Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another week goes by....

Hey everyone,

Hope you all enjoyed great birding this weekend!

Sorry, no birds again for me. I feel like I'm really slipping off my game! I think I should have been out scouting for shorebirds...but I ran in Ottawa Race Weekend on Saturday and wasn't up for anything except pacing around my house nervously. The race was great...I completed the 10k in just over 56 minutes...a PB!

Sunday turned out to be a nice day later on, but I got out on my bike instead of birding. Now that it's nice out, there is just so much to do out there!

However, I do have big birding plans for next weekend, so stay tuned!


In the absence of bird photos, here's a shot of me whizzing by on my run. Maybe there are some birds in those trees in the background?

Matt didn't see me till I was past him...

and, now for a bit of bird content, some art featuring seasonal birds from the wonderful Charley Harper (love his work..I'm so saving my pennies to buy one):

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Birdwatching + Geocaching = Just got more awesome

Long weekend, and what have I got to show for myself? Nuttin.  I only went out birding for about an hour over the course of the whole long weekend. Mud Lake was super quiet and the only new bird around that I saw was a great-crested flycatcher.

ANYWAYS, I do have something to write about, a little different than my usual posts. It's kind of about birding, but mostly about something else. Wait! Where are you going? Don't give up on me yet. There's something here for you bird nuts! So hang in there. But warning: You might pick up a new hobby. It's ok though, because you can do it at the same time as birdwatching. Just when you thought you couldn't get any more can.

What is it?


Well I don't quite remember how I got into it, but last year I learned about geocaching. I went out and found my first cache. Actually, come to think of it...I think I mentioned it in passing at the time on this very blog.

If you haven't heard of it, geocaching is like high-tech treasure hunting for adults (and kids). People hide "caches" (a container of some sort with a log that you sign, and sometimes there's other stuff in it). They post the coordinates online and you go find it. Anyone can hide a cache, and anyone can find it. They can be as big as a coffee tin (or bigger) and as small as a film canister (or even smaller).

I hadn't done any caching since last year, but I was out hiking with some friends on Monday and I offered to introduce them to geocaching, since they had heard me talk about it before, and they were curious. The iPhone has an app and a built-in GPS, so I shelled out the $10 for the geocaching app (you don't need it, because geocaching is totally free,but it's useful for logging and searching while you're out) and we used that. Apparently the phone GPS triangulates based on cell phone towers, so it is a lot more accurate in the city than in the woods. So I still need to buy a "real" outdoor GPS.

What does this have to do with birds, you ask?? Hang on...I'm getting to it!

My friends found their first cache, and last night I was on the Geocaching website to see if there are any around Mud Lake (there are lots), and I happened to click on one called "The Bird Brain Challenge." It's really random that I clicked on it because the coordinates posted were not the true ones; you have to solve a puzzle to find it. And then I got excited!

Because I realized that there is Group A, birdwatchers, and Group B, geocachers, and in a little spot where these two intersect, there are birdwatcher-geocachers. And in an even smaller segment there are birdwatcher-geocachers-photographers. Allow me to draw you a nice diagram!

So there are 3 kinds of caches that I can think of that might be of interest to birders. Let me describe them to you.
  • The traditional cache hidden at a birding hotspot.
    • This one is simple. Basically there are caches hidden all over the place, and I *bet* you that there is at least one at or near your favourite birding location. I bet there is even one not far from your front door. It adds a little something to your walk. Hey, why not find a cache while you're there? It gives you a little more direction and purpose. And if you didn't find the bird you were looking for, at least you found something else.  I would note that there are few geocaches in Ontario Provincial Parks because they are really sticky about it, but you can often find them nearby. A few examples. of many:

  • The bird-themed cache
    • Sometimes cachers leave little "treasures" in the cache. If you see one you like and want to take it, you have to leave something of equal or greater value. So there are caches out there that have birds as their theme, and the trinkets inside somehow relate to birds. Then there are some people who make "fake" birdhouses and hide the cache in there.
      • This one in Washington has bird-related items in it (of course, they have most likely been swapped out, hopefully replaced by other bird items!) GCGC1Q It's a bird thing.

  • Finally, the BEST kind, the bird puzzle cache. You have to use your superior birding knowledge to figure out the coordinates of the cache and THEN find it. The puzzles of these caches are based completely on birds. The posted coordinates are FALSE. Ok, these I am really excited about. Because it appeals to so much of the things I like...discovering and figuring stuff out. Seriously, have a look! Even if you don't find the cache, see if you can solve the puzzles!
So it's nice to be to combine all my hobbies (and it's not a little bit surprising that some of them lead to others)...a little birding, a little photography, a cache or two, hiking...all at once. Before I could do them at the same time and all, but geocaches fully inspired by birds and that's awesome.

