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!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More new arrivals

Here are some highlights of the last four weeks of field birding:

Double-crested Cormorant- Mar. 31st (Collins Lake) FOS

Swamp Sparrow- Mar. 31st (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Ruby-crowned Kinglet- Apr. 3rd (RamsHorn Livingston Sanctuary) FOS

Eastern Meadowlark- Apr. 4th (Saratoga NHP- South Grasslands) FOS

Hermit Thrush- Apr. 5th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Palm Warbler- Apr. 5th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Osprey- Apr. 6th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Eastern Towhee- Apr. 7th (Albany Pine Bush- Karner Barrens East) FOS

Pine Warbler- Apr. 7th (Albany Pine Bush- Karner Barrens East) FOS

Chipping Sparrow- Apr. 7th (Albany Pine Bush- Karner Barrens East) FOS

Yellow-rumped Warbler- Apr. 8th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Winter Wren- Apr. 10th (Five Rivers EEC) FOS

Brown Thrasher- Apr. 10th (Five Rivers EEC) FOS

RED-NECKED GREBE - Apr. 11th (Papscanee Island) FOS

Northern Rough-winged Swallow- Apr. 14th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Louisiana Waterthrush- Apr. 18th (Five Rivers EEC) FOS

Virginia Rail- Apr. 20th (Black Creek Marsh) FOS

VESPER SPARROW- Apr. 20th (Albany Pine Bush- Karner Barrens East) LIFEBIRD


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher- Apr. 21st (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Greene County morning- 4/3

It was in the mid 50s as we arrived at RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary just south of Catskill early Saturday morning. Birds were fairly active on the way in, more so on the way out. The path is flooded about 100 yards past the observation tower, so we spent half an hour up top overlooking the marsh and surroundings.

A pair of Eastern Phoebes were flitting about near the tower, including one carrying nesting materials. There were a few Wood Ducks in the flooded creek. Pileated Woodpeckers were calling back and forth, and we saw three Red-bellied Woodpeckers in the same tree. A Wild Turkey called in the distance as well.

As the sun got a little higher, and it warmed up a bit more, the birds really started singing and moving around. Swamp Sparrows were flying around the marsh as we headed back in. Two male cardinals were dueling from adjacent treetops, one doing a call that sounded something like a car-alarm; I have never heard a cardinal make that sound before. The highlight of the morning was a Golden-crowned Kinglet in with some chickadees, followed a few minutes later by a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, who flew right next to us as if we weren't there.

At Vosburgh Marsh there were Green-winged Teal present with the Wood Ducks. A word of caution to all birders, ticks are out in numbers already. We scraped and flicked at least ten off of us after bushwacking a short distance next to the marsh.

It was fairly quiet at The Coxsackie IDA Grasslands around noon, except for quite a few Killdeer in the gravelly areas at the Serta cul-de-sac. Be careful where you step in that area. A Black Vulture was seen from the Exit 21A Travel Plaza, over the ridge to the west. Finally, a Great Blue Heron was fishing in a small marsh off the side of Rt. 9W northbound just past Rt. 144.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Eagles, kestrels and falcon

Colleen and I spent much of the day visiting sites in Schoharie, Montgomery and Albany Counties. At Franklinton Vlaie (Vly), there was still ice and snow covering much of the area. Just a small group of geese and ducks were present.

We hiked up to the top of Vroman's Nose next. The sun was out at the time we reached the top, and an adult Bald Eagle was soaring high up to the southwest. As we were about to descend, a smaller, sharp-winged bird was holding himself nearly in place facing the gusty, southerly wind. It was a Peregrine Falcon. We watched it soar and stoop for a while, very cool. Apparently there is at least one pair who use the craggy cliff face to nest.

At Mine Kill State Park, there was one adult and three immature Bald Eagles flying over the reservoir. The few ducks in a sheltered cove were mostly Common Mergansers, but with a twist- the water is running very high and fast throughout the area, and much of the water has a reddish-brown coloration to it (from iron oxide sediment?) The mergansers' normally white bellies had turned light orange from the discolored water.

Up in Sharon Springs, Ames, and Carlisle things were pretty quiet, with the exception of a fair abundance of American Kestrels, mostly seen on wires along the roadside. During a quick jaunt through Black Creek Marsh, there was a kestrel near the NE Industrial Park, and a kettle of eleven Turkey Vultures was viewed from the RR crossing at Hennessey Rd.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Early Spring birding

Here are some of the highlights from the past three weeks, including FOS (first-of-season) observations:

Red-winged Blackbird- March 2nd (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Great Blue Heron- March 4th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Wood Duck- March 7th (RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, Catskill) FOS

Marsh Wren- March 9th (Vischer Ferry NHP) overwintered !

