Spring migration in the Netherlands

Earlier this month, I spent two weeks in the Netherlands for an astronomy conference and some family matters. May is an excellent month for bird watching because of spring migration, where birds of many species leave their wintering grounds in Africa or southern Europe and head towards their breeding territories in northern Europe. This was my first trip back home during spring migration since I took up birding as a hobby, so I was very excited about the possibilities of finding a lot of new birds.

The first bird I saw upon entering the Netherlands was a Eurasian jackdaw (kauw in Dutch) at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Two weeks later, the 82nd and last species was a Eurasian marsh harrier (bruine kiekendief) at the Waverhoek Nature Area near the village of Waverveen. That harrier was one of 26 birds spotted for the first time in my life, boosting my worldwide life list from 318 to 344 species.

The full list of 82 species included two birds that are considered rare in the Netherlands: black-winged stilt (steltkluut) and glossy ibis (zwarte ibis). Both normally live around the Mediterranean, but a few stray to more northern latitudes each year. My brother and I found two individuals of each species on a rainy and windy afternoon at the new Ruygeborg Nature Area in the town of Nieuwkoop.

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Sanibel Island

The winter in much of the United States has been unusually harsh this year. Here in Ann Arbor, we had a record amount of snow in January and temperatures dipped below -25 °C or -10 °F on a few nights. Since the start of the year, we’ve had only six days where the temperature got above freezing. The high point so far was a mere 6 °C or 42 °F on January 13.

In the midst of all that, a weekend getaway to Sanibel Island in Florida sounded awfully pleasant, and that’s exactly what it was. For the first four days of February we enjoyed plenty of sunshine and temperatures of around 25 °C or 80 °F. This was our second time on Sanibel; the first time was back in April of 2012. We stayed at a Castaways cottage on both trips, near the northern tip of the island and within walking distance of both the ocean beach and a secluded bay.

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Handfeeding chickadees and titmice

Melissa and I were at Kensington Metropark yesterday, about half an hour north of Ann Arbor. The black-capped chickadees there are known to eat right from your hand. We brought some sunflower seeds and this is what happened:

Without even trying, we had an endless of stream of chickadees and some tufted titmice (the larger birds) coming in and taking one or two seeds. They were eager enough that I could hold the food in one hand and film with the other.

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Birding at Hornsby Bend

Working in astronomy comes with a fair bit of travel. Now that birding has turned into a full-fledged madness hobby for me, whenever I’m on the road, I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the local avifauna. It’s a good way to unwind after a few days of conference or a few nights of observing. Birding away from home also offers excellent opportunities to see new species.

This week I was in Austin, Texas as an invited speaker at BashFest 2013. With a return flight at 5pm the day after the symposium, I had plenty of time to go out to see what I could find. I took an early taxi from my hotel to the airport, picked up a rental car, and found myself at the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant just as the sun was rising. Located in a loop of the Colorado River, Hornsby Bend is where sewage and compostable trash from Austin are recycled into dirt. The facility’s 1200 acres of mixed habitat (ponds, woods, mudflats, fields, …) are so attractive for birds that Hornsby Bend offers the largest numbers and widest variety of any location in or near Austin. On top of that, it’s right next to the airport.

Hornsby Bend: a great place to watch birds and planes.
Hornsby Bend: a great place to watch birds and planes.

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