Usual suspects

It’s been that kind of year.

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.

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Scenes from a picnic table

I had some time to kill, so I sat down at a table in the Corning Preserve and watched the natural world go by.

Young birds everywhere!


“Are you sure you don’t have any stale bread?”


Sturnus vulgaris, uncharacteristically sleek.


Gray Catbird, featuring rufous underparts.


Papa House Sparrow, another snappy dresser.


And on the table:

Tiny color-coordinated spider of the quickly-scurrying variety.


The smallest imaginable leaf-hopper. Species unknown — I googled ‘leafhopper green curly tail’ unsuccessfully.


And an amazing caterpillar, soon to grow up to be a White-marked Tussock Moth. Its head shone like a coral bead.


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The usual suspects, part II

Common Grackles are blackbirds. That means they’re black birds, right?


Look again!


Amazing what a difference a change in perspective makes.


ETA: I will be chasing the Barrow’s Goldeneye tomorrow. AGAIN. Is the third time the charm? Stay tuned!

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The usual suspects, part I

It isn’t just the males of the species that brighten up their plumage for spring. This female Purple Finch caught my eye today, looking very crisp and bright. They always remind me of pint-sized female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.



At least, I assumed it was a female, but I don’t remember noticing this hint of red wash on the scapulars before.



I didn’t notice that until I cropped the photo.

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Snow day

The view from Kestrel Hill today is horizon-to-horizon snow. 18 inches on top of half a foot already on the ground — that’s a whole world of white.

We had a new roof installed last year, a metal roof. You’ll love it, the  builder assured us, no maintenance and the snow just slides right off! And just as promised, for the several moderate snows we’ve had, the roof clears itself quite efficiently.

Well, this was the first heavy snowfall of the season. And it was impressive, all right: a full rolling broadside as the entire front thundered down. Maybe too impressive! The sleeping cat shot off my shoulder and into the basement. As for me, every time it happens I have to laugh, it’s so exhilarating.

One small problem. I hope no one’s standing on the stoop next time it cuts loose!

Is this the year our reprehensible shed will finally collapse? (One can only hope!)


Since I wasn’t going anywhere anyway, I worked at my Great Backyard Bird Count. I had lots of help:


Lots of couples out for lunch, including the Cardinals.



House Finches…



… and Purple Finches. You wouldn’t believe how many years it took me to tell them apart.



40 or more Robins in the sumac grove.



Two Song Sparrows have stuck it out all season. Angry Birds, anyone?



As well as two Carolina Wrens.

I don’t know how we’ll scale those mountains to keep the feeders full, but I’d hate to disappoint the patrons.






Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, GBBC, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Smudgy window birds

The snow is falling heavily now. By the time it’s done we should have a new foot over the snowpack already on the ground.

The feeders are teeming. A few diners, taken through my smudgy front window:




A pastel American Goldfinch.


I love the huge eyes of a Tufted Titmouse.


“I know there’s seed somewhere down here…


Ah! There it is!”




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Porch birding

Despite temps in the low 20s, the bright sunshine made it feel quite mild this afternoon. So I bundled up to refill the feeders, a slow process one-handed and in new snow. After dragging a chair to the porch, I slid the door open to enjoy fresh air and birdsong. One of the pair of Carolina Wrens rattled in the woods and a Tufted Titmouse “peter peter”ed.

With the camera set up on a tripod, I was able to snap a few shots.

Mr. Downy Woodpecker helps himself to some suet.



He’s ready for Valentine’s Day with that crimson heart on his nape.

His Mrs., or somebody’s, waits her turn. At least 5 Downys cycled in and out.



The Dark-eyed Juncos appreciated the return of their buffet tables.



So, nothing out of the ordinary, just a pleasant afternoon visit with the neighbors.

Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Scouting for SoRenssCBC

Saturday is the Southern Rensselaer CBC.  This will be my fourth year doing the count and the first time I’m the ‘leader’. I’ve been ‘observer’ and ‘recorder’ before but this feels like the medical school adage — ” Watch one, do one, teach one.” Am I ready?

Part of the leader’s job is scouting out the area in the days prior to the count, checking out filled feeders, manured fields, and promising thickets. My section isn’t one of the birdiest in the county. Lots of subdivisions, urban streets, not so much forest or farmland. Access to the Hudson is only along a road lined by abandoned factories, a water treatment plant, and the county lockup.

We’ve got Forest Park Cemetery, supposedly the most haunted place in the Capital Region. No ghosts, but a few birds high in the evergreens.


If this was a 4th of July count, we could stop at Moxie’s for an ice cream. Six different vanillas, plus Blue Moon!


Some days, a bunch of crows out for a stroll is as good as you’re going to get.



A curious relief carving on the back of PS 12 in Troy.



And a Redtail by the water treatment plant, in a sun/snow shower.



Tomorrow I’ll check out the trails at RPI Tech Park. Might even venture into the tangles of suburbia. I hope it gets a bit livelier by the weekend!


Categories: Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Field trip, scenery, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”*

It’s easy to tell adults birds from young’uns this time of year, even though they’re the same size. The fledgelings are sleek and shiny, still carrying a bit of that baby pudge. The adults look worn to a thread, in poor plumage (who has time to fuss over their own looks?), starting to molt and looking in general like they need a long vacation, not a long migration. Take this Black-capped Chickadee:

"Is summer over yet?"

“Is summer over yet?”

I remember those times, BCC. The kids trying to pack all the fun they can into the waning summer, while we parents are counting down the days til school starts. Hang in there! Here, have some suet to tide you over.



*In case you’re not familiar with the reference.


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Falling water, 6/29/13

A great thing about families is how our obsessions can rub off on each other. My kids have caught a bit of my bird mania, and having a prospective Civil Engineer in the house means touring old locks and canals all around New York State. So even when I’m on a bird-centric trip, and aforementioned kid stayed home, I find myself fascinated by the stonework left behind by a vanished era’s highway.


Five Combines Feeder Canal Park runs along the old waterway between the Hudson River and Old Champlain Canal. Mixed hardwood stands, a large grassy field (OK, it’s a capped landfill), and a cattail pond provide varied habitat. After several weeks of heavy rain, water thundered down the flight of locks that give the park its name.

Lock 4 seemed strangely narrow. Standard width for these smaller canals was 15 feet, but this one looked as though I could reach across it.

Lock 3 has started to collapse.The overgrown blocks of stone remind me of a lost jungle city.

The whole way down the path, we heard song and caught glimpses of common resident birds. The busiest spot was a pond before the last lock. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds tended their nest, secure in a tree surrounded by water, fuzzy little heads wobbling just above the nest edge. In a nearby snag Great Crested Flycatchers popped in and out of a hole. However late the season Baltimore Orioles never get tired of chasing intruders from their pendant nest.

At the last lock, a slow-flowing wetland leads to the old Champlain Canal and 7 miles of towpath.

A mothers’ group of female Mallards preened and chatted while their ducklings disappeared into the reeds. One stood on a nest and eyed us suspiciously.


30 species, all residents. Not a great birding day, but a pleasant break in the persistent precipitation.

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

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