Archive for the ‘where to watch birds’ Category

Join The Christmas Bird Count

Friday, November 17th, 2017
Join the Christmas Bird Count

 

 

Make your holiday season extra-special this year and do something important for bird conservation by participating in the birdwatching Christmas Bird Count. Every year from December 14 through January 5 people around the world get outside and count the birds in their area or even just their yard.  When you register and participate in the count, you are part of an organized counting of birds at a specific time each year and the information which you report is added to all the historical data from over 100 years of bird counts. The data supplies scientists with critical information on where birds are, the health of bird populations and helps direct conservation efforts. Plus, its lots of fun to do with friends and family!

 

The origins of the Christmas Bird Count are interesting. In the 19th Century, there was an organized hunt called the Christmas “Side Hunt” where hunters would shoot as many birds as they could — the winner was the one with the largest number of birds shot. As people were slowly becoming more aware of what wanton hunting for sport was doing to populations of birds and animals, on Christmas Day 1900, Frank Chapman, the head of the magazine Bird-Lore (which became Audubon Magazine), proposed an alternative to the Christmas hunt with a Christmas bird count. And that Christmas, 90 species were counted by 27 people. Now, there are nearly 70 million birds reported and 75,000 people worldwide who participate – you can be one of them!  It’s easy to do and a lot of fun! Won’t you join the longest-running bird citizen science project in the US this year?  Registration takes place in November – don’t miss out!

 

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.

 

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.

Where to See Birds Now: CUBA

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Where to See Birds Now:  CUBA

blue_headed_quail_dove
Blue-headed Quail-dove
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

As Cuba becomes easier to visit it is rapidly becoming a hot “bucket-list” destination for travelers.  For birdwatchers it offers a variety of habitats and over 20 endemic birds – birds that can only be found in Cuba.  If you are keeping a list of the birds you see, this tropical island certainly will add to your growing list.  And part of the allure is that these endemic birds are only recently able to be seen after many decades of isolation.  If seeing birds your friends haven’t seen appeals to you, then book a birding trip to Cuba!

The best time to visit to see birds is in spring – March

cuban_emerald
Cuban Emerald
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

and April are especially good.  You will see some of the same warblers and songbirds we get in the eastern US overwintering there. But by spring, if they haven’t left for their northern nesting ranges, they will be in their best mating plumage.  I was there in March 2016 and saw a number of migrants like Black-throated Blue, Black and White and others all looking terrific.

While intact habitat is feeling the pressure from the new wave of construction, the birds are fairly easy to see and photograph.  To get the most out of the time you are spending, book with a reputable birding tour company which will take you to as many locations and habitats as possible during your time there.
No birding trip to Cuba is complete without visiting Zapata which is a terrific wetlands area with some interesting endemic birds.  Part of this visit will be by boat to access areas these birds frequent but which are not easily accessible by foot.  Your trip also should take you to the coast like Cayo Coco, where amidst construction on new tourist hotels, you may see waders, waterfowl, some of our overwintering Osprey and flocks of American Flamingos.  Whatever your itinerary, you are definitely going to want to see Cuban Tody, Zapata Sparrow, Cuban Quail-Dove, Cuban Green Woodpecker and the incomparable Bee Hummingbird —  but these famous species are just the beginning!
Cuba is getting much easier to reach, and you don’t have to go very far to have the chance to see some really beautiful and special birds which have not been easily seen in a long time.  And if the rest of your family or group of friends aren’t birders, that’s OK too  – there are lots of other things to see and do where the birds are.   Everyone can enjoy this trip!

Travel: Easy Birding in Panama

Friday, December 16th, 2016
TRAVEL: Easy Birding in Panama
If you are looking for a birding adventure a parrot_panama little farther from home, winter is an exceptionally good time to visit the Caribbean, Central and South America.  If you have been wanting to visit a tropical forest with loads of fabulous birds, one of the best and easiest countries to visit to see birds in winter is Panama.
Raul Arias de Para is a birder, conservationist and owner of the well-known and very popular Panama Canopy Tower, not far from Panama City.  He also owns several other
socially responsible eco-lodges focused on birding in Panama including Canopy Lodge in El Vallee in the interior and the luxurious permanent tented camp in the Darien near the Colombian border, Canopy Camp.  If this is your first trip to Panama, Canopy Tower is a great place to land.  It’s simple to get to, embedded in the forest, has excellent
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CanopyTower
and knowledgeable guides and a bird list of over 250 species. If you have more than a few days, you can split your time between the various lodges in the Canopy Family to get the widest range of birds.  And if you are traveling with others who aren’t really interested in birding, then there are many other things to keep them busy – from wildlife and hikes to numerous tourist attractions which can be easily visited.

