Posts Tagged With: snowy owl

Leavin’ on a jet plane (not).

Just because a birder goes to the airport, it doesn’t follow that she’s hopping a flight to some exotic bird-filled destination. The airport itself can be the goal.

Grassland species like this Savannah Sparrow love the short mowed fields at Albany International Airport. (International, by virtue of a once-weekly flight to Montreal.)





This Grasshopper Sparrow liked the area so much he had to sing about it.








At Saratoga County Airport I watched a few Horned Larks. I think this was a juvie — it begged for attention from a male who steadfastly ignored it.




Birds and planes weren’t the only winged things worth watching. This Black Swallowtail cruised the clover.




Of course, whenever I think of birding at the airport I remember our phenomenal Snowy Owl sightings this winter. This may be my favorite photo ever.





Airports: not just for TSA harassment!

Categories: Bird photos, Field trip, insects | Tags: , , , , , | 3 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!


Acckkk! Bllffttt! Pttooi!

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


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



Feathers stuck to his back, beak and tail.


Oooh, guts.


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


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.

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

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!

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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.




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

Schenectady count and … OMG SNOWY OWL!!!!!11!!!!!!

It’s cold. Wicked cold, snot-freezing cold, why-didn’t-I-stay-in-bed cold. But it’s opening day of Christmas Bird Count season, and I was off to Schenectady County.

At 8°F, pigeons huddled for warmth on light poles. As the sky brightened a few birds ventured down to the pavement, joined by others from across the lot. When they all erupted into the air, we realized one of the ‘pigeons’ was a Cooper’s Hawk. It gave up the attack quickly and swung off into a tree. And we started our route.

Things settled into a routine pretty quickly. Cruise slowly along the road, windows cracked for chip notes, get out, stand around stamping our feet, jump back in the car and crank the heat. Repeat, adding a few birds at a time for a few hours. It seemed to be getting colder as the morning wore on. The birds had better sense than the birders.

Then the news raced across the local list — Snowy Owl at RPI! I recognized the location right away. All the times I’d driven my kids to classes there finally paid off! I decided to bail from the count, and the count followed me across the river to Troy where right where he was supposed to be was a beautiful immature male Snowy Owl.

I love my new camera.

I love my new camera.

He gazed around looking sleepy. Cars entered and exited the parking lot, birders gathered and oooohed and gazed. The only thing that caught his interest was a vehicle squeaking like a tremendous rodent. For that, he opened his eyes.

Until a pigeon darted by. He followed the bird’s flight, turning his head nearly 90 degrees.


Then he turned around…


… and did what birds usually do when planning a hasty takeoff. (No, I did not take a picture of that.) And in a heartbeat, too quickly for me to follow with the camera, he took off.


Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Christmas Bird Count, Field trip, OMG bird | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Snowy Owl remembered

I’ve yet to see a Snowy in this irruption year, but tucked into an old book I found this photo my father sent to me.

Photo by Tom Lloyd

On the back he wrote, in his familiar scrawl,

“Taken at Orient Beach State Pk. February ’91. I took about 45 min to get this close – I crawled on my stomach. About 8″ to 10″ at a time. The owl was eating prey. Each time he would eat I would creep closer – Dad”

In ’91 my father was 71, eleven years past life-altering heart surgery. All his life he hated being cold. And yet he spent almost an hour on his belly crawling across a windswept winter beach to get this picture (with a heavy old manual-focus camera, I might add).

I have a proud birding legacy to live up to.

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