Posts Tagged With: shorebirds

More action at the Flats

Shorebirds continue to trickle in at Cohoes Flats. We local birders need to set up a rota so someone’s there every day to greet the newcomers. Just this week in addition to the Willet we’ve played host to a Dowitcher, probably Short-billed.

Important protip – always go for the butt shot for those all-important undertail coverts!

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Now, I know what you’re going to say. “Naomi, if that’s a Short-billed Dowitcher, what the heck does a Long-billed look like?!?” Answer: practically the same. They were considered the same species until the 1950s and their beak lengths overlap. Peterson’s Birding By Impression says they “…have long been regarded by experts as unidentifiable in many field conditions…”, and who am I to argue with the experts? But I’ll try. First, Long-bills are more central-to-western, while Shorts migrate down through New York and New England. Longs are more uniformly and darkly red, while Shorts are lighter to white on the belly and vent. Their flight calls are different, but who wants to scare the bird off to ID it? In conclusion, the odds favor Short-billed Dowitcher, but I’ll readily accept correction.

Also here today, a Black-bellied Plover.

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Keep looking — there’s a shorebird in there!

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All part of the Cohoes Flats experience — lots of nooks and crannies for cryptically-colored birds to vanish into.

Great egrets are passing through too, probably a dozen or more this week.

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Killdeer up the wazoo, of course, and their little cousins Semipalmated Plovers. One black necklace instead of two.

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, much easier to tell apart when mixed flocks are dashing around.

Upturned longer bill and thick legs on the Greater (right).

Plus an excitable and ambitious Merlin pursuing a crow.

With today’s cold front passing through, I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Categories: Bird photos, cohoes, shorebirds | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

I aten’t dead.*

I ended 2014 on a down note, but this has been a decent birding year despite an awful lot of Real Life™ intruding. But I shall strive to blog on, nevertheless!

It’s appropriate to start again today since I hit a significant number — 200 bird species in my Region 8 area, with the unexpected arrival of this ghostly-pale Western Willet at the Cohoes Flats. Willets (Eastern subspecies) are common all along the coast and I saw them often back in my Queens days. Up here, though, we get the Western sub, and not many of them. A quick check of eBird showed this is the first report since 2011!

I had to play with these photos a bit to bring out the subtle colors of the bird. In the glaring sunlight against bleached rocks, the Willet almost disappeared.

This may be my favorite bird picture I’ve ever taken. I was disappointed at first that I hadn’t caught the wing fully extended, showing off the bold black-and-white pattern, but I love the arc of stretch and the tiptoes.

Willet

I shifted over to my perch above the spillway. The lighting was marginally better but the change in elevation made the bird almost invisible. Only its reflection gave it away!

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Just how long are those legs?

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Birders (and parents of small children!) are likely the only people who can’t wait for summer to be over. A change in shorebirds is the earliest sign that migration is just beginning. It’s almost time for Confusing Fall Warblers!

*Obligatory Pratchett reference.

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

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

Shorebirds at The Crossings

The Crossings at Colonie is your basic nice town park, playground, picnic table, pavilion, ponds, lots of joggers and kids and dogs. What draws birders is a happy accident. In rainy summers, the grassy fields fill and provide a staging area for shorebirds already on their way back south.

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Theses Least Sandpipers waded in and out of the water, close enough to make out their yellow-green legs. Shorebirds are haaarrrrd and their field marks are generally subtle. I was lucky that these birds were pretty fearless and the light was very good today.

This Lesser Yellowlegs spooked once, giving its single ‘tew, tew’ call. If it had stayed silent it’s almost impossible (for me, anyway) to tell it from a Greater Yellowlegs which repeats its call quickly three or more times. It chillaxed on the pavement for a while.

IMG_5612Wading around with it was a Solitary Sandpiper. It was amusing to watch them bobbing side by side. Now you can see why it’s called Yellowlegs!

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

Solitary on left, Yellowlegs on right

I’m amazed how well this picture of a Least Sandpiper turned out. Most of these were digiscoped with my point & shoot camera through my old spotting scope. The day’s brightness made all the difference. Not exactly frameworthy, but a good ID shot.

Y halo ther. Least Sandpiper.

Y halo ther. Least Sandpiper.

On my way home I made a quick stop at Cohoes Flats. The water level is dropping exposing more rocks. On the spillway I added five Spotted Sandpipers to my day’s total.

It’s hard to believe that for these birds, summer is over. They’ve produced their young for the year and now the long trip to points south — in some cases thousands of miles south — is beginning.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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