Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

How To ID Owls By Sound

Friday, November 17th, 2017
 
Colder weather means Owls!  But while they may be around, its more
barn_owl
Barn Owl
Photo credit:Stan Tekeila

likely you will hear rather than see them. So, get a jump on owling this year by learning the sounds of some of the more common species of owls which may be in your area.  The best part about owl sounds is that they are very distinctive. Your kids might love learning them as the sounds are also pretty easy to replicate. And who doesnt want to hoot “who cooks for you?” They will love learning that Screech Owls don’t really screech at all, which owl makes a blood-curdling scream and which one makes that classic deep owl hoot.  

 

Check out this Audubon Owl ID guide for sounds and be ready when you make that first owling trip this winter.

Great Views of Shorebirds Now

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

Birds at the beach never cease to amaze.

Not only are

marbled_godwit+oystercatchers
Marbled Godwit and American Oystercatchers Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

they capable of migrating extremely long distances non-stop (some manage several days at a time and thousands of miles over open water), there are different species on the move year round.  Fall is a great time of year to go to less trafficked beach areas and check out the shorebirds there. Oystercatchers, terns, skimmers, all kinds of sandpipers and plovers are either massing up to take off for the trip south, or have already found their overwintering grounds.  It’s the right time to see lots of different species in large numbers.

At a relatively quiet nearby beach in NJ, oystercatcher numbers have increased from maybe a dozen in August to about 80 in September.  There will be over 100 of them before they take off in October or November. Sanderlings are up to  around 500 now, but will number in the thousands in a few weeks. Caspian Terns are in a flock of nearly 60 now. There are hangers-on like the first-year Piping Plover who is spending time with the Sanderlings and the Marbled Godwit who is hanging out with the flock of Oystercatchers. There is safety in numbers, and lone birds take advantage of larger flocks which will tolerate them.

The Godwit was so exhausted on his first day after landing he seemed to use the oystercatchers as sentinels to let him know when there was danger while he was sleeping. Every time he was awakened by their calls or movements, first he looked straight up for raptors.  Then a quick look around and then, if it was just a false alarm, immediately back to sleep. But when the flock flew off, he went with them, having to restrain his clearly much stronger, more precise and faster flight so as not to outfly the beautiful but clumsy oystercatchers.

 

Although some shorebirds will tough it out over the winter in the northeast or even New England, most will opt to go to South America when it gets cold. But before they leave, some species will gather in large flocks.  If you want to get great views of masses of shorebirds, now is a good time to do it. They won’t be in breeding plumage, but they are easily seen foraging to build up their stamina for migration and are joined by a number of juveniles not yet strong enough to make the long flight. Consider taking an off-season trip to a less-traveled beach and see what large flocks and unusual shorebirds you can find.

 

Nestcams!

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

 

 
osprey_chicks_nestcam_explore.org
Osprey and chicks, explore.org

 

It’s still nestcam season and chicks are growing. Some have already fledged and others are just hatching.  Keep up with the action right here!
 
 
 
 
 
NEW!! Ospreys, Maine – check in on a nest full of growing chicks!
NEW!! Black Guillemot, Maine

Atlantic Puffins, Maine – hatched!

Laysan AlbatrossHawaii –  Kalama has fledged!  But Pu-unui is still growing!
Empty nest updates:
 

 Bermuda Cahow Bermuda – fledged!

 
Bald EagleIowa – 3 chicks fledged!

Ospreys, Montana – There is very sad news to report.  At this nesting site, food supplies were limited and the 2 nestlings perished as the parents were unable to feed them.

 

 

Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Birds to See Now: Greater Prairie Chickens
In spring, one of the US’s rare birds puts on a show, as

greater_prairie_chicken
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Greater Prairie Chickens look for mates.  Males in the area gather on their traditional performing “leks” also known as “booming grounds” to display on the grasslands for seemingly uninterested females.  To impress them, the males fluff their feathers to create an appealing shape, stomp with fast tiny steps, fend off other potential suitors and make an unusual booming sound by inflating their cheeks.  It’s an amazing and ancient show which attracts birdwatchers from all over, and one which can still be seen in a few states like Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and South Dakota. To see a video of this mating behavior, click here.

