Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Its been a LONG time since I've posted - but a year end update soon to follow!!! Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all!!!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Photo Quiz Answered

This week's quiz photo (above) becomes a lot easier when it is uncropped so that the bird in question is seen with its male partner (below).

But how does one identify the female on its own?

I'll assume that one would know it is a songbird of some type. You have a bit of size reference with the hand in the photo to know that the bird pictured is a fairly big songbird. The bill on the bird is also very long. It may be difficult to tell since it is open mouthed, the bill is actually straight. It is also clearly pointed. This is very typical of the family Icteridae which includes the popular boldy marked black and orange/yellow/red Orioles.

Most of you got this far. From here you want to notice/think about a few things:

1. This bird is really contrasting, the color is sharp - not a drab bird
2. The wing bars are very distinct/well defined

The most "similar" options are drab female/young male Baltimore, female Hooded, and female Orchard Oriole.

In a drab female/young male Baltimore Oriole one would expect brownish sides to the neck and brownish scapulars. One would expect a young male to be more orange-ish, and a drab-female to be brightest on the breast where as this bird is bright overall.

A female Hooded Oriole is much closer to this bird; however, they also tend to be much drabber overall and with much less distinct wing bars.

A female Orchard Oriole on the other hand fits all characteristics: yellow bird (maybe a bit "greenish"/yellow-green) with well defined wing bars.

Female Orchard orioles are small and have a much shorter bill than a Hooded Oriole. This explains why there was some confusion and question as to whether the bird could have been a Warbler by some.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quiz Bird!

So I sort of fell off the map recently due to getting sick, having a visitor, and working a lot after returning from NY. It may be a day early but I figured why not get the ball rolling now and post another quiz bird because last week I sort of dropped the ball. OOPS!

Here goes....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Answer to Quiz Bird

This weeks quiz bird was a juvenille Gray Jay. It is a dark gray bird with white on the malar. Structurally identical to the adult but without dark slaty gray overall.

Northern Mockingbird was another answer suggested by a few people - Northern Mockingbird juvenilles are almost the same as the adult but have some light spots on the breast for a brief period of time. The bill shape is also very different between Gray Jay and Northern Mockingbird.

This bird was seen in Pittsburg, NH on June 23rd, 2009.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quiz Bird #6

Have at it folks...

Friday, July 03, 2009

Tale of the Sabine's Gull

With this post I'm starting to do a bit of what I promised not long ago and tell some stories of birds I've added to my yearlist. Tales to follow include:
  • Tale of the Great Gray Owl
  • Tale of the Northern Hawk Owl
  • Tale of the Greater White-fronted Goose
  • and more!
So with that.... I shall begin.

Tale of the Sabine's Gull

On Friday, June 26th 2008 I woke up and headed to the store to pick up some plastic tubs to organize my gear in so that my car would no longer be a mess. Recent losses of a GPS inspired this move. After picking up the necessary items I returned home to promptly unload every item in my car onto my patch of yard. My cell phone made its familiar text message tone. I checked my phone - happy for the break to re-coop and plan the next step. "Royal Tern in Hampton Harbor" read the text from Ben. Wow. Not a common sighting in New Hampshire at all. Although Royal Tern sightings are becoming much more frequent they have been described to me as a bird you can "expect" to show up "every other year or so". However, one had already been reported a few weeks previously and I was fortunate enough to make it down to the coast in time to be one of the half of dozen people who saw it.

But what if I hadn't? What would have I done with piles of clothing, gear, etc. on my lawn when a bird I would have needed for the state and for the year was 30 minutes away. Fortunately, I was not faced with this dilemma. I was able to continue to clean, organize, and clean.

Once finished I debated heading to the coast to poke around at my favorite spots. The idea of traffic kept me away. So I settled down organizing some of the things I did not want to keep in my car when suddenly the phone rang. "There's a Sabine's Gull off Pulpit Rocks," stated Ben. "What! I need to get in the car right now don't I then!" I responded. "Yes, let me know when you get there and if you get it".

Rapidly I called every birder I new to make sure they got the call. At some point while talking to Ben I even attempted to text the message to one birder, but managed only to get out the message " Yes. Sabine's Gull pulipit" which didn't make much sense until further conversation. The yes meant yes I'd like to go on a whale watch tomorrow.... and the rest was just really out of context.

Panic set in as I rolled onto the highway. What if I didn't get there in time, what if I miss this bird? Meanwhile phone calls started rolling in on my end including one from Jessie who needed a ride as I was passing their exit. Fortunately they told me to continue on, or else, I'm not sure I would still be breathing to this day. I may have not been quite as worried had I not just received a call saying that the bird had moved south down a few pull offs from Pulpit Rocks to just north of Walis Sands. Shoot! Now the bird is moving I thought... I need to get there NOW!

Mom, don't worry I didn't speed, pass on the right, or do anything that would warrant getting a ticket etc.

Ok, I did speed a little.

As I followed individuals going 10mph under the limit I tried to remain calm but my entire body was shaking. As I rounded down the coast I spotted JoAnn and Mike on the rocks looking through scopes. I pulled my car over parking 3 individuals in. They could make me move AFTER I saw the bird.

I bolted out of my car and said "OK let me see it then I'll go park legally" As soon as I got on the bird it started to fly providing the best look I would have all day at the bird.

As luck would have it, someone pulled out at this point and I was able to park my car right there. I pulled out my scope and diligently watched and studied the bird knowing that others would be arriving and as some of the others had to leave, I needed to be prepared to follow the bird.

I was still shaking at this point but people started to arrive: Len, Steve, Jason (who got it for his 300th life bird), and more. At this point Jason and I called another birder who lived near where Jessie was and who could give her a ride!

Ben was in a hail storm worse than any other storm he had been in but managed to live through it.

5 hours later people were getting out of work so a new wave of birders arrived (along with those like Ben who were a bit further away - ie 2+ hours). And at some point I did stop shaking.

Fortunately, everyone en route got to see the bird. Unfortunately some people were unable to leave that night and did not get to see the bird as it was not re-found the following morning.

