Signs of Spring – Bigby giant leap forward!

29 04 2011

Yellow Warbler - Luke Tiller

The hawkwatch had to be abandoned due to fog and thunderstorms Tuesday, so I decided that I might as well spend the time trying to scrape up a few species for my Big Green Big Year. I guess whenever the rain broke off on Monday night a good number of birds decided to make a break for the border but in the end got trapped on this side of the lake. As the fog lifted enough to be able to see more than a few feet in front of ones face it became clear that thousands of Hermit Thrushes were scattered along the lake shore. They occupied almost every patch of viable habitat and were even to be found in seemingly less likely spots (although none in quite as unlikely a spot as the time my friend Joe and I discovered a migrant that was lost somewhere on Cimarron National Grasslands!)

Amongst the abundant migrants were good numbers of Juncos, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows. Less abundant but still relatively common a few Fields and a Fox Sparrow or three. Some slightly more exotically bejeweled fair were also gracing the area including a few dazzling Yellow Warblers and a Black and White or two. I was pleased to pick up on the distinctively sharp chip of a rather nice Pine Warbler before it sang and was treated to my first multi-warbler tree of the season as singleton Palm, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers all worked one of the pine trees out near to Ontario State Parkway. My final warbler addition for the day a rather drab Northern Waterthrush, but in a rather dynamic setting, as it eagerly worked the edge of the rather dramatic lake.

As I turned for home I decided to check out a neighbors feeding area, which has been productive for me since I arrived here and was happy to add both Pine Siskin to the Purple Finches I had already seen in Owl Woods, boosting my tally for both the day and the year. Rusty Blackbirds although not new are always a welcome bonus – especially when one considers the parlous state they seem to find themselves in these days. The only other bird to add to the list today was a skulking Catbird that seemed to have somehow avoided the BBBO banders.  Still 7 new birds on the day and a total of 123 for the year is nothing to be sniffed at. I have a feeling that number may be rapidly growing in the next few days and weeks.

RAPTORTHON!!!!!! April 30th 2011

26 04 2011

Battling Eagles - Steve Beal

Like a birding big day, but as it is a fundraiser for both Braddock Bay Raptor Research and the Hawk Migration Association of North America, focused exclusively on raptors. It’s a great chance to support BBRR by sponsoring us and help us maintain all the important research and educational work we do here. You can sponsor the event in either one of two ways: a flat donation to the organization, or to make things more fun you can sponsor us per raptor species seen on the day of the Raptorthon.

I figure that the per species route is the more fun way to go and a must for those that like a bit of a gamble 😉  There are I believe 19 species of raptor that have been seen over the history of the count at Braddock Bay (excluding owls) and of these, maybe the following twelve species might be expected on the day: Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Coopers Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered, Rough-legged Hawk, American Kestrel and Merlin. The following four species are possible with a little luck: Black Vulture, Golden Eagle, Northern Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon and the if we see any of the following three species I will be buying a lottery ticket on the way home I will have been so lucky: Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite and Gyrfalcon.

On the day down at Braddock we will have a number of fun events including: Hawk Banding Demonstrations, tours of the Hawk Banding Station and of course you can come up and join us at the hawkwatch and see what is going through (and make sure that I don’t add a couple of dubious Aplomado Falcons or Crested Caracaras to the list of raptors for the day). Saturday currently looks set to be a beautiful spring day so it should be a great day to get outside and join us.

Your sponsorship money will be split between BBRR and HMANA. Braddock Bay will be using the money to help update the interpretive display at the platform, so helping continue and expand the important educational aspect of the work we do and the HMANA portion will help support the upkeep of their website and database which helps us track just how our hawks are doing year on year here in the US.

You can find out loads of more information about the day, get sponsorship forms and all of those useful things via the BBRR website (click here). Thanks to Steve Beal for the loan of the eagle picture. You can find more of his work online (here).

Bird Music: The Lovely Eggs – I like birds but i like other animals too

26 04 2011

Another birds in music track. This from the rather jaunty The Lovely Eggs! Maybe it’s just me but I’ve always liked a nice northern accent on a woman. Reminds me of times spent up in Leeds when I was younger. Assume they are riffing on the classic Eels track ‘I Like Birds’ track’ (here).

Braddock Bay Sandhill Crane

25 04 2011

Sandhill Crane - Luke Tiller

A notable bird down in Greenwich Connecticut  where I usually find myself residing (although two years ago I did manage to find nine on the season for the Quaker Ridge Count), but an increasingly common bird up here in Western NY State. Still in my humble opinion it never gets old getting to see this incredible species. This one spent the majority of the day sat in the field next to us bugling away, I think their call is almost as magnificent as the way they look  (listen to the call on the all about birds website here).

