Wednesday, December 30, 2009


BIGBY, which stands for Big Green Big Year, is a newly developed idea in birding. BIGBY is similar to a normal Big Year that many birders participate in, but with BIGBY, the only means of transportation are things like bikes, walking, canoes, etc., hence the green part in the name.

I decided to add up the list of birds I have seen within walking distance from my house this year, and came up to a total of 145. I also had a Big Green Big Day, which was my Big Sit day where I found 70 species in my yard (you can read about that here:

Happy (almost) New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Bird Counts

This weekend I participated in two Audubon Christmas Bird Counts ( The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual event that birders across the eastern hemisphere get involved with. From Alaska to Antarctica, birders have established CBC circles in which they count birds in every year. Each of these circles has a radius of 7.5 miles. The birders then divide up the circle and make sure that people cover all areas of the CBC area. The date of CBCs differ from circle to circle, but they are required to fall between two weeks before Christmas to two weeks after Christmas.

In the Lehigh Valley area, there are several counts to help out with. Two of these counts, the Lehigh Valley Count (mainly Allentown area) and the Bethlehem-Hellertown-Easton (which, as the name suggests, covers Bethlehem, Hellertown, and Easton) are centered around the Lehigh Valley. Two others, the Wild Creek-Little Gap and the Merrill Creek CBCs are not centered in the valley, but are in the vicinity. The Merrill Creek count is mainly in New Jersey, but a small section stretches into PA. The Wild Creek-Little Gap is mainly north of the Kittatinny Ridge (Blue Mountain), and stretches from Beltzville to Kunkletown.

Dark-eyed Juncos, like this one, are always numerous during the winter months, and today was no exception.

This year, I participated in the Lehigh Valley and the Wild Creek-Little Gap counts. This was my fifth year for the LV CBC and my third year for the WC-LG CBC. The LV count has many more participants (last year,45 compared to 12), but similar number of species to Wild Creek.

Yesterday, December 19th, the Lehigh Valley CBC has held, despite the threatening weather report. My "team", which for most of the day was Terry Master, Barbara Malt, and me birded around out area. We saw very few birds, and we finished early, around 2pm when it began to snow.

Today was the Wild Creek-Little Gap count. For this count, I count birds in the Kunkletown area, which includes my house. This morning, there were 5 inches of snow on the ground when I got up to call for owls, and the temperature was at 19F. Despite my efforts, the only owl response I got was an Eastern Screech-Owl. Around 7:00, when the sky began to brighten, another screech-owl tremoloed from across the field and White-throated Sparrows began chirping.

I walked around the house a bit, but other than several juncos, birds were absent. Around 7:40, my dad and I got in the car and traveled to some local birding hotspots, which included a housing development and a grocery store parking lot. Well... we did find some Ring-billed Gulls in the parking lot and the housing development has a small lake, which held lots of Canada Geese, Mallards, and 4 Hooded Mergansers. The real hotspots today were the grassy fields around the area. While driving around, we found several with lots of juncos, but the one across from my house was the most productive with Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, 8 American Tree Sparrows, and 110 Dark-eyed Juncos.

American Tree Sparrows, a cheerful winter bird, were hanging out with flocks of juncos today.

Later in the day, I took a walk in the woods by my house where I found 2(!) Brown Creepers along with several more American Tree Sparrows. I finished up at 5pm, having birded for 12 hours. I ended up with only 29 species and 1453 individual birds. Here is the day's list:


Hooded Merganser-4

Canada Goose-779

Ring-billed Gull-4

Red-tailed Hawk-1

Eastern Screech-Owl-2

Mourning Dove-12

Belted Kingfisher-1

Red-bellied Woodpecker-5

Downy Woodpecker-10

Hairy Woodpecker-1

Eastern Bluebird-3

Hermit Thrush-1

Northern Mockingbird-5

Blue Jay-14

American Crow-91

Black-capped Chickadee-18

Tufted Titmouse-13

White-breasted Nuthatch-8

Brown Creeper-2

Carolina Wren-3

European Starling-98

Song Sparrow-4

American Tree Sparrow-15

White-throated Sparrow-12

Dark-eyed Junco-195

American Goldfinch-6

Northern Cardinal-17

House Sparrow-7

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Outdoor Christmas Tree

For the past few years, my family and I have been putting a small spruce tree on our deck. In the past, we have used this tree as a "bird tree" but stringing popcorn, fruit pieces, suet bits, and other bird food on the tree. With a tree full of food, lots of birds fly right on to the deck to feed. Many species of birds visited the tree when we had food on it, including chickadees, titmice, bluebirds, and nuthatches. This year, I have not had the time to put food on a bird tree, but today I did go out and get this year's outdoor Christmas tree:

In the south-eastern section of the property, there is a stand of old Norway Spruces, most likely planted many years ago, marking the edge of a field.

Today, these huge trees, although non-native, are home to an incredible number of organisms. In the past few winters, when the winter finches have come into Pennsylvania, the seed-filled spruces fed Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and White-winged Crossbills. For most of the year, Red Squirrels can be found munching on the cones, and during the winter, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are almost always present among the spruces.

Since the trees are tall and thick, they block much of the sun's light from reaching the ground. This, along with a small spring (which often dries up during the summer), keeps the ground damp and cool. This habitat is home to many species of mushrooms. The dampness also attracts several species of plants which do not occur elsewhere on the property: jack-in-the-pulpit, lopseed, and several wood fern species.

While the seed-bearing trees are beneficial, they are also creating a problem. The area north of the spruces is a grassy/sedgy area with several interesting plants (swamp milkweed, three dogwood species, and giant ragweed). Since the spruces produce so many seeds, there are several small to medium spruces popping up in the grassy area. So, for my outdoor Christmas tree, I use one of these little Norway Spruces.

The search for the perfect outdoor tree is always a fun excursion, and involves practicing tree identification. Although the majority of the trees in the area are spruces, there are also some other species.

I have to be careful no to cut down this...

...the needles are much longer than spruce's and are in groups (of five), where as spruce needles are not in groups, making this an Eastern White Pine.

I have to watch out for this Scot's Pine:

again, needles are long, and in groups or "packets" (of 2)

Hey, this one has short needles that are not in packets...

...but the needles are more or less flattened and are only on two sides of each branch. Also a look on the underside of each needle would show two parallel white lines, making this tree an Eastern Hemlock.

What about this one...

...although it has needles on all sides of the branch... this Eastern Redcedar has a much different shape and look than a spruce.

Here we go!

Norway spruce

Here are a few Norway Spruces which are fairly close together. By taking two trees that are close together, I am just doing what nature will eventually do by crowding out one of the trees.

So now I have my tree, but no time to put bird food on it... maybe I will get some on before the Wild Creek-Little Gap Christmas Bird Count next Sunday, which includes my house.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Open House

Today the Lehigh Gap Nature Center ( held its annual Holiday Open House. The afternoon started with an activity led by Bill and Loraine Mineo. As organic farmers, the Mineos prefer to grow plants naturally and make things out of natural materials. At the open house, the Mineos taught the open house attendants how to make wreaths.

The Mineos brought several types of evergreens to make the wreaths:

Branches of white pine and cedars were then woven through twisted grape vine to create a base for the wreath:

Wreath-makers also had the opportunity to add decorations to their wreaths:

After 45 minutes of weaving branches, beautiful wreaths started to emerge:

After making the natural wreaths, a few participants created bird feeders using peanut butter and gray birch logs:

Thank you to everyone who helped out and brought things (especially the cookies) for the open house.

As I write this, there are three inches of snow on the ground and the flakes are still falling...

Happy Holidays!