Birding in the DC Suburbs

35964256756_c2ae7ed02d_cThe Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalisis one of my favorite birds. We were fortunate to have a pair nesting in the yard of our friend’s house we were staying with in Kings Park, Virginia, one of the suburbs of the Washington DC metropolitan area. Being a good father, the male was often around the nest and I photographed this proud dad in the morning. It is the state bird for seven states and two American sports teams. The striking red color gets everyone excited about birding, including my family. The females are not as colorful but have the nice crest and red accents. They range from southern Ontario to Mexico and from Texas, east, only absent from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

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The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is also a striking bird. This male was feeding on a thistle-like bush in my friend’s garden, near the nesting cardinals. The Goldfinch is found in every US state and the southern Canadian provinces. It is the state bird of three states and with the male’s bright yellow spring plumage, I can see why. They are the strictest vegetarian bird in the world, exclusively relying on seeds and fruits for its diet. Like the Northern Cardinal, they are a common backyard bird.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation does a good job of preserving ribbons of land on sides of creeks and rivers. There was a long trail of woods following a creak in the neighborhood. On my morning bike ride following my wife running, we spotted a fox, which you can see through the bushes, although my camera focused on the leaves in front of it. The fox spotted us coming at it while on the trail and after stopping for a short time to check us out, deftly it went into the bush and crossed the creek to evade us. Our friend warned us to not leave the gate open in order to protect her chickens…  This Washington Post article confirms their presence in DC.

 

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Can you spot the fox behind the bush? 

 

On my next trip to the Washington, I hope to explore a bit of the Chesapeake Bay and some of the coastal environment.

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Appalachian Nature

 

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An American White Water Lily in the rain. 

 

During breaks in my studies, I explored the state parks of the Poconos. The Poconos are one of the distinct geographical and cultural regions in the huge Appalachian mountain chain. The Poconos are located just north of the Lehigh Valley, where I am studying. The Appalachians were once as high as the Rockies, but being much older, they have eroded through time. They are still beautiful and formed quite a barrier for early American settlers to cross into the rest of the country. The Poconos are full of resorts and it is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the big population centers in New York and New Jersey. I am staying in the highest borough in Pennsylvania, Freeland, and although being close to Bethlehem, it has a very different feel.

 

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An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) waits for us to leave Lake Francis parking lot. 

 

On a rainy Friday morning, I took the kids on a hike in the Nescopeck State Park. The state started buying properties in 1971 and today it is a nice little natural area, which in time will become even wilder. Without the state preserving land, the entire region would be private homes, as people have the desire to live in the country, surrounded by trees in 1-acre plots. In my opinion, I think people should live in towns, near one another so more land can be conserved as forest.

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Wild Turkeys have been reintroduced to the park. 

No blog post on the northern Appalachian region would be complete without a photo of the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). It is the dominant plant of the central Appalachians. It forms a dense understory, inhibiting other plants from growing. Rosebay maintains its foliage year-round. It is a fascinating subject of study because scientists are unsure if it is retreating or spreading due to human interference. Due to less precipitation, it is dying out in elevated areas, but due to the lack of indigenous burning, it seems to be spreading into areas that it never colonized. When there is a lack of large trees, it forms a thick mass, and early settlers called them “Laurel Hells” or “Laurel Slicks” because it was so hard to go through. They are also known as the mountain laurel, but this is also the name of a similar species.

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We also spotted lots of Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) on the trails. Only adults were found on this trip. A couple of years ago we found the “red eft” juvenile stage specimens as well.

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Getting to know the Appalachian region is stimulating in my a desire to hike the famous Appalachian trail someday…

Eastern Towhee

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In a jet-lagged stupor after a 16-hour flight, I went for a walk on some ATV trails near the town of Freeland, Pennsylvania this morning. This large sparrow, an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), caught my attention. It took me awhile, but I managed to get a couple of photos through the bushes. The Towhee was in its preferred habitat, a disturbed, successional growth area. They are found all throughout eastern North America, from Quebec to Florida.

I didn’t hear the two-part call which it gets its name, but I did record the one-note call in the video below.

Eastern Towhee

It was a nice start to my nature observations in America this summer.

