Waiting for winter

We’re all leaning in like runners at the starting block, waiting for the year’s last migration to take off. Winter brings us waterfowl by the thousands on the rivers, eagles on the ice harassing that one anomalous gull, finch irruptions, maybe a Sandhill Crane or two…

But it’s all paused now. The weather has been mild so far and the birds haven’t been driven south by frozen water yet. It’s the November Conundrum: cold brings the birds to us, but I really wasn’t ready for this today.

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This didn’t last. It melted by late afternoon. The next one will, though, and the snows to follow.

Ready… get set…

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Helpful hints

Just because it’s in the water doesn’t make it waterfowl.

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And being on the shore doesn’t make it a shorebird.

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Red-necked Grebe-inspired lifer dance!

It’s getting harder to add life birds to my list when I don’t GO anywhere. Red-necked Grebe is one reliable migratory visitor I should have had a while ago. I’ve almost seen them several times — usually a glimpse of tail feathers as they dive. So I was happy to put up with gusty wind and drizzle this morning to watch one cruise around a roadside pond while rush-hour traffic streamed by into Troy and Albany.

I’m not sure if the brownish tint on its neck is a vestige of the rich chestnut breeding plumage, or an artifact of bad light. At any rate, you can see the pointy-headed look and yellow bill that are diagnostic.

Often it came up with a small fish in its beak before submerging for the next course. You can sort of see here how far back the feet are set, like a loon’s. The species name, Podiceps, literally means ‘butt foot’.  Although they’re powerful swimmers their feet are not webbed, but lobed.

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I hope it sticks around until a sunny day so I can get better pictures, or at least watch it in comfort.

And that’s life bird #290ish, NYS bird 262, and year bird #208. Onward and upwards!

Categories: Bird photos, Life bird! | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

When a Big Year isn’t big enough…

A group of birders at the Bronx Botanical Gardens the other day heard a cry of “Connecticut!” Immediately they rushed back to the parking lot… to find a child saying excitedly, “Look, Mom! This bus is from Connecticut! And the car is from Maryland!” Big laughs all around, but that got me thinking — how about a locale Big Year?

Find your Connecticut Warbler in Hartford! A Nashville Warbler at the Country Music Hall of Fame! Philadelphia Vireo by the Liberty Bell!

Yes! Heading to Europe for my European Starling! W00t!

Yes! Heading to Europe for my European Starling! W00t!

Some would be a puzzle. Do I look for Acadian Flycatcher in a park in coastal Maine, or in the bayou? Is my life-bird victory dinner lobster or crayfish? If a Chickadee is in South Carolina, it’s probably a Carolina, but be sure to listen to its song!

While some are gimmees: Florida Scrub-Jay is found in Florida, period. Galapagos Penguin!

I could branch out to finding birds only in their named habitat — What are the odds of finding a Palm Warbler perched in a palm tree? If it’s in a Salix, does that make it a Willow Flycatcher? Can I find a Sandwich Tern at the deli?

Mourning Warbler habitat?

Mourning Warbler habitat?

And you can wind up your search for Brewer’s Blackbird somewhere like this.

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Off to Russia for a Muscovy Duck!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, Life lists | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sandhill Cranes at Montezuma, 9/25

For me the highlight of any trip to Montezuma NWR is a Sandhill Crane sighting. This wasn’t the most we’ve seen on a visit, but it certainly beat the weather last time — temps barely above freezing, howling wind, and occasional blinding horizontal snow squalls.

On this day, though, conditions were ideal, at least meteorologically. Road conditions, though… not so much. The birds were hanging out at Knox-Marsellus Marsh so we turned onto the dirt Towpath Road. The last time I was there it wasn’t bad so we headed down optimistically. Well, that didn’t last long. A few potholes, then more, and soon they turned into muddy pits across the entire road.  I got tired of scraping the sides of the car so we decided it was wiser to park and walk the last half mile in.

And when we finally got there:

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I love the one lying down like a long-necked hassock.

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I get so excited seeing 14 Sandhills –my heart would fly right out of my chest if I ever saw a sight like this!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, montezuma nwr, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goose egg

It feels to me this fall has been very low on waterfowl. Maybe I’m rushing the season but we haven’t had the big flocks yet that I expect in November. I’ve seen a fair number of duck etc. species, but they move through quickly, a few Long-tailed Ducks or Black Scoters, gone the next day.

The Canada Geese aren’t coming through in thousands yet, which makes scanning for the ever-elusive Cackling Goose easier. Not that it makes one easier to find… The best I could do today was yet another runt.

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Small, but lacking the ‘cuteness factor’.

Dig the synchronized Dr. Evil and Mini-Me pose:

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You know it’s a slow day birding when you’re reduced to trying to turn a House Sparrow into something exciting. Give the bird its due, this is the spiffiest young Passer domesticus I’ve seen in ages.

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Passenger Pigeon

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Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, died September first, one hundred years ago. il_340x270.524207042_jzy7 She stares glassy eyed

(of course; they’re glass)

her rose throat faded

dust on her smoke-blue head

She’s been dead 100 years

lonely last of her kind

that deafened as they rose

to the morning sky

An endless feathered river

they broke branches,

whole trees in their roost,

died in tens of millions

until the great river ran

down to one lost drop IMG_0059 This statue set outside the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is part of Todd McGrain’s Lost Bird Project, memorializing five iconic species lost to extinction.

Categories: postcard poems, Rara avis, Why? | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Birdhouse in your soul

The new addition to my feeder collection was a gift from my friends — a birdhouse coated in seed. After it’s been stripped bare, I’ll mount it on a tree and see who takes up residence.

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Notice I come from the ‘Leave the weeds standing’ school of lawn care.

Soundtrack by They Might Be Giants.

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why why why?

I always swear I’m not going chasing any more. Then I hear about another local rarity and boom! I’m out the door.

I headed back to Collins Lake this morning in search of the Cackling Goose again, but in spite of the skilled eyes and best efforts of a half-dozen birders, we couldn’t pull anything out from the hordes of Canadas that was small enough.

Third time is not the charm. I will be strong! I won’t go back tomorrow! I swear it!

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Blame Canada

Canada (not Canadian!) Goose flocks, because they’re so vast, often have a few oddballs in the bunch. This one had a white face, which didn’t seem to bother its companion.

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Notice the big booty on this one. There’s likely some domestic goose in its ancestry.

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Trying to figure out all 11 subspecies is enough to give anyone fits. Go on, just try to read through that without crying. Not too long ago, the four smallest varieties were broken off as a separate species, the Cackling Goose. So of course, we’re all looking for tiny Canada-types so we can add a new lifer!

A reliable source spotted a Cackling Goose on Collins Lake yesterday, so this morning in the teeth of a howling wind I scanned the water, searching for that elusive little guy. I thought I had it…

Ceci n'est pas une oie caqueter.

Ceci n’est pas une oie caqueter.

… but nope. Just a small Canada.

If the gale dies down I’ll stop back tomorrow and peer through 700 geese to find that special one. If only they were all as obvious as in that top picture!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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