Monday, August 25, 2008

Osprey and Northern Mockingbird on Cape Cod

These pictures are from my trip to the beach with my mom last Thursday. I was hoping to get some pictures of the Osprey (and her fledglings if they were still around) and sure enough she was out making some passes over Shore Road.

I was also following this Northern Mockingbird, who was very active. I followed it down to this dead tree where some sparrows were also hanging out. The Mockingbird was jumping and climbing about the tree like a monkey until finally perching atop one of the tallest branches of the tree, shown in the right-hand side of the picture.
Here's the close-up of that shot.

Later on I heard the Osprey, which alerted me to get my camera out quickly.

I wish I had had it with me back in July when the fledglings were out for practice flights. Their "bleating" calls caught my attention and there they were- probably four or so- flying in the exact same spot over Shore Road. About two minutes later their mother came from the other side of the road (where there are woods) and met them. Shortly after they made their way back to their nest atop the man-made perch. We have lots of these perches around Bourne (and other parts of the Cape).

According to an article in The Enterprise, Ospreys were almost completely wiped out in Massachusetts due to DDT. Apparently ospreys and other birds of prey are extremely susceptible to pesticides. There were just a dozen of them left before agencies stepped in. As a child I remember my grandmother and mother pointing out and explaining what the giant perches were. It was several years before I actually noticed the birds out flying around.

One particularly memorable encounter occurred at the same spot as Thursday- Monument Beach. This was back when I was babysitting in high school and I took the kids down to the beach to walk around. We oblivious to the fact that the perch was even there, and were wading in the water near the marsh and to the left of the road out to Tobey Island. All of a sudden the mother appeared, fervently protecting her young up in the nest, screeching and diving at us. Needless to say, we made that a short trip to the beach.

The Enterprise article goes on to share other interesting information about the osprey's nesting habits and conservation history in Massachusetts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spotted Sandpiper at Charles River

These first pictures are from my birding trip to the Charles River three weeks ago. It took me a while to figure out what these little wading birds were, but I feel pretty confident they're Spotted Sandpipers. According to Cornell's All About Birds Website (see the link in my blog's sidebar) they're extremely common on the edge of nearly any water source throughout North America.

I returned to the river today and was able to get some more pictures, this time of a solitary bird teetering on top of the lilypads:

Let me know what you think of my ID. The turning point came when I got to step 11 in my methodology: the National Geographic Birder's Journal. Sometimes it takes getting a fresh perspective to be able to see the way. Then I returned to my Sibley Guide to see his description of the Spotted Sandpiper that's when I picked up on the yellow bill notation in Sibley's description. Aside from the spots on the body, that was one of the most distinguishable characteristics and somehow I had missed it on my first pass through the book.

Identifying Birds

It took me an especially long time to identify a wading bird I had seen at the Charles River about three weeks ago. We were going through a dry period and the river was very shallow. The dam near Watertown Square was a prime spot for viewing herons and other wading birds. I took several pictures of two small birds that I guessed were sandpipers or something in the same family. I kept putting off identifying them in favor of posting pictures of other birds from the trip that I was sure of (the black-crowned night heron, eastern kingbird, juvenile wood ducks, juvenile downy woodpecker). It's not to say I was lazy during this time, it's just that sometimes it takes me a really long time to identify a bird.

I thought it might be interesting to share my methodology:

1. Upload the pictures from my camera

2. Delete the blurry pictures

3. Move the good pictures into a sub-folder labeled "Keepers"
4. If I don't have any good close-ups I'll zoom in and crop a picture using MS Paint. Those edited pictures will also get moved to the folder "Keepers"

5. Next, I'll work on identifying the birds I am not sure of, beginning with my Sibley Guide:

6. If I don't have any luck, I'll do Google searches for the the species that are the closest matches.

7. First I'll do a Google Search and then when the engine suggests browsing Image results I'll click on those.

8. When I click on a Google Image result I am quick to click "See full size image." rather than let the Web page load completely.
Birding blogs tend to load very slowly because of the number of images on the page, and depending on the number of posts on the page, it can be rather long, and I don't want to waste time scrolling through the images. That's why I click the short-cut Google gives in the frame at the top of the page. That way I can see the image from the thumbnail right away.

9. If I don't have any luck with the leads from my Sibley Guide I'll turn to my second bird guide, a book I picked up at Marshall's actually. It's "The Complete Encyclopedia of North American Birds" by Michael Vanner.

I find it helpful because it features pictures rather than illustrations. It doesn't offer the full range of male/female/juvenile images, but it's still helpful in verifying a hunch from a Sibley illustration.

10. If I get any good leads from the Encyclopedia I'll do additional Google Image searches.

11. If I'm still having trouble I'll reference my National Geographic Birder's Journal, which is very comprehensive, but these illustrations are in black and white and don't have details like size.

12. My final step for verification is one last Google Image search to confirm my identification.

I went through all 12 of these steps in fact to get to the identification of the two Spotted Sandpipers I saw teetering across the rocks at the dam.