Dec 18, 2010

Updates...Why, Its Only Been Half A Year!

Since June I have done less birding than I had hoped to and more time sitting down too. I started my first year of high school in the public school system which has been an interesting adventure.

Black-capped Chickadee on suet

I won't go into a lot of detail about school because that is not what this blog is supposed to be about but I'll at least tell you that it has been better than I expected. At least I'm not being shoved into lockers or anything like that. The high school I'm going to is, needless to say, a pretty low-quality school as education standards go.

View from our house in summer

Who is that uppity-looking young man?

I have done some birding in the past six months, mainly consisting of biweekly counts at a local National Wildlife Refuge. These counts are what mainly keep me going and they are a lot of fun, even if there is 50 MPH winds with a -10 degree wind chill! This has happened this fall, and believe me, it feels very cold and miserable when you're standing on a board walk with a scope, trying to stabilize it. The counts I do at this refuge (Las Vegas NWR) help the staff at the refuge keep a list of birds that are being sighted here and at the same time, let the public know where to see certain birds.

Besides from doing bird counts at the refuge I helped other volunteers "staff scopes" along the driving loop in November. Staffing scopes pretty much means setting up a couple scopes and then standing by them and getting people who drive by to take a peek at whatever we happen to be looking at. This was also pretty fun because, for one, me and my dad got to wear "NWR volunteer jackets" so we looked pretty intimidating (not!).

Early morning discovery

I was supposed to have a pretty exciting Winter Break in store up until a couple of days ago. I was supposed to fly out Friday to do a Christmas Bird Count in Point Reyes, California with my cousin. But this trip was called off as you will see. Before Wednesday, (December 15th) we had had very little snow. But on the 15th it started snowing and it didn't stop until the morning of the 17th. That meant that we got a pretty nice one and a half feet of snow around our house! You can imagine that it would have been pretty hard to drive out of our driveway with almost 2 feet of snow on the ground. That is why my parents decided to cancel my CBC in California. It also just so happened that Point Reyes was predicted to get 10 inches of rain over the weekend! That's a bunch of rain!

At first I was a tad depressed but I found that one can have a good deal of fun with one foot of snow! Besides shoveling our porch and driveway, me and my dad held the first ever "Las Vegas Snow-Bowl". A snow-bowl is when you do hardcore football in two feet of snow! Because I had never participated in a "snow-bowl" before I didn't realized how soaked and cold I would get. My dad was next to our garage and would throw the football to me on the run. I would often have to dive for it and that's when I got all the snow down my coat! It was a ton of fun though. I would run my hardest and then leap in the air and come crashing down in the snow (usually without the football). After about 20 throws I got simply too damn cold to continue and rushed inside to the nice, hot, wood stove (you cannot imagine how good a really hot wood stove feels after you've got two tons of snow down your coat!).

I'm gonna catch it!!

I caught it!!

Boy, I'm cold!

Winter vista, not to be confused with summer vista

Luckily, I have a plan B. Plan B is doing the Albuquerque and Las Vegas Christmas Bird Counts along with 2-3 other CBC's in Arizona and western New Mexico. The Las Vegas count is the day after Christmas and the Albuquerque count is Sunday (Dec. 19). The Albuquerque and Arizona CBC's are still up in the air but I will make a post if they happen. Keep an eye open for another post!

Bird Nut

Call animal control, there's a rabid dog at my house!!

Jun 29, 2010

Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens

One of my fellow campers observing a pair of Common Terns

From June 20 to June 25 I think I had the most fun in my life. Wouldn't you say that spending 6 days in coastal Maine, birding, hiking and boating would be pretty fun? I think it would be! Those 6 days I was going to a Audubon camp in Maine called Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens located on a beautiful spit of land called Hog Island.

The location of Hog Island is perfect; just inside the Gulf of Maine in Muscongus Bay. The island reminded me a lot of coastal British Columbia because of the rich diversity of life, moss, damp climate and various types of firs. I took one walk on the island and it felt like I was in another world. Winter Wrens were ever-present with their beautiful warble and the dampness and humidity made it feel as if I were in coastal Washington (and coastal B.C.). It took some time to get used to island life and the humidity but I caught on pretty quick to the daily schedule. That was one of the only downsides of the camp: the agenda was very packed every day and there was limited free time. If I had had more free time I would have explored the island more thoroughly.

