Obsessed with Peepers?

30 03 2010

I’ve been messing around with the video function on my camera and Peepers seem to make the perfect first subject. Now I just have to work out how to get those little birdies on film. I feel a project coming on.

Luke Tiller – Bird Artist ;)

26 03 2010

White-throated Sparrow - Luke Tiller

Just messing around with some old sketches that I made of a few birds. Perhaps it’s time to dig out the old sketch pad again and give bird drawing another go. Of course when you’re friends with professional artists it’s hard not to feel intimidated by ones own paltry efforts but still quite a lot of fun to mess around with.

Peepers in Greenwich

25 03 2010

Just a tester of the camera and Youtube account.

Birdemic, the most awesome movie ever?!?

25 03 2010

“Why would birds do something like that?”. Indeed!!!!!

Blatant Advertising – but of a good kind!

23 03 2010

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Catherine Hamilton

Not really for me. I just wanted to draw your attention to a few cool things that are coming up or occuring in the world of birds right now.

Raptor Conference – Audubon Greenwich – May 7th and 8th

First off Audubon Greenwich will be holding a Raptor Conservation conference at the Audubon Centre in Greenwich on May 7th and 8th (click here for details). It should be a really cool day with a chance to get to hear about raptor conservation projects both locally and continentally. With Guests from Hawk Mountain and Veracruz it’s a dream line up for anyone interested in hawkwatching, raptors or conservation. I’ll be there manning the hawkwatch and hope to get to meet some of the hawkwatchers from the Tri-state area and beyond. It’ll be a great chance to meet up with like minded people and to share some tips, experiences and gossip with your local hawkwatching fraternity as well as to find out how to get more involved in raptor conservation projects. You can register online for the event at the bottom of the page!

What have Lukes friends been up to?

All About Birds

If you have been hibernating this month you might have missed Catherine Hamilton’s online exhibition on the All About Birds website (click here). Go check it out, the artwork is absolutely stunning and I’m not just saying that because I am heavily biased. Move over David Sibley! A few of the pieces were produced right here in Greenwich including one of my particular favorites the Red-bellied Woodpecker – go check it out.

Benjamin Van Dorens Blog

New York birder, Greenwich Hawk watcher, and blogger extraordinaire Benjamin has recently become president of the New York State Young Birders club as well so congratulations to him. Here is a link to his blog from a day we spent chasing birds up in New York State (click here)

Birds of North America Fashion Line

At a recent Chelsea art gallery opening I ran into a nice artist who was telling me about his passion for birding and about his girlfriends fashion line that takes its collection names from birds (check it out here).

Despite everything – birds!

19 03 2010

The Park - West Side Highway NYC

After finding myself sans power on Sunday after the pretty devastating storm which hit Fairfield County on Saturday last week I retreated back to New York City  to stay with my girlfriend for a few days. She lives just a stones throw from the West Side Highway and the Hudson River in what real estate agents like to call Chelsea (it’s a fine line up there!!!). With winter finally appearing to break, I decided to see whether the glut of spring migrants I was expecting to follow the clearing of the ‘blocking weather’ that the storm had caused would even touch down on the little strips of ‘park’ that exist between 30th and 20th Streets just blocks from her house. Amazingly I was not to be disappointed, in what amounts to little more than a smattering of trees, a few patches of lawn and some areas that construe some type of ‘natural’ habitat there were birds to be found.

I’ve always had a soft spot for urban and suburban birding, perhaps because I’ve always been a city boy. There is also something beautiful and gratifying about discovering birds eking out a living in places that just seem so relatively unlikely. I love finding birds wedged between the industrial wastelands of Stratford and enjoy heading into the Big Apple to see the throngs of migrants that touch down in Central Park each year. I think there is something gratifying in seeing these birds making the most of a bad job and carrying on regardless of the obstacles that we have placed in their way. Here on the West Side Highway I’d discovered a Central Park in miniature. This little scratch of ‘habitat’ held a few migrant birds, probably somewhat shell shocked to find themselves flying over an endless concrete, steel and glass metropolis as sun rose they had flocked to what provided a best of a bad bunch choice that morning.

