bird behavior

We are all impatient.

The problem is (not that I’m complaining), it’s felt like March for most of this winter. Warmest and least snowy winter on record in the Albany area. When it’s 60F and sunny, how can we help expecting spring birds?

But I look out the window and see Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Red-breasted Nuthatches have only just abandoned my feeders for the Rensselaer hills, and the Spring Peeper chorus, while loud, hasn’t reached its ear-shattering peak yet.

Some things have certainly been earlier than in other years. The big Spotted Salamander migration (down a hill and across a road) happened two weeks ago. Usually it’s not until the end of March at the earliest. They’re responding to local conditions, though. The ground is soft, the rain is warm, and that’s all they need.

Birds migration is triggered by day length among other things, and as a wise man said today, they don’t know what the weather’s like 1500 miles to the north. They don’t outfly their food supply. If we keep having these mild winters, though, and bugs hatch out earlier before the birds are here for the feast, will they find enough food to reproduce and feed their young ones?

So we miss you, spring birds. But take your time. We’ll be waiting for you.

Categories: bird behavior, First of season, Why? | Tags: | 1 Comment

King of the Pond vs the Demon Duck

I don’t visit Vischer Ferry much during the summer. But as the days get shorter the clouds of mosquitoes thin out, and once again I can check the paths for migrating birds.

It’s not just that fall plumage warblers are harder to tell apart, but the thick foliage only allows frustrating brief glimpses of birds in quick motion. Nevertheless I was able to find a half-dozen warbler species: Black-and-white, Canada, Magnolia, American Redstart, Blue-winged, and Common (should be Ubiquitous) Yellowthroat. And for all the pictures I took, I don’t think I got one feather in focus…

Some people say Roger Tory Peterson’s one error was labeling that plate ‘Confusing Fall Warblers.’ It sets up an expectation of difficulty that is, with a few exceptions, exaggerated. It might have been more accurate to say ‘Fall Warblers: Easier than silent sparrows!’ Or ‘You want confusing? Check out shorebirds!’

Waterfowl are a lot more cooperative. This Great Blue Heron stood like a sculpture framed in green.

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At a nearby reservoir, male Wood Ducks were transitioning into nuptial plumage. This fellow’s blue-green iridescent wings caught my attention, but it’s his eye that makes the picture.

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I’d never noticed that furious crimson eye so clearly before. Probably because full breeding plumage is so stunning!

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This was taken a bit later in the season last year, in October. For some reason he had formed an attachment to a female Mallard and escorted her all around their little pond.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, ducks, herons, vischer ferry | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Casual eagle

I saw this Bald Eagle in the drizzly mist today.

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As long as I watched her she stood in this casual pose, one foot dangling, talons loosely clasped, surveying the marsh below. Like a child in a tree fort, one foot tucked under, one swinging.

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Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, raptors | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hey, where’d the shorebirds go?

The flats at Cohoes were deserted today except for a few dozen gulls. And half the reason why was perched in a cottonwood tree.

Undaunted, I scoured the rocks without finding even a Killdeer. As the Peregrine in the tree to my right took off

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a second, previously hidden, shot out of the trees to my left and together they strafed the gulls on the rocks and spillway. When the sky was white with gulls, the pair took off towards a flock of pigeons on power lines and I last saw them heading upriver.

Later at Papscannee, I saw three of the Peregrines’ little cousins. This Kestrel was perched on a wildly swaying twiglet much too thin for its weight.

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Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Osprey at Montezuma, 9/25

I’m trying to get better at photographing birds in flight so I practiced on this osprey circling to hunt.

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

Trumpeter Swans at Montezuma, 9/25

It was a beautiful day at Montezuma NWR as we headed home after a week in the Ithaca area. You couldn’t ask for a nicer view over Tschache Pool.

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A family of Trumpeter Swans swam close to the dike, giving me better views of them than I’d ever had before.

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They nest on the marshes of the refuge, and eventually the whole family paddled into view.

