The Cape Cod Bird Festival

How To Be A Better BirderIn our continuing quest to bring you all things avian this fall migration season, below is a blog post by Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder. On his blog, Maine Birding Field Notes, he posts all about his bird-sightings and bird events, including the Cape Cod Bird Festival.

Derek Lovitch has worked on avian research and education projects throughout the United States, has written numerous articles for birding publications, and was a columnist for Birding magazine. He now owns and runs Freeport Wild Bird Supply in Maine.

Plus make sure you check out the bottom of this post for some exciting free downloads and giveaways!


A Weekend at the Cape Cod Bird Festival

Other than a departure point for pelagics, it has been over 15 years since I have birded Cape Cod.  Too long.  Every late summer and early fall in particular, it’s “we really should get to the Cape” for shorebirds, especially South Beach and Monomoy Island.  Well, my visit this weekend only wet my pallet for a future, more birding-intensive visit.

I was asked to join the Leica Sports Optics team of good friends Jeff Bouton and David La Puma at their booth for the first annual Cape Cod Bird Festival.  As the only Authorized Leica Optics dealer in Northern New England, I had multiple roles to play.  First, it was to be the retailer of any optics sales.  Secondly, I was there to use my first-hand experience in telling the story of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Leica has recently become a leading sponsor of the international effort to save this unique species.  And finally, I was there to sign some copies of my book.  Oh yeah, and do some birding and beer-ing with Jeff and David, of course.

The weather forecasts as of Thursday suggested that some good movements of migrants were about to occur.  I went to bed optimistic that the first flight would occur behind the front for Friday morning (see previous blog entry), but as I woke up to rain still falling, I knew that this was not to be.  Therefore, I began my trek southward, stopping for a short visit at Fort Foster in Kittery.  That short visit lasted a little longer than expected, as I found not one, but TWO Connecticut Warblers!

With rain still falling, I left the camera in the car.  Of course, this usually results in some exceptional photographic opportunity.  Yup, sure did.  A Connecticut Warbler (CONW) – normally a frustratingly secretive skulker in migration, walked out (the fact that it was walking, one foot in front of the other, rather than hopping itself helps to clinch the birds’ identity) onto a low branch at the edge of thick brush.  I lamented the lack of a camera, but was enthralled with my view.

A short while later, I was even more shocked to see a second CONW walking out into the relative open!  This time, I remembered that there was an iPhone in my pocket, and out of sheer desperation, I held it up to my binoculars and shot away.  It actually worked…a phone-binned CONW!  (This, as a friend pointed out, may have been a first-ever occurrence).  My best shot – relatively speaking of course – was this one.
CONW_edited-1

But this other shot nicely shows the very pink legs and exceptionally long undertail coverts.
CONW2_Fort_Foster,Kittery, 9-13-13

Oddly enough, with the exception of plenty of Common Yellowthroats, I only encountered three migrant warblers this morning…and two were CONW!  (The other being my first Palm Warbler in southern Maine this fall).  After stopping at Kelly’s Roast Beef, I finally arrived at my destination for the weekend, The Cape Codder in Hyannis.

Meeting up with David and Jeff, we got to work, and it was nice to run into quite a few other friends over the course of the weekend.  David – radar guru and creator of www.Woodcreeper.com – and I were (I know this will come as a surprise) glued to the NEXRAD images and wind forecasts in the evening, hoping to make a sound prediction for the hot birding.

IMG_1556_David_Leica,9-14-13
David works with the next generation of Leica fans.

Well, perhaps we should have tried elsewhere, as Harding Beach in Chatham was not the place to be.  In fact, we tallied the reorienting migrants on one hand (although we didn’t exactly make it there in time for sunrise).  There weren’t many passerines around the woods at Morris Island, either.  Looking at the overnight radar images, and seeing that winds were light north (instead of the forecasted NW), it was obvious that the big flight out onto the Cape just didn’t occur.  I guess the silver lining to this was that we didn’t have too hard of a time pulling ourselves away to spend the rest of the day inside.

At least I had my brand new review copy – thanks to the good folks over at the Houghton Mifflin booth – of the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by my friends Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox to page through.
IMG_2093_edited-1

And look who I found inside!
IMG_2095_edited-1

Come evening, we enjoyed seeing Pete Dunne in his native habitat: captivating a room full of birders with his story-telling.
Pete_Dunne_atCCBF,9-14-13

Afterwards, David and I checked the radar once again.  And once again, we saw birds on the radar, but few birds east of Boston.  Take a look at the 1am radar and velocity images from the Boston area NEXRAD.  The winds were just too light to push birds well out of Cape Cod Bay, apparently.

