Thursday, January 31, 2013

Biggest Week Website Launch!

Rob writes: Today, we launched the brand new website for the Biggest Week in American Birding! One of the most exciting changes is an amazing new logo by artist Darin Miller! Check out more of his work here.

The whole Biggest Week team has been hard at work over the last several months in order to offer the best speakers and the best field trips with awesome leaders!

We really hope to see many of our readers at the festival! I will be there as one of the two coordinators for the field trips and will also be leading some of the trips. If you see me, be sure to stop and say hi!

-Rob

Monday, January 28, 2013

Birding Mountain Pine Ridge in Belize

These photos are from our time while in Mountain Pine Ridge, Belize.

Once you reach Douglas D'Silva Forest Station in
the forest you have to go through a military
checkpoint.  It is mainly for the visitors' safety.
Needless to say . . . I'm the one in the middle.

Our first morning at D'Silva was constant rain and fog.  Our one highlight
was a cooperative Azure-crowned Hummingbird.


1000 Foot Fall-This beautiful waterfall is a great
location to watch the Orange-breasted Falcon.
While waiting for them to make a pass, you have
a great view!

Rio Frio Cave-An unbelievably cool spot.  We visited
in the middle of the day so the birding was slow but
it was still well worth the stop!

The sign for Rio Frio Caves-We thought we had
reached the caves and were very unimpressed.
Luckily, we continued further on and realized we hadn't
went far enough . . . the actual cave was awesome.
-Eric

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #160 - Merlin

Almost everyone that submitted an answer was able to figure out that this is a Merlin. We had a total of 10 correct answers this week!

Last Week's Quiz:


How to Identify:

Everyone that responded this week was able to figure out that this one of the small falcon species, Ketrel or Merlin. The solid slaty gray back as well as the weak facial pattern and patterning on the belly lead us to identify this as a Merlin.

Next Quiz:

Our final January Quiz can be found at http://nuttybirder.com/BirdQuiz/birdquiz.html#.UP9dcCdz6So.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #159 - Reddish Egret

This past week's quiz proved to be much more difficult than we anticipated. We had 14 total answers and half of them were correct.

Last Week's Quiz:



How to Identify:

This week our picture is straightforward.  It’s obviously a heron or egret of some sort.  What makes it a little more difficult is that this is one of the white waders.  With the white species of waders the most important aspects of identification are the color of the bare parts and the overall proportions of the bird.  For our bird, the color of the bare parts is good enough to identify it to species.  The combination of dark gray bill and legs and the pale eye identify our bird as a Reddish Egret.  The long neck and long, heavy bill also support the identification of Reddish Egret.

Next Quiz:

The third quiz in the January series is now up at http://nuttybirder.com/BirdQuiz/birdquiz.html#.UPV-4idz6So.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Birding Tikal National Monument, Guatemala

Eric writes:  After spending a couple of days in Belize, we headed into Guatemala to bird at Tikal National Park.  According to many birders visiting this area, this ruins is the highlight of their trip.  For us, the birding and the overall experience was a let down after visiting Caracol in Belize.  Tikal is a tourist hotspot and the people running the park try to take advantage of it as much as possible.  That being said, if you like staying at nice hotels within a few minutes walk of Mayan ruins, this is your kind of place.  
A foggy start to the morning at Tikal.
After arriving in the afternoon and setting up camp, we headed into the park.  As with most places, the afternoon was slow but we did enjoy watching Ocellated Turkeys and Coatis (a raccoon like mammal).  We ran into a few different flocks of birds that provided a decent amount of species but the definite avian highlight were our first Collared Aracaris.  

Ocellated Turkey-these birds are hard to see in most
places but at Tikal they have become tame

That night we decided to go look for owls.  We walked down the old airstrip road and played for a couple species of owls but we had no luck.  When we were walking back towards the restaurant/campground area a Mottled Owl came flying straight towards us, curved up, and landed in a tree right next to us.  It had probably gotten disoriented by the headlights we were using to see where we were walking.  

Our foggy morning at Tikal-much more fun to visit in the morning when
there aren't loads of people walking around.

