Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learn Bird Songs with Larkwire

I recently got the opportunity to demo this really great software for learning bird songs. It's called Larkwire. Currently it's available as a web app and also an iPhone app (looking forward to when it comes to the Android market). I tried out the web app and I like it a lot. What sets it apart from bird song tutorial CDs is that it's a trivia game. For competitive personality types like myself it motivates you to really pay attention and learn the different songs.

I played two games- the Clear-toned Songs and the Complex Bird Songs. It's nice because it plays more than just one variation of a bird song. That's what I dislike about bird song audio CDs- they only play just a short snippet of the bird's song and we all know that they make many different sounds.

Give it a whirl! I'll definitely come back for more. I like the challenge of the games and it's also making me a better birder at the same time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

BwBTC Connecticut Trip- Allen's Meadow & Schenk's Island

I believe this is Vincent, Townsend, Diana and Dawn Fine (our organizer)

Love this shot of Cindy & Dan as the sun started coming out.Group shot in front of the community garden: Townsend, Catherine, Cindy, Vincent, Mardi & Dawn.

Back on October 16th we had our Connecticut annual BwBTC trip (Birders who Blog, Tweet, Chirp), organized by Dawn Fine of Dawn's Bloggy Blog and led by Luke Tiller of Under Clear Skies.

We met at Allen's Meadow in Wilton, CT. This is right near Steve's parents' house in Fairfield so it worked out really well. We just drove down Friday night so it wouldn't be a problem getting up for the 7:30am meet time.

We spent our time at Allen's Meadow looking for sparrows in the community garden that was past its peak now that summer's over. We also walked around the outskirts, near the edge of the woods. There were lots of soccer games going on (incidentally Steve's mom said she used to bring his little sister there for games when she was a kid), and some British parents even came over to see what we were doing and what kinds of birds we were seeing- I believe the word "twitching" might have been used.

Dawn put it best when she titled her trip recap "Birding and Chatting" because there was lots of chatting and catching up going. That's what I like about these trips- you get to connect with your social media birding friends and do some birding while you're at it. I think my favorite moment of the day was when we were waiting for the rest of our group to come out of Starbuck's, which happened to be right next to a movie theater. There was a poster up right behind us for The Big Year, which came out the night before. As everyone's standing around chatting about the movie there happened to be some hawks overhead so we all got our binoculars up to take a look. It was pretty hilarious and Dawn even managed to snap a pic- check out her recap to see it.

As for the birds- I'm not very good when it comes to identifying sparrows, but I try to learn more each time I do fall birding. That's what I like about trips with more experienced birders- they'll share their tips and each time I learn something new. Obviously the ones with the vibrant colors are easier for me to identify (white-crowned sparrow, white-throated sparrow) but I'm trying to get better with the all-brown ones.

Here are some of my sparrow pictures from the day- they're all from Allen's Meadow. I did make it to the second stop on the trip- Schenk's Island, but didn't take any pictures there. (I couldn't make it to the third stop- Sherwood Island- because we had an engagement party in Nyack, NY later that afternoon.)

White-crowned sparrow

Please take a moment to check out the amazing photos, read the full bird lists, and enjoy the witty recaps from the other BwBTC birders on this Connecticut trip. Til next year!

Vincent Mistretta- BWBTC Outing in Wilton, Connecticut
Dawn Fine- Birding and Chatting ~ BwBTC ~ Wilton, Connecticut
Larry- Fall Camping At Pawtuckaway & BWBT&C
Cindy- Birders Who Blog Tweet And Chirp
Dan- Lovely Little Sparrow
Cynthia Cage- Sparrows and More, Allen's Meadow with the BwBTC Gang

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bird Photo Contest- Close Encounters

Cornell Lab of Ornithology just announced a fun photo contest. It's called Close Encounters and it's all about showcasing memorable and interesting encounters between humans and birds, birds and birds, and even birds and other creatures.

What's even more interesting is that entries can take various forms:
  • Photographs
  • Stories
  • Artwork
  • Sculpture
  • Video
  • Other??
I've had some interesting birding adventures that come to mind, although I'm not sure how suitable they are for this contest. I imagine most of the entries will be photos, although videos will also be popular I bet.

The deadline for the contest is November 15, 2011. Here are the instructions for how to enter your photos, videos etc. I imagine if you do one of the alternative entries (sculpture/artwork) you can submit it as a photograph.

1. Email entries to If you submit a video, post it on YouTube and send the link.
2. Write "CloseEncounter_yourfirstname yourlastname_yourstate" in the subject line.
3. Include both your mailing address and the location where you saw the bird(s) in your email.
4. Explain why you submitted your entry and what it shows.
5. One entry per person, please.
6. Read the terms of agreement.

Good luck photo contest entrants! If I decide I have something worthy to enter I'll share it here too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Seagull in Dubrovnik, Croatia

This seagull was getting ready for take-off on the old-city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, in September 2011. Any ideas what kind of seagull this is? (Click to Enlarge)

About the Photographer: Larry Kim is a contributor to the international birding bureau at BirdingGirl. He works for WordStream, a provider of Adwords Keyword Tool.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mallard Duck in Plitvice National Park, Croatia

I found this duck swimming in a lake at Plitvice National Park, Croatia in September, 2011. A bunch of lake trout were swimming around.

