Marcellus Research Press!

For the past two summers, I have assisted with graduate research concerning Marcellus Shale development and its impact on breeding forest birds in Pennsylvania. Penn State News recently did on piece on Lillie Langlois, my delightful boss and the head researcher of the project.  Below is a link to the article. There is even a short video about some of our work embedded on the article webpage (because videos are awesome, right?). Enjoy!

A transport line for shale gas – photo by Lillie Langlois

4th of July Birding Challenge!

Do you love America? Are you a warm-blooded patriot looking for a way to enjoy your freedoms? Do you love birds? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, then you qualify for the –

“Thermal Birding 4th of July Birding Challenge: ‘Merica Addition!”

American Avocet – photo by Steve Brenner

One week from today, people all across the country will be having cookouts, launching fireworks, and birdwatching! The rules of the challenge are simple: when you are out birding on the 4th of July, every species you see that begins with the word “American” counts. Also, any species that begins with the name of a U.S. state (e.g.. California Towhee) also counts. You can also collect bonus birds for each of the following winged-countrymen you spot: Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, and the official birds of each U.S. state. So, for example, let’s say I go out on Independence Day and see an American Robin, 5 American Crows, 3 American Redstarts, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Bald Eagle, and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, then I would have a grand total of 6 countable species. So it’s fairly straight-forward and similar to other ‘big day’ type competitions. Feeling patriotic yet?

As with all birding competitions, this is solely meant for the purposes of fun, and as long as you have a good time birding, that’s what really matters. Also, mid-summer can be a very slow time for bird watching, so this provides an excellent opportunity for birders to get out there and check out some breeding birds in your area or scour those neglected local hotspots. Please post replies on how you faired with the challenge, and try to nab as many of these species as you can. Remember, Thomas Jefferson may have spent all day inside on July 4th, 1776, but that doesn’t mean you should! So get out there and bird, people . . . USA, USA, USA!

Here is the list of the 57 eligible ‘4th of July birds’ for counting in the ABA area, including the official birds of each state. (Note: ‘state game birds’ have been omitted, as has Hawaiian Goose, Blue Hen Chicken, and Rhode Island Red Chicken).

  1. American Avocet
  2. American Bittern
  3. American Black Duck
  4. American Coot
  5. American Crow
  6. American Dipper
  7. American Flamingo
  8. American Golden-Plover
  9. American Goldfinch (also state bird for IA, NJ, and WA)
  10. American Kestrel

    ‘Merica Kestrel – photo by Steve Brenner

  11. American Oystercatcher
  12. American Pipit
  13. American Redstart
  14. American Robin (also state bird for CT, MI, and WI)
  15. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  16. American Tree Sparrow
  17. American White Pelican
  18. American Wigeon
  19. American Woodcock
  20. Arizona Woodpecker
  21. California Condor
  22. California Gnatcatcher
  23. California Quail (also state bird for CA)
  24. California Thrasher
  25. California Towhee
  26. California Gull (also state bird for UT)
  27. Carolina Chickadee
  28. Carolina Wren (also state bird for SC)

    Carolina Wren – photo by Steve Brenner

  29. Connecticut Warbler
  30. Florida Scrub Jay
  31. Kentucky Warbler
  32. Louisiana Waterthrush
  33. Mississippi Kite
  34. Tennessee Warbler
  35. Virginia Rail
  36. Bald Eagle
  37. Wild Turkey
  38. Northern Flicker (AL)
  39. Willow Ptarmigan (AK)
  40. Cactus Wren (AZ)
  41. Northern Mockingbird (AR, FL, MS, TN, and TX)
  42. Lark Bunting (CO)
  43. Brown Thrasher (GA)

    Brown Thrasher – photo by Steve Brenner

  44. Mountain Bluebird (ID, NV)
  45. Northern Cardinal (IL, IN, KY, NC, OH, VI, and WV)
  46. Western Meadowlark (KS, MT, NE, ND, OR, and WY)
  47. Brown Pelican (LA)
  48. Black-capped Chickadee (ME, MA)
  49. Baltimore Oriole (MD)
  50. Common Loon (MN)
  51. Eastern Bluebird (MO, NY)
  52. Purple Finch (NH)
  53. Greater Roadrunner (NM)
  54. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (OK)
  55. Ruffed Grouse (PA)
  56. Ring-necked Pheasant (SD)
  57. Hermit Thrush (VT)

