2016 is almost over, and without question it is the fastest a year has passed for me in my life. Something tells me fatherhood is the reason for the speed. The little man is growing up so fast I can hardly stand it. If only I could squeeze him back into that little baby shape he was before, but then I’d miss the adorable rambunctious toddler that he is now. Watching my son grow up is the first time I’ve truly understood the word ‘bittersweet’.
I am excited for 2017. My story Three Thousand, Two Hundred and Eighty Miles to Boston will be published in Phobos Magazine, and in January I will be attending the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp. From what I’ve read on blogs from past attendees, and from what I’ve discussed with Tom Monteleone himself (the few times I’ve had the pleasure to speak to him in person), it’s going to be one hell of a weekend. Emphasis on HELL. I’m feeling ready for it.
Now that the sun is setting before the family is even home from work, birding has come to a near stand still. I have gotten to see a handful of new birds, though, and snapped a nice photo of a Dark-eyed Junco over the weekend. Otherwise, I suspect my birding activities will be a bit sparse until the weather warms up, or I’m able to snatch a few weekend mornings to myself.
I blog so infrequently that I’ve toyed with the idea of closing the blog portion of this site entirely. I may be moving the site over to Squarespace in the near future, and it’s a decision I’ll make when that gets finalized. Until then, who knows. I will probably not blog again until 2017, so, if you’re reading this, I’ll see you then.
There are at least two female American Redstarts, and one male, that I have been seeing regularly at Lake Roland the past two weeks. These birds are very small, and I love the subtle yellow coloring of the female, as seen in the above photo. I would not expect many personal photos of warblers while my main bird photography equipment is a smart phone, so John’s wonderful photo will do for this post.
My goal for August was to meet or exceed the number of species I saw in July, and I’m happy to report that I accomplished it. You can see my checklists at my eBird profile (a new feature at eBird), but I believe you need to be an eBird member to view it. If you are, the link is: http://ebird.org/ebird/profile/NzU2NzU3/US-MD-005.
July total: 65 August total: 70
September brings fall migration, so I hope to once more meet or exceed the previous month’s total. We’ll see how I do! One challenge I face, being so new, is correctly IDing the myriad of Flycatchers and Wood Warblers that are around. The Flycatchers tend to all look nearly identical, and the Wood Warblers tend to move so quickly, at such a distance, that it can be difficult to catch a glimpse of tell-tale field marks. Some (like the American Redstart or Black and White Warbler) are easier to ID at a glance, but others (Northern Parula and Magnolia Warbler) can look exactly alike if they happen to flit by in a blur of gray and yellow.
(Baltimore Oriole, 8/27/16, Lake Roland Boardwalk)
If it wasn’t obvious, I do most of my birding at Lake Roland. This is mostly a matter of convenience, as it is right down the road from our house, and working out farther places on a 14 month old’s schedule can be challenging. That said, it’s a great place to practice my birding skills. However, I had been going mostly in the evening, and seeing the same assortment of 15-20 birds each time. I did spend some time looking for shore birds and spotted my first Killdeer, which was exciting, but these evening jaunts were really about Harrison, and spending time with him at Acorn Hill. I wanted to get more time focused on birds, and the answer was sunrise. Arriving at Lake Roland just as the gates open, around 6:30am, and spending about two hours on my own. So far, it’s been great, and I am seeing so many birds I either a) have never seen before or b) can’t even identify. It’s exciting.
The above picture is a Baltimore Oriole (one of three) spotted this morning. I am extremely happy with how that photo turned out, considering it was taken haphazardly with my Galaxy S5 through my binoculars.
Here is the full checklist of everything I saw (including entries for warblers I was unable to ID, as well as several flycatchers I could not make any ID on).
Included in that list is what was, until this morning, my current nemesis bird: the Scarlet Tanager. I did not expect to see them today, and was both happy and a little sad about it; happy to have seen them, sad that Nat wasn’t here as well. We’ve both been on the lookout for quite some time. Also included is a Yellow-throated Vireo. This was a challenging one to ID, though I am confident that I am calling this correctly. At first, I thought it was a Prothonotary Warbler (and actually there is a remote chance I saw both, but the only confident ID I have is the Vireo, so I will leave the Prothonotary off the list until I can 100% ID it another time) but as it fluttered between trees I caught a much better look, and saw the white wing bars. There was a clearly yellow, smooth head with dark wings as well. I was able to watch this bird for a solid 5-7 minutes, noting down everything I could, and made the final ID at home.
My plan is to do a sunrise bird-watch at Cromwell Valley tomorrow morning. We’ll see how that goes!
And, because I thought it was pretty wild, here is a clip I captured of a Great Blue Heron perched in a tree just off the boardwalk last weekend, around 6:30am.
Another fun thing that happened this morning was running into a fellow birder named Peter Lev. I’d seen his checklists on eBird many times, and we birded together on the boardwalk for about 15 minutes before it was time for me to pack up shop and head home. Nathalie and I recently applied to join the Baltimore Bird Club officially, and I am really looking forward to meeting more Baltimore birders, as well as taking part in their group bird walks.