About the Photographer: Larry Kim is BirdingGirl's international bird correspondent. He works at WordStream, a provider of AdWords tools.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bald Eagle Habitat Photos from Washington

I have been so busy planning my September 10th wedding but that's no excuse for slacking on posting the rest of my pictures from our amazing trip to Washington State and Vancouver.

So far I've done just one post from that trip- my Pigeon Guillemot pictures. But I have many more pictures from that trip to Hope Island, including these up-close-and-personal pictures of American Bald Eagles.

Hope Island is the ideal bald eagle habitat. It's an isolated state park, accessible only by boat and as a result it's a "natural area preserve to protect a rare Puget Sound ecosystem," according to the Washington State Parks website. We'll attest to that- the island is really remarkable. We walked around the entire thing, and there were so many different habitats there- meadows, forests, fields, rock outcroppings, and sandy beaches.

We first encountered the bald eagles first in the meadow high atop the bluff overlooking the water below.
Then as we made our way to the other side of Hope Island we cut down from the trail to a sandy beach in a little cove below. Then we started noticing the bald eagles flying above and looked up to realize they were roosting in the trees. We counted a total of 4 but I'm sure there were more we couldn't see.
That sandy beach was a perfect habitat for them- they had their own private fishing hole. We actually watched as one of them dove down to snatch a small fish. In the shallow water Steve noticed one of the fish that got away- floating in the water with talon marks on its body.
Note: for more information about visiting Hope Island go here:

Make sure you look up Hope Island in Skagit County not Mason County. I'm realizing there are two Hope Island State Parks in Washington, and Google Maps isn't very good at pulling up both. (Use the map in my pigeon guillemot post, not the one that comes up when you Google it.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pigeon Guillemot Pictures- San Juan Islands

Here are some pictures from our trip to the San Juan Islands back in June. We had a wedding in Vancouver June 26th and decided to make a whole vacation out of it. Steve's old co-worker Julie (of J&J's Excellent Adventure fame) lives in Anacortes, WA and invited us to visit and stay with her and her husband Jay. Not only was it great to catch up with our friends, but how often do you get an amazing destination like the San Juan Islands to visit with personal tour guides??

On Friday they both had to work but generously let us use their car and sea kayaks to explore Puget Sound. On their advice we picked up lunch at Gere-a-Deli (the hummus veggie sandwich was sooo good) and then drove to Snee Oosh Beach where we put in. It was my first time in a sea kayak so I was little nervous in the fast-moving water, but at the end of the day I was proud of my accomplishment and celebrated with a glass of white wine. Actually- who am I kidding- I really needed the white wine to calm my nerves once it was all over. hahahaha

Julie and Jay gave us advice about which island to visit, and in the end we decided to go right for Hope Island (see map at the top of the post). Since we had the whole day free we decided to go for a hike around the entire island, which turned out to be an exciting adventure. I'll post a separate post all about that.

So, back to the pigeon guillemots. These cute little guys we saw on the water as we approached Hope Island and after we landed on the beach I took a few pictures, although at a distance. Then, when we stopped on our hike for lunch I had a good view of some of the guillemots standing on a rock. They were making quick a ruckus- lots of squeaky short calls- as they fought for the best spot on this small rock. I turned on my video to try and capture the sounds they were making but as you can see, of course they chose that moment to clam up- there's just a short call at the end of the clip. If you want to heard a better audio clip of the pigeon guillemot call, go to this page on All About Birds:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Boston Peregrine Falcon- Nictitating Membrane

On June 16th, the Boston Peregrine Falcon (the remaining male of the Christian Science falcon pair) stopped by our office's window ledge. I assume this is the male of the pair because he is so much smaller than the female that we were used to. Another noticeable trait is how big the male falcon's feet are. Just look at the size of those talons!

You can see the falcon's nictitating membrane up on its right eye. I'm not sure the reason for this, perhaps his eye suffered an injury or infection and he was keeping it up to protect it. At least twice I saw him lower it to look directly at us but he then he put it immediately back up. Does anyone know a lot about nictitating membranes? They've always fascinated me in birds. Here's one of a red-tailed hawk nictitating membrane that came up when it was preening/scratching.

In one of these photos you can see part of the falcon's ID band. It looks like it has the letter I and the number 7 on it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Birding While Jogging- Bridgewater Edition

It's been a while since I've blogged about birding while jogging. This was one of my favorite things to do when I lived in Watertown, MA and had the beautiful DCR Charles River trails at my disposal.

Here are a few of my "Birding While Jogging" posts from 2007-2008:

Since moving to Bridgewater, MA I haven't been as inclined to go running because we lack scenic trails like the ones on the Charles River. However, there is a nice route I like to take that crosses the Taunton River and its off-shoots in a couple of places. Naturally rivers and streams are a jackpot when it comes to birding. So, since I've picked up running again I've also been trying to get in some birding while I'm out there.