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I think the upper bird has a damaged wing. It looks almost as if it’s twisted upside-down.

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Tundra vs Trumpeter is a real ID challenge. Tundra Swans usually (but not always) have a yellow spot on the lores — the area between the beak and eye. Even if that’s lacking, the eye is usually more defined — a circle at the end of the beak, while the Trumpeter’s eye seems absorbed by the black of the beak. The Trumpeter’s beak and head form a straighter wedge shape, like a Canvasback’s head.

(Also, this family has been watched and identified all summer, so I’m pretty sure!)

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, montezuma nwr, swans | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

If it’s Tuesday this must be Newcomb; or, a whirlwind tour of the ADKs

 

At 4:00 AM my alarm went off. At 4:02, a second alarm, just in case… Only for you, birds. Only for you. I grabbed my gear and stumbled off into the still-dark morning, the only sound the unwearying Carolina Wren. We met at our rendezvous, and then up to the North Country for a long day birding.

I don’t often see Common Loons in full breeding plumage. They’re usually in plainer winter garb while passing through the local lakes. On Little Tupper Lake, we watched two preen and dive.

Sabattis Circle Road paid off immediately. A Broad-winged Hawk carrying prey exited fast, pursued by Blue Jays. At least a dozen warbler species, four thrushes, and an assortment of sparrows and vireos serenaded us. When we stopped, within minutes some Gray Jays squabbled by (more on those later!). After a family of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers moved through, we were almost complacently dismissive of another woodpecker, until we realized its solid dark back marked it as one of our target species for the day — Black-backed Woodpecker. Lifer!

In the background we’d been hearing a flycatcher sound off — che-bek, che-bek. Or was it? More of a che-LEK? We fine-tuned our ears and confirmed — Yellow bellied Flycatcher. Second life bird of the day!

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We could easily have spent the rest of the morning walking along the road, listening to bird song and examining the bog plant life.

But we had plenty of place to go yet. Off to Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center!

I hadn’t been here in 25 years and the place has certainly changed. I want to move in…

Another place you could easily spend a day or more wandering the trails, but we just took a quick look across Heron Marsh for possible waders. No luck, so we broke for lunch at Steve’s hot dog wagon. Don’t be a meanie, buy a weenie! How could we resist?

Next stop was Bloomingdale Bog and its famous performing Gray Jays. The way it works is, on the way in the trail, you place your offering on the altar — or, toss some nuts on the platform feeder. By the time you head back, the jays have passed the word and they’ll be waiting for you. Offer food on your palm and they’ll fly in and grab it. I had one immature Gray Jay swoop in for walnuts, and I was so excited I couldn’t even think of trying to use my camera. I was one of the lucky few — the birds might have been unnerved by our numbers (a dozen) and the quantity of treats offered. Where to go first??

Oddball sighting of the day — this Vesper Sparrow, normally seen in grassland areas like shorn fields and airports. What was it doing here?

Bird life was quieting down as the day heated up, so I switched my focus to insects.

Our final destination was Intervale Lowlands, in Lake Placid. How I wish we’d had a whole day here, too! The 160 acre preserve is intensively managed and monitored to study population,weather and habitat changes and visitors are encouraged to share their observations to build up the databank.

So now I’m planning out a multi-day excursion for next year, giving all those sites (and others!) the time and attention they deserve.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, flowers, insects, Life bird!, New bird, Rara avis, scenery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taunted by an empid.

So, you’re feeling confident in your bird ID? Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs, first-winter Blackpoll/Bay-breasted Warbler, worn-plumage Sparrows no challenge anymore? well, my young Padawan, do I have a bird family for you.

MEET THE EMPIDS!

That’s birder shorthand for the baffling family of Empidonax flycatchers. Around here we have Alder, Willow, Least and Yellow-bellied, and every bloody one of them is “Best identified by call.”

But what do you do when they don’t call?

