Off to Montana

21 05 2009

Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Worm-eating Warbler - Luke Tiller

Just getting myself all packed up and ready to go on the Sunrise Birding Trip to Montana and Wyoming. Should be a fun trip. I’ll have my laptop with me and hopefully some internet service so maybe some updates from the road will be in order? Yogi Bear here we come! For now it was nice to see that my Worm-eating’s are back in the yard again (see above photo).

Also for my own notes, and maybe of interest to others, I was out in my yard today at about midday and discovered the reason that migrant activity seems to drop off in the middle of the day. I was just doing some weeding, when I peered up into a little tangle and spotted an American Redstart laying out on a branch having a nice little afternoon kip. I guess flying all night have tuckered the guy out. I’d always guessed that these night migrants must rest up at some point during the day but this is the first time I’d caught one dozing. He was there a good ten or fifteen minutes before I popped inside to get something from the house and I came back to find he had moved on. Kinda cool!

Just like Elephants…

19 05 2009

It seems that Mockingbirds never forget either. Here’s a cool video and article from the Guardian Newspaper in the UK which shows that Northern Mockingbirds seem to remember people that they feel have threatened them in the past. This is thought to be the first published account of wild animals in their natural setting recognising individuals of another species. Visit the Guardian website here.

Sunrise Birding – New York State Weekend May 15-17

18 05 2009
Yellow Warbler - Luke Tiller

Yellow Warbler - Luke Tiller

Lots of traveling has meant a break from blogging for a few days. I just got unpacked after an amazing trip to NY State for the weekend with a group of really fantastic birders. It really was action packed and great fun all around with lots of amazing views of great birds, many good laughs and a couple of memorable meals along the way. I am just writing up a full report but wanted to post a few highlights from the trip. Co-leading on the trip was Joe Bear (so many many thanks go out to him for his invaluable eyes and ears) and I had some excellent behind the scenes assistance from Curt McDermott (see Hawk Owl Gallery here) and Chrissy Guarino (see Hawk Owl trip here).

Birding highlights were numerous but special mention has to go to seeing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird giving it’s ‘swinging’ display flight, a Scarlet Tanager popping up in a flowering dogwood just a few feet from the group, as well as hundreds of migrant swallows, comprising 5 species, strung out on the telephone wires at the Basha Kill. As for the top birds, they were legion: Virginia Rail out in the open at our feet, an inquisitive Sora skulking through the marsh just yards away, 2 Bitterns (one booming hauntingly at dusk and the second in flight past us), scope views of Kentucky Warbler and a jaunty Red-headed Woodpecker frolicking on a nearby fence.

Throw in Olive-sided Flycatcher, 3 Upland Sandpipers, 2 Grey-cheeked Thrush at our feet, point blank views of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and Black-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk hunting and calling overhead, more Hooded Warblers than you could shake a stick at as well as Cerulean and Golden-wing and, as a finale, being serenaded by multitudes of Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks at Galeville and you can tell it was quite a weekend. Simply outstanding! Thanks to everyone who came and made the whole thing so special!

Check out all of our forthcoming trips here. Check out the full trip report here.

American (Buff-bellied) Pipit – breeding plumage!

18 05 2009

Stopped in at Allen’s Meadows on the way back from dropping the van after a wonderful weekend in NY State (see post here). It was later in the morning, so activity had somewhat subsided and a Canada Warbler was the only one singing when I arrived (there was one in my yard this morning as well!)

After a little wander around, I picked up the sound of a pipit on the freshly turned over community gardens. It seemed quite late to have pipit, but there it was pootling around on the soil picking up worms and other bugs. Although uncommon in the state pipit is expected at Allen’s in fall and early spring, I spoke to a couple of friends though and this seemed like a fairly exceptional late date. Most exciting was that it was in breeding plumage (uncommon enough not to be illustrated in the little eastern Sibley). It wasn’t quite as magnificent as the Rocky Mountain subspecies that I had recently seen in Colorado (illustrated here) but it was still quite a striking little bird. Hard to do it justice with these record shots (it was quite flighty), but it gives you the idea (and this illustrates what your average non-breeding bird looks like).

Weekend Bird Walk – New Canaan and Saugatuck

11 05 2009
Black & White Warbler - Luke Tiller

Black & White Warbler - Luke Tiller

Due to a clash of commitments this weekend I had to move my weekend walk to the Saturday. Things looked a little dreary weather wise, and in the lack of birds at first with just a few migrant warbler putting on an appearance at New Canaan. Probably the highlight of the walk there was a group of four Bobolinks (2 males and 2 females) that appeared to be checking out the fields at New Canaan. It was cool to get such great looks at these great birds and to listen to the males wonderful ‘bobolink’ song (here).

