Friday, February 29, 2008

Cute Fat Little Horned Larks!

Check out these great pictures posted by Charlie over at 10,000 Birds: Horned Lark. Jones Beach, NY. These birds are stocky, chubby, and wet-faced, shown foraging in the snow.

They're in sharp contrast to the ones I took at Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA. You can see my pictures in my January 13th post: Horned Larks at Crane Beach. The birds I saw appeared taller, sleeker and behaved like plovers.

I just had to share the link to 10,000 Birds' post since these are some great close-up pictures.

I also have some exciting news to share—this morning I finally bit the bullet and got a Mass Audubon membership. Can't wait to start taking advantage of it!

The first thing I will do is sign up for the Mass Audubon Birder's Meeting March 15th. I'm really looking forward to the event. As a matter of fact, BirdingGirl will be featuring an interview with one of the presenters at the meeting, David Scarpitti, this weekend. His break-out session is on Habitat Management Opportunities for Birds and Birders and I had the opportunity to pick his brain last night. I'll probably break it up into two posts that I'll share this weekend.

We're getting even more snow in Boston tonight but as these lovely Horned Lark pictures prove—that shouldn't stop me from getting out there with my camera! I'll try to catch some birds in the morning.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Seed Recycling Bird Feeders

Ever wonder why I don't talk about the birds visiting my backyard feeder? It's because I don't have one.

I often post about birds I see at my parents' home on Cape Cod, or even the birds that friends spot at their own feeders. Unfortunately I can't have one since my apartment is on the second floor and although we have a back porch, I resent the mess it makes on our porch, as well as the first floor apartment's porch and yard.

That's not to say we haven't tried—I have made two separate attempts to hang a feeder and suet basket from the porch roof, but those darn House Sparrows make such a mess, strewing birdseed everywhere and messing all over the floor. They're even so bold as to feast right on top of our furniture. Bird poop on the table is not too appetizing at a barbecue.

My boyfriend was the one who was really on top of the cleaning, but of course I chipped in and helped sweep and scrub the floor with Windex. I think one of our biggest problems might have been that we were using a mixed seed, meanwhile the consensus seems to be that black oil sunflower seed is the preferred seed and birds will just pick out the filler. My mother swears by black oil sunflower seed and only feeds her birds that.

What's really kept me from pursuing a feeder is the fact that there is little variety in an urban setting. When I lived in a neighborhood of Boston I only saw House Sparrows, a Mourning Dove or two, and rarely a Downy Woodpecker. Here in Watertown it's not much different. I often mention the Northern Mockingbird that lives in the vicinity of our yard, but unfortunately there are few other interesting residents. I certainly could be proved wrong, but the two times I've hosted a feeder I didn't see very much. Another motivation for not hosting a feeder is that I'd like to become a more active birder, being motivated to travel to birding locations.

Needless to say, I clicked on an ad for a no spill, seed recycling bird feeder and I'm seriously considering purchasing one. I'd also like to give suction-cup window feeders a try at the recommendation of local friends.

The seed recycling feeders from Tidy Diner seem to be well constructed:

Has anyone had any luck with this type of feeder? Although it would catch the strewn seed, I still think the House Sparrows would have a field day hopping around our porch floor eating and pooping as they please. The issue with our porch is that there are not stairs; therefore, there are no predators up there to force them to fly to tree branches to eat their seen. I'm worried this is a lost cause, but I certainly welcome your ideas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

National Audubon Society Not Affiliated with MassAudubon

I have yet another update on my Nation Audubon Society membership saga. It started back in mid-January when I was charged right away, didn't receive any materials until a few weeks later, and as of yet I still haven't received a copy of the magazine.

All along I've suspected that national membership does not cover my local chapter membership (which happens to be Massachusetts) because there is such a high discrepancy in membership dues ($20 vs. $44).

I decided to get on the phone Monday, as I posted, spoke with a very nice woman from the national office and then waited to hear back from my local chapter. Then I got a call on Tuesday explaining that the National Audubon Society is not affiliated with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

So now I have a national membership that offers me no value (except for the magazine) and I have to start from scratch in getting a MassAudubon membership. I hate to complain so much, especially when I know the funds I've donated still go to a good cause, but it's a little frustrating because this information is not disclosed on the website.

