Sam Crowe on November 10th, 2019

The Hawkwatch season in the U.S. is starting to wind down.  The Corpus Christi, TX hawk watch has recorded 30 raptor species and over 500,000 individuals.

osprey in flight

Osprey with fish. © Greg Lavaty

The champion hawk watch site is at Veracruz, Mexico, where single day accounts can exceed over 350,000 Broad-winged Hawks in a single day. 

Sam Crowe on October 26th, 2019

The large Brown Jay was once somewhat regular along the lower Rio Grande River in far south Texas.  Never common, the rare visitor seems to have retreated back across the Rio Grand and has become a Texas review species.  Several years ago I shot this short video of Brown Jays feeding on orange halves and marshmallows a little south of Falcon Lake.

Sam Crowe on October 19th, 2019

As more ducks are starting to show up in their winter homes it is a good time to review duck and waterfowl identification.  The web site has an excellent section on Waterfowl Identification.

blue-winged teal in flight

Male Blue-winged Teal

Sam Crowe on September 29th, 2019

What causes a bird to start migration?  The Germans call it “zugunruhe” or migratory restlessness.  There are several factors that influence the beginning of migration, including the amount of daylight. 

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker.  Northern Flickers are arriving in their winter homes in the southern U.S.

How birds find their way is a trickier manner.   A researcher at Cornell University used Indigo Buntings to study the migration urge and migration direction.  The buntings were exposed to a normal night sky and their behavior studied.  The birds headed south.  The night sky was then rotated.  In response the birds started moving in the direction of the “new north.”  It seems Indigo Buntings and other species use the stars to navigate.  Pretty smart, huh?

Sam Crowe on September 17th, 2019

A world apart, the toucan and the hornbill have an amazingly similar approach to feeding, designed to accommodate their large bills. One often seen feeding on the ground, an another favoring the trees.

Hornbill from Africa. © Mark Crowe

Toco Toucan from Brazil. © Sam Crowe
Sam Crowe on July 20th, 2019

The new “Dick Stamps” are now available for purchase. Duck stamps are used for habitat conservation and enrichment and benefit wildlife of many kinds.

Scot Storm, a native of Freeport, Minnesota, was selected as the winning artist of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, and 16-year-old Nicole Jeon of Scarsdale, New York, was selected as the winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest. The Federal Duck Stamp costs $25, and the Junior Duck Stamp is $5.

The new Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp can be ordered at most large Post Offices, at many National Wildlife Refuges, and through a number of vendors.
Another easy way to get a current Stamp is to send a check for $25 made out to Friends of the Migratory Bird/Duck Stamp, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to P.O. Box 2143, Columbia MD 21045.

Sam Crowe on July 14th, 2019

The end of July marks the start of a two week experience to the Pantanal region of Brazil. This is not a dedicated birding trip as I will be traveling with non-birders, my brother Mark, and brother-in-law Roger.

We have hired Fisher Sousa of Wildlife Pantanal Tours to be our guide for the 10 days in the Pantanal. Fisher is an expert birder, which suits me perfectly. We have two days dedicated to searching for Jaguars (Fisher all but guarantees a sighting) plus two days fishing for the famous peacock bass.

I have been considering a new camera for the trip, with my eye on the Sony RX10 IV ($1500). It is an expensive camera and a new version is rumored to be out by the end of the year. So, I decided to save some money down and purchased the Nikon P900 ($420). This bridge camera has a maximum zoom of 2000mm! I also purchased a Spider camera holster that holds the camera on the belt. I have never tried a camera holster but it looks like the prefect choice when carrying both a camera and binoculars. Hopefully I will get some great shots of birds like the Toco Toucan.

Photographed in the Pantanal by Greg Lavaty

Trip report to follow.

Sam Crowe on June 16th, 2019

This spotting scope features the Dual-Speed Focus system, allowing the user to move between near objects and long-range targets quickly, while enjoying the benefits of fine focusing and sharpness correction.

A notable innovation of the Victory® Harpia is the relocation of the magnification ring from the eyepiece to the spotting scope body, alongside the focus wheel.

This allows for quick, one-handed operation – even with gloved hands – and a constant 72° wide angle of view throughout the entire zoom range.

The revolutionary optical system features a 3x wide-angle zoom, up to 70x magnification and an objective lens diameter of 95 millimeters. The extremely wide fields of view prove their worth in every situation. The Harpia 95 also features precise focusing. Convenient automatic transition from rapid- to fine-focus adjustment, even at high magnification, sets the Victory® Harpia apart and places it well ahead of other premium spotting scopes.

Sam Crowe on April 21st, 2019

Birds can fly because they have low weight and lots of power. Their feathers, wings, hollow bones, warm bloodedness, powerful breast muscles, and a strong heart all contribute to this ability. Last week, we discussed body weight and feathers. This week we cover:

Strong Body Systems
The avian repertory system includes a unique system of five or more pairs of air sacs connected with the lungs. The air sacs provide a one-way traffic of air, bringing in a constant stream of unmixed fresh air. This is in contrast to mammals, where stale air is mixed more inefficiently with fresh. Birds also have a four-chambered heart, which allows double circulation. That is, the blood makes a side trip through the lungs for purification before it is circulated through the body again. Bird hearts beat rapidly, and relative to overall body size, they are large and powerful.

Golden Eagle in flight
Golden Eagle in flight

Even in the foods they select to feed their “engines”, birds conserve weight. Their foods – seeds, fruit, worms, insects, frogs, rodents, fish, and so on – are rich in caloric energy. They usually do not eat foods such as leaves and grass for this reason. Furthermore, the foods most birds eat are burned quickly and efficiently. Fruit fed to a young Cedar Waxwing will pass through its digestive tract in less than 30 minutes. Birds also utilize a greater proportion of the foods they eat than do mammals.

In all these characteristics, we see that birds are incredibly well-suited for flight and it is no wonder we admire them for this ability. Amazing!

The woodcock is a strange little “shorebird” of moist woodlands. Here is how it is described in the Bent Life History series.

American Woodcock © Greg Lavaty

“This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird and well distributed in our Eastern States, widely known, but not intimately known. Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy. It may live almost in our midst unnoticed. Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization. The banks of a stream running through my place, close to the heart of the city, were once famous woodcock covers in which the birds persisted long after the surroundings were built up; and even within recent years I have had a pair of woodcocks living in the shrubbery along the stream for a week or two at a time.”