A view of Hog Island

Every morning there was a bird walk at 5:45 AM. I went on it every day but a couple of my fellow campmates decided to be really lazy and sleep in to 6:45 (if you call that sleeping in) to go to breakfast at 7:00. The bird walks were led by people like Kenn Kaufman, Scott Weidensaul, and Greg Budney (the last of which is the curator of the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell). I learned a lot from all of the leaders and am glad I woke up at 5:45 every day! In addition to a bird walk, Sara Morris and Scott led a banding session Wednesday and Thursday in the same time frame as the bird walk. That was the only banding we got to do, although we did have a 3 hour session with Anthony Hill, (a bander from Hadley, MA) and Ken Keffer (who works at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio). Unfortunately, it was raining during that period and we had to stay inside because it is unsafe for the birds to be banded in bad weather conditions. We still learned a lot about banding because they taught us how to put the bands on, how to fill out the data sheets and so forth. We even got to measure the band size on some bird specimens and experiment with the data sheets.

The meals at camp were fantastic. There was a professional cook there and he made to best meals! I don't think I've ever been to a camp or gathering with better food. As great as this camp is, it has been closed at certain times in the past 10 years. Last year it was not open because Maine Audubon went under but I think National Audubon has started funding for it -not sure though.

Both the adult group and teen group went on a some sort of field trip every day. For one of the days, we had a tour of the bay surrounding Hog Island and Steve Kress explained the natural and social history of the area. The adults and teens went to a lot of the same places but usually went separately. We went on several "hikes" around the area (I put hikes in parentheses because they were all pretty short in time and distance). We went to a blueberry barren where we saw Vesper Sparrows and a rare Upland Sandpiper! We also went on a hike near Medomak, ME (the town closest to Hog Island).

Without a doubt the best part of the camp was when the teens and teen instructors landed on Eastern Egg Rock and we got to see the nesting colony of Roseate, Common and Artic Terns, Laughing Gulls, Black Guillemots and Atlantic Puffins. Being in a seabird colony is like nothing you've ever experienced and you feel like you are actually a part of it. There is nothing as special as being a foot away from a baby tern or seeing a volunteer hold up a guillemot chick. We even had a volunteer show us a Leach's Storm-Petrel, a bird that is nocturnal and that you rarely see. I am still pondering whether or not to put it on my life list because it was removed (gently) from it's nice cozy burrow, (it certainly blinked a lot when it came out!). As a side note, this was the first time any group of campers were permitted to land on the island so it was pretty special.

Two of my fellow campmates
Every night there was a presentation on a certain topic pertaining to birds. One night it was on identifying female warblers, another night it was about migration. I especially liked the presentation Scott Weidensaul did about migration and conservation related to that. Some of the things he said just blew my mind! Such as the fact that Bar-tailed Godwits shrink the size of their entire digestive system by more than 50 percent before they migrate from the Aleutians to New Zealand!! I got Scott to sign my copy of Return to Wild America and I had a couple very interesting conversations with him.

Kenn and Kim Kaufman also gave a talk on how to get other people (especially young ones) into birding. It was really interesting and and I think it will help me with my work on educating kids about birds in New Mexico. I think a lot of people trying to get youngins' into birding get way too technical with binoculars and all that stuff. Both Kenn and Kim were excellent speakers and I was amazed at how well they presented all of their topics.

Meeting Greg Budney was a great experience for me. He let me and other campers use his recording equipment, such as a parabla (might have spelled that wrong) and he told us about the work he does for the Macaulay Library. But most exciting of all, he told me that he could loan me his recording gear for a bit in the winter and I could record the calls of Rosy-finches on Sandia Crest (in Albuquerque)! I am so psyched to get a chance to do that and Greg said that the calls of all three species of Rosy-finches have never been recorded!

And all in all, this was an amazing camp!

P.S. I'll try to keep up a more regular schedule with the posts.

Steve Kress (behind map) teaching us about location of Hog Island

Just one of the great views on the island...Wait! Who'se that bugger befouling the frame?

Common Terns

Where I slept

Leach's Storm-Petrel


A nice view

Somewhere on the water

Useful sign

Jun 2, 2010

Finally Summer!!!

During the time I last posted here and now I have done many things. I've completed 8th grade and am now getting ready for high school. I had a great last semester at the charter school I go to. We studied the impact of wind power and how it compares to fossil fuels such as coal and oil. As we now know, an oil disaster can have dire effects and coal is as dirty a fuel as you could ask for. For wind power , the biggest disaster that has happened is a turbine being struck by lightning and blowing up. Anyway, the 5th thru 8th grades at my school studied wind power and we all decided if we were in favor of or against a local proposed wind facility. It is supposed to be built on a mesa about 30 miles from my house. We also made "voice threads" on our personal opinions on the wind farm. A voice thread is pretty much a diologue with pictures (kind of like a podcast).