Yet, one week later, on Friday July 3rd - I got another phone call. This time there was a Sabine's Gull in Hampton Harbor.

After a week of birding in the fog and trying to get over a cold... here was something no one would have expected. With that I headed down to Hampton and was fortunate enough to spend more time with such a fantastic species.

Both bird"s" are first summer birds. Rare for Sabine's on the East coast (which is rare in and of itself!). Its NH's first ever first summer record, and it is around NH's 4th record (the number of records depends on who you talk to). All previous NH records are from offshore near Jeffery's Ledge.

It's not for me to say that this bird is or isn't the same. But odds are its the same bird and just hasn't been seen due to the weather. I'll be sure to update as more details unfold. But I hope for now the story has made you laugh.

With the initial sighting of Sabine's Gull I hit the following numbers:
  • 400 ABA birds,
  • 414 life birds,
  • and 263 year birds (now 264)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Quiz Bird #5

Photo by: Lauren K.

So to make this more of a challenge I've disabled automatic posting of comments so you can't peek a look at what others are saying (although you'll probably tell each other on chirptracker anyway!). You can comment and I'll eventually publish your comment, or email your answer to: lowiequizbird@gmail.com

Monday, June 29, 2009

Answer to Quiz Bird #4

FINALLY! Here's the way to identify the bird:

So here we have a raptor of some sort. The stocky stature, relatively
small bill and short tail are quite unlike any eagle, accipiter or
falcon, so we're left with the Buteos (and a few near-buteos --
Harris's and Common Black Hawks). The white head and dark eye of this bird is truly striking and happens to quickly limit our options. Only
Swainson's, Ferruginous, Rough-legged, the florida race of
Red-shouldered Hawk, and a few of the plethora of Red-tailed Hawk
plumages can show anywhere near this much white on the head.
Ferruginous and Rough-legged Hawks have feathered tarsi (the lower
part of the bird's "leg"), and our bird has bare tarsi.
Red-shouldered Hawk never shows a striking white head like our bird
(just a pale gray head), and should have a banded tail. This leaves
us with Swainson's and Red-tailed Hawks. Juvenile Swainson's (the
only plumage with a pale head), has a dark malar stripe, which our
bird doesn't. Swainson's Hawks also always have dark tails, quite
unlike the pale grayish tail on this bird. So that leaves us with our
familiar Red-tailed Hawk. Indeed, the silhouette of our bird is
quite similar to Red-tailed Hawk, but with some pretty wacky plumage.
Throughout most of Red-tailed Hawk's range, it's a highly variable
bird, with each individual looking a little different. This is
especially true in the Great Plains, where most birds have some
combination of the pale grayish tail, partially or mostly white head,
and white back that this bird shows. This bird falls on the extreme
pale end of Red-tailed Hawk, and is what is often called a "Krider's"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quiz Bird #4

This weeks quiz is brought to you by Ben G. we'll post the answer on Thursday evening or Friday morning.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Of storms and storm-petrels

Sunday I woke up with the rain pouring down and a cell phone that wasn't working. So naturally, I went birding.

Northern Gannets, Wilson's Storm-petrels, and Common Terns were abundant, but not much else of note was turned up (by me - Jason found an Arctic Tern and he and Len had a brief look at an alcid that was probably a puffin). The rain and wind postponed Seaside Sparrow plans for another day (probably many more days).

I like birding in storms. It feels pretty awesome to be tough enough to stand in the brutal rain and wind scanning for birds. I think it makes me value what I see a bit more too.

Unfortunately, it may not be the smartest thing to do when coming down with a cold. Today I'm completely knocked back. Hopefully it will go away before my excursion tomorrow.

Come back tomorrow for the weekly bird quiz - brought to you by Ben G. this week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I had to kill a bird today

(Warning: this post may contain images that may gross you out, disturb young children, or just make you really sad)

Sad but true; I had to kill a bird today. Well, I didn't kill it, my neighbor did because I couldn't stop tearing up when I tried.

To shorten the story - last night he found a fledgling Blue Jay that fell out of a nest. He tried to put it somewhere safe in the yard near a pile of sticks so that the parents could still tend to it etc. because he could not find the nest.

This morning while I was walking Olive he came over to me to tell me about it. I grabbed some gloves and camera to see what the deal was. When I found the bird it was in a very unfortunate position on its back, clearly injured, and being swarmed by flies. My heart sank. I called Steve M. and Ben G. to see if they had any suggestions. While I waited to hear back from one of them I attempted to help the bird perch to see if there was any chance it could make it.

Although it was not happy when I originally picked it up, it did not want to leave my hand once it realized I was not going to hurt it (a major reason why I couldn't bring myself to killing it in the end myself).

Finally I succeeded in getting the bird to an area where it was up and the parents could try to feed it. Before long things got bad though and the bird drowsed off and fell again. It quickly lost strength and I knew there really was no chance and that the right thing to do was to put it out of its misery (as my mother reminded me).

We dug a hole for it, humanly took care of the bird, and buried it in the garden so that it's body can provide nutrients for other forms of life; perhaps some pretty flowers that a Hummingbird will be attracted to.

It really broke my heart to have to do the right thing. I wanted so much for the bird to miraculously make a come back. I hate when the right thing sucks so much.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Red Sox Game

Off to the Sox game tonight against Atlanta. Hopefully we get some high five winning action. I'm not too optimistic seeing as Dice-K is pitching.

Until then I have no idea what I'm going to do. Maybe work on saving my camera and/or phone from the drowning death that ensued on Tuesday. Or maybe I'll just lay around.

Real exciting post. I know. Totally made your day didn't it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Answer to Quiz 3

So making it multiple choice definitely made this one a bit easier. Fall shorebirds can definitely be tricky - just like fall warblers. But tricky just means fun. Also, you tend to see a lot more shorebirds in the fall as they lazily make their way south as opposed to the spring where they want to get north to get done what needs to get done (bow chicka wow wow).

So here we go then:

1. Dunlin - this non breeding bird may not look anything like the color seen in a breeding bird - but the thick, long, drooping bill should be enough to give it away. Overall it is a grayish brownish bird (usually a little more brownish tinge to the chest than the back).