That’s the puzzle we faced today at Mosher Marsh, a wetland preserve near Amsterdam, NY. This empid flew to the top of a shrub and posed for us.

“Left profile!”

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“Or is my right profile better?”

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“How about a rear view? That help?”

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(He offered us full-frontal, too, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch a shot.)

We stood on the boardwalk and stared at him. A Willow Flycatcher called from the right. “FRRRITZ-bew!” An Alder Flycatcher replied from the right. “FREEbeer!”

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And our International Bird of Mystery sat in the middle, saying nothing.

At length we gave up the struggle, entering on our trip list the admission of defeat: Empid Sp? An air of mockery followed us in retreat.

 

 

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, scenery, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Ithaca is birdeous, too. Or, frequently distracted by birds.

For five years now I’ve wanted to spend some time birding around Ithaca but we always seem to be in a rush, dropping kids off or picking them up. So when Will’s graduation was near we decided to spend a few extra days, booking a cabin in Robert H. Treman State Park.

You have to drive across the creek to enter the campground.

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The first afternoon, after unpacking, we lounged about listening to the falls and forest sounds. A pair of Carolina Wrens chattered nonstop, fluttering from tree to roof and under the rafters, I realized the squeaking was coming from a nest and one by one the fledglings popped out, bounced off the ground and almost immediately fluttered up to anything they could cling to: a tree trunk, the side of the cabin, or ME! One tiny bundle of fluff clung to my shirt for a minute before gathering the energy to take off into the hobblebush, and another used me as a rest stop while flying between trees.

Eventually five young wrens had emerged and the parents lured them away — all but one, the bird on the left above. It was the last one out of the nest, last to get off the ground at all, and as long as I watched was never able to fly more than a few feet. When I saw it last it was hunkered down in some undergrowth. The parents by then had stopped calling to it and moved off with its stronger sibs.

One afternoon we walked part way up the Rim Trail — we had a deadline that day, so only went halfway up and had to pick up the pace on the way downhill. There was still time for a long look at a Scarlet Tanager overhead, a satisfying look after trying to catch a glimpse the day before at Buttermilk Falls. How something the color of a firetruck can be so hard to see among green leaves! But this guy decided to be generous with his beauty.

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After this we really did had to hurry, so when I saw a warbler with a yellow face and black throat, I mentally checked it off as “Black-throated Green, seen a million of ’em,” and kept going. We were almost back to the cabin when I slapped my forehead — bright yellow face, black at the back and top of the head — damn, I’d charged right past a Hooded Warbler, the best look I’d ever had.

Of course we had another reason to be in Ithaca besides birds and hikes…

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…though birds made an appearance at graduation too. One of the resident Red-tails soared overhead and landed on a light pole to rearrange its lunch.

A model plane equipped with a camera took aerial photography of the festivities.

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I kept mistaking it for another hawk.

And here’s our star of the show:

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William L. Feldhusen, BA, Math.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Mammals too, Nests | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pine Bush ramble, 5/31/14

I decided to check out some of the outlying areas of the Albany Pine Bush that I hadn’t visited before. It was a perfect day for a walk, and the lupines were in bloom.

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I looked at the spot off Lincoln Ave where the Red-headed Woodpeckers were last year. No one had reported seeing them so far, but it’s always worth a try for such striking birds. No luck, but I watched these guys soak up the sun before catching a thermal. So sue me, I think Turkey Vultures are photogenic.

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There’s a bird in here somewhere…

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Oh! There he is! Well, that wasn’t very helpful at all!

Take my word to it -- it's a Red-eyed Vireo.

Take my word to it — it’s a Red-eyed Vireo.

Indigo Buntings weren’t any more cooperative so I put down the camera and just enjoyed their blue lightning glow in the sun as they flashed in and out of cover.

This Eastern Phoebe posed with its breakfast — a huge long legged horrifying spider. Go Phoebe!

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Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, insects, scenery | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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