Posts Tagged ‘migratory birds’

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!

 

Fall For Your Own Native Plant Meadow

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

To ensure you attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife in
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Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
abundance to your yard, there is no better choice than planting a meadow with native plants. Not only is a mature meadow a stunningly beautiful sight of waving flowers with butterflies and birds darting in and out, but it’s virtually maintenance free, and provides the natural food and nourishment birds who are in and also migrating through the area need at the time.  And fall is the best time to get your meadow started as some of the seeds require cold or freezing temperatures before they will sprout.  Seeding before winter sets in will give you a head start on the growing season.

I have a native meadow which is nearing maturity and it is one of the best things I have ever done for wildlife and for myself — the increase in bird and butterfly activity once the plants started growing and flowering was immediate and far beyond what I had expected.  Full disclosure though, it’s not an overnight or completely simple thing to do. I hired The NJ Wildlife Gardener, Josh Nemeth, from the Cape May, NJ area to do mine as I have no competence whatsoever in landscaping or with plants in general. Josh selected a specific seed mix that was native to the area and which he knew would be irresistible to birds and butterflies. The area to be planted was covered in decades-old grass, so he covered the grass in plastic so it would die off and be easier to remove.  Then the area was seeded in the fall.   It needed some watering to get the seeds started, and then some during the late spring and dry summer months the following year.  But that was the end of the watering maintenance.  Josh also selected a number of shrubs and bushes to add both additional visual interest and variety, but also to ensure there would be food and shelter available year round for birds and wildlife.  

I was told it takes about 3 years for the meadow to take hold, and indeed that has been the case.  Honestly, it was a little depressing in year 2 as I was getting impatient and the plants really seemed to not be progressing as I thought they should! But this is the third year and the results have been stellar and well worth the wait. My meadow has everything from grasses, goldenrod, roses, iris, milkweed to cattails and chokeberry. As a result, I had all sorts of birds diving into my meadow for a respite during spring migration, new species of birds who took advantage of the extra food and safe haven to nest in my yard during the summer and now in fall, there are large flocks of birds and untold numbers of butterflies using my meadow for food and shelter as they pass through to parts farther south. The shrubs are ripe with berries, flowers are bursting out everywhere and the variety of butterflies flitting around is stunning!  Plus,  it looks so beautiful and my neighbors love watching what’s going on in my yard! 

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Native Plant Meadow
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

You don’t need much room to have your own native meadow. And whatever time it takes pays off big time once the meadow is up and running!  So, now’s the time to get started!  For most of us, It makes sense to have a professional native landscape designer and gardener help you get the design and the right seed mix, and get it all started. You may want to add a water feature or different sections or habitats if you have the space.  Someone who does native plant landscaping and gardening will know what to do and have the resources to get native seeds and plants for you.  If you are a do-it-youselfer, check out the how-to pages from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, get out your shovel and order those seeds!

Great Views of Shorebirds Now

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

Birds at the beach never cease to amaze.

Not only are

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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.

 

Who’s Migrating Now?

Sunday, August 6th, 2017
Who’s Migrating in Summer? 
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Piping Plovers,
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
Spring and Fall migration get all the press.  After all, songbirds like warblers or goldfinches traveling in spring look spectacular and move in large numbers. And they can often be seen in our own backyards. But migration continues throughout the year, with different species of birds migrating at different times.  In summer, many shorebirds start their migrations south – some having left their overwintering grounds in February.  Usually the birds who were unsuccessful breeders that year leave early and take their time going back south.  Since shorebirds don’t move in family groups, generally the adults which successfully raised chicks will leave mid-summer and the chicks will stay on their own for a couple of additional weeks to get stronger in their flight skills.

 

Shorebird migration can often be shockingly arduous, with some shorebirds traveling from the southern portion of South America to above the arctic circle to breed, and then back again for overwintering. Some songbirds make this kind of trek, but shorebirds who nest in the far north have some fairly unbelievable non-stop migration statistics.  For example, Bar-tailed Godwits are believed to have the longest non-stop migration – traveling 6500 miles from Alaska to New Zealand – yes that is non-stop! And they are not the only shorebirds who fly for days at a time without stopping. Migration can be very tough and shorebirds who migrate south in the summer have the advantage of being able to take their time getting back to where they will spend the winter — which may be a welcome relief after a hectic season raising a family on a busy beach.

ID Warblers With a Free Downloadable Guide

Friday, May 26th, 2017
ID Warblers With a Free Downloadable Guide

Warblers are in our midst right now and for some of us, every year it’s a similar challenge to make the correct ID of all the different species of this popular songbird migrating

Warbler_guide_quick_find_princeton_press
A downloadable Warbler Guide from Princeton University Press

through, or nesting in our area.  The folks at Princeton University Press know exactly how to solve this problem. They published The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and  Scott Whittle, which is enormously helpful when identifying warblers.  For quick references, they have a Quick Finder section which has excellent visuals of all the warbler species in the book on one page for easy comparison – spring and fall plumage, east and west species and 45 degree views.  You can get free downloads of these in pdf form to print out and take with you in the field.  It’s a handy thing to have with you during migration and when used with the book can make warbler ID a breeze.

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.

Where to See Birds Now: CUBA

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Where to See Birds Now:  CUBA

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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

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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!

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!

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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.

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.

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!
 

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