Posts Tagged With: kestrel

Hey, where’d the shorebirds go?

The flats at Cohoes were deserted today except for a few dozen gulls. And half the reason why was perched in a cottonwood tree.

Undaunted, I scoured the rocks without finding even a Killdeer. As the Peregrine in the tree to my right took off


a second, previously hidden, shot out of the trees to my left and together they strafed the gulls on the rocks and spillway. When the sky was white with gulls, the pair took off towards a flock of pigeons on power lines and I last saw them heading upriver.

Later at Papscannee, I saw three of the Peregrines’ little cousins. This Kestrel was perched on a wildly swaying twiglet much too thin for its weight.


Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poem #26


In perfect understanding

the message carried through bone and muscle


tossing to release

the silver weapon skyward


hold for communion

the brilliant eye, the poised wing

the tension before



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

With a little help from my friends…

… or, how the internet helps me bird better.

The big news two weeks ago was GYRFALCON! in the grasslands. A couple of very experienced birders spotted the falcon first and it was all over the internet by 10. I read it a few minutes later and was torn — a Gyrfalcon! Not just a lifer but a glamorous one! But we have to take Randall back to school! But surely he won’t mind a 130 mile detour! But–

Fortunately for my sanity, by 10:45 the bird was gone away. Even if I’d torn up the highway at 10:02, I would have missed it. Here’s an account and picture by one of the lucky few to see this rare visitor.

Instant reports, instant photos — just a few years ago, we depended on the local bird line to inform us, five days late, of notable sightings. If we were lucky, the eyes in the field could dash to a pay phone to start the phone tree. Today, someone saw a Willow Ptarmigan* in Jefferson County. Within an hour, the report was on a dozen rare bird lines. An hour later, photos. Two hours later, GPS coordinates exact to the bush. More pictures, plans to carpool from Long Island and NYC and Buffalo, comparison to a Ptarmigan seen in Montreal during the winter, historical records — information I wouldn’t even know to look for pouring forth. How did I get so lucky?

Even though I knew the odds of the Gyrfalcon returning were beyond long, it was a nice enough day-after to warrant a trip upriver. With all the binocs focussed up there, some other good birds had been detected — a Golden Eagle, a Tundra Swan — and with the winter finally broken a few migrants might start wandering up.

The flooded fields at Wrights’s Loop were predictably ducky and the trees were screaming with icterids, a few of them Rusty Blackbirds. This once-numerous species has been in serious decline for decades, no one knows why.





Along the river, fewer ducks but more species. The dabblers had all arrived. The huge rafts of Canada and Snow Geese had dispersed. And the Osprey pair were back to their nest.


Entering the grasslands, I rolled my windows down and was delighted by an Eastern Meadowlark in song.


I counted five of my darling Kestrels along the way. A species of special concern, indeed.



I tried to turn every pair of heavily flapping wings and slight dihedral into the previous day’s Golden Eagle, but they were all Turkey Vultures laboring against the lack of thermals to glide on. I did locate the Tundra Swan, in a distant farm pond. Would I have squinted at that distant white smudge, if I hadn’t been made aware of the possibility? Probably not (to be honest).



Then I saw this guy. Dark-bellied, and perched on a ridiculously small twig, my first thought was Rough-legged. But its head was too dark, so Red-tailed? Well, whatever it was, it was civil enough to stay put while I snapped a dozen pictures, and still hadn’t flown when I left after prolonged scoping.



So I came home, loaded my photos, and looked at this. And looked at it. And thought, and looked some more. Finally I decided I would never be able to decide on my own, so I took the question to the jury of the internet, to the Facebook Bird ID Group Of The World. Within minutes I’d been helped to the answer — bare legs, large head, and light lower belly = Red-tailed hawk. But then things got really interesting — not just any Red-tail, but Buteo jamaicencis abieticola, the Northern Red-tailed Hawk. My mind was officially blown. I’d never heard of this large heavily-marked Canadian variant. (I was pleased to see the author say that seen ventrally -that is, front on- and at a distance, it could be mistaken for a Rough leg. Vindication!)

Using traditional resources, I would have kept at it, probably eventually concluding without real satisfaction that it was some weird Redtail and never knowing why. Instead, with a little help from my internet friends, I know a little more. And I know how much more I need to know.

You looking' at me?

You looking’ at me?



*For more on the amazing Ptarmigan, look here!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, First of season, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Conversation with a Kestrel, 3/11/12

Sunday was the kind of day when my dad used to gather us up and go for a drive. The beach was a favorite destination when we were kids, an afternoon of swimming, beachcombing, and sunset-watching. In later years he and I would go birding out to Orient Park. So in the spirit of a spring day, I took a meandering drive up to the Winter Raptor Fest.

The Hudson was quiet until I crossed onto one of the many River Roads, this one across from Schuylerville. It’s a few miles of dirt road, river on one side, fields and sloughs on the other. A half-dozen Snow Geese shone out among thousands of Canadas in an embayment. I’ve been watching a shallow pond thinking it would be a great duck stop, and this week the migrants had arrived including my FOY Green-winged Teal.

The best part of the Raptor Fest was the chance to see birds of prey up close. This Broad-winged Hawk had been wing-shot. Sorry for the horrible lighting, but she was inside a yellow and blue circus tent on a brilliantly sunny day.

