1/31/2009

Super Bowl Survey: Closing soon

My Super Bowl Poll is closing shortly.

At the moment the Steelers are leading the Cardinals 8 to 7.

Make sure you pop in and vote! The poll is in the right hand side of the blog.

Exhibitionist birds of New England

My Bloggerhead Kingbird team members have done an excellent job at recounting the weekend, especially the birding done on Saturday during the superbowl. Honestly, the day was a blur of stops and birds that pretty blend in my mind. Rather than trying to recount all the stops and species, I'll refer you to the rest of the dream team:
Christopher at The Picusblog
Patrick at the Hawk Owl's Nest
Corey at 10,000 Birds
N8 at The Drinking Bird
During the trip I kept bumping into birds that were just begging me to snap their pics. Many of these birds are tough to see in NJ and when you see them they are way off in the distance. Here are a few of my more decent pics that I snapped. Sadly some of the birds were a little too quick or my photographic skills didn't do them justice.
Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Eider

White winged Crossbill

1/30/2009

Funny Friday: Rock Lobster

If this doesn't make you wanna dance.........


The mottled crue of birding

Here's our official team photo taken at the awards ceremony. Left to right: N8, Patrick, Corey, myself and Christopher. My wife called us a 'real mixed bunch'...if only she spent an hour in the car listening to the hysterical conversations. BTW, I wasn't sleeping - my eyes just react that way when people point a camera at them.

1/29/2009

Have we met?

One of the cool things about blogs is all the visitors you get from all over the world. I'd appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to introduce yourself. Copy and paste the questions below into the comments page located here and type away.

> How long have you been birding?
> How often do you go birding?
> What are your favorite birds?
> What's your rarest bird?
> Where did you see your rare bird?
> What bird would you love to see?
> What's your favorite spot for birding?
> Do you keep a life list?
> How many birds on your list?
> Do you keep a garden list of birds?
> How many birds on your list?
> What's the nicest garden bird you've seen?
> What birds nest in your garden?
> Do you have any owls in your garden?
> Any more info you'd like to share?

Long eared owl in Massachusetts

I’m obviously a fanatical owl watcher. Ironically this blog is called the owlbox blog, even though I’ve never had an owl nesting in my owl box. I was chatting with the rest of my Bloggerhead Kingbird team mates saying maybe I should rename the blog to owlessowlbox. I’m sure you’ll agree that even though this is technically correct, it is a very wordy web address. If I was smart, I would have used a very clever name like Christopher at the Picusblog. Maybe I would have thought about Buboblog in honor of the cool Eagle owl Genus in SA, which includes the pink eyelids of the Giant Eagle Owl. By the way, for those of you hoo are wondering, Bubosblog is already taken. Turns out this is a blog not about little kids with ouchies, but rather a blog aimed at having fun with mythology….hmmm. Wow, where did that tangent come from. This post is not about changing my blog name nor the lack of nesting Screech owls in my owlbox (even though that still stings – a little), but rather about finding a super cool owl.

My obsession with owls takes on many forms. One of those forms is a special avian paranoia where I am constantly imaging that each and every tree has an owl hiding in it, somewhere. On Saturday during the Superbowl of birding we drove through one of the local State Reserves and I mentioned to anyone who would listen, that those Pitch Pines probably have a Saw whet or Long eared owl (LEO) in them. Christopher mentioned that the Pines had indeed had LEO in them. I scanned the trees with delusional optimism as we drove through onto our next stop.

On Sunday we went back to look for the incredible White winged Crossbills that had been seen in the same spot. As we got up to the pines, we noticed two older gentlemen precariously setting up their VERY large tripods crammed with optics that looked more like weapons of mass destruction, than powerful birding lenses. We all whipped out our bins scanning the tree for Crossbills. One by one we confirmed the fact that no Crossbills were present. “I bet you they’re looking at an owl”, I piped up. I’m sure the team thought ‘here he goes again’, although no one said anything. Luckily they all agreed that we needed to go investigate the mystery invisible bird. As we hopped out of the car I blurted that I had a great feeling about this.

We made our way over, still constantly scanning the tree. By this time the gentlemen were crouched in what looked like back breaking positions shooting up into the rather stubby pine. “What are you guys looking at” one of us casually inquired. “An owl” I heard one of the gentlemen say! Yeeha, yippee, hooray – we found an owl without any serious leg work, what a find. The gentleman directed us to the only spot that had a direct line of sight to the owl. The only problem was that his buddy was hogging the space and snapping pictures like they were going to stop producing memory cards tomorrow.

Being the smallest of our crew, N8 managed to get a decent look at the owl even though he was sharing some serious personal space with memory card man. I snuck up behind them and did my best to get a look. Holy schmoly we had ‘found’ a magnificent Long eared owl (LEO)! After patiently waiting for both memory man and the original gentlemen to fill their memory cards with what must be mind blowing shots of the LEO, I managed to get some INCREDIBLE views of the LEO. Although I’ve been lucky enough to have seen LEOs on several occasions this is the first time that I’ve had an unobstructed views of a LEO face at close/photographable range.


In order to really appreciate how lucky we were, compare these shots to the PA owl that I found HIGH up in a Pine tree.


Now try to find the LEO I found in Mercer county. I promise that the owl is in fact visible in this photo. Click for the full size photo.


After succumbing to the same memory card fever the other gentlemen had clearly suffered from, I finally relinquished center LEO viewing stage and joined the others on a new quest for Crossbills. I’ll cover the Crossbills in another post, but let’s just say I was VERY happy to have seen a LEO and Crossbills in the same day. On Friday Christopher had dared one of us to dive into a snow bank and even I looked at him like that would be CRAZY. Well after a magnificent weekend of birding, I decided that he might be onto something and I did a modified rear tumbling swan dive. All the judges (except the French judge), awarded me with a 5.0/5.0 for effort – technical scores were a little lower.

My only regret with the awesome LEO story was that I didn't take pcitures of the precarious shooting postion that was required to get a clear shot of the owl as well as not taking photos of the owl's relative location in the tree.

1/28/2009

Wordless Wed: Gulls in flight





Photos taken over this last weekend. Gulls were plentiful and nice and big, so it made for easy shooting even with my handicapped lens ;-)

1/27/2009

10 random things I learned while birding with the dream team

1. A Rotary in New England has nothing to do with spinning props, it’s what normal people would call a circle or roundabout. The proper way to approach a Rotary in New England is at 80 mph, accelerating as you enter it.

2. You can’t assume that someone from a warm state will understand what ‘bitterly cold’ means. Next time take an extra ‘winter’ coat.

3. It’s worth being called a bank robber look-alike by your team mates when you first don your ski mask as they’ll be begging for one after only 10 minutes. In addition, you can keep mentioning how smart you were for bringing one alone, although that won’t win you any brownie points with the team.

4. Never assume that there are easy birds during a birding competition. Blue birds have been known to play hide and seek during birding competitions.

5. A bowl of New England clam chowder in New England is a meal unto itself – you don’t need two portions of calamari and other extremely filling starters on top of that.

6. Travel time should be multiplied by at least 3 when given by a local. If the local says ‘it’s about 5 minutes away, it’s more like 15-20. In the case of our local we only multiplied by 3, because apparently speed limits don’t apply while competing a bird competition (just kidding Christopher).

7. The house sparrow invasion in Essex county, MA is complete and human surrender is imminent.

8. Even while travelling at high speed on during bitterly cold arctic conditions; it is a good idea to open your window if another birder in front of you does so. This lesson applies mostly to the drive back and Patrick and Corey will understand it best.

9. Mentioning the fact that gas is cheaper in New Jersey and that we have people to pump it year round (especially during the cold winter months) makes the locals mad, they DON’T think it’s funny – now drop it.

10. If you see two gentlemen with massive lenses and tripods crouching low in the snow looking up at something in a small pitch pine, get out and briskly walk over there – it’s something cool. If you’re lucky like we were, it will a Long Eared Owl and you’ll get some killer photos while elbowing what turns out to be not-so gentle gentlemen.

Northern Hawk Owl in New England (NH)

The Superbowl of birding weekend was packed with mind blowing moments. One of those moments for me, was when I was watching a Northern Hawk Owl launching swift and silent assaults on the local rodent population.


While I was sinking deeper and deeper into the seemingly bottomless snow, my mind wandered to a National Geographic show that I saw while I was still a youngster in South Africa. I’m sure most birders have those moments stuck in their head, when they've seen a bird in a magazine, book or TV show and thought WOW.

