Monday, July 21, 2014

Catching Up

Asian Elephants (and Painted Stork), Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
So I've basically let this blog slip into dormancy by not posting anything in ages, but I decided today that I'd try to get back into updating-- I could always use the writing practice, and I like the idea of giving things permanence by writing them down, even if it turns out the main reader is myself. So what have I been up to?

Well, with the exception of two updates for great sightings (Timber Rattlesnake and Northern Hawk Owl), the last full post that I did was at the end of 2012. That was a long time ago. Nature-wise, the highlight of my 2013 was a family vacation to Hawaii (the Big Island and Maui). I wrote about one hike there for the Eyrie, so check it out here: There were lots of crazy-rare birds, including an impressive and imperiled honeycreeper trinity of Palila, Akiapola'au, and 'Akohekohe, and plenty of other awesome birds with awesome names with odd apostrophes (it's a glottal stop): I'iwi, 'Io, 'Apapane, Nene, Elepaio, 'Amakihi, etc.
Nene in Haleakala National Park on Maui
Other than that trip, I saw exactly 2 life birds in all of 2013, more than 11 months apart: Northern Shrike at the NYS Young Birders' Club meeting at Pound Ridge in January, and Eurasian Wigeon at a small pond in Rye in December. At the same time, however, I began to branch out from birds, and looked for and tried to identify everything alive that I could find. Birds are still my greatest fascination, but now I don't ignore the butterflies, dragonflies, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or even trees, wildflowers and ferns around me.

Mountain Dusky Salamanders aren't birds, but they are awesome
In Hawaii, my fish list was longer than my bird list, with exciting things like Snowflake, Zebra, and Undulated Morays, Flying Guenard, 8 butterflyfish and 11 wrasse species, and Coastal Manta Rays. On a summer camping trip I didn't see any life birds, but I did find stuff I had never seen before: Beaver, Mountain Dusky Salamander, Hoary Edge butterfly, and Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly. The March birding doldrums were brightened by the tangerine orange wingtips of the tiny Falcate Orangetip butterfly on Hook Mountain, while familiar "friends" like Cerulean, Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers at Doodletown in May were joined by new ones, including the Timber Rattlesnake I mentioned before, and Stream Cruiser and Prince Baskettail dragonflies (learning new animals means a lot of fun new common names).

Am I going to post another Timber Rattlesnake photo, even though I saw it more than a year ago? Yes, yes I am. 
I graduated high school in the spring, and in the fall started my Freshman year at Harvard University. I spent the fall pretty much settling in, socially and academically, and birding fell by the wayside temporarily while I acclimatized to the so-called "Harvard bubble" that keeps students firmly planted in Harvard Square. But in the winter and spring I began to get more of a feel for my new natural surroundings, and they are actually excellent.

Boston, as seen from Mount Auburn Cemetery
In Cambridge itself there are 3 great nature spots-- Fresh Pond, Alewife Brook Reservation (an underutilized spot with a lot of potential that I went to frequently in the spring), and Mount Auburn Cemetery, one of the best birding spots on the east coast. A little further afield is Middlesex Fells Reservation, a more wild location a short bike ride away. And in Boston itself are Belle Isle Marsh and Revere Beach, both of which hosted Snowy Owls over the winter. The latter also is home to Manx Shearwaters, which, for no apparent reason, are almost always present offshore from the pink apartment buildings along the beach. I don't know of any other spot in the US where this species is so reliable from shore.

It's an invasion! One of many Snowy Owls I saw this past winter
Revere Beach was also a good spot to try to lure some of my friends into birding: with the enticements of a spectacular white owl, a subway stop named "Wonderland," and a Harvard-bubble-bursting adventure, a few of us travelled there in the dead of winter to (successfully!) track down a gorgeous Snowy Owl, one of many that visited almost every corner of the country during a spectacular irruption this past winter. The trip also paid off, because by beginning to sell my non-birding friends on birding as an adventure, I was able to convince two of them, Dion and Michael, that we should take a detour during a spring break ski trip in Vermont to search for a Northern Hawk Owl that had been there the whole winter. As you can probably see from my previous post, it was a triumphant success, with Dion spotting the bird sitting not 30 away above the trail. With them and a number of other nature-inclined friends, I am starting a Naturalist Club on campus, and we took a bunch of informal trips during the spring, including a few to Alewife to watch the American Woodcocks doing their evening courtship displays.
The continent's most badass bird
The Harvard Naturalist Club at the Arnold Arboretum
Over winter break, I took another family trip, to Puerto Rico. Between beach days I hiked in El Yunque National Forest and elsewhere, seeing 10 island endemics, probably coolest of which was the diminutive Puerto Rican Tody, a tiny green ball of fluff with a red throat. There were also colorful Puerto Rican Spindalises (Spindaleses?), Antillean Euphonias, and Puerto Rican Bullfinches. And I wasn't terribly upset when a storm postponed our return by a day, giving us another day at the beach and me an opportunity to track down an Antillean Crested Hummingbird and an Adelaide's Warbler.

