Sunday, May 31, 2009

Anna's Hummingbird and other San Francisco Birds

I only birded for a couple of hours in Presidio Park while in San Francisco, but I was excited to see some birds I had never seen before.

Female Anna's Hummingbird:

Male Anna's Hummingbird:
I especially like this profile one:

The hummingbirds at Presidio Park were so fun to watch. I first noticed them as I was walking down the Park Presidio Blvd. corridor of sequoia redwoods. I kept hearing this weird wheezing noise and would stop to look for the bird but couldn't find it. It wasn't until I got into the main park, near Mountain Lake, that I realized that wheezing noise was coming from the hummingbirds!

I'm no expert at hummingbirds (and especially not West Coast ones) but Anna's Hummingbird was the closest match to my photos and is also very common in the Presidio Park.
I also saw my first Wilson's Warbler:

This was another tricky ID for me because I had trouble finding pictures where the black cap comes down the nape of its neck as you can see in the first picture.

I also saw my first Chestnut-backed Chickadee:

American Coot:

White-crowned Sparrow:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Presidio Park Birding- San Francisco

I was in San Francisco last week doing some training for our West Coast office. I arrived on Sunday May 17th, the day after Bird-a-thon wrapped up. As soon as I checked into my hotel I took a cab to the Presidio. Little did I know but they were coming off of a heat wave so I had beautiful weather for my birding trip-sunny with temps in the 80s.

I had done limited research before leaving, but I did find some good tips for San Francisco birding here:

I walked down the corridor of Park Presidio Blvd. (lined with sequoia redwoods) and then I basically spent most of my time around Mountain Lake:

The write-up shown above (taken from the Presidio Park website: describes what they have done to improve the Mountain Lake area. It really is a cool area, with wetland sections and dense underbrush. That's where I was scouting for warblers (ID-d a Wilson's Warbler) and was watching the chestnut-backed chickadees. I also enjoyed watching the Anna's Hummingbirds which were very vocal and active. I'll post the pictures in a separate post.

Some funny stories from my day birding in Predisio Park:

1. I happened to be in San Francisco the same day as the Bay to Breakers race. I was talking to my friend living in San Francisco on my cell phone and he asked me if I had seen anyone from Bay to Breakers yet. I had no idea what he was talking about, but literally right before he called someone in a clown wig had just passed me on a bike in the park so I started to put it all together. On my walk back to the hotel from the park I saw lots more people making their way home from the race. Keep in mind that they had been drinking all day and their costumes were not in the greatest shape at that was pretty entertaining. The funniest scene was watching a guy wearing nothing but pink hot pants with silver lips on the cheeks get dropped off at his apartment by two girls. As he scrambled down the sidewalk, barefoot and clutching his jeans the two girls sat giggling in their car before driving away. For a good laugh do a Google Image Search for "bay to breakers."

2. My second funny story is about a woman (40s-ish with long gray hair) and her daughter (about 9) who asked me which way it was to the lake. Obviously I wasn't from there but I could at least tell her how to get there since it was just around the corner from where we were. I continued walking away from the lake and spent some time in an open area up by the golf course.

I decided to head back toward the lake to look for more warblers and ran into the lady and her daughter again. She told me thank you for the directions and started up a conversation with me. She told me (unprompted) that she and her daughter were finalists in an art competition and they were scouting the area for locations for their art exhibit. I thought this was interesting for people who were from out of town (I assumed- since they asked for directions). She said they were building a bird house so I told her I was a birder. She asked her daughter to finish telling me about it, "Did you hear that honey? She's a birder- tell her what kind of bird house we're making." Her daughter, annoyed, told me it was for a great-horned owl, and-get this- they're going to suspend a golf cart from a tree and put the bird house inside!

And, even crazier, it turns out they're from San Francisco! I find it really strange that an artistic/free spirit type like this lady wouldn't know her way around the park.

