Friday, December 04, 2009

Ivory Gull Link Roundup

Ivory Gull
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
I'm tempted to designate the Ivory Gull the Official Patron Bird of this blog. In a post on 3 February 2007 (the anniversary of the first state record of a dead bird picked up in 1940), I typed the following:

"...the steady increase in climate warming suggests that this [Ivory Gull] is one of the least likely vagrants to visit NJ in the future."

By the end of the month, there was an Ivory Gull in Piermont, NY, not quite in NJ but close enough for regret.

Then, at the beginning of this year, there were two Ivory Gulls in Massachusetts, a circumstance that led to me doing my assigned reading for that week of classes in the back seat of a small car hurtling toward Plymouth. I had to get my homework done, of course, but an Ivory Gull as close as Massachusetts was too good to pass up (especially when I was able to add a visit to a cemetery of genealogical interest into the bargain, but that's another story). That experience led to the first installment of the current blog series on Bird Documentation in the Digital Age.

So now Cape May has finally gotten its Ivory Gull, which had the impeccable timing of arriving for Thanksgiving (though it seems to prefer fish heads to turkey on the menu). This is one occasion where I don't mind being wrong. In fact, in order to properly celebrate, I am posting a link roundup of Cape May Ivory Gull sightings in cyberspace. I hope to keep this post updated, and I'm sure I've missed something, so feel free to drop me a line at ammodramus88 residing at if you would like to add something I've overlooked. And good luck to everyone looking for the gull over the weekend!

Ongoing coverage is on the blog at CMBO's website, but individual posts don't have permalinks, so I'm posting a general link to the blog. Another Cape May site with Ivory Gull pix is Bob Fogg's

Ivory Gull newspaper coverage
(or, more accurately, online coverage from newspaper sites)

Cape May Times photo essay
Ivory Gull trip reports

Ivory Gull vids

"aburdo" vid
Benjamin Clock Ivory Gull foraging
Ray Duffy vid 1 vid 2

Ivory Gull photos
(if there are more than five photos from a particular photographer posted on Flickr or a similar site, I've just posted a general link to the photographer's online photo page. Screen names are in quotes.)

various photographers gallery on CMBO site
"Birding At Night" photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5
"bluedasher" Flickr set
Devin Bosler photo 1 photo 2
Peter Burke photo 1 photo 2
Steve Byland photo
J. B. Churchill photo
Benjamin Clock photo 1 photo 2
Dave Czaplak Flickr set
Jeff Davis photos
Joe Delesantro Flickr set
Gerry Dewaghe PBase set
"donna lynn" photo
Ray Duffy photo
Scott Elowitz photo set
Howard Eskin photos
Bert Filemyr set from 11/27 set from 12/1
Sam Galick photo
Jim Gilbert photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4
Steve Glynn photo
Jennifer W. Hanson (bad) photos
"ingret9" Flickr set
Phil Jeffrey photos
"johnjos" photos in discussion thread on
Tom Johnson photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5
Sandra Keller photo 1 photo 2
"KFiabane" photo
Tony Leukering photos
Karl Lukens set from 11/27 set from 11/28 set from 11/30
Chris Magarelli photo 1 photo 2
"mj3151" photos in discussion thread on
Dan Murray photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5
"ngannet" photos
James Petersen photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4
Tom Reed Flickr set
J. G. Russell photos in discussion thread on
Harvey Tomlinson photo 1 photo 2
Dustin Welch photos
Scott Whittle set from 11/27 set from 11/28

And thanks to Patrick Belardo for pointing out the all-important souvenir category to me. Not only can you get a cute Ivory Gull from Birdorable, you can also get a classic logo treatment from BirderGifts (no endorsement or economic profit to either myself or Patrick, for the record).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mute Swan

Mute Swans
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
On this day in 1916, a young swan was picked up "exhausted" and identified as a Tundra Swan (then Whistling Swan) at Elizabeth in Union County. This observation was included in a list of "unusual visitors" by Charles Urner that was published in the Auk in 1921. One issue later, there was a sequel. The swan (published as a Tundra Swan either through misidentification or typographical error: both are blamed) turned out to be a Mute Swan, which was at that time an introduced species with a very limited distribution in the New York City area. W. De Witt Miller at the American Museum of Natural History made the correct identification after seeing the bird. In 1932, Urner published a further account of the species' spread in NJ; at that point he said it was "completely naturalized...a number of pairs breed in a wild state in suitable ponds along the coast from the vicinity of Asbury Park to Bayhead" (Urner 1932). When Witmer Stone wrote Bird Studies at Old Cape May, he quoted Urner and noted that Mute Swan was not yet known to reach Cape May (Stone 1965). By the time Walsh et al. was published in 1999, Mute Swan was breeding across the state (including Cape May), mostly in the north, though the distribution was somewhat scattered. Coastal ponds remain excellent places to see Mute Swans; in spring, large numbers can be seen in various locations.

Urner, Charles A. 1932. Mute Swan in New Jersey. Auk 49:213. PDF here
Urner, Charles A. 1921. Unusual visitors at Elizabeth, N. J. Auk 38:120-121. PDF here
Urner, Charles A. 1921. Whistling Swan: A correction. Auk 38:273. PDF here

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Buller's Shearwater

On this day in 1984, a Buller's Shearwater was found on a pelagic trip off the Jersey coast. The bird was about 31 miles ESE of Barnegat Light, and remains a unique record. This species breeds on islands near New Zealand and the NJ record is the single North Atlantic record of the species. See Angus Wilson's Ocean Wanderers site for more info about Buller's Shearwater and its usual distribution.

David Sibley was the one who identified the shearwater, according to the account in Records of New Jersey Birds. I recently heard someone who was there at the time say that it was one of only two times he ever heard Sibley shout (the other was for a Mississippi Kite, which just shows how much times have changed).

Dunne, Peter. 1985. 1984 Fall Field Notes, Region 5. Records of New Jersey Birds 11:18-22.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Brig!

On this day in 1939, Brigantine NWR (later renamed Edwin B. Forsythe NWR) was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. Although the original intent was to serve as refuge for waterfowl (i.e., game birds), it eventually became a magnet for birders because of its habit of attracting rarities in many bird groups (see below).

I first visited Brig in 1989, on one of my first birding trips. That was my introduction to coastal salt marshes, the day I learned how to use a checklist, and the day that the car's radiator overheated so that we had to limp homeward on Rt. 9 until we finally washed up at the Cranberry Bog (an opportune restaurant with a pay phone so that the driver's father could be summoned to the rescue). I got about 20 lifers that day, never mind the memories.

Then there was the World Series of Birding day when we were headed out along the south dike and the driver (same driver, different car) said, "Don't look behind you." Of course I did, only to see a wall of evil-looking clouds coming in from the west. The tempest blew through, with lightning strikes in the impoundments. Even in the dark of the storm, we could see the white rumps of the White-rumped Sandpipers as they flushed when the lightning struck. Other shorebirds took the opportunity to bathe as the rain poured down. We didn't get most of the birds we had hoped to add at Brig that day, but the weather drama was unforgettable.

Then there have been all the rarities I chased and missed at Brig over the years, the few I chased and got, and, of course, the greenheads. And the seasonal blizzards of Snow Geese. And the peregrines. And the wind in the marsh grass. Etc., etc. I could go on and on. A long-term relationship like the one I have with Brig can't be reduced to a single blog post.

To conclude, here is an incomplete list of some good birds we can thank Brig for (drawn from the most recent edition of the NJBRC Accepted Records List; asterisks indicate first state records):