After a crazy day on Saturday in which we racked up our first largish Broad-winged Hawk flight (circa 5,500 birds) and saw the first numbers of immature Sharp-shinned Hawks joining the adults, the last couple of days at the watch have been a little slow. That however has given me a little more time to dig up more bird related music and go and crank up my numbers for the Big Green Big Year I am doing (list so far on a separate page here). A couple of mornings light wandering have seen me add Cedar Waxwings, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and both House and Winter Wrens to the list. I imagine with gas creeping over $4 a gallon that Big Green Big Years might be becoming an increasingly popular undertaking out here in the US?

My friend thinks that I should look for work DJing bird related  music at birding festivals and birding conference parties. Having a fairly minor DJing career in the past I’m sure I could make it work “this one goes out to all the ladeez in the house…”, and I imagine there would be about as much money to be made in that as there is in hawkwatching and bird tour guiding so maybe I should look into it 😉

Bird Music : Besnard Lakes – Albatross

20 04 2011

Whilst plugging my latest bird related mixtape on Facebook my old friend Alex (he’s not old, our friendship is – just to make that clear) from London piped up with a couple of tunes. He has a pretty wide and eclectic taste in music but he certainly mentioned a couple of little gems, including this rather nice tune from Besnard Lakes. I guess I could have used the Fleetwood Mac track of the same name, but to be honest I’m with the Reynolds Girls (obscure 80’s British pop music reference) when it comes to Mick’s boys!

Not your usual Wood Ducks!

18 04 2011

Eastern Screech Owls

Being the local hawkwatcher has its benefits. Usually I get emails asking me any number of different questions, but a week or so back I got a nice email from Brian Burgeson telling me about some of the exciting finds he had made whilst monitoring the Wood Duck Boxes that Lake Plains Waterfowl Association (website here). The LPWA has a large number of boxes spread through the Braddock Bay area and not all of them contain Wood Ducks. Amongst the interesting finds during monitoring were a couple of Eastern Screech Owl nests and even a Flying Squirrel (would it be Northern up here I’m not totally sure?)

Anyway the shots here are kind of cool I think. The top one shows a rufous and gray morph bird in the same box. Interestingly Brian noted a second nest box with owl eggs just a short distance away but with no occupants. There are reports of Eastern Screech Owls practicing polygamy so I wonder if this male maybe had a second female he was tending too? It seems unlikely that a second pair would be nesting quite so close to this territory to me but then again I am not an expert on owls by any means.

Eastern Screech Owl

The picture above is of another nest box again replete with another gray morph Eastern Screech Owl. Instead of getting all agitated by the intrusion, I guess this bird has decided to go for the playing dead  option? You can find out loads of info about owls at Owl Pages (website here) And there is even a forum that you can ask questions about owls on. I recently went to an interesting and entertaining presentation at  Braddock Bay Raptor Research given by Fred Sauter about how he enticed Eastern Screech Owls to nest in his backyard. BBRR currently has Fred’s plans for how to build a box up on their website (here).

One of the things I found fascinating about Fred’s talk were the pellets that he brought in. It’s really amazing the variety of prey that they seem to take from insects, through crayfish and I have read about them taking birds as large as Bobwhite and Ruffed Grouse. This shot of the secondary nest that was taken near to where the shot with the two owls in shows just how significant birds can be in their diet, especially in migration. In the shot below I can see Northern Cardinal and American Robin feathers in there but am interested if anyone can recognize any of the others?

Empty Nest

Screech Owl Nest

Anyway thanks very much to Brian for sending me the email. It was interesting to hear from him about the owls and to hear about some of the history of the LPWA (which was initially apparently set up to fight the building of Ontario State Parkway) and some of the conservation programs that they are involved in today. These programs include improving the areas bird populations (primarily Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and obviously Eastern Screech Owls) and other conservation efforts like tree plantings, and Hunters Safety Classes. They currently manage 256 Wood Duck Nesting Boxes throughout Western New York, with approximately 130 in and around the Braddock Bay Wildlife Management Area, quite the undertaking!!!

Bird Music: Indie Mixtape 2

15 04 2011
Hummer – Luke Tiller

Another day another bird inspired music mixtape. What about the first track you are wondering? ROBIN Gibb – get it! Kinda cheating I guess 😉 Anyway check out the new youtube playlist here. For some reason this won’t seem to link and play automatically so you’ll have to hit play all.

1/ Bee Gees (Robin Gibb) – I started a joke 2/ McDonald and Giles – Flight of the ibis 3/ Devendra Banhart – Wake up little sparrow 4/ Neko Case – Maybe sparrow 5/ Belle and Sebastian – I’m a cuckoo, 6/ Islands – Creeper 7/ Born Ruffians – Hummingbird 8/ Dodos – Black night 9/ Buffalo Tom – Birdbrain 10/ Giant Drag – Swan Song 11/ Sleeper – Swallow 12/ Doves – Black and white town 13/ Caribou – Brahminy Kite 14/ Birds and Batteries – Lightning 15/ Thom Yorke – Black Swan 16/ Swans – Love will tear us apart (hard drums version)