Posts Tagged With: slow down dammit I can’t see your field marks

The impostor

Birding was slow at Five Rivers this morning: only a few warblers. We’re still waiting on the waves of fall migrants.

So I turned my attention to the butterfly bush outside the education center. No hummingbirds, but I found this lovely hawk moth feasting.

I think this is a Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe. I was delighted to get several decent pictures as I followed it from blossom to blossom.

And now I should go outside, because there’s an Eastern Towhee in the grapevines and intriguing fluttering all around!

Categories: insects | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

IMG_0150 2

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.



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.


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

#103 or, Return of the Son of Bird Every Bird, Part XXXVIII

How many times do I have to remind myself? Just because 15 birds on the line are Barn Swallows doesn’t mean the 16th is too. Sometimes it’s a Cliff Swallow. Which means it’s Yard Bird #103!



A Cliff Swallow is nearly invisible peeking out of this under-construction nest. You can barely see the white patch above the beak.

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

Change of the Guard

I thought this year I’d catch it, the day when Barn Swallows leave the lines over the farm field to be replaced by Starlings. But once again, they made the switch as I looked away. They were still there Tuesday, and today… gone.

Fall migrants are just beginning to trickle back. For the next weeks I will be driving myself mad trying to identify Confusing Fall Warblers and Even More Confusing Fall Shorebirds. This afternoon one of the easiest to ID hopped in the front yard bushes, an American Redstart in its juvenile lemon-drop plumage.

Here’s a useful page from my 1966 Golden field guide. This is a good example of why we birders have half a dozen (or more!) guides — every one arranges things differently, depicts the Ideal Bird subtly differently, or like Golden, shows all the fall warblers and headshots of sparrows in a single location. There is no One Perfect Field Guide!

Just look at all those little yallery-greeny creatures! Now reflect that they’re busily foraging for the long trip ahead and darting around at warp speed. You can understand the temptation to give up and call ’em all CFWs.

Categories: Tools of the trade, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment


The Thursday Group went down to Papscannee in the beautiful stretch of amazingly rain-free days last week. Some sandpipers, some ducks, aaannndd I’m sorry, all the shorebirds look too alike for me (except for co-operative Dunlins, see later post). We got  really nice looks at a Lincoln’s Sparrow, not common around here. Then a flock of little birds with white feathers bordering their tails flew over. Their flight pattern resembled the undulation of Goldfinches, but faster, more erratic and abrupt, then they disappeared into tall grass. American Pipits! They popped out of the grass, circled overhead with a flight call of ‘pip-pit, pip-pit’ and then zoom out of sight again. I could see the white outer tail feathers like a Junco, but a slimmer, lighter-colored bird with a buffy color underlying the streaked breast.

Two new species for my life list! But I wasn’t really satisfied with my look at the Pipit. When I add a Life Bird, I like to have a Life Look at it. They never stopped moving and once down, determinedly skulked. So today being the last nice day predicted for some time, I headed back for another try. And there they were! Foraging in the open, about 15 feet from the car window. I had several minutes to study them so close two birds filled my binocs, until a car sped down the dirt road scaring up crows and Pipits (Pipits. I just like the name.) What had seemed to be a small flock turned out to be at least 60 birds hidden in the stubble. Over the next hour I watched as they moved from corn to grass to mud in constant restless action. I tried getting pictures, but… you can guess. So here’s a picture by a pro.

American Pipit ©Clay Taylor, from Swarovski Optik Digiscoping Gallery.

Dig those crazy-long nails. Pipit!

Categories: Field trip, Life bird!, New bird, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Cooper’s, for sure.