Puerto Rican Spindalis in El Yunque
Back at school I met two other Harvard birders, Corey Husic and Harold Eyster, and with them undertook one of my most ambitious days of birding yet, a "public transportation big day" in Boston that spanned 32 subway stops, 21 hours, 20 miles on foot, and netted a very satisfying 120 species. Corey wrote a full report of the day on Nemesis Bird:
Spring at Mt. Auburn can be spectacular. I dropped my studying during finals week to chase this Fork-tailed Flycatcher...
...And this probable (though--ugh--not confirmed) Bicknell's Thrush
And finally, the elephant in the room (or at least at the top of this blog post): I spent a month at the start of this summer travelling with friends in India and Sri Lanka! Four of us spent 10 days in Northern India, seeing all the sights we could in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, including the incomparable Taj Mahal. Then three of us continued on to Sri Lanka, where we stayed with my friend and roommate Yohann, and spent 2 weeks traveling around this amazing island country.

The Taj Mahal lives up to the hype
While the Chand Baori in Abhaneri is underrated
And the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur demonstrates why it's called the "Pink City"
Nature-wise, the trip was fantastic. In India a safari didn't yield the desperately hoped-for Tigers, but there were Sambar and Chital deer, Nilgai (a huge antelope), mongoose, and Wild Boar. And that's just the mammals. Bird highlights of India were majestic Sarus Cranes, stunning Indian Peafowl, searingly colorful Indian Pittas, and a slew of other awesome sightings, including Greater Painted-Snipe, Spotted Owlets, Asian Paradise Flycatchers, Painted Spurfowl, and many many others.

Super bold Rufous Treepie in Ranthambore National Park
In Sri Lanka we absolutely nailed our safari, seeing two Leopards, dozens of Elephants, and a Sloth Bear! And between Yala National Park, Udawatta kele Forest, and Sinharaja Preserve, I spotted 15 of the island's endemic bird species: the highlight was probably a last-minute look at the unreal Sri Lanka Blue Magpie on our final day. But the tame Sri Lanka Junglefowl, flashy Red-faced Malkohas, and an impressive (as all hornbills are) Malabar Pied Hornbill would rival that experience. And so would dozens of others: Lesser Adjutant, Layard's Parakeet, Indian Nightjar, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill to name just a few. I could go on, but perhaps it would be easier to just link to my flickr page, which has most of the nature photos I took on the trip:

Sigiriya Rock Fortress is incredible. 
Safari in Yala was highlighted by this Leopard(!)
And this Sloth Bear
And this Malabar Pied Hornbill.
Oh, and also there were 5 species of monkeys. And an emerald-colored Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper. And a Small Indian Civet. And gigantic Sri Lanka Birdwing butterflies. And huge monitor lizards. Basically it was an incredible trip, nature-wise and otherwise.

Yohann, Me, Hayden, and Sarani prepare to face the land leeches of Sinharaja
We were rewarded with a Sri Lanka Green Pit Viper,
Sri Lanka's National Bird, the Sri Lanka Junglefowl,
And the endemic Red-faced Malkoha, seen seconds after the even more striking Sri Lanka Blue Magpie
Now I'm working at the Marshlands Conservancy in Rye, near home, at the Summer Ecology Camp there. It's a good job: I'm outside, and teaching kids about nature, hopefully convincing a few to give ecology a shot as a field of study, or a career. And if you're outside all day, every day, you're bound to see some cool stuff: just today we found a pretty Tulip tree Beauty Moth, and watched a clamorous aerial duel between a Great Blue Heron and a territorial Osprey. On Friday I was walking with a group of kids back to the center at the end of the day, and happened to be holding a butterfly net. An emerald dragonfly buzzed by, I swiped at it, and soon had my first and only Clamp-tipped Emerald perched on my finger. This kids were impressed, if slightly less excited than I was.
My workplace for the summer
And one of its denizens: lifer Clamp-tipped Emerald
So now I'm planning to update this blog more frequently, hopefully I can keep it going now. And if you think a picture is worth a thousand words (and possibly more than a thousand of my words), I'll also be regularly updating my nature flickr page. The link, in case you missed it, is Thanks for reading!
Marshlands has Monarchs and Butterflyweed, a great combo


  1. Wow great pics. you got a wonderful trip.

  2. Great to hear about what you've been up to, and that things are going well! And the kids you are teaching this summer are lucky to have you for an instructor.