Hand Feeding – Part 2

14 03 2009
Chickadee - Luke Tiller

Chickadee - Luke Tiller

I have been consistently hand feeding the local Chickadees for the last week or so and now get to the point where as soon as I go out into the yard to fill the feeders the birds appear and want to come grab some food from my hand. Today I wondered if I could just use my other hand to snap some shots while they came down to feed. Above and below are the results. A Dr. Doolittle experience if ever there was one.

Birding – a hobby fraught with danger!

13 03 2009

My friend Charlie Barnard sent me this crazy set of pictures from a photographers ‘experience’ at Barnegat Lighthouse SP. Good to see the guy seemed to take it all in good humor and it even prompted a little artistic outpouring. Note how important having a cell phone can be whilst out birding – I hope everything heals quickly (more here).

Tis the season to go Woodcocking!

13 03 2009

Spring is here and the woodcock are already out and about at Allen’s Meadows in Wilton. Thought this cool video from the Bird Chick might be entertaining to see. My personal note would be to pick an evening where the wind is pretty much still, as even a fairly light wind seems to keep the Woodcock from going into full display mode and they just hang out on the ground or chase each other around. I also once read that you need a warm evening over 40 degrees but I think that is more of a guide to when they might first show up. We’ll find out tonight as they are predicting it to only be around 38 degrees.

New Bird to science – News from Birdlife International

12 03 2009
White-eyes - Birdlife International

White-eyes - Birdlife International

There has been a new bird to science discovered on the Soloman Islands. The Vanikoro White-eye. As with the Galapagos (where I was lucky enough to travel last year with Sunrise) the Soloman archipelago has a host of bird species that have evolved  (in this case from white-eyes, in the Galapagos from finches) to fill niches that might otherwise be filled by competitors. You can read much more on this exciting find on the Birdlife International website (here).  From the report it appears that white-eyes seem to evolve particularly rapidly to create new species which probably partially explains the numbers of seperate species to be found on the Solomans. Pretty cool.

Sunrise Bird Walk – March 8th

9 03 2009
Northern Pintail - Lionel Stringer

Northern Pintail - Lionel Stringer

Spring has finally sprung in Connecticut, although it’s been more of a trickle thus far than anything resembling a spring. Last weekend I lead a tour around Fairfield County and we were all pretty happy with a productive day (maybe less happy with the hour change and the early start!). Highlights of the tour were 6 Wilson’s Snipe, including one sat out very nicely on the airfields at Sherwood Island and a group of six which went skittering away with their usual raucous croaks from the ditch alongside the fields. We got into a quick discussion on how to separate Common Snipe (the very closely related Eurasian species) from Wilson’s Snipe (our one) probably the best article I could find online to reinforce this difficult identification process was this article on identification of a Wilson’s Snipe in France which gives some clues on what the differences are (many are somewhat qualitative). From our side of the pond check Martin Reid’s section on Snipe ID on his website.

Other highlights included a regular Lesser Black-backed Gull (which we did a little impromptu ‘workshopping’ on as its telltale yellow legs were firmly tucked beneath this lounging bird), a cracking adult male American Kestrel and a flock of 4 Northern Pintail. Pintails has always been a favorite duck of mine so it’s sad to read how badly they are doing in the US (although this particular year in CT thee have been a good number of them showing up even in decent sized flocks (proof that localized observations aren’t that helpful when trying to give context to bird populations).  I note that Ducks Unlimited even have a specific initiative targeting this bird (here), my wife asked if this included not shooting them.In all seriousness though the hunting fraternity here in the US plays a massive role in protecting important habitat that support waterfowl, and as a byproduct any number of other species. Birders are often encouraged to buy duck stamps in order to support land preservation (details here). I do however wonder whether the introduction of a similar ‘Birders Stamp’ might let us gauge the support that birders provide to this preservation process.

Apart from that there appeared to be a few hirundines flying way off inland that I scoped from parking lot but couldn’t be certain of ID they were so many miles away, almost certainly Tree Swallow though. A beautiful day that certainly got me thinking about spring for sure though. Not long now until we have singing warblers and all those goodies streaming back to join us. I spoke to my friend EJ in Louisiana and he is already starting to see stuff that’s on the move. Making me look forward more and more to my first big spring trip in May over to NY State (details here – just a few spaces left). Post walk we went to the unbeatable Blue Bird Cafe in Easton (perhaps I need to update my local birding map with my favorite diners!). From there I was kidnapped and taken to go find the Cackling Goose that Charlie Barnard ad spotted at Trap Falls reservoir. I relocated it on the far side of the reservoir and although views were distant one could make out the stubby bill and the very boxlike head of the Richardson’s subspecies. Steep forehead, almost flat top to the head. The bird was generally very light and the upperparts silvery but one has to be careful reading too much into this due to the harsh light (Cackling Goose ID Tips). Nice bird though and probably a good addition to the boys Stratford Big Year. A great day out with a nice group of birders and 60 degree temperatures- can’t complain about that in March!

