Friday, December 31, 2010

Whooping cranes etc

So we arrived in Rockport safe and sound but discovered no cell service at the campground. And since I primarily drove from our stop outside of Austin on down, I was unable to blog en route.

Today we celebrated New Years eve in the presence of Whooping Cranes... I got a great shot on my slr but then realized my camera settings were messed up so it was shot at 4.5 megapixels. Grrrrr!!!! Hopefully it will still be OK though...

Posted here is my phone-bin'ed shot from the boat. I got a handful of lifers including long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, Neotropic Cormorant, and Least Grebe.

Now we're off to get some food supplies and cook some soup for dinner. Then its off to bed before another full day. Tomorrow night we'll be at south padre island. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to update from somewhere along the way.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good morning from Troy, IL

Good morning from troy... Doesn't our free hot breakfast look delicious?

We're off to see Eurasian Tree-Sparrow. Still dark here so we'll be in position for the morning light.

Life bird numero uno here we come!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Weather and plate list

As birders we like lists... Here's a peak at our list of license plates thus far on the trip.

Also re my mothers question... It is 28 degrees here (4 degrees colder than it is in Rye, NH) but tomorrow temperatures will be around 50 before 70-80 in Texas on thursday. No snow falling but about 2 inches on the ground. Roads are clear and wind isn't too bad.

Tonight we will be staying in Troy IL. The plan is to wake up early to see Eurasian Tree-Sparrow before heading down to Tulsa for Sprague's Pipit, Prairie Chicken, and Smith's Longspur. Then we will pull our only drive through the night attempt and "wake up" in the Austin, TX area to look for Bushtits and Western-Scrub Jays.

After that its down to Goose Island SP and the TX coast!!!

For all you number keepers, here's a few tallies for you:

75 Red-tailed Hawks,
30+ state birds (depending on who),
10 American Kestrels,
7 States (NH, MA, CT, NY, PA, OH, IN)
5 cups of coffee,
4 Red-shouldered Hawks,
2 Coyote,
1 bag of Chocolate Chip Cookies,
0 Life Birds

Somewhere near Indianapolis

Ben's turn to drive

And we're still in Ohio....

Hello from PA

Good morning from Ben, Jason, and myself ....we're currently in Scranton tallying Crows, Starlings, and Gulls from the highway... So far our best bird was Common Redpoll (aprox 10) from the Pease park-and-ride in NH.

We look forward to getting many state birds, a few life states (for everyone but me) and perhaps a few life birds (for Jason at least).

Papa roach is the music of choice this morning. Quite the pump me up for the ride.

Surprise! There's road construction in PA... Sarcasm there in case you didn't catch it. Penndot has construction projects paving 10 mile stretches of road that literally have lasted 40 years... Most projects last 5-10 in my experience... Makes the hampton bridge paving and wooden bridge reconstruction in NH look like childs play.

Ok. Back to tallying the birds.


Monday, December 27, 2010

On the road

And as of 1:51 pm we are on rte 95 headed south!!!

We already have our first 2 quotes of the trip including "Just because there's snow doesn't mean there's no speed limit". See?! We're being safe... Goodbye new england blizzard!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Team Awesome Leaves for TX... soon!

Jason, Ben, and I (left to right) are scheduled to leave for TX tomorrow... weather depending... I'm going to attempt to blog from the road a bit while gone and will also be keeping twitter updated with our progress: feel free to keep track on either one and leave us comments as we go...

Tonight I'm finishing up packing... laundry is finished and there are some fresh baked cookies coming out of the oven as I type this (thanks to ben...)

We'll miss you all but will certainly be enjoying some good birds *we hope*.

Thats it for now... see y'all later.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Wrapping My Year List Up

Since I'm headed to TX soon I figured I'd send a quick blurb out there summing up my 2010 year... it was pretty damn good: 296 species in NH... more than anyone other than me has summed in a year in the state... my list can be seen HERE. More on highlights...etc when I get back...

Monday, December 13, 2010

CBC season almost here

Tomorrow starts the CBC season... and in many ways the CBCs have really rekindled my Christmas spirit. As a kid Christmas was always an exciting time of the year ... but as I got older I lost much of the Holiday Cheer... and tried a variety of things to "experience" Christmas and the joy that is supposed to be associated with it.

Now I'm a bit of a Holiday fanatic enjoying all kinds of Chrismukkah celebrations but the one thing that really is the highlight of the season for me are the CBC's (or Christmas Bird Counts). Its an all out effort to count everything that you can see in one day; where every robin and starling matter. The compilation sessions are always fun and each count has it's own personality much like each house/family I visit for a Christmas dinner has it's own traditions and personality.

My first CBC isn't til Saturday, but as of Wednesday "count week" birds begin to matter for the Coastal CBC.... and before you know it I'll be up in the most northerly NH CBCs on Tuesday and Wednesday before trekking down to PA for some homemade pumpkin pie....well we might not have pumpkin pie but Christmas songs suggest that we should...

CBCs have made the holidays an even better time o the year... and I can't wait for my first bird of the count on Saturday morning... guaranteed it will be more exciting than opening socks on Christmas day.... (unless they are smartwool socks... in which case it depends on the bird).

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

It's Been a While

So it's been a while since I wrote here but I'm going to attempt to pick it up again since I've found myself with greater need to procrastinate.

This semester was a lot more work than I had hoped for and a lot less free time than I desired. I found myself teaching 3 sections of Freshman Biology Lab... and oh the stories that exist now!