Yes! I have ID’d an accipiter and after referring to Peterson, Audubon, Nat’l Geo, Dunne, Heintzelman and the old unreliable Golden, I am at least 97% sure it was a immature female Cooper’s. Big-headed, her tail was more rounded than squared and she was definitely at least crow-sized. She was perched in a tree on a quiet road, so I was able to kill the engine and watch her from the open window. Cars make very effective blinds. I mostly saw her back, though she turned enough for me to see the russet barring on her chest. She flew down the road to another overhanging branch and I followed, driving as inconspicuously as I could . After a few minutes she dismissed me from her attention, focussing on the small movements of songbirds in the undergrowth. Nothing would take the bait and fly up, though, so after a while she and I relaxed, she adjusting the set of her feathers and I resting against the open window frame, holding my head and binocs sideways, keeping in mind Peterson’s adage, “The bird has wings. The book doesn’t.” *

In time, perhaps 20 minutes later, a bicyclist with a dog in tow rolled by and that disturbed her. A few strong wing beats and she powered off into the woods.

* Of course I take my binocs and books with me when going grocery shopping. Doesn’t everyone?

Categories: OMG bird, What am dat bird? | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The big day!

You couldn’t ask for a nicer day in late December for a CBC. The temperature, in the teens when we started, soon rose above freezing, which is important when you consider much of the route is covered going 5MPH on back roads with both windows wide open, my fellow-compiler S. driving and watching and me doing my best hound-dog impersonation with my head hanging out the window, ears pricked for every chirp.

I had no idea there were so many narrow barely-plowed roads in what is not the most rural part of the county, but the 4wheel drive handled it all calmly, even when we had to get off the road quickly to avoid a town plow. S. had scouted through the area the day before, locating likely spots like open water (rare) and full bird feeders (less common than you would think. Why do people hang feeders and not supply them?)

We knew we wouldn’t have large numbers of species — this time of year, only the teams along the river get really high numbers — but we listened, and we watched, and we explained what we were doing to any number of people. For some reason, homeowners get a little antsy when you stare into their yards with binoculars…

We had a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time. We still were able to stop and just enjoy  watching birds a few times. A small flock of tree sparrows hunted through weed-tops along a barely open stream and the sun highlighted their rusty caps. Bluebirds and cardinals provided welcome color, and two common Redpolls were first-of-season birds for me.

After six hours and 80 miles, we had covered most of the roads in our section and S. had to leave. I tried to cover the last few streets alone, but trying to drive/listen/write/notice other cars proved too difficult. By then I think I had sprained my attention or something. I’d hear a bird and it wouldn’t even register. So it was home to neaten up my tally sheet into something presentable, then off to the after-count gathering to share our results. I’ll post about them when they’ve been compiled. I can’t wait to do this again next year!

So here’s my list, species and how many of each:*

Wild Turkey 12, Red-tailed Hawk 4, Rock Pigeon 16, Mourning Dove 32, Red-bellied Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 14, Hairy Woodpecker 7, Northern Flicker 1, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Blue Jay 88, American Crow 77, Black-capped Chickadee 106, Tufted Titmouse 10, White-breasted Nuthatch 13, Brown Creeper 1, Eastern Bluebird 5, American Robin 4, European Starling 76, Tree Sparrow 11, Song Sparrow 3, Dark-eyed Junco 48, Northern Cardinal 9, House Finch 14, Common Redpoll 2, American Goldfinch 5, House Sparrow 34.

26 species, 1 new to this list, 594 individuals.

*also 7 Helmeted Guineafowl and a few roosters.

Categories: Christmas Bird Count, Field trip, First of season, New bird, Species count | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend in review

Q: How much rain did we actually have?

A: I don’t know. The container I was using overflowed hours before the rain stopped. However, there is this:


This was empty Wednesday.

That’s nine inches of water in there, measured at the slightly-uphill side. The sticks are there to help any hapless critter climb out.

The deluge ended Friday afternoon, the swamp is pretty full and flowing out into the pond, and the wide muddy banks of the pond are covered with water. It was a gorgeous weekend, clear and crisp and colorful.