Here's what I've seen so far in my jogs this week and last:

Yellow warbler
Pine warbler
Rose-breasted grosbeak
Tree swallows

Here's to hoping I'll see more! It's definitely the motivating factor when I get out there to run. I like having nature and birds to look at to pass the time. This is a great time for it too since there are so many flowering trees and bushes along my route that they're attracted to.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mt. Auburn Cemetery Birding

I try to get in at least one day of birding at Mt. Auburn Cemetery each year during peak spring migration.

I made my trip there right on the cusp of peak migration- April 30th. I usually try to get there sometime in late April- early May to see the greatest variety of wood warblers, plus other colorful migrating birds.

The day I was there I got to see some of the usual warblers, and even a lifer for me- the chestnut-sided warbler. Maybe I had technically seen this bird before on a group trip where it blended in with the rest of the birds we saw, but on this day it definitely stood out to me as the most exciting warbler of the day.

Here are some pictures of the Chestnut-sided Warbler preening:

Other (non-photographed) highlights from the day included:
Northern Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black and White Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Baltimore Oriole
Chipping Sparrow

Here's a red-tailed hawk we saw at the end of the day as we were walking back to the car. That's usually where I see them at Mount Auburn Cemetery- in the areas surrounding the main entrance (in the circular parking area, near the entrance to Indian Ridge, near the main office, etc.).

Red-tailed Hawk:

I even have a MYSTERY BIRD to ask for help with. I've tried identifying it on my own, and think it could possibly be a juvenile or female indigo bunting, but I didn't see any male indigo buntings that day, so I can't say for sure how likely it would be to see that bird at Mt. Auburn Cemetery on that date.

Mystery Bird:
The most distinguishable characteristics about this mystery bird are the grosbeak (fat thick beak), the subtle wing bars, and a faint eye line. Click on the images to zoom in more. Thanks in advance for your identifying help!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Christian Science Peregrine Falcon dies

I hate writing these kinds of posts. First, the Atletico Junior owl mascot was killed, and now this sad update to share.

The Boston peregrine falcon that I'm always writing about and posting pictures of is a nesting pair (they're referred to as the Christian Science Administration Building peregrine falcon pair), and I just learned this week that the female peregrine falcon has died.

I work in the Christian Science Administration Building where their nest is, and a MassAudubon director was here this week looking for the nest since the female was discovered dead on May 4th. I've offered what information I could to be helpful, since I've kept a pretty regular log of their activity over the past year and a half, but that was the extent of what I could do. I could see the band whenever the bird perched on my window ledge but never close enough to actually read it, so I could never be sure which falcon I was looking at. I know the females are larger than the males, but that's the extent of what I know about identifying peregrine falcons. I'll assume that all of my sightings were of the Christian Science peregrine falcon pair.

Here are some of my favorite pictures taken over the past year and a half:

The story goes that the female's body was found on a sidewalk over near the Arlington T stop. If you look at this map, you can see it's a decent distance away from the nest site

The theory is that she might have gotten into a fight with another peregrine falcon (maybe another female trying to encroach on her nest site), died on a rooftop, and after weeks of decaying, her body was blown off the rooftop or ledge and ended up on the sidewalk. Officials from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife think she might have died in February or March. I'm leaning toward late March or early April because I saw the pair trying to mate on top of a nearby building and it was definitely more recent than February.

This picture was taken by my boss. I think it might be the male because it was taken more recently (March 25th) and it appears a little smaller.

The female leaves behind quite a legacy. She was the founding female of the Christian Science nesting pair- one of 3 Boston nesting pairs established after recovery efforts began. She was originally banded in Acadia National Park in Maine, and was 17 years old when she died (nearly as old as the 19-year old male from the Custom House in Boston). She produced 38 young, many of which survived and went on to nest throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Quite an impressive bird. I feel lucky to have had such a close connection to her :)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red-breasted Mergansers and Other Cape Cod Ducks

These pictures were taken on my birthday weekend, back at the end of March. I went down to see my parents on Cape Cod and my two birthday requests were:

1. I want to go Charlie's Place in Wareham for dinner. I've been going to Charlie's since I was a little kid and I have a lot of fond memories there. We're friendly with the owner, the prices are cheap, and their pepper & onion pizza is my absolute favorite.

2. I want to go birding. So, my parents took me to Bourne Farm in West Falmouth, and then later in the day I went for a walk on the Cape Cod Canal with my mom and my Aunt Marylou.

Here are the duck pictures from the Canal.

Red-breasted Merganser:

Female Red-breasted Merganser:

Common Eider Flock:
I really enjoyed our earlier walk at Bourne Farm. There are walking, biking and horseback riding trails there that feature cranberry bogs, ponds, and an old herring run. Too bad I couldn't get very close to the ducks there since they were in the middle of the ponds. I saw buffleheads and ring-necked ducks.

Ring-necked Duck:

Old house foundation we came upon in the middle of the woods. You can see the chimney to the left and the stairs in the middle.

This is called the "Cattle Tunnel." How in the world can cattle fit through here?? It's very low, and I hit my head misjudging just how low the ceiling was.

Great birthday weekend! Glad I finally got around to posting these pictures because I have some Mt. Auburn cemetery warbler photos I just took today that I can't wait to post.