The next morning we only had a couple of hours to be in the park because of some issues we had while buying our passes for the park.  We tried to talk to a couple people to see if we could stay in longer with the passes we had but none of us spoke Spanish well enough to get our point totally across.  So, instead we walked over to the old airstrip and birded the rest of the morning. We had some highlights throughout the morning but for the most part the birding was slow.  Around noon we decided to get a head start on what would be a long day/night of travel back through Belize, into Mexico, and eventually to another Mayan ruins, Calakmul.
Roadside Hawk-very tame and very common throughout much of the area

A Spider Monkey-I had never seen monkeys before this trip, needless to
say, they were one of the biggest highlights of the trip!
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls-Birding Cass County

Eric writes:  This morning Rob and I headed to Logansport, IN to look for Long-eared Owl which Landon Neumann had found a couple days ago.  After picking up Landon we headed to the pine stand that the owls had been using recently.  Within a few minutes of arriving at the pine stand, Rob and I were staring up into a tree with whitewash around the base, when Rob spotted the bird.  We were quite happy with just this one owl but we kept searching through some of the other pines.  When we were about to leave, I looked up into one more pine to find a Northern Saw-whet Owl staring down at me.

Long-eared Owl-this one saw us well before we saw it, we left fairly
quickly so the owl wouldn't leave it's roost.
Northern Saw-whet Owl-my favorite owl species, this one was using the
same pine stand as the Long-eared Owl
After our very successful search for owls we birded along Georgetown Road along the Wabash River.  Quite a few waterfowl were using the river, as well as many Bald Eagles.  Some of the highlights included a continuing Tundra Swan, a flock of Common Goldeneye, and Northern Pintail.  In some grasslands along the river we found a Rough-legged Hawk.  We decided to go look for owls at a private pine stand that Landon had permission to bird.  As soon as we turned to head that way we found a great bird; an Eastern Phoebe.  When we arrived at the pine stand we were quickly greeted by a Barred Owl.  We also found, a presumably, second Barred Owl a couple hundred feet away.  After a couple more quick stops, and a couple more good birds such as Turkey Vulture and more Rough-legged Hawks, we called it a day.

Tundra Swan-a continuing bird along the Wabash River

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

ABA Bird of the Year - Common Nighthawk

Rob writes:  This week, the ABA announce that the Bird of the Year for 2013 is the Common Nighthawk. They introduced the bird with an awesome video that can be seen here! To me this is a great bird to have chosen as it is a species that definitely needs some special attention due to it's recent declines. I have always loved when the nighthawks migrate through Indiana each fall. There is nothing quite like watching a flock of nighthawks swooping through the sky.

In Indiana, the Amos Butler Audubon Society is working to ensure that we will have nesting nighthawks for years to come. You can learn all about what is going on to save Common Nighthawks in Indianapolis by following this link!

Common Nighthawk on a day roost at Magee Marsh, OH.

A shot of a Common Nighthawk in flight taken by Eric
-Rob

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sharp-shinned Hawk with Prey

Eric writes:  This morning, after filling the feeders, I heard the Blue Jays going crazy.  I figured that a hawk had come through but was very surprised to see a Sharp-shinned Hawk on his catch.  It turned out that she had caught a European Starling.  After making sure she had secured her catch, she started plucking the body feathers.  Unfortunately, at this point, something startled her and she flew away with her breakfast.

The female Sharp-shinned Hawk after a successful hunt!

What a beauty (and I'm not talking about the Starling)


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Monday, January 7, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #158 - Great Black-backed Gull

As always having a gull for the weekly bird quiz cause people some trouble. We had 8 correct answers and 8 incorrect answers.

Last Week's Quiz:


How to Identify:

Although it was easy to identify the bird in this photo as a gull, getting it down to species proved to be much harder. Even though the lighting is poor, it is evident that the upperwings and mantle are extremely dark. The dark upperwings and mantle help us eliminate all of the lighter winged species such as California, Glaucous, Ring-billed, etc.  Also, despite the fact that there is nothing in the photo to use as a reference for the size of the bird, we can tell that it is a fairly bulky bird due to the broad wing bases, large head in comparison to body, and large bill. The large dark-backed gulls that we should consider in the US are Slaty-backed, Western, Yellow-footed, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed.  We can see the inner primaries seem to be molting/growing; so much of the wing pattern is not very useful unless we take molt into consideration.  We can eliminate Lesser Black-backed and Slaty-backed due to lack of streaking on the head and neck.  We can also eliminated Yellow-footed and Western due to a couple of features.  First, the head and bill of our bird are large and bulky compared to the body, more so than Western or Yellow-footed; this can be a tough feature to use unless you have lots of experience.  But we can also use wing pattern; the feathers that are growing in have fairly narrow white tips where the Western and Yellow-footed would have much wider white tips.  Also, on average, Great Black-backed have the darkest mantle and upperwings of any gull in the United States; our bird appears very dark which supports the identity of Great Black-backed Gull.

