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.
Posts Tagged With: christmas bird count
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!
January’s bird of the month was the pair of Sandhill Cranes at Crescent.What a thrill to see them so close up.
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!
March is the first stirring of spring, bringing the earliest Blackbirds and Tree Swallows. Waterfowl are on the move!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
So I end the year the way I started it, with a big charismatic bird that doesn’t mind being gawked at.
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!
It’s cold. Wicked cold, snot-freezing cold, why-didn’t-I-stay-in-bed cold. But it’s opening day of Christmas Bird Count season, and I was off to Schenectady County.
At 8°F, pigeons huddled for warmth on light poles. As the sky brightened a few birds ventured down to the pavement, joined by others from across the lot. When they all erupted into the air, we realized one of the ‘pigeons’ was a Cooper’s Hawk. It gave up the attack quickly and swung off into a tree. And we started our route.
Things settled into a routine pretty quickly. Cruise slowly along the road, windows cracked for chip notes, get out, stand around stamping our feet, jump back in the car and crank the heat. Repeat, adding a few birds at a time for a few hours. It seemed to be getting colder as the morning wore on. The birds had better sense than the birders.
Then the news raced across the local list — Snowy Owl at RPI! I recognized the location right away. All the times I’d driven my kids to classes there finally paid off! I decided to bail from the count, and the count followed me across the river to Troy where right where he was supposed to be was a beautiful immature male Snowy Owl.
He gazed around looking sleepy. Cars entered and exited the parking lot, birders gathered and oooohed and gazed. The only thing that caught his interest was a vehicle squeaking like a tremendous rodent. For that, he opened his eyes.
Until a pigeon darted by. He followed the bird’s flight, turning his head nearly 90 degrees.
Then he turned around…
… and did what birds usually do when planning a hasty takeoff. (No, I did not take a picture of that.) And in a heartbeat, too quickly for me to follow with the camera, he took off.
After last year, I was really looking forward to participating in several area Christmas Bird Counts. Given my still-recuperating status, the prospect of hours hanging out a car window while bumping along possibly-paved back roads seemed far less appealing. So I opted for the stationary version of the CBC, tallying birds within a half-mile radius of my house.
I prepared in advance by making my feeders more attractive — a generous hunk of fresh suet, home-made Zick dough, sunflower and thistle seed, and millet for the ground feeders. Of course, what this drew was a bumper crop of squirrels and starlings…
On the day after Christmas, I got up before dawn and prowled around outside in a bathrobe in the surprisingly mild air, hoping to hear owls. No luck, so I retreated to my comfy chair and cup of tea to see who would be the first arrivals. Unsurprisingly, chickadees led the way followed soon by the usual suspects.
It was clear if I wanted to see anything interesting, I’d have to take a walk. So we ventured up the tower road, where a Red-tailed Hawk circled overhead. A bit further down the road, a tangle of grapevines and wild rose hips attracted Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, and a Carolina Wren. All the birds went silent when we flushed up a Sharp-shinned Hawk from what was obviously his primo hunting spot.
For the day, I totalled about 120 individuals of 21 species. I was probably low on BCCs and DEJs due to the flitter factor.
Black-capped Chickadee 4, American Crow 14, Downy Woodpecker 4, Tufted Titmouse 3, Dark-eyed Junco 7, Blue Jay 5, White-breasted Nuthatch 1, American Goldfinch 10, Red-bellied Woodpecker 1, European Starling 35, Northern Flicker 1, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Tree Sparrow 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1, White-throated Sparrow 3, Northern Cardinal 5, Mourning Dove 12, Carolina Wren 1, Red-breasted Nuthatch 1, House Finch 8.
And that’s all! No Pileated, no owls, no Snow Buntings, Pine Siskins, Redpolls, no bluebirds or robins though they had been feeding on the sumacs just days before, no geese flying over. Quite a disappointing total. I’m waiting to hear what the rest of the teams came up with for the day. I know it’s been a real dry spell on the HMBirds list lately. Come on winter birds! Come on Snowy Owls!
You couldn’t ask for a nicer day in late December for a CBC. The temperature, in the teens when we started, soon rose above freezing, which is important when you consider much of the route is covered going 5MPH on back roads with both windows wide open, my fellow-compiler S. driving and watching and me doing my best hound-dog impersonation with my head hanging out the window, ears pricked for every chirp.
I had no idea there were so many narrow barely-plowed roads in what is not the most rural part of the county, but the 4wheel drive handled it all calmly, even when we had to get off the road quickly to avoid a town plow. S. had scouted through the area the day before, locating likely spots like open water (rare) and full bird feeders (less common than you would think. Why do people hang feeders and not supply them?)
We knew we wouldn’t have large numbers of species — this time of year, only the teams along the river get really high numbers — but we listened, and we watched, and we explained what we were doing to any number of people. For some reason, homeowners get a little antsy when you stare into their yards with binoculars…
We had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. We still were able to stop and just enjoy watching birds a few times. A small flock of tree sparrows hunted through weed-tops along a barely open stream and the sun highlighted their rusty caps. Bluebirds and cardinals provided welcome color, and two common Redpolls were first-of-season birds for me.
After six hours and 80 miles, we had covered most of the roads in our section and S. had to leave. I tried to cover the last few streets alone, but trying to drive/listen/write/notice other cars proved too difficult. By then I think I had sprained my attention or something. I’d hear a bird and it wouldn’t even register. So it was home to neaten up my tally sheet into something presentable, then off to the after-count gathering to share our results. I’ll post about them when they’ve been compiled. I can’t wait to do this again next year!
So here’s my list, species and how many of each:*
Wild Turkey 12, Red-tailed Hawk 4, Rock Pigeon 16, Mourning Dove 32, Red-bellied Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 14, Hairy Woodpecker 7, Northern Flicker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Blue Jay 88, American Crow 77, Black-capped Chickadee 106, Tufted Titmouse 10, White-breasted Nuthatch 13, Brown Creeper 1, Eastern Bluebird 5, American Robin 4, European Starling 76, Tree Sparrow 11, Song Sparrow 3, Dark-eyed Junco 48, Northern Cardinal 9, House Finch 14, Common Redpoll 2, American Goldfinch 5, House Sparrow 34.
26 species, 1 new to this list, 594 individuals.
*also 7 Helmeted Guineafowl and a few roosters.
Why, the great Christmas Bird Count, of course!
A bit of history, first: back in the good olde days, after after the traditional roast goose, plum pudding and other indigestible delights, the men would gather for the Side Hunt. (Your side against mine, you see.) And the point of this hunt was to blow away every bird you could hit — game birds, song birds, birds of prey, for all I know Aunt Sadie’s canary, if you could hit it. At the end of the day, whoever had the biggest pile of mangled feathers was the winner.
But on Christmas Day, 1900, a new idea was born. Ornithologist Frank Chapman made the radical suggestion that birds could be counted by teams covering a designated area, performing the avian equivalent of a census. That humble beginning of 27 birders has grown to tens of thousands across the Americas, establishing over a century’s-worth of range, habitat and population records. And it sounds like fun, too.
Well, if we’d gone out Monday as originally planned, ‘fun’ is not the word I’d choose. But Thursday is supposed to be somewhat sunny and above freezing, and the roads are mostly clear. Our section is one corner of southern Rensselaer county, in the towns of East Schodack and Nassau. Too bad I live just out of the area, or we could just look out my kitchen window and count all my regulars, plus the Snow Buntings that are still showing up at the farm.
“Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot!” (or aflight, as the case may be.) Here’s hoping for clear skies and great sightings!