Monthly Archives: February 2009

Birding Liberty State Park


Loads of toursits visit the Statue of Liberty when they come to New York City for the first time.  Few of them realize that Liberty State Park,  located smack-dab on the Hudson River amidst the crush of humanity in Jersey City, is a local birding hotspot.  With a mix of large open fields, marshland, a pine grove, weedy margins and mudflats when the tide goes out, it offers up a plethora (I love that word) of birding habitats.  It is especially good in winter.  There is a Snowy Owl there most years, living large on the rats.  There are also lots of different types of ducks, gulls and shorebirds.

I went down to the park with friends today to try for the Snowy.  It has been hanging around the golf course and waterfront.   I was also hoping to see the Eurasian Widgeon, immat. male Common Eider and 7 Woodcock that had been reported.  But I skunked on all of them.  I did see Green-winged Teal, loads of Brant, 2 Killdeer, 2 Horned Grebe, lots of Buffleheads,  DC Cormorants, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Black Ducks and the regular seagulls crowd-Herring, Greater Black-backed and Ring-billed.

Now that I know the lay of the land, so to speak, I plan on going back when it is a nicer and hopefully less windy day.  I wonder when Snowy Owls leave to go back north???


Filed under Local schmocal

Skywatch-Great Horned Owl


Screeeeeeech!  Crunch, crunch, crunch.  (The sound of squealing brakes and gravel under the tires as we pulled off the road.)

I don’t often see owls and only twice in my life have I seen them just hanging around on the side of the road.  The first time was in Utah at dusk and this time I as in the Talkeetna mountains outside of Anchorage, and as you can see, it was a miserible damp cloudy day.  Up here in the woods, I have seen owls at night going about their day, or night, in this case, flying across the road, but not on poles along the road.  Have you seen owls do this?

To see other skies and things in them, check out Skywatch.


Filed under Travel

Not all Red Birds are Cardinals


Cardinals were everywhere at Brazos Bend State Park .  I was seeing 10-15 at a time.  They were in the shrubs, trees, bushes and on the ground.  I’m tellin’ you there must have been a flock of 70 birds there.  Often I would see movement, only to swing up my bins to see yet another Cardinal.  By day 2 of birding the park, I was basically ignoring them-the cardinal sin.  (cardinal, sin, get it.. hehehehe.)  But you know what they say.  “Bird every bird.”  That means, do not assume, take for granted or otherwise be a lazy birder.   Because you never know. In this case.  Ain’t that the truth.  I brushed past this guy with a shrug  then a little alarm bell went off.  “Wait, something is not right!”  Turns out, it was So NOT a Cardinal.  While it was not a life bird, it was the best look I have ever had of a Vermillion Flycatcher.


I seem to have to re-learn this lesson pretty regularly.  I pass it on to you.  “Bird Every Bird.”


Filed under Photos, Travel

Bird Photography Weekly – Least Grebe


Meet Life Bird #612. This is one of the Least Grebes that was hanging around the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  I saw it on the auto loop around Moccasin Pond. Look at that orange eye.


Filed under Photos, Travel

Bittern Mantra


Ohmmmm.  I am one with the reed.


Ohmmmm.  I am one with the reed.


Ohmmmm, I am one with the reed.

Seriously. What are you looking at? I know you can’t see me.  You got some sort of reed envy thing going on?

You too can be one with the reed.

Ohmmmmm.  WE are one with the reed.


Filed under Photos, Travel

New Technology for the Traveling Birder

I have to tell you about this wickedly cool thing I saw at the conference.  I went to a roundtable on photography and web 2.0.  You know I use a lot of photos on my blog so if there is anything that can make that easier for me I want to know about it.  I saw a demonstration of a wireless memory card for a digital camera.  It sends images instantly from the camera to your favorite photosharing websites like Flickr or directly to your computer.  It is like Polaroid for the digital age.  Instant gratification!  And no cables requiered.  There was a photographer taking pictures all day and they were instantly loading into Flickr and he could share them immediately through a slide show.  It was slick.  Of coures, I had to have one.  So I now own a 2GB Eye-Fi card.  I can’t wait to get home to set it up.  WOOT!  Soon enough you can all see my pictures in real time from wherever I am on the planet.


Filed under Photos

Bird Photography Weekly

Boat-tailed Grackle

Look at that tail!  Let’s see–at the beach, in Texas, long wonky tail, must be a Boat-tailed Grackle.  I can usually tell the difference between the Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackle not by size, and the tail of a Great-tailed Grackle is a crazy thing to behold, but by voice and habitat.  The Boat-tailed Grackle is a beach-loving surfer dude (Ok, I made up the surfer dude part, but they are coastal).  While the Great-tailed Grackle is more inland.  Their ranges do overlap though.  The real key for me as to which is which, is their voices.  They could not be more different.  The Boat-tailed Grackle has a pretty ringing sort of call (and will always remind me of Florida for some reason)while the Great-tailed Grackle’s voice  is harsh and sounds like for all the world like crumpling a wad of paper.  Seriously.