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - 2000*
Fulvous Whistling-Duck - 2004
Greater White-fronted Goose - 1993, 1996
Ross's Goose - 1972*, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 1996, 1997
"Black" Brant - 2001
Cinnamon Teal - 1974*
Garganey - 1997*
"Common" Teal - 1997
Eared Grebe - 1986, 2007
American White Pelican - 1996
Reddish Egret - 1998*
White Ibis - 1996, 1998, 2007
White-faced Ibis - 1981, 1983, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007
Roseate Spoonbill - 2007
Swallow-tailed Kite - 1988
Gyrfalcon - 1941, 1971, 1972, 1975
Yellow Rail - 1971
Purple Gallinule - 1964, 1971, 1974, 1985, 1993, 1998
Sandhill Crane - 1998
Wilson's Plover - 1979, 1996, 1999, 2007
Black-necked Stilt - 1996
Spotted Redshank - 1978*, 1979, 1993
"Eurasian" Whimbrel - 2001
Long-billed Curlew - 2001
Black-tailed Godwit - 1971*
Bar-tailed Godwit - 1971
Red-necked Stint - 1999*
Little Stint - 1985*
Curlew Sandipiper - 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007
Sooty Tern - 1979
Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher - 1981*
Say's Phoebe - 1960, 2003
Ash-throated Flycatcher - 2007
Gray Kingbird - 1993
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - 1995
Fork-tailed Flycatcher - 1972, 1995, 1999
Cave Swallow - 1999, 2007
Northern Wheatear - 1970, 1974, 1983, 1995
Mountain Bluebird - 1982*
Bohemian Waxwing - 1999
Black-throated Gray Warbler - 1984
Townsend's Warbler - 2006
Western Tanager - 2005

Happy 70th birthday, Brig!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bird Documentation in the Digital Age: What Is a Bird Record?

"Whenever I think seriously about why I love notebooks I'm reminded of those cave walls covered in drawings of game by our Neolithic ancestors. Bison, deer and horses gallop across their subterranean galleries in exuberant patterns of charcoal and ochre....They are precious documents about our past, but also about our present condition, since their unconscious beauty finds its echo - if not a direct lineal descendant - in the birder's notebook." (Cocker 2001)

In the beginning, there was a bird.

Some time afterward, there was a human being that wanted to tell other human beings about a bird. This would have been long before any form of written language was invented, so speech was the likely medium (though birds also appear in cave and rock art, of course). Since speech tends to be ephemeral unless it is written down or it persists in a carefully-maintained oral tradition, those earliest bird reports are lost to us today. This is unfortunate, since they would doubtlessly be very interesting.

An encounter between a bird and a human observer is a unique experience. A bird report is the result of that unique experience being translated into a form that allows it to be communicated to people that did not participate in the original experience. That translation is often made with the help of technology. The type of technology used in the translation process inevitably affects the final form of the report (for example, a written description of a bird and a photograph of a bird are very different from each other, even if they report the same individual bird). Technology may affect the circumstances of the observation as well.

The distinction between a bird report and a bird record is subtle but significant. A bird record is a bird report that has been examined and approved by a person or agency with the authority to designate what is accurate and what is not. Various entities claim this authority; the claims of ornithologists and bird records committees are widely accepted by the birding community and others, but any individual can claim a similar authority (whether that claim is honored by others is another matter entirely). To complicate matters further, different authorities may have different criteria for considering a report to be a record.

Both bird reports and records become part of the avian historical record, although a bird record has more status than a report. A basic criterion for a bird record is that there is sufficient information available for future reseachers to review the evidence for a claimed observation and draw their own conclusions. In other words, though current authorities do the best they can in terms of designating accuracy, there is an acknowledgement that future generations may make different designations. Future researchers may even look at observations currently considered to be reports and upgrade them to being records (or vice versa).

To boil it all down to the essentials, the process of turning a bird report into a bird record is the process of turning an anecdote into a data point.

What you just read (if you are still with me) is an idealized version of a stable situation. Technological and social change (which are often entwined with each other) tend to throw such ideals into chaos until a new status quo appears. We are currently living through one of these periods of technological and social change, but the next post in this series will look back at a previous shift: the transition from a shotgun to binoculars as the must-have tool for a bird student.

Cocker, Mark. 2001. Birders: Tales of a Tribe. Atlantic Monthly Press.

