Albino Double-crested Cormorant

30 09 2009
Albino Double-crested Cormorant - Dia Robinson

Albino Double-crested Cormorant - Dia Robinson

Not sure I’ve ever come across one of these before. This picture of the cormorant was sent in to the Audubon Center of Greenwich by Dia Robinson and was taken by her sister Julie Sengstacken in Guilford CT. Anyway I thought that it might be of interest to birders both in state and outside. Certainly a weird looking bird – anyone seen one of these before?

EDIT: On the grapevine I hear that apparently this bird was possibly the bird initially reported as a White Pelican (you can see why!) in Guilford and Janet Mehmel may already have taken pictures of this individual.





Hating Digiscoping Less!

30 09 2009

E. Phoebe - Luke Tiller

E. Phoebe - Luke Tiller

So here is the important lesson I have learned recently about digiscoping. Much like using the DSLR which AJ Hand loaned me earlier in the year you need to concentrate on birds that are within close proximity (unless you are snapping a record shot of some extreme rare loafing on a beach half a mile away, then just click away and hope for the best). This Eastern Phoebe was hanging around today at the hawkwatch using the much underused Hummingbird feeder I have set up more in hope than expectation of some stray western vagrant. From only 30 yards or so you can actually get something hand-held that doesn’t look too bad (even if I say so myself). A little photoshop manipulation can really help too as long as it’s at least remotely sharp. Picture number 3 is probably the sharpest but not the most expressive unfortunately.





Mantis Attack!!!!

29 09 2009

Chinese Manitis - Luke Tiller

Chinese Manitis - Luke Tiller

Whilst out perusing the bugs on my Mountain Mint I noticed a large Chinese Mantis tucked away in the deep foliage.  The Chinese Mantis is an introduced species to the US that was brought here for its pest control properties. How much value it really was though is questionable as it also kills beneficial insects. Anyway here is a cool picture I snapped as it tracked down some lunch in the form of a grasshopper (anyone know the ID?) I looked up some info on BugGuide.net (a cool site recommended to me by naturalist at Quaker Ridge Ted Gilman) and American Bird Grasshopper seemed to match quite well, but I am not certain.





Sunrise Birding Walk – Sept 26th

29 09 2009

Dawn - Luke Tiller

Dawn - Luke Tiller

As I am currently spending most of the week staying in Greenwich at the Hawk Watch (in order to avoid horror story commute on the Merritt post work) I haven’t had spare moment to do any birding at Allen’s Meadows. It’s almost been painful having to miss out on hitting the spot every morning as I have become accustomed to in fall. Anyway, I always look forward to taking groups to Allen’s and of course one always hopes that it is going to hit the heights of expectation.

We had a couple of new attendees on the walk this week who were new to the world of Wilton’s greatest birding hotspot so I was hoping that it would impress. Although the walk wasn’t kicking off until 7:30am I was too excited to wait until then to go birding so I arrived just before dawn to give the place a quick once over. Nothing jumped out at me in the early morning light apart from a Wilson’s Snipe that skittered away from some short grass screeching – I imagine as a defense mechanism this works pretty well as it certainly flustered me somewhat.

As the group arrived we were soon into the birding action as Cedar Waxwings fluttered overhead feeding heavily on the, what I’ve always assumed were, black cherry trees (perhaps time to shell out on the new Sibley Tree Guide). Joining the throngs were a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and a Black-and-White Warbler that was certainly drawn in more by the activity than the fruit. Yellow-rumped Warblers chipped and a roving flock of Palm Warblers put on a little show as they picked through the paper birches. We also discussed the edibleness of Autumn Olive (who knew!) and I even went as far as digging up from another blog a jam recipe for this slightly tart but quite tasty fruit (here).

As we wandered along the back line of the ball fields we peered into the dense foliage that surrounds the Goetzen Brook and stumbled upon a little feeding frenzy of migrants. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker scooted up a dying tree, and a cinnamon backed Veery showed briefly in the dense tangles of Virginia Creeper that bedecked the trunk along with  its subtler companion, a Swainson’s Thrush. A Rose-breasted Grosbeak with just a mere slash of brilliant pink on it’s breast sat to accommodate scope views and a scattering of warblers were picked off.

Probable highlight of the walk in terms of rarity was a subtle but beautiful Philadelphia Vireo. I think I have had one Philadelphia at Allen’s in the past but I need to double check my records. The vireo had managed to find an exceedingly large and juicy caterpillar and was proceeding to beat its brains out on one of the branches of the tree. Great fun to watch and providing the opportunity to get the bird in the scope for people – a rare treat for a mobile little migrant such as this. We checked the burgeoning sparrow flocks for something apart from the typical Savannah and Song Sparrows but apart from a Field and a couple of Chippings there wasn’t a whole host apart from a couple of drab Indigo Buntings.

