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)

Anatomy of a Braddock Bay Big Day – April 11th

13 04 2011

Josh Lawrey - Doublescoping!

A big day at Braddock Bay! Not sure if this was typical but this was the way it happened for me. I rolled out of bed with a start as the alarm on my phone screamed ‘get out of bed now!’ at about 6:15am. The night before the clouds had settled in and the atmosphere was thick and heavy and although sunrise was at 6:30 the bruised sky and thick clouds were keeping things looking pretty dingy out there. I stumbled sleepily into the waiting shower, forlornly trying to wash away the tiredness from a decent day the day before.

The warm overnight temperatures told me that the birds were going to be active early that morning and my scan of the, and weather underground (are all hawkwatchers obsessed by weather?) told me that things were starting off warm today. Little did I realize that they were about to jump from warm to hot in such a short period of time. SSW winds forecast with the chance of some thunder showers had thrown the hawk forecast onto red alert for a big movement day.

The shower hadn’t quite cut it, so I decided that perhaps a jolt of caffeine would be the solution to the slightly woozy and sleepy sensation that was still coursing through my veins and the thousand yard stare that was still glazed over my eyes from the day before. It was then that I realized the enormity of the day ahead of me. As I walked into the kitchen and went to grab a mug from the cupboard I glanced out the window and saw a swirling mass of Red-winged Blackbirds lurching somewhat manically across the field outside and off over the bay.

Golden Eagle - Josh Lawrey

Stepping outside into the sticky warm air I was greeted by a sight out of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, a whirling mass of dark birds coursing this way and that across the treetops of the woods outside my house. Not crows though, but the large and bizarrely buoyant forms of hundreds of Turkey Vultures. I have to say my first emotion was something akin to fear! How was I going to count all these birds and what should I do next. The thought that first entered my head was that maybe I stand and count here for a few minutes and then once a break forms in the line I rush down the parkway to my platform for the day (little did I know that a break wasn’t likely to be coming for the next eight or so hours!). I was snapped back into reality as my phone rang and the calm but urgent voice of Dave Tetlow on the other end of the line ‘get to the park now!’

Dave had just arrived at West Spit and was now in a position to cover what raptors were passing over the spit whilst I tore down the parkway to get in a position to start picking them up from the far side. Arriving in the park I was greeted by the incredible sight of a dark whirling mass of Turkey Vultures parked over the West Spit that every now and then sent bursts of adventurous vultures out over the bay. Dave had already been mentally clicking them off as they jumped off over him, and as soon as we found a little break between the bursts of birds I started to take over the count from my wooden aerie.

Before the first 45 minutes were done, Dave and I had combined to tally over 2,500 birds. As the TV’s burst out over the bay, so other individuals back-filled the departing birds. Things were getting just a little crazy, but thankfully the cavalry were on hand in the shape of Josh Lawrey and Dave’s brother Mike. The number of TV’s were incredible but more than manageable as they massed, swirled and took off from their West Spit line. It was everything else that was the problem! Scattered across the sky were any other number of raptors. Unlike the somewhat orderly TV’s the strong gusting winds had broken up the flight into disorganized shards of passing raptors: a Sharpie scooting low out over the lake here, and a soaring Bald Eagle out over the parkway there. Pure craziness!

Rough-legged Hawk - Josh Lawrey

The numbers were mounting and the day was punctuated by the constant click click click of the counters as we tallied the passing birds. Incredible numbers and experiences occurring  throughout the day. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite moment from such an action packed session, but a two minute period that saw us picking off a Peregrine Falcon, a pair of Golden Eagles and a Northern Goshawk out front of us would take some beating.  As the weather patterns changed (almost imperceptibly to your mere human) so the makeup of the flight of the birds changed too: an hour with 462 Sharp-shinned Hawks – all feisty individuals taking their own course across the bay, later a moment where one panned the sky and over 50 Red-tails were being buffeted by the winds that were knocking down scopes and almost people as we stood at the watch.

By now we had something of a gathering, and the platform was becoming something of a crowded spot. Birders from across the area had been emailed, phoned or texted with news of the gathering storm of birds. All were reveling in the excitement of the day and helping to pick out the odd individuals that were being missed. Every now and then the phone would also go and Dave would call in something particularly interesting that was dashing past him on the spit (more often than not a Northern Goshawk).  By mid afternoon delirium, exhaustion and hysteria were settling in over those who were counting and I was even starting to pray for the rain showers that we had been promised in with the forecast winds. I remember a particularly wasted friend of mine once telling me ‘this is the best night of my life…I wish it would stop!’ and about 3pm on Monday I knew exactly what he meant!