Previously in this series:


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bird Documentation in the Digital Age: Introduction

At the beginning of this year, two Ivory Gulls appeared in eastern Massachusetts. Since both birds stayed for a while, crowds of birders got to see them; not only local birders but twitchers from far away. I was among the twitchers, as two friends and I made a memorable day trip to Plymouth and saw the bird. By the time we went for the bird, many photos had been posted online to Flickr and other sites, and many of those photos were taken at invitingly close range. When we were there, however, the gull stayed out on the jetty and even farther out in Plymouth Harbor. We did get to see it, though, and it was a lifer for all of us.

Once I got home, I knew I should be a good birding citizen and submit a writeup on the bird to MARC, the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. As usual, however, I didn't get to it as soon as I wanted and several weeks passed before I e-mailed a description taken from my field notes to the MARC Secretary. The reply I got startled me: I was informed that I was the only person who had submitted written details on the bird up to that point. Granted, with such wonderful photos so easily available, MARC's acceptance of the record was unlikely to hang on my details, but I would have assumed that somebody else, somewhere, would have written some sort of description (and perhaps someone has, in the long interim between my submission and the writing of this post).

The process of bird documentation has undergone a sea-change since I started birding. This begins a series of posts intended to examine this phenomenon in more detail: where we've been and where we're going, and some of the issues that have arisen as a result. Although documentation of rarities may seem like an uncommon situation to many birders, I see that kind of documentation as the tip of the iceberg that is really how we as birders record all birds that we observe.

Next: What, exactly, is a bird record?

The photo that illustrates this post was taken by Jason Forbes in Plymouth on 24 January 2009 (the day I was there) and is under a Creative Commons license. Jason's blog is Brewster's Linnet and he also has a Flickr stream.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Jersey Birds Spring 2009

Husted Landing Sunset
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
The Spring 2009 issue of New Jersey Birds has just been posted online; you can find it here. In addition to the usual seasonal reports and photos, there is also an interesting article laying out a possible future for the journal while sketching the evolution of some birding information networks.

There is also an article by Bill Boyle and Laurie Larson about the various (often hybrid) flocks of cranes that have called NJ home in recent years. One of these flocks is known to hang out at Husted Landing, Cumberland Co. Husted Landing is the location that supplied this post's photo: yes, we "got" the cranes as they came in, calling, at dusk, but low light is not conducive to solving difficult identification problems. The sunset that day was fabulous, though. So, it was "crane sp." and "great sunset to Flickr" for me.

Another feature of the latest NJB (hopefully to be continued) is "50 Years Ago," which reprints snippets of NJ Audubon bird sightings from a half-century ago. The current installment includes "mocking birds," House Finches of unknown origin (the question of western vagrants vs. NY escapes/releases), cranes, and legislation to protect birds of prey, "...except when in the act of killing poultry or livestock."

I will be the first to admit that I prefer doing my research by flinging my back issues of R/NJB all over the floor and rifling through them (then generating more research questions and flinging all my state bird books and N/ABs across the floor on top of the R/NJBs), but if NJB has to be online-only, I hope it will prosper in that format. NJ needs a permanent record of bird sightings. R/NJB has provided that in the past and hopefully can do so into the future.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cape May City Bird Names

Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
In honor of a Fourth of July spent unsuccessfully chasing Cape May rarities (but still having a very nice day out), here are some old Jersey bird names from Cape May City.

Black-breast - Dunlin
Black-breast Plover - Black-bellied Plover
Blue-bill - Greater Scaup
Broad-bill - Greater Scaup
Bull-head - Black-bellied Plover
Calico-bird - Ruddy Turnstone
Cob-head - Common Goldeneye
Cur - Common Goldeneye
Diver - Bufflehead
Gray-back - Short-billed Dowitcher
Hairy-head - Hooded Merganser
Hay-bird - Pectoral Sandpiper
Kill-cu - Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs
Marlin - Marbled Godwit
Mommy - Long-tailed Duck
Robin-snipe - Red Knot
Sea-pigeon - Short-billed Dowitcher
Shelduck - Red-breasted Merganser
Short-billed Curlew - Whimbrel
Spike-bill - Marbled Godwit
Spike-billed Curlew - Marbled Godwit

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mothy Monday 5: Bicolored Woodgrain

I guess it's human nature to look for harbingers of spring. The first baseball cards appearing in the dime store, or pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. The first cardinal, or Song Sparrow tuning up. Spring Peepers singing. Phoebe Day.