The rehabber had the difficult task of answering questions ranging from the complications to the bird’s respiratory system from a broken bone, to one person who couldn’t seem to get that ‘healed’ did not mean ‘all better’, and why this bird would sadly never fly again.  Add the inevitable bored fractious infants with parents determined to stick it out to the end, and it was a frustrating presentation redeemed by the chance to see the Broad-wing up close.

Inside the barn the rehabbers had Barred, Screech, and Saw-whet Owls, and this little charmer:


Rufus is an American Kestrel, “rescued’ by a well-meaning but uninformed person who found him fledged, out of the nest on the ground, and assumed the poor little thing would die without human intervention. Which consisted of feeding him on hamburger and lamb, leading to metabolic bone disease. That’s the avian equivalent of rickets. Rufus’ wing bones are strong enough for limited flight, but his feet are deformed and he would soon starve if he had to hunt.

He is very socialized to crowds, but doesn’t like certain handlers. Whenever the woman holding him spoke, he glared at her and screamed KIKIKIKIKIKIKIKIKIKIKI loud enough to be heard outside and down the driveway.

I like this picture, showing how huge his eye is on a Robin-sized bird, and the notch in his beak for severing the spinal cord of a mouse. And yes, he was KIKIKIing here.

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Mallard, Canada Goose, Hooded Merganser, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, American Widgeon, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Snow Goose, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Blue jay, European Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Tufted Titmouse, Dark-eyed Junco.

26 species, 1 new for 2012.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, First of season, OMG bird, Species count | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Free Bird!

January 10 was my liberation day. My sling came off and I began the slow and often painful progress towards free flight.

As a reward for my patience, it was a great day for seeing roadside raptors. In addition to the inevitable Red-tails, I saw my first unidentifiable accipiter sp? of the year. Some people actually have it on their official checklist that way, since 9 out of 10 times that’s the best ID you can get.

On one telephone line a nervous Kestrel swayed, then took flight, while a few miles on a larger heavier more stolid Merlin was undeterred by gravel trucks roaring past her hunting fields.

The day’s big surprise was a Harrier (Marsh Hawk) cruising the Corning Preserve. I have seen them down in Papscannee Preserve, no reason why one shouldn’t fly a few miles north.

Not a raptor but a welcome sight anyway was a Northern Mockingbird dashing into the viny scrub. It’s another oddball wintering bird that just doesn’t seem to fit in a snowy landscape.

Categories: NYS 2012 | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Road raptors

We took another fun-filled — OK, stress-filled — flying visit to Cornell. Still no time to visit The Ornithology Lab or Sapsucker Woods… When we go up in October for Parents’ Weekend I plan to blow off most of the scheduled activities, take Will out for some meals, and spend the rest of the time roaming in the gorges and woods.

I did see a few good birds on the way, though. An adult Bald Eagle flew low overhead, I counted at least 30 Turkey Vultures spiraling up into a kettle, and the exasperating traffic jam on campus was compensated for by the sight of 2 Ospreys circling. I haven’t seen one since the last time I was on Long Island, but my mind still did the instant “Gull? no, wings are wrong” sorting.

Today a flock of 4 adult and 16 chick Wild Turkeys roamed the back yard. They checked out the brush pile, detoured into the swamp, ate autumn olives and honeysuckle berries, snapped at bugs around the compost, and stretched/hopped to peck grapes from low-hanging vines. After 20 minutes they wandered off, leaving a feather for the cat to play with.

The American Kestrels did a fine job raising their young this year. I’m seeing four and sometimes five birds on the wire. My neighbor hayed his fields during the long dry spell and there’s a bounty of rodents exposed. They’re very shy, though — I can’t get close enough for a photo.

2 species new to this list.

Categories: Field trip, New bird, OMG bird, Species count | Tags: , , | Leave a comment


American kestrel, Tree swallow, Pileated woodpecker, Green heron, Ruby-throated hummingbird, Black-capped chickadee, Red-winged blackbird, American robin, Turkey vulture, Mourning dove, European starling, Gray catbird, Canada goose, American crow, Eastern kingbird, House sparrow, Common grackle, Cedar waxwing, Downy woodpecker, American goldfinch, Cardinal, Great blue heron, Wood duck, Northern flicker, Chipping sparrow, Killdeer, Northern mockingbird, Mallard, Barn swallow, Song sparrow, Northern oriole, Eastern phoebe, Red-breasted nuthatch, Blue jay, Red-tailed hawk.

37 species, 3 new to this list.

Another day, another trip to Schenectady, another nice walk along the Mohawk. A lot of familiar faces– I saw the same Wood duck with two ducklings, and I also saw 3 males in full nuptial plumage– just gorgeous. I finally got a good look at the swallows swooping over the river, close enough to see they were in fact Tree swallows. OK! I watched a Cedar waxwing bringing food to the nest– didn’t see any chicks. She was sitting so tight she must still be incubating. All kinds of young’uns, following their mamas about and screeching to be fed.

And I finally saw this blog’s namesake! hovering high, watching for a twitch in the grass. Such an elegant bird.

Tomorrow’s road trip: home, to Troy, to Grafton State Park. This one I’m looking forward to!

Categories: Feeder birds, Field trip, Usual suspects | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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