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Shorebirding at Brigantine was fun this afternoon — as always. The rarity highlight was certainly the alternate-plumaged Hudsonian godwit at the end of the day (too far for pictures), but I was just as happy to see my first western sandpipers for the fall, a dozen birds scattered among the semipalmated and least sandpipers.

western sandpiper


Who could fail to love these beautiful Arctic wanderers?


Book Signing at Brig

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See you there!

Screenshot 2014-07-18 09.20.29

Categories : Birding New Jersey
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Crimson Topaz

It’s 150 years this year since William Charles Linnaeus Martin left this earth, but his vast corpus of writings continues even now to open a window on Victorian agriculture and natural history.

One of the most popular and prolific authors of his day in such subjects, Martin moved in good circles, and had access to the finest collections in Britain, including the birds belonging to his “obliging friend” John Gould, which and whom he consulted liberally in preparing his General History of Hummingbirds.

One day, Gould had a surprise waiting for his literary colleague,

a very petrel-like species [of hummingbird]…. Its short tarsi, its peculiar structure of wing, and its dull plumage, were, at a glance, apparent; but that decided oleaginous odour which is exhaled from the skin of the Petrels and other allied oceanic birds, was what most surprised us; it was perceptible as soon as the specimen was taken from the box, and had we not used the sense of vision, as well as that of smell, we should have said, this is a small Petrel….

Martin neglects to identify that peculiar trochilid for his reader, but he does offer some speculation on its habits:

It is not improbable that it may feed on minute Mollusks, semi-microscopic Crustaceans, and the larvae of aquatic insects….

Gould himself debunked that idea, dismissing the hummingbird’s musky aroma  as “merely a coincidence.” But with August just around the calendar corner, the southbound hummingbirds will be thronging our feeders soon enough. I’ll be out there this year with my mind open and nostrils flared.

Categories : Famous Birders
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Who Is Pedioecetes?

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Sharp-tailed Grouse

This time of year, as we wait (this time a little longer than usual) for the now-annual Supplement to the AOU Check-list, I always recall the jocular complaint published in The Oologist more than 90 years ago: We birders, wrote that long-ago correspondent,

have to stand by and see Oberholser stick his knife through all our historical and time-tried nomenclature and cannot do a thing about it.

The reference, of course, is to Harry C. Oberholser’s long series of “Notes on North American Birds,” published in the Auk beginning in 1917 and ultimately preparing the way for the third edition of the Check-list, which finally appeared in 1931.

But who was the author of the complaint? He signed himself thus:

Your best friend, Pedioecetes.

If you know, fill me in. Otherwise I might have to figure it out myself.


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Drowned Rats

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Hot, humid. Heavy skies and sluggish afternoons. Alison and Gellert and I decided to slip the surly bond of a New Jersey summer’s day with a walk in the Meadowlands, hoping to run across a shorebird or two or maybe even the American white pelican that has been lingering there the past week or so.

We were surprised when we got out of the car to find a nice, almost coolish breeze, and the stroll out the dike was as pleasant as it could be. Birding was disappointingly slow, though close views of two adult spotted sandpipers were worth lingering over.

We lingered. We lingered too long. That nice, almost coolish breeze was driving a black wall of water our way, and by the time we looked away from the scope it was too late. A fast walk turned into a slow run turned into an out-and-out dash to the car, interrupted every few seconds when Gellert paused to shake himself — in vain. We were soaked, all three of us.

But at least we’d gone outside.

Categories : Birding New Jersey
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