Filed under Photos

Birding San Bernard NWR

Do you read Birding on the Net regional lists before you travel?  I do.  A few weeks before the trip I started to see reports on TexBirds of a Least Grebe at San Bernard NWR.  Although I had seen this bird in Costa Rica, I did not have it on my North American list.  Since I was still in the planning stages I factored in a trip down there as well as one to Brazos Bend State Park.   Both places were getting a lot of write-ups on the ListServ.

When I got to San Bernard, never having been there and not knowing where to go, nor for that matter where the Grebe was being seen;  I headed straight for the 3 mile auto loop around Moccasin Pond.  The ‘pond’ was full of thousands of ducks,  geese,  shorebirds, in fact it looked like every kind of waterfowl.   

I was marveling at the abundance when a Crested Caracara soared over; I stopped inching the car forward to watch it.  When I turned back to the pond, a Sora stepped out of the reeds to poke among the short grasses.  It scurried into the reeds when a Wilson’s Snipe spooked from the bank and landed where the Sora had just vacated.  Every few feet there was some new and delicisus surprise.  Up ahead a few White Ibis were standing next to the gravel road eyeing me warily.  When I had almost reached them; they took off and something brown and white striped dashed into the cattails.  Hoping it ws an American Bittern, I peered among the reeds.  Sure enough, there it was, trying to be a one with the reeds.  Luckily it was also curious and kept peeking around at the car. 

As I made the turn at the back of the pond, I had almost given up on the Least Grebe.  I didn’t think there was any way I was going to see a Grebe smaller than a Robin in all the mass of avifauna.  Watching a small flock of Black-necked Stilts wing past; I saw the outline of something in a small clump of grasses.   Looking only at the back end, I was trying to figure it out when I occured to me that it had a pillow butt.  That reminded of the the Eared Grebe from a few weeks ago.  When I opened the door to get out fo the car, it dove and reappeared further away in open water.  It was tiny, charcoal gray, with a thin bill and a beady yellow eye.  Wahoo. The Least Grebe.   I could not belive my luck.  Now that I knew where to look,  I saw 2 of them.  So a word to the wise, if you go, and I encourage you to do so, look close to the edge, they like short grasses.    

Here is a complte list of what I saw (not everything that was there mind you, because I didn’t have a scope.)

Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, DC Cormorant, Anhinga, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellow-legs, Long-billed Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Dowitcher (sp), Wilson’s Snipe, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren,Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellow-throat, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle.

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Filed under Travel

Birding Sam Houston National Forest


Years ago I met some birders at King Ranch who were extending their Texas trip to drive north and try to see the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.  Up to that point, I thought they were over in the Carolinas and other southern states; apparently I had never really studied their distribution map.   However, as soon as I learned I would be going on a business trip to Houston, I started yearning after them.  Not really remembering exactly where to find them, I did the sensible thing and asked my blogging and Twitter buddies.  TexKyle responded right away and was incredibly helpful working his local birding network.  He sent along a map, which was key when planning the trip.  BirdingBetty responded to my many emails with specific directions, suggestions of other birdy locales and hot tips from the local ListServ.   She also recommended Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail which was much better than the 20 year old Texas birding book I had.

So, no doubt you are thinking will you shut-up already and get to the point.

I drove from Houston to Conroe (ugly Rte 45 constuction nightmare, happening for the next 8 months, BTW) stopping to bird WG Jones State Forest.  I saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker sign and several trees with the white or green painted band around them. I even had a Downy false alarm.  But in the end did not see any there.  So bright and early the next morning, I drove up to Sam Houston Forest.


At the intrepretive sign and pull off, I padded along a pine needle strewn path  into the quiet woods.  Spotting the color-banded trees, I went to stand among them.  I looked up, way up, neck-craningly up.  I saw Pine Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Carolina Chickadees, had another Downy false alarm and heard a Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpecker.  But it was not until I saw a flake of pine bark float down from a tree that I spotted a woodpecker with a black and white barred back.  Dashing over to the tree I struggled to refind it.  Then I saw 2 of them chasing one another.  After watching another piece of bark float down, I realized that there were many,  I had been hearing them, but didn’t know the call.  (Note to self-will you please do your homework!)  In the end I saw 8.

If you are ever in Houston for a business meeting, try to carve out some time to pop up and see them.  It is totally worth it!


Filed under Travel

Downy Woodpecker


Have you ever seen this before?  Look at those 2, count them, 2, red patches.  When I first saw him, I thought maybe he was something else, but no, look at that small bill.  He is definitely a Downy; but a bird with a different sense of style. If one red patch is good then two must be better.  Oooo, but I bet he is a killer with the ladies.


Filed under backyard