And Harrison went down for an early nap, giving me time to write up this post. All in all, it’s been a great morning.
Every now and again a bird sits still enough for me to get a half-decent photograph with my phone. That was the case with the above photo of a female Northern Cardinal at Lake Roland this past Friday. I purchased a device that allows me to attach my phone directly to my binocular eye piece, which helps, and shows that it is possible to get good-looking bird photography with such a budget setup. In order to potentially snap photos of birds that tend to be farther away, or more mobile, I’m going to need something a bit more stationary. I’ll be experimenting with a binocular + tripod setup sometime soon.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog, one of my favorite birds is the Indigo Bunting, and I was able to capture a short video of one on Friday as well.
In July, I saw 65 unique species of bird, and upped my total species count to 80. Aside from a trip to my parents’ house in PA (where I added a Bald Eagle, Northern Parula, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Black-capped Chickadee to my life list), everything I’ve seen has been close to home, which is fun. I like the challenge of trying to see as much as I can in Maryland. That Northern Parula that I saw in PA was also my first attempt at a video of a bird.
For August, I’m hoping to match or exceed the total birds I saw in July, which will require some effort to see some new species I think. I saw my first Cliff Sparrow yesterday, which is the newest new species on my list. I’m up to 42 in August so far, which might seem high for only 8 days, but I expect that number to hover around 45-50 for most of the month, as I spend most of my time at Lake Roland, and aside from some lucky sightings, I tend to see the same birds every time.
As far as writing goes, it’s happening, but it’s still slow. I’ve been enjoying every possible moment I can with Harrison, which pushes writing time to after he heads to bed. Most of the time, when he’s asleep, I’m already dead to the world, and I find that I’m squeezing 100-300 words a night, if that. It’s better than nothing, but I think I’m still in the adjustment period as far as writing and parenthood. Every time I think I’ve got that kid figured out, he changes course, which, really, is part of the fun. He really enjoys being out in nature, looking at deer and especially the dogs being walked. So, if you couldn’t tell by all the bird posts, H and Nat and I spend a lot of time outdoors these days.
But I do have two writing projects in the works that I might be able to blog about in the not so near future. Both I am really excited about.
Double-crested Cormorant at Lake Roland, 7/19/2016
I feel very lucky to live a mere ten minute drive from Lake Roland. There are two entrances, one of which is at the Falls Road Light Rail Stop. This entrance leads to a boardwalk that enters the park with the Light Rail tracks to the left and dense, to light, forest on the right. As a new birder, that walk is an outstanding training resource. In the few months I’ve been birding with an aim to learn and improve, I’ve begun to recognize nearly every bird on the boardwalk, by sight and sound. Each visit I can reliably expect to see Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers (an early challenge is learning to tell these nearly identical birds apart), Tufted Titmice (or is it Titmouses?), Great-crested Flycatchers (though they have been noticeably absent my last two visits), Northern Cardinals, Acadian Flycatchers, and Goldfinches. I recognize them at a glance now, and know their calls very well, which is exciting. Now, on that short walk, new sounds or shapes stick out like sore thumbs, and get me very excited.
For instance, last night when I visited I heard, for the first time on the boardwalk, the unmistakable song of a Wood Thrush. Unfortunately it was too deep for me to spot, but I’ve grown confident in that bird’s call. Having not heard that call yet at Lake Roland, it jumped out at me among the calls I am now used to. Another bird that really stood out, that I saw at Lake Roland for the first time on 7/15, was the Carolina Wren. I had not actually seen this bird yet, so it was a lifer, and it was bouncing around right near the end of the boardwalk. There were two of them, and right away I knew I was seeing something for the first time. I had read on recent lists that birders at Lake Roland had seen Carolina Wrens, so I guessed right away this might be one, but I am not so good at this that I didn’t doubt myself. I took as many notes about the bird as I could before it was gone, and then consulted Merlin (an Android app) and my bird guide before considering it a new life list bird. I also got to hear its call three or four times, which pretty much confirmed it.
I do wish I had the equipment to photograph the birds I am seeing, but there is something quite special about the fleeting experience of birding without a camera. Sure, I’ll try to snap a photo with my phone and binoculars (like the Double-crested Cormorant above) when a bird is being very still, or isn’t a risk of flying off for the next couple minutes, but otherwise I see what I see, and if I want to see it again, I have to come back. It’s nice, and always rewarding. Like the Indigo Bunting. I’ve now see the fellow four times, and each one was just as exciting as the first.
I did, however, have a Downy Woodpecker land in small tree not three feet from the boardwalk last night, so was able to capture a decent video of it.
And one other bird that truly stood out was the Double-crested Cormorant near the dam. I hadn’t seen anything like it in the water yet, and was very excited that it wasn’t really doing much, so I had time to use H’s stroller as a tripod of sorts and snap a few photos through my binoculars.
As far as birding goes, for me anyway, it was a great time.