Friday, December 10, 2010

Backyard accipiters

As I prepared to leave the house this morning, I realized there was zero activity at the feeders. This normally means a predator is lurking. I stepped outside to start the car and found an adult Cooper's Hawk in a tree by the driveway. Normally it would fly away immediately upon sighting me, but it hardly gave me a glance. It was also vocalizing, making a single note call that sounds something like a sapsucker's call. To my amazement, as I rounded the side of the house, I was nearly at eye level with a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk in our pear tree. I had seen this one a few days earlier, when it missed a meal at the feeders and sat on our bench briefly. It was making a low, whistling sound apparently in response to the presence of the other bird.

The standoff lasted a couple of minutes, with me getting great looks at both species, and being able to compare live birds not fifty feet apart. In this case the size difference was most noticeable, the Cooper's being at least fifty percent bigger than the sharpie. The sharpie had a square tail, while the Cooper's tail had the longest feathers in the middle, giving it a more rounded appearence. Cooper's head and nape gave it a more angular look. I would slowly walk back and forth between the two, getting as close as twelve feet to the sharpie. Finally the Cooper's had enough, and flew at the sharpie, but only scaring it up to the top of the chimney, where it perched again briefly, before flying into the woodlot next door. The Cooper's retreated across the street to the top of the tall snag where it is often seen. During all this, I finally realized that the four Wild Turkeys who have been around since the fall were standing about thirty feet away watching me watch the hawks. Quite a way to start the day!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

2010 is winding down

It's been quite a while since I've updated this blog, so to summarize the last six months:

June 2010- We explored locally for breeding birds, made a trip down to Doodletown Rd., and found a great birding spot in the Catskills, Mountain Top Arboretum in Tannersville.

July 2010- Bloomingdale Bog, Sabattis Circle Rd., and Paul Smith's made for a nice weekend trip in mid-month, followed by four days on Lake Champlain in the Westport, NY area. Noblewood Park in the Town of Willsboro was terrific, so much so that I'll be leading a club field trip there in Aug. 2011.

Aug. 2010- August was egret and shorebird month; with the low water levels from the lack of rain much of the summer, much more shoreline and mudflats than normal were exposed, leading to some good observing.

Sept. 2010- Raptor migration was underway; we watched from Camp Pinnacle and High Point up in the Helderbergs. Passerine migration was busy as well, and I learned to identify a few of the "head-scratching" warblers.

Oct. 2010- Fall migration was slowing down, but the waterfowl numbers started to climb. A rare Rufous Hummingbird was found in the Ballston Lake area; the homeowner was generous to share his sighting, and his home with many local birders.

Nov. 2010- I finally reached my goal for the year, seeing 100 species in at least five local counties, just reaching that number in Greene and Schoharie counties. I recommend trying something like this to any local birders, it necessarily forces you to visit new places and see different habitat. An interesting bird showed up at Vischer Ferry NHP mid-month; I'm glad he stuck around so everyone could get good looks.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Schoharie Valley Sunday- May 23rd

Colleen and I drove out to the Schoharie Valley and birded a few locations from

Old Rt. 30 (adjacent to the CLOSED Max V. Shaul SP):

This overgrown, but still mostly paved road rises up quickly above the creek and
Rt. 30; it allows you to be at eye level with the tops of 50-75 foot tall trees
to the south side, but the hillside rises just as steeply above you to the north
(= warbler neck.) Highlights here were CANADA, Blue-winged, and Chestnut-sided
Warbler, along with numerous Black-and-white Warblers. We also had good looks at
a singing Eastern Wood-pewee, Red-eyed Vireos, Dark-eyed Juncos and an Indigo
Bunting. Maybe heard a Cerulean Warbler singing briefly, but nothing definitive.

NYPA Nature Trail, North Blenheim:

We walked down to the boundary of the CLOSED Mine Kill State Park, and back. We
saw Alder Flycatcher singing, quite a few Chestnut-sided and Prairie Warblers,
and observed Tree, Barn, and CLIFF Swallows around the ponds near the entrance.
This is a fun and educational place to visit (NY Power Authority Visitors
) and would be worth the trip alone.

Franklinton Vlaie:

Water levels are quite high here; Several Great Blue Heron, a Green Heron, and
some returning residents around the water, including Chestnut-sided and
Black-and-white Warblers, and a beautiful deep blue Indigo Bunting sitting out
in the sun over Rt. 145.

We ran out of time to go up to the Sharon Springs area for upland and
agricultural land species. A return trip is in the offing to this region that
doesn't seem to get too much attention locally; with migration winding down, why
not take a trip out this way, you'll like it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Primetime migration- 2010

Traditionally, the last week of April and the first two weeks of May bring the majority of returning breeding birds and transitory migrants to the Capital District region. Here's what I've seen in the last three weeks.

Albany Pine Bush- Karner Barrens East:

Hermit Thrush, Prairie Warbler (abundant), Gray Catbird, all resident birds, and Nashville Warbler (transitory?)

Albany Pine Bush- Great Dune:

Hermit Thrush, Eastern Towhee, House Wren, Ovenbird, Eastern Wood-pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Gray Catbird, YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, Prairie Warbler, Wood Thrush, Eastern Kingbird, Indigo Bunting, Great Crested Flycatcher, all residents; Northern Parula, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue & Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, BAY-BREASTED, Blackburnian, Canada and Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Redstart (transitory migrants, but I wonder about Black-throated Green, do they breed here?)

Black Creek Marsh:

Wood Thrush, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, Green Heron, Marsh Wren, Gray Catbird (residents.)

Five Rivers:

House Wren, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Prairie Warbler, Ovenbird, Gray Catbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Common Yellowthroat, Barn Swallow, Bobolink, Green Heron, Warbling Vireo, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Least Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Yellow-throated Vireo (residents.) Transitory migrants included Northern Parula, Yellow-rumped, Nashville, Black-throated Green, Palm, and CAPE MAY Warblers, White-crowned Sparrow, and Solitary Sandpiper.

Vischer Ferry NHP:

Residents that have returned include Green Heron, Barn Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Gray Catbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Great Crested Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Kingbird, Wood Thrush, Least Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Veery, Northern Waterthrush, and House Wren. The stopovers included White-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, and the following warblers: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Nashville, Magnolia, Canada, Blackburnian, and Blackpoll.

This weekend we'll explore Rensselaer County, specifically the Tech Park and Schodack Island SP (Cerulean Warblers?) on Saturday; Sunday doing the trails above Thacher Park around Pinnacle. Migrants will be passing through in good numbers, so get out there and bird every bird!