Monday, December 30, 2013

New Camera!

As you all know, Christmas Day was a few days ago. And guess what was under the tree for me and my mom?
A Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera!

It's so beautiful...

It came with 18-55mm, 50mm, and 75-300mm lenses. I wasted no time in getting it set up and proceeded to take as many photos as possible between spending time at grandma's, stuffing myself with delicious food, and giving and receiving gifts.

Even dead weeds can be pretty.

A White-throated Sparrow.
I hope to take many more photos with it and do some experimenting, so hopefully there will be some new posts on this blog soon.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review #2: Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine

Douglas Adams is most commonly known as the author of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a science-fiction/humor novel that is probably one of the funniest books I've ever read. But not only did Mr. Adams write science-fiction, he wrote about some science fact as well.
Last Chance to See is the compilation of several expeditions Douglas Adams went on to look for the world's most endangered animals, led by zoologist Mark Cawardine. The book is written in a hilarious, witty style, but still manages to teach you important facts about the lives and situations of all of the animals.
Each chapter recounts an expedition, to anywhere from Madagascar to the Yangtze River in China. I enjoyed every one of them, but I especially liked the chapters titled "Heartbeats in the Night", about kakapos in New Zealand, and "Rare, or Medium Rare?", about fruit bats on Mauritius Island.
I particularly liked the way Mr. Adams described the animals--on kakapos: "It has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right, though you know that it probably won't be." On Komodo dragons: "One is over twelve feet long and stands about a yard high, which you can't help but feel is entirely the wrong size for a lizard to be, particularly if it's a man-eater and you're about to go and share an island with it."
Just as entertaining is the way he described the scientists he met on his travels; for example, an ornithologist on Mauritius: "One of the things you need to know about him, indeed the thing you need to know about him, is that he's an ornithologist. Once you know that, everything else more or less falls into place."

I would give Last Chance to See 5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer Photography

This blog has been sadly void of new posts lately, and for that I apologize. Again. (I am working on a new book review post, though, so be on the lookout!)
Though I haven't been posting much, I have been taking lots of photos. I thought I'd share some with you guys.

A Buckeye butterfly.

Bluebird babies!  

We had two pairs of Eastern Bluebirds nesting in our new nestboxes this spring! They should return soon for the next brood.

A female Common Whitetail Skimmer.
 I received The Princeton Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East for my birthday about two months ago. It is awesome, and I had no idea that there were this many species of Odonata until I got that book. 576 pages of them, and that's only for the eastern United States!

A Red-headed Woodpecker preparing to steal our blackberries.
Field notes on a Cerulean Warbler.
I also got my lifer Cerulean Warbler a couple of months ago on a walk at Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, which I was super excited about. I didn't get any photos, but I did take field notes.

Well, that's all for now. Again, I am working on a book review post that should (hopefully) be up soon. But I'm really busy, because my dad and older brother are in New Mexico ( many awesome birds there) at Philmont Scout Ranch with my brother's Boy Scout troop, so I'm helping my mom take care of my little brothers.
But anyway, I hope all of you have an awesome 4th of July (if you're American) and a great summer!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Random Contemplation

It seems whenever I come back from birding somewhere; be it my backyard, a park, or anywhere; someone always asks me "See anything good?". My reply is usually "Well, I saw *insert list of species here*." I never actually answer the question.
But what makes a bird a 'good bird'?

The Pink-footed Goose is considered a good bird in America. Whenever one gets blown over here, people come from all over the country to see it. But in Europe, the Pink-footed Goose is considered a pest.
It's the same the other way around. If, say, an American Robin got blown over to England, the poor thing would be mobbed by birders lugging hundreds of pounds of optics just to get a look at a bird we Americans dismiss as 'just a robin'. So I guess location is one of the ingredients in the 'good bird formula'.

Another ingredient, I think, has to do with the personal experience of a birder. When I had just started birding, any bird was good. I would spend hours watching chickadees at the feeder, and I distinctly remember running out in my pajamas in the freezing cold to see Piliated Woodpeckers chase each other around a tree trunk. Of course, I was six years old, but I'm sure every beginning birder has moments similar to that. And of course, if the bird is a lifer, it is most definitely a good bird.