Next we were on to Saugatuck Falls. Being just 10 minutes or so in the car from my house this is really one of my favorite spring and fall warbler spots. The mix of cedar fields, hemlocks, river edge, marsh, scrubby fields etc makes for a nice range of habitats in which to pick up warblers. Over the years good finds have included: Purple Martin, Yellow-breasted Chat and a wealth of migrants particularly northern specialties that seem to be attracted in, such as Philadelphia Vireo, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted and Cape May. In my humble opinion it is also probably one of the more reliable spots to find Olive-sided Flycatcher locally and perhaps in the state. I seem to get one a season there most years. The site is also fairly small (well the most birdy bits are) so it can be birded fairly quickly if you just have a spare hour or so.

Although numbers were again a little sparse the quality quickly made up for the quantity. On arrival at the school parking lot for John Read Middle School Joe ‘golden ears’ Bear, who had decided to join us for the day, picked up the song of what he believed to be a Yellow-throated Warbler (song here). Of course Yellow-throated is probably the rarest of the more regularly occurring species in the state so he didn’t want to jump on the call and we decided to go check it out imagining that maybe there was a more prosaic answer (a bird singing an off call or something?). Anyway as we got closer it seemed fairly obvious that this was going to be something exciting and within a few minutes the Yellow-throated Warbler had revealed itself to us as it sang from the tippy-tops of an oak woodland behind the school (all good birders should know that in spring especially, where there are oaks there are almost certainly migrant warblers – they love the things). An unbelievable find! The bird eventually revealed itself to us and although it was staying near the canopy of the trees we all managed to get fine looks at this cracking bird, a lifer or state bird for many involved.

With that kind of start it was going to be a tough act to follow. In general there wasn’t too much to be found although we did add a few year birds to a few lists, in the shape of an accommodating Veery, a Yellow-throated Vireo and a cheeky little Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The lesson bird of the day was a nice Northern Waterthrush, which gave us nice obliging views, a good comparison for those that had such good looks at Louisiana the previous week. It’s hard to have a bad day out in Mid-May but a great day like this one are few and far between. Funnily enough at the start of the morning Wendy (one of the Sunrise regulars) had asked me what i’d like to find today. I had jokingly replied Yellow-throated Warbler – next time I am wishing for Eskimo Curlew!

Trip List:

Canada Goose, Mallard, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Great-crested Flycatcher,Eastern Kingbird, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Veery, Eastern Bluebid, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren,  Yellow-throated Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warblers: YELLOW-THROATED, Pine, Yellow, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Black-and-white, Magnolia, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart.  Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Hose Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow, European Starling.

If the birds don’t know…

8 05 2009

Chipping Sparrow - Luke Tiller

what chance do we have? I had an amusing and interesting experience in my yard this morning where I was messing with my iPod. In theory I can have Worm-eating, Pine and Chipping Sparrow all nesting around my yard (I was pleased to confirm the nesting Pine gathering nesting material a week or so back). Anyway I was listening to what might have been a Worm-eating calling down the slope in my yard. Not wanting to go trampling down the slope which is steep and fairly dangerous I came up with a idea, I’d play my iPod and see if the Worm-eating responded and hopefully get a feel if the bird was back this spring after a year without them in 2008. Anyway as I set up my iPod and played the song I suddenly had a bird zoom straight in and almost take off my head. As I looked into the apple tree where it had alighted after buzzing me I realised it was one of the local Chippers. He continued to act agitated with the Worm-eating playing so I switched off the iPod and just watched him. He sat there for another minute or two singing vociferously and perhaps a little triumphantly (having driven off the other bird), before he decided to move on. I know these three songs are pretty similar but it was fascinating to me that even the birds themselves might at some point be confused by similar sounding calls.

To here the three birds songs check out Pine (here), Chipping Sparrow (here) and Worm-eating Warbler (here). Interesting to compare the three songs. When I am trying to make an ID on song of these three the general rule is that the Chipping Sparrow has a long flat rattley call – much like song 2 on the Cornell site (from California). It often ends very abrubtly as well. Pine usually is ‘sweeter’ and more musical sounding to my ear and often tails off as if on a fade out setting. Of course the first track on the Cornell site from West Virginia has that slightly ‘sweeter’ sound which makes the ID somewhat harder but does at least have the abrupt end that I associate with Chippings. If you compare the Worm-eating it is much more similar to the California recording of the Chipping and has many of the same qualities. To my ear it is a little buzzier (often described as more insect-like), but it can be tough. Habitat often helps with making an ID with these two I find,with Chipping unlikely to be found in deep woodland settings . It’ makes me feel better to know that the birds themselves sometimes find it tough 😉

Better Nashville

6 05 2009

Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

A little happier with this one shot later in the day!