2. Semipalmated Plover - I suppose you could argue that I cannot eliminate Common Ringed Plover from this picture. In which case I could go into some more detail. But for the basic part here there really is no other shorebird that has that chocolatey brown back and the little white around its neck. You can see another one in the blurry background of the photo that matches up exactly.

3. White-rumped Sandpiper - This bird is obviously a little bigger than the other two around it. Its wings are longer and it has a white superilicum. It is also more brightly patterned than the birds near it and the breast is not nearly as dingy as you would expect with a SESA.

4 & 5. Semipalmated Sandpiper - The back on these birds is much more uniform and scaley. There really is no rufous to the upperside (as opposed to Western). The cap is dark. The bill is relatively short and straight (longer and slightly drooped for Western)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hint for Quiz 3

OK this quiz seems to be tricking people a bit... So to make it a little "easier" I'm going to give you the species in the shot - and you need to match them to the bird:

Species: White-rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover

ready... set... go!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quiz Bird(s) #3

Photo credit: Jason Lambert

This week we'll have 5 birds to identify - they're numbered.  1 and 5 are a little hard to read but one is the front most bird on the left and 5 the front most bird on the right.  

A bigger version can be seen at http://picasaweb.google.com/lauren.kras/QuizBirds#5347923027621861586

As always you can post your answer to lowiequizbird@gmail.com 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekend Report

Between Saturday and Sunday I turned up 125 species. Not bad considering the fact that most of Saturday consisted of re-scouting the precise location of a bunch of birds for the Birders who blog, tweet, and chirp event. The rest of Saturday was spent socializing while birding before prematurely abandoning the event to head up north. There I experienced no moose but lots of rain. The rain dampened our plans so to speak, along with our clothes, and we ended up altering plans a bit and did not go any further north than Jefferson Notch.

"Evolution of the tent" (2009 left, 1970s right)

Now for some specifics:

Saturday morning at 4:30 I dragged myself up and out to hi
t some spots looking for birds. Part of my goal was to see if anything unusual was around while another part was to re-locate the birds I had scouted at various points the week before to ensure that I knew where they were most likely to be for the "Birders who blog, tweet, and chirp" get together.

I hit the coast before traffic got bad. Had the usual suspects off the coast ranging from Northern Gannet to Common Tern to Bonaparte's Gull. I found some Roseate Terns offshore but with the tide still pretty high there was no hope for any in the harbor. Inland I went.

Pease was no disappointment as I quickly found every bird I targeted there including Upland Sandpiper, Vesper's Sparrow, and Grasshopper Sparrow. Eastern Meadowlark, Common Raven, Osprey, and American Kestrel all showed off for me too. Since everything was going so smoothly I skipped over Chapman's Landing as I had success with both species of sharp-tailed sparrow a few times including the night before.

I nailed down the Gonet road (thanks Len!) and Main St. nest sites for Mississippi Kites. Numerous birds were singing and I picked up a few species of warbler and the nesting Baltimore Orioles. On a whim I decided to check the Waste Water Treatment plant in Exeter. I was already plenty late for the Plum Island event and I figured I might as well make my time worth while. However, the only bit of excitement was the Willow Flycatcher. A few months ago this bird called and we were unable to find it. This time it was wide out in the open showing off.

A few other stops, some wrong turns, and one iced coffee later I was at the entrance to Plum Island/Parker River NWR. I called to check in and got the report that they were running a bit behind but were working their way out. A few minutes later I was able to sync up with the group. Naturally, the group photo waited until I arrived.

A few willet's, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Least Bittern, 1 Bobolink later, and many conversations later we moved on to the next pull off. One step closer to NH. As Chris put it... "birding and socializing continue(d)". People got plenty of photos of Savannah Sparrow and Great Egret before moving on to pick up Least Tern in an unpleasant haze...Snowy Egret... Belted Kingfisher... and we were off the Island!

At this point Lunch was needed for most and more coffee and espresso was needed for me. And then... it was on to NH.

We skipped the coast - low tide had come and passed so finding a Roseate Tern would have been a matter of scanning groups of feeding Terns - and with weekend traffic on the coast - our group would have been too large to truly manage.

On to Newmarket we went. As expected a Kite was on nest when we got there. We patiently waited for another to swoop in but were disappointed. On to Chapman's Landing we went.

Chapman's Landing turned a bit frustrating with the harsh backlighting we were given. 4 Nelson's were moving around but none perched with their fronts towards us. Many more saltmarsh's were seen. Perhaps the most frustrating thing was this one Nelson's that perched up with its back to us and sang its little heart out without giving anyone a satisfactory look at the physical features you would associate with Nelson's.

Chapman's Landing can be a bit of a challenge in that you have Saltmarsh and Nelson's to deal with and chances are they hybridize with each other.

Here I abandoned the group (sorry!) because I was running late for dinner. I was tempted to speed but refrained during the 105 minute drive. As I was arriving at dinner I got a call from Chris saying that the group was at Pease safely and looking for birds.

Jason and his tent with a front yard

After dinner with Ben I headed up to the Jefferson Notch area to meet up with Len and Jason for our camping and birding expedition to celebrate Jason's 26th birthday! I had to set my tent up in the dark but I added some nice decor thanks to Dawn. However, I did finish setting up before Jason who was attempting to set up the super ultra dome 5bazillion complete with built in skylight. The hilarity of the situation cannot be fully recounted.

My button on my tent

After trying for Northern Saw-whet Owl in the rain and failing we decided to call it a night. A few short hours later we were disassembling the tents (still in rain) as we were told by a "reliable" source that the showers had mostly passed. We headed up to Jefferson Notch and began climbing. Not much was singing besides the 5+ Winter Wren and 17+ Blackpoll Warblers we counted (also had Magnolia and Black-throated Green). All of a sudden an unknown note came from the bushes. Excitement builded as we realized it was a thrush and then let down followed as we all turned to each other recognizing it as a Swainson's Thrush. Onward and Upward we moved.