Next Quiz:

The second quiz in this month's series can be found here: http://nuttybirder.com/BirdQuiz/birdquiz.html#.UOte_m9z6So

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Eagle Creek Birding - Long-tailed Duck and Brewer's Blackbird

Rob writes: This morning Eric and I headed out to Eagle Creek Park for the first time in 2013. A Long-tailed Duck had been reported from the southern section of the lake so we started there. A couple of friends had the bird in their scopes when we walked up. Birding doesn't get much easier than that! There were also a large number of Common Goldeneye, some Ruddy Ducks and Hooded Mergansers and a variety of other species. Eric spotted a swan in flight and we were able to identify it as a Tundra Swan before it was out of sight.

We checked several other areas of the park without much luck. As we were about to leave I decided we should drive down the Handicap Road and check the seed pile that some birders have been keeping up. We were not disappointed! One of the first birds we noticed was a male Brewer's Blackbird. I believe this is the first time that I have ever seen this species in the park and is a great find in January in Indiana!



A bunch of other birders arrived and were able to see the bird as well! Also at the seed pile were numerous American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Cardinals, as well as one Fox Sparrow! With all the new species I added for 2013 today, my January list is up to 76 species.

-Rob

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Birding Rio Lagartos by Boat

Eric writes:  One of the many highlights of birding in Mexico was birding by boat out of Rio Lagartos.  Within minutes of leaving the dock you can be in the middle of mangroves, next to flocks of shorebirds, or heading towards flocks of American Flamingos.  Most tourists just go out for the flamingos but if you are a birder you'd rather spend time looking for other birds as well.

The view from the boat as we took off.
Our guide took us out to the mudflats first.  There were thousands of shorebirds, most too distant to identify with just binoculars but we did see Wilson's and Piping Plovers well.  And we got great looks at some bigger shorebirds such as American Avocet and Oystercatcher, Long-billed Curlew, and Whimbrel.  There were also plenty of egrets and herons, terns, pelicans, and gulls feeding and resting in the same areas.

American Avocet

Long-billed Curlew
After enjoying the shorebirds, we headed towards the mangroves.  We quickly found out that Bare-throated Tiger Herons were quite common in this habitat.  We saw many individuals, both adults and first year birds, and most were quite tame.  We also came upon a few Common Black-Hawks; one of which was extremely tame and let the boat come within about 20 feet of it.  After finding a couple single Boat-billed Herons, we got to a small roost of 8-10 or more Boat-billeds.  I had seen this species when I birded in western Mexico and it was just as cool now as it was then.  After spending a little while searching (unsuccessfully) for American Pygmy Kingfisher, we headed to the area for flamingos.


Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Wood Stork-as always, a very cool bird to see
An adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron-as tame as they are in parts of
Florida
The extremely cooperative Common Black-Hawk

I quickly realized that flamingos are some of the coolest birds you can ever see.  I had seen them in captivity but seeing them in the wild is amazing.  Their long curved necks, large bills, and long legs create a somewhat awkwardly proportioned bird.  And the take off doesn't make them seem much more coordinated, before they are able to take flight, they have to take a few steps (as if they are running) on the water while pumping their wings.

A part of one of the flocks-I knew we would see this species but I didn't
realize they would become one of my favorite birds

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Friday, January 4, 2013

My First Birding of 2013

Rob writes: Yesterday Eric and I headed up to the Indiana Lakefront with Landon Neumann and his friend John Mark Simmons. John Mark is from Georgia and was in town to visit Landon and get some life birds. The lakefront offered him the best chance at lifers so that is where we headed.'

We got to Hammond Lakefront Park right at sunrise to look for the recently reported Iceland Gull. There was a large number of waterfowl moving which added a lot of new birds to all of our year lists really quickly! As we started walking down the breakwall, we noticed that there was a police car sitting out near the end of the pier. After we scanned the lake for waterfowl, he started backing up towards us. When he stopped next to us we were not sure what to expect and were completely shocked when he started listing off the duck species he had seen while sitting in his car out on the pier! As much as birder seem to have trouble with the police, this officer just wanted to share his bird sightings with us!

Once we were out at the end of the pier, Eric quickly picked out the Iceland Gull and shortly after that a Glaucous Gull flew by! As we made out way back to our car, a White-winged Scoter was swimming around in the protected area of the harbor.

We made a quick stop at the BP Warm Water outlet but without much ice on the lake, the warm water is not attracting many birds. On our way to Beverly Shores, we made a stop in the Ogden Dunes Pinery. Although there had been some good birds reported recently, the area had almost no birds due to a Cooper's Hawk that swooped through just after we arrived.

Beverly Shores turned out to be one of the best stops of our day even though we missed the Evening Grosbeaks that we were hoping for. John Mark got his lifer Northern Shrike after much searching and we found an "Oregon" Junco at some feeder in the area.

After a quick stop for lunch at George's Gyro Spot, we checked the feeders at Indiana Dunes State Park. Unfortunately, we missed the Hoary Redpoll by just one hour!

