Sweet Southern Birds!

All the photos in this post were taken by my sister-in-law, Karen, during a trip to Charleston and Savannah.  She and her husband stopped at the Audubon swamp at the Magnolia Plantation outside of Charleston, SC, where they managed to capture this magnificent photo of a Black-crowned Night Heron.  Isn't he a fine-looking fella?  Great photography, guys!  I've never come close enough to a Black-crowned Night Heron to even attempt a picture!

Here's another great shot!  This one was taken at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in Hardeeville, SC, which is about 6 miles north of Savannah.  If these photos were included on my Bird-a-thon Presentation I'd make sure and point out that these two species can be seen in Massachusetts, also.  I've noticed that people without any exposure to birds and birding get really excited by the prospect of seeing fantastic birds without needing to travel far.  I think that is how fledgling birders are born - pun intended!  :) 

This gorgeous guy is a Boat-tailed Grackle. I've never even seen one of these.  I saw plenty of Great-tailed Grackles in Tuscon, but this species is only found along the gulf coast.  The Cornell Labs of Ornithology describes the species as a, "large, long-tailed blackbird, the Boat-tailed Grackle is found exclusively along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. The noisy, iridescent, purple-black male is hard to miss when it displays on power lines and telephone poles. The smaller brown female is much less conspicuous, and might even be mistaken for a different species".  I really like the name, too!

The last two photos have me burning up with blatant jealousy! I have ALWAYS wanted to see an Anhinga!  Since jealously is hardly becoming to a blogger, however, I will try and be gracious and congratulate my sister and brother-n-law for finding this awesome bird, and for capturing it in action!  Great job, guys!

It is even harder to suppress my jealousy when it comes to a Purple Gallinule, but I shall.  After all, there is still a slight chance I might see one for myself one day.  What I find hard to believe is that this spectacular bird is related to the American Coot.  I just couldn't make myself fall in love with coots.  This bird, however, is near the top of my 'desperately want to see and photograph' list.  In any case, though, I am very impressed with Bob and Karen's birding and photography skills.  Thank you both for sharing your pictures!

Click the blue button above to donate to Mass Audubon's Bird-a-thon 2012.  It's a very worthy cause, especially if you enjoy being outside in nature - and who doesn't?


New and Mew Gulls

I love photos of gulls in flight!  It would be far better if I could tell you exactly what species of gull we're looking at here, but I'm not entirely sure!  In the first place, there are many species of gulls in California that we don't have around here (and vice-versa), so I didn't even try to ID all of them.

In the second,place this is not a fully mature gull, and I haven't memorized three or four years worth of different plumages even for the local gulls I know and love.  I like this photo because it caught the gull in mid-landing.  As I've said before, a beginning bird photographer can't choose a better subject than a gull!

This Mew Gull would be considered a rarity here in Massachusetts.  Personally, I think he's a particularly appealing bird.  The Mew Gull can easily be identified by it's small bill, roundish head, and small size.  The fact that he is often described as a a 'cute' gull is another example of humans instinctual reaction to animals with rounder heads and smaller features.  (See this post for another example).

Another gull we don't see at all in New England is the Heermann's Gull, but the Heermann's Gull is also very easy to ID.  This is a juvenile bird, and it's the only uniformly dark colored gull with black legs and feet that you'll ever see.

Here he is actually chasing down another gull in order to steal it's supper - typical gull behavior despite it's atypical appearance.  The adult Heermann's is even more startling-looking; it has a bright white head and a bright red bill!


Stunning Surf Scoters - California Style!

Many birders have seen Surf Scoters on the Massachusetts coast, but I never got a decent look at them until we stayed in Marina, California.  As you can see, they were well worth the wait!  The male (in front) would blow you away!

Check out that colorful and outrageous face!  It is far too exotic to be just another run-of-the-mill sea duck.

The beach by our hotel was teeming with Surf Scoters every day.  Here is an juvenile or first year scoter in the surf.

Her is the same scoter about to dive under a massive wave.

It was the adult males with the brilliant coloring that thrilled me most of all.

Do you see the little Surf Scoter in the lower right corner calmly swimming in the massive surf of the Pacific Ocean?  I liked this photo so much I use it as my Facebook cover page!  They always dived under before the waves could take them and toss them about like so much flotsam, though.  I know I wouldn't have lasted a minute in that violent surf!

Remember, Bird-a-thon 2012 is fast approaching!  If you haven't made a donation yet, please try to scrape up a few dollars for Massachusett's Audubon. Mass Audubon is saving the nature of Massachusetts, and I know you all care about such a worthy cause!


More Fantastic Birds - West Coast Style

My Bird-a-thon fundraising slide show includes many slides of birds that we won't be seeing during Bird-a-thon 2012.   The White-tailed Kite pictured above is a good example.  I had certainly never seen one before!  When some Mississippi Kites were reported in Falmouth last year, I drove down to try and see them, but without any luck.  Seeing this Kite was a real thrill!  You should see it hunting - it hovers in the air like an Osprey!

