Posts Tagged With: bird calls

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.)

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

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Pk-tk-bzzzzzzzzz!

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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.

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

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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.

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Airports: not just for TSA harassment!

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Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, insects | 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

The usual suspects, part III

When I hear a Pileated Woodpecker drumming or calling, I look up. That’s not always the right direction — Pileateds are often found at the base of rotting trees, excavating the ant larvae they love so much. This handsome fellow was tossing chips about and ‘wuk-wuk-wuk’ing at top volume.

We’re so fortunate to have these spectacular birds regularly dine at the dead trees in our swamp. If you have a dead tree that’s not in a problematic location, let it stand! Who knows who will call it home?

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

One of these birds is not like the others…

Can you tell? Hint: these are all Goldeneye. The brown-headed birds are (probably*) all female and immature Common Goldeneye, and all but one of the black-and-white birds are male Common Goldeneye. That one exception…

Do you see the one that doesn’t match, a visitor from the far north and west?

That’s a male Barrow’s Goldeneye, life bird and NYS Species #255! After striking out twice last weekend, I was lucky that the bird was still hanging around this morning. So after errands we headed back upriver hoping third time was the charm. I was beginning to despair when the river looked nearly birdless, but then a good flock of waterfowl moved in and at last (with help) we were able to pick him out of the crowd. We spent the pleasantly springlike afternoon enjoying the ducks’ courtship performances.

Despite their best yodeling, the ladies did not look impressed.

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Look at that beautiful eye! It’s obvious where they get their name.

Goldeneye are diving ducks, so sometimes just as I was getting the camera on them they’d do this:

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A Song Sparrow affirmed that spring really is coming, and he just had to sing about it!

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*One sharp-eyed birder spotted one female with more yellow on her beak — probably a female Barrow’s. I was happy enough to be able to pick out the male!

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, Life bird!, New bird, Rara avis | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Welcome back!

I know, we still have to get through March, Albany’s two heaviest snowfalls were in March, the Polar-freakin’-Vortex is on its way south again…

but the first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year sang in my yard today.

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Categories: Bird photos, Feeder birds, First of season | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Year-end highlights, 2013

 

January’s bird of the month was the pair of Sandhill Cranes at Crescent.What a thrill to see them so close up.

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February was gull month. I added three lifers to my list: Iceland Gull (below, with 3 Herring Gulls), Lesser Black-back, and Glaucous Gull, plus Little Gull in July. They really aren’t all the same! I begin to understand Laridaephiles!

And another!

March is the first stirring of spring, bringing the earliest Blackbirds and Tree Swallows. Waterfowl are on the move! 

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

There’s nothing better than April for a birder. Everything is coming! Almost as birdy as May, and fewer bugs! Tree and Chipping Sparrows switch places again. The earliest Warblers flit through the still-bare treetops. Shorebirds are bolting north. And herps are making their own short migrations.

Spotted Turtle

Spotted Turtle

All right, I take it back about April. May. May. MAY. Every day brings new migrants, new nesting birds, so many colors and voices there’s no time to blog or photograph or even think, sometimes. It’s all I can to to absorb every brilliant moment. I saw my first Hooded Warbler, my first Golden-winged Warbler, my first Vesper Sparrow. I heard a King Rail! Hummingbirds, Orioles, Swifts! These trees were dripping with warblers.

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June, and things are calming just a bit. The residents are settling down to the business of nesting. A field trip to Montgomery County showed me an Upland Sandpiper, doing exactly what an Uppie is supposed to do — pose on a fencepost and whoop his wolf whistle. A side trip to the neighboring town of Root produced a surprise — a Clay-colored Sparrow singing from the top of a shrub! A two-lifer day!

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July is the time to settle in and do some birdwatching, instead of birding. See fuzzy-headed fledgelings at the feeders, Tuftless Titmice and short-tailed Catbirds begging and nagging. Some of the territorial sniping has calmed and birds, like us, are just hanging out at the lake trying to stay cool. Hey, is that a Grasshopper Sparrow? Lifer!