1am radar,Boston,9-15-131am velocity, Boston,9-15-13

At least we didn’t have to make a decision as to where to start the day, as the three of us were on our way to the harbor to take part in the festival’s pelagic trip.  Like the waters north of Cape Cod (until your reach the waters off of Mount Desert Island), the summer seabirding has been dreadfully slow overall, so expectations were not too high.  The first half of the trip was living up to said low expectations, but things really picked up in the last few hours, as were well east of Cape Cod.  While the least expected seabird (for the season and the area) was probably the Leach’s Storm-Petrel, the highlight for me was this cooperative juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger.
DSC_0022_juvLTJA2,offCapeCod,9-15-13DSC_0024_juvLTJA1,offCapeCod,9-15-13

Although a fairly dark individual, we can see the fairly slim build, small head and bill, and overall more “gentle” appearance.  I flight, it seemed slim and attenuated.  The photos show the two white primary shafts on the upperwing, and the rounded central tail feathers.

We also saw at least two Parasitic Jaegers, including this one chasing a juvenile Common Tern.DSC_0013_PAJA_ad2,off Cape Cod, 9-15-13DSC_0016_PAJAad1,offCape Cod,9-15-13

Four more unidentified, distant jaegers added to the strong finish – any day with jaegers is a good day in my book.  Other highlights included a Black Tern, 14 Sooty, 5 Great, and 1 Manx Shearwater, some good looks at Red-necked Phalaropes, two Basking Sharks and a Mola Mola, but only a couple of Minke Whales.  The cloud of Tree Swallows over Monomoy was quite impressive, as were some of the offshore landbirds: a Cape May Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, a Northern Harrier, and an immature Black-crowned Night Heron – the latter of which was voicing its displeasure about being about 15 miles from shore, heading back north towards the Cape.  Three bats – at least one that I conclusively identified as a Red Bats, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two early Great Cormorants, and a “pelagic” Cloudless Sulfur rounded out what, in the end, was actually a fairly productive outing.

It was a long drive home afterwards, however.  Luckily, southwesterly winds suggested I wouldn’t have to wake up early to get to Sandy Point for dawn.  However, take a look at the radar image.  Once again, I’ve included the 1am image for the example.  It looks like a ton of birds!
1amradar,9-16-131amvelocity,9-16-13
But the velocity image suggested little to no speed for whatever was in the air (it was not foggy last night), so I do not know what it was.

There was little overhead in the morning in either our yard or at Old Town House Park, so I don’t think I was mistaken about this not being a big flight of birds.  Furthermore, in a short listening session before going to bed, I heard very, very little.

Tonight, however…well, let’s just say that I will be at Sandy Point tomorrow morning!  I just hope the winds stay more northwesterly than north, or – gasp – northeasterly by morning as currently suggested by the wind forecast I like to use.
11pm wind forecast,9-16-13

To check out the post on Derek Lovitch’s blog, click here.


Plus, don’t forget to check out our Rafflecopter giveaway event!

Our prize package includes a copy of The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide.

How to win? Visit this post for details, but there are numerous ways to win, including liking any of the three books Facebook pages, emailing us at blog@press.princeton.edu, signing up for our email alerts for Bird and Natural History Titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/,or tweeting at @PrincetonNature or at any of the author’s Twitter pages (@IDCrossleyGuide or @The WarblerGuide). The winner will be selected at the beginning of October.

And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.

Leave a comment if you saw one of these this weekend

Of course, that’s if you can figure out what “one of these” is.

credit Scott Whittle

Photo Credit: Scott Whittle, author of The Warbler Guide

Maybe these icons from this bird’s entry in The Warbler Guide will help you figure out the ID:

Capture

Happy warbling!

The Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle Fall Warbler Warm-Up

StephensonTom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, authors of The Warbler Guide, have begun blogging like crazy as the fall migration season begins. Their blog, TheWarblerGuide.com, contains posts like the one below, which we will be posting here as well for your bird-viewing pleasure.

Tom Stephenson’s articles and photos have appeared in Birding and Bird Watcher’s Digest, at Surfbirds.com, and in the Handbook of the Birds of the World. He has guided groups across the United States and Asia. A musician, he has had several Grammy and Academy Award winners as clients, and was director of technology at Roland Corporation.

Scott Whittle lives in Cape May, New Jersey, and has twenty years of experience as a professional photographer and educator. He holds an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York, is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony, and is a onetime New York State Big Year record holder.

Plus make sure you check out the bottom of this post for some exciting free downloads and giveaways!


