Sunday, April 26, 2009

Warblers and a Flutterby

Today, as temperatures reached into the mid 90's, the birds were mostly hunkered down, avoiding the heat as much as possible. The only problem is that I was leading a beginners walk that did not start until 2pm (ouch!, for birds and heat).

I got up fairly early to conduct my bird survey at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, not expecting to see many birds as a result of the heat, even in the early morning. My mom (who was with me) and I saw 48 species, decent for the end of April. We didn't see anything incredibly exciting, but some new warblers for the year showed up, including Yellow, Black-throated Green, Prairie, and Black-and-white. We also saw a few Palm Warblers which have been around for the past few weeks.

Yellow Warbler:

When I returned home, a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was visiting the feeders. It was interesting to see RBGR and Pine Siskins at the same feeder. After a small rest after returning home, I walked my butterfly survey loop, which covers about 1 mile. The butterflies were slow at first, I found a few Cabbage Whites on some daffodils and a small group of Spring Azures (C. ladon) along the edge of some woods. As I walked into the woods, I realized that many of the butterflies were staying the forest, rather than venturing into the heat of the sun. Among the numerous Cabbage Whites and Spring Azures, I found a single Sleepy Duskywing.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak:

As I continued through the forest, several Spring Azures and some unidentified butterflies (flew away before I could ID them) were nectaring on some blooming Serviceberry trees. As I walked through a small opening in the woods, a pair of Juvenal's Duskywings plopped themselves on the ground in front of me. After being "harassed" by these duskywings, I descended down the final stretch of the survey loop. This area is usually crappy for butterflies, not usually producing much except Mourning Cloaks and Cabbage Whites. As I was about to pack my notebook away, a small, brown butterfly flew past me, landing on the trail in front of me. As I put up my binoculars, I noticed that I was looking at an amazingly-patterned Eastern Pine Elfin, a butterfly "lifer".

Eastern Pine Elfin:

After enjoying the butterfly, it was time to head to my bird walk at Jacobsburg State Park. Upon arrival, I heard a Yellow Warbler and an American Crow, but nothing else--not good. As people started showing up, we split the group in two. One half went with me, the other half with my co-leader, Dennis Miller. As my group headed across the road from the main parking lot, then to a bird-less area, all anyone could thing about was the heat. After five minutes of toad watching, we headed to the Bushkill Creek, where the group got great looks at a male Belted Kingfisher.

As the heat continued to rise, we voted on heading to the mixed/hemlock forest for shade. Upon entering the forest, a beginner on the walk spotted birds feeding on a "lump". The "lump" happened to be a nest, which was being built by a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. We watched for a few minutes as the pair brought lichen pieces to the camouflaged nest. We continued up the trail to a steep hillside, where I stopped to point out the first bird that we had seen in a while, a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

As soon as everyone had gotten great looks at the butter-butt, birds started appearing from every direction! The first bird was a Worm-eating Warbler, which was feeding on the ground less than twenty feet below us. More warblers and other birds started popping up. Before long, the trees were filled with Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Great Crested Flycatchers, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Nashville, and Worm-eating Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos, and several White-throated Sparrows. After spending over an hour at the same place, we returned to the parking lot, where we found out we were quite a bit later than the other group. It turns out that the other group saw next to nothing, which their best birds being a Common Yellowthroat (decent considering first of season) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker (only on a really really bad day can a Red-belly be a "best bird").

After returning home, I walked around my yard until sunset, only finding a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers and hearing a distant Barred Owl. While migration has yet to completely let loose!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wildflowers, but still no neotropicals

While the birds have yet to return, wildflowers are poking up the woods by my house. We have a few wooded seeps on our property, which allow some wet-loving plants to grow, like this Northern White Violet (Viola pallens):

Common White Violet

Some flowering trees, like Spicebush and this Serviceberry are in full bloom:


Without warblers (other than Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped), I have noticed myself taking more photos and taking longer looks at things like Eastern Towhees and Hermit Thrushes.

male Eastern Towhee

Hermit Thrush

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Birds for the Year

Today was a great birding day; the temperature was in the 60's and the sun was shining. In the field across from my house, I found a singing Brown Thrasher, the first one of the year. After watching several Tree Swallows dive bomb a circling Cooper's Hawk, I ventured into the woods. Just after entering the woods, I found a Blue-headed Vireo (another first of year bird) feeding in some flowering Red Maples.

Hermit Thrush:

Further up the trail, the Jack Pines were filled with Pine Warblers. There were at least 4 singing males, along with several females. Along this trail, I heard a group of Wild Turkeys and heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming. A pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers chased each other through the woods, while a Pileated Woodpecker sailed through the trees. Later, I had two more new year birds, a Gray Catbird and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Blue-headed Vireo:

Butterflies were also flying:

Eastern Comma-4
Cabbage White-1
Mourning Cloak-4
Spring Azure-9

Pine Warbler:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Butterfly Survey

Today I completed the first of my butterfly surveys of the year. This survey is done on my property and covers a 1.5 mile walking loop. The survey covers many habitats including gardens (native and ornamental), deciduous forests, jack pine stands, fallow farm field, and little blue stem fields.

Spring Azure:

Today, I found three species on the survey. While not conducting the survey, I saw an additional species, Cabbage White (Pieris rapae). Here are the results from the survey:

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)-6
Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)-12
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)-2

Eastern Comma:

Friday, April 3, 2009


This evening, I attended the vernal pool program at Bear Swamp Archery Complex, organized by Jacobsburg State Park. There was a great turnout (over 30 people) and the herpetologists Andy Curtis and John Becker were great. We started out by turning rocks over to look for salamanders and newts. We found lots of Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) and several Red Efts (Notophthalmus viridescens) (terrestrial form of Red-spotted Newt). We also saw a single Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus).

Spotted Salamander:

After searching the first vernal pond, and finding nothing but a Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) and some egg masses, we headed to a large drainage pond along the road. Here, the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) were extremely loud. In a back corner of this pond, over 20 Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) had congregated, swimming and wriggling around.

Spotted Salamander: