Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012...Hello 2013!

Today is the last day of 2012. It's been amazing, and I'm almost sorry to see it go. But 2013 will be, too--I can feel it. :)

Something I like to do on New Year's Eve is to think about all the good things that happened in the past year, and also the bad things. Why were the good things so good? And what could have been done to make the bad things not so bad?
Then, on New Year's Day, I think about everything I want to achieve in the new year. For example, this year I resolved to finish the ABA's Young Birder of the Year contest. Did I do it? Just barely; I submitted my last entry just hours before the deadline. :)

Whatever your resolutions may be, I wish you good luck on achieving them, and wish you all a happy New Year. :)


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Well, it's that time of year again. The weather is colder, the lights are up, and everyone is rushing around trying to get everything done. Can you believe it? Christmas is less than a week away!
Whether you are wrapping presents, decorating the Christmas tree (if you are then you're late :P), or compiling the results of a recent Christmas Bird Count, I hope this post finds you in good health and high spirits. Merry Christmas!!

Oh! Recently I've been looking through photos from previous years, and I've found some good ones.

Photos from Christmases past:

It snowed last year, which was weird for down here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shelby Farms Park--11/17/12

The morning of Saturday, November 17th dawned cold and clear. It was 6 in the morning, and my dad and I were up and eating breakfast, even though the east was just beginning to glow with the rising sun. I was anticipating a morning of birding Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, TN with the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. I hadn't been out birding in a month and a half, and I was ready to get started.

It was not the best time for birds, though. November is on the border between fall and winter. The trees have (mostly) lost their leaves, but it's not quite cold enough to be winter. The birds notice this, too. The summer residents have gone, the migrants have passed through, but not all the winter residents have arrived yet. November is not known for its "birdiness", but birding is birding, all the same.

We met with the other participants in the amphitheater parking lot at about 7:30. I was surprised at the amount of people there. I was not used to large birding groups, and 24 people seemed like a lot. We broke up into smaller groups, however, with 8 people in each. My group birded the space around the pistol range, as well as the riding stables and Chickasaw Lake.

We had to drive to our destination, and as we followed the group leader, he kept stopping at every bird he saw. He was rather skilled in the art of keeping one hand on the wheel and the other on his binoculars without causing an accident. When we arrived, he lost no time in calling out birds.
"White-throat, White-crowned, Field! Lots of sparrows over here, guys."

Turns out the day was great for sparrows. We saw Savannah, Swamp, White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Field, and Fox. No Vesper Sparrows, though. They're usually seen at that location at this time of year, but we didn't see any. A notable sighting was Gray Catbird. November is pretty late for them, so it was rather unusual.

The brush piles and cotton fields around the pistol range produced many species, including my lifer Winter Wren! I'm pretty excited about that one. One species that failed to show, however, was Lapland Longspur. It's somewhat of a nemesis bird for me, and I was hoping to see one, but we didn't.
After we left the pistol range we headed to the riding stables and Chickasaw Lake. The lake was full of ducks, including Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, and Gadwall. As well as another lifer: Northern Pintail! We got other new species for our day list as well: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Great Blue Heron.
Around this time my dad checked the time, saw that it was 9:15, and decided that it was time to leave. So we did, and left feeling satisfied with another day of birds, birding, and two lifers. It was pretty fun!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guess Whose Birthday it is....

Not mine; my blog's! Yep, on November 7, 2011, this blog was created. Has it really been a year? I haven't posted in a while (sorry!), so I thought I'd post some special never-before-seen photos from recently, and any time in the last year. Here are some:

That's all for now, folks! I hope to be around more in the future.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hummingbird Migration Celebration

This post is kind of late, so I apologize.

September 7--9 were the dates of the National Audubon Society's annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi. If you've read an earlier post I wrote, you'll know how great Strawberry Plains is. It's even greater in early September, when the hummingbirds are getting ready for their long migration to Central America. The Center's feeders are literally buzzing with hummers. It's like a hummingbird fallout!
The Hummingbird Migration Celebration is the biggest Audubon event in the country, partly because it's so close to Memphis, TN, but mostly because it's so much fun. Strawberry Plains almost feels like a different place, with all the people and tents all around. My favorite was the hummingbird banding tent, where you could see hummingbirds being banded while the banders explained how it was done.

The hummingbirds are caught in traps set up around the feeders. They are basically wire cages with doors that can be pulled shut by an attached fishing line. Once the hummingbirds are caught, they are put in little drawstring mesh bags to wait their turn for banding.

The band is very, very small, which is why I didn't get a photo; the camera wouldn't focus. It is pried open and placed in the banding pliers, which are just pliers with tongs on the end in the exact shape and size of the band. The band is then squeezed shut around the hummingbird's leg. Then the hummingbird is weighed, its fat content measured, and then placed in some lucky little kid's hands to be released. It was really cool.

There were plenty of other tents, including one for the Organization for Bat Conservation. There was a program given by the director, about all kinds of bats. He brought some live bats to show the audience, including the largest bat in the world, the flying fox, which is about the size of a large hare. I had only read about them before, so I was excited by this.

Flying Fox, the largest bat in the world.

He had also brought a Malaysian fruit bat and a big brown bat, and gave everyone close-up looks of both. It was pretty awesome.

There were also kids' tents, artwork on display, and, to the excitement of my amateur geologist brother, a rock tent. All of them were very interesting, and the festival itself was fun for all.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Changes

 It was officially fall weeks ago, but I've only just started to believe it. Today the high temperature is 59 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty cool for October in the South.
The trees have just started changing colors; their leaves portraying just a hint of yellow, orange, or red. It's actually quite pretty. I went with my youth group to Natchez Trace State Park near Jackson, Tennessee last Saturday, and the trees were especially noticeable. I was going to bring my camera, but unfortunately the memory card is used up and I have to wait a while for the new one. But before the memory card complained that it was full to bursting, I was able to take a few photos of some fall changes in our yard:

The leaves are turning (finally)

The persimmons are ripe!

The grass is going to seed...

And finally, I can wear jeans without melting! :D

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Just a Quick Post... let you guys know that I have written another post for the ABA's Young Birder Blog, The Eyrie! I'm really excited about it. Here's the link:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New Place, New Experiences, New Birds

We just got back from vacation in coastal Alabama! We went with our grandparents, uncle, aunt, and two cousins. The reason we went was to celebrate our grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. We stayed at Fort Morgan Island, a barrier island off of Mobile Bay. We'd never been there before, and all of us but my dad and older brother hadn't been to the beach for about five years. That meant lots of fun, new experiences, and, of course, new birds.
I've always loved Alabama, but I had only been to the northern part of the state before. Southern Alabama is completely different. Firstly, it's way flatter. No mountains there. Not even hills. Secondly, the people talk different. It's still a southern accent, but different somehow. And thirdly, some of the birds are way different as well. It has most of the birds of north Alabama, but also the special birds of the Gulf Coast. So yeah, southern Alabama is awesome.
But just how awesome? Our first peek at that was as we were driving over Mobile Bay. From the bridge you could see the battleship U.S.S. Alabama, which was retired and turned into a museum. My brothers thought it was great, and so did I, but my attention was slightly diverted by pelicans, gulls, egrets everywhere! I was not ready for the Gulf's birdiness (which is a real word, I assure you).

We arrived on Friday, August 31st, but it was too late to do anything but unpack and go to bed at our rental house. On Saturday, we went to the beach bright and early. The sun was shining, the water was just right, and there were shells just waiting to be collected and birds just waiting to be found. I wasted no time kicking off my flip-flops, grabbing my binoculars and camera, and setting off down the beach. I had forgotten to change into my swimsuit, so I couldn't go in the water, but that was all right. I immediately spotted some Sanderlings, which to some are considered too common to be interesting. But you forget, I hadn't been to the beach in five years, so to me, they were a real treat. So were the Laughing Gulls, which believe it or not, was a lifer for me.

Sanderling among seaweed.

Out to sea a little ways, I saw brown pelicans and some terns I identified as both Royal and Common (both of which were lifers!).
I decided to take some notes on the Sanderlings, and followed them a little ways to where I was rewarded with yet another lifer--a Willet! It was very cooperative and did not seem to mind the ecstatic clicking of my camera. 

My lifer Willet.
While I'm on the subject of Willet, I will say this. Isn't it funny how sometimes the AOU code for some species are actual names? Like Willet is WILL. Dickcissel is DICK. And Hudsonian Godwit is HUGO. Yeah, I know, that was completely random.

So anyway, we came back to the beach on Sunday and I did something I've always wanted to do--I birded in my swimsuit! No lifers then, though.
Also on Sunday, we went to the famed Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, AL. We went around midday, so that combined with all the sound we were making meant we didn't see that many birds. We saw Prothonotary Warbler(!), Great Blue Heron, and Royal Tern, among others. We also saw two dead snakes, one of which may have been a copperhead (we couldn't tell--it didn't have a head).

The boardwalk at Bon Secour NWR.

Bon Secour NWR is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, and covers over 4,000 acres of maritime forest, beaches, swamps, and dunes. It is home to the endangered Alabama Beach Mouse, and is a nesting site for loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. The Kemp's ridley is critically endangered, and is only known to nest on the Gulf Coast.