Currently, I find myself in-between lab sections trying to tie some loose ends up on a presentation that I'm giving on Wednesday at the Seacoast Chapter Meeting. Here's the blurb about it that was posted online:
This Wednesday, December 8th, Lauren Kras, UNH graduate student and current record holder for finding the most species of birds in NH in a calendar year, will describe her graduate research project which looks at the current status of 5 species of threatened, and endangered tidal plants--and also her 2009 Big Year.  All are welcome to attend the program which will be held at the Seacoast Science Center, Odiorne Point State Park, 570 Ocean Boulevard, Rye. Refreshments are at 7:00 pm. Meetings begin at 7:30 pm.  Hope to see you there!
Maybe some of you will make it... it should be interesting... I hope.

In other news, I recently became president of the Seacoast Chapter. I'm pretty optimistic about the changes/growth that can be made but its frustrating that I get this opportunity at the same time that I NEED to finish my M.S. Thesis... oh well.

I also, turned down an opportunity, which is a big step in fulfilling my need to "manage" my volunteer opportunities and not be over-extended for fear of returning to the over-burdened ways of junior and senior year of college. It's a tough balance but I'm working on it.

Finally, I've become obsessed with two things lately: (1) taking pictures, and (2) looking for banded gulls...

If you didn't already know, my pictures can be viewed at:

And there are even some of banded gulls like this guy right here:
Herring Gull - A07

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Plum Island 7/31

Today I spent some time on Plum Island. Instead of looking for all the rarities that have been seen there lately, I decided I'd look at some of the common things in a little more detail.

Every fall there are lots of Tree Swallows that Stage on Plum Island. I've never seen it before since last fall I was obsessed with chasing down every rarity in NH. Today, I was absolutely blown away with how the swallows filled the sky. And it's not even to its peak yet!!! Here are some of the birds taking off today.

Not only do they fill the sky but the fill the road too! I wonder how many birders zipped through not bothering to stop and appreciate how cool this was on their way to chase down a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Royal Tern, etc.

One of the other neat things I got to see there was this Semipalmated Sandpiper which was actually tagged!!! I like how you can see the reflection and the habitat in the photo instead of a full frame shot. It may not be field-guide worthy, but I didn't have to flush any birds and it shows a different side of the birds that is often overlooked in my opinion.

Finally, I ended the day taking photos of terns and appreciating all the diversity in looks amongst terns this time of the year. You get adults, juveniles, and some making some neat transitions and there is also individual variation! And when you consider that there are 3-4 species around this diversity is quickly multiplied!!!

I didn't get any spectacular shots but I did manage to pull this shot off which shows a Tern diving from the underside... Kind of neat ... but not perfect!!!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Seal Island NWR 6/27

So a while ago I went to Seal Island NWR and had a fantastic day. I saw tons of alcids and lots of other neat birds. One of the most memorable things for me had to be a fight I saw between two Razorbills:

Razorbills are closely related to Puffins which also were present on the Island:

I had never seen a Puffin prior to this trip so needless to say I was very excited about it!!! Puffins actually breed on the island and were one of my primary targets for the trip. The number 1 target was a Red-tailed Tropicbird that's been seen on the island over the past few summers.

Unfortunately we struck out with the Tropicbird. But that happens from time to time! You just don't get to see everything.

We did get to see lots of other birds though including Arctic Terns which are not very common in NH. In fact only 6 pairs breed in NH and I've never had such knee-buckling views as I did near Seal Island in Maine:

All in all I had a great time and got to see tons of Puffins, Razorbills, and other Alcids like the Common Murre on the left 1/3 of the photo below. Yes, those are puffins on the rocks to the right!!!

Sometimes its nice to get away and just enjoy something new and different. I've never seen anything like a breeding colony of alcids before and... it was definitely worth the trip. Hopefully one day I'll see a puffin in NH, but if I don't... At least I had the awesome experience of seeing them on their nests!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

Hey all! I'm here looking for a little bit of help and no matter who you are you can lend a hand. As many of you may know I'm a pretty avid birder in New Hampshire. I'm also a graduate student so I'm therefore pretty poor. However, I absolutely love going on whale watches to look for birds. It's come to my attention lately that a lot of people cannot make it on long pelagic trips, are unwilling to go offshore for that long, or aren't comfortable going on whale watches themselves. However, there aren't any cheap guides or ways to learn your birds offshore as naturalists must focus on whales not birds.

Finding a mixed flock of shearwaters is very exciting! Yet it can also be overwhelming - particularly when you're trying to pick out the Cory's, Manx, etc. or get a good count on the number of birds in a group.

So I hatched this idea: Trade bird ID help on a whale watch (help people learn birds, identify them for them, help them spot them, etc.) in exchange for them paying for my whale watch. In this way, I get to go offshore and they get to actually learn the birds out there and/or feel confident in their identification.

Jaegers are a great example of confusing birds - can you figure out which species these birds are?

However, there's a few problems - and thats where you come in. I need to know the following things:

1. Would people be interested in this? Most all day pelagics cost between 80-100$ Half day trips aren't run. A whale watch tends to be about 30$ - so it would be about 60$ for a one on one type trip but if a group of people got together it would be substantially less.

2. Is there some sort of tax implication for myself? I wouldn't be receiving money, the person who wanted my help would pay the whale watch company directly and I'd just get on board with them...