Theodore Roosevelt and the White House Yard List

President Theodore Roosevelt (Source:

Teddy Roosevelt was one awesome dude. Not only was he an excellent soldier and statesmen, but the 26th President was also a devout naturalist. I happened across this article from Slate the other day highlighting the bird list that Roosevelt kept while bounding around Washington and solving all of the world’s problems. He even kept track of the birds seen only on the White House grounds. Frankly, he had some pretty good yard birds (Saw-whet Owl and Canada Warbler were my two favorites) during his presidency, and he even reserved a particular disdain for House Sparrows. Well, he’s got my vote! You can read the original article here or check out the .pdf of his list following this link.

White House bound Democrat Saw-whet and Republican Saw-whet. I wish politics was this cute

Western Tanager Chase

I’m not sure what’s going on with western birds showing up in Upstate New York lately, but after my successful Western Grebe chase and after Drew Weber’s successful Black-throated Gray Warbler chase, I figured 2013 was done producing birds from the other half of the country. You can imagine my surprise when this past Tuesday, a 1st year male Western Tanager was reported in the little town of Irving, NY, about 40 minutes south of Buffalo. Checking the eBird records, there haven’t been many Western Tanagers in upstate or western New York in the past 10 years. This was a really good bird for us.

ebird range map of Western Tanager in NY past 10 years

Naturally, I went after this guy this morning. Reports on the bird had it coming into a suet feeder about every 15 to 45 minutes, and all visitors got great looks at this guy on Wednesday and said it was extremely cooperative. No one waited more than an hour for the bird. I got to the private residence at 9:50. It was last seen at 9:30. This should be a piece of cake . . . Flash forward 4 hours later, and I still hadn’t seen any sign of the tanager. I had groups of birders come and go in my span of being there, and my morale was at an all time low. I was pretty much calling it quits at 2 o’clock when lo and behold, Western Tanager shows up for 20 seconds and then bolts under duress from some Common Grackles. It was a major relief to finally get this bird, and it did return about 10 minutes later for an extended look. Unfortunately, the tanager was not as cooperative as previously reported for photos, but I managed to get a decent enough documentation shot. All in all, an excellent bird and an even better bird for New York. I should add that the owner of the property, Pauline, was extremely cooperative and friendly with the hordes of birders coming to her house. Many thanks.

Western Tanager – Irving, NY 4/25/13

Spring Report: Buffalo

It has been a slow trickle for migrating birds so far in Western New York, but things are starting to turn a corner and I can feel a big push on the horizon. Most of March and the beginning of April were painfully stagnant, but the past two weeks have provided some very promising signs of a good spring ahead. Two weeks ago, I had a steady diet of Bonaparte’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns along the waterfront in the city. While these arrivals were right on time and completely expected, watching your first Common Tern in about 6 months gracefully fish for lunch is a always a welcome sign of the impending summer.

Bonaparte’s Gull – Buffalo, NY

Common Tern – Buffalo, NY

This past week, the passerines have been showing up in small but noticeable numbers. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are almost everywhere, and I have run into FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatchers the past couple of days as well. Pine Warblers have also been spotted at various hotspots in Erie county, and Palm and Black-throated Green Warblers just arrived in the last few days. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I’m ready for the real deal when it comes to Spring Migration 2013 (especially with Nate starting to cash in down in PA, and that pesky Drew Weber from Nemesisbird getting awesome rarities in central NY). Until then, I always have Tree Swallows to keep me company.

Tree Swallows – Birdsong Parklands, Orchard Park, NY

Western Grebe in Western New York

Early this morning, I drove up to Irondeqouit Bay Pier and Marine Park just outside of Rochester, NY to check out the Western Grebe that has been reported there for about a week now. This is pretty far out of range for Western Grebes, but it is not completely unheard for one to end up in western or central NY. Regardless, it is an excellent bird for the state and this one seemed to be pretty reliable, so I decided to make the hour and a half trip for it. When I first got to the park, there was a nice crop of waterfowl to be had on the lake and in the inlet, which is always a good sign at this time of year. I was also greeted by some lovely Old Squaw and a few White-winged Scoters at really close range, which is always a treat.