Garden Warbler Pics

6 05 2009

OK I know they aren’t up to the high standards of my photography mentor, but I was kind of pleased to get a few ‘usable’ snaps from a little foray into my yard this morning. They aren’t going to win any photography prizes but at least they document some of the lovely warblers that were loitering in the yard this morning. Although fall is my favorite season due to the interesting birds that tend to show up, it’s hard to beat a warbler infested yard in full song!

Radar to protect birds from Wind Farms?

6 05 2009

One of conservationists biggest objections to wind farms is the possible damage that they might inflict upon migrating birds, bats etc in the form of ‘tower strikes’. To me personally it has always been a case of weighing up the greater good; with a few dead birds unfortunately probably outweighed by the benefits that renewable energy brings. Lets face it if the planet temperatures do rise significantly then the damage to bird populations is going to be much more stark than the relatively small numbers of birds that end up hitting these wind turbines. However it seems that a Spanish power company in Texas is at least making some inroads into managing the problem by using radar technology to predict when birds will most be in danger of striking turbines (during inclement weather) and using this radar to predict when to shut turbines down to minimise bird strikes. More about the isues and possible solutions in this article here.

Sunrise Bird Walk – May 2nd

4 05 2009
Least Flycatcher - Luke Tiller

Least Flycatcher - Luke Tiller

After a great trip to Colorado it was nice to touch down in Connecticut and to touch base with a number of the Connecticut regulars on the first weekend walk I had been around for for a couple of weekends. It was the first time that I had been out with some Eastern Migrants for a little while as well and it was good to see so many coming through. Trout Brook Valley is a really fine birding spot in Fairfield County and thank heavens that the plan to turn it into a mall and a golf course (or whatever the initial plan was) never quite transpired (thanks to the hard work of many local conservation groups and individuals). With a mixture of wetlands, trout streams, coniferous and deciduous habitats as well as grasslands and orchard, it is a spot that hosts a wealth of breeding bird species. It is also a fine spot to look for migrants and over the years it has provided me with some cracking birds including all of the regularly occurring migrant warblers including Connecticut and Mourning, Yellow Bellied Flycatcher, Dickcissel and Mississippi Kite.

I won’t bother with a grand explanation to the birding there as this will be covered in Frank Gallo’s forthcoming book but suffice to say an early morning hike of the Green/White main trail from the Bradley Rd parking lot through to the Purple Trail and back to the parking lot at any time in May should provide you with a wealth of good breeding and migrant birds. Paying attention to the clearings makes the birding easier but there is much to find all along the trails. Highlight breeding birds include both Cuckoos, Acadian Fly, Winter Wren, BT Green, Worm-eating, Louisiana Waterthrush etc.

The day itself was somewhat overcast, but apart from a spot of drizzle it was nice and dry. We were rewarded with a nice mix of warblers including cracking looks at a Worm-eating Warbler, whose subtle yet beautiful markings won over the group, even those who had initially as one of the less interesting warblers. Personally I have a real soft spot for this species, especially when it nested for a couple of years in the slope next to my house, it didn’t reappear last year but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this one. We then tracked down a few more warblers in a nice clearing including eventual good looks at a Nashville Warbler, a somewhat bogey bird for at least one of the participants. I had a brief view of a Tennessee but I’m not sure anyone else got on it apart from maybe Katie. The numbers of Black and Whites were quite astounding as were high numbers of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and as many Blue-gray Gnatcatchers as I have seen in one wave of migrants.

We finished off the day with a hike down the purple trail where we managed to get outstanding views of three Louisiana Waterthrushes as they squabbled over territory seemingly oblivious to the watching group. This was a nice opportunity to discuss identifying characteristics for one of the harder to identify spring warblers. The close views however allowed the group to study the large bill, salmon pink washed flanks, bubblegum pink legs and to study the supercilium shape in close detail, the ony thing that might have perfected the experience would have been to have a Northern Waterthrush come and land nearby. The other highlight was the number of singing Winter Wrens. Last year was an off year for them at Trout Brook but they seem to have come back in force in 2009 with 3 separate birds singing from the wet, scree covered hillsides.  I know I have linked the Winter Wrens song before on the blog but I think it worth doing so again. It is after all such a treat to hear these amazingly diminutive songsters in action (here).

Although we didn’t get one on the walk, I thought I’d stick up my shot of a Least Flycatcher (which was kind enough to confirm my ID by calling) which I snapped midweek whilst out with AJ Hand. He kindly has loaned me his old camera and a decent lens. Anyway the picture came out fairly nice and sharp but it is proof positive that there is more to the amazing work of photographers like AJ than a big lens and a good camera. I think I need to work on my composition!!!

Trip Species List

Double-crested Cormorant, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Great-crested Flycatcher, American Robin, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Winter Wren, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue Headed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warblers: Yellow, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Blue-winged, Nashville, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Prairie, Ovenbird, Louisisana Waterthrush, Worm-eating, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart. Scarlet Tanager, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Rose Breasted Grosbeak