3. Is there some sort of liability issue for myself?

Naturally being a poor grad student I can't really pay for legal advise so if anyone knows anyone I can talk to for free I'd be appreciative. If anyone has any insight or ideas I'm also completely game!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Appledore Island Gulls

Today I spent my day on Appledore Island to get a feel for the island as I will be TA'ing a class there this August.

Fortunately, I had lots of time to bird and check out the island. There were many highlights including helping to attempt to catch and band the female Herring Gull which has mated with the male Lesser Black-backed Gull on the island. Unfortunately, she never made it into the cage so I was not able to witness this happening.

Female Herring Gull inspecting the nest and the cage trap

This is the 4th year that this Lesser Black-backed has come to Appledore to breed. He was banded along with his mate in 2008 and they both returned in 2009. They raised two chicks one of which has been seen both in Provincetown, MA and in Brevard County, Florida. This year he is with a new mate - hence the need to band her. Dr. Julie Ellis heads up the gull research on the island and has been banding birds on the island since 2004 (with the help of students and volunteers). She also keeps a blog where you can follow the Lesser Black-backed Gull and other gulls:

Male Lesser Black-backed Gull: first documented bird to breed in the US

For those of you who don't know... Gull babies are extraordinarily cute. The island is currently overflowing with them. This means their parents are in a very vicious stage! Here's a photo of Great Black-backed Gull Chicks:

Finally, here's a slide show of pictures from the day... all photos can be seen at

Monday, June 07, 2010

June Big Day - 165 Species

On Sunday (6/6) Mike Harvey, Jason Lambert, Ben Griffith, and I attempted to break the June Big Day Record of 151 species which was set in on June 4th 1996 by Pam Hunt and others. We started at Pondicherry at midnight, worked north to Pittsburg and then down to Pawtuckaway, Exeter, and the coast before heading inland to finish up in Durham and Newmarket. We stood at 165 species at 8:30 PM when we gave up all hope of finding nocturnal species as the winds were so strong that we could barely hear each other. Our biggest misses other came from two “groups” of birds: nocturnal species and raptors due to winds at night and the near-constant rain during the day. In fact we missed all of the following: Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Sora, Common Nighthawk, American Woodcock, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Mississippi Kite. While we wouldn’t expect to get ALL of those we felt as if we should have been able to scrape a few more of these if there had been better weather. Our highlights included a singing Northern Saw-whet Owl, a flock of 11 White-rumped Sandpipers, and 2 species of Shearwater (Sooty and Greater) from shore. A long full day summary is below for those interested.

Our entire species list can be seen at:

This team photo and other photos can be seen at:

Full rundown of the day:

At 12:00:01 AM Mike Harvey, Jason Lambert, Ben Griffith and I (Lauren Kras) stood on railroad tracks in Whitefield, NH listening intently for American Bittern. We heard frogs, the wind, the low hum of a nearby mill… but no Bittern. We had driven up to Whitefield the afternoon before and had a Bittern calling from a distance so we were disappointed. Trying not to waste too much time we decided to cut our losses and walked down the tracks to the Airport Marsh where we picked up our first bird of the day: Pied-billed Grebe. While listening we also picked up our first Swamp Sparrow and Common Yellowthroat. We then went off to Whipple Rd. and were rewarded with a Northern Saw-whet Owl which sang incessantly and a Whip-poor-will which responded to tape and called once (Seen by L. Kras and heard by L. Kras and B. Griffith). At 1:05 AM we took off for Pittsburg, NH. 8 Moose, 7 Fox and 1.5 Jumping Mice later we had arrived (apparently one of the mice didn’t jump far enough to count, and there’s some debate whether one was a leaf or not). We stopped at a few spots to listen for Long-eared Owl but only heard Killdeer and Wilson’s Snipe. Unfortunately the gate into East Inlet was still closed so we began our trek in. We arrived at the Spruce Grouse Track for Sunrise. We didn’t have any Spruce Grouse but we had plenty of Boreal Chickadees, Kinglets, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. There was heavy cloud cover and a constant mist as we walked back to the gate. We found a few Bay-breasted Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, and Gray Jays. Mike picked out our first of few raptors for the day: a Merlin perched up which was causing commotion amongst the robins. Once back to the car we headed towards Scott Bog and found a Wilson’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Black-backed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher on the way. Near the bog we picked up Philadelphia Vireo, Spotted Sandpiper, and Common Merganser. We headed down to Magalloway Rd. for Mourning Warbler and had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on the way. We then drove down to Tabor Rd. and were giddy over a Green Heron which flew over. At Tabor Rd. Ben spotted a Bittern flying over the field while we were there. We all got on it just in time and then zipped down to pick up the Cliff Swallows that nest there.

From there we headed back to Whitefield Airport and spotted Wild Turkey on the way. At the airport Jason picked out a Northern Harrier. Everyone got on it quickly except me. I ran as fast as my short little legs could carry and finally got up high enough that I was able to see over the mound ahead of me and got on the Harrier. We also nabbed Eastern Meadowlark and Bank Swallow.