These days, the first Bicolored Woodgrain is one of my spring indicators, even though most of the other indicators listed above have happened by the time the woodgrain shows up. It was one of the first moths I ever identified (before I had a camera to help me make moth identification a process that could potentially take years). I seem to recall a moth perched on the screen looking out on my deck, and me flipping through the plates in Covell's field guide to moths. Luckily, the Bicolored Woodgrain has actual field marks, most prominently that pale slash on the trailing edge of the forewing. Ever since then, I've looked for the Bicolored Woodgrain in late April, and have yet to be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Western Meadowlark

On this day in 1940, John T. S. Hunn and Miriam Minton were birding south of South Plainfield in Middlesex County. The original goal of their day was to find Upland Sandpipers, but Hunn heard a song he recognized from trips out west as belonging to a Western Meadowlark. Although Hunn returned to the location several times during May 1940, the bird was never refound.

It was a good thing that Hunn knew the Western Meadowlark's song, since Eastern and Western meadowlarks look very similar and the best method of distinguishing them is by song. There have been seven accepted records since, all from the spring to summer season. In contrast to many NJ rarities, all Western Meadowlarks so far have been away from the expected coastal rarity magnets such as Cape May or Sandy Hook.

Hunn, John T. S. 1941. Western Meadowlark in New Jersey. Auk 58:265. PDF here

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


On this day in 1749, Pehr Kalm set down some notes about the Whip-poor-will. The impetus for his journal entry was the arrival of the species on this day of that year. Kalm's teacher, Carl Linne (Linnaeus) considered the Whip-poor-will a variety of the European Nightjar, but Kalm noted that the species' voice was different from the European bird. He compared it to the Common Cuckoo of Europe for its habit of remaining unseen by day but calling at night. He also wrote, "It commonly comes several times in a night, and settles close to the houses; I have seen it coming late in the evening, settling on the steps of the house in order to sing its song" (Kalm 1987). Kalm also relates the story of a Whip-poor-will that played dead when his servant attempted to shoot it.

The photo that illustrates this post shows what would have been a brand new house in 1749; the Whitall House in National Park, Gloucester County, which was built in 1748. A fine example of the brick houses of that era, its fame was sealed when it found itself a front-row spectator of the Battle of Red Bank in 1777.

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

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mothy Monday 4: The Dark Side

There was a time when birders were seen as having no interest in other aspects of the natural world apart from birds. I'm sure there have always been well-rounded naturalists, and birders who were interested in learning about other types of fauna and flora, but the stereotype was something I became aware of as I "grew up" as a birder (and yes, was primarily interested in birds).

Time passed, though, and as it did, I got more interested in insects. Butterflies were the initial flirtation, then came dragonflies and damselflies. But moths were the group that really sucked me in.

Lo and behold, as I started looking for identification information on these insect groups, I came across names that I knew (even if I didn't know the people in question) as birders. But here they were, often putting up complicated and useful resources on the web, not for bird ID, but for bug ID. I think this is why one birder I know refers to birders getting interested in insects as "going over to the Dark Side."

Well, if I had any doubt that I had gone over to the Dark Side myself (honestly, I've suspected it for a while; if I'm digiscoping Elderberry Borers, that obviously means it's high time for an intervention)
Elderberry Borer
the moth that illustrates this post sounded the final death knell.

For sixteen years (ouch), a friend of mine and I have been doing something we call the March Ramble. We wander around Cape May County in late March and try to find as many species of waterfowl as possible (twenty is the goal). We also like to build a good day list of other birds. It's a very relaxed Big Day; some years (such as this one) the Ramble slides into early April. The day totals are usually around 70-80 species, and the cumulative total is over 100.

This year, when we arrived at Bunker Pond, we walked up onto the hawkwatch platform and set up the scopes to look out on the pond. As we did, I saw a tiny fluttery thing flush and fly off. I knew it had to be a moth. I watched its flight; luckily, it landed on another part of the platform.