Fall is here (for birders, anyway) and warbler migration is underway!  We thought it might be a good time to try a quiz on one of the more frequently confused warblers… here it is:

CAMWAR100911_25v2.jpg

Quiz photos can be a little weird since you only get one look at the bird, and they lack all the other useful cues we use when birding like habitat, behavior, probability, etc…but that’s part of the fun!  Let’s supplement a little here – this bird seems smallish, it’s actively picking insects out of this low cedar, and it’s in Cape May, NJ in September.  Once or twice we see it chase another warbler away from the branch it’s on.  So now that the scene is set, let’s get started.

First, this is a drab bird.  Mostly gray, with some greenish/yellowish tinging, the first issue with this bird is finding ANY field marks!  Actually, that impression of a “lack” of field marks is a good clue, and is a common experience with this bird.

Looking at the finders in the Warbler Guide, I see a few possibilities…

07-11_Warblers_109,115_110-111v1.jpg

So what can we look at that might narrow it down?  Let’s get beyond the “plain gray” thing and see what we can see…the bird has a fine pointy bill, and it looks slightly drooped or decurved.  There is some blurry streaking that goes through the flanks, and maybe the faintest, patchy yellow tinge around the breast.  If I look at the finder, I can eliminate the birds that don’t have distinct streaking:

07-11_Warblers_109,115_110-111v2.jpg

I see two other birds I can eliminate here…the Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) has yellow shoulder patches, and a white malar/throat, which our bird lacks, and the Palm Warbler has a yellow undertail and wide supercillium, while our bird’s undertail is white, with only an eyeline and eye arcs.  Also, Palm warbler is a habitual tail-pumper, and this bird isn’t doing that.

So now we’re down to three birds: Blackburnian, Blackpoll and Cape May.
07-11_Warblers_109,115_110-111v3a.jpg

Cape May_230-231.jpg
There are a couple more details about this bird that I think will confirm our ID.  First, look at the wings – see the greenish edging on the flight feathers?  Also note that there is actually a greenish-yellow rump on this bird.  Both those marks are excellent…the greenish edging to the feathers is diagnostic for a grayish bird, and the rump is shared only by Yellow-rumped Warbler (which we eliminated) and Magnolia Warbler (which is a brighter yellow, and is actually higher up on the back…the base of the rump is black).  So I think we’ve arrived…it’s a Cape May Warbler!

Next time a drab gray warbler turns up, we now know to check a couple of things… greenish wing edging?  Yellow-green rump?  Fine, pointy bill on a smallish bird?  Aggressive behavior (hence the nickname “Tiger of the Woods”)?  Blurry streaks in the flanks, often with a little patchy yellow in the breast?  And finally (not shown in the quiz photo), fine streaking that extends across the upper breast?  All of these are good indicators that should nudge you towards a Cape May.  Let’s hope we see lots of these great birds this fall!

CAMWAR100911_25edge.jpg

To view this blog on TheWarblerGuide.com, click here.


Plus, don’t forget to check out our Rafflecopter giveaway event!

Our prize package includes a copy of The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide.

How to win? Visit this post for details, but there are numerous ways to win, including liking any of the three books Facebook pages, emailing us at blog@press.princeton.edu, signing up for our email alerts for Bird and Natural History Titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/,or tweeting at @PrincetonNature or at any of the author’s Twitter pages (@IDCrossleyGuide or @The WarblerGuide). The winner will be selected at the beginning of October.

And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, check out the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.

Using radar and weather to predict bird fall out during migration season, a quick case study from Derek Lovitch

I am crossposting this from Derek Lovitch’s blog. He has had two amazing days watching migrating birds (a complete list of his sightings is available on his blog, so if you want to be struck with true envy over an amazing tally, head there), but what really interests me and is useful to our migration feature this month, is how he uses radar and maps to predict what birds he’ll see and where to find them. So, I have left the bird list alone and present here the meat and potatoes of his post. I hope it helps everyone understand the power of using weather/radar/maps during migration time:

 

Simply put: wow!  That was one heck of a flight on Day 1.  In fact, it was downright overwhelming at times – flocks of flickers, waves of warblers, packs of waxwings.  It was almost too much to count, and thankfully, Jenny Howard agreed (OK, so maybe I didn’t exactly ask, but beg) to tally flickers for the busiest part of the morning for me. That helped a whole lot.

