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All posts for the month January, 2014

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Hank Davis is a professional photographer, board member for the Delaware Nature Society, and is now a winner of the Great Backyard Bird Count photography contest.  Each year, the Great Backyard Bird Count has an associated photography contest, soliciting photographs from birders that are participating in the count.  Five “overall best photograph” winners are chosen.  In 2013, Hank’s photo of two feeding American Flamingo, pictured below, was chosen for 5th place, out of 7,000 entries.  This is quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations Hank!!

Hank Davis' photo of American Flamingos from the DNS trip to Cuba, February, 2013 won 5th place in the Great Backyard Bird Count contest last year.  It was chosen among 7,000 images entered into the contest.

Hank Davis’ photo of American Flamingos from the Delaware Nature Society trip to Cuba, February, 2013 won 5th place in the Great Backyard Bird Count contest last year. It was chosen among 7,000 images entered into the contest.  American Flamingo is common in many coastal locations in Cuba.

You might say, why flamingos?  Why Cuba?  Last year, the Great Backyard Bird Count went global.  Essentially, during a four-day period each February, birders count birds anywhere on earth, not just the backyard, and submit their sightings to the count at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc.  The count is run by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in order to get a snapshot of bird populations around the globe in mid-winter.  This citizen science research is generating very important data that will answer questions about bird populations, movements, winter range, and will ultimately help to conserve birds and their habitats.  It just so happened, that during the count period last year, Hank was on the Delaware Nature Society bird survey trip that I was leading to Cuba.  We tried very hard to enter as many bird checklists from Cuba as we could, knowing that we might be the only birders representing the nation for the count.

Hank’s excellent flamingo photo is not his only entry that was recognized.  Below is a great photo of a Cuban Emerald that he captured, also on Cayo Coco, Cuba.  The Cuban Emerald photo was awarded an honorable mention in the “overall best photo” category.

Hank Davis takes some amazing photographs of birds.  This Cuban Emerald was taken on Cayo Coco, Cuba on the Delaware Nature Society trip to the island nation last February.

Hank Davis takes some amazing photographs of birds. This Cuban Emerald was taken on Cayo Coco, Cuba on the Delaware Nature Society trip to the island nation last February.  The Cuban Emerald is a large hummingbird that is very common across the island of Cuba.

If you want to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in 2014, just go birding anywhere you want and submit your sightings to the website I provided above.  The dates of the count are February 14-17 and you are encouraged to enter as many checklists as you want, whether they are from your backyard, a local park, or while you are visiting another country!  Take a look at the results from the 2013 count, where 4,004 species of birds were reported from around the world, and in Delaware, 144 were reported.

By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

By now most of you must have heard of, and maybe even experienced, the incredible natural phenomenon that is occurring this winter:  the record-setting numbers of Snowy Owls wintering in the United States.  This year’s invasion of Snowy Owls is the most dramatic in at least 50 years.  Over 600 owls have been reported with at least 10 observed in Delaware. 

This image from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird database shows the extent of the Snowy Owl invasion into the U.S.  since November.

This image from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird database shows the extent of the Snowy Owl invasion into the U.S. since November.

This is a close up of the Snowy Owl sightings in Delaware since November from eBird.

This is a close up of the Snowy Owl sightings in Delaware since November from eBird.

The question of why so many of these arctic residents have flown so far south is not easy to explain; however, there is some consensus on a relatively new theory.  It is now believed that when populations of the Snowy Owl’s primary prey, a small rodent called the Lemming, rise to extremely high levels, Snowy Owls are able to have a very successful breeding season. Because of this abundant food supply the parent owls are able to rear more young than usual, producing up to eight fledglings per mated pair.  As winter descends on the arctic, it appears that these unusually abundant young owls have a difficult time competing with the adult owls, and are forced south to find food.  This year Snowy Owls have flown as far south as Florida, although most are showing up in the northern half of the US.  The visiting owls tend to prefer open areas such as coastal dunes, marshes, agricultural areas, and airports; apparently because these areas most closely resemble their tundra home.

There have been up to three Snowy Owls along Lukens Drive near the Delaware Memorial Bridge for several weeks.  Photo by Jim White.

There have been up to three Snowy Owls along Lukens Drive near the Delaware Memorial Bridge for several weeks. Photo by Jim White.

The Snowy Owls that birders have been able to enjoy in Delaware have been in or near open fields along the Delaware River and Bay, and in the sand dunes along the Delaware Bay and in Cape Henlopen and Delaware Seashore State Parks.  Most are observed perched either on a high point on the ground, or on a pole, rooftop, or other man-made structure.  Considered a diurnal (daytime) predator, Snowy Owls seem to do most of their hunting near sunrise and sunset when their prey is most active. In our area, “Snowies” feed on a variety of prey such as meadow voles, Norway rats, and waterfowl.  Snowy Owls tend to be relatively unafraid of humans and often allow observers excellent views and photographic opportunities.  However, observers should never approach so close as to make the owl fly or otherwise disturb the bird.

There have been as many as three Snowy Owls at Delaware Seashore State Park recently.  This one was photographed in the Savages Ditch area.  Photo by Jim White.

There have been as many as three Snowy Owls at Delaware Seashore State Park recently. This one was photographed in the Savages Ditch area. Photo by Jim White.

If you have not already done so, try to get out and witness this possibly once in a life time natural event. Drop me a line at Jim@delawarenaturesociety.org for the latest info on the Delaware Snowy Owls.

The Delaware Nature Society has several programs about owls coming up soon.  Please visit our website, www.delawarenaturesociety.org or call us at (302) 239-2334 for more information.

Owl and Raptor Fest – Saturday, January 11, Ashland Nature Center, 3-5pm.  Free for members of the Delaware Nature Society and the Delaware Museum of Natural History.  $5 for non-members.  Enjoy an owl and raptor slide show, photography tour, owl pellet dissection, owl story, owl calling contest, and refreshments.

Dinner and Owls – Friday, January 17, 6:30-9:30pm.  Coverdale Farm Preserve.  $30 for members of the Delaware Nature Society/$45 for non-members.  Enjoy a seasonal and warming dinner prepared by “Farm Chef” Michele Wales, followed by a walk around the farm with Jim White in search of Great Horned, Eastern Screech, and the rare Saw-whet Owl.  Adults only.

Owls and 0ther Winter Raptors – Sunday, February 9, 8am-7pm.  $30 for members of the Delaware Nature Society/$45 for non-members. This is our traditional owling trip with Jim White in search of potentially 8 species of owls in one day, including Snowy Owls.  Travel is by van to multiple locations to attempt to locate Great Horned, Eastern Screech, Barred, Barn, Long-eared, Short-eared, Saw-whet, and Snowy Owls, as well as various hawks, falcons, eagles, and harrier.  Adults only.

Owls at Bucktoe – Saturday, March 1, 5:30-7:30pm.  Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  $5 for members of the Delaware Nature Society/$10 for non-members.  Join Holly Merker on a walk around the Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, PA in search of Great Horned, Barred, and Eastern Screech Owls.  Enjoy a campfire dinner (bring your own) and see several species of owl taxidermy.