At Canopy Tower you can spend hours just watching the hummingbirds at the feeders, see many birds sitting on top of the canopy from the radar perch level, or watch sloths, monkeys, coatamundi and butterflies from the veranda or your room.  Canopy Tower is a creative conversion of a former US military radar tower.  Originally designed to pierce the forest canopy to see activity from a 360 degree viewpoint for security purposes, Raul converted this military tower into the perfect bird spotting roost.  On the top level, you can watch toucans, parrots and tanagers sitting on top of the canopy — birds which would be otherwise difficult to see from the ground. In winter most of our commonly found warblers are overwintering in this area and you can see many of them at the Tower.   Plus, sloths, monkeys, butterflies and other wildlife abound.

You can go to the lodge on your own and take daily bird walks with the lodge guides who are fabulous, or you can go with an organized group.  However you decide to visit Panama, make Canopy Tower or any of Raul’s lodges part of your birding expedition.  I’m a big fan of his hospitality and attention to detail, and have had great experiences at both Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp.  Each of his lodges has exactly what every birder needs, and enough non-birding activities so that everyone in your group will be satisfied. Maybe it’s time to flee the winter chill and chill out in the tropical beauty of Panama for a wonderful birding experience.

A Day at the Beach

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
A Day at the Beach

What could be more summer-like than a day at the beach? Who doesn’t love having fun in the water and on the sand? And the beach is a popular spot for wildlife as well. Terrapins cross busy streets to get from the marsh to

piping_plover_chick
Piping Plover chick

the sandy shores to lay their eggs, then return home across those same busy streets; horseshoe crabs lay their thousands of eggs along the shoreline, and eating the eggs gives long-distance flying shorebirds the energy they need to complete their migration; Osprey and terns ply the waters close to shore, diving for food; beach nesting birds lay their perfectly camouflaged eggs in the sand

and raise their equally camouflaged young there.  On beaches, there’s a lot going on! And it might not be a surprise to know that birds that use our shores face some big challenges.

Next time you’re at the beach, take a careful look around. All beach nesting birds, like the oystercatchers below,  lay eggs directly on a little shallow in the sand. For their protection from predators, these eggs all blend in perfectly with the sand, as do the teeny chicks who when hatched, are extremely difficult to see. Many areas where birds nest on the beach are roped off so they can enjoy a zone away from the rest of us enjoying the same real estate.

Want to help beach-nesting birds?  Here are some things you can do:
If you see a nesting area that has been roped off, don’t enter it for any reason.  The eggs or chicks, if they have hatched, could be anywhere.  Plus, the adults have a difficult time herding their precocial chicks, and see everything that moves as a potential predator — including pets.  Even if your dog is on a lead and outside the nesting area, his presence can distract the adults who may
oystercatcher and chick at beach
American Oystercatcher and chick on beach

feel they need to leave their chicks to defend against a passing dog. This might lead to an opening a gull or crow has been waiting for to grab an unattended  chick.  Plus some birds, like Piping Plovers, need to safely escort their chicks to the water’s edge multiple times each day to feed them. A busy beach is a challenging place for a beach nesting bird! If you are respectful, they will stand a much better chance of successfully raising their young.


The beach is a great place to spend hot summer days, and its also a terrific place to see wildlife.  Enjoy the beach and be respectful of the wild birds and other animals with which we share it.  This is the best way to ensure they will be there in the future for all of us to continue to enjoy.

New Birdwatching Guide

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
New Birdwatching Guide

New York City’s Central Park was recently identified as one of the five most important places to see spring migration in the US by Smithsonian Magazine. Those of us who live in New York City know how amazing migration can be here, and I am excited to tell you about the release of a new book I

birdwatchiing_NYC_LI_cover

co-authored —  “Birdwatching in New York City and on Long Island“.  It’s written by me, Deborah Rivel and Kellye Rosenheim, and is published by UPNE (University Press of New England).

This easy-to-use bird watcher’s guide gives seasonal information for both popular birding sites and those off the beaten path. Precise directions to the best viewing locations within NYC and Long Island’s diverse habitats enable birdwatchers to efficiently explore urban and wild birding hotspots.