Len may have had a tent with holes... but he was the only one with a pillow

We took our time in the rain (which was not seeming to end) and in the steeper sections I paired looking/listening/calling for Bicknell's Thrush with frequent breaks. Then finally, the moment we called, a bird whizzed right over my head. The three of us got on it and it began to sing... THAT'S IT! Bicknell's Thrush! Well before breakfast the 3 of us had secured a life bird and Len and Jason had secured fabulous photos. Before long a second bird appeared and we were beyond ecstatic. The whole thing was topped off with a Black-backed Woodpecker drumming in the distance.

I got photos of them getting photos of the bird

We headed down to the cars as the rain picked up. Turns out our "reliable" source wasn't so "reliable". A brief stop at Trudeau Rd. turned up Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and a few others. Time for coffee and breakfast we decided. We joined up with Ben for some delicious food then headed back out in search of more birds. 5 river crossings later the rain was coming down harder than ever so we moved on to identifying trees.
Naturally in a complete downpour hunger sets in and you desire ice cream. So we had a lunch of ice cream. Then we spent quite some time discussing things and planning our attack. Then miraculously the sky cleared. We tried to mini-golf but it was closed... eventually we ended up having a real dinner/lunch and sampling some of the beer brewed at the Woodstock Inn.

Skies still clear we headed back to Trudeau Rd. Len attempted to call in a Black-backed Woodpecker:

And indeed.... we ended up seeing Black-backed Woodpecker (although not for another 30 minutes). We picked up Black Bear on the ski slopes, saw some toads, and quizzed each other on tree identification. And then... we headed home.

Friday, June 12, 2009


After work today I got my stuff together for the weekend.  Tomorrow I'm headed to the coast in the morning after re-finding a few birds to ensure their locations.  In the early afternoon I'll be joining a group of "birders who blog, tweet, and chirp" to look at some of the birds I probably take for granted.  

Target birds in southeastern NH are: Roseate Tern, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Saltmarsh and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and of course - Mississippi Kite.  

Afterwards I'm headed up north to go camping and search (again) for Northern Saw-whet Owl.  The following day I'll be celebrating Jason's birthday in style looking for year and life birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, Spruce Grouse, Bicknell's Thrush, and Boreal Chickadee.

I'll post my results when I return :-)  Hope you also have a fantastic weekend!

Good Day of Work

Can't ask for much more than a beautiful sunny day, flat water, and scouting for rare plants (well... I guess I could ask for a Painted Bunting in NH).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Answer to Quiz 2

Seaside Sparrow
Photo by Jessie K.

The very large bill, obvious white throat, and the overall dark gray color through the bird give this away as a Seaside Sparrow. It can be a bit confusing in that the supraloral is not bright yellow, but this can be explained by the age of the bird (hatch year bird). The fact that it is a hatch year bird can also be confusing in that this is not a plumage often seen or drawn.

The distinct streaks on the side with a buffy indistinctly streaked front and the over-all grayish tone place this bird in the "atlantic" population.

*For those of you interested this was not taken in NH, and yes, I'm still searching for my NH Seaside Sparrow*

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Quiz Bird #2

Send answers to lowiequizbird@gmail.com

Monday, June 08, 2009

Owling and more

After recent lulls along the New Hampshire coast I've been repeatedly taking trips up to the White Mountains, inland, and to the few Pine Barrens in the state. I'm pretty much sold that this is the area to be in New Hampshire right now.

I spent Friday in some random locations looking at salt marshes and attempting to find my friend Jessie some life birds including a Cerulean Warbler. While we did not see a CERW we did encounter some 14 life birds for her including Grasshopper, Vesper, and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

I added Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow to my year list at one of my research/birding sites. These little guys seem to be everywhere right now! We also picked out a probable nest for the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows.

Friday evening Jessie and I were treated to a mocking by 4 Virginia Rails before picking up Eastern Screech-owl for my year list. We had 3+ owls calling and 2 nearly took off our heads. An hour later we were in Concord where we met up with Jason to look for Northern Saw-whet Owls. While we fell short in that regard we added Whip-poor-will to our "almost killed by" list and to her life list.

Saturday I headed out in search of birds in the south-eastern part of the state. A slow morning led to a quick stop at the bookstore where I picked up a field guide to butterflies. I was warned that come summer I'd be looking at other things when the birding died down. And so I am.

In true "rare species loving fashion" I then headed back to concord to the Karner Blue Butterfly sanctuary. After locating Karner Blue #211 I spent some time looking at birds ranging from Common Nighthawk, Vesper's Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, and Pine Warbler. After a quick break for dinner I decided rather than drive home at a reasonable hour I'd attempt for the Saw-whet that was reported another time.

I headed out to the spot, watched the sun set and then began the search. My search turned up more Whip-poor-will's, 2 skunks, bull frogs, spring peepers, green frogs, etc. but no NSWO's. I headed home once again discouraged.

The following morning I decided to visit the famous MIKI's in Newmarket and spend a little more time looking at butterflies. Keeping true to my random style I ran into Jason and decided to head up north to Ossipee to check out the pine barrens. After seeing a few butterflies a call from Ben took us away to Church Bog along the Kangamangus Highway.

Goal species here included Olive-sided Flycatcher (for me) and Northern Waterthrush (for Jason). While we failed to see either of these species I was treated to a beautiful showing of Ledum groenlandicum (Labrador Tea) in flower and plenty of Sphagnum spp. to jump all over.

After scaring the boys with my love of plants we got back to looking at birds. The highlight were the Palm Warblers we stumbled into (first picked out by me I'm proud to say). Study of the birds confirmed our immediate suspicion that if these birds are around in June they must be nesting. Palm Warblers did not historically nest here so it was a rather exciting find (and a year bird for Ben who was in California when they moved through).

After dinner, Jason and I got back to looking for birds. The target bird again was Northern Saw-whet Owl... and again we fell short. The highlight of the night was the Barred Owl that came in to my whistling for Saw-whets. I suppose he wanted a snack but I guess I'm a little too big for his stomach.