It was a great day birding, but unfortunately the only day I got out there with my binoculars. I definitely plan on returning so next time I'll need to build in more time for birding.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bird-a-thon List from Winthrop

I spent Saturday birding in Winthrop with my friend Abbie. We were birding for Gordon's Gaggle- thanks again to everyone who pledged money for me!
We went to Deer Island, Belle Isle Marsh, and Winthrop Beach. Here is our list from the day:
baltimore oriole
gray catbird
european starling
common grackle
mourning dove
red-winged blackbird
house sparrow
house finch
rock pigeon
semipalmated plover
common eider
ring-belled gull
herring gull
great black-backed gull
eastern kingbird
savannah sparrow
song sparrow
northern mockingbird
double-crested cormorant
american black duck
long-tailed duck
surf scoter
snowy egret
tree swallow
barn swallow

I was very excited about some of the diving ducks we saw.

Long-tailed Duck:
Common Eider:

I also had to include this picture of the eider with a juvenile gull- I thought it was interesting they were hanging out together:

House Wren and Warblers at Mt. Auburn

I'm trying to catch up on some back-logged photos from Mt. Auburn Cemetery last week. I was so excited to post my pictures of the Indigo Bunting I didn't have time to put up the others.

House Wren:

Yellow-rumped Warbler:

[I even have a mystery warbler. I remember it was yellowish and fairly drab. Here are the only pictures I got]. UPDATE: Thanks to Grant for identifying this warbler as a female American Redstart! I didn't see any males that day so it didn't even occur to me!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MassAudubon Bird-a-thon

I've officially signed up for Bird-a-thon this weekend- I'll be birding for the Gordon's Gaggle team. Since my schedule was somewhat restrictive I had to get creative if I was going to participate.

I'm flying out to San Francisco Sunday morning and Steve's going to be working in the field all weekend so I had to find a way to get to the airport. I decided to ask my friend Abbie who lives in Winthrop if I could stay with her Saturday night and then just take a cab from her place (very close to the airport) Sunday morning.

Since I'll be in Winthrop all day Saturday hanging out with Abbie, it would have been tough to meet up with other members of Gordon's Gaggle. That and I'm working all day Friday so it would have been really tough for me to meet up with anyone on that day.

Finally, after some back and forth with one of the team's representatives we arrived at a solution- Abbie would join the team with me and that way my observations would count. (Bird-a-thon rules state that at least 2 team members must observe the bird for it to count.) Abbie's a nature-lover and I know she's already good at identifying some birds so I think she'll be a great teammate to bird with. I even have an extra pair of binoculars for her.

My fundraising page is:

I hope I have some great sightings in Winthrop! I've never birded out there but there are always lots of cool shorebirds reported on the Boston Birds group.

Anyone else doing Bird-a-thon this year?

Indigo Bunting at Mt. Auburn Cemetery- Lifer!

I was so excited to see my first Indigo Bunting today. I quickly ran over to Mt. Auburn during lunch to take advantage of peak warbler season before it's over. I'm going to be in San Francisco for work all next week so I fear by the time I get back the birds will have moved on.

There were a lot of birders there today and of course lots of activity around the Dell. That's where I saw a flash of blue fly into the undergrowth at the edge of the water. None of the other birders with scopes set up were bothering to look at it. I'm assuming they had already seen it and were focusing on other more exciting birds- such as the pair of screech owls that have been reported at the Dell recently.

Here is where I first sighted him at the edge of the water. There was also a female cardinal there splashing around trying to cool off.

He then flew up into the bushes on top of the wall behind the Dell, where I got a better picture.

I was very pleased with the day! It's addicting though- I have to try and make time to get over there tomorrow and Friday as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tips on Getting Started in Birding

I was inspired by this post from Lowie about birding tips. I just stumbled upon her blog through ChirpTracker and for a 22 year-old she's quite accomplished! Check out the picture of her 300th life bird cake!

I haven't even started my life list. I suppose by mining my Blogger tags I could do it pretty easily. It's just a matter of doing it... I've noticed some nice blog widgets for life lists. Anyone have a favorite?

Definitely check out Lowie's post, which is very well-written and clearly outlines how and why you should be doing certain things to get started in birding.