Hopefully I can be of help to other Mass residents interested in joinging the Audubon Society and not knowing where to start! My advice—go directly to the MassAudubon Website.

Monday, February 18, 2008

MassWildlife and MassAudubon co-sponsor 16th Annual Bird Conference

Saturday, March 15, 2008
Bentley College, Waltham, MA

The theme is "Massachusetts Birds: Our Common Wealth and Natural Heritage." Here's a brief description:

"Whether you feed birds at home, seek birds with binoculars, spotting scopes or hunting gear, you are sure to find topics that appeal to your interest in Massachusetts birds including: research findings, waterfowl identification, youth bird clubs, conservation stamps, bird calls, habitat management techniques for birds in decline and many other bird related topics."

I'm seriously considering going to learn more about birding and get some ideas for the blog and things I'd like to start doing.

Here are the prices (they go up $10 after March 10):

$48 Mass Audubon members
$58 Non-members
The prices may seem steep, but all proceeds go toward Mass Audubon’s Important Bird Area (IBA) program and Mass Wildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

There are 3 morning lectures by representatives from both MassWildlife and Mass Audubon.

Speakers include:

Lang Elliott: a renowned bird photographer and author of audio guides to wildlife sounds
Hector Galbraith: global climate change expert (I'd like to his own site but it's down)
John O'Leary: Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
John O'Keefe: Harvard Forest (HFR) Forest Ecologist

There are also three afternoon workshops scheduled (with 4 topic choices for each timeslot).
Some interesting titles include:

To Feed or Not to Feed: That is the Question?
Identifying Water Fowl
Massachusetts Coastal Birds: What Are We Learning?

and this one that seemed particularly interesting:

Habitat Management Opportunities for Birds and Birders

To register click on the link at the top of this post. Already registered? Let me know!

Charles River Bird Sightings

I went jogging on Saturday and this time I left my camera at home to focus on my time.

Despite not taking any time to stop, I was still able to catch a few sightings. I saw the resident Great Blue Heron, actually prompting him to take flight as I ran by. This was strange because the last time we were jogging my boyfriend picked up on him after I had already gone by and he stayed still while we took pictures before continuing on. Maybe he was in a more 'fleeing' mood due to the warmer temperatures this weekend. The previous time he was hunkered down into his shoulders trying to keep warm wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

The only other interesting sighting I had was a Common Redpoll. This one crossed the path low in front of me and started hopping around the underbrush. My Sibley Guide says they're almost always seen in flocks (and when I saw them before on Martha's Vineyard there was a good number of them) but in this case I think they were there, but I just didn't stick around long enough to see the others. The way it moved, along with the distinctive red on the crown distinguished it from the hoards of house sparrows I also saw during the run.

Interesting fact about Common Redpolls from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website: they have pouches in their cheeks for temporarily storing seeds. That way they can fly off to safety where they have take their time swallowing them.

You all know how much I favor this part of the Charles River for birdwatching, but I'm not alone! I've had many birding group sightings, and while I was jogging Saturday I saw 3 different groups. Two of them were couples, but the third was a group of about 7 people, with a leader who was educating them about something. I whizzed by without catching what they were talking about, but they picked the worst part of the trail to stop for their talk. It's an extremely narrow part of the trail that goes along a hillside, and is impossible for more than one person to pass at a time. For all I know there could have been a very relevant reason for stopping there, so maybe I should check it out next time I'm there for a birdwatching trip. It is actually in the vicinity of where I see the most species during the warmer months. It's a nice warm little cove where they like to hang out.

Photohunt for Birders!

I got an email promoting this Audubon-sponsored game to help promote the Great Backyard Birding Count (GBBC). It's great practice for real-life birding where you may only have 5 seconds to absorb and memorize every detail about a bird's size or coloring. You can adjust the time limit and even go for unlimited time (which I admit I resorted to in the end...).
Try it out by clicking on the image below:
Audubon Eagle Eyes Game
Let me know how you do!