We then headed down 93 making stops for gas, bathrooms, and a $1.99 chocolate chip whoopee pie for Jason. Jason and Mike spotted an Indigo Bunting at an Irving and Dunkin Donuts provided an Eastern Kingbird. As we started driving we realized that I had left off Indigo Bunting on our checklist (despite including 2 species of phalarope, Jaeger sp., and all 4 shearwaters). Bonus bird behind us we were rejuvenated despite the fact that the rain and clouds took away any chance to spot raptors for most of the drive. Fortunately, when we hit Concord the rain began to clear so we headed directly to Pawtuckaway rather than birding in Concord hoping to get as many southern woodland birds as quickly as possible. The clearing of the rain provided our first looks at Turkey Vulture in Concord and despite his best efforts Mike finally saw a Pigeon.

When we arrived at Pawtuckaway we zipped to the powerline cut and got the usual birds while playing tape and taking a bathroom break simultaneously. We also had a Wood Duck flying over the powerline that Ben first spotted and our first Blue Jay of the day which got everyone excited. We skipped the Cerulean Warbler stop in order to maximize time to search for the other species. The powerline provided the usual birds as did the wooded areas. We got most of the birds we needed quickly including Black-capped Chickadee (cough cough), Pine Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Veery, and Scarlet Tanager. Just as we had finished our run the rain started pounding on us so we left in favor of Exeter and the Coast. The weather passed and a brief stop at the treatment plant provided us with a Downy Woodpecker (which we couldn’t bear to miss), Warbling Vireo, and Marsh Wren. We then realized that we were about to get pounded with rain again so we headed to the coast in fear that the weather would decrease visibility fast. There weren’t many birds in the harbor but we were able to get Roseate and Common Terns, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Shorebirds were limited so we ran over to Seabrook Beach to pick up Piping Plover, make a scan, and then come back to the harbor when the tide was a little higher. There we picked up Wilson’s Storm-petrel and Mike spotted our first of at least 3 Sooty Shearwaters. There were clouds of gannets offshore and it was tempting just to scan but we headed back towards the car and harbor. We arrived at the at the public parking area at Seabrook harbor just in time to pick up a few shorebirds including Short-billed Dowitcher and a flock of what we assumed were Dunlin. None of us saw dark bellies so we repositioned ourselves to get them in a scope from the fishing pier. As we pulled in the downpour began. Mike remarked “can’t imagine a better place to be right now” and I took this to mean “we better get out there and scan”. Before I drowned Mike tapped on the car window at me and I saw how hard they were laughing and dove back into the car. I thought they still looked fine for Dunlin but that I couldn’t really see much of anything given the weather. It passed quickly and we were able to get a scope on the birds and proceeded to change the identification multiple times before realizing that they were a flock of White-rumped Sandpipers! Meanwhile Jason spotted a Laughing Gull and the tide continued to rise.

We then ran up to Hampton Beach SP and scanned the Jetty for any Dunlin or Ruddy Turnstones with no luck. Suddenly out of the fog came a boat with tons of gulls following it; I started scanning them when I saw a Greater Shearwater in the midst of them. Unfortunately no one was able to get on it as it flew back into the fog. (I knew there was a reason to keep shearwaters on our checklist!!!) We kept going north up the coast and picked up White-winged Scoter on North Beach, a female Long-tailed Duck at Bicentennial, and Mute Swan at Eel Pond. The weather cleared and we hopped out at Odiorne for Orchard Oriole and Black-crowned Night-Heron without luck but did pick up Nelson’s Sparrow in the marsh. We then headed to Pease one bird from tying the record of 151. At 5:42pm we stopped at a light and saw a crow on a wire and rolled down our windows hoping it was a Fish Crow since we hadn't had one yet. No luck but as the light turned green I heard “peter-peter-peter”… TUFTED TITMOUSE – I hollered and everyone confirmed and we realized we had tied the record.

At Pease we added Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow, Horned Lark, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Savannah Sparrow. A trip to Durham helped us add Blue-winged Warbler, Wood Thrush, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Belted Kingfisher. We then zipped down to Newmarket where the blue skies brought about a Raptor flying over Dame Rd. From a distance we all thought MISSISSIPPI KITE so we pulled over and flew out after it only to realize it was an Osprey. A quick trip to Gonet Rd. provided no Yellow-billed Cuckoo but a Red-bellied Woodpecker made up for it. In Newmarket we were able to add Northern Rough-winged Swallow but we struck out with Carolina Wren. We felt as if we were on the edge of being able to make a run for 170 and were debating how to go about it when the wind picked up. We headed down to Lovering Rd. to try for Great Horned Owl and Virginia Rail. The winds were so loud that we could barely hear each other but we did have a Virginia Rail grunting. We hoped that the wind would die down and went to listen for Screech-owls but were disappointed as the winds had only worsened. At which point we decided since three of us had to work the next day and that the other had to pack for a flight that we should cut the night short since we had achieved what we wanted and had learned a lot. We drove back to Concord where we had left cars and all headed our respective ways.

Anecdotal Comments:

The northern route provided for a hilarious opportunity to not see common birds until later in the day (such as Tufted Titmouse). In fact our first...
Jay was a Gray Jay
Woodpecker was a Black-backed Woodpecker
Raptor was a Merlin
Chickadee was a Boreal Chickadee
Nuthatch was a Red-breasted Nuthatch
Finch was a White-winged Crossbill
Corvid was a Common Raven
Thrush was a Swainson’s Thrush

This big day included almost no scouting and planning. The idea to do a big day occurred to me on Wednesday Evening while Jason and I were birding together on Plum Island. We were going to do it together when Ben decided to join and then we asked Mike who jumped right on board. Our planning consisted of a few discussions on ideas during the drive up north to Woodstock. Scouting consisted of one trip to Whitefield between our early dinner and crashing at Mike’s father’s cabin.

