Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tricked into getting a national Audubon Society membership!

I decided to start investigating the issue since I'm still waiting to receive my first issue of the the Audubon Magazine and Audubon Society membership materials (I'm assuming a card and a sticker for my car).

They deducted $20.00 from my card January 16th but I still haven't gotten anything in the mail. There is a disclaimer on the website that it may takes 4-6 weeks for the magazine to arrive, but I'm more interested in the membership itself. I'm sure I'll enjoy the magazine of course, but it would be nice to have access to members-only birding areas and other perks.

I decided to do a Google search on "audubon membership" to see if I could start making sense of things. The first listing was for but the link was broken. The second listing was for the Massachusetts chapter, specifically the Benefits page. This helped clear things up tremendously. This membership was $44 by contrast and clearly stated the four primary benefits:
  • Free admission to 45 wildlife sanctuaries statewide (it even lists Drumlin Farm in Lincoln and Wellfleet Bay- two areas I would love to have access to and have been too cheap in the past to pay for)
  • Free color guide to the Massachusetts sanctuaries
  • Free subscription to Sanctuary magazine and the Connections newsletter
  • Members-only discounts on programs, special events and at the gift shops

The national website on the other hand lists these vague benefits:

  • "A nationwide network of chapters" Um, don't I have the same level of access to these chapters by searching "audubon membership" in Google?
  • "Audubon Sanctuaries and Nature Centers are found at 100 spectacular sites across the nation" Again, this says nothing about access and I could find information about them just as easily by going directly to the Mass Audubon Society website, which seems to be the only way to get free access to Massachusetts sanctuaries.

I won't go into the rest of the list since they're just more of the same. You can visit the page yourself to read the complete list. Let me know if you can decipher their vague language and let me know if I missed anything here.

I'm a little disappointed that I didn't play closer attention to what I was doing, but when I first scanned the list of benefits I assumed everything was ship-shape. It was I trusted that was what I needed and would cover my Mass membership as well. Live and learn.

I'll let you know when I start receiving Audubon Magazine. I browsed a little bit of the current issue online and despite having to register for a Mass membership separately, I'm still glad that I'll be receiving the national magazine.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tailless Squirrel

Yes, this is BirdingGirl, but I couldn't help myself- I had to share these cute pictures of a squirrel without a tail. My boyfriend noticed her (assuming it's a her based on the way her 'friend' was behaving...) while we were stopped shooting the cardinal. I did a few Google searches and found that they're pretty common, but this one's tail was truly non-existent, whereas others I've seen still had a stump. She got around without a tail better than you might expect- my boyfriend even thought she resembled a koala bear. She flew up and down the trunk and branches of the trees as though nothing was missing. I'm curious if this is a birth defect, or if she lost her tail due to an accident. Anyway, she was just too cute to watch and I hope you feel the same way about these squirrel pics that somehow infiltrated BirdingGirl.

Aww- they're kissing!
Here's a close-up of the bare bum :(

Mystery Solved! Green-winged Teal

As I mentioned in my previous post, I noticed what I thought was a seagull among the mallard ducks hanging out on the ice along the Charles River.

It wasn't until I got home and inspected my pictures on the computer that I realized it had green on its head just like a mallard! I did a little research on mallard hybrids but I couldn't find any that had this type of coloring on the head- mostly brown with only a stripe of green over the eyes.

Thanks goes out to Bennet for help in identifying this dabbling duck. Like I said, I saw the green and immediately started thinking mallard hybrid after reading that many other species are attracted the male's green head hence the many variations (such as the black duck x mallard hybrid). If I had taken time to go through the entire dabbling ducks section of my Sibley Guide I would have seen the Green-winged Teal, whose picture looks exactly like this duck. I learned that the Teal is one of smallest ducks along with the bufflehead and merganser. It certainly stands out in this picture among mallards.

I'm glad my boyfriend put up with me on this stop to photograph the red legs of the mallards on the ice- otherwise I would have never noticed this duck. How could you not when it looks like a seagull is hanging out among the mallards!

Birding While Jogging

This morning I got up early and went to Pilates, then planned on going for a run afterward. I called my boyfriend before leaving the gym and since he was up for a run too I decided to forgo the warmth of the gym and head home to go for a jog along the river with him. As I left the lot I saw groups of seagulls, geese and (what appeared to be) buffleheads gathered along the edge of the ice covering in the bay (of the Charles River). My long jogging route involves going from my apartment to that very spot so I certainly had motivation to make it back there today. I made sure to pack my PowerShot inside my camelback and wear my fingerless mittens for quick access to the camera (they've been indispensable this winter!). It worked out well to bird while jogging today since the route is 6 miles and in this cold weather it was a difficult task to do non-stop.

Mallard Ducks:
It was their rows orange legs that caught my eye as I was running past. I had to stop and snap them since it was a view of them I've never seen! The "seagull" in the middle of the picture also drew my attention.

Female Hooded Merganser:

Male Hooded Merganser:

Buffleheads (and apparently Hooded Mergansers! thanks Bennet for the correction) are so difficult to photograph! The contrast between the white and black, combined with the sunlight off the water seems to be more than the automatic settings on my camera can handle. Anyone have any tips?
And yes, thanks for the help in identifying this duck. I think I had seen buffleheads earlier when I first passed by the river (the white breast was very noticeable) so I just assumed these were too. That and I was so preoccupied with my 'mystery bird' I didn't even bother opening up my bird guide to that page in the diving ducks section. The bufflehead and Hooded Merganser are on the same page and the difference is very clear. Yet another clue should have been that my friend Dave mentions seeing these ducks and they should have been on my radar. But it's all part of the experience! I'm learning more and more each day.
Mute Swan:
This one came out really well I thought- it's neat how the water dripping of its beak was captured, and I like the contrast of the light off the ripples in the water.

