Saturday, November 5, 2011

Watercolor Continued

Art By Me


Heritage Park Birding

Today was the last NRV Bird Club trip to Heritage Park for the year, and a chilly morning it was.  We started off in the parking lot with about 50+ cedar waxwings warming themselves in the sun.  They were positively glowing and made for a spectacular start to the morning.  It was one of those moments that made me realize how badly I need a good camera.  There were an abundance of white-crowned and white-throated sparrows nibbling the seed that we'd set out for them.  I must admit I am quite fond of the mournful "Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada" song and I am glad it will accompany me through the winter.  I saw my first Dark-Eyed Juncos of the season at this lower elevation (I saw some up at Mountain Lake last weekend but that doesn't count).  They are another winter favorite of mine.  I'll never forget the time a little junco visited me at my window for several days one winter during my childhood.  I, of course, named him and thought he would continue to visit me every winter thereafter.  Birding is a lesson in disappointment sometimes I suppose.

We also saw 3 Yellow-Rumped Warblers, which were lifers for me.  Sometimes when commonplace birds are lifers it makes me realize how inexperienced I am.  I read all these bird blogs, I listen to podcasts, I study my bird books, I religiously check the listservs, but as many times as I've read a bird's name, it does not make up for the actual experience of getting out there and seeing it with your own eyes.

Thanks to Surner Birding for the photo
  Some other highlights were the woodpeckers.  We saw 2 Downies, a Red-Bellied, several Flickers, and 2 Pileated (which I spotted, thank you very much :) ).  Always fun to watch, these pecking Picidaes seemed unperturbed by the sub-freezing temps.  We were hoping for some Swamp Sparrows, but we had no such luck.  Naturally, when I got home and checked my email, this was awaiting me:

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) (1)
- Reported Nov 05, 2011 08:00 by Bert Newmark
Heritage Community Park and Natural Area - MED03, Montgomery, Virginia

It was pretty much what you'd expect from a near-winter birding excursion.  Two Red-Tailed Hawks flew past one another, avoiding the mobbing crows.  Some Brown Thrashers nearly thrashed one of our group leaders as he pished around their territory.  An Eastern Meadowlark shot by just slow enough for us to ID it.  Several black vultures landed in the trees and on the silo nearby our little group, giving us an excellent view of their white uric acid-stained legs and their goading little faces staring us down.  Vultures fascinate me, especially when I learned today that they will rip off the rubber on your windshield wipers and weather-proof door guards because it feels the same as ripping flesh.  These vomiting poop-stained recyclers are literally named the "golden purifier" (Cathartes aura), and aptly so.

Among the vultures were numerous amounts of Northern Mockingbirds.  Every single time we happened upon one, I made sure to double and triple check it for a hooked bill and an eye band.  I will find you, sir Shrike, just you wait.  Before this year is over, I will happily check the Loggerhead Shrike off my life list.  For now, however, I am happy just to get outside and enjoy the company of other birders.  Everyone in that group is so friendly and knowledgeable, it is a thrill simply to be around them.  They are happy to share stories and impart their knowledge and I've learned so much from them in the last year it's unbelievable.  I'm hoping to sign up for their Christmas Bird Count and see what all the hoopla is about.  It will be my very first one, and I am getting more and more excited each day.  Overall, it was a lovely (albeit freezing) morning and     I'm looking forward to the upcoming trips for this month.  Good birding, everyone!

Here is a lovely birding quote to keep you warm this November:
"Birding is hunting without killing, preying without punishing, and collecting without clogging your home." -- Mark Obmascik in The Big Year