Fun Facts:
- Our trip consisted of 490 miles (575 from when I left home until when I returned)
- Over 15 caffeinated beverages were drank in my car
- It was 65 degrees F when we started the day at midnight, it didn't hit 65 again until we were in Rye at 4pm
- This was both Jason and my first "real" big day starting at midnight... he's done the superbowl twice and I've done it once
- This is the most number of species Jason or I have seen in a day
- There are 3 big days with higher totals to my knowledge: 170 on May 27th 1997 (state record), 168 on May 28th 2006, and 167 on May 27th 2004 (unpublished)

FINALLY, I want to say a little bit about the "environmental impact" of our big day. I (and the others) are very aware that driving all over the place is not exactly the greatest thing for the environment. It is even more apparent now as we look at the oil spill in the gulf. While its truly great that people are coming together to try to fund clean up efforts and bird care efforts but I believe that we should all remember that as long as we drive, heat our homes, and consume oil it is likely that oil spills will keep occurring. So every rare bird we chase, every big day we attempt, every bird tour we go on in other countries promotes oil companies to keep drilling - and no matter where they drill it will negatively impact birds. Therefore, as a team we decided to offset the carbon emissions from our big day. While offsetting doesn't take away what emissions we created and doesn't prevent the need for oil, we do think it is better than nothing. We've chosen an organization that does offsetting which focuses on helping non-profits and other such places in converting to 100% green energy in order to help us relieve some of the oil dependence in this country. For those interested in carbon offsets and carbon offset options a helpful link is:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dear Birders,

Before you complain about the oil spill why don't you consider the following:

1. You fly/drive halfway across the country to see an Ivory Gull, Ross's Gull, Bare-throated Tiger-heron, or _________ (fill in the blank).

2. You drive 4 hours across the state to see vagrants that show up every so often which are much more common elsewhere in the country (sometimes just as far of a drive or less) just so you can have them on your state/life list (and sometimes you do this more than once just so you can have better photos).

3. You fly all over the world to go on guided tours when you frequently can't even identify all the breeding birds in your own state/backyard.

4. You drive to parks/birding hotspots hours away on a regular basis rather than birding in your own town, neighborhood park, etc. which may have just as many good birds.

In other words, you use oil, depend on it, and are in part responsible for our need to drill. So before you point the finger, why don't you consider how to make yourself less oil dependent and how to make the world a better place.

I'm not saying the oil spill isn't a bad thing. Just that we should all consider our lifestyle and how it impacts the world on a broader scale.

If the lifestyle you want to have includes the 4 aforementioned things, that's fine, I won't condemn you for it but DO NOT complain about Sea Level Rise, Climate Change, Environmental Disasters, etc.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Life List - 450; What does it mean?

Not that long ago I saw my 450th lower 48 life bird in the form of a Golden-winged Warbler. He was cute, flashy, and very cooperative. 450 seems like a pretty big mark... and 500 really isn't too far away given not-to-distant traveling plans to Texas. However, I've recently been reflecting a lot about listing and what it all means.

(GWWA - Lower 48 450th lifer)

Back in January of 2006 I hated birders and birds. Honestly, I really did. I know many of you have a hard time believing that but there are MANY people who can testify to this being reality. Thing is, I didn't know much and it frustrated me to be around people who had seen HUNDREDS of birds and the only birds I had seen were American Robin, Bald Eagle, Blue Jay, and American Goldfinch. Twitching seemed absolutely insane to me and completely un-environmentally friendly. I didn't understand the mentality that was behind it all. Who cared about the LeConte's Thrasher? Why was it worth getting cactus spines in my foot? It was just a bird. Why would we drive 12 hours out of our way (each way) to see Whooping Cranes in Texas? Wouldn't the drive be a huge waste? Not to mention, if everyone did this regularly wouldn't the habitat disappear sooner with SLR and climate change?

In time, I got past the frustration and began to identify birds like Chickadees, Kestrels, and Red-tailed Hawks. Birding became fun and a way to feel connected to the world around me. It was a way to feel a sense of place and was one more piece of the puzzle that is the world around us. I saw Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Warblers! Birding was fun and I started keeping track of what I saw. Not because I wanted to reach a certain number but because knowing how many species I was able to identify on my own was a testament to how much I had learned and how far I had come in just a few (2) years. My 300th species came in the form of a Grasshopper Sparrow in Northern Lower Michigan. It was very exciting because I didn't really know how to identify many sparrows at the time but they seemed like they could be a lot of fun especially when they had neat names.

Things changed drastically between 300 and 400. I became obsessed with birding. I wanted to find out how good of a birder I could be, how many things I could see, and what I was capable of when I pushed myself to my limits. I set a state record, I chased birds, I got upset if I missed a sighting. Four years ago I hated that type person because they seemed to not care about the birds themselves so I attempted to make an effort to observe behavior, practice the identification, and enjoy EVERYTHING. However, there were times when I failed because I was simply too caught up in the moment.

(Me enjoying birding from a parking lot)

At the end of my year I was left to a similar conclusion as Ken Kauffman was at the end of his big year; the journey, the process, the birds are what make it worth it. The listing is exhausting. Listing can be fun as it pushes you to be out birding every day and can help you keep track of how far you come. However, somehow it seems as if our motivation as birders has switched away from this. Life lists, year lists, etc no longer really represent what we know or what we've learned; instead they reflect how talented the people we bird with are, how talented the people are in the state we live, how often we are called about rarities, how often we chase rarities, etc.

