Youth Birding Competition day one

Last weekend, tons of teams of birders, all in High school or below, competed to try to see the most species in one 24 hour period (5pm-5pm). The competition began on Friday at 5:00 PM. My team, the Pied-Billed Grebes, started at Gould’s Inlet on Saint Simons Island along with the Wood thrushes, another very strong high school team, and the Amazing Anhingas, the best Middle School team. Right before the competition started, we found a Gull-Billed Tern standing next to a large group of peeps and plovers:

The next few minutes moved at a slow crawl. At 4:58 things were looking up. The tern had stuck around and all of the shorebirds were present. At 4:59 our chances with the tern seemed to go downhill. It lifted off and started to fly away from us. We just had to keep it in our binoculars for one more minute for it to count, but it was departing fast. After what seemed like an hour of waiting, watching the tern taunt me by pretending to go back towards us and then turning back to the sea, we reached 5:00. The tern was still barely in our binoculars as we checked it off as our first bird of the competition. We proceeded to find tons of shorebirds, and most of the easier beach specialties to find.

We rushed off the island, and into Brunswick where we met up with my friend’s grandmother’s friend. She had a Great Horned Owl nesting near her house. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been seen all day. Our chances of finding it were pretty low, but we tried anyways. We were guided to the last place it was seen. We were having no luck when someone on our team spotted it. It was sitting right in front of us in a tree:

It swiveled it’s head for a minute while we all got a good look at it before it flew away to take care of its children. On the way back to the van, we got a good look at some magnificent Wood Storks soaring under the sun.

We took a few small stops afterwards before going straight to the Altamaha Waterfowl/Wildlife Management Area. The Altamaha WMA is a series of islands created by the Altamaha River. Two of the islands are bird-able. We drove immediately to the second island, Butler Island. We turned into an empty lot next to an abandoned building and walked over to some ponds. While there we saw crazy amounts of Heron-like Birds, Stilts, Waterfowl, and Darters. As the sun began to set, we rushed over to McIntosh Island to find Sandpipers, Spoonbills, Warblers, and a few Killdeers. Near the Altamaha was a nesting Barn Owl, so we decided to try to find that before the sun finally set. We got to the nest and waited for five minutes before realizing we were too late. It had gone. We drove back again to the Altamaha to listen for Rails, but we were unlucky and only heard Soras.

Photo 1: Tricolored Heron at McIntosh Island.

Photo 2: Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck at Butler Island

Next, we drove slightly inland to listen for Owls and Nightjars. We went to an area called Paulk’s Pasture, where we heard Screech-Owls and Barred Owls, but no nightjars.

We got back to our hotel at about 10:40, got some pizza, and called it a night.

-P

Kennesaw Mountain birding… Finally!

Before y’all start reading, I’d like to apologize for my hiatus. Now that my track season is over, I should be able to upload more regularly, about once or twice a week. Next weekend may be difficult, as I’ll be participating in the Youth Birding Competition (go Pi-ed-Billed Grebes!). Thanks for reading my blog!

Kennesaw Mountain offers the best inland migration birding for warblers, vireos, and other landbirds in Georgia, if not the Southeast

-Giff Beaton

Kennesaw Mountain is one of the most important places for spring birding in Atlanta. With a list of over 39 species of warblers, both east coast tanagers, 15 Sparrows, 7 thrushes, 7 Vireos, 10 flycatchers, 15 birds of prey, and almost 200 bird species overall, Kennesaw mountain is some of the best birding in Georgia. Although the early birding season began for it a couple of weeks ago, The Paideia Bird Club had only gotten a chance to go to Kennesaw on Easter. Although we weren’t too lucky and had one of the lower lists of the day, we still found some fantastic birds. A definite highlight was a leucistic Cardinal we saw near the summit of the mountain. It was white, with a red crest and pinkish-reddish wings. It was beautiful and its colors were striking. Another highlight was a Worm-Eating Warbler we saw hop into a tree in front of us and eat a small worm. We passed many groups of birders along the way, all of whom were friendly, and many seemed to know that we were going to participate in the Youth Birding Competition. Our list for the day was as follows:

Chimney Swift

Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Eastern Phoebe

White-Eyed Vireo

Yellow-Throated Vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Carolina Wren

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

American Robin

Veery

Gray Catbird

Chipping Sparrow

Eastern Towhee

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Worm-Eating Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Northern Parula

Palm Warbler

Pine Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Summer Tanager

Northern Cardinal

I unfortunately did not see the Veery, but did see everything else.

Thanks for reading my blog, have a good day, and may your birds be plentiful.

-Phillip

My ten favorite Georgia Coastal birds

I’m going to the Georgia Coast for a few days in late March and early April. With fantastic birds like Painted Buntings and Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck, great beaches like Gould’s Inlet and Saint Simons east beach, and terrific Wetlands such as the Altamaha WMA and Harris Neck it should be a blast. Birding on the coast anywhere is great, and brings with it the promise of plentiful birds. Here is a list of my ten favorite Georgia Coastal Birds.

10. Plain Chachalacas:

Okay, I don’t really know if this counts, but there is a small introduced population of these strange tree-dwelling Chicken-like birds in Sapelo Island. It’s difficult to go to Sapelo Island, but it is one of the two places in the country with countable Chachalacas.

