Migration: Watch it Live on Radar

Doppler radar image originally posted by Badbirdz--Reloaded.com. Click image for animation.

What does spring migration look like? Until now I could only imagine it. I’ve often wondered where I could find up-to-date tracking information on bird migrations. Building a strategic network of bird alerts to subscribe to and read each day would be one method, of course. Recently though, I discovered not one but two birding blogs that present Doppler radar tracking of migrating flocks: Badbirdz–Reloaded, based in Florida, and Woodcreeper, which covers New Jersey. Their posts from the last few days — Feeling the Zugunruhe! [migration restlessness] and Migrants Just Making it into New Jersey offer animated Doppler radar images of birds on the move. Fascinating!

According to Badbirdz–Reloaded, both sites were inspired by Noel Wamer, a birder from Northeast Florida with a passion for tracking bird migrations using radar. Noel was apparently quite a personality, as a Woodcreeper tribute post to him from March 2007 attests.

If Noel taught these bloggers how to use radar to track birds then he has done a great service to everyone. Both sites extend that knowledge with pages for explaining how this is done. Badbirdz–Reloaded.com has a Birds and Radar Primer with several important links, including a New Jersey Audubon article How NEXRAD Sees the Atmosphere. Woodcreeper.com provides a Radar & Migration FAQ with a link to Radar Ornithology: Introduction  of the Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab.

Although it seems to be a firmly established field, radar ornithology represents a whole new aspect of birding for me. It is exciting to discover a brand new aspect of hobby that you’ve been enjoying for some time. There is so much to read and learn. I better hurry though. The birds are coming and now I can see them.

Binocular Diplomacy

Andean Condor, Ecuador's National Bird (Wikipedia Creative Commons photo)(Wikipedia, Creative Commons, Emilio de Prado)

The newest issue of the American Citizen Services newsletter out of the American Embassy in Quito, Ecuador is available. The lead article was a bit of a surprise. It highlights Ambassador Heather Hodges personal hobby — birding.

Ecuador is, of course, one of the best birding locations in the world with about 1,600 different species recorded there. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the mountains and the friendliness of all the people I met when I spent a week birding there.

Many people know and truly appreciate that birding is an excellent way to learn about a place, its landscape, infrastructure, ecology, and its people. Ambassador Hodges combines both work and pleasure when she goes birding and that is clearly her intent.

The Ambassador’s birding knowledge and her growing
interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation have
made her welcome in Ecuador’s active environment and conservation circles. In late 2010, she brought together federal and municipal government officials, non-governmental organizations and private foundations to jointly work to secure land for a new national wildlife reserve that will help protect watersheds and rare bird species, including Ecuador’s national bird, the Andean Condor


Birding the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Green Jay, Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX

In January, my partner and I were on a birding vacation traveling between South Padre Island and McAllen/Bensen State Park, Tx. The first three days we enjoyed the beautiful, warm type of days we had planned on. After that, a dramatic cold front rolled in with temperatures in the low 40’s F (4.5 C) and winds gusting 20-30 mph (32-48 kph).

Nevertheless, the birding was good and we added a respectable number and selection of birds to our life lists — including, but not limited to:

    black-vented oriole (at the trailer park near Benson SP)
    neotropical parula (Estero Llano Grande SP)
    white-tailed kite & white-tailed hawk (Laguna Atascosa NWP)
    crimson-collared grosbeak (Pharr, Tx)
    vermillion flycatcher (McAllen, Tx)
    greater peewee (McAllen, Tx)
    common pauraque (in broad daylight and only 3 feet away! Estero Llano Grande SP)

and several others including, for me a long-sought southwest native, the roadrunner! (Don’t laugh, I’ve looked for these in Arizona, Nevada, and California to no avail. At Laguna Atascosa we watched a pair of them for ten minutes).

It was not the sunny, winter get-away that we had hoped for but it was very rewarding. I’ve posted some pictures in my Facebook photo album.

Slaughter on the Street: Philly Raptor Makes it to YouTube

The attack took place in broad daylight and on the side of the street — on top of a car, in fact. And although the bystanders did not call 911, they did use their phones to take pictures! Even more amazing, the killer posed for them while standing over his victim. This happened on 8th St. between Chestnut and Market in Philadelphia. The killer was a red-tailed hawk. The victim, a pigeon. Luckily one of the spectators had a video camera and posted a really clear clip of the hawk standing over his lunch and acting unperturbed by all of the close-up attention.

This is an amazing scene but seeing raptors in Center City Philadelphia has become almost commonplace. Their are two kinds I’ve seen myself: red-tail hawks, Cooper’s hawk (in my own back yard and in Rittenhouse Square). There are also peregrine falcons – which sometimes even attack the hawks (see clip below).

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Inga Saffron reports on the raptor situation in Philadelphia (good article): City’s New Pastime: Talon Shows.

Other videos:

Young hawk rescued after falcon attack
Hawk in a tree (with colorful commentary)
Rodent bites the dust in Rittenhouse Square
Pigeon loses its head – literally
Another lunch break in Rittenhouse Square

I think this is great, the raptors help keep the rodent and pigeon populations in check; however, dog walkers are advised to keep their Yorkies and Chihuahuas on very short leashes.