Stop and think for a moment: how many birds have YOU seen? Not how many birds have you chased. When was the last time you went birding, had a completely average or below average day and were proud of it? I'm guilty of saying "gee today was really slow and below par" and being bummed about it at times. But I want to fight this so bad. I like anyone will fall into this trap. I just really hope that I surround myself with better people than I have at times in the past. People who appreciate rarities from a distance (and don't harass the hell out of them), people who genuinely appreciate every bird they see, and people who recognize that "getting out into the field isn't a means to the end, it itself is the end".

(people who genuinely care about the birds)

My big year was filled with many above average and below average days. But each one of them is what made it great. Because the year ended up being about much more than a number and a total. However, it would have been very easy, the temptation was there, and on some days I gave in to it and the number became my focus. I think as a birder it is impossible to escape this temptation at times. However, I promise to myself to strive to escape it as much as possible, to appreciate every day, every bird, every experience, and every walk where we see "nothing" because everything is part of the journey and everything is part of our life. And really, the "big life" isn't about a total of species. It's about knowledge, growth, happiness, friends, and family.

(friends who are practically family)

Two years ago 300 species said a lot about me: it said I had come from hating birds and birders to learning to love, accept, and identify. 450 says I've grown some more, but it also says that I bird with three of the most experienced birders in the state on a regular basis. It says that people call me about rarities, and it says that I've moved to a new geographical region of the country. What says way more about the last two years is that I now can identify dozens of warblers by song and/or call. I can tell you about uppertail and undertail coverts of Common Gull. I can tell you about retricies and tarsi of Jaegers. I can tell you when Blackpoll Warblers arrive in NH, when you're likely to happen upon a Black Tern, and how to read radar for migration.

These are the things I'm proud of now; not 450.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Little Blue Heron

Yesterday morning I headed to the coast (what's new, right?) to see if anything got pushed around in the nights winds. However, it seems like most things were dumped further south in PA and NJ. The strong winds continued throughout the morning so I focused my attention on studying what birds were around instead of searching for passerines.

A lot of people don't study birds. That is, a lot of people don't take the time to re-look at a Great Blue Heron after they've seen thousands. They pass over them without really studying their shape, size, patterning, etc. Sometimes I'm guilty too. However, its important to realize that studying such birds puts you in a better place to realize something like a Grey Heron. (Not to mention all birds are enjoyable!)

Anyway, yesterday I was studying Egrets in Rye Harbor Marsh to prepare myself to one day find a Little Egret. There was a darker blob to the left of these birds which I passed off as a crow as it was really small looking and iridescent. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw it extend its neck and watched it emerge from the marsh grasses; It was clearly a Little Blue Heron and I clearly shouldn't have assumed dark blob = crow. Unfortunately my camera was dead and without a memory card so I was only able to manage a few phone-scoped shots including this one:

eBird tells me that this is my 200th NH year bird for 2010, which is remarkably 8 ahead of the 192 I had tallied by May 6th last year! (No, I'm not planning on breaking 308.)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Yellow Warbler in Lilac Bush

Today I photographed this Yellow Warbler in a Lilac Bush (NH's State Flower). While a very common species I always like seeing them. Especially since they've just returned. I really like the combination of Yellow and Purple in these shots too. Hope you enjoy! More of my photos can be found at:

Monday, April 26, 2010


Once upon a time I had another blog. This blog was about baseball. Today I was thumbing through some old posts on this blog and I crossed one where I wrote the following:

"Do you ever wonder why?
Why do we watch this game?
Why do we take 3 hours out of our day only to see our team blow the lead in the 9th inning to take a grueling loss?
Why do we give it our all?
Why do we care so much?
Why do we love this game when it clearly loves no one?
I was sitting around asking these questions to a few people today.
Seriously what is the point of it all?

Life is tough enough as it is... so why deal with this game that does nothing but seem to break me down?

Here’s what I came up with so far:

Baseball is so great because it has a point, its something we understand. There are different levels to it so it isn’t fair. We don’t like fair. We like to be distinguished. There are different levels within the game and different levels to understanding it. All the same anyone can understand it on some level.
Baseball is, in essence, pitching, fielding, hitting. There’s a point to it; an end goal of victory. More points, better score, equal victory. It’s something we grasp, its real, and it makes life seem real. Life isn’t something we can grasp. It’s beyond comprehension, but baseball isn’t. Baseball is life on a level we can understand.
Baseball is man’s struggle to be great. It’s man working, cheating, stealing, pushing, lying, and grinding out plays, games, and seasons. It reflects life perfectly. Some people are better at it than others. Some have different key skills. Some people play fair, some don’t. It can provide happy and depressing memories. That’s what makes baseball great. That’s why we spend so much time on it.

I spend too much time thinking.

Go Sox."

Yesterday I went to a baseball game. My team didn't win. In fact, they were up by 3 and blew the lead after they took out Tim Wakefield after 6 2/3rds innings. Somewhere after the home run which tied the game I realized that it didn't really matter if they won or lost because I somehow had found peace and happiness in just attending the game. As I once said to my peers in Michigan while trying to describe baseball - "it's safe, its peaceful, its home."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dutchman's Breeches

One of my favorite spring flowers. Seen here with Spring Beauty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to understand a bell curve

The following is an example of a Bell Curve.

