Thursday, December 20, 2007

Heading home for the Holidays

Saturday I make the approximately 15-hour road trip up north to see my family for the holidays. My hometown is Hancock, Michigan, which is here:

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One of the good things about living way up north are the way up north birds. Last time I was up for the holidays, I picked up Spotted Towhee and Pine Grosbeak for my life list. This time around, the target bird is a really cool one: Gyrfalcon!

A Gyrfalcon seems to be settling in for the winter in the lower harbor in Marquette, Michigan, a measly hour and a half drive from Hancock. It's also where the wife and I are going on the 28th to visit friends, so I believe that a stop to see a Gyrfalcon will be tolerated.

I was also going to try and see Black-backed Woodpecker, but the burn area where they've been reported is now only accessible through snowshoes or skis, so that's pretty much out of the question. I probably will still go birding with my dad, hopefully there will be a good report of something chaseable while I'm up.

I don't know that I will update this blog over the next week or so. Happy holidays to any readers I may have, and good birding!

Monday, December 17, 2007

My best year yet for Ohio

As I mentioned in my last CBC post, I probably won't be adding anything to my Ohio year list before we leave for the UP on Saturday. So, I figured I would post a recap of the year.

I ended up with 254 species on my year list, 28 more species than last year. I've seen all but nine of the 205 birds categorized as "easy to see birds" on the new Ohio checklist with codes. The species I missed were Sanderling, Least Flycatcher, Marsh Wren, Summer Tanager, Vesper Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Dickcissel, and Bobolink. I also saw 9 review-list species, which may be a personal best for me. Of the Ohio birds I saw, 17 species were life birds for me: Thayer's Gull (Feb. 24), Long-eared Owls (March 3), Harris' Sparrow (March 10), Black-necked Stilt (April 21), Tri-colored Heron (April 21), Yellow-throated Vireo (April 28), Bell's Vireo (May 11), Mourning Warbler (May 12), Glossy Ibis (May 12), Sedge Wren (May 12), Alder Flycatcher (May 26), Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (May 26), Mississippi Kite (June 21), Lark Sparrow (July 26), Red Phalarope (Sept. 3), Orange-crowned Warbler (Oct. 6), and Black-legged Kittiwake (Dec. 8).

I also added the following birds to my state life list: Long-tailed Duck (Feb. 24), American Bittern (April 28), Yellow-headed Blackbird (May 12), Olive-sided Flycatcher (May 22), Evening Grosbeak (Nov. 10), Pine Siskin (Nov. 10), Red Crossbill (Nov. 18), Pine Grosbeak (Dec. 1), and Common Redpoll (Dec. 8). I have a total of 285 birds on my Ohio life list, which is pretty good considering there are 291 non-review species for the state (I have 22 birds to go to see every non-review list species).

All in all, a good Ohio year!

Winter storm = less than ideal CBC conditions

So, I was going to do two CBCs this last weekend - the Hoover Reservoir count and the Columbus count. However, a little winter weather had other ideas.

The Hoover Reservoir count was not postponed, but the winter weather that swooped in had an effect of forcing birds into cover, so they weren't very active in the woods. Feeders were pretty good though. I worked the east side which I've done for the last three years. Not a whole lot of birds, but we did get a Barred Owl, which was exciting.

The Columbus count was postponed until the 30th, so I won't be on that one since I will be traveling back from the UP on that day.

I guess this means my Ohio year list is effectively done, which calls for another post.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Time to count some birds

It's Christmas Bird Count (CBC) time again. The last three years, I've been going on the Hoover Reservoir CBC here in Columbus, but haven't taken part in any others. This season, thanks to the good graces of my lovely and patient wife, I am taking part in three counts - the Hoover count tomorrow, the Columbus count Sunday, and the Kingston count on January 1st.

The weather is not supposed to be good - we have a winter storm warning and are supposed to get snow and icy rain tomorrow (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it won't get warm enough to rain). This may work to our advantage, as it should keep traffic low and bring birds into feeders for easier counting.

My greatest CBC of all time was the backwoods portion of a Houghton County, Michigan, CBC, back in the 1990s, when I had my life Great Grey Owl, Northern Goshawk, and Ruffed Grouse.

Also a past highlight was my life Northern Shrike during an in-town portion of the same CBC circle in the 80s.

Not to say the Hoover CBC has been small potatoes for me, as it gave me my life Barred Owl.

But the whole point is to participate in a ritual with other birders, that spans 108 years of birding in America. It's one of the highlights of every birder's year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Black-legged Kittiwake and lists

First off, I added Black-legged Kittiwake to my life list on Saturday. Here's a photo:

What makes it stick out from the Bonaparte's Gulls in the background is primarily it's black collar, but also the larger size and more elongated structure.

The bird made number 366 on my collective life list (I had 366 previously, but since learning that the Trumpeter Swans I've seen in Ohio are not countable, I took them off). The bird is number 323 on my ABA list, number 285 on my Ohio list, number 272 on my year list and 253 for my Ohio year list.

My year lists are at 273 for the ABA area and 254 for the state. Besides the kittiwake, I added Common Redpoll to the state list and Short-eared Owl and Greater White-fronted Goose for both.