Want to see if there's a cache near you? Let me know if you find one!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

migration madness (sunday part 2) #145-146

(back on the ridge)
female rose-breasted grosbeak
I'm sure I've seen (and definitely heard) warbling vireos at Mud Lake before, but my shots were always from below with funny white balance and I was never really quite sure (since the Tennessee Warbler and the Philadelphia Vireo look kind of similar). I didn't hear this one sing, but I'm pretty positive I got one!
#145: Warbling Vireo; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 15, 2011
I love the description of the warbling vireo's song: I'll seize you and I'll squeeze you!
Hey ladies! Click for full-effect.
Another blue-headed vireo! Isn't it funny when you get a lifer and then you start seeing them everywhere?? OK, maybe not everywhere, but at least a few times...

Another black-throated green warbler

Redstart posed for me...I know I posted one just the other day, but I had to...
Just along the edge of the water I found this beauty, among a bunch of yellow-rumped warblers. Actually I saw two of them that day....lucky me!

#146: Bay-breasted warbler; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 15, 2011.
This flicker sits on these lights and drums them. It's metal and it's really loud...I don't know if he's just trying to communicate or if he's actually trying to drill a hole! Poor guy, this makes me kind of sad. Because birds should be on trees, not metal lamps.

Once I got home, I was sitting in the living room and noticed some movement in the window. I had hung the hummingbird feeder up a few weeks ago, but moved it on Saturday after the fiasco with the squirrel (he drank all the sugar water and pushed it onto the ground once it was empty). But I'm not home all the often to see the action out there, so this was the first (actually second, but maybe the same one) hummingbird I've seen this year!

The great thing is I got this feeder late in the year last year and I couldn't understand why the birds didn't have the bright red throat. So I guess it's a breeding thing and I was so excited to see his bright red throat. Actually I was so happy that a hummingbird was in my yard again that I actually emitting noises of pure joy! (hummers always do this me). A finch had landed on the pole and this guy arrived shortly after. His look clearly said, "excuse me, but your feeder is over there!" Since then he's been visiting often. I look forward to watching them this summer!

All in all, Sunday was a great day. I missed the Cape Mays and the blue-grey gnatcatcher that everyone was talking about. Gotta leave something for next time, right :)

So the cool thing about this year's migration is that I'm starting to get to the point where I "just know," or at least have a good guess of, what a bird is without having to pull out the book anymore. Lord knows I've flipped through my bird guide enough times to know almost every bird in it and where it is in the book! Granted, I do check once in a while, but I've come a long way from only being able to confidently identify a robin, cardinal, great blue heron and the other "typical" birds. Last year, I had to look up every warbler I saw, and had to compare every last it seems so much more obvious. And sparrows are getting so much easier too. So you know, yay for getting better at things.

Things (I) have for sure changed a lot over the last year. If you told me two years ago that I would spend entire weekends, consistently (several hours at time) chasing down birds, I'm sure I wouldn't have believed you. It's funny how a short hike on a winter day turned into a full-blown addiction...well, I suppose I could be addicted to worse things! Spending so much time outside, surrounded by nature...I really don't think it gets better than that. So the only question is, where to next weekend?

Also, I just wanted to let you guys how how much I appreciate your stopping in and reading and maybe even leaving a comment or two. Your comments always make me smile, and it's nice to know when you're writing  that a person or two is going to actually see it. I'm already drafting entries in my head when I'm out in the I'm thinking of you!

Monday, May 16, 2011

my first time (the bird whisperer) #144

The bird gods smiled down on me on Sunday and stopped the rain for the whole day! I was surprised there weren't more cars at Mud Lake. On the drive there, there was a song on the radio and about halfway in I realized, "hey! this song is about birds!" So I took note of the title and artist and feel free to listen to it while you read (Canadian guy, from Alexisonfire. He's got a nice sound..."Sleeping sickness" and "Coming home" are also good). But warning: it's a total downer about the oil spill. Luckily this post is going to be a little more upbeat than that, so probably not an appropriate soundtrack.

Actually, he's got another song called Fragile Bird, which has nothing to do with birds, but has "bird" in the title. Ok, I'm getting WAY off track now, but here it is anyway!