What is a Bell Curve you probably ask? Well this is from wikipedia: "In probability theory and statistics, the normal distribution or Gaussian distribution is a continuous probability distribution that often gives a good description of data that cluster around the mean. The graph of the associated probability density function is bell-shaped, with a peak at the mean, and is known as the Gaussian function or bell curve"

In other words - most things are average, a few are better, a few are worse. So why am I talking about this instead of talking about birds? Well I AM talking about birds. More specifically I'm talking about spring arrivals.

Everyone is up in arms this year because it "seems so early". So the other day I did a little research and broke down the species into 3 categories using Pam Hunt's spring arrival dates list. If a bird was reported before the 1st quartile it was considered early, if after, it was considered on time, if the bird should be here (later than median) by now but has not been reported it was considered late. I ignored nocturnal birds (ie - Virginia Rail, American Bittern) and birds that also overwinter regularly (ie - Cooper's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, etc.) as it would be impossible to determine if the bird was an overwintering bird or an actual arrival.

7 species were considered "early", 30 species were considered "on time", and 5 species were "late". Basically most are average (on time), a few are better (early), a few are worse (late). It is interesting to note that about half of the "on time species" were clustered close to the 1st quartile date and the other half lagged slightly behind. I found this chart using google image search which sums up the data of the 7, 14, 16, 5 split very well:

In other words there have been:
7 Early Adopters - aka early bird gets the worm
14 Pragmatists - lets face it, it's a long journey to the breeding ground, what if you get lost? And building a nest and setting up territories is a lot of work!
16 Conservatives - they're enjoying their journey up and seeing some sights on their way; trip to Cape May, Cape Cod
5 Laggards - maybe they should listen to the pragmatists
... and that's still a completely normal distribution

So the next time you say its an early year because you heard a Pine Warbler on an earlier date than you ever had before... remember that it's not an early year. After all, you still haven't seen a Barn Swallow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

More Than Sightings

Birding to many is about getting outside and seeing what you can find. It's about the challenge of an identification, the pursuit of a new species (for your life, state, year, month, or day list), and about having fun. What many people fail to realize or investigate are bigger picture questions dealing with migration patterns, seasonal distribution, distribution on breeding grounds, distribution in migration, overwintering challenges, habitat use, etc.

Lately these sorts of topics have been dominating and directing my birding (along with the desire to find out if this is ACTUALLY an early spring or if it just seems that way... more on this later though).

While there are some species which we know a lot about, it is safe to say that for almost every single species, even the most common (such as your local species of Chickadee) there are many more things that are unknown about its life, behavior, and distribution. There are many examples of ways that people can investigate these species more without much effort and fill in the gaps of our knowledge. One of my favorite examples is counting migrating goldfinches. I'm sure NH birders are laughing and already know what I'm talking about here, but for the rest of you here's a bit more information. During migration, two of NH's best birders (Steve and Jane M.) hit the coast and park at a spot they like to call "cutsie dootsie" and count migrating goldfinches overhead. Since American Goldfinch is common year-round in NH most people aren't invested in detailed observations of this species. Something as simple as counting the number of goldfinches migrating past forms a unique data pool for a species in which most people are familiar with.

While we information like this is helpful for all species, there are a few groups of species which deserve specific attention as there is extremely little known about them on their breeding grounds. These include: grassland(including salt marsh), bog/boreal, and early-successional species. Right now there is great need for information on species within these habitats as so little is known and without good information conservation efforts will not be informed.

(Vesper Sparow - one of many grassland species which is under threat due to destruction of habitat)

I'm sure the citizen-scientist part of birding isn't for everyone. I'm also sure that many people think that understanding distribution isn't a necessary part of birding. Perhaps it's not. However, I would argue that understanding distribution, investigating questions related to distribution, understanding vagrancy patterns, etc. all make one a better birder.

So the next time you see a bird - ask yourself, how much do you really know about it? Do you know much more than field marks? Do you know if it nests on the ground, in trees, or in sphagnum bog mats? What does it eat? Does it migrate, and if so when? Is it habitat specific? Does it prefer certain plants? If its a rare bird, is this a typical time for it to show up as a vagrant? Is its likelihood for vagrancy dependent on weather conditions; what sorts of weather conditions?

If I described a bird as glossy black with red and yellow shoulder badges with a slender conical bill you would probably immediately know I was talking about a Red-winged Blackbird. If you saw the following photo you'd probably know it was a Red-winged Blackbird.

But did you know that Red-winged Blackbirds build their nest low within marsh vegetation or in low shrubs? Did you know that the females choose the nest site yet males have some input? Did you know that sedges, phragmites, cattail, alder, willow and other plants are suitable vegetation for nests? Did you know that the oldest recorded lifespan is 15 years and 9 months? Did you know that Red-winged Blackbirds are highly polygynous?

In some states Red-winged Blackbirds overwinter, in others they don't. Sometimes they form HUGE concentrations (hundreds of thousands) to roost. Here's a video of a mixed blackbird flock headed to roost in NH. On this particular day we estimated 200,000 blackbirds going to roost. Others estimated 500,000 on a later date...

So the next time you see a bird... think... do you know more than just field marks? Do you know anything about its life? How does your sighting fit into the picture of distribution on a local, regional, and national level?