Speaking of lists: We have a new Ohio Birding Checklist with ABA-style difficulty codes. The species are divided into 3 groups among the 6 difficulty codes: Easier to See Birds (codes 1 and 2: 205 birds)), Harder to See Birds (codes 3 and 4: 86 birds), and Review List Birds (codes 5 and 6:123). There are 414 bird species in total on the Ohio list. I'm really happy with this new checklist. It's a good way to measure how good of a year I'm having. For example, here's how my year breaks down by each code so far:

Code 1: 135 out of 136 (same for my life state list)
Code 2: 60 out of 69 (68 out of 69: life list)
Code 3: 24 out of 30 (29 out of 30: life list)
Code 4: 24 out of 56 (36 out of 56: life list)
Code 5: 7 out of 20 (11 out of 20: life list)
Code 6: 2 out of 103 (4 out of 103: life list)

One of our members in the Columbus Avids, Dan Sanders, has issued a challenge of sorts for us to try and see every one of the 205 commonly occurring birds in Ohio for 2008. Doesn't sound too hard, but could still be a challenge, as for 2007, I am missing 9 of the 205 common birds.

Another thing that is good about the list is it gives me some birds to concentrate on adding to the state list for next year, such as my two remaining "Easier to See Birds": Marsh Wren and Least Flycatcher. Other birds I don't have but should be able to add from the Harder to See Birds include Ruffed Grouse, Franklin's Gull, Golden Eagle and Cattle Egret. Everything else I am missing will probably have to be as opportunity allows.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My new binoculars have arrived!

I haven't tried them out in birding conditions, but a brief comparison with my old pair does reveal sharper colors and better resolution. They are definitely a little heavier than my Nikon Actions, but I can hold them easily with one hand.

The optics4birding review was dead on about the poor fit for the rainguards - if you prefer a shoulder harness to a neck strap (as I do), you're going to have to be careful not to lose the guards while walking. I may try to attach them with a short chain or something, since I want to keep my lenses protected.

I'll post my birding experiences with them on Monday, as I will be birding all day on Saturday with them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ordered the Broadwings

Well, when I make up my mind, I make up my mind. I ordered the 8x42 Stokes Broadwings from Not only that, but because I am turning into a major bird geek, I ordered them next day air so I would have them for the Columbus Avids trip this saturday...

I'll post a review of how I like them next week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Binocular upgrade time

I've been seriously birding for the last four years or so. During that time, I've been using a pair of Nikon Action 8X40 binoculars (or bins, as some folks refer to them). For a pair of bins I acquired for about $85 (on sale), they've been pretty good starter bins. However, they've taken a few hits over the years, and the right side has sprung its seal, so that the eye piece fogs on me. Also, I've grown more unsatisfied with the brightness of the bins and the constant readjustment of the diopter is annoying (it tends to move all the way to the left as I walk).

So, now I am in the market for the next step up in binoculars. I have narrowed it to three contenders (all 8x42 bins): The Nikon Monarch ATB, The Stokes Talon, and the Stokes Broadwing.

The Nikon Monarch has been in production much longer than the Stokes series (produced by Vortex), and has a reputation of providing optics near the quality of bins 3x the price. It has a pretty good reputation and is very affordable at $290. It does have some drawbacks, as apparently the focus gets fuzzy at the edges of teh field of view and there's a tendency for prismatic effects when viewing high-contrast objects in bright light. Like my current Nikons, it has a rubber rain guard that you can attach to the strap, and hard plastic objective lens caps that you can easily lose (I think I lost my Nikon Action lens caps within two months of buying them).

The Stokes Talon is billed as a great entry-level set of bins, and are the cheapest in price of the three at $200. They have a good reputation as well, but from what I've read, may not perform as well as the Nikons in terms of brightness and flat field. Like the Nikon Monarchs, there is some prismatic effects, and there's some distortion at the edges of the field of view. The rain cap and lens caps are better than the Nikons, in that the lens caps are attached to the bins so you don't lose them immediately.

Now, from my limited research (only internet searches and no actual testing myself), it seems like the Stokes Broadwing offers a pretty attractive set of bins for not a whole lot more than the Nikons, at $350. What I really like about these is that the optics quality seems pretty good for what is still in the lower mid range for decent bins. notes that the focus stays sharp pretty much all the way across the field, with minimal distortion of straight lines right at the edges. Also, there is no prismatic effect when viewing high contrast objects in bright light. The eyecup and objective lens covers are similar to the Talon's, although Optics4birding noted that the rain guard cover seemed too loose. Otherwise, they thought the bins offered mid-price range quality at the high end of the low-price range.

I'm leaning pretty heavily to the Broadwing, but as I have said, I have not tried any of these bins out, and I'm not sure I will be able to compare them before I make a purchase.

If anyone reads this blog and has an opinion, feel free to comment.

and definitely check out!

Monday, December 3, 2007

250, 251! No, wait a minute. It's 250.

What am I referring to with that title? Well, as I have posted here recently, I was on a quest to hit 250 Ohio species observed this year. Up until Saturday, I was (or thought I was) at 249.

Saturday, I went with my friends Brad, Paul and Jeff up to Oak Openings Metropark near Toledo to see the Pine Grosbeaks that have been hanging out there. Paul and I got good looks, Brad got crappy looks and groused about it all day. But I thought there's bird number 250!

But then as we talked about listing through out the day, I realized that I had been basing my count on my eBird totals, which counted the Trumpeter Swans I've seen this year. Now, in Ohio, Trumpeter Swans are not generally accepted by the records committee, since they are an introduced species (Some say reintroduced, but I gather that there is no good data supporting Ohio as part of their former breeding range, but I digress). So really, when I saw the grosbeak (an Ohio life bird, by the way), it was really only bird 249 for the year. Back to where I started on the day!

But I lucked out and hit 250 anyway at the end of the day, when Brad managed to find the Northern Shrike that he'd seen last week at Maumee Bay State Park.

Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to get any type of good photo of either bird. I did get a couple good photos of Pine Siskins when we were at Oak Openings, though, so here they are: