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

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