As I turned the corner off of the cycle path and into the pedestrianized area of the park I spotted my first true sign of spring, a lively Eastern Phoebe perched on a chickenwire fence scanning eagerly for flying insects. As I watched it, it flew a few times dipping down to the ground to inspect for morsels before again alighting on a conspicuous lookout perch. Phoebes to me are the real sign of spring – forget blackbirds they are always to be found should one look hard enough in winter, but the chances of a Phoebe making it through a full winter in the Northeast are pretty much slim to none. The bird called a few times as they always seem to do early in the season before the break into their full ‘song’, such as it is. A magical moment as my spring started with the accompaniment of the drone of West Side Highway traffic and the overhead throb of private helicopters touching down on the helipad just a few hundred yards upstream.

For me I guess part of the joy of seeing birds in this kind of environment is the incongruousness of it all. The idea of something completely wild showing up in the most unlikely of places. These migrants aren’t city birds like the pigeons, gulls and house sparrows but mere tourists on their way to something more recognizably home to them. I do sometimes wonder what they are thinking when they find themselves confronted with these somewhat confusing and hostile surrounds. As I arrived in the park I watched one unidentified passerine jump off from the park and head up into the great unknown northwards into the city. I found myself wanting to shout after him to come back and stick it out here from the day as it wasn’t going to find that it got much better. That said though in 30 or 40 blocks it might have spotted the haven of Central Park and spent the day hanging out with some more of its feathered brethren in much quieter and more appealing surrounds than a splash of greenery jammed between the dirty river and the constant cacophony of New York traffic.

Anyway the sight of these few waifs and strays on New Yorks west side made me think that this park might be a fun little place to check out over the spring to see what might possibly turn up. As well as the Eastern Phoebes (I found a second a little further down), the park also held 2 somewhat noteworthy Fox Sparrows, a handful of common sparrows: Junco, White-throated and Song, as well as an American Robin and a couple of Mockingbirds (staking out territory?) On the water as well as the ubiquitous three common gull species and Canada Geese were a flock of over 100 migrating Brant and a couple of American Black Ducks. I see a new bird list forming – West Side Park birds. An adventure to be continued…

Bird Walk Rarity – Barrow’s Goldeneye – March 6th

11 03 2010

Wot no Goldeneye pictures?

It seems to have been quite a while since something exceptional has shown up on the local walks here in Connecticut. We’ve seen some nice birds and enjoyed some great days out but the further removed from a great find one is the more it starts to play on your mind as a tour guide. Sure the Glaucous Gull was a goody a couple of weeks back but a nice rarity seems to have eluded me for a while –  perhaps even since the Mississippi Kites at the hawkwatch all the way back in October.

The day before the walk Brian Webster had seen a female Barrow’s Goldeneye at Penfield Reef in Fairfield and as luck would have it I had already planned to go to Fairfield on the walk (although admittedly inland). A quick change up of plans and we decided to take a run down to Penfield Reef and see what was around and whether we could get lucky with the Goldeneye.

I have to add that Penfield Reef has always been a favorite spot of mine. It’s a one of a kind spot where at low tide you can trek for miles (it seems) out into Long Island Sound on a narrow causeway. It’s always seemed to have some good potential for something rare and even before I relocated Nick and Charlies Sandwich Tern out there a couple of years back I have always had a soft spot for the place.

When we arrived on Saturday, as luck would have it there were still good numbers of Goldeneye out off of the reef. I quickly scanned through a few of the birds and out popped the previously reported female. Now the challenge trying to get the group on a bird that was moving, actively diving and was distant enough not to be able to be isolated in the scope. As I was trying to give directions and explain what to look for on the female the majority of the birds took off for seemingly no good reason (don’t you hate it when birds do that!!!).

