Ghostbird – The Ivory-billed Movie

15 12 2008

Why are there so few movies about birds? It certainly feels like there is a market out there for them, as evidenced by Winged Migration and March of the Penguins. Anyway this movie takes a closer look at the possible rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (more on the movie here).

Christmas Bird Count 1 – New Canaan

15 12 2008
New Canaan Reservoir

New Canaan Reservoir

I arrived bight and early pre-dawn to hit the New Canaan portion of the Stamford/Greenwich Xmas Bird Count. The day got off to a flying start. As I scanned through a group of gulls sitting on the ice, they suddenly all flushed drawing my attention to a beautiful adult Bald Eagle that was flying the length of the reservoir towards me. It perched on a nearby island and would have provided the opportunity for a great digiscoped shot had it not been for my camera deciding it was way too cold to operate!

The reservoir is a beautiful spot and I soon tallied a good number (but surprisingly small variety) of waterfowl. I then met up with my co-CBC’ers for the day. Elsbeth has been doing this count for many years and recalls the time when Ruffed Grouse and Evening Grosbeak were not just a CT Xmas bird counters dream (conversely of course there were no eagles at that time thanks to the killer influence of DDT) and Melody a enthusiastic beginner birder. We hit a good number of spots on the day and worked hard for our birds, grabbing just a quick sandwich lunch at New Canaan Nature Center.

It was a fun but exhausting day in the field which culminated with 44 species of bird. It’s always amazing what birds can be missed during these kind of count situations but even I was shocked to realize that I didn’t have an American Robin on the day until one chattered up a warning as I crept out of the reservoir in the near dark.

Birds and Numbers on the day:

Canada Goose (83), Mallard (103), American Black Duck (87), Ring-neck Duck (12), Bufflehead (3), Common Merganser (287), Hooded Merganser (16), Ruddy Duck (48), Turkey Vulture (7), Bald Eagle (1), Sharp-shinned Hawk (1), Red-tailed Hawk (7), Wild Turkey (4), Ring-billed Gull (15), Herring Gull (2), Great Black-backed Gull (2), Mourning Dove (5), Belted Kingfisher (1), Red-bellied Woodpecker (5), Northern Flicker (2), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1), Downy Woodpecker (7), Hairy Woodpecker (1), Blue Jay (7), American Crow (191), Tufted Titmouse (31), Black-capped Chickadee (28), Brown Creeper (1), White-breasted Nuthatch (9), Winter Wren (1), Carolina Wren (7), Golden-crowned Kinglet (1), Eastern Bluebird (4), Hermit Thrush (2), American Robin (1), Northern Mockingbird (2), Cedar Waxwing (3), Song Sparrow (13), White-throated Sparrow (39), Dark-eyed Junco (47), Northern Cardinal (16), American Goldfinch (21) House Sparrow (10)

Sunrise Bird Walk – December 13

15 12 2008

Another chilly but beautifully sunny day in the field that didn’t go totally unrewarded. Unfortunately the highlight birds midweek didn’t get relocated (WW Crossbill, Glaucous Gull) but we did manage to track down a decent assortment of birds including another IPSWICH SAVANNAH SPARROW (that’s three of the estimated 3-6000 seen over the last two weeks) and  a feisty MERLIN that zoomed right past us as it took a typical ground hugging attack trajectory towards the Snow Bunting flock that we were about to go look through (can’t hold it against it too much though as it did perch for perfect views a little later).

Other uncommon species on the day were one immature SNOW GOOSE, one probable LESSER CANADA GOOSE, three fairly mobile AMERICAN PIPITS, 1 or 2 fairly uncooperative PINE SISKINS and one equally uncooperative PURPLE FINCH. We also had a nice flyover of Horned Larks which nicely highlighted the difference in their flight calls from the American Pipits.

All in all a nice day in the field and one on which I got to meet a fellow WordPress Blogmeister, Susan.

Trip Species List

Great Blue Heron,  Mute Swan, Snow Goose, Canada Goose (+ probable lesser Canada), American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Turkey Vulture,  Red-tailed hawk, Merlin, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Monk Parakeet, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Horned Lark,  American Pipit, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow,  ‘Ipswich’ Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, European Starling, House Sparrow.

Shoplifting Gull

14 12 2008

Someone sent me this amusing video recently. A story I had completely forgotten about from a year or two back. Amazing birds gulls.

Yellow-throated Warbler in Greenwich

12 12 2008

I just got a cool set of pictures from Meredith Sampson of the latest Fairfield County feeder rarity. This time it’s a Yellow-throated Warbler coming to a feeder in Riverside. This bird has been documented and I think that access to this bird is being worked on as we speak. A nice bird for the Greenwich/Stamford Christmas Bird Count which takes place Sunday. Thanks Meredith!