Well, there's something I want to talk about. We've all been first-timers at some point. Maybe some of us have never done it. It's something I've been shy and maybe even a little embarrassed about. I've looked up how to do it on the internet, but it's just not the same as the real thing, right? I mean, someone can explain it, but you never really know what it's going to be like when you do it, and how do you know if you are doing it right, or if you're going to be good at it? Should you do it with any of them? Can you do it too much? Nobody seems to talk about it, but I think a lot of people do it. Well, yesterday, I saw someone doing it right out in the open like it was nothing, and not holding back at all. We're talking "pishing" here.

Yep, pishing, which to me has been a particularly mysterious aspect of birding. For those who don't know, "pishing" is a silly word for the noises birders make to attract birds. Often, it sounds like "pssshp" (obviously), but it can really be any sort of noise you make to attract birds. For the first time, I saw a bunch of people do it at Mud Lake on Saturday, and it's not what I had in mind at all. The few times I had tried, I was super quiet...I had no idea what kind of volume was appropriate...I was practically whispering. But some of these people were quite loud, practically spitting everywhere! Then I asked someone, and she said, well, they do have to be able to hear you...

So today, I thought I might try it to see if it worked. My first attempt was on this little guy...
and he turned around and looked right at me!
Hey, I don't think I've even counted a least flycatcher before!
#144: Least flycatcher; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 15, 2011
I used to only post new birds, but you've probably noticed that I'm adding a lot more pictures, of the things I see in general...plants, and animals, as well as birds I've already seen. If I restricted myself to only lifers I wouldn't have too many pictures, and there is just so much great stuff out there.
Stare-down contest. He won. I'm sure he's not as mean as he looks...just a hard exterior, but a softy inside?
Lots of yellow warbling going on. I think I can safely say I know their song!
Does this not look like a really skinny yellow warbler to you? And look at the teeny tiny band!
No need to pish for a can hear them a mile away. Don't the twigs remind you of the LOTR logo? I tried to take a video, but just ended up fumbling with the settings because I wanted it in HD. So instead of a low-rez video, I got no video.

The nice thing about Sunday is that I got some really great looks at a few birds that I had seen before but from pretty far away, and when they were in fall feathers, and that my previous pics were not so great off. Namely the magnolia, the chest-nut sided and the northern parula.

So once I was into the woods, I make a serious effort to try this pishing thing again. At first, I was convinced that it wasn't doing anything; well, it wasn't driving them in, but at least it wasn't driving them away.

I took a moment to shoot the Jack-in-the-pulpit (aka. Bog onion, Brown dragon, Indian turnip, Wake robin or Wild turnip) that we had seen on the OFNC outing. Such a cool's nice to be able to put some names to things now. And it's nice to take photos of things once in a while that STAY STILL!

I was on a trail and caught sight of this lovely fellow. So I do a little check around to make sure nobody was around, and let out a PISH. So the bird checked me out and I told him how handsome he was. And then I see this guy to my left looking at me, and I am terribly embarrassed, because I'm pretty sure he just witnessed me both sputtering out loud and talking to a bird. Well, if you are looking for a crazy woman, deep in the woods talking to the wildlife is where to go.
Nashville Warbler
Then I found this little grove and something about it just seemed right. I caught sight of one little bird, and gave a pish! He really did come to check me out! Then I realized, it's a magnolia. Heck, there are like 3 of them right in front of me!
Magnolia warbler. Huge improvements on my first shots of magnolias.
So if that wasn't awesome enough, they just kept parading in, one at a time--magnolia, then black and white, then white-breasted nuthatch, chestnut-sided warbler--as I merrily pished. And I was quite confident at this point, because it really seemed to be working. Now, without a care about who was around me, PISH! PISH! PISH! I was so high on...birds. In the meanwhile, a particularly curious chickadee came right in, and was hovering around my head...I thought it was going to land on me!

Not a new blog bird, but the first time I've seen a chestnut-sided in spring feathers. What a difference. It sure seems like a different bird! I'm pretty sure he's looking at me trying to figure out what I'm doing. Photographic note: I also love the background on this one.

Wish I could have got a clearer shot of this robin collecting for her nest.

Well, I'll admit I might have gone a little overboard on the pishing and should probably pull it back a bit. In my excitement I was just pishing all over the place, pishing out of control. I imagine if everyone was doing it all the time, they would just get used to it and it wouldn't be effective anymore... So I guess my adventures in pishing will have to be made at a minimum.

