Field trip

Local surprises

I didn’t always have to travel to find cool birds this year. Some of the most unexpected were just a county away!

This first lifer has a kind of morbid backstory. We were traveling to Pennsylvania for a funeral, and my husband asked if I wanted to break up the drive anywhere. Well, I said, there’s this Acadian Flycatcher in Middleburgh… We followed directions, drove past floodplains and into the hills, and right on target we hear the bird loudly ordering ‘Pizza! Pizza!’ Not a big rarity for our area – Region 8 is just a bit north of where Acadians are comfortable. I wonder if they’re a species like Carolina Wren and Black Vulture experimenting with expanding their range.

The Lark Sparrow up in the Fort Edward grasslands last Christmas was the subject of my most frustrating search ever. So when reports came in of one at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve, I had to go for it. It took some patience, but finally emerged so we could admire its striking facial markings.

IMG_2740

The Preserve is very similar geologically to the Albany Pine Bush and hosts a population of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. A major hatch was underway as we walked the sandy trails.

IMG_2744

Alert birders at Thacher Park noticed something odd about a Mockingbird – its wing patches were buffy instead of white, and it had a distinct eyering. That meant it was another western vagrant, Townsend’s Solitaire.   These thrushes frequent canyons and cliffs, eating juniper berries. I guess cedars at the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment felt just like home.

IMG_3325

At a suburban Albany bird feeder someone different came for dinner. Another sparrow that’s unmistakably different! Why can’t they all be this easy to pick out? Harris’s Sparrow is, for a change, a mid-continental bird that rarely roams, and this one drew admirers from all over the state. The homeowners patiently put up with gear-laden hordes roaming their back yard, but I’m sure they were grateful when the bird finally disappeared after Thanksgiving.

IMG_3455

‘The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect’ is a well-known birders’ phenomenon.

Basically, it means when birders turn out for a rarity, the concentration of skilled eyes tends to pull out more notable birds. In a fine example, the Harris’s wasn’t showing itself so we poked about into other promising tangles. One of the party urgently whispered and gestured towards a clump of multiflora rose where we saw… yes… a Bohemian Waxwing! The bird I’d hunted for three years, driving hundreds of miles in vain, right in front of me!

IMG_3425

After last winter I swore I’d never chase them again, that the damned bird would have to come to ME.

And it did.

In the end, the one lifer that I didn’t chase was the most satisfying of the year.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, Life bird!, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

anchor-brewery-beer-week-ipa

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:

IMG_1527

IMG_1530

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

IMG_1532

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.

IMG_1779

Small, but lacking the ‘cuteness factor’.

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

IMG_1771

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.

IMG_1782

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

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.

IMG_1580

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

IMG_1730

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

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.

IMG_1509

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

IMG_1505

IMG_1520

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

IMG_1523

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

IMG_1525

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

Poem #23

‘Where’s my Supersuit?’

 

Thor calls down lightning.

Superman leaps towers.

I have to settle for

more mundane super-powers.

Wolverine’s self-healing.

The Hulk smashed Loki flat.

I can be up and out the door

in 15 minutes, stat.

The Flash moves like a cheetah,

Nightcrawler like a toad.

I can find a Stewart’s

at the end of any road.

Tony Stark’s a genius.

Spiderman crawls wall.

I just keep on getting up

no matter how I fall.

Stewart's, the birders's friend

Stewart’s, the birders’s friend

Categories: Field trip, postcard poems | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Bird everywhere you go.

The meeting place for a recent field trip was a suburban Dunkin’ Donuts. So all we could expect there would be dumpster divers like Starlings and House Sparrows, right?

Wrong. Turns out there’s a storm catch basin behind the store. In 20 minutes, we saw Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, Red-winged Blackbirds, young American Crows begging, American Robins, a Baltimore Oriole…

IMG_1157

… and two Green Herons, almost blending into the muddy foliage.

IMG_1156

AND the first of an even dozen American Kestrels for the day!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, scenery | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Leavin’ on a jet plane (not).

Just because a birder goes to the airport, it doesn’t follow that she’s hopping a flight to some exotic bird-filled destination. The airport itself can be the goal.

Grassland species like this Savannah Sparrow love the short mowed fields at Albany International Airport. (International, by virtue of a once-weekly flight to Montreal.)

IMG_1175

 

 

 

This Grasshopper Sparrow liked the area so much he had to sing about it.

IMG_1168

 

 

Pk-tk-bzzzzzzzzz!

IMG_1170

 

 

At Saratoga County Airport I watched a few Horned Larks. I think this was a juvie — it begged for attention from a male who steadfastly ignored it.

IMG_1049

 

 

Birds and planes weren’t the only winged things worth watching. This Black Swallowtail cruised the clover.

IMG_1172

 

 

Of course, whenever I think of birding at the airport I remember our phenomenal Snowy Owl sightings this winter. This may be my favorite photo ever.

IMG_0150

 

 

 

Airports: not just for TSA harassment!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, insects | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.