Varied Thrush in Wilton – Dec 10

11 12 2008
Varied Thrush - Meredith Sampson

Varied Thrush - Meredith Sampson

Meredith Sampson, who was there at Jim’s when I saw the thrush on Wednesday, sent me this very nice capture of the bird (particularly given the distance and the pane of glass in the way). A beauty of a bird although somewhat elusive (no sighting today as far as I know). My hope is that it is still in the area and that as cooler temps set in it’ll become more reliant on Jim’s feeder – time will tell I guess.

December 7 Walk Gallery and updates

11 12 2008

A few updates. Here are some nice shots that Michael Ferrari sent me for the most recent Sunrise Birding Walk. The one of the ‘Ipswich’ Sparrow nicely highlights the differences between it and the coloration of your average Savannah Sparrow. Your average Savannah is also somewhat smaller and less chunky looking than this bird which gives it quite a different feel in the field. I have also added a few ideas to the Holiday Gifts for Birders post. Forthcoming walks can be found here.

Varied Thrush in Wilton – Dec 9

9 12 2008
Shot through window pane - Jim Meinhold

Varied Thrush - Jim Meinhold

Jim Meinhold, a member of Team Wilton from the Westport Christmas Bird Count discovered a very rare Varied Thrush (range map here) coming to his feeder in Wilton Connecticut. We were sympathising about the difficulty of getting decent pictures of birds when I spoke to him earlier today. Perhaps at some point I’ll post a few of my worst digiscoped pics and we can have an identification challenge (i’ll have to think of a suitable prize). Anyway, the picture he snapped (above) is fine in my opinion, it certainly shows an identifiable Varied Thrush which is the key thing – hard to be sure from the picture for sure but it looks well marked so I assume that it’s a male? Great find Jim hopefully we can keep him around for the Christmas Bird Count. If not, you’ll have to find us something even better 😉 Apparently the bird was not seen after 2:30pm despite some people looking for it. Jim said he will update the listserve if it reappears.

Dec 10 Update

OK I don’t usually twitch birds but this was a lifer for me and was 10 minutes drive away (as long as you don’t hit commuter traffic on Rt7 – I did and it was painful). After a 3 hour wait I managed to get a sighting of the bird this morning. The bird is pretty skittish and we only had brief but satisfying views of the bird as it flew in to one of the trees above the feeder area. The bird did not touch down at the feeders although Jim had scattered both seed and dried fruit to entice him in. An exquisite bird and well and truly worth the wait. Hopefully it’ll settle in to a more regular routine otherwise I’d advise clearing your schedule before you head for the bird. Thanks again Jim for the hospitality and timely reporting of this super bird.

Sunrise Bird Walk – December 7

8 12 2008

Baby, it's cold outside

Baby, it's cold outside

We set off on a beautiful snow dusted day to Bridgeport and Stratford looking for winter goodies. As I drove down along the Saugatuck River the scene was beautiful, as the snow had dusted every surface that it had touched the night before. A photographers dream and the kind of scene that is reason enough to want to spend ones winters in New England.

Birding on the day was to be slightly problematic as every municipal park seems to close for snow days in Bridgeport and Stratford even when the snow is literally a half inch deep. Anyway, first stop was the little known but often highly productive Captains Cove. Here we managed to pick up our first uncommon birds of the day LESSER SCAUP. Last year we had so many here Roy who runs the listserve was so surprised by the number I reported he wanted to double check with me that I hadn’t posted either the wrong number of wrong species accidentally.

I love these identification challenge species like scaup, as it allows you to earn your keep as a tour  leader and hopefully impart some identification details that are much more vivid to people in the field than they are staring at them in a field guide. With scaup the head shape is all important but I find although not overly illustrated by Sibley the flank coloration is usually a very reliable fieldmark and usually quite easy to see even at distance.

After an abortive stop at Seaside Park (closed) where we did at least spot a large raft of Common Goldeneye (and a chance for another field class on picking out Barrow’s Goldeneye – a shame there wasn’t one in there !) we stopped over at  Long Beach in Stratford. On entering the park we almost ran over an AMERICAN PIPIT as it lurched out in front of the car flashing us it’s white outer tail feathers. We also found on site an IPSWICH’ SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis princeps). This subspecies breeds only on Sable Island in Nova Scotia and is a real rarity with perhaps as few as three to six thousand birds existing on the planet. It is distinctive enough that it was considered a full species until 1973. Other birds of note were 2 Northern Harriers, a huge mixed flock of Sanderlings and Dunlin and 4 stunning PURPLE SANDPIPERS. Purple Sandpipers are one of the few species that are much more exciting in their basic (non-breeding) plumage than they are in their alternate (breeding plumage) with their jaunty orange legs and bases of their bills.

The final couple of stops on the day were less productive than hoped for but we did get a NORTHERN GANNET heading west at Stratford Point. Until recently Gannets were considered rare in Long Island Sound but there numbers have built steadily so that although still considered uncommon they are at least expected during this season.

Next Walk

Trip Species List

Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Mallard, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Long-tailed Duck, Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed hawk, Wild Turkey, Sanderling, Dunlin, Purple Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Monk Parakeet, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, American Pipit, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, House Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, ‘Ipswich’ Savannah Sparrow, DE Junco, European Starling, House Sparrow.