Although no spectacular rarities a very nice morning all in all at my favorite site for fall birding anywhere on the globe (how provincial!) The trip was nicely rounded off with a quick flash of a migrating Peregrine as it muscled its way south on less than supportive winds.

Trip species list:

Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Cedar Waxwing, House Wren, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird, American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Warblers: Northern Parula, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Palm, Yellow, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White, Black-throated Blue, American Redstart, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, American Goldfinch, House Finch,Sparrows: Field, Chipping, Song, Savannah, Swamp, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, European Starling and House Sparrow.





Sunrise Bird Walk – Saturday Sept 19

21 09 2009
Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

A wonderful mornings warblering at Greenwich Audubon’s Quaker Ridge site as part of the early festivities for their Hawkwatch Festival weekend. I have been on site for a month now and Saturday was by far and away the most productive morning bird wise. As I chatted to Brian O’Toole in the car park as the sun slowly rose there was an abundance of activity and I started to get that buzz of excitement one feels when you know that a good morning of birding lies ahead.

As I picked up my group, Brian called ahead and said that he had already found an abundance of activity in the orchard area and we hot-footed it in his direction. Along the way though we were soon waylaid as we started to trip over warbler activity. We soon had a Black-and-white Warbler working the trunk of a nearby apple tree and more birds were flitting through the early morning light towards us: brilliantly green (and super cute) Chestnut-sided Warblers flitted, Redstarts – all flashing tails and tumbling aerobatics as well as Black-throated Greens aplenty bedecked the trees.

Then our first ID challenge, a very muted Blackburnian Warbler – no garish orange throat on this bird, but rather a subtle wash the distinctive face pattern the giveaway clue. More birds to be seen and more Blackburnians, a surprising number in fact from fairly brilliant males to the more delicately patterned birds mentioned above. In total we guesstimated that there were probably a half dozen Blackburnians there – probably a high count for me in a days migrant birding anywhere!  There were more ID challenges ahead: a drab first winter female Pine Warbler, almost a colorless dingy brown and then a much sought after Philadelphia Vireo (photographed by Benjamin Van Doren here) along with a closely related but much more pedestrian (in the rareness stakes) Warbling. Here we had a little time to dissect the difference in both structure and plumage. The Philadelphia’s dark lores and distinctly yellow throat both tell tell signs as well as it’s more compact frame (a good article on Vireo ID here).

More birds streamed through: Nashville Warbler, Scarlet Tanagers, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-pewee. The leaders marveling at the amazing abundance of birds as much as the participants. As time rolled on the birds slowly dispersed and by 9:30am just a few individuals lingered – I guess that’s why Gina called the company Sunrise Birding – it’s birding at it’s best!

Bird Species from the Day:

15 Warbler Species comprising 200+ individuals: Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Black-Throated Blue Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart.

Other Highlights: Philadelphia Vireo and Red-breasted Nuthatch as well as common neotropical migrants like Scarlet Tanager and Red-eyed Vireo.





Greenwich Hawk Watch Festival

20 09 2009

Frankenfalcon - Luke Tiller

Frankenfalcon - Luke Tiller

Too tired to post anything about the event right now but thought I’d stick up this digiscoped picture of some weird Gyr/Saker/whatever cross falcon that was part of the show at the Hawk Watch Festival (maybe this digiscoping is growing on me!). More thoughts on the whole thing tomorrow once I can feel my brain again (quite numb at the moment!) Some more press coverage of the event (here and here) only a couple of minor inaccuracies involved! Fellow Hawk Watcher and blogger Ben posted his thoughts here.





Quaker Red-tail and Golden Eagle pics link

14 09 2009
Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller

Red-tailed Hawk - Luke Tiller

After moaning about digiscoping over the weekend I was actually quite pleased with this snap of the Red-tailed Hawk that loiters around the site generally killing and maiming most of the other Quaker Ridge residents, bunnies, milk snakes, he even gace Stefan a couple of funny looks today. Also just wanted an excuse to stick up a link to Benjamin Van Doren’ s pictures of possibly CT’s earliest recorded Golden Eagle from Sunday (link here).





Hawkwatching! Quaker Ridge Rules!

14 09 2009
Mugging for the Cameras! - Luke Tiller

Mugging for the Cameras! - Luke Tiller

Bloodshot and swollen eyes, skin tanned and leathery, a thousand yard stare that makes the most traumatized of shellshock sufferers look positively fine, all are marks of the seasoned hawkwatcher at Quaker Ridge. But what a nice group of guys and gals, and there couldn’t be a more entertaining gang to spend your day with staring into the blank empty nothingness of a pale, cloudless blue sky trying to pick up the distant silhouette of an incoming raptor .