I've learned a number of things this past weekend including the fact that I should probably keep a tent and a sleeping bag in my car at all points in time in order to encourage random road and owling trips.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

I wanna check you for ticks...

I was asked to blog a little bit about ticks.  To begin, I feel it is necessary to provide some musical accompaniment.  

On a more serious note, ticks really are a major cause for concern.  There are a number of tick borne illnesses (including the most famous: Lyme disease).  

So how on earth do you keep them off of you? 

I may not be the best person to ask as I have found over 35 ticks on me this year (different species but mostly the black-legged variety).  However, this was all pre-permethrin.  Permethrin (or Permanone as called by Repel with the active ingredient of Permethrin) is the best thing to use for tick prevention.  Unlike deet (a popular active ingredient in insect repellent) permethrin actually KILLS and REPELS ticks.  Most studys show that deet repels mosquitoes but does very little to ticks, while permethrin repels and kills both ticks and mosquitoes.  

Permethrin based products are pretty easy to use.  They're applied directly to your clothing.  It lasts about 6 weeks with regular washing.  While the makers suggest applying it to a full set of clothing I generally apply it to my pants and socks.  You also want to make sure you focus on key areas like the waist, ankles, etc.  It takes a few hours to dry so you have to think ahead a bit.  

Since using permethrin I haven't found a tick on me.  I cannot contribute this all to the repellent as ticks were out in greater hatch numbers earlier when I was only using deet.  

Just because you use permethrin does not mean you should stop checking yourself for ticks.  This should be regular practice for anyone who spends time in the woods, or even their yard if in a rural setting.  Inspecting yourself for bulls-eye rashes and being aware of the symptoms of tick borne illnesses (and mosquito borne illnesses) is also a must for any nature/outdoors lover.  

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Rare, threatened, and endangered....PLANTS!

Things are more exciting when they're rare threatened and endangered aren't they?  A lot of people seem to think so.  I'm pretty sure that this is the only reason why my research, centered around rare plants in tidal systems draws as much attention as it does.  (Well, OK, only other reason than my "rock star" personality.) 

Some of you may be saying "Huh? What are you talking about - I don't even know what you're doing.  Last thing I knew you said birds and now you're mentioning things that photosynthesize."   Others of you may be saying "Photosynthesize? What's that?! Now I'm confused."  Anyway, before more confusion occurs let me give some background (but don't worry - I won't use the big p word again):

Fieldwork in class - rocking the waders and nerdy vest

I just finished my second semester as a Master's student in Plant Biology at the University of New Hampshire.  While I am a passionate birder, I am also a passionate botanist.  I was interested in plants long before birds, mostly because they did not move and were therefore easier to identify (Since then I no longer believe that this makes them easier to identify because for many species of sedge things such as length of seed tail or length of achene beak are the determining factor and it may take weeks to allow species to develop fully.  Even then you still may be left in an ambiguous range of overlap.).

Necessary fieldwork equipment: hip-boots and a kayak.  Can't beat kayaking for work!

I work in the salt marsh ecology lab and my project centers on understanding rare, threatened, and endangered species in the state of NH.  Most of the species I work with are threatened or endangered in other states as well.  Currently, I am focusing on five species of plant; four threatened, one endangered.  My goal is to quantify the conditions that they grow in to answer questions such as: What salinity's do you find them in?  What is the soil like? Is there development around? Is there a certain pH? Do you find them with certain other plants? Do you find them in only certain places..... etc.

Forb panne in salt marsh - common area for rare plants - the out of focus flower is one of my study species: Seaside Gerardia (Agalinis maritima)

One of the beautiful things about science is that there are still so many unanswered basic questions! Answering these questions means that I spend most of my days in a marsh accessed by walking or boating.  It means I fall flat in the mud often (which is good because that's pretty much the only way to find one of the species which never grows more than an inch or two high).  It means I go through a lot of sunblock, iced coffee, and laundry detergent.

Another one of my study plants - not as striking as the former plant, but beautiful in it's own special way.  It's actually related to carrots!  (Lilaeopsis chinensis)

Why would anyone want to do research like this, you may ask.  Well, I have an answer for you.  Knowing the conditions necessary for the growth and development of these species is key to understanding how to protect and conserve the few remaining populations.  Additionally, with an understanding of such requirements, it may be possible to use plants that have been salvaged from impacted/developed/altered marshes as a source for restoration and mitigation work.  In other words, in a coastal wetland restoration we can use rare plants with a local genotype in plantings.  Restoration in areas of historic occurrence is of increasing concern as most of the species I am studying are probably in decline within the state.  There are many areas that they historically occurred which are now over-run with non-natives; prime target areas for a restoration project with a rare plant component!.  

Who funds these sorts of projects? Well that's a good question!  I spend a lot of my winter looking for funding.  I was lucky enough to secure 3 total grants and fellowships to support my summer work (woohoo food and housing!) and am waiting to hear back on one more application.  Fortunately, my supplies are relatively cheap (unlike molecular studies) as most of my purchases go to things that can be re-used (such as a salinity meter).  My shameless $ plug here must follow: if you know anyone or any organization who's interested in funding research like this, please pass the information on to me!  There's a lot of small bits of funding out there but it's scattered all over the place.

Salicornia bigelovii or Glasswort - this NH-endangered species could be a great source of fat for birds during migration in the fall

Having restoration opportunities that go beyond creating "typical salt marsh" provides habitat heterogeneity and diversity which supports a broader array of species... including BIRDS.  (Now you birders have one more reason to care!) A lot of restorations these days focus on creating simple salt marsh which may look good but may not support the species that historically occurred in a given area which may have been a tidal mudflat or a brackish riverbank marsh.  Learning how to re-create these habitats is critical for more effective restoration plans.  

We aren't trying to expand these species into areas they didn't historically occur.  We're just trying to make sure that some of the lesser known salt marsh species, which happen to be a bit sexy (in our twisted botanical minds), are preserved in the long term.  We're not restoring an area to100% rare plant cover - rather, we're trying to add another conservation component to projects.  

