Monday, March 31, 2014

A Week on the Gulf of Mexico

The past week the Gulf Coast brought some great days but also a few slow days.  The week started with a great day on Monday.  South winds on the Yucatan and north winds along the US Gulf Coast created great conditions on Sunday night into Monday.  Black-and-white Warblers were the most numerous warbler in coastal woodlands but the weather also brought in good numbers of Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers as well as our first Blue-winged of the season.  Vireos also came in strong with many White-eyed, Red-eyed, and Yellow-throateds.

Tuesday also had some nice arrivals such as a good number of Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers.  Bad weather for migration for the rest of the week made for a slow few days although Indigo Bunting and Northern Waterthrush arrived during this period.  But, the highlight of the week came on Friday even though we didn't catch many birds.  As I was walking up to a net, I saw a long-tailed bird and figured it was a mockingbird but as I got closer it was clearly our first Yellow-billed Cuckoo!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo - An even more striking bird
in the hand than in the field!
Black-and-white Warbler - The most common warbler to start the week.

Prothonotary Warbler - We had a couple of days with good numbers of
Prothonotary Warblers.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo

I've long dreamed of going to Borneo and seeing all of the incredible birds that live there, so I jumped at the chance to review the brand new 3rd edition of The Birds of Borneo. I don't have plans of heading to Borneo anytime soon, but that doesn't mean I can't stare at the beautiful illustrations.

One of the first things that I noticed about this field guide was that it has a ton of useful information that goes well beyond the typical scope of field guides. Yes, the illustrations and written descriptions of the birds are well-done, but it's everything else the authors included that makes this guide so special.

As is the case with most field guides, it pays to read the introduction. There is a plethora of information here that will serve you well as you study the rest of the book. Throughout the guide, you will find yellow boxes with additional information about behavior, conservation, history, and other related topics. I found the info in these boxes to be especially interesting.

The final section of the book includes maps and information about many of the best birding locations around Borneo which will be extremely helpful if you're planning a trip to the island.

This is definitely the go-to guide for birding in this part of the world, and it certainly has me very excited for my first trip to Borneo, whenever that might be!

Title: Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan
Authors: Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: April 2, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: Rare Birds of North America

From the second that I picked up Rare Birds of North America for the first time, I've been fascinated with all of the information that the authors included as well as the great drawings of each species. There's not another book that completely and fully covers the birds that rarely occur in North America.

The book covers 262 species from some of the more regularly occurring rarities to those that have only been found in North America one time. I'm personally very excited to see that the Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush that Eric found in South Dakota back in 2010 is included and that my name is mentioned in the acknowledgements for information that I provided about the Hooded Crane in Indiana!

The authors provide a wonderful introduction that explains what it means for a bird to be rare and also describes many of the theories behind why rare birds get off course and show up where they shouldn't (among many other topics).

The species profiles are also full of information. Each one includes a thorough summary of where and how many times the species has occurred in North America. If it's one of the rarer species, all of the records of the species are outlined. Field identification is also discussed as are the habitats and behavior of the species. These pieces of information really help you to understand more about the species and what you should be looking for if you think that you might have found one of these rare birds.

If you are at all interested in finding and identifying rare birds or just simply learning about all of the crazy species that have shown up on our continent, this book is for you! It always helps to be prepared for whatever you might see when you are out birding.

Title: Rare Birds of North America
Authors: Steve Howell, Ian Lewington, and Will Russell
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: March 5, 2014

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bird Banding in Johnsons Bayou, Louisiana

Eric writes: For the last week, I have been working with a team of researchers catching and banding (mostly) migrant passerines at a coastal chenier, a sandy or shelly beach ridge, in rural Louisiana.  I'll be working down here through mid-May so I'll have a good opportunity to band most of the eastern passerine migrants.  

Not only will we be catching some amazing birds, we have a house a block from the beach and a couple blocks from one of Louisiana's premier birding locations, Peveto Woods.  Watching the early migration along the coast has been exciting, with new birds showing up each day.

Here is one of my favorite birds that we have been banding . . . 

Hooded Warbler-Second Year Male, notice the greenish cast to the crown
to age it as a second year.
Hooded Warbler-After Second Year (ASY), again
notice the crown to age.

The same Hooded as above, an ASY male.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Join Rob and Eric in Southeast Arizona!

In August, Eric and I will be leading a Sabrewing Nature Tours trip to amazing Southeast Arizona! From Elegant Trogons and Red-faced Warblers to 14 different species of hummingbirds, this tour is sure to be very exciting. We would love to have you join us! Check out the flyer below for the trip and take a look at our Sabrewing Nature Tours website for more information.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Birder's Guide to Everything in Theaters Soon!