Here's my own list of tips I put together for Stephanie, one of my readers from the Cape.

1. Find your motivation: Start a blog and/or join a bird list site like,, or Having a specific goal like adding to your life list or getting great pictures for your blog will really get you motivated to keep up with the hobby and get out in the field during your spare time. I know it's certainly worked for me.

2. Get a pair of binoculars: My friend Larry at the
Brownstone Birding Blog was really helpful in giving me some advice about buying my first pair of binoculars. I think it really depends on what you can afford though. I hope he doesn't mind my sharing his advice (but at least I'm giving him credit!): "If you can spend $200-$300 check out vortex roof prism binoculars or Nikon Monarchs (both 8x42 I think). If you are looking to get out cheaper try Nikon action 7x35 Porro (about $100) Swift is also good to try. Swift Ultralite Porros are supposed to be really good. I have the Swift Ultralite Roofs which are pretty decent too."

3. Join a conservation group: What better way to secure your long-term commitment to birding than to support conservation of habitat for birds? Join your local Audubon chapter and participate in birding/informational events hosted by your local chapter. Beware that when you join the National Audubon Society that does not include membership in Mass Audubon since it is separate. I encourage you to do both if you want to support as many groups as possible (and National Audubon membership includes subscription to their magazine which is very good), but I wanted to share this insight so you don't make the same mistake. The National site is very misleading. Also consider supporting
Ducks Unlimited and Mass Wildlife (for those of you outside Massachusetts seek out your local fish and game agency), which often co-sponsor events with Audubon and also provide helpful bird identification resources.

4. Join local birding groups: You'd be surprised how many birding groups there are right in your own neighborhood! Here is Mass, there is
The Brookline Birding Club, which offers many trips throughout the state that are easy to join. Most of the trips are free so check them out.

5. Read birding listservs: Join and monitor, and other listservs that will alert you to what birds to look out for and where. I find this really helps.

6. Join social networking sites for birders: I highly recommend
ChirpTracker, which populates your Twitter account for you. There's also a very active birding community on Facebook. These groups will help you learn about what birds are being sighted in your area and also help you pick up on birding terminology and maintain your interest and motivation in the hobby.

Warbling Vireo and Chipping Sparrow at Charles River

I spent a half hour birding before work this morning. I stuck to my favorite section of the Charles River in Watertown, MA, but one of these days I really need to make the effort to bird along the other side in Nonantum. I've been invited to contribute to a new local blog called Newton, MA Birding. When I lived in Watertown I spent a lot of time on the Newton side of the river in the village of Nonantum. When I would go running or birding along the river I would always cross over the footbridge before Watertown Square and then again over Bridge St. I really enjoy birding in the Watertown/Newton area so I'm going to try and get over there someday soon.
I chirped/tweeted this morning about the warblers being gone already from my favorite stand of trees along the Charles. Perhaps I just didn't spend enough time there, or maybe I didn't get there early enough. I'm confident there are still plenty of warblers at Mt. Auburn Cemetery though so I'll just plan on getting there sometime this week. My list is seriously struggling...
This morning I did see a Warbling Vireo:

I also was watching a pair of Chipping Sparrows. Sparrows can be tricky to ID and these pictures aren't great. I did positively ID the male (but did not photograph) so I'm pretty sure this is his female counterpart:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Red-tailed Hawk Nictitating Membrane

Steve and I spent the weekend with my dad at the South Shore Antique Auto Club trading bee at Great Woods (a.k.a. Tweeter Center, a.k.a. Comcast Center) in Mansfield, MA.

I've been going since I was 12 years old, helping my dad load up the trailer with his junk, set it up Saturday morning, and pack up what's left on Sunday afternoon. For the past couple years we've gotten spaces in Lot 9, which was previously used for vendor parking, but as the trading bee has grown they've started selling spaces up there. The lot is grass and gravel and usually reserved for people guys ripping it up with their mini-bikes, 4-wheelers, dirt-bikes and anything else loud and obnoxious.

My dad really likes being up there though and we get good traffic and usually good sales since there aren't many other vendors around us.