Western Meadowlark

Lewis's Woodpecker

I've also (obviously) been birding. My dad and I led the effort for the San Miguel County International Migratory Bird Day Count and organized a big part of it. The IMBDC is a national event and each county conducts it's own count. There are usually teams of about 2-3 people and they go on separate routes. I started the day with a friend and local biologist, Lea Knutson. We got up around 5:30 AM and got out of the house by 6:00. All of the places we went to would probably be unfamiliar to anyone who does not live in New Mexico but I'll list them anyway. First, we went down a dirt road near Lea's house where we saw Lark, Chipping, and White-crowned Sparrows and stopped at a orchard about 2 miles down the road. It was pretty productive: we saw Bullock's Orioles, House Wrens, a Swainson's Hawk on a nest, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a few more species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

After stopping there we got to Ruby Ranch, a privately owned cattle ranch that occasionally lets birders in. It is a great place to bird (one of the best hot spots in the county) and we had a pretty good day there. We spent a lot of the time walking along the stream that comes through the ranch and saw birds such as Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and MacGillavary's Warblers. Our best bird was a Northern Waterthrush, a fairly uncommon bird in northern NM. It was my first for the state too. We only got a brief glimpse but it's distinctive behavior and markings have it away. Besides tromping through willows and cottonwoods we visited the 2 lakes in the ranch. Besides from seeing some normal New Mexican waterbirds (Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Clark's Grebe, etc.) we saw what was probably the most swallows I've ever seen. There must have been 1,500 swallows (on just one lake!) and all 6 species that we could have seen!! There were 800+ Cliff Swallows, 500+ Northern Rough-winged Swallows, 250+ Barn Swallows and lesser amounts of Violet-green, Tree, and Bank Swallows. I was so excited that I totally forgot to pick up my bird book when we left! (I came back later to pick it up when I realized I'd left it).

After birding Ruby Ranch for 3 plus hours we went into Las Vegas and had a much needed lunch. Then Lea and I hooked up with my dad and the person birding with him. We all hopped into one car and drove to La Liendre Road (near Las Vegas) where we walked around a bit. We got quite good at distinguishing Cassin's and Western Kingbirds because we saw at least 20 of them. We also saw Lark Buntings, Lark Sparrows, a Bewick's Wren, and a very cute hummingbird nest! (pictured below). The eggs were barely bigger than my pinky! It was a wonder that we found it at all. It was only 2 feet off the ground and in a Juniper branch.

Lazuli Bunting

After all that birding we weren't done yet! We took a 2 hour break and then all (including Lea's son) drove up to Johnson Mesa- a great place to hike and bird. We waited until it was getting dark and then split up into owling teams, (I was with my dad and Jamie (Lea's son) and Lea was with the other person who had come along). We then hiked in opposite directions and started calling for Spotted Owls. Johnson Mesa is one of the very few places where Spotted Owls have been documented in northern New Mexico and we were doing a survey to see if we could find any. We didn't see or hear any Spotted Owls in the 4 hours we were hiking but my dad, Jamie and I got great looks at a pair of Northern Pygmy-Owls. We didn't even try to call them in either! We just happened to walk around a corner and, bingo! there they where! They were very upset that we had come in their territory and were calling non-stop. We had a quick look and then left them be. Unfortunately I did not have my camera or I would have put pictures of them on here!

Another thing that I've done is that my family has gotten two cute little kittens (picture below)! We got them from a friend who rescued them from a dumpster.

Tired kittens

My dog Zia being crazy

Mar 19, 2010

California Birding

From March 4th to March 8th (part of my Spring Break) I was birding in northern California with my cousin.

I flew out by myself (first time I had ever done that) and my cousin picked me up at the Oakland airport. We stayed at her house and for the next three days she took me to places around the San Francisco Bay. On the first day we mostly birded in the Baylands, around the south part of the bay and in the foothills (near San Jose). We saw 93 species and I got 5 lifers including California Towhee and Western Gull (yes, that was the very first time I saw a WEGU). The second day we birded in parks near my cousin's house and saw 50+ species. I obtained another 3 life birds and overall it was a very good day. The weather was spectacular (well, warm and a bit cloudy) and there were no problems except a brief encounter with a bay leaf (yeah, a bay leaf). We were hiking in a park and I noticed lots of bay trees. My cousin said that they smelled very enticing and that I should sniff one. Taking her word I plucked a leaf out a tree and (very energetically) inhaled the smell. Unfortunately I snorted a couple bits of leaf up my nose as well and I was sneezing my head off for about 15 minutes! Luckily that was the only minor difficulty that occurred on the trip. After looking a day for it I finally saw a Wrentit! It took standing on top of a post and making Pygmy-Owl calls to lure one out. This is a picture of me looking quite smug after I saw one of those buggers (my cousin took the picture).