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tennessee Warbler

I went birding at Heritage Park today and I saw a Tennessee Warbler.  It was pale yellow all over except underneath its tail, which was white.  It had a pale eyebrow stripe, dark eyes, a small bill, and light grayish wings.  Literally the only other thing it could have been confused with was a Yellow Warbler and I know it wasn't that, I made sure to mark down all the field marks.  I submitted it to eBird and I know they're going to email me and contradict it.  This happened over the summer with a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher and I didn't argue because I wasn't the one to ID it, and my flycatcher ID isn't all that great anyway.  This little fellow, I am quite sure about, however.  I know it's late in the season and they're not incredibly common in Southwest Virginia, but I know what I saw and I'm sticking to it.  Too bad I don't have a camera... it'll have to go on my Christmas wish list I suppose. There's really no way for me to prove what I saw except with a picture, so I'll try to go back with a borrowed camera tomorrow, but I highly doubt it will be there.  On the bright side, there was a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings in a nearby tree that made for a lovely observation session.  That's the second flock I've seen in as many days.  I just love those little darlings.  I'm still shrike-less I'm afraid.  I've tried going to where one was reported, I've tried going to places where Shrike habitat is ideal, it's all just in vain. little Loggerhead friend will be mine.  Ah, the joys of list hunting.  I've wasted far too much time picking apart the details of a Tennessee Warbler for one evening; off to finish my chem lab report.  Please believe me, eBird, I did not make this decision hastily!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Today was an exciting day in my birding life.  I am doing undergraduate research in the ornithology lab and this morning they sent me out to check on bird feeders they had set up.  They are running experiments on House Finches in Southwest Virginia and needed to ascertain how many were visiting their feeders.  We went to 4 feeders for about 10-15 minutes each.  One was by the President's house on campus near a shrubby retention basin.  Incidentally, it appears the President likes birds, as he has about 4 bird feeders set up on his balcony that were attracting the majority of the birds we saw this morning.  The only House Finches we saw all day were at his feeder along with some Carolina Wrens, Titmice, etc.

The next feeder we checked was at the pond near the vet school.  It was on the opposite bank and was entirely abandoned, despite being chock full of delicious sunflower seeds.  I scanned the water, searching among the Mallards for something interesting.  There was a regal Great Blue Heron resting in the shallows and then my eye caught a black shape gliding among the Mallards.  At first I wrote it off as a Muscovy duck since that is the only black waterfowl I've seen around these parts, but upon closer inspection I realized it was an American Coot!  I've never seen one before, and it always excites me when I can identify a new bird without having to use a field guide.  We watched the Coot bathe in the pond for several minutes before it hopped up onto the bank, giving us a nice display of its yellow legs.  A truly marvelous find indeed!  Even though they're not incredibly rare, I haven't had a life bird in quite awhile and this made my morning.

Not my photo.

What made it even more satisfying, however, was the group of birders who happened to walk up the path right at that moment.  There were about 7 elderly ladies with binoculars walking towards me, so naturally I ran over to them to tell them the exciting news.  They seemed glad to see the bird and I was happy to share this moment with other birders who would appreciate it.  I couldn't stay though because we had 3 more feeders to get to.

Even though the House Finches were sparse, the morning was fairly birdy and it was a lovely time to be outside.  We saw a Flicker, a RB Woodpecker, some Nuthatches, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Fall sparrows galore.  The White-Throated Sparrows serenaded us as we traveled from feeder to feeder with "OH SWEET CANADA CANADA CANADA."  It was a wonderful way to start my day and a wonderful experience sharing the joys of birding with others.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Why is that girl staring at a tree?"

This, I think, is what many people must think to themselves as they pass by me throughout the day.  On any average day, I usually stop about 5-10 times to search for or examine birds.  This might not seem like an entirely large number, but you must keep in mind that these stops are almost always in between classes on a campus with over 20,000 students.  It always seems that the most interesting birds pick the most populated places to stop and do something intriguing.  I am certain I have received more than one odd look as I stare up at a tree, circling beneath and more often than not sneezing because the sun is in my eyes. I have come to the realization, however, that I really do not care.  Unlike most of my college-aged peers, I've lost the ability to care if people are judging me for doing what I love.  If anyone ever asks me what I'm doing, I simply look at it as an opportunity to get someone else interested in birding.  I have gone past the quirky level and succeeded in becoming that obsessive bird girl, and I don't care who knows it.  I've tried getting a group of Wildlife Society members together to go see The Big Year tomorrow, but unfortunately no one seems to really care.  I'll keep working though, don't you worry your pretty little face.

In other news, today in my Principles of Fisheries and Wildlife class we talked about human dimensions in wildlife management and birding was used as an example several times.  The professor brought up a point that has stuck with me all day.  What is it that makes a birding experience good?  What motivates people to get involved in an expensive, time-consuming hobby such as birding?  Is it seeing many species in one day?  Is it seeing your favorite bird, even though you've seen it countless times before?  Is it the solitude of your favorite birding patch?  Is it socializing with other birders in your area or learning from well-respected birders in your community?  I think it's a culmination of these things, and this lecture made me want to take a moment to just appreciate all the wonderful aspects of the birding lifestyle.  I think one of my favorite things about birding is that you can do it all the time.  I'm birding all day as I walk from class to class.  I see warblers among the willows and mallards in the Duck Pond, and Red-Tailed Hawks getting mobbed by crows as I walk across the Drillfield, and it always seems to give me an instant boost to get me through a busy day.  I detest being late for class, but on several occasions I have lost track of time while simply watching a Carolina Wren hop among some branches.  I can constantly be quizzing myself on bird calls when I hear them, and more times than I can count I have texted myself some syllables hoping to try to look up an unknown bird call later online.  Birding has become what occupies my mind in moments of dullness (i.e. when I should be paying attention in Evolutionary Bio) and what motivates me to do more, be more, and see more.