National Audubon Membership Update

So I received my national membership materials a week or so ago. The welcom letter clearly states:

"In addition to your membership card, please find enclosed out brochure which outlines benefits of Audubon membership: Membership in your local Audubon chapter..."

It's just vague enough though that I'm still not sure. It just seems too good to be true: a one-year National Membership for $20 that carries the same benefits as an individual Massachusetts Membership for $44. I'm not complaining, but as you can understand I'm just highly skeptical that it's going to work out that way.

I just called the national membership services number and the woman said I should contact my local chapter to go about getting membership materials (most importantly the sticker for my car and the card needed to get into certain sanctuaries). I called the local chapter number she gave me but the office was closed due to the holiday. I left a voicemail though so hopefully someone will get back to me tomorrow. I'll keep you all posted on my progress! It would be great if things work out the way they suggest they should.

Waterfowl update: Mallard Hybrid, Green-winged Teal, or American Widgeon?

Thanks again for all the tips in identifying the 'Mystery Bird' from my jogging trip a few weeks ago. As I explained, I initially thought it was a mallard hybrid, I received multiple tips that it was a green-winged teal, and my friend Dave also got in on the action, sharing that he thought it was an American Widgeon. This was based on his knowledge that green-winged teals should not be this far south this time of year ('they are one of the first birds to head south in the fall'), and that it did not look small enough among the mallards in the picture I had posted.

I kept trying to cross-check it but I kept forgetting the name he used, thinking he said 'midgeon.' Finally I was able to get confirmation that it was widgeon and just look a moment to look them up. I can see the similarities but it's not the same bird I captured. I found this picture on The Bird Zoo. Click on the picture to visit the duck section- it's worth scrolling through the whole list- there are some really great pictures in there.

Another recent development in this mystery bird identification was the latest issue of the Ducks Unlimited Newsletter. The 'Fowl Fact' of the month happened to be about the Green-winged Teal- the only species of duck known to scratch in flight. This picture was too close to question- I compared the coloring on the feathers and it was an exact match. Click on the first image (from Ducks Unlimited) to visit the Green-winged Teal profile page.

This second image is the one I took along the Charles River a few weeks back.

Now every time I return to the river I look for them in that same spot, but have yet to see another. I learned this about their preferred habitat from the Ducks Unlimited site:

Tidal creeks and freshwater marshes associated with estuaries are favored over more saline or open-water habitats.

It makes sense then to have seen them in that slow-moving, protected part of the river. I'm really looking forward to seeing what springtime birds will arrive to the river.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mass Audubon Sanctuaries

Thanks to everyone for their helpful tips and information about National vs. Regional Audubon memberships. My plan is to wait and see what comes with my national membership and then probably get a dual membership for my boyfriend and me. That would be $58 for two vs. $44 for one. Thanks to Bennet for the tip about seasonal promotions. He and his wife paid just $25 for the two of them! I'll see how long I can hold out, but I may just bite the bullet and pay the $58 so we can gain access to some of the most desireable sanctuaries.

Bennet also shared his goal of visiting all of the
Massachusetts Audubon sanctuaries (45). What great motivation to get out there and bird! The Mass Audubon Website has an interactive map that links to the individual sanctuaries:

Bennet also posed the question of which Mass sanctuaries I would recommend. After reviewing this map I realized I've only been to 3! Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, Blue Hills in Canton, and Ashumet Holly in East Falmouth. Of the 3, Drumlin Farm I've been to the most since it's so close to where I live now. Although I've never has access to the learning center I've had some great walks throughout the grounds and there's always been plenty of diverse birds there thanks to the nesting initiatives they have set up. The Blue Hills sanctuary constitutes the learning center I think, where they have some birds in cages (owls, hawks etc.), and Ashumet Holly I've only been to once and not to bird or check out the wildlife. I was there at night for a seminar for a Cape Cod Times story I was writing about renewable energy sources so I didn't have a chance to explore.

This map is great because it helps put things in perspective and will certainly help me choose my next birding destination.