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Ben Griffith and I joined up with Jason Lambert (and Len Medlock for part of the day) for a day of spring birding. Things started out slow, but we had a few interesting non-bird sightings and ended the day on a high note with a stunning Royal Tern in Hampton Harbor!

Not only are Royal Terns generally rare for the state, but this is an extremely EARLY date. As far as I know there are NO previous April records for Royal Tern ANYWHERE in New England. The northernmost April record in eBird is in New Jersey, and the earliest record I know of for Massachusetts is May 17.

As we were driving over the Hampton-Seabrook bridge, Ben noticed this bird and casually remarked that there was a Bonaparte's Gull flying into the harbor, at which point it quickly became apparent that it was not a "bony," but a tern! A frantic search of Hampton Harbor ensued, and I spotted the bird roosting with a handful of gulls in the marsh on the north side of the Hampton Marina. The bird was not much smaller than the Ring-billed Gulls next to it, and through a scope we could see the thick, orange bill, black cap with a few scattered white feathers, a squared-appearance to the nape, and pale gray primaries. We studied the bird from 6:00 to 6:45 when the bird took off and flew over our heads before continuing east over the houses towards Hampton Beach. Luckily we were able to get the word out and about half a dozen other birders were able to get to see the bird before it left.

Photos from the day can be found here:

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cute Puppy

I recently went home to NY. I didn't see much bird wise but I thought I'd share this picture of my mother's new puppy "Cap" who is 12 weeks (or so) old. Pretty darn cute.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New Hampshire's Common Gull

There's been quite the huzz-buzz lately in New Hampshire over a bird which we nerds refer to as a Common Gull which is not that "common". Rather, this bird, if accepted by the NH Records Committee will be the first accepted state record.

There are other records for the state but none which follow the state rules for documentation of a first state record. That is, in order for a bird to be accepted for the first time there either must be adequate photo documentation or 3+ observers.

The bird which has been hanging out in Exeter fulfills both of these requirements.

So why do so many people care about a little sea-gull? What makes this Common Gull so special? Well, here's my attempt to answer that in just 3 short points:

1. Its a vagrant from far away - the Common Gull is really a subspecies of Mew Gull from "Europe" which is pretty interesting and pretty cool.
2. Its a first documented state record - anytime something is a first it's exciting - just think of being there for Jon Lester's first game, or for your child's first word, etc.
3. When a bird looks pretty generic superficially the challenge can be exciting. Just think - do you prefer the puzzle with 4 pieces or with 400 pieces? Which is more exciting and fun to complete? This gull is much the same way - it's not a straightforward identification, rather its an interesting puzzle where multiple field marks have to be assessed and analyzed - and when you do your homework and get all of the pieces in order - you realize the puzzle design is pretty neat.

OK that's all for now - if you're interested in more about Common Gull identification perhaps I'll post some more some other time. Otherwise I'll continue on with the random spring posting.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Common Gull in NH

Common Gull pooping. Can't ask for much more in life can you? I don't have much time to write since I'm headed out to the field. But I thought I'd share this first documented state record of Common Gull. More on this later I'm sure.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Winter Highlights

I don't know if you've noticed but it's been a good winter away from New Hampshire. Today marks the beginning of "Spring" at least in the sense of New Hampshire Bird Records. In honor of this exciting turn which will hopefully bring about fewer wind storms (read more about this later in the week) and better birds in the state, I will post some photos of my "best winter birds" outside of NH. Maybe this will encourage NH to provide us birders with some of the same species within the next few months.

Eurasian Wigeon (male on the right)

While I've seen Eurasian Wigeon in the state and was the first to report a EUWI in the fall, I'd like to get one a bit closer and get some good photographs of it. Besides they are just a truly fun species to see. (Additionally, I think Mike deserves another chance at trying to see it after routinely missing it this past fall.)

King Eider (female below the top center male).

King Eider are not that difficult of a species to see within New England. However, in NH there has only been one in the past 20 months. My looks at it were dismal and unexciting. I'd like to improve upon this as its likely that King Eiders are annual in the state and probably occur around the Isles of Shoals with regularity.

Redhead (male)

I've seen Redhead in the state once - yet I didn't have a scope on me so I only got brief looks when another birder arrived and allowed me to use their scope. However, they left quickly and I kept on the bird for as long as possible with binoculars until I had to meet people nearby to show them where to look for the bird. By the time we returned the sun had gone far enough down that no one was able to see the bird. I'd like Jessie, Jordan, and Jason to get Redhead this year.

Canvasback (male)

I've seen 2 Canvasbacks in New England within the past year - both in Massachusetts. The spring before I arrived Canvasback were "everywhere" within NH. Hopefully this spring will provide an opportunity for these birds to have another good showing in the state.

Sage Thrasher

While its probably a little too late - perhaps we'll nab one of these sometime in the next few years in New Hampshire. Every New England record has practically been within sight of New Hampshire! Yet NH has yet to record one. I thought about chasing this one from Salisbury, MA across into Seabrook, NH.

Ivory Gull (adult)

Last but DEFINITELY not least... I'd love to see one of these in NH. There have been a number of Ivory Gulls around this winter. There have been birds in MA/RI, GA, and VT/NY this year. No one knows where the MA/RI bird (or birds?) has taken off to and unfortunately the Georgia bird died after an attack by a Bald Eagle. The Vermont/New York bird has been seen reliably over the past week or so by a number of birders, including Ben. I'd really like to get a good record of an Ivory Gull in NH for this century.