Then, with my scope ready to scan Bunker Pond for various species of waterfowl and other birds, I walked away from it and took this picture of a tiny but nicely-patterned moth that turned out to be a Red-banded Leafroller Moth (Argyrotaenia velutinana). I made sure I had a good photo of the moth (for ID purposes) before walking back to my scope and getting back to birding. Yes, I have truly gone over to the Dark Side.

Friday, April 17, 2009

White-faced Ibis

On this day in 1977, J. Galli and J. Penkala found a White-faced Ibis at Brig (aka Forsythe NWR). The bird was refound on 21 April at Tuckerton. This record was so unprecedented that it merited an S.A. in the relevant issue of American Birds. From that issue: "This is a first regional record, and the fourth for the east" (Paxton et al. 1977).

Since then, White-faced Ibises have become almost routine in the state. World Series of Birding teams try to pin them down in the spring, and the typical intermittent reports of them at locations like Brig over the summer challenge birders while at the same time encouraging them to ignore the ibises as routine birds.

Paxton, Robert O., Paul A. Buckley, & David A. Cutler. 1977. The Spring Migration, Hudson-Delaware Region. American Birds 31:979-984.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Moth and Me #2

I know it's not Monday, but the latest installment of a new blog carnival called The Moth and Me is now up. I had intended to submit something for it, but never got around to it because I was distracted by homework and such. No fear; Seabrooke Leckie at North American Moths Backyard Inventory (NAMBI) was kind enough to pick up a couple of my Mothy Monday posts. So, here's The Moth and Me #2.

Seabrooke is working on the range maps for a new Peterson guide to Northeastern moths (due 2012, so don't be camping out at your local bookstore just yet) and the blog is part of a drive to get more data for the maps. There's also a NAMBI Flickr pool. The blog features lots of attractive moth photos and tips on identification and mothing technique, so it's well worth reading.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tuckerton Bird Names

Dowitcher Decoy
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
Continuing in a series of old bird names from various Jersey locations drawn from Gurdon Trumbull's Names and Portraits of Birds..., this list is of Tuckerton bird names. The decoy that illustrates this post probably would've been considered a brown-back.

Bay-coot - Surf Scoter
Big Yellow-legged Plover - Greater Yellowlegs
Black-breast - Dunlin
Black-breast Plover - Black-bellied Plover
Blaten Duck - Gadwall
Brant-snipe - Dunlin
Broad-bill - Greater Scaup
Brown-back - Short-billed Dowitcher
Bull-head - Black-bellied Plover
Cock-robin - Hooded Merganser
Cock-robin Duck - Hooded Merganser
Creek Broad-bill - Lesser Scaup
Crow-duck - American Coot
Cub-head - Common Goldeneye
Fat-bird - Pectoral Sandpiper
Field Plover - Upland Sandpiper
Fresh-water Sheldrake - Common Merganser
Gannet - Ruddy Turnstone
Long-billed Curlew - Long-billed Curlew
Marlin - Marbled Godwit
Mud-hen - Clapper Rail
Quill-tail Coot - Ruddy Duck
Robin-snipe - Red Knot
Salt-water Sheldrake - Red-breasted Merganser
Short-billed Curlew - Whimbrel
Shovel-bill - Northern Shoveller
Sleepy Broad-bill - Ruddy Duck
Small Yellow-legged Plover - Lesser Yellowlegs
Smees - Northern Pintail
Smethe - Northern Pintail
Sprig-tail - Northern Pintail
Telltale - Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs
Winter Snipe - Dunlin

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Little Link Love

No, really, I'm still here. But I have to say that being a grad student while holding down a job and serving on a BRC can definitely have its time management challenges (not that you need to get out the violins or anything). However, I noticed a couple of interesting posts this week and suspect they might be of interest to anyone reading this blog (assuming anyone is patient or forgiving enough to still be out there!).