We took a long walk at Five Rivers Sunday. Not a whole lot of birds, but I did manage to absolutely/positively identify a CFW! OK, they were Yellow-rumped Warblers, which are not exactly difficult, but I’m still pumped.

Here’s a female Mallard enjoying the sun. She was sharing that log with several Painted Turtles and you can see what a great basking day it was.

If I’d been a little quicker, I could have gotten a shot of this flock of Wild Turkeys in front of   the ‘Wild Turkey Trail’ sign!

No snakes having sex this time, but this Garter Snake wanted us to get out of his way. We complied, of course.We almost couldn’t leave. The flock of Turkeys stood in the road at the exit and strolled back and forth blocking traffic for several minutes. Obviously very accustomed to people — I could have reached out of the car window and touched one.

Red-winged Blackbird, Cardinal, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Tufted Titmouse, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Song Sparrow, American Crow, Canada Goose, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, European Starling, Mourning Dove, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Raven, Turkey Vulture, Wild Turkey, Pileated Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, Belted Kingfisher, Double-crested Cormorant, Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Purple Finch, Mallard, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

34 confirmed species, 1 new to this list. One warbler which looked sorta like a Northern Parula and a maybe-kinglet. Lots of completely unidentifiable CFWs.

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, New bird, Species count, the occasional herp, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Birders

I rose at 6:15 and met the Early Birders at Five Rivers this morning. They meet weekly during the prime migration months, and I’ve been telling myself to participate for years (but there’s that whole 6:15 AM business…). So I roused myself and headed out into the misty rosy-fingered dawn. The group was mixed, every level of expertise from backyard birders like me to ornithologists who could spot an eye-ring at 100 paces.

We start out over bagels and coffee in the visitor center, ticking off the feeder birds, then move out into a variety of habitats for 2 hours of walking very slowly. Every chirp and rustle gets careful consideration, and even the ubiquitous Blue Jays and Chickadees are observed respectfully.

Confusing Fall Warblers continue to confuse me. The sky was overcast, the mixed flocks of little birds were fast-moving and waaay up in the treetops, and if on the off chance I did get a good look, it turned out to be a Chickadee. The advice was to check out any flock of mostly BCCs this time of year — warblers often buddy up with them. And it’s true — I carefully scanned the swamp maple in my yard and found a few little mystery birds mixed in. The moral of the story being, Fall warblers = hard work. Work harder, Naomi!

After the official walk was over, I roamed around the grounds for another hour. A red dragonfly landed on my arm and ate a gnat! Very cool, watching it turn the bug around with its mandibles and drop the little wings when it was done.

On the way home a raptor rocketed in front of my car. All I could get was a general impression of light belly/long tail/agility and speed.

Blue Jay, American Crow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Sparrow. Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Mourning Dove, Tufted Titmouse, Gray Catbird, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Canada Goose, Mallard, Solitary Sandpiper, Song Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Purple Finch, Pileated Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Red-tailed Hawk, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Ring-billed Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, American Kestrel, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, White-throated Sparrow.

Also maybe a Mallard/Black Duck hybrid — a female with a purple speculum with white bands on either side.

35 definite species*, 2 new to this list, and undoubtedly I could add more with some work.

I’m rather proud of the Solitary Sandpiper. It flew in to one of the little ponds and disappeared behind sedges. I kept watching that area while the rest of the group was admiring a really flashy male Wood Duck, and finally it worked its way into the clear. Careful scoping showed it had an eye-ring, not an eyebrow, so the ID was made. But I saw it first!

*I’m not adding the rooster we heard in the distance.

Categories: chickens are birds too, Field trip, New bird, Species count, Usual suspects | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

In which I disappoint Pete Dunne once again.

I’m sorry, I’m one of those people who can’t tell a Sharpie from a Cooper’s without calipers. One of the two zipped along side me today, chivvied by a pair of RWBBs.

Categories: What am dat bird? | Tags: | 2 Comments

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