Speaking of endangered animals, I found evidence while at the beach that the BP oil spill is not completely gone. I noticed some black stuff in the tide and asked what it was. My uncle, who had been there before, told me it was the remnants of oil.

Oil in the tide.

Sunday night we took a walk on the beach at night. Wow, it was beautiful. We arrived at sunset, and only when I saw the amazing photo opportunity did I realize I had forgotten the camera. But fortunately, when there's good light, it doesn't matter what camera you use. I used my dad's iPhone. I don't have the photo uploaded yet, but I'll try to get it up here soon.

We looked for ghost crabs and found a whole bucketload of them. The art of ghost crab catching is surprisingly difficult. The crabs are so fast you must be stealthy, quick, and have good eyesight.
Once we had caught about twenty, the scene inside the bucket began to look a little too much like a crab version of the Hunger Games, so we let them go.

Monday morning dawned bright, warm, and, as is so typical of southern Alabama, humid. We went to the fort for which Fort Morgan Island is named, which was used in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World Wars 1 and 2. It was huge, interesting, and altogether very cool.

On Tuesday we went home. I had only one regret: I had not seen an Anhinga, a bird I had always wanted to see. I was just thinking about this when out the car window, in a wooded swamp, I saw a large, majestic, heronlike bird with a long, thin neck; its black and white wings stretched out to dry. An Anhinga. It wasn't a great look, and only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to put a smile on my badly sunburned face and give me one last lifer before leaving the state I now love even more. Alabama. :-)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Photo Update

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it? I'm sorry I haven't been around much; it's been pretty busy around here. I thought that you, my patient readers, would like to see what I've been photographing lately, and so here are some photos:

 A crape myrtle blossom.

A baby Eastern Kingbird I found in our Rose of Sharon bush.

A really pretty Luna Moth I found.

We saw these black bear claw marks on a beech tree at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. They're probably about 3 to 5 years old. Black bears usually don't live in Mississippi, so this one was probably passing through.

Well, I hope everyone's having a great rest-of-summer and a great new school year!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Strawberry Plains Audubon Center-- 8/4/12

The school year has started. That simple phrase can fill some with dread, others with happiness, and still others with a mix of the two. I enjoyed my summer vacation, but I'm excited about the new school year all the same. There are several good things about it. It means I'm in 8th grade (scary thought), it makes the weekend all the more sweet, marks the start of fall migration!

My dad, my little brother and I celebrated by taking a trip to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, MS on Saturday. We set out at about 8:15 AM and arrived at about 9. It was supposed to be a group walk, but the leader never showed up. So another very nice person, a mammalogist, drove us to a nearby pond to see some shorebirds. Upon getting out of the golfcart, we spotted a number of small indistinct shorebirds. Determinedly, we raised our binoculars and squinted at them. Our mammalogist guide was at about the same place I am with shorebird identification, so we discussed their field marks until we had to resort to a field guide. We ended up identifying them as Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as a lone Least Sandpiper.

This photo shows all three species.
The pond was full of many more natural wonders, including turtles, fish, insects, and footprints. We found raccoon, coyote, deer and even bobcat tracks.

Bobcat track.
There were also scores of bird tracks.

A heron track among sandpiper prints.
We looked up from the footprints just in time to see a yellowlegs being chased by.....was that a hummingbird? Those little guys are fierce!

We also noticed about ten turtles sunning themselves on some dead branches sticking out of the water.

As far as we could tell, they were all Red-eared Sliders.

We then decided to move on to the wildflower meadow. The wildflower meadow is an old farm pasture that is controlled with fire and planted with wildflowers. It is a great place to see all kinds of grassland species. It was getting kind of late in the morning, so we didn't expect to see too many birds, but we got a pretty good amount all the same. We heard Field Sparrow, saw White-eyed Vireo and Indigo Bunting, as well as a female Common Yellowthroat; all nice additions to our list. We ended up with 14 species in an hour and a half.

Some of you may have heard of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center's Hummingbird Migration Celebration in September. It is the biggest Audubon event in the country, and it is awesome. It happens this year on the weekend of September 7--9, and I am definitely looking forward to it. The hummingbirds were there in force on Saturday, as we found out when we saw the large collection of hummer feeders at the Center. They were cooperative, friendly, and altogether fun to photograph!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

National Moth Week!

