White winged crossbill: NJ

This winter New Jersey has been blessed with several irruptive bird species. Irruptive species are birds that don't normally winter in a particular area. These irruptions add a dramatic level of excitement to winter bird watching and I’ve been lucky to have both White winged crossbills, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches in my yard. We have also had reports of Common Redpoll in New Jersey, but I haven’t seen any yet.

This morning I had a flock of about 10 female White winged crossbill eating Hemlock cones from the ground. I would have liked to have seen some males, but this was a girls’ breakfast event.

More photos at my Flickr photostream.


I & the Bird: 93

I & the Bird 93 is now available - click here to read about all the birding adventures!


Squirrel alert!

As I suspected, the new security features in my owl box did not deter the squirrels. This morning when I turned my owlcam on I noticed that the box was full of leaves and I could see a squirrel tail in amongst the debris. At lunch time I fired the owlcam back up and sure enough I could still see the intruder.

I grabbed my coat and bounded out the door and up the ladder to get a closer look. After some discussion, two squirrels took a flying leap out of the box and two others decided to sit tight. We had some more discussions about property rights, after which I finally left the owl box with the lid still open. After lunch I looked at the owl cam and the owl box was squirrel free once again. I suspect this will be an ongoing war, although I’m basking in the knowledge that I won the first battle.

Red shouldered hawk: Pole Farm

On the way back from seeing the awesome Green tailed towhee, I swung by the Pole farm in Mercer county to give Patrick from The Hawk Owl's Nest a quick tour. The Pole farm has become more popular over the last couple of year primarily based on the fact that it is Raptor Central. The farm boasts expansive grassland which is ideal for owls and hawks. The quick tour of the Pole farm netted Rough legged hawk (both pale and dark morphs), Northern Harrier (including some impressive gray ghosts), Red tailed hawk, Black vulture, Turkey vulture and two spectacular Red shouldered hawks.

One of the Red shouldered hawks was most co-operative as he allowed us to drive right up to him. I was trying to sneak a shot as he bolted, but the raptors just sat there even as we drove right up to him. He was on the passenger side of the road and all I could hear was Patrick’s camera merrily clicking away. I managed to get some shots through the windshield and Patrick snapped a few more from the passenger side for me. It’s amazing how most birds bolt at the sight of you and others couldn’t care less. Birding involves a lot of luck, a dash of patience and quick reflexes. I don’t often see Red shouldered hawk, so this was a real treat for me.

All Flickr'ed up

I finally made the leap and signed up for my Flickr account. I've uploaded a whole bunch of photos although I'm not a 100% sure how people go about finding your photos. There are a zillion Flickr accounts so how do you use your account? I guess many people use it to share family photos, rather than purely as a site to upload a bunch of bird photos. Anyway, I thought it would be a nice addition to the blog in case people wanted to see more of my photos. I've added the Flickr shortcut to the right navigation panel.


How do you track your birds?

I don't officially have a life list of birds, but I saw a whole bunch of new birds while out in MA during the Superbowl of birding weekend. I’m including birds that I can’t remember seeing, although I’m sure I’ve seen a few in NJ on birding trips.

My current system of tracking birds is simply checking them off in my field guide. I’m pretty bad at keeping up with my checking off process and inevitable I miss some along the way. What process do you use to track your bird lists – handwritten, spreadsheets, word documents, software, manual checking? What recommendations do you have for me before I dive into the process?

Here are my lifers for the trip:
Common Eider
White-winged Scoter
Black Guillemot
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Snowy Owl
Northern Hawk Owl
Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull

I would have to rate the Northern Hawk Owl as my top life bird for the trip with the Snowy owl right behind it. We didn’t get a good look at the Snowy, but it definitely was one. If we had seen the Ivory gull I think it would have been a dead tie.

Let me know what you think about my life list issue – thanks.

I'm too cool and I KNOW it!

Exhibitionist birds of New England: Part II

Purple Sandpipers are generally pretty tough to photograph as they are constantly running around on VERY slippery rocks looking for gastropods, insects, and crustaceans. Imagine my surprise when this exhibitionist ignored me and posed for his picture. It this little guy hadn't moved, I may have thought he was frozen...


Chasing the elusive Green tailed Towhee in NJ

In reality the Green Tailed Towhee we went out to see this morning was neither elusive, nor was there any real need to chase it. The bird has been seen in Collingswood, New Jersey for several weeks now at some VERY lucky homeowner’s feeders. Notwithstanding these two facts, the Green Tailed Towhee is in fact extremely rare in New Jersey. State records for this bird are few and far between and it’s easy to see why, just by looking at the bird’s distribution map. This post should really have been titled: Looking for the seriously lost and confused Green tailed towhee – I went for the catchier and more intriguing title, please forgive me.

Patrick and I headed out to Collingswood early this morning filled with the hope of seeing a very cool little bird. We got to the house at around 8 and stood around scanning for the Towhee. Patrick had seen it briefly before in another state and this would be a lifer for me. Initially we were just seeing Juncos, White throated Sparrows and House Sparrows, but then something zoomed in and Patrick got right onto it – BINGO Green Tailed Towhee.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that this is just another sparrow-looking bird, especially when you take a quick glance in bad lighting conditions.

After about an hour or so the light got much better and I managed to shoot some decent shots although the (*&^%&*(^%% Towhee kept hopping around.

After taking lots more photos of the Green tailed towhee we jumped in the car and headed back home. We decided to make a pit stop at the Pole farm and then near my house for Eared Grebe at the Round Valley Reservoir. I had been a couple of weeks ago, but struck out on the Grebe. Luckily our rare state bird mojo paid off and we got some great looks at it. All were scope views, so no photos. Fantastic morning of birding!
PS: Interesting facts about Green tailed towhee from Whatbird.com:
The Green-tailed Towhee is the only entirely migratory towhee. It is also the smallest towhee.
Their scientific name roughly translates to “colorful chirper,” and their common name attests to the bright yellow-green of their tail. A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" and a "teapot" of towhees.