I’d been initiated quietly into the world of pro Hawkwatching with some nice light days at the end of August where nothing much was drifting through apart from a few early returnees (many of them Bald Eagles!) Today however I was dropped into the deep end of Broad-wing craziness. The day started inauspiciously enough with just the one Kestrel making a beeline over the valley and scooting past me at head height. However as the clock ticked over towards 9:30am, suddenly things were changing fast. It started with just a handful of adult Broad-wings lifting up from the surrounding forests and starting to kettle up in the morning sun. In another 30 minutes I was quickly on the phone for battle hardened eyes to help to give me some chance of staying ahead of the approaching hordes.

By 10:00am the clans had gathered and we had 10 or so of the regulars out front and doing their best to make sure that every bird was located and equally that none were counted twice. Of course this isn’t the easiest task, with the frantic call of kettle! or streaming birds! going up left right and center. Heated discussions break out amongst good friends as to which birds might have already been counted or not and tallies are quickly processed on the essential clickers. All through this madness,however the witty banter keeps flowing and the mood is one of excitement and fun as the hordes of birds keep flying.

By 3pm (2pm Bird Time – which runs at EST for the count) bodies and eyes are tired, but the thrill and excitement of the first good day is finally settling  over everyone and we coast the last couple of quiet hours reflecting on a job well done. Another exhausting but fun day at the Hawkwatch and my first real experience of a full day of Broadie madness. It’s an incredible spectacle, so get yourself down here to Quaker Ridge in the next few days before you miss out on all the Broad-winged fun!

You can find information about the Quaker Ridge site on Hawkcount (here) and see a daily roundup of our sightings here.





Sunrise Birding Walk – Sept 12 2009

13 09 2009
Avifemmes plus - Luke Tiller

Spent a somewhat drizzly morning out in the field in Westport. It seems like warblers feel pretty much the same way I do about dreary September mornings and thought better of heading out. Anyway it was nice after all the travels to be out with the gang again for some birding locally even if the hoped for migration madness had not yet arrived. It was also nice to have my boss (Gina) out with us on one of her rare US appearances. Although the birds were a little disappointing, the company was most certainly not. Lots of laughs were to be had and in between the jokes we did a little ‘workshopping’ on aging and identifying Yellowlegs. At Grace Salmon we also had a nice Solitary Sandpiper which gave us an object lesson on how to look carefully at the structure of shorebirds, as there are often more important clues to the birds identification there than you might find in the plumage.

With Westport somewhat quiet we decided to take a trip over to see the Northern Wheater in Stratford as a number of the group still hadn’t managed to get to see the bird yet. After a little hard work tracking the bird down, we managed to enjoy fantastic looks at the adult male (see Julian Hough’s article on aging/sexing Wheatears here). I managed to get some lousy digiscoped shots (see previous post) after which we headed to Sandy Point for the tour extension.

Whatever has happened at Sandy Point this year is a mystery to me and a pretty depressing one. This site was probably my favorite site in Connecticut for shorebirds, and though far away always well worth the trip up there (I have always had more of a love/hate relationship with Milford Point). This year, after whatever engineering work went on at the point, it seems to have become devoid of both migratory and breeding birds. Very sad! So things were again quiet there although a first returning Green-winged Teal was nice and a couple of Merlin flybys on I95 were cool. With things a little quiet we took a hop over to Lighthouse Point and soon found ourselves lost in the delights of the hummingbird/butterfly garden there. Butterfly highlights (ie ones we could identify – i think) were: Black Swallowtail, Broad-winged Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Monarch, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, American Lady and a cool hummingbird moth I’ll tentatively ID as a Snowberry Clearwing.

Although the birds weren’t co-operating as hoped it was a fun morning and great to just be out enjoying a day that cleared up nicely after all the predicted bad weather. Maybe the birds will be more co-operative next week?





Digiscoping – it’s a mugs game

12 09 2009

There the bird is stunning as you observe it through your high end scope. Crisp and colorful and a real delight to the eye. Then a thought springs to mind – ‘hello, this would make a great picture’. Mistake number one for the day. Some 20 minutes of frustration later and a slew of pictures of nothing, a blur in flight, a smudgy mess that you would be hard pressed to identify as a bird even and then one or two pictures that look remotely decent ‘in camera’. You set off home to load them onto the computer only to realize that what looks good at about 1/2cm in size looks absolutely crummy blown up to any degree. Digiscoping, it stinks! Saying that – here are my digiscoped pics of the Northern Wheater from Stratford. There are some nice shots out there on the net – go find them 😉