I went down to the pine stand to see if I could pish out some pine warblers, which would have been a lifer for me. I've heard them but still never seen them. They're giving me a real hard time, those pine warblers! I did see this fine wood duck and his mate though...
Whose bum? At first I thought this was a very strange black bird with very unfamiliar white stripes. Oh, it's just glossy!
Heading back toward the ridge, I caught sight of my second Northern Parula of the day. This bird is so stunning, it seems it should be tropical!
After a little more wandering around off the main path, I realized I had lost yet another camera accessory. I'm notorious for losing lens caps, but this is my first time losing a lens hood. I had a good idea of where it went down...I had had a bit of a bout with a stand of I headed back and luckily found it.

Ok, at this point I had been there a few hours, and I kept saying, "Jenna, you need to go home now." But it was always the same, "Just one more trip up to the ridge." And I can't say no to matter how sore/hungry/thirsty I'm getting. So that's what I did.

However, I am going to take a little break now...come back tomorrow for the rest of the afternoon!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

You can leave your (tilly) hat on. (#141-143)

I got up (relatively) early today to join on the OFNC outing at Mud Lake, despite the uplifting forecast  (pouring rain x infinity). Well if April showers were supposed to bring May flowers, what the heck do May showers bring?
I knew I was late, so I figured they might have started already. When I got there though, they were nowhere to be had, so I checked in my Trail and Landscape, and it had started 30 minutes earlier than I thought! I could swear I had checked the time last night. Well, this meant I was actually 45 minutes late, so I got started on my own. I got talking to another OFNC member, Gillian, but after not too long we caught up to a group of people we thought could be them (A group of 20 people with tilly hats and binoculars and their heads all craned in the same direction? It's gotta be them.)

Well, it was a little bit quieter than I hoped, but I did manage to get three new blog birds. The amazing thing was having others identify them so quickly.

#141: Blue-headed vireo; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 14, 2011
# 142: Blackburnian Warbler; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 14, 2011
 What a gorgeous bird.
I pulled a full-on rookie move with this bird. "Um, guys, what's the one with the orange head again?"
#143: American Redstart;  Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 14, 2011
First time I'm putting a redstart on my blog. I remember well the first time I saw one. It was at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and it was flitting around being very difficult. I kept saying, "I don't know what it is! It isn't in the book!" (It was.)
I have to remember that this is a "Field Naturalists" club and not just a bird club, so there was almost as much talk about plants as there was about birds. They kindly pointed out Jack-in-the-pulpit plants (cool!), trout-lilies (below, also known as Adder's Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Yellow Adder's Tongue), garlic mustard (incredibly invasive but also delicious, so I am told), blue beech (the "muscle" tree), hackberry trees, purple violets and trilliums, and poison ivy (haha). Funny, aside from the obvious, I have never taken note of any of these things before. What do you say, does this call for a 100 plants in a year blog? ;) Well, it's a great big world out there, and so much to learn. I loved how with the rain today it felt like walking through a west coast rain forest. mmmm....
Trout lily. Funny name, pretty flower.

The other thing about this group is it tends to be a lot of the same people, so lots of familiar faces, and some of them really know their stuff. What a humbling experience. I feel like I have learned so much in the last year, enough to consider myself somewhat intermediate....then I listen to these people and I just put myself way back at the bottom of the totem pole. Rookie!

The leaves are really starting to come out and it's much more dense than last week. I'm pretty sure next week we'll have a full-blown canopy...

Well, I missed a lot of things that they saw and normally I really take my time and stick around until I get "the shot." I still got a few, and towards the end, we started having more luck (which of course, meant it started to pour).  But it was just too wet for d90 so I headed home at 11, hoping for a break in the weather later on. It didn't happen :(

Earlier this week on Wednesday, I headed out after work with Matt. It was such a gorgeous day, and we didn't go too far since gas was at $1.36 or something crazy like that. So we went to Shirley's Bay...Saw a thrasher behaving much like a robin, an eastern phoebe, terns, stunning orioles, a few geese on nests that I thought were going to charge right after us (they built their nests right beside the path!), and lots of the other usual suspects.
Eastern Phoebe
Beautiful Baltimore.
Single spotted sandpiper

There are so many awesome birds being reported that I'm missing. I'm planning to really study some of the songs so I'm more prepared for tomorrow, if it lets up a bit. I've found a few really promising links...
I definitely have my work cut out for me. Because in addition to this, I need to construct a rainjacket or something for d90.
mm-hmm. not glamourous, but promising.
I've got a few hopefuls, but won't mention them here. *Crossing fingers*