Common Grackle- March 9th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Ruffed Grouse- March 10th (East of Ferry Dr., Rexford)

Northern Pintail- March 15th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Green-winged Teal- March 16th (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Killdeer- March 17th (The Crossing, Halfmoon) FOS

Northern Mockingbird- March 18th (Albany Pine Bush- Discovery Center parking lot)

Tree Swallow- March 19th (Hudson-Mohawk bike path, Niskayuna) FOS

Lesser Scaup- March 19th (Hudson-Mohawk bike path, Niskayuna) FOS

Field Sparrow- March 20th (Five Rivers EEC) FOS

Eastern Phoebe- March 20th (Five Rivers EEC) FOS

Rusty Blackbird- March 22nd (Vischer Ferry NHP) FOS

Fox Sparrow- March 23rd (Ann Lee Pond, Albany) FOS

The next influx of returning migrants should be just after April 1st, with a warm spell possible throughout the week. Get out there and get your eyes and ears sharp again; peak migration starts a month from now!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Evening Grosbeaks at the Adirondack VIC- Newcomb

We took a two-hour drive north early on Saturday, arriving at the Visitor's Interperative Center in Newcomb at about eight-thirty. There were at least ten Evening Grosbeaks and a dozen Purple Finches in the parking lot area, waiting for the feeders to be filled. We watched them moving around the trees until the center opened at nine, then moved inside to get close up looks of them on the feeders.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

End of winter birding

To celebrate the 90th and final day of meteorological winter (Dec., Jan., & Feb.), we took a slushy walk around parts of Five Rivers EEC today. Highlights were Brown Creeper and Golden-crowned Kinglet along the snow-covered boardwalk by Beaver Pond; a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a big pine tree along Game Farm Rd.; Cedar Waxwing in the old orchard at the end of the parking lot; and a lone Canada Goose who flew over several times searching in vain for open water.

Location: Five Rivers
Observation date: 2/28/10
Number of species: 20

Canada Goose 1
Mourning Dove 30
Red-bellied Woodpecker 2
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 1
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 1
Blue Jay 12
American Crow 8
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Tufted Titmouse 4
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Brown Creeper 2
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Eastern Bluebird 2
American Robin 50
European Starling 15
Cedar Waxwing 8
White-throated Sparrow 6
Northern Cardinal 4
American Goldfinch 2

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Red Crossbills, Schoharie county

My wife and I drove around Schoharie County on Sunday from 10AM-2PM. On the way down Rt. 30, at the creek crossing in Middleburgh, we had at least one Common Merganser in the water, with some Mallards, and one Belted Kingfisher watching the action overhead from a wire. Farther down the road a Merlin flew directly above us.

At Max V. Shaul SP, it was quiet at first, except for a female Pileated Woodpecker who flew over and perched. When we finally heard a lone nuthatch, we decided to "pish" to see if we could bring anything in. Well, that was the best our efforts have ever worked, as a huge, angry mob (they may have had pitchforks and torches) of chickadees, titmice, both nuthatches and creepers showed up all around us, sounding off their displeasure. We moved on, leaving the angry villagers behind.

Up the hill in Burnt-Rossman Hills SF, we ran into my namesake, Tom Williams, of Berne, who was staking out the intersection at Huckleberry Kingdom Rd. He gave us a quick education on the local habitat, and very soon a pair of male Red Crossbills flew into the top of a nearby deciduous tree. Their color, bill shape (of course) and song are quite distinctive. There was also a very large congregation of American Goldfinches feeding in the pines. Thanks Tom for your friendly guidance.

Over in Sharon Springs we had a flock of 17 Wild Turkeys, and a Cooper's Hawk flew overhead along Rt. 10. Despite being in agricultural environs much of the day, we encountered no roadside flocks of buntings or larks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Short-eared Owls at the Battlefield

This evening towards dusk I made my way up to the Saratoga National Historical Park to try to see Short-eared Owls that had been reported earlier in the day. Between three birders we totaled five owls present. They would vocalize as they flew, a kind of harsh, barking sound. Two park-walking regulars, who appeared to be non-birders, said that they see these owls every year during mid-winter. So maybe this is a reliable spot for this species; I will have to look at previous CBC data and other databases to see if there are records for this location. They were seen from the red Neilson farmhouse, on top of the hill at Loop Road Tour Stop #2. The tour road appears closed to vehicles in the winter months, but this area can be accessed by parking on a short access road on the north side of Rt. 423/Rt. 32 about a mile in from Rt. 4. You can see the small, red farmhouse on the hill from the road.