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

For shorebirds, August means summer is over and it’s time to head south from their far-north nesting grounds. I caught this Sanderling on a rest stop at Cohoes. The surprise of the month was a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers in the Albany Pine Bush, first I’d seen since moving up here. And after seeing my first pair ever of Cliff Swallows, I looked carefully at the power lines on my road and found a new yard bird, too.

The warblers sweep back down in September in ‘confusing fall warbler’ plumage. Look carefully, and you can pick up species missed on the way up. I found my Philadelphia Vireo that way. Fortune favors the prepared, they say. I’d been looking for a Philly to complete the category, and so I was ready when I saw him — another lifer. The (white) Little Blue Heron was a surprise, though. In the style section, Pirate Birding was all the rage.

I spy with my little eye...

I spy with my little eye…

October, the month of mist and spiderwebs. Unexpected birds like these Tundra Swans show up with migrating waterfowl. Here one day, a hundred miles south tomorrow, any sighting pure chance.

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November’s big goal — I swore that this winter I would see a Short-eared Owl, if I had to pitch a tent on Fitzpatrick Road to do it. And I did! (See the owl, that is, not camping on the old tent-ground.) And up in the Adirondacks I caught glimpses of Boreal Chickadees, just as adorable as their Black-capped cousins. But the number of species has dropped by a third since last month, and I swear I recognize every beak at the feeder. Still I have something to be thankful for– a new camera, and better photos to look forward to sharing.

December — it’s Christmas Bird Count time! Pray that good bird hangs around until count day! Hope it flies over my sector instead of crossing the river! Swap tall tales of CBCs present and past, and how easy we young punks have it today — the old timers birded on foot! in the snow! barefoot! uphill both ways! just to score every Blue Jay! And sometimes (whisper it) ditch your count for a bird so cool you just have to see it.

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So I end the year the way I started it, with a big charismatic bird that doesn’t mind being gawked at.

 

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Feeder birds, Field trip, Life bird!, New bird, NYS 2013, OMG bird, scenery, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Roosevelt Truck Trail, 11/2/13

Hello! Welcome to everyone who’s visited, ‘liked’, and left comments! This should put me on my mettle to post more regularly.

Continuing my effort to become more familiar with the ‘Dacks, I joined a club trip up to the Minerva/Newcomb area. The weather not unpleasant for the north country in November, close to 50 and almost still. The rain held off in the overcast sky until we were leaving.

The Roosevelt Truck Trail is an old dirt road, now driveable only with DEC permission to reach two nominally handicapped-accessible campsites. Given that they’re just flat areas with picnic table, fire ring and an outhouse between them, I think they would only be suited for someone who’s still pretty mobile. In any case, it was obvious no one had driven through in a while.

The air was fragrant with evergreens — cedar, spruce, white pine and balsam fir. The fallen needles silenced our footfalls.

The trail rolled gently for 2 1/2 miles, then we turned and strolled back. Overhead a Common Raven rattled while Golden-crowned Kinglets see-see’d from every tree. Black-capped Chickadees were joined by their northern cousins, Boreal Chickadees, a brown-capped version with a wheezy, scratchy call. We never got a decent look at them despite their numbers, but they called their identity clearly enough. Life bird!

The other target bird for the day was the Black-backed Woodpecker, another boreal conifer-loving species. We didn’t find one, despite listening carefully for the soft tap of their bug hunting, but this tree showed they are present in the area. Their feeding technique is to strip the bark from dead trees to reach insect larvae under the surface. They prefer burned-out stands of trees, and after a few years move on to newly burnt territory. Their population is suffering due to forest fire supression.

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On our way in we met a bear hunter. We didn’t see any bear, but did find a few piles of fresh-ish bear scat.

Just down the road, abandoned freight tracks ran north and south. We followed them for a while, past rock cuts, bogs and ponds.

The lake, mirror-still a few minutes before, dimpled with rain.

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I’ll be returning in the spring. Goodbye and keep cold!

 

Categories: bird behavior, Field trip, Life bird!, NYS 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Duet

Two Great Horned Owls are serenading each other in the woods. I stood outside under Orion, listening as long as I could.

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(This is not those owls, but it’s likely the only GHO I’ll ever be lucky enough to photograph.)