As the majority of the flock disappeared into the sun glare off of the west of the reef a small number of the flock returned to the eastern side. In amongst this I picked up the elliptical facial marking  and darker black back of a corking male Barrow’s Goldeneye. Again the excitement of the find was quickly tempered by the need to try and get people on a distant duck that was in a mixed flock of very similar looking birds. As I called out directions, it was good to hear that the group were starting to pick out the bird in amongst its Common cousins. Slowly but surely the group managed to obtain looks at the bird and then were able to relocate it as I moved around trying to get it in various peoples scopes.

Of course it would have been nice had it been about 500 yards closer to us and easier to isolate, but I think this kind of bird gives people a chance to learn from a challenge in the field. We started by looking at the field guide for identification clues and then began to match them up to with what one was observing in the field. Hopefully as you study a bird there is something about it that catches your eye as different and allows you to replicate the confidence in identifying the bird in future. In the end although distant the bird produced fairly good views and we were able to compare the difference in the way it was displaying compared to the surrounding male Commons. I always think that these challenging birds ID’s provide the most satisfaction when you make the identification. If every rarity was as obvious as a male Painted Bunting, then much of the excitement and of going birding would be lost and it is that challenge that I personally find so thrilling.

For me it was nice to add another bird to my Fairfield County list (after absentmindedly forgetting to chase the Eared Grebe a few weeks back) as well as adding another bird to my self found list (how many lists do I have – too many? ). Although we did manage to spend quite a lot of time with the Barrow’s the rest of the trip was not wholly uneventful with the first dribs and drabs of migrating blackbirds passing overhead, a nice collection of Wood Ducks on Aspetuck Reservoir and a few White-winged Scoter slung out in a line off of the western side of Penfield.

ps: Just to give people who believe the old field mark that an all yellow bill denotes a common Goldeneye here’s a picture to give you fits.

pps: No pictures of the Goldeneye I’m afraid so I thought I’d treat you to a snap of the Iceland Gull from Compo that we saw the other week – as taken by Catherine Hamilton.

Trip Species List: Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, Wood Duck, Mallard, Black Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Goldeneye, BARROW’S GOLDENEYE x2, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Wodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow,  European Starling, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, American Robin, Northern  Cardinal, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco,  Common Grackle, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch.

Bird Comedy!

11 03 2010

There’s never much around in the world of comedy relating to birds, so it’s always nice to dig something out bird related that makes me chuckle. For those that don’t know the League of Gentlemen it’s a British comedy show that has one character that is a rather luckless vet – Mr Chinnery. The sketch is also a nod to a great British movie called Kes about a young working class boy and his pet Eurasian Kestrel. The movie is absolutely fantastic equal parts charming, moving and hilariously funny with many classic scenes that will ring true – especially for anyone who has ever suffered an oafish gym teacher.

Spark Bird – Cedar Waxwing

8 03 2010

Cedar Waxwing - Luke Tiller

Everyone seems to have a ‘spark’ bird, something that grabbed their attention so much that on reflection they realize that it was at that point that they had embarked on the road to becoming an avid birder.  So here’s my ‘spark’ bird. It was March 2003 and I was merrily feeding the birds in my yard with my new feeder setup when a flock of Cedar Waxwings suddenly showed up and started scarfing down the multiflora rose berries tangled in my apple tree. It was then that I realized that I needed to start spreading my wings and heading further afield to track down birds. This week the waxwings were around in my new yard in Greenwich (see picture above) feasting on privet berries.  Not as noteworthy as their ‘Bohemian’ cousins but as pretty and up there with my favorite common Connecticut birds.

Ghost Bird in Greenwich

4 03 2010

Albino Red-tailed Hawk - Jennifer Braverman

Here’s a cool picture of an albino Red-tailed Hawk that was taken here in Greenwich. Thanks to Jennifer Braverman for sending in the photo and for giving me permission to use the image. She relayed to me that it didn’t seem keen to pose for photos, but I think the snap gives a pretty good idea of just how white this particular bird is. A pretty incredible looking individual. Anyway nice to add to the albino bird collection on the blog (see the Double-crested Cormorant pictures here).