Trip Species List:

Horned Grebe, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, CACKLING GOOSE (with some of group at Trap Falls), Brant, Mallard, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal (TF), NORTHERN PINTAIL, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck (TF), Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, AMERICAN KESTREL, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, WILSON’S SNIPE, Wild Turkey, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, European Starling, House Sparrow

Pretty quiet – well bird wise at least!

6 03 2009
Blurry Chickadee in Hand - Toni Tiller

Blurry Chickadee in Hand - Toni Tiller

Well this week has been a pretty quiet one for me on the blog and out in the field wise. Just had too much to do working out the details of a whole load of exciting trips for the next year amongst other things. Apart from popping out into the yard to fill the feeders there hasn’t been any chance to do any birding. I still have Pine Siskins around of course, probably 20 or 30 of the little cuties. It really has been the year of the Siskin with unbelievable numbers of them showing up at the hawk watches earlier in the season including days at Lighthouse Point with 2000+ birds. If you haven’t ever looked at Hawk Count it’s a great website with daily updates when watches are in progress and lots of interesting data in monthly and yearly summaries, how to get to the sites etc etc (see here).

Interesting to note that although there was a heavy fall movement there were only a couple of Christmas Bird Counts where Pine Siskins put in a significant appearance in Connecticut (see data here) however by January they seemed to be everywhere again. Recently on Massbird there was a post saying that we should be looking for these birds showing signs of breeding. Apparently in these irruption years they often hang on to breed (fairly early in the year) further south than they would regularly be occurring. This made me hazily recall having Pine Siskins hanging around the SoNo Reservoir’s pine stands in late May or early June one year and I remembered wondering about possible breeding. Just a reminder  that one needs to make better notes on stuff like this as I can’t for the life of me remember the right year let alone the exact month.

It has been interesting to keep track of the Pine Siskins this year and two things I have particularly noted are, the amazing variation in individual birds and the change in the vocalizations throughout the winter. Obviously with plumage some is influenced by the age and sex of the birds but the heaviness of streaking seems to be highly variable, with birds that look almost black-breasted, so dense are the streaks, to birds with just a couple of light diffuse streaks on the upper breast and flanks. This variation also seems to show up in other ways and there has been note of rare ‘green morph’ birds on CTbirds. The Stokes blog has some great pictures of a green morph (here) but I have noted that there is a deal of variation in the mantle colors of individual Siskins with many that seem to show a green back (although I have not seen one that shows such a deep yellow wash on the underside as in this picture.)

As far as their vocalizations, at first I was mainly picking these birds up in flight in fall through their simple flight calls, the ‘kleeyu’ call being particularly helpful as an ID until you got used to the difference in tonality with Goldfinch. These simple flight calls appeared to dominate vocalizations for most of the winter. However, by mid to late February I started to note that their calls seemed to be becoming much more complex around the feeders with some definite ‘singing’ going on. Today was different though and was the first time I spotted one doing one of those goldfinch-like  display flights in which they fly in loops around and around a little area (this time my yard) singing as they go – a pretty cool little exhibition. Anyway this year I’ll keep my eye’s open for more possible breeding behavior (carrying nest material, food carrying etc) and make sure to keep proper notes on it this time. I have made a little vow to make sure I stick all of these sightings on eBird as well from now on (eBird).

Just for fun today, as the feeders were empty this morning, I decided to see if I could lure some Chickadees down for a spot of hand feeding and for the first time in my life it actually worked! Pretty neat to have these little birds come land on your hand to grab a sunflower. I wondered if it was just because they were used to me filling the feeder that they trusted me enough to come in to land (I assume it was different birds some times although it might just have been the one hungry/brave one) but I quickly dispelled that idea by letting my wife have a go (which she did successfully).  Anyway, a cool little experience  feeling those little chickadee feet gripping your fingers as they grab a snack (talk about getting in ‘touch’ with nature). A couple of times they just sat there fairly nonchalantly for a while before moving on to crack open the seed. My wife took the above photo – not very good I’m afraid – I’m sure we’ll try again tomorrow.

Give it a go if you haven’t tried it before. To me, as a novice at this, the key seems to be a) have empty feeders – I doubt they’ll come to you if safer options seem available b) stand close to a safe perch that they can tee up on while they decide whether to come check out the food c) don’t look directly at the birds as they come in – this seems to scare them d) prepare for tired arms – it seems to work best if you hold your hand flat out so they can see the seed and you’ll need to hold your arm outstretched well away from your body. There are a few sites on the web that have suggestions of how to take a more systematic approach to this (here’s one) but I personally am not very good with delayed gratification so I was pleased it worked straight off .