I just wanted to share with you all my joy and love for the world of birding, and make it known that I am happy to be a part of it.  Good birding my friends, and may you make the most of the time that is offered to you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ned the Crow

I miss this crow more than you can understand.

The Big Year Promo Clip

Glen Alton Birding (and an eBird update)

I'm a little behind on updating, but last weekend I went to Glen Alton Nature Education Center in Southwest Virginia (I don't actually know what town it's in, and I'm too lazy to look it up).  It's in Jefferson National Forest right on the border of West Virginia.  There are a few miles of wooded trails, a small man-made pond, and a fabulous wetland area surrounded by lush mountains.  I went with the New River Valley bird club, who was also going to Hanging Rock Hawk Observatory on Peters Mountain in West Virginia afterwards, but my group wanted to head back early, so we only went to Glen Alton.  Here's a tally of the most exciting birds of the day:

Solitary Sandpipers
Northern Flicker
Cape May Warblers
Pine Warblers
Cooper's Hawks
Goldfinches galore
Red-Eyed Vireo
Hermit Thrush NEST
White-Breasted Nuthatches
Blue-Headed Vireo
Wood Thrushes
Downy Woodpecker
Yellow-Rumped Warblers
Indigo Bunting
Broad-Winged Hawks
Eastern Phoebes
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers
Female American Redstart
(Magnolia, Tennessee, Prairie Warblers, Brown Creeper) - I didn't see them so I'm not counting them, but they were there apparently
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
Bald Eagle

The bold ones are my lifers (all the ones in parentheses would have been lifers if I'd been fast enough to see them...g-dangit).  But 6 in one day is nothing to complain about, that's for sure!  I would have loved to go to Hanging Rock, but I suppose I'll get out there at some point.  The most exciting ones for me were the Redstart and the BTB, as I've been wanting to see them for awhile and they definitely lived up to my expectations.  I was the one who spotted the Bald Eagle through the trees, and it was fun being congratulated by the rest of the group (who are basically my heroes).  I've updated eBird with all of my sightings since the end of July (which is when I started keeping lists on my outings) and I've seen 50 species since then!  Most of them are fairly common, but there are a few rarities to brag about in there.  Seeing as that's about half of the species I've seen in my life, I'd say my knowledge and life list are growing exponentially at the moment.  I guess that's what happens when you're a newbie.  All I know is I'm having a blast, and I want to make the most of the Fall migration before it starts to wane.  I saw a Cape May Warbler and a Prothonotary Warbler on campus last week, so I didn't even have to travel to get some benefits of the migration.  The monarchs have been flying up a storm, and it's fun to watch them as I walk from class to class.  I did a speech in my public speaking class about competitive birding yesterday, and it seemed to be very well-received.  Maybe I inspired a birder or two.  Probably wishful thinking but you never know.  Anywho, I'm off to do some homework.  I'll update you after my birding trip this Saturday. 

Good Birding!

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Talkin' Birds Radio Show #337

Listen to me winning the mystery bird contest on Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds Radio Show in Massachusetts!

Thank you Parasitic Jaeger!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sightings On Campus

Yesterday I walked out of Derring Hall on the Virginia Tech campus and noticed a tiny yellow bird flitting around in a tree next to me eating some berries.  It turned out to be a Cape May Warbler (to the best of my knowledge) and it was an exciting result of the fall migration.  Already ecstatic about my bit of luck, I never expected to see another little gem on campus on the same day, but luck stayed with me.  Later that day, I looked up and saw a Common Yellowthroat flitting about in a Japanese Maple.  Yay for fall warblers :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds does a show from Massachusetts every Sunday at 9:30 AM and it’s all about birding.  Every week they play the call of a “mystery bird” and give a few hints as to what it is, then people call in to guess.  Whoever guesses the correct bird first wins a $90 thistle feeder that’s squirrel proof.