9: Reddish Egrets:

These beautiful Egrets can be found almost exclusively on the coast. Especially common during low tide on Gould’s Inlet, these birds are certainly exciting to find. They have two morphs, one dark and one light, so you can see it twice and will still be like seeing it for the first time.

8: Roseate Spoonbills

These odd-looking birds have a paddle shaped bill, a heron shaped body, and has the same colors as a Flamingo. Most common for Georgia in Migration, these birds are odd, but beautiful.

7. Least Tern

These tiny terns can be found flying around beaches and diving into water to find fish and other treats. Because of their size they stand out from other terns. Unfortunately, many of their nesting areas have been destroyed, so only a few of their colonies remain.

6. Black Skimmer:

This creature is “the only bird in North America with a lower mandible that is larger than its upper mandible” (Beaton 186). They search for fish by “skimming” across the surface of the water with their lower mandible underwater, catching small fish.

5. Red Phalarope

All winter long these shorebirds can only be found in open ocean. They search for zooplankton by spinning around to bring them to the surface.

4. Black-Necked Stilt

These stylish birds have a beautiful black and white plumage, and super long pink legs. It is most commonly found in marshes, where it eats insects and other small animals.

3. Mottled Duck

Although this modest looking duck looks almost entirely like a female mallard, it still is an interesting bird. It adds another layer of complexity to Georgia Coastal birding and turns watching ducks into much more of a puzzle.

2. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

This one is a little bit strange, as it does not appear in Giff Beaton’s “Birds of Georgia” book, and many range maps of it don’t include Georgia. That being said, this beautiful duck can commonly be found in the Altamaha.

1. Painted Bunting

Perhaps one of the most brilliant birds in the state, the Painted Bunting looks like an explosion of color. With blues and yellows and greens and reds, this Bunting is not a bird to miss.

Spring Migration is right around the corner. Here’s what you should keep in mind when choosing where to look for birds.

Spring migration is the best time of year for birding. Swallows will soon be flying everywhere around ponds and lakes, vireos will be singing from high perches on trees, and warblers will be flitting from branch to branch. Songbirds will be growing into their breeding plumages and beginning to sing in the dawn chorus. It really is the time to go out and experience the beauty of birds and nature.

Although spring migration is fantastic, it comes with its downsides. The constant barrage of tiny birds can easily get overwhelming, especially when you are suffering from Warbler Neck (neck pains caused by looking up at birds for too long). I hope these tips can help y’all get the best out of you spring migration.

1: Know where to go:

Every city has its migrant traps. If you are in New York City, you might go to Central Park. If you are in Atlanta then drive out to Kennesaw Mountain. If you are in Toledo or Cleveland then going way out to Magee Marsh will be worth it. During migration, there will typically be tons of birders and birding groups to help you along the way.

2. Vary your habitat

It is so easy to stay in one hotspot during spring migration and forget that there are other places to go. The problem with doing that is that not only songbirds migrate. Try making it out to see some shorebirds or visit hawk watch.

3. Go to the mountains.

Ah the sweet sight of warblers! These tiny creatures can’t seem to stand still. Unfortunately for your neck, observing them often means looking straight up for long periods of time. Not if you are at a high elevation! Typically on a mountain/ tall rock you can look next to you and see the tops of trees, making warblering a much easier task.

Reasons you should bird part 2

I realize that if I had to choose, I’d rather have birds than planes.

-Charles Lindbergh

I wrote a part one to this earlier. Please check that out before reading this one.

Birding, as I said before is fantastic. Many people love it, despite its reputation of being boring. More than 45 million Americans watched birds in 2016, and that number is going up. Will you join this movement of nature lovers? Read this article to find out some reasons why you should.

1. The people: there are tons of interesting people you will meet if you go birding. You will make lifelong friends and learn a lot from a plethora of people.

2. The collecting: in the birding community, many people keep something called a life list. These are lists of every single bird a person has seen. People will search far and wide for birds to add to their lists, and when you find a new one, it’s a great feeling.

3. The Unicorn Effect: I’m stealing this from the fantastic documentary “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, but the Unicorn Effect is where there’s a bird that you haven’t seen that you looked at in your field guide for so long that it becomes almost mythical. When you see it, its like seeing a Leprechaun or a Unicorn. It is truly magical.

I hope this convinced you! Have a good week, and may your birds be plentiful.

-Phillip

Birding in Roger Bridge Trail

The Earth has music for those who listen.

-Shakespeare

If you are an Atlanta birder, then you have probably heard of a birding hotspot all the way out in John’s Creek (an Atlanta Suburb) called “Roger Bridge Trail”. It is a fantastic place, full of beautiful magnolia trees and towering Oaks. There are vast, open meadows with tall grasses. There is a little pond with tons of uncommon waterfowl that looks out over a farm field. The birding there is terrific. I went on Friday with a couple of friends from my birding club and my dad, and the long drive there was worth it. Although we came there at 2:30 (not the best time for birding) the birds were still there in large numbers. Some highlights from the trip include the following:

Double-Crested Cormorant

Redhead (duck)

Bufflehead

Northern Flicker

Belted Kingfisher

Groundhog (not a bird but super uncommon in Atlanta, slightly out of its range)

Juvenile Sharp-Shinned Hawk (followed us the entire time)

Unfortunately, it began to rain as we made our way back to the car.

-Phillip