Sunrise Birding

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(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).

Red-shouldered Hawk 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 8
Downy Woodpecker 6
Northern Flicker 5
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3
Empidonax sp. 5
Yellow-throated Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
American Crow 11
Carolina Chickadee 8
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Carolina Wren 9
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
American Robin 16
Gray Catbird 7
European Starling 1
Black-and-white Warbler 2
American Redstart 3
Pine Warbler 1
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.) 6
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 12
Indigo Bunting 1
Baltimore Oriole 3
American Goldfinch 6

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.

July Birding and into August, and Yes I’m Still Writing

Female Cardinal

(female Northern Cardinal, 8/5/16, Lake Roland)

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.

Lake Roland is a Really Wonderful Spot for a Beginning Birder

 

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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.

A Great Afternoon at Lake Roland

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(Two Red-shouldered Hawks at Lake Roland, 7/15/16)

Work closed early on last Friday, so I took advantage and headed over to Lake Roland for some birding. I saw many more birds than I expected to for 2pm, including the above Red-Shouldered Hawks. I snapped that photo with my phone through my binoculars, and it didn’t turn out half bad.

I also was able to do a quick sketch of the Great Blue Heron I saw, which I spruced up in Photoshop (with some help from Nat).

great blue heron

(Great Blue Heron, Lake Roland, 7/15/16)

Here’s the full checklist from the afternoon:

Date: 7/15/2016
Location:
Lake Roland Boardwalk/Park
Time: 2:oopm – 4:00pm

1 Great Blue Heron
1 Black-crowned Night-Heron
2 Red-shouldered Hawk
1 Red-tailed Hawk
2 Chimney Swift
3 Downy Woodpecker
3 Hairy Woodpecker
2 Eastern Wood-Pewee
3 Acadian Flycatcher
2 Great Crested Flycatcher
1 Warbling Vireo
1 Red-eyed Vireo
1 Carolina Chickadee
6 Tufted Titmouse
2 White-breasted Nuthatch
3 Carolina Wren
7 Eastern Bluebird
1 Gray Catbird
1 Common Yellowthroat
10 Northern Cardinal
1 Indigo Bunting
10 Common Grackle
2 Brown-headed Cowbird
3 House Finch
6 American Goldfinch

Baltimore Oriole

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(Photo credit: Tyler Cone)

When my brother Tyler and his wife Andrea stopped by Baltimore for a visit, we decided to take a short hike at Lake Roland. There had been a Baltimore Oriole nest there for a while, and Tyler brought along his camera and lens to try to snap a picture of it. The above shot is one of several he was able to capture.

Until Nathalie and I began getting into birding, we had never seen a Baltimore Oriole, though similar to my Indigo Bunting story, we ‘always kept an eye out’. It wasn’t until one of our first solo birding trips that we finally saw not one, but three Baltimore Orioles way at the top of the trees along Lake Roland (just near the elephant sculpture along the trail). I’ve wondered if those same Orioles were the ones that eventually nested in the park.

Our most recent Oriole sighting was this past weekend when we spotted three juveniles fluttering about in the trees just beside Acorn Hill. They were about three feet away at their closest, which was extremely exciting.

Since we began, I’ve been interested in snapping photos of the birds we see, however the equipment I would need is far too cost-prohibitive right now. Still, I want some way to record at least some of our sightings each time we go out beyond an eBird checklist, so I’ve begun bringing a sketchbook along, and tackling the challenge of sketching birds in nature. Here’s the first one, an Eastern Bluebird from Lake Roland last night.

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Eastern Bluebird, Lake Roland, July 12th, 2016

Another interesting note was the large number of Reclusive Pokemon Go Players we saw. This species used to be quite rare, and it was fascinating to see them venture so brazenly into the open in all areas of Lake Roland, right on the boardwalk, inside the pavilions, and even in the dog park. I wonder if they are here to stay, or if they will meander off, never to be seen again.

Recent checklist:

Date: 7/12/2016
Location:
Lake Roland Boardwalk/Park
Time: 6:30pm – 8:15pm

Mallard  8
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Mourning Dove  1
Chimney Swift  1
Red-headed Woodpecker  1
Acadian Flycatcher  1     Call only
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Tree Swallow  2
Barn Swallow  5
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
American Robin  15
Gray Catbird  4
Northern Cardinal  3
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
American Goldfinch  1