After a flood like the morning of Day 1, I am not disappointed by the slow, but steady trickle through the point this morning on Day 2.  It was a more manageable number to count, with quite a few birds lower than yesterday, and often only a few at a time; it was easier to sort through.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting Day 2 to be quite this good.  And despite really only a “good” flight, parulas had their second highest tally – I didn’t think there would be any left after yesterday’s flight!  And yes, this more manageable flight was more “enjoyable,” if considerably less awe-inspiring.

So, what made me have lower expectations for today?  Let’s go to the radar!

First, the massive flight overnight Monday into Tuesday that led to all of the records yesterday.  I have included the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images:
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cd

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Combined, these images show a very strong flight all night long, with a lot of birds offshore come twilight, and likely a lot of birds arriving at the coast come dawn.  Looking at that image when I went to bed, and when I awoke, coupled with the light northwesterly winds all night left no doubt that things would be hopping at Sandy Point.  And, as we now know, there most certainly was. If you see a radar image that looks like this – go birding in the morning!

In fact, it was a good day all-around for migrants, and everywhere we looked up yesterday, raptors were on the move.

winds, 110am,9-17-13

Now, let’s take a look a the radar and velocity images from 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am last night:
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mn

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As night fell Tuesday night (Day 1, ed note), clear and mostly calm conditions let birds take to the air once again – but not nearly as many as the night before (pre-Day 1). Notice how much smaller the area of return is, and how much less dense? Meanwhile, the velocity image was much less distinctly fast-moving, north-to-south as the previous night (of course, with little to no wind, the ground speed of the birds would be less anyway) – a little more ambiguous than the night before.  Furthermore, with a forecast for westerly winds (not as good as northwesterly), and the chance that they would become southwesterly by dawn, I did consider skipping Sandy Point this morning, but with the rest of the week looking even less productive, I knew I had to give it a go.

And, obviously, I am glad that I did.  But upon returning to the store, and checking those above radar images once again, I find it a bit odd that the radar image (small in diameter, but very dense) did not translate to a more distinct velocity image.  Perhaps there was a lot of slow-moving stuff up there (insects, pollen, dust, etc) that clouded the motion of the birds.  Either way, it was a good night for flying, and if it’s a good night for flying, it’s a good morning to be at Sandy Point!

 

j9671[1]Derek Lovitch has worked on avian research and education projects throughout the United States, has written numerous articles for birding publications, and was a columnist for Birding magazine. He now owns and runs Freeport Wild Bird Supply in Maine. He is also author of How to Be a Better Birder which you can check out here.

Migration Sweepstakes — enter to win everything you need to make the most of Fall birdwatching!

To kick off our Migration blog coverage, we’re taking to the skies with a Rafflecopter giveaway event!

Our prize package includes a copy of The Warbler Guide, The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide.

How to win? There are numerous ways to win, including liking any of the three books Facebook pages, emailing us at blog@press.princeton.edu, signing up for our email alerts for Bird and Natural History Titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/,or tweeting at @PrincetonNature or at any of the author’s Twitter pages (@IDCrossleyGuide or @The WarblerGuide). Just follow the steps in the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at the beginning of October.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Audio Companion for The Warbler Guide is now available

Click here to download the audio companion for The Warbler Guide

Click here to download The Audio Companion for The Warbler Guide
Learn how to use The Audio Companion:
Audio companion booklet [PDF]
Sample audio files:
304 c Hooded Type A1
371 c Northern Parula Black-throated Blue A3 vs B
438 c Tennessee Type A1

The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle is the first identification guide for warblers to focus on both the physical characteristics AND the songs, calls, and chips. As promised, the authors have assembled a downloadable audio companion for the book that contains every audio example (over 1,000) found in the book.

The Audio Companion ($5.99, via Macaulay Library) will make the sonograms and song and call analysis “come to life” for readers. These audio files are organized and labeled to ensure seamless cross referencing from the text to your favorite mp3 player.

The authors have also helpfully used sonograms for album art for individual sound files, so readers can more easily match the vocalization to the text.

To download the audio companion, please visit http://macaulaylibrary.org/guide/the-warbler-guide

The audio companion booklet [PDF] explains the features and how to use the audio files: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/AudioCompanion_Booklet.pdf

Here’s a video that explains how to download and use the audio companion.

How to Use The Warbler Guide‘s Species Accounts

 

Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle have created the most innovative and complete guide to warblers available in their forthcoming book The Warbler Guide. We will be posting a series of videos that highlight and explain how to use some of the key features of the book over the coming weeks. In this video, they describe the features of the species accounts which have been optimized to make them easy to use and to aid in identification.

Click here to learn more about The Warbler Guide. The book will be available July 2013.
For more tips on how to use The Warbler Guide and how to identify warblers in the field, please see additional videos in this series.