The kind of year where I spend hours puzzling over these two photos only to finally concede that yes, it was just a Song Sparrow. Maybe I was better off when I only copped to knowing three sparrow species.
I heard about an accessible Eastern Screech-owl roost box over in Albany County, so I headed out early yesterday morning. Couldn’t ask for a nicer location: a quiet country road with enough shoulder to park on, the box visible from the road, sun shining despite the 20F temps. So I settled in and waited for the bird to come out and bask.
Well, at least I’m consistent.
I’m finding it difficult to keep up my motivation for the year’s end. There’s been a lot of RealLife™ going on. No club trips scheduled, I’ve missed a month of Thursday Birders, and (believe it or not!) I’m getting a bit tired of birding alone. No winter raptors, no winter finches. I hope the upcoming Christmas Bird Count season can shake me out of the doldrums.
I try to console myself with some Green-winged Teal.
Oh well — it’s a balmy 26F with no gale force winds, so before the scheduled mid-week snowpocalypse I’m off along the rivers hunting for anomalous gulls. It’s the only game in town now!
After our unexpected Thanksgiving snowfall, I spent Black Friday hitting up a few local spots. Things were quiet everywhere. Maybe the birds were as surprised as we were! Farmers hadn’t had time to spread manure yet, so the fields glittered in the sun while a few sparrows foraged for weed seeds.
This Song Sparrow and a half-dozen friends dipped in and out of the snow under the watchful eyes of a late-lingering American Kestrel.
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.
This didn’t last. It melted by late afternoon. The next one will, though, and the snows to follow.
Ready… get set…
Just because it’s in the water doesn’t make it waterfowl.
And being on the shore doesn’t make it a shorebird.
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.
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!
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!
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?
And you can wind up your search for Brewer’s Blackbird somewhere like this.
Off to Russia for a Muscovy Duck!
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:
I love the one lying down like a long-necked hassock.
I get so excited seeing 14 Sandhills –my heart would fly right out of my chest if I ever saw a sight like this!
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.
Small, but lacking the ‘cuteness factor’.
Dig the synchronized Dr. Evil and Mini-Me pose:
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.