Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lucky Shot: Black-throated Green


While following colorful, feathered sprites around Magee Marsh last weekend, I managed to score a few lucky shots. This one I especially like. It's a male black-throated green warbler and it looks like he's singing. But if you look closely, you can see he's actually noshing on a small insect.

So there I was, having taking this warbler's picture, and I started thinking about mortality. The thought crossed my mind, as I strolled farther along the Magee boardwalk with insectivorous birds all around me, that if I were to be reincarnated as an insect or caterpillar, I REALLY hope it's not in May on the south shore of Lake Erie. That would be a very short life indeed.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Warblers Up Close

Bay-breasted warbler, probably an old female, at Magee Marsh.

Having lived in Ohio for most of my birding life as a grown-up (relatively speaking), you'd think that catching the phenomenal warbler and songbird migration at Magee Marsh along Lake Erie's southern shore would be something I'd experienced annually. Most avid bird watchers in Ohio (and in the surrounding states for that matter) get to Magee at some point during the height of spring migration—between mid-April and mid-May.

To a migrant songbird in spring, Magee Marsh is the perfect rest stop before flying over Lake Erie and into Canada. When the wind is blowing from north to south (a headwind for migrants) the birds drop into the trees at Magee to rest, forage, and wait for more favorable traveling weather.

I'd been to the famous Magee boardwalk in spring, but always a bit too early or too late to catch many migrants. And I was there once with a team of birders trying to break Ohio's Big Day record. We timed things perfectly for everywhere in the state, except Magee, which was practically birdless on that May morning. Perfect weather—clear skies and a south to north wind—encourages the northbound birds to keep on moving across Lake Erie. And we chose for our Big Day attempt, a perfect weather day for the birds to keep on flying north. We ended that day deep in the wilds of southern Ohio, with 186 species (well short of the record) and with a bunch of unchecked boxes among the warblers on our checklist.

Last weekend the Ohio Ornithological Society held its annual meeting not too far from Magee Marsh. As a board member of this fine organization, I was required to be at the meeting, with the happy knowledge that it would REQUIRE me to spend two mornings watching birds at one of North America's most famous warbler hotspots.

The first day, Saturday, was overcast but warm at the start. By the time we left Magee around 11:45 AM to head to some other local birding sites, it was getting cooler and starting to rain. Still, we saw 20 warbler species, three vireo species, three thrush species, and so on. It was my best day ever at Magee. My fellow bird watchers chuckled at my enthusiasm.

Then came Sunday. Sunny and cold at daybreak, it did not really warm up until well into the afternoon. Bird watchers along the boardwalk gathered in crowds within the scattered pools of sunlight. If I'd thought Saturday was good, Sunday was amazing. Thousands of newly arrived birds moved through the trees, brush, and undergrowth. Everywhere you looked there was movement and song. People called out warbler names to no one in particular, with a mixture of joy and wonder in their voices. I thought to myself: This must be what heaven is like for birders. Except heaven would have a few more Porto potties and beautiful angels would be plying us all with warm doughnuts and hot coffee. But this was pretty close!
The boardwalk at Magee is crowded with bird watchers from late April through mid-May.

There were more female warblers present on Sunday, and more young, first-spring males, giving us a chance to note the subtle differences in plumage. However the most incredible thing about Sunday's bird action was the behavior of many of the migrants. Whether it was hunger, the cold temperatures, or just the rush of the migratory imperative, many of the warblers were low in the vegetation, foraging and singing actively, seeming to be oblivious to the humans a few feet or even mere inches away! And it's not like we were all being quiet and respectful. Cameras clicked, beeped, whirred, and flashed. Birders shouted to one another and narrated the birds' every moves:

"OH MY! LOOK at this bird! COOL! He just caught a bug! Now he's flitting over here! He's attacking that other bird. Oh, he's gonna poop! WOW! What a great LOOK! I can't BELIEVE THIS!" and so on.

But that was not all.

I heard at least three throaty cries of ecstasy—the kind of sounds that are usually accompanied by bad dialogue, cheesy jazz, and a rating beyond the reach of NC-17.

Like I said, the birding was good.

To illustrate one of my own close encounters of the warbler kind, here is a short video (rated G) that I shot with my point-and-shoot camera.
video

You can hear some birders talking in the background, including Jon Dunn, author of several key field guides, including the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America. This male black-throated blue warbler was less than two feet from me, on the trunk of the tree, completely unperturbed by all the chattering humans draped in expensive optics.

I already know where I want to be when the birds come back next May.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Yellowlegs ID

Lesser (left) and greater (right) yellowlegs at the Tank Farm along Rt 7 near Newport, Ohio.

During our Washington County, Ohio Big Day, the Whipple Bird Club was fortunate enough to see BOTH species of yellowlegs. Not only that, but as we were discussing the finer points of telling greater yellowlegs from lesser yellowlegs, the birds obliged by standing next to each other in perfect profile for a few moments.

This really gave us a good look at the key field marks: the differences in bill length and size; body size; leg length; and plumage markings on the flanks (of the greater).

It might make birding less challenging, but wouldn't it be great if more birds cooperated like this? I'm talking to YOU sharpies & Coops, scaups, peeps, empids, chickadees, shrikes, ibises (ibi?), and most of the dang sparrows!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Birds Passing Through

vespersparrow

Today a vesper sparrow stopped by the farm on its way north. Small and finely streaked, with that faint eyering and chestnut shoulder—it's the first one spotted here at Indigo Hill in a decade.