The bird was a Parasitic Jaeger (which I’ve never seen before) and I had to look it up to be sure, but it was probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in quite awhile.  So, go on the website in a day or two and listen to today’s (9/18/11) show to hear me on the radio! It’s also a podcast and a great show, so follow them on tumblr and tune in!

Here’s the bird that got me my feeder :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Bird a Day Keeps the Homework Away.

I've decided to make flashcards for myself to help study up on my North American bird ID.  I'm starting from the beginning...Anatidae through Zosteropidae (whatever, these are all Asian species, but I needed a Z family).  Actually, I'm going through my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America one page at a time and writing down the name and scientific family of the bird on one side, and its description, range, call, etc. on the other side.  This way I can start off easily by reading the description and guessing the name, and then get harder by doing the opposite.  I'm going to try to do a page or two a day, making this into what's likely to become a year-long project.  This, along with actually getting outside and practicing, will help me immensely in the details of identification.  So far I've got:

Greater White-Fronted Goose

Bean Goose

Pink-Footed Goose

Snow Goose

Ross's Goose

Emperor Goose

Barnacle Goose

I tried to post pictures of all of them, but my internet is so terrible it turned off my computer.  You'll just have to look them up yourself.

Today was the day!!!

Today was my first birding trip of the new school year.  It was quite a large group, since many of the Master Naturalist students were there as well as the regulars from the bird club.  Unfortunately, it was quite humid and foggy, making the surrounding habitat look monotone and gray.  It also had the unfortunate effect of silhouetting birds against the gray sky, making colors and patterns harder to identify.  We actually ended up seeing some more cool bugs than birds, but it was enjoyable all the same.  Here's a list of what we saw:

Chimney Swift
Carolina Chickadees
Tree Swallows
Female Indigo Bunting
Juvenile Cedar Waxwings (and then a whole flock of them, they were gorgeous)
Song Sparrow
2 House Wrens
Eastern Towhees
2 Downy Woodpeckers
Cooper's Hawk (an excellent view of a young male surveying the land from a silo)
Ruby Throated Hummingbird
and we heard a Brown Thrasher

we also saw you basic robins, crows, mockingbirds, starlings, etc. but you know....whatever.

The most exciting part of the day, ironically, was when I went to drop off my boyfriend, and noticed a flycatcher sitting on the fence nearby.  It turned out to just be an Eastern Phoebe, but it was still the most exciting bird of the day.  It had more yellow on it than I've ever seen on a Phoebe before, and it was bobbing its tail like mad.  Ah well, we did see some AWESOME garden spiders.

LIFER ALERT: Common Nighthawk

As I was just walking up the stairs to my apartment, about 20 Common Nighthawks flew over and I nearly had a heart attack from excitement.  I've been wanting to see one for quite some time, and just by chance I got an awesome view of a whole flock of them!  Naturally, I leave my binoculars in my car, so I didn't have time to run back down 4 flights of stairs to get them.  They were flying fairly low, though, so I could clearly see the notched tail and the white wing bars.  They fly almost like gulls with a little bit of bat flight thrown in, it was very interesting.

In other news, I went to an ecological seminar today where a professor from UConn talked about Salt Marsh Sparrows, and the effect climate change will have on them in the future.  These unique little birds build dome nests in the high tidal marshes along the Atlantic Coast (there's a high concentration in Connecticut).  Every 2 weeks, high tides flood their nests, and the dome shape helps keep the eggs from floating away, and the chicks (older than about 5 days) have developed a way to climb to safety during the high tide.  However, with the increase in global temperatures, the ocean levels are predicted to rise about 30 cm in the next few decades, and these guys don't seem to stand a chance.  It was quite a dire presentation, but so much research went into it and so much is being done to try to give them a fighting chance, it just blew me away.  He was basically who I want to be when I grow up. 

Another wonderful day for birds in the New River Valley :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heritage Park Birding

I decided to take a little walk through the park after classes today and here is what I saw:

Cedar Waxwing
Song Sparrows
Goldfinches galore
Tree Swallows everywhere
Mockingbirds - these little devils keep tricking me on my quest to see a Loggerhead Shrike :/
Eastern Towhee -  a nice close up view
Brown Thrasher
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Meadowlark! - the best sighting of the day...I had to walk through a field of knee-high nettles (in flip flops) to flush it up into the air.  His yellow breast was quite the spectacle on this drab, gray day.

I also saw some bluebirds, a great blue heron and a Northern Flicker on campus. Yay.