So, there's the basics - fire away with any questions.  And if you're in the area - keep your ears/eyes peeled next spring for my local presentations and thesis defense!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

And the answer is...

As a few of you have guessed this is indeed a female Bay-breasted Warbler.  While it may not be the best photo ever (forgive my simple canon point and shoot) it still shows plenty of features that make this a pretty straight forward ID as depicted on the photo.

A Blackpoll Warbler would be similar in size and shape but would look drastically different in the spring.  A fall bird may look similar but would show streaking... The female Bay-breasted does not show this streaking.  This bird is a 1st spring bird (coming out of 1st winter plumage) and is not quite yet an adult so it does not show a rufous wash on the flanks.  Therefore, as far as field guides go, it most closely matches the 1st winter female plumage as depicted in sibley.  

The lack of streaking, general greenish-yellow wash, the bright color on the sides of the neck, white around eye and the black eye line really add up here.  

Some birds guessed were:
Kinglet (which would have a much smaller bill, gray color, etc.)
Oriole (thicker bill, brownish neck, different shape, etc.)
Other Warblers (variety of easy reasons to eliminate the species suggested including a combination of  streaking, auricular color, tail length, etc.  )  

If you have questions about these - hollar away.  

Quiz birds will appear weekly on Tuesdays, answers will be given Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Suggestions/photos for quiz birds can be sent to: lowiequizbird@gmail.com.

Until then check back for year list updates and stories.

Quiz Bird - Number 1

If you think you know the answer you can email the response 
to: lowiequizbird@gmail.com.  Answer will be posted in due 
time with key identification features.

Also if you want a hint such as location, time of year, etc.  email away! 

Monday, June 01, 2009

Cape-may Warbler

(Photo by J. Lambert)

Above is a bird that may seem confusing to many birders.  But it is in fact a drab drab drab female Cape May Warbler, and served as life bird for me.  How on earth do you pick this out you may ask? (or may not ask if you have your Sibley memorized!)  

Here are the things that stood out to me:
1. Sharp, decurved, dark bill.  
2. Greenish-yellowish Rump
3.  The sides of the neck are rather pale
4.  The bit of yellow on the face
5. Overall a gray-ish blurry streaked bird.  Finer streaking would point elsewhere where as the blurry streaking really forces the issue here.  

Sibley depicts this although the bird drawn has more drasticly edged coverts.  Studying birds like this is important so that if you stumble on a drab bird you still know what to look for and what you're looking at!

While I did not post this bird in this mechanism I'm going to attempt to start to post confusing quiz birds so we can all learn a bit about different plumages and things to note.  I bet you can't wait for Fall Warblers!


The Year List

In December I downloaded a simple excel spreadsheet from Steve M. to track how many species I would see in NH in 2009.  All you had to do was put X in the column and it added it up for you.  I thought to myself "hmm at 250 you should be proud as that is more you've ever had in a single state, and at 265 should be your goal as that would be a good year".

A few people announced their attempt to go for a "Big Year" and break the NH year list record set in 2003 at 280.

One month later I arrived back in the state and was promptly 100 species behind everyone else.  Another month passed and I was within 5 species of the 4 or 5 top lists in the state.  Everyone was joking about their competition and my name was never mentioned.  Fair seeing as I've never really been much competition for birders.  However, it was at that moment I decided to at least give it a good effort this spring and see what happened.

Three months later and the results are shocking.  I've already achieved my "lazy birding goal" of 250 species.  The highest total ever recorded by the end of the month of May.  I've added 50+ life birds to my list, and worked my rear end off.  I've birded before school, after school, at school on lunch breaks.  I've birded in the north, at the coast, and in the middle of the state.  I've birded at waste water treatment plants, at McDonald's, and on the ocean.  I've been rained on, sleeted on, hailed on, and snowed on.  Sometimes in the same day.  

And I'm loving every minute of it.

At this point everyone sees me AS the competition - and it will probably be a large disappointment if I don't break 280 species (although at least one other individual is also posed to break the 280 this year).  However, whether or not I come out on top I still will have found this experience to be valuable. 

Doing a big year in a limited area forces you to learn about birds.  Where to find them, when to find them, when they arrive, when they leave, when to expect which rarities, etc.  This information is not readily available.  Sure there are lists of arrival dates but not much detail is given.  Most of my information has come from two main sources: Steve and Ben.  Without them I'd still be around 200-220 in the state.  And without Ben coaching me based on weather patterns and historic experience I'd be at 235 - 240.  Without birding every day, being a grad student, or living where I do I'd be at even less.

I have a lot going for me this year: Help, a Field Job, and Being Young... but I don't have the experience the others boast (though the "help" often helps to negate this a bit).  

I don't know if I'll set the record this year.  I don't know how long it will stand if I do.  But what I do know I want to try to do my best to bird as often and as hard as I can while learning as much as possible.

I've come a long way in a year, an even longer way in two years, but this year isn't the end of that.  This time next year I want to smile and know I've come just as far in those 12 months as I have previously in that time.  

Its not just about a list, a number, or a record.  Its about the birds, seeing them with your friends, meeting new people, teaching each other, and learning a little more about this crazy planet.  

From here on I will attempt to re-tell some of my experiences searching for birds in the past 5 months and to keep you updated on plans and results of future expeditions.  

PS - Goretex if you would like to sponsor me I'm all for it considering you're the reason I haven't died from hypothermia or pneumonia yet

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things not to do

So I have realized that just as important as to what TO DO is what NOT to do.   So today after finishing my plant physiology paper and my community ecology homework I drafted this list:

5. Do NOT harass birds
Birders harass birds way more than necessary. There is a definite line and you have to know when you're crossing it.  Playing tape for nesting birds is a no-no, getting too close for photography another no-no.  You may think - what's the big deal if it's only one person.  And it may not be a big deal if its only one person.  But when it comes to rarities there's no way its only one person.
My students often ask to be an exception to the rule.  To get credit for an assignment they didn't do, or for another chance.  But rules are rules for a reason.  Following the birding ethics is important (http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html)
Ivory Gull crowd grows in Gloucester, MA

4. Do NOT bird only in the spring-fall
Honestly, the winter can provide some of the most amazing birding.  It is a trying experience but wonderful things can be seen.  I historically only ever birded when it was nice enough to enjoy being outside.  But they make down and gore-tex for good reasons.  Use them.  Go north! Go see winter finches, Hawk-owls, and Great Grey Owls.  Go see Bohemian Waxwings.  Spend a day scanning for alcids freezing your bum off!  Go look for ducks in the rain.  You'll be surprised at how much fun it can be with the right attitude.  Besides - its way better than sitting inside getting a cold from being so close to so many people.