Greater Prairie Chickens are endangered in 15 states. As their name implies, they need prairies to survive, and these are in very short supply.  Most prairies have been converted to farmland and grazing, and none of these conversions work terribly well for this bird. These days, most prairie chickens have to make do with a combination of cropland or grazing areas mixed with some patchy pieces of prairie.  But in addition to the degraded habitat, birds have difficulty finding each other to mate since their territories are so fragmented and isolated.  These living conditions are not ideal, and in fact have contributed to the extinction of a couple of species of prairie chicken and caused a massive decline in the populations of others.
If you want to see an amazing annual event that still persists, make your way to a Greater Prairie Chicken booming ground and get ready for an amazing sight.  In many instances you will also be able to see other grouse-like birds mating in the area, as this is the season!  The best way to do this is to take a tour from a responsible operator, as local guides know when and where to find the birds, and how to see them displaying while having with the least impact on them.

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Family Fun: 3 Easy DIY Bird Feeders

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
Winter is a time when birds need a lot of help finding food – especially later in the season when the available
bird_cookies_birdsleuth_heather_katsoulis
Photo Credit: Heather Katsoulis

native berries and seeds are long gone.  Keep your feeders up, but why not try some seriously simple new ways to feed birds in your yard? Take a look at these ideas from making your own treats to making your own feeders out of recycled plastic.  They are fun to do, have a low environmental impact, and so simple anyone can do them. So get the kids involved, and do your own thing for birds!

PINE CONE FEEDERS – The absolute easiest DIY feeder project is also one of the most rewarding. All you need are:

  • Pinecones
  • String
  • Peanut butter
  • Bird seed
  • Tray

Look under pine trees in your yard for pine cones. If you don’t have them there, you can get them at a local garden center. Then do this:

  1. Dust the dirt off each pine cone
  2. Tie a string around each cone near the top, but held in place by some of the pinecone petals, and make a loop so you can hang them.
  3. Give them to the kids to decorate. They will love painting their pine cones with peanut butter (smooth is easiest to work with). Let them go for it and apply it thickly if they want.
  4. Provide a pan of mixed seeds and let them roll their pine cones in it so that the seeds are sticking to the peanut butter.

Now they are ready to hang up and you can wait for the birds to find these very appealing treats!

RECYCLED SODA BOTTLE BIRD FEEDER
– What better way to start off the year than by taking something you are about to throw out and make it useful again! Plastic soda bottles and food containers are perfect candidates for recycling into a bird feeder.

This one is also pretty simple. You will need:

  • 1 or 2 litre clean and dry plastic soda bottle
  • String
  • 2 wooden cooking spoons
  • Utility knife
  • Drill (optional)

Take a look at this video to see how easy this is to do!

BIRD SEED COOKIES – Really? Bake cookies for birds? It seems birds love a good cookie just as much as the rest of us, as long as seeds are the major ingredient. This project is going to require a little more supervision if you are working with kids, but you can make these cookies to be used as ornaments on your outside trees….taking the holidays even later into the season. What you wind up with is really just limited by the shapes of the molds you choose, so get creative!

To do this, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin, such as Knox
  • 4 cups birdseed

For the full recipe and step by step instructions with pictures, check out this link.

Duck Mating Behavior

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Duck Mating Behavior

When you are watching ducks and other waterfowl this winter, get ready for a lot of action, because it’s also mating season!

red_breasted_mergansers_mating_display
Photo Credit: Stan Tekeila

Waterfowl mating behaviors can be pretty weird – ranging from the slightly unusual to the outrageous. We found a few videos you might enjoy for a little insider info on what you might expect to see.

Cornell Lab or Ornithology has this great video and aticle about how to recognize different courtship displays of some of the more common waterfowl you will see.
Another nice video of Cinnamon Teal displaying from Arkive.