I saw a hawk land in a tree on the edge of the parking lot and of course grabbed my camera to try and get some good shots. Steve and I took turns with the camera.
Here you can see its nictitating membrane, which I referred to as a "third eyelid" but after Googling it found the proper term. In this picture the hawk is scratching himself, which for some reason kicks in the reflex to draw over its nictitating membrane. I was actually talking about this randomly to Steve and my Dad on Saturday and told them that cats also have them, which I was 99% sure of and when I looked into it more learned that they usually only show them when they're ill.

I like this picture, which shows the hawk's crest, which I've never noticed before.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Rose-breasted Grosbeak- First of Year!

I was excited to see my first Rose-breasted Grosbeaks of the year. They were very noisy and very active, picking at the buds on the trees, chasing each other and also the Baltimore Orioles. There was quite a bit of action in Stiles and Hart yesterday.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

Baltimore Oriole:

I also got a (slightly) better picture of a Yellow Warbler, which I had seen in a different part of the conservation area a few weeks ago.
I also saw a Palm Warbler, which I always get really excited about because I think it's a new species of warbler for me but then when I look more closely I realize that's all it is. Still cute though and fun to watch.

Female Red-winged Blackbird- Why Say "Female"?

It occurred to me as I was Googling "female red-winged blackbird," that it's funny how we indicate the gender of the female of a species but not the male's. It goes without saying when you share a sighting of a Red-winged Blackbird or a Baltimore Oriole that you're talking about the male. Why is that?

Is it because males tend to be more brightly-colored than females and therefore more exciting to observe?

Or is it because statistically birders observe more males than females? In my experience it seems males are more abundant and certainly more noticeable. They're very showy when they're demonstrating to attract mates or intimidate the competition and they also seem to be more active. They're always chasing each other around while the female calmly perches somewhere nearby, away from all the action, and certainly away from the observer's eye. I also think the female is also likely to be out of sight when she's sitting on her nest or foraging for food for her babies.

When you think of these reasons it makes a lot of sense that males are more likely to be observed. But really, the main reason I think males dominate list counts is because they're more thrilling to sight and certainly easier to pick out from their surroundings.

Of course, I'm only talking about observing with your eyes, not identifying by sound. That's a whole other world that I'm light years away from being part of- although I am trying very hard to work on my call/song identification skills. I recognize that a lot of birders make their IDs by sound and could easily ID a male-female exchange, but for the sake of my argument try to ignore that.

Another interesting gender issue is that when you're counting birds (at least for Project FeederWatch) if you see a dimorphic species (where the females and males look markedly different) you cannot count them as two birds unless you see both birds at the same time. Clearly if you see a bright red male cardinal visit your feeder, he flies away, and then an orange-ish female flies up you are looking at two different cardinals but the rules say no.

So females don't get the recognition they deserve in bird IDs but they do get called out when it comes to bird counts. It's a time when ID-ing a female is helpful but still doesn't count. Does anyone else think that's strange? I am sure the scientists have a very good reason for that, but from my naive perspective I think it's a little unfair.

After all that soap-boxing, here are my pictures of the Female Red-winged Blackbird I saw in Stiles and Hart yesterday:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Baltimore Oriole at Charles River

I've found a new way to work birding into my busy work week. As I mentioned last week, I've started birding along the Charles River before work to catch migratory warblers while they're at their peak. Some days I don't have enough time for a full walk so I've been pulling over and parking on Charles River Rd. right near the prime spot I mentioned (stand of trees right after Watertown Square) to get in some quick birding. I did it on Tuesday of this week and saw some more yellow-rumped warblers but didn't get any good pictures.

Then on Thursday I decided to pull over and stop in the same spot on my way home. I was excited to see my first Baltimore Oriole of the year!

This is a young male I believe- the black is still coming in on its head:

Then I spotted another male along the banks of the river:

I also enjoyed watching the double-crested cormorants that were roosting in the trees rather than perching on logs/dead trees in the river. This was because the Boston College women's crew team was practicing so they had to stay out of their way.