Saugerties Lighthouse

Colleen and I had planned to visit Coxsackie this morning (Sunday 1/17), so we travelled a few more exits down the Thruway to Saugerties and walked out the Lighthouse Trail. This is a very pleasant walk, and must be terrific in the warmer, greener months. Go early, as even in the dead of winter we passed a half dozen groups making the walk. Tides are in play here as well, so check the tide tables and try to avoid high tide, as portions of the trail are underwater.

We were greeted by a singing Carolina Wren, and then three woodpeckers in succession (Red-bellied, Hairy, Downy.) There are a pair of seed/suet feeders at the lighthouse, and Song Sparrows and cardinals were going back and forth from the reeds and brush. In the open water south of the lighthouse spit, the mouth of the Esopus Creek, Common Mergansers were moving around, and a Belted Kingfisher was surveying the scene from a distant tree branch. An adult Bald Eagle flew across the river as well.

We scanned up and down the river for a previously seen Greater White-fronted Goose; it had been spotted amongst a huge flock of Canada Geese and reported on the previous day's Annual State Waterfowl Count. We had no luck seeing any geese, however. On the walk in, we did see a pair of Mute Swans swimming in unison in a small open lead nearer to shore. I highly recommend a visit to the lighthouse, and also the nearby Esopus Bend Nature Preserve.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coxsackie Bird Launch!

Photo courtesy of

Before today, I had only been to Greene County to bird on one previous occasion, to see the Swainson's Hawk found by Rich Guthrie in Oct. 2009. Well, let's just say I'll be making more frequent visits from now on. Colleen and I started out at the IDA Grasslands around 11AM; there was little going on there, so we moved along. We slowly drove up and down Bronck Mill Rd. and along Smith Rd., and there were lots of familiar winter birds to see here. There were eight different cardinals shuttling from a hedgerow to a feeder on Bronck Mill. As we came down Smith there was a female Northern Harrier at the edge of the road.

At the Coxsackie Boat Launch, a Cooper's Hawk was perched in a tree at the parking lot. There were many Canada Geese, Mallards, and a couple of black ducks as well. Got some very close-up, as well as educational, views of the three standard gulls (Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed), in their various plumage sequences.

At Four Mile Point Preserve, there was little to see as two tugs and barges had just gone by, flushing the bluebirds and Hermit Thrush that others had seen just before our arrival. We did watch a Pileated Woodpecker fly across the Hudson, and could hear it's distant calls. The best bird of all was sunning itself in one of the Wood Duck boxes a bit further down the road: an Eastern Screech-Owl (red-morph), a life bird for me (#174) and the highlight of the day. Thanks to Will and Danika Raup for the heads-up on this bird; much appreciated!

On the way back we cruised up Lawrence Rd./River Rd. and had five Northern Harriers in the fields on either side of the road. I saw more harriers today than juncos; go figure. Our last stop was the Grasslands again. At the Save-A-Lot end, we had a Savannah Sparrow flush across the road and perch, facing us, near the new aero-products building. At the Serta end, there were so many harriers, Rough-legged Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks we lost track of them all. Twenty-eight species in three and a half hours, not too bad for a frigid day in January. Thanks to everyone who has reported from that area recently, you made our day very enjoyable.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sharpie or Cooper's?

I had a Cooper's Hawk patrolling the feeders at home this morning, and later saw a Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in Waterford. Both were juvenile birds, and it is still tough for me to ID them quickly. Here's the best resource article I've found on the topic, courtesy of Cornell.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Horned Larks in Waterford

Photo courtesy of Huron River Birding

After reading some older posts on hmbirds and eBird, I took a ride up to Flight Lock Rd. in Waterford. The goal was to find Horned Larks at a parking area at the end of the road. In winter, this area seems desolate, and other than some construction ongoing at one of the locks, no one else was here. Sure enough, in the grassy, gravel area on the south side of the parking area were Horned Larks (47), a life bird for me (#173), and as a bonus there were many Snow Buntings (15) present as well. If only all birds were this reliable!

Bird every bird!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Day birds- 2010

After recording a few early morning feeder birds (FOY bird: Northern Cardinal), we set out to Five Rivers EEC in Delmar for the 30th annual New Year's Day Bird Count. The turnout was strong, with about forty people setting out in two groups to see what could be found. I believe the final count was 29 species, which is slightly low by historical standards. Both Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker were observed, as they continue to show their year-round presence in the region. Other notables were Cedar Waxwing, Pileated Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Hermit Thrush.

Our next stop was the Hudson-Mohawk Bike Path in Niskayuna. The river was completely frozen over and snow covered. The shrubby area to the east of the old train station was very active. A surprise find was a Northern Mockingbird eating some berries. A Brown Creeper was moving around with a group of chickadees, titmice, sparrows and cardinals. A group of Mallards was foraging in some open water along Rosendale Rd.

All told it was a good start to the new year, with 27 species tallied for the day. Remember to bird every bird!