Posts Tagged With: gulls

Waiting for winter

We’re all leaning in like runners at the starting block, waiting for the year’s last migration to take off. Winter brings us waterfowl by the thousands on the rivers, eagles on the ice harassing that one anomalous gull, finch irruptions, maybe a Sandhill Crane or two…

But it’s all paused now. The weather has been mild so far and the birds haven’t been driven south by frozen water yet. It’s the November Conundrum: cold brings the birds to us, but I really wasn’t ready for this today.

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This didn’t last. It melted by late afternoon. The next one will, though, and the snows to follow.

Ready… get set…

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Categories: Bird photos | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poem #8

His hands are tight on the wheel

white knuckled

as mine were back then

I hear my father’s voice

:OK, easy on the turn:

:tap the brake:

:gentle, give ‘er gas:

never angry or impatient

imparting his skill

I channel that voice to my son

giving him wheels 

giving him wings

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Categories: Bird photos, postcard poems | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Duck duck no geese.

Yay, I got out for a bit of birding today! Most local reports were coming from the Mohawk so we headed out to cover the Cohoes -to-Crescent run.

There were not large numbers of waterfowl, but a nice variety. The usual Mallards and Common Mergansers appeared wherever the water was open. The best spot was by the Crescent hydropower plant, where this flock of mixed Aythya ducks (plus one odd fellow) gathered.

I’m going to do my best on ID here. Correction welcome!

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The leftmost bird is a female Canvasback. They’re pretty uncommon around here. Next are two Redheads and three Scaup sp? Leading the pack, with the white band near the tip of his bill, is a Ring-necked Duck.

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The ones with red heads are Redheads (duh), and the white-sided ones I’m hazarding are Greater Scaup, because they’re a really clean white, while the almost-identical Lesser Scaup is a bit grayer. If you look closely, one duck in the middle has a bit of white on its face above the bill — that’s a female Scaup sp. Front left is the Canvasback.

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Aythya ducks at rest, and here comes the odd man out. Cruising towards the flock is a very handsome male Long-tailed Duck.

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Isn’t he a beauty? You’ll see his eponymous tail in the next picture.

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The Canvasback is in the center of the flock here. Her long neck is a good field mark.

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Quiz time! How many species here?

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The fifth bird from the left might be a Lesser Scaup. I wish I could be sure, because the we’d have all five local Aythya species in one small flock.

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They were quite distant by now.

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And where were the gulls today? I was hoping to see Iceland and Glaucous but we only had the three year-round species, and not many of them. The ice here above the spillway is usually wall-to-wall squawking squabbling gulls. At least three Bald Eagles wandered around setting up the few gulls present.

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“What am I, chopped liver?”

Also seen but not photographed, three circling Black Vultures! And if the first vulture isn’t a sign of spring, I’d like to know what is.

OK, since you’re obviously dying to know, the local Aythya ducks are Greater and Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked, Redhead, and Canvasback. In that order, Aythya marila, affinis, collaris, americana, and valisneria. The Long-tailed Duck rejoices in the name of Clangula hyemalis.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, First of season, Rara avis, scenery | Tags: , , , , , | 4 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

Cohoes Flats, 10/16/13

The edge of the spillway at Cohoes Flats has become one of my favorite birding spots. A wide concrete ledge affords an overview of rocks and running water otherwise hidden.

The birds don’t seem bothered by my presence up there and go about their business.

My goal in this particular day was a pair of Bonaparte’s Gulls (year bird #206).  Ring-billed Gulls usually look almost delicate compared to Herring and Great Black-backs, but the Boneys are little larger than terns. In summer plumage they sport bold black hoods but by winter it’s reduced to a spot and a smudge. They foraged actively, paddling and ducking their heads underwater. When the hundred or so gulls got spooked into the air by a Peregrine, the Bonaparte’s flight was light and agile, again like a tern.

One Bonaparte's, four Ringbills.

One Bonaparte’s, four Ringbills.

 

Interesting facts: Unlike most gulls, Boneys nest in conifers. They were named not for the Emperor, but for his nephew Prince Charles Lucien.

They’re on my list of ‘Birds I should maybe count as new since I haven’t seen one in 25 years, and did I ever see it in New York anyway?’ My listing is getting more complicated.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, NYS 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Appreciating the subtleties

After you’ve been birding for a while (she says with a world-weary sigh) you run out of new flashy birds, and at last have to get down to the subtle not to say niggling details. One of the first for many beginners is the difference between Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. These guys (well, ladies and one guy) were very cooperative in showing off relative body and beak size. Not so visible here are the plumage cues. Look closely and you can see Downies have dots, as they say — the outer tail feathers have small spots or bars, while Hairys’ are clear white. Also, Downies descend. Their whinny drops down at the end, while Hairies call on a more constant note.

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I have long maintained* there are only four types of Gull — Great Black-backed, Ring-billed, Laughing, and All The Rest aka Herring. Turns out I’m wrong, and given a push I can acutally ID one more! Iceland Gull is a not-too-uncommon visitor in winter.  One of our club members had posted pictures of a few hundred gulls and sort of challenged us to pick out the odd bird. After lots of squinting, enlarging, flipping through books and images, and squinting again, it’s true what they say. The bird did suddenly leap out at me and I wondered how I couldn’t see it before.  Given the rare combination of ice on the Mohawk and mild temperatures, I ventured out. When I saw the gulls so close to shore I whipped out the binocs and really focused.

Can you find it here?

Somewhere in here is a pale-winged gull.

Somewhere in here is a pale-winged gull.

OK, I can’t either. Try these.

Iceland Gull snoozing

Iceland Gull snoozing

And another!

And another!

Dark bill, allover light buffy color, no gray ‘mantle’, and no black on the wingtips. Immie Iceland! In all I saw three Iceland Gulls, got a good feel for relative size (between Herring and Ring-billed) and once again had the importance of pay attention driven home.

The only thing cooler than a new life bird is finding and IDing the bird myself. With the generous help, always, of more experienced birders.

*out of sheer laziness.

Categories: Bird photos, Life bird!, New bird, NYS 2013, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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