Our last lakefront stop of the day was at the Port of Indiana. We were not there long but the waterfowl numbers were fantastic and we found both a Western Grebe and a Red-throated Loon!

We decided to end our day in the Kankakee Sands area searching for Short-eared Owls. We arrived with plenty of daylight left so we searched the property for hawks. Northern Harriers were plentiful and we managed to find about 8 Rough-legged Hawks!

Shortly after sunset, Eric spotted a Short-eared Owl sitting in a plowed field near the road. Another owl popped up on a sign in front of us and we all got awesome looks!


We still had a little daylight left so we headed over to Willow Slough FWA to check to lake for waterfowl. It was mostly frozen over but in the little bit of open water near the headquarters, there were 3 Snow Geese and 1 Ring-necked Duck mixed in with all of the Canada Geese. We ended the day with 62 species and John Mark got 9 lifers!

-Rob

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #157 - Long-billed Thrasher

It took me awhile but I have updated the bird quiz on our website! We had a lot of answers to the last quiz but only 6 people got the answer correct. Everyone else answered with Brown Thrasher. We were left with three people that got the answer correct on all of the December quizzes and the winner of the NuttyBirder.com t-shirt was Cole DiFabio from Kirtland, OH! We are going to offer another set of four quizzes this month for another t-shirt!

Last Week's Quiz:


How to Identify:

Even though our bird is not completely visible it is quite easy to identify as a thrasher due to the long tail, fairly long bill, brown upperparts, and streaked underside.  Since we know that this is a thrasher the reddish-brown upperparts eliminate all of our options except for Brown and Long-billed Thrashers.  The combination of gray cheek and dark brown to black streaking are id features for Long-billed.  Brown show a brighter brown face and (usually) reddish-tinged streaks.  Brown Thrasher also averages a richer brown on the upperparts.  The bill is another clue; Long-billed tends to have a finer, more curved bill than Brown.  And lastly our bird has very short primary projection, another mark for Long-billed Thrasher.  So, our bird can be identified as a Long-billed Thrasher.

Next Quiz:

The next quiz is posted on NuttyBirder.com and is the first quiz in the January series of quizzes.

Birding the Caracol Ruins of Belize

Starting at the checkpoint at Douglas D'Silva you follow one road all the
way to the Caracol ruins.  There are some amazing views and birding
along the way.
This is a beautiful view from the road to Caracol.  
A terrible shot of an awesome bird; a Scarlet Macaw.  We had a flock of five
or so macaws fly over the road.  Luckily we were able to find them while
perched.  What an amazing bird!
Another amazing view from the road . . . a pair of King Vultures.  I wasn't
sure if we would see this species as they can be easy to miss at times.
Luckily, we saw two perched (our other 2 were in flight only).

"Welcome to Caracol"-This is the sign at the start
of the trail for Caracol.  The ruins begin only about a 1/10
of a mile past the sign.  However the birding around the
beginning of the trail was spectacular!
The view from the main pyramid.  One of the nicest things about Caracol is
that you are allowed to climb all over the pyramids.  The views and birding
on and around the main pyramid were amazing.  The pyramid in view in
this picture is the same as in the next picture.

The smaller pyramid across from the main pyramid.  As you can see from
this photo the rainforest quickly takes back the land-trees are growing
all over the backside of this pyramid but the staff at Caracol keeps the
other side clear. 

An amazing view from the big pyramid.  There were amazing views of
rainforest in every direction that you looked.  These tree-top views
put us level with many species including many of our own warblers
that winter in Central America-of course we had to get lower down to
see the Hooded, Kentucky, and even Golden-crowned Warblers.

This was one species that we viewed from above due to being able to climb
the pyramids, a Masked Tityra.  It was part of a large flock (that were mostly
lifers for me) and included some Black-crowned Tityras as well.

Squirrel Cuckoo-a species that is common throughout much of the tropics
including Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.  It's one of the cooler birds you
can see as well.  Unfortunately in this picture, you can not see it's long tail.

A White-whiskered Puffbird-my favorite bird we saw at Caracol.  This bird
was extremely cooperative and let all three of us get close and eye level
for some great pictures.  My first ever puffbird!
-Eric

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco

Eric writes:  As always, the best way to start off the new year is with a great bird.  Today while watching the Song, Fox, White-throated, White-crowned, and American Tree Sparrows under the feeder this "Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco made an appearance.  I had seen this "type" a couple times in Indiana but never at my feeders!

Oregon Dark-eyed Junco-a male I believe
It came back a few times after I initially saw it . . . so hopefully it sticks around for a while.

Happy New Year!