What a winter! Intense cold in the Midwest, drought in California, and a heat wave in Alaska, of all places. Did I mention the cold? Much of the eastern United States has seen temperatures 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than average, and despite a recent thaw, this cold snap is set to return. These low temperatures have led to some interesting bird movements, particularly around the 95% frozen Great Lakes, which has huge numbers of ducks and gulls wandering around in search of open water.
PA Birder experienced the major movement of waterfowl, particularly Red-necked Grebes and White-winged Scoters:
A few days ago, a red-necked grebe showed up at Pittsburgh’s Point (which is where two of Pittsburgh’s rivers come together to form the third). So, this Saturday, I went down to try to see the bird as well as the huge numbers of gulls which have been seen there. We arrived at the point at dawn (the gulls only roost here for the night so we wanted to arrive before they left for the day). Almost immediately, I saw the grebe swimming in the ice filled water just offshore! A life bird and my last North American grebe species! In addition to that, there were also a group of four white-winged scoters (which I had seen previously here) as well as a goldeneye, two male long-tailed ducks, and a pair of greater scaup. What made it better is that all of these birds were fairly close to shore, allowing for great views.
For those sick of the cold, how about a trip to Africa? On Next Generation Birders, Ben Porter recounts his adventures last year in Kenya, in a post peppered with green vegetation, colorful birds, and unfrozen water! With warmer temperatures, however, come biting insects:
Sometimes we could be birding for over half an hour without seeing a bird, and then suddenly would come across a feeding party of Little Yellow Flycatchers, Pale Batis, Red-tailed Ant-thrushes, Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Black-headed Apalis and, if you are lucky, Clarke’s Weavers and an Amani Sunbird. Going off-trail in pursuit of such feeding parties does, however, have its disadvantages…a warning for anyone who ends up here: wear long trousers and trainers!! Let me explain…one minute you can be concentrating on a Mombasa Woodpecker creeping along the branches overhead, when the next minute you are suddenly attacked from below by what seems to be a hundred simultaneous stings! Tens of unseen Safari Ants will bombard your innocent feet, all of them giving quite painful bites. This sends you into a frenzied panic run, pelting away from the ants and stomping your feet on the ground to try and get them off! This can happen MANY times during a stint of forest birding.
I’ve been cooped up inside studying, so I spend my time reminiscing about birding adventures and birding vicariously. Prairie Birder has a wonderful interview with Neil Hayward, who set the new ABA-area Big Year record:
PB: Of all the locations where you birded in 2013, which would you like to return for a more in-depth visit, and more birding?
Neil: Alaska. I loved the rugged scenery and wilderness. This year was my first time to the state, and after eight trips, and almost two months there, I really felt like it was becoming familiar. I felt very comfortable in Anchorage, getting to know the city, coffee shops and restaurants. (And one of the best used bookstores — Title Wave Books — in the US!)
As for the birding locations in Alaska — the potential for rarities is high, which always adds to the anticipation. And although I liked chasing birds, they were always other people’s birds. In Alaska, there was a much better chance of finding your own birds.
The author of Beaking Off traveled to rugged wilderness at the other end of the world: Antarctica! There are plenty of whales, seals, icebergs, and, of course, penguins:
We had an amazing cruise around the cove instead, floating by masses of penguins who gathered at the edge of the rocks to watch us. It seemed as though the more curious they were, the further away from their plump bodies they held their tiny wings. Their way of walking was both clumsy and endearing: they leaned forward as though pushing through strong headwinds, lifting their huge ungainly feet in clumsy steps that resulted in a bit of a waddling gait, and stretched their wings straight out behind them.
On Bill’s Birding, Bill has a close encounter with a gorgeous male Red Grouse in England. His photographs are simply spectacular:
Whilst in Durham, we headed up higher into the North Pennines in the hope of finding Red Grouse. Snow was covering much of the high ground making the birds easier to spot, and one obliging individual in particular made its presence quickly known- flying in out of nowhere and displaying beautifully at close range…