Including the latest information on the seasonal status and distribution of more than 400 species, with 39 maps  and over 50 of my photographs, this full-color guide features information essential to planning a birding visit. It will become the go-to book for both the region’s longtime birders and those exploring the area for the first time.

And yes, it has detailed info on where to find birds in top hotspot, Central Park!

Here’s what the experts are saying about it!

Easily one of the best — maybe *the* best — regional birding guides anywhere.” Scott Weidensaul, author of “Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean”

“This terrific guide is all you need to go birding in New York.” David Yarnold, President & CEO, National Audubon Society
“Phenomenally well done, beautifully organized and packed with useful information. I’ll be using this book every time I visit New York.” Kenn Kaufman, Author of the Kaufman Field Guides

“A practical Guide to finding birds, full of insider information”, Victor Emanuel, founder, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Available online now and in bookstores May 3.

Please check it out on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Indiebound. If you are in the area, we have a number of events taking place, so please join us!  Visit our website for more information.

NESTCAMS!

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
NESTCAMS!
It’s that time of year again!allens_hummingbird_nestcam_explore
Get a front row seat and the best view of these early nesters from across the US and  Hawaii  — hummingbirds, albatross and some very cool raptors:

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Looking For Hawks on Migration
Watching hawks migrate can be done anywhere along their migration route. There are well known hotspots where hawks can be seen in great numbers on migration. But you don’t need to travel far to see hawks on the move.  If you are on a flyway, you can look up to see them wafting south on currents, or using the front end of a cold front for a push of speed.  Food is also on their minds and some of the best views of hawks migrating are when they come down out of the heights to hunt.

Check out communications towers for Peregrine Falcons.  They often use the towers both for a vantage point and also peregrine_tower because they can position themselves at the same height as migrating songbirds.  They will look like a tiny dark speck as they sit perched (see the bird perched in the middle of the grid?)…just waiting for a flock of small shorebirds to fly by during the day or songbirds at dusk or dawn.

Peregrines can also be seen perched on beaches – sometimes on fences or posts, or even just sitting on the sand.  Small shorebirds like Sanderlings or Wilson’s Plovers are their target here, and you can watch them herd the flock into a tight ball and then break one bird free hoping to nab it for a meal.

I was watching a Coopers Hawk the other day worrying a flock of starlings into a tight ball, which he then flew through.  He was unsuccessful in the hunt, which was a surprise, but then again, even the best hunters don’t always score.

Look for migrating raptors in the sky of course, but also wherever there might be easy prey.  Sometimes you can get even better views of them hunting than riding the winds above.

Where to Watch Hawk Migration

Monday, September 28th, 2015
Where to Watch Hawk Migration
Fall migration means many species of birds are on the coopers_hawk move. September and October are great times to see birds heading south, and this month we have a terrific fall migration hotspot to visit.

Duluth, Minnesota is located on the western tip of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by area. It serves as a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and provides many outdoor adventures. It is also home to Hawk Ridge, an amazing fall migration hotspot.

Hawk Ridge is a short drive from downtown Duluth and looks over both the town and Lake Superior. While enjoying the view you can see streams of birds flying by. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory hires professional counters to count hawks, but they also have an interpretive naturalist to help identify birds. Tucked back along the ridge are hawk banding stations, and HRBO’s interpreters bring out captured hawks frequently, allowing visitors to “adopt” hawks and release them.

There are many passerine migrants at Hawk Ridge, but most people come to see the ridge’s namesake, the vast numbers of raptors that fly over in fall. Scientists believe that as migrating hawks head south they turn when they reach Lake Superior, as many are reluctant to fly across such a large body of water. They follow the shoreline southwest until they can get to Duluth and “round the corner” to continue a more direct route south. Hawk Ridge is perfectly situated for great viewing of these migrants.

Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and many other hawks are seen in large numbers at Hawk Ridge. You never know what might show up! Volunteers, educators, naturalists, hawk counters and visitors all keep their eyes on the sky to point out the migrants. October is an ideal month for Hawk Ridge’s most infamous migrant, the Northern Goshawk, and owl migration really picks up at that point too. Migration at Hawk Ridge remains active through NovemberVisit Hawk Ridge at night to see banders release wild owls, or adopt one and release it yourself!
 

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