1. For anyone curious about the daring, high-stakes, glamorous life of a New Jersey Birds regional editor, wait no longer. Patrick Belardo has written a great exposé on The Hawk Owl's Nest. Since Patrick is now Region 2 Editor, he is the lucky soul who will be receiving my local sightings. I guess I'd better get to work on learning my way around the eBird interface...

2. Just recently there was a discussion on the BRC listserv regarding photographic documentation and how it is swamping other sorts of documentation. I'm working on a blog series on this topic, but in the meantime, a software package was announced earlier this week that should gladden the heart of the most Old School BRC member (unless that BRC member is so Old School as to still demand a specimen).

and, as a Rutgers grad student...

3. I've got to give a shout-out to David La Puma and the Scarlet Knight Herons, who are doing the World Series of Birding this year to benefit the Rutgers University Graduate Student Association. Of course they have a blog.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Jersey Birds Winter 2009

I've been remiss here in noting the appearance of the Winter 2009 issue of New Jersey Birds. This is the first online-only issue of the journal. In addition to the normal seasonal reports, it includes an article on NJ's first Long-billed Murrelet. You can find the PDF here.

The decision to make NJB an online journal was, to put it mildly, a controversial one. Personally, I prefer leafing through my stacks of back (print) issues (and do so on a regular basis, between random curiosity, researching a project, and looking up something for NJBRC business). As someone who has written for (and, more importantly, reported sightings to) the journal in the past, I can't help but wonder what the future holds for NJB. I do hope it continues, since it is an essential source of information on the state's birds.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mothy Monday 3: Spring Cankerworm Moth

Take Two
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
I'm kind of surprised that I haven't yet seen a Green Cloverworm Moth this year (they are fairly hardy). But now it's March and, right on schedule, a Spring Cankerworm Moth showed up a few days ago. I also found a Phigalia sp. (possibly The Half-wing, or possibly not) over the weekend; again, Phigalias (Phigaliae?) tend to show up early in the season.

Spring Cankerworm Moths are unassuming gray Geometers that hold their wings more like Noctuids (i.e., not spread like a pinned specimen as many Geometers do but folded over the moth's back).

George Wenzelburger

Yesterday, Bob Dodelson reported the passing of George Wenzelburger to the JerseyBirds listserv. George had been ill for some time, so this news was not exactly a surprise, but it was still very sad news.

I did not know George well or long. I never had the opportunity to go birding with him. I made his acquaintance when I became involved with the NJ Bird Records Committee. During George's last term on the committee, spring meetings were customarily held at his house in Freehold, where he and his wife were the best of hosts. I wish I could say something more profound, but that will probably come from those who knew him best. I can only say I deeply regret his passing and my thoughts are with his family and friends.

If you have a stack of old issues of (Records of) New Jersey Birds, you might pull out volume 29, number 4 (the winter 2003-2004 issue), and read George's writeup on NJ's first (and so far only) Masked Booby.

Rest in peace.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mothy Monday 2: Unidentified Noctuid

First Moth of 2009
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
On this snowy, blustery, not at all springy March day, it's probably appropriate to post the first moth of the season. It's a Noctuid, perhaps from the Eupsilia genus, but beyond that I dare not go. Moth identification makes Empidonax flycatchers look easy (because Emps sing and call, at least). The first moth of the season is still a sign of spring, though, just as much as the Red-winged Blackbirds setting up shop on the creek out back.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Barnegat Bird Names

Harlequin Ducks
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
A trip out the jetty at Barnegat last weekend provides an excuse to list some historic game bird names from Barnegat gunners (via Trumbull's Names and Portraits of Birds...