I clearly remember seeing the Hawk Owl special that was shot somewhere in Canada and being mesmerized by the odd shape, behavior and beauty of this incredible bird. What also struck me was that I would probably never see this owl ‘in real life’ as it was almost across the globe from sunny South Africa. I had to smile while watching the Hawk Owl scanning the snow field and knowing that I had a shot at seeing a wild Snowy Owl this weekend, another bird I saw at the Pretoria Zoo (South Africa) as a teenager.

All of those thoughts went through my head watching the Hawk Owl. I panned across to the Bloggerhead Kingbird team members and noticed that they were also clearly as mesmerized by the SUPER coolness of this hawk-possessed owl. Watching this winged wonder made time stand still and made me appreciate both the fluidity and immense beauty of life on planet earth.




1/26/2009

White winged Crossbills...in my garden??

On Saturday I saw my life White Winged Crossbill in Salisbury State Reserve, MA during a mad rush to see as many species in as short a time as possible. The Crossbills landed in a Pine right next to us and we got good looks before all jumping back in the car and zooming off to the next destination. Yesterday we had a much more leisurely time with the Crossbills before heading back home. I figured that this would be the last Crossbill I would see for quite some time – not quite. This morning the weekends birding highlights were running through my mind as I filling up my feeders. I suddenly SNAPPED back to reality as a pretty decent flock of birds flew RIGHT over my head. The sound they made was unmistakable – holy...karamba (PG13 version) those are CROSSBILLS.

I sprinted into the house, grabbed my gear and headed over to the neighbors. Sure enough, there were the Crossbills munching on little cones (tree species anyone?). I managed to get some semi-decent pictures for the record before the Crossbills headed off to another tree. They flew around for another 10 minutes or so, although I couldn’t get any more pictures. Isn’t birding amazing? I travel all the way to MA to see Crossbills and then they show up in my garden……INCREDIBLE! I’m hoping that they’ll be back and that I’ll be able to get a little closer to them when they do. Regardless I have a new amazing garden bird to add to the list! I guess with birding, much like life it never rains it pours. Now if a Northern Hawk Owl or Snowy Owl shows up in my garden I will definitely have a heart attack. So be warned, if I suddenly stop blogging you know what the reason is.


1/25/2009

Back from the Superbowl of birding

Well we're all back to our place of residence after a whirlwind weekend of INTENSE birding. During the competition we had to beg our fearless task master (Christopher) to stop for bathroom breaks and we made it through the entire day without a coffee break. Bear in mind our birding day started at around 3:45 am and ended at 5:00pm...am I complaining? Not at all! All of the guys got along like a house on fire and we pretty much never stopped laughing and chatting even while braving the bitter New England elements.

From a personal perspective I learnt a lot from this great group of knowledgeable birders and I hope to do more birding with them soon. I need to do a final tally on my lifers, although I estimate that I got somewhere in the region of 10-12! Today capped off the perfect weekend with me and N8 getting lifer Snowy Owls and N8 getting an obstructed view of a magnificent Long Eared Owl lifer.

The remote blogging (13 posts) via my cell phone was a lot of fun and based on the comments, it seems like you enjoyed hearing about our trails, tribulations and triumphs! One highlight was taking the Northern Hawk Owl using Corey’s scope and my cell phone. Lining the cell phone up to the scope was precarious and time consuming at best, although I think the result is incredible. I've also received some positive feedback on the video, which clearly shows JUST how cold it was on the coast.

In summary, the trip was awesome and it was fantastic hanging out with people who share your fanatical passion for something that the general public sadly doesn’t always understand. N8, Christopher, Corey and Patrick are incredible birders and I’d encourage you to check out their blogs as I’m sure they’ll have a lot to blog about over the next few days. As for me, I have to wrap my mind around the trip and sort through my zillions of pictures to share all the amazing moments with you in more detail. I’ll be back soon after a night of well deserved sleep.

Post Superbowl of birding

We are wrapping up our awesome birding weekend this morning. So far we've had a 5 owl weekend and we even missed Short Eared Owl! This morning we picked up Snowy Owl - lifer for me and an AWESOME Long Eared Owl.
Incredible photos shared by the Flickr community group - Owls of North America. Click on the play button to begin the slideshow - ENJOY!