Confusing Fall Warblers

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Confusing Fall Warblers
It’s that time of year again when even the most experienced birder might be puzzled by thecommon_yellowthroat_female_fall fall plumage of warblers.  For new birders, fall warblers can be a real challenge as not only are they much quieter (so it’s often difficult to make the ID with sound), but their molt takes them into more subdued colors. During migration, some birds are still in the process of molting so you can see anything from a near fully (although worn looking) spring look, a patchwork mid-molt pattern or a fully drabbed-out fall/winter pattern.

Fortunately there are free tools to help with these ID’s. One of the best is from Princeton University Press, publishers of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle’s “The Warbler Guide”.  Their free downloadable pdf of fall warbler plumage is a handy sheet to take with you birding as a reference to the more tricky plumages you might see.  Pack one in your backpack and may very find your ID confidence and bird count are improved this fall!

Family Fun: Owling Adventure

Monday, November 23rd, 2015
FAMILY FUN: Owling Adventure
What kid (or adult for that matter), wouldn’t love to eastern_screech_owlsee an owl in the wild? Due to their nocturnal habits (most owls are only active at night), and well-camouflaged feathers, owls can be difficult to spot. During the day, owls roost in thick trees and shrubs, and often hold completely still to avoid detection from predators, and other birds that might mob them and disrupt their daytime nap. Owls are more common than many people realize, and are often found close by. If owls are around and you know what to look for, you might have a great surprise in the trees near your home.  Several species of owls are habituated to urban areas, including Great Horned, Barred, and Eastern Screech Owls.

Fall and winter are the best times to go owling, as owls are actively looking for mates or nesting.  So, be prepared for a chilly evening walk and bundle everyone up. If you are taking kids owling, they might be excited, so it’s important to make sure that they know the best way to find an owl is by being still and listening.  This is essential, as owls are very wary and know how to make themselves invisible. Before taking a trip owling, you may want to scout out a location ahead of time where owls have been seen/heard before, as this increases your chances of detecting one. If you hear an owl, try returning at the same time the following night, and the chances are good that you’ll hear it again. You may even catch a glimpse!

Be sure to bring flashlights or headlamps, hats and gloves, and wear lots of layers as it often takes patience standing outside listening for owls! Once you hear an owl call, continue to be quiet as he may move closer to you. To stack the odds in your favor, learn the vocalizations of the owls found in your area, and practice imitating them. Often a good imitation of an owl call will elicit a response. Recorded owl calls can be used to trigger a response, but during the breeding season (in winter), owls become territorial, and will fly in towards the “intruder” which is actually your recording. This takes extra energy and time away from their normal habits, which can stress an owl if done repetitively.  Be a good owler and don’t use repeated recordings or shine the light for more than a few seconds at the owl once found.

Keep an eye out for other night animals, tracks in the snow, and eyes reflected in the light of your flashlight. Being in the woods at night — owls or no owls — can be an exciting experience for a budding naturalist!

Check out the children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen for an exciting indoor owling adventure!  This story about winter owling perfectly prefaces your own foray into the woods!

What Are Those Hawks Doing?

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

What Are Those Hawks Doing?

Cold weather doesn’t seem to put much of a damper rough_legged_hawks on hawks when its time to mate. Now is a great time to

listen for mating calls and look up to see the amazing aerial displays some raptors make.  You can see some hawks like Red-tails circling overhead and flying in tandem in the sky.  Some eagles and hawks will even clutch talons and fall through the sky together!  It’s an amazing show and often accompanied by lots of loud calls!

But all this is made even more interesting because of what hawks are about. Most hawks will remain with the same mate for life and use the same nest year after year. Hawk and eagle nests are complicated and in some cases, enormous affairs. Eagles especially will build and repair their nests year after year until they often weigh over a ton.

A lot of hard work goes into hunting to feed their chicks, so it makes sense to raise a new brood every year with the same trusted mate. But once they have finished raising the kids, everyone goes off on their own. First the juveniles leave the nest and some take off together. Then the males and females each go their own way for the winter. Most pairs will then return to the same location and meet up in the late winter to start breeding again the next year. If one of the adults doesn’t show up, the remaining adult generally will find another mate and remain monogamous with that mate during their time together.
 

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