The Black-necked Stilt was very high on my 'must see' list - it is a bird I have dreamed of seeing since I was small.  I was NOT disappointed by the real thing, either!  I know many people will object to this description, but it is one cute bird!  The perfectly round head and great big eyes probably elicit a protective reaction in humans, similar to our reaction to human babies, puppies, and baby seals.  When an adult animal or bird retains these characteristics, the tendency we have is to coo and think it's 'cute.'  But this stilt is also gorgeously well-proportioned and has very striking coloring.  It is now one of my favorite species!

 The American Avocet is also strikingly beautiful.  Like the Black-necked Stilt, the Avocet is a delicate and graceful looking bird that is hard to resist.  Just looking at this photo brings back the thrilling birding vacation we had the last time our family was all together.  What a wonderful trip it was!

I know that pelicans are as common as dirt in many places, but I find them irresistible.  Now, it would be hard to characterize a pelican as cute or delicate, but they are impressive as hell!   Of course, I've always been partial to great, big birds that you tend to see near the water.  Why?  Because those are the only birds I could see when I was little.  I was blind as a bat, yet somehow no one noticed I needed glasses until I was in 5th grade. Whatever the reason, though, I still love the big birds best.  I probably always will!

Of course, the purpose of the presentation is to raise money for Massachusetts Audubon, so there are many slides of birds that are just as easily seen here.  To tell you the truth, even I was surprised by the number of bird photos that could have been taken anywhere.  Birds are truly citizens of the whole world.  We share birds across countries and continents - too bad we can't seem to share anything else!


My First Day Birding in 2012!

My mother's health issues have prevented me from going birding this year, but since my sister stayed with mom on Saturday and Sunday, and I finally got to visit one of my favorite places in Framingham: the Heron rookery at the Foss Reservoir.  I spend two very happy hours checking out all the herons flying to and from the island in the center of the reservoir.

Unfortunately, the cormorants have returned to the rookery again this year.  As much as I love seeing Double-crested Cormorants down the cape and elsewhere, cormorants nesting in a heron rookery usually means the beginning of the end of the rookery itself.  (see this post for more information on the phenomenon.)

The robins were everywhere, too.  This one appeared to be smiling!

I did see the strangest thing I have seen in the three years I have been observing this island colony - the sudden mass exodus of about fifteen Great Blues!  Something must have frightened them into a mass panic, but I can't imagine what it could be.  There is no way a non-avian predator large enough to threaten a GBH could even gain access to the island.  A Great Horned Owl or an American Eagle might cause such a scare, but I didn't see anything remotely like that in the area.  Most of the herons just flew around the reservoir for a few minutes and then returned to the nests.  One or two just kept one going!

It's been quite a while since I hiked around with that massive lens, and I could tell I was WAY out of practice when it came to shooting pictures.  Most were too blurry and out of focus to post, but I decided to include the last two pictures just for 'proof".  As you can see, the gulls have returned from where ever they were this winter. 

And I saw a couple of male Yellow-shafted Flickers as well.  All in all, it was a spectacular few hours for someone who has been unable to get much beyond the back yard recently.  It was also a learning experience . . . I learned that I had better practice my bird photography pretty darn quick, or Bird-a-thon will be a disaster!


Pete's in Zambia! Check out his birds!

My son Pete joined the Peace Corps, and he'll be in Africa for the next two and a half years.  He has been posted to Zambia, the country I highlighted in red on the above map.  Despite my sadness at having my son so far away and virtually out of touch, I am very proud of him for being a Peace Corps volunteer.

For the first 6 weeks Pete was in Lusaka, Zambia (blue circle).  Lusaka is the capital and biggest city in Zambia. Right now he is in Serenje (red circle)

Pete's degree is in Forestry, and that is what he will be doing in the Peace Corps.  According to the map above,  the country is made up of a number of different woodland habitats.  When he started, he was in the Southern Miombo Woodlands (purple circle).  Now he is is the Central Zambezian Miombo Woodlands region (green circle). (I have no idea what either place is like, by the way.)  What I'm really curious about is Pete's birding experiences in Africa!

All the bird photos in this post are from the List of birds of Zambia Wikipedia page.  It is pretty hard not to get jealous at the thought of Pete seeing birds like these.  The bird above is a Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).  I don't know if Pete's seen one yet, but if they are present in his part of the country, I guarantee that Pete will find a way to see one!

This one is a Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudata.)  How could I compete with anyone who has this bird on his on his life-list?

This photo of a Secretary-bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) was taken at the San Diego Zoo, but Pete has a good chance of seeing one in the wild!