Presentation to the Humboldt Society

My partner Michael and I will be presenting a travelogue of our January 2011 trip to Brownsville and McAllen, Texas.

Details are at the Humbolt Society website.

A Tavelogue Presentation by Michael and Michael

Treat yourself to a vacation in Southeastern Texas –vicariously– by joining Michael LoFurno and Michael Thompson as they present photos from their January 2011 birding trip to Brownsville, Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley. A lush sub-tropical paradise? Well, not exactly, but the birding is indeed exceptional. The Brownsville-McAllen Texas area is a Mecca for birders hoping to add that stray Mexican specimen to their US bird list. It is a perennial meeting place for migrants and vagrants and an indispensable stop for birders doing a Big Year. This presentation is chock full of bird photos so, please, join us


Empty Bay – Space Coast, Ghost Coast?

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast and visited the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL. I had a great time. The area was even more interesting than I had expected, and my expectations were more developed than those a kid might have on a family outing to the Space Coast today. The names Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach were spoken in my house 5 days a week for 5 years. They came through the TV soaked in the comedy and magic of I Dream of Jeannie. In addition, the glamor of the place was also enhanced by the very real successes of the folks who lived there during my childhood. I was privileged to watch Neil Armstrong and the others walking on the moon through live TV broadcasts.

So, I had an idea of what Cocoa Beach would look like. It doesn’t look like that of course. It actually looks like a smaller, tamer version of Myrtle Beach, SC, but since I grew up vacationing at Myrtle Beach I adjusted to that very quickly. The images of my childhood, though, paled in comparison to my adult interests that were fully engaged by the close-up tour I took at the Kennedy Space Center and the excellent time I had birding the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I was as happy to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay from no less than 10 feet away as I was to walk around the enormous carcass of a Saturn V rocket lying on its side. [Flickr photos]

This reminiscing was sparked by an article I read this morning on Tampa Bay’s 10Connects.com titled: “Economically, Space Coast better off than when Apollo program ended.” The reference is to the unemployment the area is expected to suffer with the ending of the Shuttle Program this year and into early 2011. The overall impact on Brevard Co. will not be as great as it was when Apollo ended, although it will come on top of an already depressed economy in general. Real Estate prices might drop even further.

After I read the article the thought struck me — man, it would be a good time to get a beach house in Brevard Co. or even just take a birding vacation there in 2011 for Spring Migration. Eventually, there will another boom when the next manned-space flight program cranks ups, whether that will be aiming at the moon, at Mars, or at the asteroids in between, and prices and crowds will grow again.

Birthday at Roatan and Belize’s Barrier Reef

Three years ago I learned of a Caribbean island called Roatan by following news about hurricane Felix. That was 2007 and the entry was called: Discovery by Hurricane. That brief post is one of the most visited on this blog, probably because of folks searching for Roatan as a cruise destination. Well, I’ll be actually visiting Roatan myself in a couple of weeks. My partner is taking me on a Caribbean cruise for my birthday this month.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, but I know that I love being on boats and the open water. The cruise is with Norwegian Cruise Lines and runs from Miami to Isla Roatan, Belize City, Coasta Maya, Mexico, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. In addition to the cruise he booked two snorkeling excurisions one in Belize and one in the Bahamas.

It’s hard to say what I’m looking forward to the most — being out in the Caribbean on a ship or snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef. As I mentioned in my 2007 blog entry, that reef is the world’s second largest. Since I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef once, this will be an excellent experience to add to that.

I’ve been studying a field guide for Belize since I learned we would be going. If my photos turn out well I’ll post them to my Flickr account where I have currently pictures from our Jan. 2009 trip to Ecuador.

I’m also looking forward to birding while in the Caribbean. From the map of our route it looks like we will be passing near the Cuban coast on the way out from Miami and back. There might be some good pelagic birding opportunities and I’m considering taking our birding scope and tripod to see shearwaters, petrels, tropic- and frigatebirds, etc.

This trip is an excellent present and a great, although belated, follow-up to that blog post from 2007.

The Franklin Institute’s Red Tail

(Photo copyrighted by Derek Ram 2007, GNU Free Documentation Lic., posted to Wikipedia)

Two red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) set up housekeeping on the side of Philadelphia’s science museum – The Franklin Institute. Staff members have installed a web cam so that anyone can follow the pair’s efforts to raise their three, very recently hatched, chicks. There is no artificial lighting so you’ll need to watch during daylight hours (Eastern Daylight Time).

Also recently hatched are three bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) chicks in Sidney, British Columbia. This nest can be seen on the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, a site for streaming wildlife cams.

Tandayapa, Ecuador Photos

Cloud forest

Originally uploaded by Michlt

I’ve added an additional set of  Ecuador photos to my Flickr.com account. These are selected photos taken while we were staying at Tandayapa Bird Lodge. While there we birded on the old Nono-Mindo road and we spent the better part of a day at Angel Paz’ family farm. Their main crop is blackberries, but they also raise cattle and grow corn and ‘tree tomatoes’ (tomate de árbol). They supplement their farming income with eco-tourism dollars. The big draw is an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and three different antpittas (giant, yellow-breasted, and moustached) which Angel, by means of extreme patience, has persuaded to overcome their renowned timidity…. for wages — he pays with clean and carefully cut up earthworms.