White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks – Irondeqouit Bay, NY 3/18/13


Long-tailed Duck in flight – Irondeqouit Bay, NY 3/18/13

After a short walk to the end of the pier, I spent about 5 minutes scoping the water until the target showed up. For awhile, the Grebe would surface for only a few seconds before diving down underwater for what seemed like days. He would also frequently pop up where I didn’t expect him, making it difficult to get any sustained looks. With a little patience, however, I was able to get some great views of the bird from about 100 yards away through my scope. This was a lifer for me, and Western Grebes are really elegant and striking birds, especially compared to our eastern suite of grebes (sorry, Pied-billed Grebe, but it’s true). After spending about 45 minutes with my new best friend, I said goodbye to the Western Grebe and headed back to my car and picked up a few more species before driving back to Buffalo. Here is a link to the eBird checklist.

First distant look at the Western Grebe – Irondeqouit Bay, NY 3/18/13

Don’t worry, it gets a little better . . .

Western Grebe – Irondeqouit Bay, NY 3/18/13


Review – The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

Prepare for a regional shift, thermal birders . . . here comes the review of The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region by Donald and Lillian Stokes. As you might expect, there are many similarities between the “Western Region” version of the Stokes Guide that Tim reviewed a little while earlier, but as a primarily Eastern birder, I thought it would be helpful to throw in my two cents about this lovely new field guide tailored to my main area of birding adventures.

Using real images/photos in field guides can be hit or miss, but without a doubt Donald and Lillian Stokes knock it out of the park with the new Eastern Region guide. It goes without saying that each of the 2200 color photographs are of fantastic quality, and they are diagnostically helpful both in their detail as well as their coverage of the important I.D. marks for each species. And it is worth repeating again and again: Paul Lehman’s range maps are awesome.  Let’s just say I like my range maps like I like my kitchen knives: new and cutting edge.

What I really enjoyed about The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region   were the little details included on each plate. ABA Codes, important subspecies, and common hybrids can be found for each species, as well as location/date captions for each photograph. I find this to be a nice touch to a photo-based guide, as it gives a reassuring ‘real-world’ context for the species and identification of the birds. The major groups of birds even have “Identification Tips” boxes throughout the guide to provide an overview of general characteristics to look for (Spizella v. Ammodramus sparrows, for example). More difficult species also get a variety of pictures to demonstrate different views and field marks, and easily confused species are cleverly placed side-by-side to one another, such as Bicknell’s and Gray Cheeked Thrush.

As an eastern birder who frequents major gulling spots in the winter, I absolutely loved the coverage these difficult birds got in Stokes. Each age is given significant attention both in the photographs (standing and in flight – thank you!) as well as in the accompanying text. Trust me, you see a lot of crazy looking gulls around the Great Lakes, and this guide does an excellent job with the gull plates. If you live in the east, this feature alone is worth getting the guide for.

Don’t forget about the text! It is well written, informative, and to the point. Text may not be everyone’s favorite part about field guides, but it is well addressed in Stokes, particularly on the various plumages and life stages. The best part: all of the information is up to date, so you get the latest coverage on all species, including increasingly common vagrants. As with the Western Region guide, the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern Region makes an excellent audio companion to this field guide (available on Amazon).

About the authors – “Don and Lillian Stokes are widely recognized as America’s foremost authorities on birds and nature. Their books include the bestselling Stokes Field Guide to Birds, the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Birds, the Stokes Nature Guides, and the Stokes Backyard Nature Books. They live in New Hampshire and Georgia.”

More on this guide from Little, Brown and Company –

“The culmination of many years of research, observation, and study, the THE NEW STOKES FIELD GUIDE TO BIRDS: Eastern Region is factually, visually, and organizationally superior to any other photographic field guide available.

This easy-to-use guide features 545 North American bird species and more than 2,000 stunning color photographs. And yet it’s portable enough to fit in your pocket! The photographs cover all significant plumages, including male, female, summer, winter, immature, morphs, important subspecies, and birds in flight. The guide includes:
* the newest scientific and common names and phylogenetic order* special help for identifying birds in flight through important clues of behavior, plumage, and shape* detailed descriptions of songs and calls* important behavioral information and key habitat preferences* the newest range maps, detailing species’ winter, summer, year-round ranges, and migration routesWhether you are a novice or experienced birder, this new Stokes guide will take your birding to the next level.”

The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region will be available on March 26, 2013, from Little, Brown and Company for $19.99. Be sure to check it out!

Disclosure – Little, Brown and Company kindly provided us with a review copy of this book.