Big Yellow-leg - Greater Yellowlegs
Black-breast Plover - Black-bellied Plover
Blaten Duck - Gadwall
Brant-snipe - Dunlin
Broad-bill - Greater Scaup
Brown-back - Short-billed Dowitcher
Checkered-snipe - Ruddy Turnstone
Cock-robin - Hooded Merganser
Cock-robin Duck - Hooded Merganser
Crow-duck - American Coot
Cub-head - Common Goldeneye
Dowitch - Short-billed Dowitcher
Field Plover - Upland Sandpiper
Fresh-water Broad-bill - Lesser Scaup
Fresh-water Sheldrake - Common Merganser
Gray Plover - Black-belled Plover
Krieker - Pectoral Sandpiper
Large Yellow-leg - Greater Yellowlegs
Little Yellow-leg - Lesser Yellowlegs
Marlin - Marbled Godwit
Mud-hen - Clapper Rail
Ring-tailed Marlin - Hudsonian Godwit
Robin-snipe - Red Knot
Salt-water Sheldrake - Red-breasted Merganser
Sleepy Broad-bill - Ruddy Duck
Small Curlew - Whimbrel
Small Yellow-leg - Lesser Yellowlegs
Spoon-bill - Northern Shoveller
Sprig-tail - Northern Pintail
Telltale - Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs

The birds that illustrate this post, Harlequin Ducks, are generally expected by birders visiting Barnegat today, but according to Trumbull in the day, did not get much south of Salem, Massachusetts. In their accepted range, they were usually known as "lord and lady."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bridled Tern

On this day in 1951, Evelyn and Quintin Kramer found a carcass of a long-dead Bridled Tern at Island Beach State Park in Ocean County. Subsequent records of the species have been associated with hurricanes and tropical storms, when it is almost expected (if not quite as common as Sooty Tern in these circumstances).

The obituary of Quintin Kramer that appeared in Cassinia contains the following: "During World War II, Quintin and Evelyn did most of their birding by public transportation and shank's mare. They walked the Jersey beaches for miles and found numerous dead birds, including an occasional rare species" (Peniston 1976). Presumably, this tern was carried north with a tropical storm during the summer of 1950. Unisys shows 13 storms for that season; the likeliest candidates to drop a tropical tern in NJ would seem to be Able and Dog (but I'm open to contrary opinions from those who have studied the intersection of hurricanes and birds in more detail than I have). In any case, the Kramers came along after the fact, and the specimen in question now resides at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Peniston, Howell. 1976. Quintin Kramer 1908-1975. Cassinia 56: 6. PDF here

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bohemian Waxwing

On this day in 1962, a Bohemian Waxwing was found in Princeton, Mercer County. The bird stayed until the 9th and was seen by many; NJ's second and third records followed quickly, with another bird at Riverton in Burlington County on 17 March, and one at Flemington Junction in Hunterdon County 10-22 April.

As one might surmise from this cluster of records, the winter of 1961-1962 was a good one for Bohemian Waxwings. Like many winter irruptive species, the best cue to look out for them in NJ is their presence in nearby states. They sometimes appear in small numbers along the coast in a flight year (Sandy Hook and Island Beach are good places to check), but they can turn up anywhere.

A somewhat amusing footnote to the first state record is that the sighting was written up in the New York Times by an unnamed author. This brief note is worth seeking out if you want a lay person's view of birding in the early 1960s. The waxwing is referred to as "jaunty and resplendent," and the roll call of other winter irruptives reported in that season included, "Red-breasted nuthatches, redpolls, browncapped (or arboreal) chickadees and pine grosbeaks" (Anon. 1962). Even making allowances for the arboreal chickadees, it sounds like the winter of 1961-1962 was not a bad time to be a birder.

Anonymous. 1962. Bohemian Waxwing Is Spotted in Jersey in Rare Appearance. New York Times February 27, 1962, p. 35.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Mothy Monday 1: Large Tolype

Large Tolype
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
Go figure; I'm going to try to get myself back in the groove of posting to my birding blog by writing a moth post.

I first saw a Large Tolype at a rest stop not far from Sturbridge, Massachusetts. My cohorts and I were chasing (unsuccessfully) the Western Reef-Heron that was being reported from New Hampshire. I had just gotten my digital camera and had already had my interest piqued by moths, so I couldn't resist taking some photos of the moths on the side of a fast-food restaurant. It's a good thing that the manager (who came out to see what the heck we were up to) didn't call local law enforcement.

Then, a few days after I came home, I found a Tolype outside my door. That's the one you see here.

Tolypes are part of the Lasiocampidae, or Tent Caterpillar and Lappet Moths.