3. Do NOT trust people's identifications
Ok that sounds a bit harsh - but seriously - people get things wrong (see number 2).  So don't believe everything everyone tells you.  Check people's ID's.  It is good practice and it helps you learn better details.  

2. Do NOT feel bad when you goof up
Everyone does it.  You will too.  So get over it now.  Heck I've even thought sticks were birds before and I've been part of the silliest "Dovekie" experience in NH - where 5+ birders stood around calling a bird a Dovekie even though each and every one of them was thinking "gee it has a really long bill" or "gee thats really bigger than I thought a Dovekie would be'.   One listserv post of a photo later the bird was re-identified as a Thick-billed Murre
Day One as a birder I called a Titmouse (pronounced tit - mouse) a Tit-Moose.  Yes, its true.  Go ahead and laugh.  It's no wonder it took me so long to come around from non-birder to birder side of the world.  
The point here is - you're going to mess up.  But shake it off, move on and learn from your mistake.  KNOW WHY you goofed up - and next time work on getting it right.  You'll feel really good about it (just as all the Dovekie birders felt really good about properly identifying Thick-billed Murre's on their next pelagic trip). 

1. Do NOT be stubborn
Nothing annoys other birders more than when you identify something wrong and refuse to listen to what other say, particularly when you asked for opinions. This happens more than you think.  But for that matter, always be willing to listen to what others say.  Do not feel bad when you make a mistake.  Everyone does it (see #2 again).  The important thing is to be open to othe people's comments.  If all the evidence is going against you change your identification, or at the very least leave it at the species level.  
For example: If you think you've found a Thayer's Gull and everyone says its Herring Gull but you're confident it's not a normal Herring Gull leave it at Larus sp.  
If your bird isn't accepted, don't mope about - just go out and find another.  

Finally, always remember what the great Steve Mirick said and "do not talk while listening for Winter Wren".  At least not at the NH Coastal CBC.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Birding Tips

Now you may laugh and go why on earth are YOU giving ME birding tips.  You've been birding for what 2 years seriously? However, many of you have asked me questions, and I imagine that
in 2 years I have learned more than most and the fact that I'm constantly learning and things are fresh in my brain that some of this may help anyone who reads this.

Tip 1: Bird with experienced birders

Birding with someone more experienced forces you to push your "game" to a new level.  It forces you to learn fast and to pick up on very specific details that "give away" a bird's identity.  However, make sure you QUESTION their identification.  ASK WHY! And remember - everyone makes mistakes.  Don't just take their ID's for granted.  Learn from them.  Learn about migration patterns, historic records, etc.

Tip 2: Bird with less experienced birders

Yes, this may seem like a contradiction.  However, birding with less experienced people is
 equally as critical to becoming a good birder.  You never learn as much when you are forced to teach.   An inexperienced birder will ask questions you may never have thought of and its a great opportunity to learn more yourself and share that which you have learned.  Also, the excitement of showing someone a bird they've never seen before but is regular or rare reminds you not to
 take any bird for granted.

Tip 3: Spend time on confusing birds

Take time to work out details of shorebird molting patterns, take time to work through fall
 warblers, take time to study female birds, and just spend time on the finer details of common birds - especially gulls.  
Again, don't take people's ID's for granted.  Learn why.  Learn things like head shape, get a feel for the general impression of shape and size of birds.  Sure when plumages are vastly different in the spring things may be easier - but often rare birds show up in the fall (at least in NH) when plumages are not as vastly different.  
Shape, size, and impression can help you identify birds quicker and can help you pick out the
 thing that is different faster - which may be the deciding factor if you have limited time in identifying a bird - particularly if it is flying by.

Tip 4: Use multiple field guides

Each field guide offers different tips - look at them all.  Don't just buy the dummy bird guide - rare birds show up.  Knowing what they look like is essential.  Why should someone else find them for you?  Be prepared to find them yourself.

Tip 5: Be aware of local patterns

Learn where to find information - Audubon, Universities, and of course other Birders!  Talk to people who have been birding the area for a long time.  They know what's happening.  They
 know history, they know patterns, they know where to look.... everything.  From that you
 should learn when to expect birds to arrive, where to expect them to arrive,  and where to look for them.  Being prepared puts you in the right mindset for when you are in the field.  You are less likely to be thrown by a bird that is unusual if you know the most likely unusual things to show up.

Tip 6: Know your Goal

Have goals.  Know what they are. If you're trying to set a big year record, if you're trying to see
 life birds, if you're trying to understand backyard bird patterns, if you're trying to watch
 migration, if you're trying to do a big day... your strategy should be different!  Knowing what you want to see or do changes how you approach your time in the field.  You have to budget your time out in the field because there are only so many hours of light in the day and you can only
 visit so many places in a day/month/year/lifetime.

Tip 7: Get good optics

They make a difference.  Trust me.  They make a world of difference.  Spend at least 200$ and
 ideally about 5 times as much on binoculars.  It's an investment.  

The celebratory 300th life bird cake after I spotted a Grasshopper Sparrow for my 300th life bird.  I'm now at 398 on my life list - stay tuned for what 400 brings!

Tip 8: Keep a list

A lot of people seem to not like lists because it makes a bird a checkmark.  However, making a list is good for data and good to see what you've seen and where.  It doesn't have to be official.  You don't have to compare.  It's helpful to know what you've seen and where.  It puts things into
 perspective - and its a good way to track your progress.  Record everything.  It may just be the scientist in me - but it pays off in the long run.  You never know when you'll stumble on something new or when you're notes will make a difference.