This coming week (July 22--29) is National Moth Week! I actually just found that out yesterday and thought it would be fun to spend the whole week looking for, studying, and reading about moths. If you want to learn more about National Moth Week, here's a link to the website:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

High Summer

Well, it's definitely summer now. The temperature has been in the hundreds all week, and we're down 13 inches in rain. We're all looking forward to next week, where we have a 50% chance of rain and the temps are down into the 80s, even. It's been too hot to properly enjoy the outdoors lately, so mostly I've been reading inside. But I have managed to take a few photos lately, even if I did forget the camera when we went to watch fireworks on the 4th. Here are some:

Even the parched grass is pretty at sunset :).

That's all for now, folks! Have a great summer and stay cool!

Monday, June 25, 2012

To St. Louis...and Beyond!

As I mentioned in my most recent post, my family kicked summer off with 5 awesome days of exploring St. Louis, Missouri! Well, kind of re-exploring. We used to live there about seven years ago, and it's where I was born. St. Louis is officially my favorite city I've been to when it comes to birding. I'm sure you've all heard of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow population there. I was frustrated that I couldn't remember seeing them when we lived there, because my mom said they were all over our yard. So I was looking forward to this trip....but guess what? Not a single one. Maybe it's true their population is dropping. I guess the upside is I've pretty much memorized every single field mark of the House Sparrow's, as I looked extra-close at every one I saw. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Upon arriving at our hotel, my little brothers had so much pent-up energy from five hours of driving that we had to find the nearest park, and fast. That park happened to be Shaw Park, a fairly large green area in the middle of downtown Clayton, MO, which is just outside of St. Louis. After locating the playground, my mom said I could walk around and bird a little. I realized to late that I had forgotten the camera, so my always well-prepared mom lent me her iPhone. I actually manged to take some pretty good photos with it. There weren't that many birds, but I occupied myself with photographing the flowers in the sunset lighting. Here are some results:

So basically, if you have great light, it doesn't matter all that much what camera you're using. :)

The next day, Wednesday, we went to the St. Louis Science Center and the Butterfly House. Again, I forgot the camera. Again, my mom let me use her iPhone.
Having been born in St. Louis and living there until I was 6, I could remember some things about the Science Center. Like the huge robotic dinosaurs, for instance.

My baby brother seemed quite taken with them. Funny, when I was his age, I was terrified of them.

My little brothers were so excited about the whole thing that they hardly looked at one exhibit for more than 5 minutes. The whole center should have taken almost the whole day. Instead, it took about 2 hours. There were fossils, computers, robots, rocks, space exhibits, engineering exhibits, and pretty much everything else. There was also a planetarium, but the boys for some reason didn't want to check it out. But we still had a pretty good time.

Then we went to the Butterfly House! I suppose I should probably describe it to you.... Well, the house itself is basically a giant green house filled with tropical plants and butterflies. It's surrounded by butterfly gardens and a big park. Near it, there is also a historic village, with buildings built during or after the Civil War. It's all very impressive. Here are some photos I took:

On Thursday, we went to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Little did we know this was going on:

We'd been to that before! Years ago when it was just a few exhibits! Now it was way more than that. There were hundreds of exhibits, most of them made out of silk and wire with lights inside. Some were made out of other materials this dragon:

It's huge! And it's made out of nothing but....

Plates! That's why it's called the porcelain dragon. Even more impressive: There's two of them!

There was also a sailboat made out of plastic water that's what I call recycling.

Apparently, it took about 30 years to make all the exhibits. No wonder.

Of course, there were also plants. Here are some photos:

And there were even a few birds:

Like this molting Red-tailed Hawk being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.

A surprisingly cooperative cardinal.

And some mallards. They were bathing in the lake in the Japanese Gardens. I wish I had gotten the top of the head in this photo, but otherwise I like it.

So just as a mid-way warning, this post is going to be extremely long. I don't blame you if you lose interest, but for the patient people out there I will continue writing.

Okay, on with the post. The next day we went to the City Museum. When you think 'museum', you usually think of fossils, ancient artifacts, etc. But the St. Louis City Museum is like a museum combined with a giant indoor playground. The roof says it all.

Yep, it's awesome. It's supposed to be strange and completely random, and it is. When you walk in, the first thing you see is a giant maze. It goes underground, over the floor, and up in the air. We all had a great time in it.

That's me and two of my brothers climbing into the maze, photo by my mom. The lighting wasn't that good on the first floor, as there weren't many windows. But it improved on the second floor, which was full of architecture, collections of specimens, and...doorknobs.

Kind of strange. But the specimen collections were really cool!

There was a whole room lined with specimens! Here are some examples:

There was an albino squirrel.

And LOTS of butterflies and moths.

This is, my little brother put it, "A pickled python!"

The City Museum was extremely fun, and we hope to return someday!

And that's pretty much everything we did in St. Louis (except for Shaw Nature Reserve, but that's what my previous post is about). I hope you enjoyed hearing about our adventures there!