Great Blue Heron:

My boyfriend spotted this guy whereas I just blasted past. Unfortunately there are all those sticks in the way, but I always hate disturbing them and didn't want to make him feel threatened enough to fly away. I'm always surprised how large they are up-close. After consulting my Sibley Guide I learned that they average 46" in height! Wow- 4'. That's huge to me (especially being just a little over 5' myself).
American Goldfinch:
Male Northern Cardinal:

Early Morning Mockingbird

Here are a few shots of the mockingbird that lives in our neighborhood. The first time I featured it was almost exactly a year ago: Northern Mockingbird.

This one took early one morning before work through the window (hence the fuzziness). The birds really enjoy this fruit tree in our neighbor's yard. I see him flitting around it all the time. Before we left for Crane Beach two weeks ago I saw him jumping around on the roof of our house. They're really so entertaining!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Horned Larks at Crane Beach

The only other birds we saw today were some horned larks as we approached the beach. At first I was convinced they were plovers based on the way they behaved and looked, but that just goes to show how much I have to learn about birding!

Snowy Owl at Crane Beach

What an exciting day today turned out to be! After getting inspired by David Sibley's sighting of the slaty-backed gull, I was determined to go birding this weekend. I sat with a cup of coffee this morning and researched my options online. I really wanted to go to Gloucester but then I learned that Eastern Point Wildlife Sanctuary requires a Mass Audubon card, something I regret to say I haven't gotten yet. That put Gloucester out of contention in my mind, so I focused on other areas nearby. I got out my AMC Massachusetts Trail Guide for some more ideas and decided on Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA. I've never been there, although I have a second cousin that had a beautiful house there right on the water so I know what a nice area it is.
As my boyfriend and I rolled up to the ticket booth I was shocked to actually see someone manning it! There was a woman there to collect $7-something else I hadn't planned on. I don't know any beaches on Cape Cod that charge for parking in the winter! However, I was just happy to be out birding and hoped our trip would be well worth the effort. We decided to do a loop trail in the dunes area (part of the Bay Circuit Trail).

For the first hour we were there we didn't see a single bird! But it was great being outside today since we had mild temperatures and sunny skies. Plus, it was such a different landscape than either of us was used to so we were enjoying the trails and the workout we were getting walking on sand. For this first half of the trek we didn't even see water. We went down one dead-end offshoot hoping to see something, but no luck. We returned to the trail and then took the next dead-end trail and this one actually brought us in sight of water. As we traveled up to the crest of the first hill I spotted the owl down in the valley of the dunes, sitting in the short beach grass. My boyfriend was up ahead and didn't spot him yet. Seeing a large white bird sitting alone down in a valley seemed very uncharacteristic of a sea gull and my suspicions were right! I called ahead to my boyfriend and we hoped to catch another glimpse of him at the crest of the next hill. We did, but then he took flight:

He finally landed on a dune and I tried taking some pictures, but my hands were too shaky, and we were still too far away:

We decided to move on and see if we could get a better view of it from the top of the next dune. Basically, we were walking along a trail that ran parallel to the dunes the actually border the beach, with a valley between us. This area in between is marked off to protect the vegetation and sand from erosion so we were the closest we could get, but hoped to get a better angle as we moved ahead, since obviously it had its back to us.

As we moved; however, it finally caught on to us and flew off to some dunes even farther away. We started running behind, not wanting to lose it, as was captured in the action shot below (you can see it up by the edge of the trees) while I was trying to snap some pics of it in flight:
I didn't have much faith that we would see it again since I never saw where it actually landed. Nonetheless, we continued on for a while. We traveled much, much farther this time, but amazingly my boyfriend saw it perched on another dune directly overlooking the beach. He took the following pictures, and was able to get some really cool ones of it with its head turned completely around looking at us:
This was the only good one that I got- much further away, but it gives perspective to its perch:

And my boyfriend got this last one of it flying away. This was the last time we saw it today, as it headed inland, while we cut back along the beach.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

David Allen Sibley sights Slaty-backed Gull in Gloucester

I’m always inclined to click on a bird-related story when reading the news online. Sometimes they’re related to conservation issues, but most often they’re concerning seasonal or rare sightings. This is usually the case on the Cape Cod Times Website, and I’m thrilled that Cape Cod birding has gained enough prominence in the paper to warrant a dedicated columnist, Vernon Laux, and home page features.

Birding stories on the Boston Globe’s home page; however, are not as common. This is why today’s blurb on the Slaty-backed Gull caught my eye—this had to be a truly rare sighting to win such prominent placement.

I was completely unaware of this species, being the novice that I am; however, I still wanted to share in the excitement of a rare sighting and learn more about the details. According to the Globe, he spotted the bird at Jodrey Fish Pier in Gloucester right before Christmas and later that day there was another sighting at Coast Guard Beach in Eastham. These, combined with another separate sighting in Gloucester, made a total of three for the day.

To read the full story visit Slaty-backed Gull

To read David Sibley's personal comments about the sighting visit his blog: Sibley Guides Notebook

I did some more research and learned that the Slaty-backed Gull is a coastal breeding species that is common to Asia, wintering in Japan, Korea and China. Often it wanders to the western Alaskan coast, but it is very rare anywhere else in North America. For it to be spotted on the opposite coast is unbelievable! However, the man on the Cape who spotted it theorized that more are being spotted thanks to better technology such as sharper binoculars.

This is all great motivation to get out there and start look for visiting winter birds myself! I have some pictures from my trip to the Cape last weekend. Although I didn't snap any pictures of anything too interesting, I did encounter a bird that resembled a tern but was larger, was making a chattering sound and was roosting high in a tree on the outskirts of a marsh. I started researching it the other night and I'll try to have a good guess before I throw it out to you all.