Maybe this winter I’ll try bushwhacking around to locate their nest. They sound like they’re just up the hill in the pines but I haven’t seen evidence of where they roost — no whitewash on the bark, no pellets.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Oh, Botheration (Pond), 7/6/13

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Time for a shameful confession: despite living near Albany for 23 years now, I’ve rarely gone to the Adirondacks. Don’t really know why not, but it’s left me with some serious lacunae in my state birds.

Last weekend’s trip was to the southern ‘Dacks, near Gore Mountain. As we gradually ascended Barton Mines Road to the trailhead, driving conditions quickly became worse. Torrential rains a week before had closed the road for several days and despite a quick patch job, the shoulders still were undercut in places. A thick layer of sand from the garnet mines at the top of the hill covered the blacktop until it was like walking on a steep beach.

From the trailhead we first walked uphill to the gates of the mine, hearing the expected woodland singers: Black-throated Blue and Green Warblers, Scarlet Tanagers, vociferous Winter Wrens, and a cooperative Hermit Thrush perched in the open on a power line. Several carloads of unauthorized overnight partiers snuck out before the  mine officially opened for the day.

Back downhill a ways, and we entered the woods to be stopped almost immediately. Balm of Gilead Brook had briefly turned into Category VI whitewater and torn out the crossing and underlying culvert.

About 3' down to the top of the culvert. On the near side, the creek is about 4' wide.

About 3′ down to the top of the culvert. On the near side, the creek is about 4′ wide.

After bushwhacking downstream a ways, we crossed mostly dryfooted on wobbly rocks, but that didn’t last long. The trip description warned of wet conditions and ankle deep mud, and we weren’t disappointed. It was hard to hear birds at times over the squoosh and plop, and boots were double-knotted to keep them from being sucked off. And the blackflies! I begin to remember why I avoid this part of the state in the summer… Fortunately my old reliable kept me mostly bite-free.

But all the bugs means all the birds, of course. Mostly we heard them sing, but patience did yield good looks at several warbler species. Canada and Magnolia Warblers look similar at a fast foliage-blocked glance, both with bright yellow breast and black necklace. Black-and-white Warblers squeaked out their little call while foraging head-first down a tree like a Nuthatch. In the distance three different thrushes sang, Hermit, Wood, and Swainson’s.

Woodpecker of the day honors went to Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. If you’d ever like to be surrounded by Sapsuckers, just do a passable Barred Owl call. They hate Barred Owls, will come from a mile away to jeer and wicka-wicka at their enemy.

After a mile and a half of squishing and scrambling over/under trees blown down in the storm, we arrived at the Vly. (That’s another of New York’s borrowed Dutchy words, meaning a marsh or wetland.) Usually a good spot for flycatchers, it was quiet there and the sky was clouding over.

The Vly

The Vly

The log bridge on the creek running out of the Vly had been torn from its bank and rested on the far side, pointing downstream. Again we forded and forged on. The sky darkened — a few drops fell — decision time. The forecast had been for afternoon rain. Hike on another 1 1/4 mile in the high humidity to Botheration Pond? Or turn around and slowly bird our way back?

We wimped out. Back across the creek and past the Vly, through the ferns and sphagnum, and (of course) the sun came back out and a breeze lightened the air. We were rewarded by a pair of Nashville Warblers, subtle-colored and lively-voiced, and a real Barred Owl in the distance. A Northern Parula, audible but invisible, lurked in the highest canopy. Across the first ford, not so dry-footed this time, and out on the road to see two male Blackburnian Warblers flashing their fire throats  in a territorial squabble.

Back down at the Hudson six Broad-winged Hawks, some in appallingly bad plumage, circled in a mini-kettle, a sign that for them summer was already growing short. A lone Common Raven hopped along the riverbank.

So, I survived my first real hike in the Adirondack Mountains. Believe me, I’m not laughing at the bug-netting-suit people any more. If the trail hadn’t been over-my-shoes wet, if it hadn’t been so humid, I would have enjoyed it purely as a walk. Given those drawbacks, the birds still made it worthwhile. I guess I’ll have to gird up my courage and head further north if I want to add  the real boreal specialties to my life list– Gray Jay, Boreal Chickadee, Black-backed Woodpecker… The things we do for our passion!

29 species, 2 new for the year.

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

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