If a good bird is defined by its location and its observer's experience, then isn't every bird a good bird somewhere, and to someone?
There are, of course, some birds that are always good, regardless of where they are or the number of times you've seen them. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper, for example. There are so few left that whenever one is seen it's an amazing find.
The definition of a good bird is more complicated than I thought.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Case of the Missing Chickens

On Monday, April 8, something strange happened. I went out to open the door of the chicken coop to let the chickens out, just like I do every morning. But when I got there, I found the door already open. Maybe I had forgotten to shut it the previous evening. That would be bad, as leaving the door wide open leaves the chickens vulnerable to foxes, raccoons, possums, etc.  Upon looking inside, I saw that something had apparently taken advantage of that.
All 32 chickens were gone, and there were black feathers everywhere. But only a few of our chickens were black, so this doesn't make sense. Plus, how could one animal eat 32 chickens? We don't have coyotes in our neighborhood, so none of the animals here hunt in packs. We searched the whole yard, but didn't find any other evidence.

The chicken coop.

A few days later, my dad was working in the garden and found a hole with feathers in it. These feathers were barred black and white; presumably from a Domonique chicken, which we had several of. It looked as if something, maybe a fox, had buried a chicken there and come back for it later. Not long after, we found more evidence that seemed to point to a fox.
The fence in the back corner of the chickens' yard was bent, and a hole was dug under it. It certainly looked like a fox had done it.

We've come up with a theory that at least explains why there are only black feathers in the chicken coop: The three full-grown Black Australorp hens were harder for the predator to grab hold of and struggled, explaining all the feathers. But the little chickens, who were only about 8 weeks old, were much easier to kill and carry out of the coop.

That's all we could come up with. Our friend suggested that the Chicken Hawk took them, but I'm pretty sure that's not what happened. If you have an idea, share it, please!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

Yes! Finally! The cherries, pears, and redbuds are turning their appropriate colors, the Pine Siskins and Dark-eyed Juncos are packing for their journey north, and the ground is blanketed with bluets and violets and the like. But it's been cold for spring here. The temperature is usually up into the seventies in March, but today the high was 58.

Cherry blossoms--one of my favorite things to photograph.

Cardinalis cardinalis--a bird so nice, they named it twice.'re probably wondering where I've been all this time. Well, I'm still alive; I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth or anything like that. I've merely been busy. That and inspiration has been somewhat lacking. I haven't been out birding in awhile, and I lost the battery charger for the camera. I found it when making Irish soda bread on St. Patrick's Day--it was in one of the loaf pans in the cabinet. We find all sorts of things in the cabinets, since my 2-year-old brother is rather fond of playing in them.

Also, we got 31 chicks a few weeks ago. Well, we were supposed to get 35, but 4 died on the way here from the hatchery in Ohio. The survivors are currently happy and healthy and living in a brooder in our garage.

And...(this is my favorite part) just this past Sunday the winners of the ABA's Young Birder of the Year Contest were announced! Congrats to the two grand-prize winners!! I was pleasantly surprised to discover I get third place in the writing module.

Once again, I promise I'll try to post more. Except my mom's going to have a baby in about a week and a half...But I'll do my best! Thanks for reading, and I hope your spring is full of birds and flowers and all those great things spring brings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review #1: The Animal Dialogues--Uncommon Encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs

Note: I have another blog for book reviews, but those books are mostly fiction. On this blog, I've decided to review some of my favorite nature books and field guides. Should be fun!

The Animal Dialogues is an incredible book. Craig Childs has a rare talent to combine adventure and scientific fact into thoroughly enjoyable and interesting stories. The Animal Dialogues is a collection of these stories, divided into sections named after different classes of animals (e.g. 'Birds, Aves'). Each of these stories is one of Mr. Childs' experiences. He's a naturalist and adventurer, and he has quite a few impressive stories to tell. Each one is written in an absorbing, descriptive style that had me glued to the page, anticipating what would happen next. Some of my favorites are 'Grizzly Bear', 'Mountain Lion', and 'Great Horned Owl'.

Craig Childs strikes me as someone who genuinely appreciates the true wonder and beauty of nature, and it really shines through in this book. The way he describes his encounter with a mountain lion in Arizona, a grizzly bear in Wyoming, and even just looking at a great blue heron on a pole gives me a rush of adrenaline and makes me feel like I'm there too. A couple of times the stories gave me vivid dreams.

The Animal Dialogues is definitely one of the best nature books I've ever read.