Otherwise, spring migration here this year seems at least a week behind schedule.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Out There with the Birds

When we get a life bird on one of my field trip, I will force you (nicely) to do The Life Bird Wiggle.

I'll be attending, trip leading, speaking and performing at a couple of upcoming birding events here in the greater Ohio/West Virginia region.

The first is the North Coast Nature Festival held in Rocky River, Ohio, near Cleveland starting on Friday, April 24 through Sunday, April 26, 2009. I'm giving a Friday night talk, twice (The Perils & Pitfalls of Birding at 7 and 9 pm), a Saturday afternoon talk (No Child Left Inside: Birds as a Doorway to Nature), and morning bird walks on Saturday and Sunday.

The second event is one of my annual favorites: The New River Birding & Nature Festival held near the New River Gorge near Fayetteville, West Virginia. If you want to see 25 or more species of eastern wood warbler, The New River Birding & Nature Festival is THE event for you. It's set in the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains of south-central West Virginia and the festival atmosphere is friendly and laid-back.

We see male American redstarts on nearly every field trip at the New River Birding & Nature Festival in WV.

I'll be leading field trips at the New River fest from Wednesday, April 28 through Saturday, May 2. And on Saturday night the festival will end with a special performance by The Swinging Orangutangs at Opossum Creek Retreat.

I'm hoping I'll see you out there with the birds at one of these two fine birding events or at another one, farther on down the road. Until then....

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Midwest Birding Symposium


The website for the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium is now up and running.

Why am I telling you this? Here's why:

If you want to have as much fun as is humanly possible as a bird watcher (in September, in Ohio, without breaking any laws), we invite you to join us at Lakeside, Ohio next fall.

And if you don't mind me making a suggestion, register for your programs, meals, and lodging early, because we're fairly sure this event is going to sell out. As you can see on the registration form, some of the presentations have limited seating.

Lakeside, Ohio is a charming community on the shores of Lake Erie (clever how they named it, huh?). Your hosts for the event are Bird Watcher's Digest and the Ohio Ornithological Society, and we've put together a great line-up of speakers and programs.

Plus, attendees can:

Full details are on the newly launched MBS site. Please check back often—we'll post updates as they are available.

We'd like to offer a special thank you to the sponsors for the Midwest Birding Symposium, who are helping to make all of this possible.

Hope to see you in Lakeside next September!

Bill of the Birds

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Caption Contest #2

I hope you will forgive me for running another BOTB caption contest so soon after the last one, but here are my (rather feeble) reasons:

1. It's a short, holiday-filled week.
2. I have a pressing deadline.
3. The last BOTB caption contest was so much fun.
4. Holidays and a goose naturally go together.
5. I could NOT hide this amazing photo of Ohio birding icon Jim McCormac any longer.



Here's the rumpus:
Share your creative and funny caption with the rest of us via the Comments option below. The deadline for entries is 6 pm on Christmas Day (that's Thursday, December 25, FYI).

I will announce a winner on Boxing Day (Friday, December 26, 2008). The winner gets a year's subscription to Santa's favorite birding magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest.

Go in peace.

p.s. That's a barnacle goose (the one with the black neck).

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Preparing to Sit

Big Sitters in action last year in the Indigo Hill birding tower.

I still have a long list of things to do before starting up the Indigo Hill Big Sit at 12:00:01 am on Sunday morning. Some of the highlights from this To-do List are:

  • put more rotten meat on the meat pile in the meadow
  • make brownies
  • make chili
  • buy Beano
  • ice down the beverages
  • grind the coffee beans
  • find my longjohns
  • find the intercom units
  • make a sign for parking
  • find a Sharpie marker for people to sign the tower (don't ask)
  • remove the wasp nests from the tower cabinets
  • hide the cookies from Jim McCormac
  • wash the spiders out of the coolers
  • fill the bird feeders
  • scatter seed under the pines
  • find my playlist of nocturnal flight calls
  • get some sleep early Saturday night
The next post here will probably be my first one during the Sit, in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, October 12. If you're interested, I'll be posting updates throughout the day on Sunday.

Keep your fingers crossed for enough birds to get us past the all-time high Indigo Hill Big Sit record of 65 species.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Midwest Birding Symposium 2009


In 1997 and 1999 Bird Watcher's Digest hosted The Midwest Birding Symposium, a biennial (every other year) festival that moves around the Midwest and is hosted by local or regional bird clubs, companies, and tourism organizations. The MWBS has been held in Illinois (where it was founded), Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and now it's coming back to Ohio. The dates—and you're going to want to write this down right now—are September 17 to 20, 2009.

If you attended one of the two symposia we hosted at Lakeside on Lake Erie in the late 1990s, you know what this event is all about: bird watchers coming together to see birds, to expand their birding knowledge, and most of all, to have fun!

Joining BWD in hosting the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium are our friends and fellow birders from the Ohio Ornithological Society. We've once again chosen the charming community of Lakeside, Ohio as home base for the event. Given the enthusiasm we have as organizers and hosts, we believe the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium is going to be the best one ever.

If you've never attended an MWBS, this is your chance. If you've been to one before and you want to come to another one, don't wait to register. Space is limited! We are already taking pre-registrations on the MWBS web pages.

We are busily lining up speakers and choosing field trip sites (and looking for corporate sponsors!). We'll share all these developments with you via the official MWBS e-updates, which will be sent to all pre-registrants. You can also watch for details in the pages of Bird Watcher's Digest.

I hope I'll see YOU at the 2009 Midwest Birding Symposium.

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