A birder’s life is tethered especially tightly to the annual cycle of the seasons. As a result, each turn of a calendar page feels like a special event in its own right. Every month presents a thrilling new opportunity, a roughly 30-day microcosm of the world’s limitless potential, to be filled with surprises and memories. The truly remarkable months astonish you with how much they manage to pack into such a brief period of time, and I have experienced my fair share of unforgettable months over the years! The peak college escapades of January 2013, the Australian adventures of July 2019, and even the impressive suite of natural phenomena from April of this year all stand out as particularly noteworthy examples.
Read More
May is far and away the busiest month in the birding world here in the Northeast. The condensed timeline of northward spring migration, with birds rushing to reach their breeding grounds as quickly as possible, means that much of the action plays out during a rather brief window of opportunity. Alas, this season invariably proves to be a rather busy time of year for life in general, with work obligations and social gatherings limiting the frequency of forays into the field. The weather is warming up, the school year is drawing to a close, and Jacqi and I are hard at work finalizing plans for our upcoming wedding. With of all the exciting events filling up my calendar, I was left hoping for quality over quantity in terms of natural experiences this month. Fortunately, the magic of May delivered the goods.
Read More
Since 1970, April 22nd has been celebrated as Earth Day around the globe. This season of spring renewal is a fitting time of year to reflect on the magnificent splendor of the natural world around us, and the annual observance serves as a crucial reminder of our place in our planet’s ecosystem. In recent years, I have seen an increase in discourse regarding Earth Day as a day of mourning rather than cause for merriment. While I certainly understand the sentiment behind this mindset, I personally believe that it is now more important than ever before to maintain a positive, if tempered, outlook when addressing the present state and imminent future of the environment.
Read More
The seasonal shift from late winter to early spring is always a bit of an awkward transitional period. The weather slowly lurches towards warmer averages in fits and starts, with sunny spells and favorable winds unceremoniously broken up by sudden cold snaps and chilly rains. Wintering birds tend to leave much faster than new spring migrants start arriving, which can result in long, quiet stretches without much activity of note. Nevertheless, the weeks framing the vernal equinox are a time of cautious anticipation. While March may not be as dramatically lively as May, or even April, it is not a month without its charms.  While the overall diversity of birds on the move during the first phase of migration is fairly low, the key players involved are generally high-quality species. Eastern Phoebes, American Woodcocks, and a wide array of waterfowl begin to increase in abundance at this time of year.
Read More
The now world-famous Eurasian Eagle-Owl known as Flaco has died. Released from his enclosure at the Central Park Zoo by unidentified vandals in early February 2023, Flaco’s story drew intense media attention within hours of his escape. Initial recapture attempts were vocally opposed, and in some cases actively thwarted, with pushback spearheaded by the perennially controversial Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter community. When the captive-raised owl began hunting for himself and public resistance to the trapping efforts subsequently increased in volume, the retrieval mission was called off. Well-intentioned Flaco fans rejoiced in his newfound freedom, while many scientists and birders voiced their concerns about the long-term prospects for a non-native apex predator in New York City, as well as his potential impact on the local environment.
Read More
The first few weeks of a new year are always an exciting time in the world of a birder. For those of us who enjoy keeping track of our annual species counts, everything old is new again, and the possibilities feel limitless. While I am not the type to dive deep into a proper Big Year or get hypercompetitive about racking up a massive tally, I do enjoy playing against myself with small-scale year listing goals and personal challenges. One tradition that I have always been partial to is the January 100, a quest that inspires me to start the annual cycle on the right foot by trying to find as many species as I can during the dead of winter. I have not missed the mark since I started keeping track in earnest, and I was eager to see what the first month of 2024 had in store.
Read More
Another year has come and gone, and 2024 is now just a few days away. In keeping with annual tradition, the imminent end of 2023 calls for a retrospective review celebrating the best birds of the past 12 months. This year has provided an incredible suite of remarkable contenders to choose from, including dramatic lifer encounters, unexpected state list additions, and memorable experiences with local specialties. Even with my travel opportunities limited exclusively to the Northeastern States, I managed to rack up a total of 320 species for the 2023 year list, with some genuine all-star birds among them. Whittling that tally down to create a compact highlight reel is no small feat, but I am always grateful for the exercise in reflection and reminiscence.
Read More
At its core, birding is a collaborative effort. The most basic fundamentals of the pastime, such as strategies for identification and understandings of ecology and distribution, are built on the collective knowledge of observers who came before us. News of noteworthy sightings is shared across a dizzying array of communication channels, and most birders would admit that some of the fondest memories of their careers can be attributed to the discoveries of others. Even when we bird alone, we carry with us the wisdom of multitudes in our field guides, apps, and minds. There are times, however, where this wonderfully wacky extended family comes together in truly remarkable ways, to the benefit of all members involved. Throughout the birding community of North America, November is widely considered to be The Weird Month.
Read More
Tropical Kingbird, 8 Nov © Drew Weber A Tropical Kingbird was discovered in farm pastures near Fleetwood, PA on Monday, November 6th. Originally it seemed inaccessible, but in the following days it ranged around enough that it has been viewable from the surrounding roads. A big thanks to Ross Gallardy and Jeff Vinosky in figuring out access. Instructions for searching: Adapted by a post by Jeff Vinosky to the PA Discord server. Frequent updates will likely be posted in the RBA on Discord. If you aren’t a member yet, you can join the PA Birds Discord server. The Tropical Kingbird has been moving around and recently has been viewable from the Walnuttown Mennonite Church lot, looking south towards the creek valley. We have been in contact with the original finders and farm owners and they are agreeable to this as suitable public access.   11/13 Revised visitation.
Read More
Randall’s Island is something of an enigma to most New Yorkers. Located at the confluence of the Harlem and East Rivers, where three of the City’s five boroughs brush up against one another, this remarkable park has developed a reputation as being difficult to get to and confusing to navigate. Despite the multitude of public facilities and recreational infrastructure present on the Island, it also hosts an impressive array of diverse habitat types that provide seasonal homes and migratory stopover sites for a variety of birds. Although the potential of this site has been well-documented over the years, birder coverage has historically been spotty at best until fairly recently. Now, an ongoing Randall’s Renaissance has put this hotspot back on the map, with regular sightings of regionally uncommon specialties and a hearty haul of surprising rarities documented by an ever-expanding network of dedicated observers.
Read More