Posts Tagged With: NYS 2013 count

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.


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.


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!

IMG_5603 2

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.




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.


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

Stretch goal

Since I reached my year goal of 200 birds (thank you, Little Blue Heron!) with three months to go, I’ve decided to upgrade to a more ambitious attempt. The list includes 10 birds I only saw out of our Region 8* area, and several of those I’m not likely to see around here. So I’m going to try for 10 more birds on my local list before year’s end. Is this too ambitious? Well…

My fall migrant ID, despite cramming, is not strong. Also I have a genius for being where the birds were yesterday, or where they’ll be tomorrow. And I wish I felt more secure in the IDs I do make.

The local shorebird migration, such as it is, is pretty much done. Warblers don’t have too long to go, either. There’s a chance I could pick up maybe 3 warbler species, and Philadelphia Vireo has been seen lately though it keeps evading me.

If we have a good finch incursion year, I could pick up the Grosbeaks and Crossbills, and Loons and Scoters are pretty certain before year’s end. (How do I not have Common Loon?)

I’m going to see the Short-eared Owls this year if I have to camp out in Fort Edward to do it.

No matter how much I twist the map around, the south end of the Great Vly where we heard the King Rail stubbornly persists in being in Ulster County, not Greene, so not Region 8. Grrrr.

So, 10 by year end? Maybe, with luck and persistence. I hope to update soon!


* Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene,  Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, and Washington Counties.

Categories: NYS 2013, Species count, What am dat bird?, Why? | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Little Blue Heron, 9/1/13

The word went out this morning that a Little Blue Heron was on the pond at Vischer Ferry. I couldn’t get there until evening, but despite such oppressive humidity my glasses kept fogging up, at 6:45 there was still enough light to see an immature LBH moving around.  It didn’t look anything like the birds pictured in the top pictures in that link, being in pure white first-year plumage. So how to tell it from other white herons?

Great Egret is just that — a great big bird, almost the size of a Great Blue Heron. (There is a Great White Heron, a color morph of GBH, but they’re only found in the Florida Keys.)

Cattle Egret — shorter necked and all-over squatter in shape.

Snowy Egret— here it gets harder. Same size. Adults in breeding plumage have the extravagant aigrettes that almost caused their extinction, and black legs with spiffy yellow feet*. To tell young Snowys and Little Blues apart, you have to focus on beak and leg details. Snowys have yellow and black on both, while Little Blues’ are more green/grey.

So, this bird was pure white, smaller than the Great Egrets it foraged near, with distinctly greenish legs and grayish beak. Little Blue Heron, species #200 for the year. It was quite active, flying from perch to water and up again. A flyover Green Heron bothered it enough to make it chase the darker bird away. At last it flew over the trees and out of sight, and I abandoned the towpath to the mosquitoes and the dusk.

On my way in, I spotted this pretty little Milk Snake on the edge of the path. Only about 8″ long, it barely moved as I approached. I think it was full of its latest meal.

Young Milk Snake

Young Milk Snake


*Somewhere in my slides I have pictures of a particularly fearless Snowy Egret in Florida. It walked right up to us on the beach on Sanibel Island, so close that I could get shots of its black toenails.

Categories: bird behavior, Field trip, NYS 2013, Rara avis, the occasional herp | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Numbers thus far, 2013

I haven’t been regularly updating my sightings and numbers, so here’s an update. I got close to my informal goal of 200 NYS species last year so for 2013 I’m making an effort to pass that number. And I think I’ve got a good chance — my list so far is about 180 and climbing, with new life birds notably increasing at the rate of almost two a month. Chasing has been variably successful, like the Upland Sandpiper on a fencepost just where he was supposed to be, followed by a completely unexpected Clay-colored Sparrow. Club trips and leads on the listserv led me to Hooded Warblers and Cliff Sparrows.

HMBC’s area guide has sent me to unexplored corners of our counties and told me what to watch for when I’m just tooling around town. A true labor of love, Tom Williams’ Capital District Bird-finding Calendar compiles years of local observations into a timetable telling me who’s where and when.

Migration was funky this spring. General wisdom is that prevailing weather patterns sent birds westward, away from the coast. We also didn’t have good fallout weather, and the few drop-ins stayed only a day or so before they were off. It’s been a slow haul getting a good Warbler collection. And shorebirds? Fuggeddaboudit. Spotted, Solitary, the odd Yellowlegs — that’s it. I’ll have to study up on fall plumages and try to catch them on the way south.

I’ve done a lot of work on song recognition this year. It all comes down to attention — the difference in tempo between Red-eyed Vireo and Blue-headed‘s repetitious song is clear if I don’t dismiss it without really listening.

Weak points? ID. Still. Really, they’re not all Song Sparrows. And if a more experienced birder calls out a species I’m not familiar with, I need to remind myself to double-check its identity. Expectations can fool the best of us!

And no, I’m not going to inflict all 180-odd names on you. Here’s a look at the portable version.

Scan copy


Anybody up for chasing a Mississippi Kite? It’s just down the road a piece!

* indicates a life bird.

Categories: Bird photos, Life bird!, NYS 2013, Species count, Tools of the trade | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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