Posts Tagged ‘winter birdwatching’

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!

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.

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
canopy_towers_panama
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!

Late Season Nestcams

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
Late Season Nestcams!

Many of the birds from the nest cams we have previously been watching are growing up or have successfully fledged.  Now we have a new Guillemot nest, as well as chicks and juvenile laysan_albatros_juv_nestcam birds from some of the nests we have been following. We especially love watching the juvenile Layasan Albatross pictured here.

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, February 23rd, 2016
Birds Need Your Help to Get Through the Winter
And, February is National Bird Feeding monthblack_capped_chickadee — a time when winter food sources have been  seriously picked over and cold weather persists. Many birds like robins and mockingbirds are surviving off remaining berries.  And when its been a tough winter, those berries are now in short supply. There are a couple of things you can do to help birds through the rest of the winter:

1 – Make sure you have a clean, heated water source in your yard. Birds need a consistent source of water in the coldest days, as this is when birds are often subject to dehydration. Providing open water for birds in winter can make your backyard a very popular and important spot!

2 – Food is also in short supply and the birds visiting your backyard will benefit greatly if you keep your feeders stocked. If you want a little weekend fun with the kids, or want to do something creative that looks nice and helps birds, create your own seed treats for birds. Here’s a recipe from Audubon for an attractive and easy-to-make seed wreath which will keep birds visiting regularly.

The Importance of Brush Piles

Thursday, January 28th, 2016
The Importance of Brush Piles

During winter, many trees and bushes lose their leaves,brush_pile leaving birds and animals with fewer places to hide. Wildlife can be attracted to your backyard by providing food, clean water, and cover. Creating a brush pile can provide a valuable safe spot for birds to use to escape predators and get some refuge from storms and wind, as well as provide a home for other wildlife. Creating a brush pile in your yard can be a fun outdoor project that will keep you warm outside, while benefiting native wildlife! Instead of putting your Christmas tree on the curb, begin your brush pile with cut branches, offering important shelter. Brush piles are easy to make and need not be messy- you can stagger and stack different layers, creating a wide variety of shapes and sizes of hiding places and perches for birds.

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!
 

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