The Bufflehead Birder

June 29, 2008

Green Birding

Filed under: Main Posts — admin @ 9:44 pm

It’s pretty cool what has been done in the name of bird conservation lately.

While green birding has been around, it was the Big Bird Year (BIGBY) that has really put the concept out there in an inspiring way. The Big Bird Year was an incredible cross-country cycling trip for 10th grade birder, Malkolm Christie and his parents, that started in Alaska and ended some 12,000 miles later in Big Bend, Texas. At the end of the year it took them to complete this journey, Malkolm Christie had spotted 548 bird species and raised $20,000 some dollars for bird conservation. (Donations are still being accepted). But even as the Big Bird Year has come to its end, it’s a tradition in the making, I think, with greater journeys to come.

The idea behind green birding is to try and see how many bird species you can but only traveling to birding spots using fossil fuel-free transportation, or at least, more environmentally friendly means.

Many such challenges get sponsored and have raised money for bird conservation efforts. Even deciding on not partaking in a fossil-fueled trip to see a rare bird can be turned into a way to make a gift to conservation. Check out the June 18th post entitled “Sedge Wren” on Mike’s Bird and Digiscope Blog.

Meanwhile, before I even get to my car I’ve been having some close encounters with birds whether I want to or not. A family of Mockingbirds have made a nest in a Juniper right at the top of the steps to the parking area where I live. Even when I use the other stairs so as to avoid walking close to their nest, I’ve still felt the rush of air and the brush of feathers on the side of my head as I am dive-bombed by the Mockingbirds parents. I have been keeping a thick towel in the car for head protection should I need it.

Long View to Nest Secret Entrance

You can see the entrance hole to the nest, where the branches have parted some, in the top part of the yellow-green shrub.

At first, the attacks were limited to agitated vocalizations and I thought I had satisfied the parents by using the other stairway. But when the eggs hatched and both parents were non-stop bringing food to the babies the air attacks got worse. Hence, the towel.

Mockingbird with something yummy for the kids

And I had thought Brussel sprouts were bad.

Meanwhile, I now subscribe to Cornell’s Birds of North America online and have easy access to more information on Mockingbirds and how long I can expect to be under threat of dive bombing. What sold me on this resource as opposed to a field guide or wikipedia, is that the material is from the most current ornithology articles written by specialists of whatever species is searched.

I now know that it was most likely the male that was attacking me and that Mockingbirds recognize those individuals who are repeated intruders, and concentrate their attacks on those lucky folks. Actually, I find this interesting and wonder if using a different colored towel would make the birds think I’m someone else. Much as I can appreciate their protectiveness, I do have to get into my own nest and there are only 2 pathways that go from my car to my door.

Although for some reason, in the last couple of days the parents aren’t right there waiting for me when I get out of my car. One of them may sit and make some aggressive raspy sounds from the trees, but I haven’t been attacked all weekend. So I guess a towel switch or facial reconstruction won’t be needed.

I think, I hope, by the end of this week there should be some fledglings taking refuge in the shrubbery. There is something absolutely precious about young birds that haven’t quite learned to fly but hop around and perch on low branches. According to Cornell’s Bird of North America (BNA), the youngsters will hang out as fledglings for about another week before flying off.

Also, BNA tells me that while Mockingbirds often build more than one nest,in a breeding season (sometimes up to 6) they do not reuse the same one. So, we’ll see if next year I’m running a 3-week gauntlet with a towel and sunglasses.


Early digiscope image of a Mockingbird from last March in Peace Valley, PA

June 23, 2008

Weekly Puzzle - june 24,2008

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 5:47 pm

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Green Heron

June 19, 2008

Blustery Day in Heaven

Filed under: Digiscoping — admin @ 12:22 am

This may be hard to do, especially if you were in the Philly area during the last sweltering heat wave, but let’s try for the sake of this week’s post.

Picture a whipping wind shoving gray clouds across a pale mid-morning sky. This is how it was for me one Saturday last February when I took my new digiscoping equipment out for a real drive, not the 30-minute test drive at the nearby pond I spoke about in an earlier post.

Andorra Nature Center is located along the Wissahickon River. Not only is it located in a quiet part of the woods just off the walking trail along the river, but it also offers a complex of feeders, which is a boon to beginner digiscoper. Anywhere birds congregate is an excellent place to practice.


Firstly, there are lots of birds coming and going.

Secondly, there are always certain perches in the path of approach to a feeder that are used over and over by incoming birds. When these perches are noted, they make a handy place to focus your scope or camera while you settle in and wait. That’s the idea anyway.

However, keep in mind Hunter’s First Perch Principle:

If, the following is true:
X = likelihood of target bird using given perch
Y = frequency of scope or camera focused on given perch
Then, X will decrease in direct proportion to the increase of Y.

I stared at a lot of vacant perches until I got a few worthwhile shots.

Luckily, this principle did not apply to the path of approach used by the White-breasted Nuthatches. They liked to hop down the along the side of a nearby tree, stopping from time to time, and remaining still long enough for me to actually attempt a focus, before making the short flight to the feeder of choice.


White-breasted Nuthatch

Very cooperative, those Nuthatches, unlike a favorite friend pictured below.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

The wind set my scope to vibrating, and although the low light conditions actually allowed me to see through my LCD viewer, it forced me to set my Coolpix P5100 to an ISO of 400 and to use the widest aperture possible. That made for grainier images but, at least they stood a better chance than the proverbial ice cube, of being in focus.

Wren Hairy Woodpecker

Carolina Wren and Downy Woodpecker

I stood huddled against the wind, clicking shots of Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, sometimes Tufted Titmice or Chickadees but more often of vacant perches. The wind was so high that trees bowed back and forth, and vicious gusts swept birds en masse off of the feeders and into the trees.


Chickadee with Seed

(Either Black-capped or Carolina. Black-caps have the more distinct white stripes on the wings. I couldn’t quite tell from my viewpoint.)

But the digiscoping thrill was on and I couldn’t stop. Just one more shot of the Nuthatch, or hey, now that Titmouse is finally on its perch, or what about a few more shots of those Juncos with their cheeks full of seeds?

And then there was a Red-bellied Woodpecker spinning around on the suet feeder while Titmice, Chickadees, and a Carolina Wren joined in. No chance here of a sharply focused shot, so I applied one of Mike’s digiscoping tips and took a video of the twirling feeder so that I could snatch a couple of in-focus stills from that later.
It was absolute Heaven.
Finally, 5 hours later, my fingers were too numb to shift the exposure dial, and the snow was starting to come down in a serious slant. It was time to beam back to the Home Planet and go get a hot coffee.





Andorra Bench

Weekly Puzzle - June 18th, 2008

Filed under: Bird Puzzles — admin @ 12:18 am

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