Last year at the Biggest Week in American Birding, I was very lucky to have the chance to see a screening of a brand new film about birding called A Birder's Guide to Everything. The movie was absolutely fantastic and I was extremely impressed with the director's decision to make it as accurate bird-wise as possible. I had a great time birding that weekend with Rob, the director, and am so excited that he was able to get his film into theaters and on iTunes!

I highly encourage you to check out the film in theaters or if you are not in an area that will be showing the movie, download it on iTunes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Canvasback Photography in Maryland

Here are some photos of Canvasback from Maryland in February.  At this location there were hundreds of Canvasback and Lesser Scaup with smaller numbers of American Wigeon and Mallard.  It was a great place to photograph some hard-to-photograph waterfowl!

Drake Canvasback

A preening Canvasback

A view of the wing

A female Canvasback; not too colorful but still a pretty duck

Drake Canvasback

Canvasback and Lesser Scaup

Saturday, March 8, 2014

An Invasion of Waterfowl from the Great Lakes

For the past couple weeks there has been an invasion, into the midwest, of many species of waterbirds that usually winter on the Great Lakes.  With the below-average temperatures in the region this winter, the Great Lakes are almost completely frozen over.  The waterfowl that winter on the Great Lakes, such as Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, and Red-necked Grebe [the numbers of RNGRs are more complicated to explain, but the freeze up of the Great Lakes have had an impact in one way or another on their numbers on inland lakes] have shown up at inland lakes in unprecedented numbers.  The question is what will show up next, maybe a Barrow's Goldeneye?  There will be no better year to find one at an inland location than this year.

2 adult male Long-tailed Ducks and 2 female Long-taileds are
present at Geist Reservoir
White-winged Scoter at Geist in Indianapolis

It was quite a show today at Geist Reservoir.  It included 3 Red-necked Grebes, 4 Long-tailed Ducks, a White-winged Scoter and a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  If these highlights weren't enough there were hundreds of other waterfowl of at least 21 species.  When you add in Tree Swallows and Sandhill Cranes, you can hardly ask for a better birding spot.

This Lesser Black-backed Gull made some close flybys.
Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Spider Monkeys of Jardin Botanico del Dr. Alfredo Barrera

Rob writes: While on a family vacation in Cancun a week or so ago, my wife and I decided that we would rent a car one day, and head south from Cancun to Puerto Morelos. I got some recommendations on where to bird from some friends that I met in Honduras. They lead tours in the Yucatan, check out their company here, but were off leading a tour so they couldn't join me on my adventure.

Their main suggestion was to bird along Ruta de Cenotes which is a road that leads out of Puerto Morelos. Having never driven around the Yucatan, I wasn't really sure where I was going but decided to give it a try anyway and I'm so glad that I did! There were a wide variety of birds that were active along the road including several that I was really hoping to see. My favorites were Orange Oriole and Yellow-lored (Yucatan) Parrot.

The welcome sign at the botanical garden.
After birding along the road, we decided to hike around the botanical gardens that are located in Puerto Morelos. We'd visited the property once before but I was new to tropical birding and did not know the birds well enough to pick out most of the birds that were singing. Luckily, I'm a little more experienced now and the birding was better. Although there were some good birds, the real highlight were the troops of Spider Monkeys! I spent awhile watching them before going off to look for more birds. My wife spent more time photographing the monkeys. She ended up getting some great photos!

After briefly glancing at us, the Spider Monkeys went back to feeding and mostly ignoring us.
We saw several monkeys fly between the trees and Steph was able to capture this awesome image!
It was really interesting to watch the Spider Monkeys forage for food in the trees.
If you are in Cancun and don't have a whole lot of time but would like to get a little birding in, I would highly suggest the route that we took!

This was the only bird photo that I took all day but at least it was of one of the endemic Yucatan species.
We came across a huge flock of Yucatan Jays while at the gardens. They liked to stay very hidden in the brush.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How do you Age Brant?

Just a quick note on aging Brant in the field . . . 

In this photo we have 2 adult Brant (the two birds on the left) and one first cycle Brant.  While their overall appearance
is similar it is an easy species to age with a decent look.  Notice the white tips to the secondary coverts on the first cycle.
The white neck-ring is also reduced in first cycle birds.
Notice the patterned appearance of the first cycle and the plain-winged appearance of the adults.

Is this a first cycle or an adult Brant?