This one is a Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis).  You'd have to be a far better person than I am not to feel a little jealous when your competition is seeing birds like these!  (Actually, I am the only one who is competitive about birding.  Pete is even more passionate about birding than I am, but he always praises my efforts, cheers me on, and is excited for me whenever I add a new species to my life list. I try to be as supportive towards him as he is towards me, but I'm ashamed to say that it doesn't come naturally.)

This year we are doing Bird-a-thon in honor of Pete.  He's spending two years of his life volunteering in Africa to make the world a better place.  The very least his dad and mom can do is is spend 24 hours chasing down birds, right? Especially since the money we raise will help make our little corner of the world a better place for generations to come. 


Bird-a-thon 2012

Once again, Tom and I are participating in Mass Audubon's Bird-a-thon 2012 fundraising event. Bird-a-thon is a 24-hour birding event during which my team will count as many Massachusetts bird species as we can. We are raising money for the Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary in Natick, Massachusetts. During this event, we will be in competition with other teams to see the most bird species. Bird-a-thon is like a scavenger hunt combined an Amazing Race type of reality show. Competition is fierce, and the race goes on no matter how bad the weather conditions might be or how difficult it is to navigate the terrain.

tern wild flight
Bird-a-thon 2010
Tom and I are far from the best Bird-a-thon competitors out there. No one has to worry about us getting any prizes for seeing the most species, believe me! But in the past we have managed to get some spectacular photos during Bird-a-thon, and we're quite proud of the fact that Mass Audubon has featured many of our pictures in their Bird-a-thon Results slide shows.

American Oystercatcher 2011
Bird-a-thon 2011
Bird-a-thon is much more than a simple scavenger hunt or photo op, however. Bird-a-thon is Mass Audubon’s single, largest, annual fundraising event. Donating to Bird-a-thon helps protect and preserve the most precious resource we have; The Nature of Massachusetts.

piping plover 2
Bird-a-thon 2010
We can thank Mass Audubon for the fact that we can still see an endangered species like the Piping Plover pictured above. There so many species of birds that are in trouble, and we can't afford to turn our backs on the problem. It's not a matter of aesthetics - it's ultimately a matter of the survival of all species on our planet, including our own species. 

canada gosling birdathon
Bird-a-thon 2010

We live in a beautiful world that is filled with beautiful birds. They fill our lives with delightful songs, and they fill our hearts with joy.  It's hard to ask people to donate money when times are so hard, but I feel strongly that my readers will give whatever they can afford so that our world will remain beautiful for generations to come. This year, lets hear it for the birds by sponsoring our Bird-a-thon team.  Together we can save The Nature of Framingham and the Nature of Massachusetts, too


Fantastic Birds of the USA

This is the first slide of a PowerPoint presentation I am giving to raise money for Bird-a-thon this year.  The presentation will be at Carmel Terrace in Framingham, where my mom is currently a resident.  I almost didn't sign up to raise money for Mass Audubon's Bird-a-thon this year because mom's not doing well at all.  But after a little soul-searching, I changed my mind.  Bird-a-thon raises money to protect the nature of Massachusetts, and that is a cause very dear to my heart.  Despite everything, Tom and I will be participating in Bird-a-thon 2012 with a vengeance!

I won't bore you with images of all 50 slides, but I do want to show you a few highlights from the presentation. This slide commemorates a sighting from our first Bird-a-thon, when my son Pete was a part of our team.  Pete is now in Zambia, Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer.  We barely speak because it's outrageously expensive, but he was thrilled to hear that we'd be doing Bird-a-thon for Broadmoor again this year.  Pete was the Property Manager at Broadmoor Audubon Sanctuary in Natick when this photo was taken, and he loves the place.  All the more reason for us to join Bird-a-thon this year!

Not all the photos are from previous year's Bird-a-thon results.  Some are images of local birds, and some are pictures we took when visiting Arizona and California at Christmas.  This photo was taken when Pete and I went to the Cape in February 2011. 

We've seen Northern Pintails in Arizona, California, and in Massachusetts.  The range and migration patterns of birds is well understood by experienced birders, but many non-birders find such facts absolutely fascinating.  I was overwhelmed by how many people became attuned to the world of birds and birding after seeing my last presentation.  It is sometimes hard to ask people to donate money for your cause, but when you give your audience the gift of hearing songbirds they never noticed before, asking for donations becomes a bit easier!

Of course, the presentation also includes some fantastic looking birds that usually evoke gasps of wonder from the audience.  My animated and dramatic stories about each of the slides is another big draw, of course!  (JOKING! JUST JOKING ABOUT THAT!)

Bird-a-thon 2012 is going to be held on May 11th and 12th this year.  I know times are hard for everyone, but a donation of even a few dollars would be greatly appreciated.  Believe me, every little bit helps more than you could know. Click HERE to donate or click on the FirstGiving button on the top of the page. Thank you all so much for caring!