 

Gray Wagtail

34581081333_596d10a921_cOn my bike ride Saturday in the Minoh National Park I spotted a group of Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea). It was a picture perfect day, literally, and from my bike, I photographed the bird on the telephone wire above the road. The gray wagtails are found in Europe and Asia with distinct populations.

The Asia subspecies, race robusta, breeds in Korea and Japan and winters in South East Asia. They nest near running water and have a diet of insects. They are called gray because of the color of the wings and back, despite the strong yellow on the belly. There are two species of similar birds called yellow wagtails (east and west) which have yellow on the throat.

This is the first time I’ve spotted the gray wagtail, both in the Europe and Japan and I am pleased to add it to my life list.

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Black Pine Beach on Awaji Island

catching moon jellyfish

Numerous moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) were floating near the Keino Matsubara beach on Awaji island yesterday. In the video, Oliver is holding one. The four purple circles are the gonads. The tentacles of the moon jellyfish are so fine that they cannot penetrate human skin so as you can see, they are safe to touch. They are found all over the world and I’ve seen them in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and now the Seto Inland Sea.

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One of my favorite trees in Japan is the black pine (Pinus thunbergii). They can grow in the harsh region of a beach and provide a stark contrast to the sun, sand and sea. The Keino matsubara beach features a stand of 50,000 trees, planted as a wind break and beach preserver against erosion. The light is so beautiful under the trees and Ocean, Oliver and I spent a delightful afternoon among them. We noticed the long needles are in bundles of two.

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There was a small group of Oriental Greenfinches (Carduelis sinica) feeding on the ground underneath the trees. They were quite active and looked to be feasting up some type of seed.

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Winter Walk in the Minoh hills

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A setting sun hits the sugi trees

I went for a walk yesterday in the hills of the Minoh national park. I scrambled up through a ravine to a trail and ended up at an overlook above the suburb of Ikeda, the municipality adjacent to our suburb of Minoh

Northern Shovelers Feeding

This pair of Northern Shoveler ducks look to be in a feeding frenzy. They are “dabbling” ducks and one meaning of the word is to “immerse one’s hands or feet in water and move them around gently”. Dabbling ducks put dunk their bills in the water instead of diving and going deeper for food. This male/female pair are moving in a circle which differs from Cornell University’s video of the feeding behavior. There must have been a school of invertebrates in the vicinity. There is a pond in my neighborhood literally right next to a busy 4-lane road where there are always lots of water fowl. The northern shovelers were not bothered by the cars or me filming them.

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Two windmill palms in a ravine

The Chusan or Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is commonly found all throughout the city’s gardens and parks. It snows in Osaka and I was surprised to see palm trees here, but the windmill palm is one of the hardiest species of palms. It does not grow well in hot climates. They are native to central China and Kyushu island here in Japan. Chusan is the incorrectly Romanized spelling of Zhoushan island located off the coast of central China. The species name comes from the British botanist Robert Fortune. He is famous for sneaking into China and stealing tea plants to introduce them to India. He also smuggled some windmill palms out and took them to Kew Botanical Garden.

I would love to plant one in our garden.

Final Nature Observations in Singapore

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On my final day in Singapore we spent the afternoon on Palawan Beach on Sentosa Island. I photographed a pair of blue-tailed bee-eaters (Merops phillippinus) on a small island near the beach that purported to be the “most southern extent of continental Asia”. The blue-tailed bee-eaters like the other 26 species, they migrate long distances and catch insects in flight. It breeds in northern India and southern China and spends the winter in south east Asia. Bee-eaters have a special place in my heart as I fondly remember watching a nesting colony in Belgrade (link).

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On the way back to the train station, I photographed this changeable lizard (Calotes versicolor) that was trying to scale the walls of the steps. After several unsuccessful leaps, it eventually made it, just before Oliver could grab it, it quickly scooted for the protective cover of a bush. The changeable lizard was introduced to Singapore in the 1980s and drove out the native, and in my opinion, more beautiful green-crested lizard. Introduced species are a common theme here.

I will be recruiting in Bangkok and London for the next couple of weeks. I will not have my sister-in-law’s camera, but hope to make some nature observations.