Tip 9: Don't just identify - watch

Don't just identify a bird and move on (unless it's a big day).  Spend time watching birds and
 their behavior.  You never know what you'll find.  Also, certain behaviors like tail pumping can become very helpful in identification.  Watching birds feed can also be fascinating - if you don't believe me just watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTSvvEk4_H4&feature=related

Tip 10: Be patient and have FUN!

People will second guess you... You'll get things wrong.  You'll be unable to identify birds.  Do not get discouraged.  Stick with it - it takes time.  It's not about being the best.... its about having FUN!  Be aware that your attitude about birding can affect those around you.  Do your best to remain positive.  I've had my fair share of moments where I've been too negative and
 discouraging  to myself and others.  I regret every one of them.
Have fun.  Birds are awesome.  3/4 of all birds are in decline.  Birding is really a great opportunity to understand the world around you in another way.  It is a fun way to get out, see something cool, to learn, to be connected, and to gain a better sense of place.  There are birding competitions, but birding is not a competition.  It is a fun experience that anyone can enjoy.

Jessie and I having fun when the Thick-billed Murre showed up in Hampton, NH

Friday, May 01, 2009

So apparently I haven't updated in a month...

So here you go!

In the past month I've done 2 main things
1. Research
2. Birding

In the UNH research world I've moved forward on my research proposal and have officially gotten myself a committee!  We even had our first official committee meeting! This is good because it puts me on track to get started in the field ASAP. 

In the birding world I've moved my year-list up to 190 in NH and 200+ overall.  Its been a lot of fun.  April has been an interesting month as it has been dry but warm.  A lot of the warblers seem to be moving in much sooner than expected.  In fact, I've tied in setting an April Warbler record of 21 species and 17 species in one day!!!

Also, I've moved my life list up to 397 with the addition of birds like Sora, Great Gray Owl, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

Finally, I've seen and heard lots of herps and mammals including this very cute fox:

All photos are posted on: http://picasaweb.google.com/lauren.kras

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Few Thoughts

So I've finally got my scope back and have been birding daily with it.  Its amazing that I can actually SEE the birds now!!! WOOHOO!!!! (I had been borrowing one that had really sucked.)

Its funny how much more you appreciate something once its gone and then you get it back.  I don't think I'll ever complain about my scope (if it remains unbroken) again.

As many of you may know, within the past few years I've been through quite the trials.  I wish I didn't have to go through such trials to learn to appreciate things and to the importance and value of of them in my life.  While a scope may not seem important to most people - it is the lifeline of any birder looking into ponds, oceans, mudflats, etc.  Still, most of the trials I've been through have been on a much larger scale such loosing friends, failing to achieve goals, and perhaps the most trying experience of all - dealing with the pain, inability to move, and necessary humility which accompanied the development of Rheumatiod Arthritis.

Reflecting on the lessons learned through these trials reminds me that no matter what happens I will grow from it; you grow from both positives and negatives.  While I hope for a few more positives in the next few weeks than have existed in the last few, I recognize that the negatives lead to positives and really aren't as bad as they seem initially.  

Recent negative experiences have reminded me how AMAZING my friends are and how many in number they truly are - so many people have been supportive and encouraging - even some who I never expected to be there for me after everything still remain.  Additionally, I have been reminded at my own strengths, how lucky I am to be where I am and have what I have, and that I really do love what I do and that it can help me through anything as well.  

With all of that going for me - there is no possibliity that the negatives outweigh the positives at any point in time.  For, even if it doesn't always initially seem like it, all it takes is some reflection and perspective to remember, see, and feel it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Update

So I realized the other day that I've been terrible at updating this lately.  Which is probably a good thing due to the massive rollercoaster I've been on in the past few weeks.  But basically the long of it is I can basically rewind the time and be at the same place now when its fast forwarded.  

The only real thing that's changed is the number of birds in NH which seems to have declined dramatically.  Soon things will pick up though.  That's what I've been telling myself for 3 weeks now.  Maybe it will come true soon. 

I can't wait until the field season kicks up so I can burry myself into work and really get back to what's important.  I also can't wait for opening day (13 days!!! Woohoo!!!).  And I get my spotting scope back today... so many things to keep me going.  Not to mention Women in Science is this week.  

In other excitement I've re-discovered tea - specifically black tea - plain old Lipton's.  Its so delicious and awesome and tastey and... I look forward to making my cup every day at UNH with the handy little hot water tap that saves you boiling time... 

I've also started to listening to country music way more again.  I used to listen to it all the time - particularly in college up til Seniorish year... and now... I can't stop listening again.  It's addicting.  
Finally, I was stung by a wasp on Tuesday.  Since I'm a wimp I'm mentioning it here and now because the evidence is still there!  But it is finally going away!  Woohoo!!!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

How to find a Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

The following will contrast two distinctly different approaches to finding a NSWO

Ben Method:
1. Find deciduous forest with some coniferous components
2. Go to forest between 8pm and 12am
3. Walk in to forest
4. Whistle
5. Hear owl calling
6. Continue to whistle
7. Locate owl as it:
a. Flies above your head constantly before landing
b. Lands and makes noise on the branch
8.  Shine owl with light, congratulations you have found your NSWO

Len Method:
1. Have to “relieve” yourself in the middle of the day
2. Go into woods
3. Relieve yourself
4. Hear Black-capped Chickadees
5. Look up and see Black-capped Chickadees bombarding NSWO,  congratulations you have found your NSWO

Which worked? Why would I even be posting this if it was the first?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Northern Birds

Yesterday I spent most of the day birding up in northern New Hampshire.

Northern NH Birds

Linked there are some of my photos!!!

Thursday, February 05, 2009


My radiator just went nuts... and it totally sounds like redpolls... what a good day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Iceland Gulls - Variety!

"Glaucoides" type iceland (front) and Kumlien's (back)

Second Winter Iceland

Kumlien's Iceland Gull

Interesting Iceland - contrasting bill but darker primaries 

"Glaucoides" Iceland Gull

Kumlien's Iceland Gull