Holiday Gifts for Birders

5 12 2008


Seeing as we are into December I thought it might be fun to throw out a few holiday gift ideas that I have stumbled upon. It’s always hard to find something for a birder that they don’t already have so I thought that these suggestions might be a little change from the usual field guide (which most of us usually have 10 copies of already!) I’ll probably add to this post as we head into December so check back for (or feel free to send me) more ideas. I am not getting commission on any of this – worse luck.


Generally there isn’t much that I find that I like in the way of videos. The identification ones are just usually so dull and even if the production quality is high the content is usually bland. Here are a couple of videos I’d recommend though. Have a look through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Borders and I’ll sure you’ll find them online.

The BBC’s ‘Life of Birds’: A must own. Beautifully filmed and great narration by David Attenborough you couldn’t ask for more (clip here).

The BBC’s ‘Wild China’: not just birds but plenty of great bird sequences in amongst this typically wonderful BBC documentary (clip here).

Kes: About the only movie I know of about a boy and his bird. The northern British accent just makes me think of my Grandmother as well. A bit of a weepie this one but with plenty of laughs along the way (you may need an interpreter for the accents though).

The BBC’s Attenborough in Paradise: A great documentary about the amazingly varied birds of paradise of Papua New Guinea. Even better you could buy your significant birding other a ticket on the trip to Papua New Guinea with Sunrise Birding and see these magnificent birds for yourselves (you’ll have to wait to 2010 though as next years trip of a lifetime rightly sold out very quickly). Gina assures me the viewing is a little safer and easier than the one highlighted by David in the video!

The BBC’s ‘Life in the Freezer’: Not just birds but a real must own for penguin enthusiasts everywhere!


Is it just me or most books on birding as dull as dishwater? Here are a few that I think break out of that mold:

Rare Birds of 2009: Published by the charity Birdlife International this highlights  the most endangered birds on the planet. Best of all a fair portion of the cost goes to conservation causes. Purchase online here.

Luke Dempsey – A Supremely Bad Idea: A Brit expat called Luke who finds himself inextricably drawn to birding – sound familiar? Plenty of humor and well written – where can you go wrong?

Mark Cocker – Birders – Tales of a Tribe: A humorous look mainly at the British birding scene. A good opportunity for US birders to get to grips with the great world of British birding slang: stringy, getting gripped off, dipping – all key words for your average birder.

Kenn Kaufman – Kingbird Highway: An oldie but a goodie. The ultimate in big years in America and much more rewarding and inspiring than that trite Big Year book in my ever so humble opinion.


Get all of your bird songs on your iPod with Bird jam Just don’t play it constantly on your bird trips, it tends to confuse your erstwhile leader when he hears Elegant Trogon down at Allen’s Meadows.

Flight Calls of North American Birds: Ever wonder how good birders seem to pick up on great birds flying over – well here is part of the trick. Almost essential in my opinion for birding during winter finch irruptions and to pick out cool birds during fall migration.


Want to inspire potential birders in your family? Here are a couple of cool things I picked up on.

Penguin Boots. How cool are these! I just wished that they made them in a mans size ten 

Proper binoculars for kids. These Leupolds were specifically made with the designers kids in mind and are perfect for young children 5+. You’ll find that they are of good enough quality glass that you’ll want to borrow them back! A quick note – remember when buying binoculars for children the biggest problem they have with most binoculars are not designed with a small enough IPD to fit their smaller faces.


A couple of years back I found these great reusable hand warmers in Japan and they now seem to have crossed the pond EZ Heat Hand Warmers – see them in action here. Being reusable I would think they must be a little more eco-friendly than those disposable ones.

My binoculars are always filthy these days but that because i’ve lost my Lens Pen.

Here are a couple of little stocking-filler nik-naks that my wife sent me a link for: Purse, key ring, owl t-shirt

Bumper Stickers that I love from

Non-profit Membership

A great idea for aspiring birders or those that have already been bitten by the bug is signing them up for membership of one of the birding clubs or environmental organizations. Most of them have plenty of great benefits including cool magazines etc and you get to know that your gift is giving in more than one way as the conservation work these bodies do is often invaluable.

American Birding Association. A great organization for birders as their magazine and newsletters are as good as it gets for bird identification articles etc. They also have a youth chapter which many organizations lack.

Connecticut Ornithological Association. Great local birding information. Worth joining for the Connecticut Warbler Magazine alone which includes Greg Hanisek’s quarterly round up of the season in Connecticut as well as great articles by local birders such as Nick Bonomo, Frank Gallo, Mark Szantyr and Julian Hough amongst others.

Audubon Societies. Both National and State Based. These are two separate non-affiliated bodies but they do often work closely together for conservation in our state.

For something slightly more exotic for well traveled friends why not look at the Oriental or Neotropical Bird Clubs?