Wednesday, April 23, 2008

OT: Froggu's Back!

Froggu's Back!
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
The dispassionate caption for this photo is that I saw a Northern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) on my deck for the first time this season tonight (I heard one calling as well). However, sharing one's deck with treefrogs makes one (ok, makes me) a bit sentimental and inclined to give said treefrogs silly pseudo-Finnish nicknames like "froggu." All I know is that Froggu makes a darn good lamp ornament while s/he waits for unwary bugs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cave Swallow

On this day in 1990, Vince Elia found a Cave Swallow at Bunker Pond in Cape May. At the time, it was the only East Coast record of the species north of Florida, apart from four records from Nova Scotia (Boyle et al. 1990, Connor 1991). The swallow merited a "S.A." item in American Birds, and lingered until 4 June. This bird was believed to be of the Caribbean subspecies fulva at the time, based on rump color. A Nova Scotia specimen was of this subspecies.

The Cave Swallow gives a lesson in how quickly bird distribution can change. As of early 2008, just 18 years after the first state record, there are 34 accepted NJ records of the species, and it has become almost routine in Cape May in late fall. Cave Swallow has also been seen at Sandy Hook several times, not to mention as far north as Sussex County. This suggests that, given appropriate weather conditions and birder coverage, it will ultimately be seen in every county in the state. This explosion in Cave Swallow records has been mirrored across the Northeast, since the right weather can lead to massive falls of Cave Swallows across the region (Brinkley & Lehman 2003). To sum up, "Most sightings are related to an extended period of southwesterly flow followed by the passage of a cold front and a switch in wind direction to west, northwest, or north" (Barnes et al. 2006).

The first Cave Swallow specimen from NJ came from Island Beach in 2002, and it proved to be of the southwestern subspecies pelodoma, as expected for this season (Boyle et al. 2003). A split of fulva and pelodoma has been rumored, and if it comes to pass, "Cave Swallow" identification in NJ will become even more of a headache than at present, when all the observer usually worries about is following a small agile bird in flight.

Barnes, Scott, Joe Burgiel, Vince Elia, Jennifer Hanson, Laurie Larson, & Paul Lehman. 2006. New Jersey Bird Records Committee - annual report 2006. New Jersey Birds 32:66-76.

Boyle, Bill, Joe Burgiel, Laurie Larson, & George Nixon. 2003. New Jersey Bird Records Committee - annual report, 2003. New Jersey Birds 29:46-56.

Boyle, William J., Jr., Robert O. Paxton, & David A. Cutler. 1990. The Spring Season, Hudson-Delaware Region. American Birds 44:400-406.

Brinkley, Edward S., & Paul E. Lehman. 2003. The changing seasons: Unabashed bonanza. North American Birds 57:14-21.

Connor, Jack. 1991. Season at the Point. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

OT: Blog-gazing

As I've previously mentioned here, I'm currently working on a MLIS degree (library school, if you prefer) at Rutgers. My first year (of three) is drawing to a close and although it would be difficult to distill the experience into one post, it has given me a new perspective on many things (including birds and history). It's also gotten me into reading a whole new assortment of blogs (not that classwork leaves much time for blog reading); yes, librarians are at least as blog-happy as birders, if not more so.

Tonight's class (Information Technologies for Libraries and Information Analysis) featured a guest lecturer on open source systems, both in general and specifically for libraries. She gave us a great lecture and I was furiously scribbling down programs to research further (maybe in the summer, when I might have free time). At the end of her lecture, she mentioned her blog, What I Learned Today, and I had a DUH! moment. I guess I blipped over Nicole Engard's name in previous mentions (sorry, Nicole!), but hearing the title of her blog made me realize that she was the creator of one of the library blogs that's made it to my RSS roll for daily reading. It was very startling to have a blog "come to life" like that; there's a big difference between looking at text on the computer screen and seeing an enthusiastic lecturer behind the podium. It was also very cool, if truth be told.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Purple Martin

On this day in 1749, Pehr Kalm wrote about swallows in his journal. The timing is not surprising, since swallows are among the returning migrants at this time of year. Kalm took the opportunity to write about the local swallows in Raccoon (now Swedesboro), NJ; Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow received notice, as did the "chimney swallow," which has since been reclassified as Chimney Swift.

Kalm concluded by writing about the Purple Martin. Even in that early day, people built houses for martins in order to attract them. Kalm states, "They drive away both hawks and crows as soon as they see them, and by their anxious note alarm the poultry of the approach of their enemies. The chickens run to shelter as soon as they are warned by the martins" (Kalm 1987).

The martin image in this post is an Arm and Hammer trading card illustrated by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes. Fuertes did three groups of paintings for Arm and Hammer, and the cards frequently turn up on eBay.

Kalm, Peter. 1987. Peter Kalm's Travels in America. Dover, New York, NY.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Great Horned Owl

Last night (this morning?) I woke up around 3 AM. This, regrettably, is not an uncommon occurrence, but last night it proved to be abetted by a calling Great Horned Owl. Further listening proved that it was one of a duetting pair. I thought it might be nice to pull a pertinent quote out of the literature but my first attempt (Stone 1894) proved less helpful than expected:

"Resident. Rather common in the wilder parts of the country, but rare in the settled districts."

Then I went to Stone (1908):

"A rather rare resident." Stone went on to cite Babson (1901), which covers my current neighborhood (albeit over 100 years ago), so I figured I'd follow the paper trail. Babson said:

"At present this species is rather uncommon, but not as infrequent as [Barred Owl]. One is occasionally seen in the big woods near Cedar Grove, where an adult was recently shot and is now in the University Collection. During the past winter (1901) Mr. D. Miner Rogers saw one near the Millstone, and although but two nests have been found during the last five years, they undoubtedly breed every spring at Cedar Grove and Sorrel Mountain."

Being a newcomer, I don't know Cedar Grove, but I have a strong suspicion that "Sorrel Mountain" is now known as the Sourlands. Babson's introduction says of Sorrel Mountain: "North of Blawenburg is Sorrel Mountain, similar to Mount Lucas, but higher and more extensive..."

Final resort to Walsh et al. (1999) suggested that Great Horned Owl suffered in earlier times due to persecution. All I can say is that if I can wake up during the middle of the night in the condo/townhouse zone that Plainsboro has become and hear nearby calling Great Horned Owls, that must be some mark of progress.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Artistic Forensics: The Case of the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler

Among the many birds painted by John James Audubon, a few have never been conclusively matched with species known today. These mystery birds have caused speculation among ornithologists and birders for decades, and now David Sibley has entered the fray. Although the Carbonated Swamp-Warbler is not known to have been a NJ bird (and this post is therefore an extralimital one), this post on the Sibley Guides Notebook blog is worth the time of anyone interested in birding history or bird art (the comments on the post are interesting reading, as well). Matters such as plumage details, artistic style, printing technology and observer reputation are brought up by Sibley and the commenters.