Posts Tagged With: raptors

Hooray for the Redtail white and blue…

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I don’t know what the ethical status of Red-tailed Hawks is compared to Bald Eagles (which Ben Franklin considered ‘a Bird of bad moral character’) but this guy at the Albany Pine Bush knew just what what this flagpole needed.

I looked up the quotation, and the whole passage is so delightful I had to copy it here. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin said:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/american-myths-benjamin-franklins-turkey-and-the-presidential-seal-6623414/#BKU4Qei2PYMQ18Io.99

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Categories: Bird photos, raptors | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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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Casual eagle

I saw this Bald Eagle in the drizzly mist today.

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As long as I watched her she stood in this casual pose, one foot dangling, talons loosely clasped, surveying the marsh below. Like a child in a tree fort, one foot tucked under, one swinging.

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Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, raptors | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

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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.

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

Ithaca is birdeous, too. Or, frequently distracted by birds.

For five years now I’ve wanted to spend some time birding around Ithaca but we always seem to be in a rush, dropping kids off or picking them up. So when Will’s graduation was near we decided to spend a few extra days, booking a cabin in Robert H. Treman State Park.

You have to drive across the creek to enter the campground.

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The first afternoon, after unpacking, we lounged about listening to the falls and forest sounds. A pair of Carolina Wrens chattered nonstop, fluttering from tree to roof and under the rafters, I realized the squeaking was coming from a nest and one by one the fledglings popped out, bounced off the ground and almost immediately fluttered up to anything they could cling to: a tree trunk, the side of the cabin, or ME! One tiny bundle of fluff clung to my shirt for a minute before gathering the energy to take off into the hobblebush, and another used me as a rest stop while flying between trees.

Eventually five young wrens had emerged and the parents lured them away — all but one, the bird on the left above. It was the last one out of the nest, last to get off the ground at all, and as long as I watched was never able to fly more than a few feet. When I saw it last it was hunkered down in some undergrowth. The parents by then had stopped calling to it and moved off with its stronger sibs.

One afternoon we walked part way up the Rim Trail — we had a deadline that day, so only went halfway up and had to pick up the pace on the way downhill. There was still time for a long look at a Scarlet Tanager overhead, a satisfying look after trying to catch a glimpse the day before at Buttermilk Falls. How something the color of a firetruck can be so hard to see among green leaves! But this guy decided to be generous with his beauty.

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After this we really did had to hurry, so when I saw a warbler with a yellow face and black throat, I mentally checked it off as “Black-throated Green, seen a million of ’em,” and kept going. We were almost back to the cabin when I slapped my forehead — bright yellow face, black at the back and top of the head — damn, I’d charged right past a Hooded Warbler, the best look I’d ever had.

Of course we had another reason to be in Ithaca besides birds and hikes…

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…though birds made an appearance at graduation too. One of the resident Red-tails soared overhead and landed on a light pole to rearrange its lunch.

A model plane equipped with a camera took aerial photography of the festivities.

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I kept mistaking it for another hawk.

And here’s our star of the show:

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William L. Feldhusen, BA, Math.

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Mammals too, Nests | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

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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.

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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

Peregrine and prey, 1/9/14

(Squick warning — if you don’t like guts — literal guts — view with caution.)

The Thursday group started out at Albany Airport. Whoop de doo, three Snowy Owls. We’re almost (not quite, but almost) blasé about them now. A pair of Harriers and a Rough-legged Hawk hunted, skirmishing briefly with the owls and resident Redtails. Off to the river!

While on our way we got a call that the Redheads were still hanging out by the Crescent power plant, so that was our first stop. Not a great look in the shimmery lights, so I tried to get closer while the rest of the group went above the dam to scan gulls. When I caught up, everyone’s attention was fixed not on the mass of gulls on the ice, but about 50 feet offshore where this immature Peregrine Falcon was plucking his catch of the day — a Ring-billed Gull. Feathers everywhere!

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Acckkk! Bllffttt! Pttooi!

Then he got down to business. Neither a crowd of admirers nor a passing Redtail deterred him from lunch.

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It’s winter. Food is too important to be distracted.

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Feathers stuck to his back, beak and tail.

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Oooh, guts.

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Finally a Bald Eagle buzzed the gull flocks and that was one disturbance too many.

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Leftovers, anyone?

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Owls & hawks, hawks & owls… 12/30/13

I can’t help it. I love those birds of prey.

Several Snowy Owls have been seen at Albany Airport recently.

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This was by far the whitest Snowy I’ve ever seen, so most likely an adult male. When it was first pointed out to me it had its head turned 90 degrees away an it was indistinguishable from the rest of the snow lumps along the runway. I love the tiny devil horns! I don’t see that feature mentioned in the field guide descriptions but it shows in almost every photo I’ve seen this winter. One theory is that the birds this far south are food-stressed and have less body fat, so the ‘ears’ show more. I don’t know… the birds found dead or taken in for rehab are usually underweight, but does correlation imply causality? The RPI bird wasn’t lacking food — it was devouring crows regularly for several days —  and it had visible horns.

Further down the runway I saw this darker and probably younger bird.

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There was a third owl on the grounds that day, and a Short-eared Owl was reported too, but I missed them.

A pair of resident Redtails enjoyed the sun.

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Then I circled around to the other side of the airport, scanning a swirl of Horned Larks for a few elusive Lapland Longspurs. (Winter plumage is not as striking as the breeding male in the link.) No luck there. I really do like birds that hold still…

 

 

 

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

Scouting for SoRenssCBC

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.

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If this was a 4th of July count, we could stop at Moxie’s for an ice cream. Six different vanillas, plus Blue Moon!

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Some days, a bunch of crows out for a stroll is as good as you’re going to get.

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A curious relief carving on the back of PS 12 in Troy.

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And a Redtail by the water treatment plant, in a sun/snow shower.

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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!

 

Categories: Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Field trip, scenery, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

There are cat/bird interactions…

… and then there are CAT/BIRD interactions.

Hunter (that’s his name and he lives up to it) had a squirrel. Had, until someone dropped in for dinner…

©Dan Miller

©Dan Miller

Ginger, the cat inside, is saying, “Dude, you’re on your own here.”

©Dan Miller

©Dan Miller

Photos taken by Dan Miller. Thanks!

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Feeder birds, Mammals too, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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