to catch a decent glimpse of a Swainson's. The trails were surrounded by canebrake that is prime breeding habitat for Swainson's Warblers.
Forest floor covered in dense canebrake, a factor that contribute to difficult views of Swainson's
At the end of the trail, we ended up on a dirt road called Plantation Rd. The trees were spaced more and proved to be helpful with visibility. Gary played a recording and suddenly a brown blur fluttered around in the top of the tree, bingo! Swainson's Warbler! After a quick glance with my binoculars, I wrestled my camera out of the bag and got plenty of shots. The Swainson's Warbler So, so, so, sweet to hear song pierced through the humid air and clouds of mosquitos right in front of our eyes, an experience I will never forget.

After our climax of the whole trip disappeared into the forest, we explored some other habitats in the park. We came across some early successional habitat of mixed pine and scrub oak that was loaded with Common Yellowthroats, White-eyed Vireos, and Prairie Warblers. Further down the path, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was perched on a snag with the sun hitting its iridescent throat.

 We ran into a Yellow-throated Warbler at the pond and a Yellow-breasted Chat in some of the pines. We even encountered an interesting mammal, a Fox Squirrel.
Fox Squirrel

White-eyed Vieo

White-eyed Vireo
Overall, I left Howell Woods with two lifers and a newfound birding location I will take many trips too.