Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking back on 2013: 200 species of birds, from New England to Israel

Redheads in the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Boston, MA on New Year's Day, 2013. These were not only a new life bird for me, but an exciting find on a frigid winter day and a great way to start off my attempt at a 2013 big year. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
As 2013 draws to a close I've been thinking a lot about the birding I've done over the past year, as I attempted to do my own version of "big year." I started out with the goal of seeing 300 species in Massachusetts, then shifted my geographic range to all of New England, since I knew I would be spending some time in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut as well. In the end I saw a total of 200 species for year, the vast majority in New England, but a good number in Israel as well. My final stats for the year were as follows:

Total species seen in New England: 179

Total species seen in Israel : 23 

Total species seen (or heard) for the year: 200

New life birds added for North America: 57 (I also managed to begin my year with a new life bird on New Year's day with a group of Redhead ducks and end the year with another new bird, a Snowy Owl seen in Rhode Island)

One of the best things about this project was that it gave me a chance to meet some really great people in the birding community, see new places and learn more about bird life and general ecology. I spent many winter hours walking along the edges of semi-frozen ponds, sweltering days fighting mosquitoes and dehydration in forests and wetlands and had a tremendous amount of fun doing it all.

At the Jerusalem Botanical Garden in Israel I cam across this Little Egret (a fairly common Eurasian bird closely resembling Snowy Egret) which  was a nice addition to both my 2013 year list and my life list.  Image copyright Daniel E.Levenson.
There were many great experiences and moments, but I think one of the best was defintiely participating in the Mass Audubon Bird-a-Thon as part of the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary team - with Strickland Wheelock as our expert coach we spent 24 hours scouring the outer cape where there were Whip-poor-wills to be heard calling in an old graveyard, Northern harriers hunting over dunes, a large breeding colony of Double-Crested Cormorants to be seen at the entrance of Provincetown harbor and a spectacular sunrise to watch at Pilgrim Heights. We also had very good luck when it comes to the numbers and diversity of warblers to be found. This was a fantastic birding experience and one I am looking forward to doing again this year.

During my 2013 New England big year I had a chance to visit many beautiful beaches and coastal areas, from Rhode Island to Maine. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
In 2014 I plan to slow things down and focus much more on field observation and trying to sharpen my bird ID skills. Instead of checking e-bird reports constantly (a habit I alternately embraced and rejected several times throughout the course of this past year) I plan to focus on just getting outside wherever and whenever I can, with my binoculars and a notebook.  My goal is to keep detailed lists not only of the birds I see, but to gather as much data as I can, including notes on weather, bird behavior and breeding activity. Another thing I would like to do is make notes on field marks to help sharpen my ID skills, especially when it comes to sparrows, gulls, flycatchers and warblers. Wherever I go birding in the coming year this is going to be my approach - so I'll see where I end up birding and exploring, and of course I plan to share what I find, here on this blog.

So here's to a year of slow birding in 2014, and thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Friday, December 13, 2013

December birding in Rhode Island brings my list to 200 species for the year

A group of birders scans the waves for Surf Scoters, harlequin Ducks and other visitors to the Rhode Island coast in winter. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
Back in January I began a quest to complete my own version a birding big year, with a focus on Massachusetts. My original goal was to find 300 species of birds in Massachusetts, but over the course of 2013 my focus shifted a little, first to include all of New England. This was a really great project and I feel like it taught me a lot about bird ID, where to find birds, and gave me a glimpse into larger patterns of migration and the ways that birds interact with their environment. Although there are still two weeks left in the year and I may add another species or two to the list if I'm lucky, I have to say I'm pretty happy to have seen 179 species in New England, and another 21 species in Israel, for a total count of 200 species for the year.

During a recent outing to Rhode Island with Mass Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, I added the most recent 5 species which brought my year list to 200, all of which also happened to be life birds, which was really exciting. During this outing I added a Purple Sandpiper feeding in the surf along a rocky outcropping, a Ruddy Turnstone along the beach, a beautfiul Snowy Owl perched atop a huge beach-side rock, a White-crowned Sparrow feeding in brush along a trail and several Black Scoters just off of the beaches near Newport. In the next two weeks I'm looking forward to getting out a little more, but for now I have to say I'm pretty happy to have reached 200 species for the year.

I'm looking forward to getting outdoors as often as I can in 2014, and hopefully exploring some new areas in New England other parts of the country.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Friday, December 6, 2013

November birding in Israel

A large pond in the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens offers birders an excellent place to watch for Little Egret and at least two species of Kingfisher. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

Last month I had a chance to do a little birding in Jerusalem, a place which is not only rich with thousands of years of history and culture, but  a wonderful place to go see an incredible range of species passing through on their way to and from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean and other parts of the Middle East. Over the course of a few days I visited the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, the Wohl Rose Garden and the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, where I saw many interesting birds.

A Eurasian Jay searches for food along the edge of a stream at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory in Israel. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.
At the Jerusalem Bird Observatory I spent several hours inside the hide watching Eurasian Jays, European Robins, White-spectacled Bulbuls, Palestine Sunbirds, Laughing Doves and other birds that I got to know fairly well when I lived in Jerusalem in 2009. I also had a chance to speak with some staff and volunteers at the observatory who were doing a bird banding demonstration, and were nice enough to let me know which birds watch out for in the area this time of year.While I saw many great birds at the observatory and in the Wohl Rose Garden across the street I have to admit I was slightly disappointed that I did not see a Bluethroat, a particularly striking bird that I have wanted to add to my life list for some time now. One surprising find were two House Crows, a species not native to Israel and more commonly found in India, but which has established a presence in the country.

Hooded Crows like the ones in the photo above are a common sight throughout the city of Jerusalem and can often be seen perched in trees and foraging for food in city parks. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

I particularly enjoyed birding in the botanical gardens, with its winding paths that take visitors on a botanical tour of the world. It was here that I added 4 new species to my life list: Grey Wagtail, Little Egret, Sardinian Warbler and White-throated Kingfisher. I also had a lot of fun trying to get close to and photograph some of the lizards that were enjoying the late Autumn sunshine, basking on the rock walls that line the walking trails.
At the Jerusalem Botanical garden a  Little Egret stalks along a partially submerged cable, hunting for food. Image copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.

In total I added 23 species to my year list, and 10 to my life list, which was not bad considering I had limited time to go birding. I'm looking forward to returning soon and getting out into other parts of the country to look for dessert species in the south and hopefully to visit the Hula Valley, one of the best spots for birding on the planet.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2013.