The third day of our adventure was probably the funnest. We went out to the coast a friend of my cousin's who is a excellent birder. For anyone at all familiar with northern California we were birding mostly around Half Moon Bay. We saw lots of interesting species (Brant, Surfbird, Hooded Merganser, Scoters, Marbled Murrelet, etc) and I saw another handful of lifers. The best bird for the day was probably a Hooded Merganser that we saw in a creek. Apparently it was very unusual to see one of them in habitats like that. But for me, all of the birds were amazing (since I'd never been to California before) and it was great to see all of the specialties. I was pretty sad when it was time to go because of all the birds and mainly, because it is so green there (remember, I live in New Mexico).

When I arrived back home I was welcomed by 30 MPH winds and terrible weather. We got a foot of snow that week (the 8 to the 13) and we are getting at least 8 inches this week! I don't mind snow but I am looking forward to Spring. There has been a more than usual amount of snowfall this year so I am expecting a very green Spring!

Note: I would have taken more pictures but I forgot to bring my good camera. Please forgive me if any of the pics are a bit grainy.

Feb 6, 2010

Rosy-Finches and Roadrunners

Sorry for the very long space between posts. I was so caught up with my life that I forgot all about my blog!
Since my last post (July 5, 09) I have turned fifteen and have progressed in many ways. I have also been on many birding excursions to places such as Bosque del Apache NWR, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and other exciting spots. I am not sure of the amount of birds I have seen between July and now but it is probably a lot! I have also taken a bunch of pictures which I will post as soon as I can. You are probably wondering why this post is called "Rosy-Finches and Roadrunners". Here are three possible answers to why it is called that:
1. Rosy-Finches and roadrunners started interbreeding and created a new species- the Pink Roserunner.
2. I have seen Rosy-Finches and roadrunners in the past 7 months and wanted to reflect on my sightings.
3. My mom misidentified a Greater Roadrunner for a Black Rosy-Finch and I wanted to make fun of her.

Well, the answer is #2 my friends. But I do wish that there were Pink Roserunners in this country...

There are two places where I have seen Rosy-Finches: Sandia Crest, (near Albuquerque) and in my own backyard! At Sandia Crest I saw all 3 species of Rosy-Finches outside the restaurant on the Crest. A group of people band them every Sunday, so if you are ever in Albuquerque and want somewhere to go, I'd suggest nipping up to watch the banders band Rosy-Finches.
Today I was looking out my window at my feeder when I saw a bird that didn't quite look like a junco. I whipped out my bins and discovered, to my delight that it was a Rosy-Finch. I spent the next 2 hours trying to decide what species it was! After I contacted a friend who bands Rosy-Finches I decided it was a Brown-capped. They have less extensive gray on the crown than Gray-crowns and are paler than Blacks.

And for the roadrunners...

Well, I've seen them pretty much everywhere! I saw them at the Bosque del Apache NWR, the Las Vegas NWR, and everywhere in between. I was with my dad at Bosque when we saw the roadrunner. It was by the side of the road by a boardwalk and was VERY impressed by our Prius! We had stopped the car alongside the roadrunner and it started to display it's crown and puffed up it's feathers. For at least 10 minutes it was "challenging" our car and in quite a mood. We finally left it in peace (much to the roadrunner's delight).

Well, that's about it from the past 7 months. I'll try to be more consistent with my posts in 2010...

Here are some statistics from 2009:

Total Species: 234

Life Birds: 34

Number I'm at on my Life List: 632

Did I have fun?


Home in New Mexico!

Home in New Mexico!
Las Vegas

Common Black Hawk

Common Black Hawk
Rio Lagartos, Yucatan

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Pale-billed Woodpecker
Kalakmul ruins

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk
In my backyard-Las Vegas,NM

Me on Hermit's Peak

Me on Hermit's Peak
Las Vegas, New Mexico

Zia Being Cute

Zia Being Cute