As with all ‘good’ things it had to eventually come to an end and as the surprisingly dry front moved through, so the sightings died behind it.  There were just dribs and drabs of birds that hadn’t pushed through ahead of the front and we finally managed to catch our breath and survey the damage for the day. By the end of it all we had tallied 8870 Raptors: 5230 Turkey Vultures, 1825 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 1124 Red-tailed Hawks, 14 Northern Goshawks, 71 Rough-legged Hawks, 17 Bald Eagles and 4 Golden Eagles amongst the real highlights.

Sandhill Cranes - Josh Lawrey

Even with the day winding down to a close we picked up one final surprise as he birds of the day, and even probably the season thus far, appeared in the shape of two American White Pelicans that I picked up cruising over East Spit towards West Spit late afternoon. They eventually put down behind Tackles Bar in Salmon Creek, much to the delight of a few local twitchers. Other highlights included a couple of Sandhill Cranes and a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk which I missed thanks to going to grab my lunch at just at the wrong time.

Amusingly Josh who has been helping out the last few days (and who has counted here for a few seasons in the past) had seen a pair of American White Pelicans whilst doing the watch in a previous year. Being used to counting out west though he didn’t realize the significance of the sighting and didn’t mention it until posting the birds late that evening. He then received irate emails form some of the areas local birders. In fact the first thing one of the regulars at the watch had mentioned to Josh this year were the pelicans, so when I called them out Josh’s initial response was to say that someone had already tried that joke on him this year!

I should really say thanks to everyone who came down and made it such a fun day and helped pick up birds. Special thanks of course to Josh Lawrey and Mike Tetlow for helping out (the day would have been impossible without them), to Dave Tetlow for the early morning West Spit cover and for calling out a few goodies that were whizzing by him at the West Spit and to Daena Ford for getting the word out swiftly to the local birding community.  The day helped erase most of the memories of a poor March and we already broke through 20,000 birds for the season. If you want to see the day in pure numbers you can see the data on hawkcount (here) . You can also see what Dave was picking up from over the West Spit in the way of passerines and raptors that were probably just too far out over the lake for us to see from our perch at the hawkwatch (here). Extra thanks to Josh for providing some shots from the day!

9,000 raptors later!!!!

Bird Music: The Dodos – Black Night

13 04 2011

One of the latest bird related records that I stumbled upon (and the first band I have stumbled upon named after an extinct one): The Dodos. Cool psych or indie folk and they just stuck out a new album No Color. An entertaining video too. Hope you enjoy.

Bigby – Bigger & Better – Pelicans!

12 04 2011

A. White Pelican - Luke Tiller

The last couple of day have been pretty incredible, so it’s very hard to know where to start first with the blog posts! I guess I’ll space them out a bit, otherwise I’ll be spending the next 5 hours writing blog posts and I still have taxes to go stick in the post. After an incredible day was winding down at the hawkwatch, which included almost 9,000 raptors, I was lucky enough to spot a pair of American White Pelicans cruising over Braddock Bay towards the West Spit area. Amusingly Josh Lawrey (who was helping out today) has an amusing story about White Pelicans at Braddock Bay, so when I called them out he initially thought I was trying to wind him up!

Sure enough though the pelicans were real though and not part of a rather corny old joke. After a while drifting about the bay area they eventually were followed as far as the eye could see and seemed to disappear over towards Salmon Creek on Manitou Rd, where they were eventually relocated loafing around in the shallow water there by some of the local birding community. This gave a good number of people the chance to drop in to see these birds, and also gave me the opportunity to drive home after work and walk the mile and a half to add these to my Bigby list just before sunset. This has to be the best sighting so far on the Bigby year so far – easily eclipsing the Barrow’s and the Snowy Owl (you can see the full list on the Bigby page).

As spring begins to break here at Braddock, I have managed to pick up a few migrant birds each morning and today I finally broke through the hundred barrier. The Bigby birding gods must have been with me this morning though as I broke through 100 birds in some style. Perhaps it was birding karma for popping out early to check and see if the pelicans had over-nighted at Salmon Creek (they had) in order to get a message on Genesee Birds to let people know they were still out there. As I pulled back into the drive this morning after checking the pelicans, I heard the distinctive grunt of Sandhill Cranes and low and behold there were two of them drifting over my head and out towards the lake – a great Bigby score!

I popped in and posted that the pelicans were hanging in at the creek and made myself the cuppa that I never quite managed the morning before, more on that story later, before popping out on the deck to drink it. The decision to go en plein air for the tea was an inspired one. As I stepped outside the racket that the blackbirds and starlings usually make cranked up about 100 decibels, and to my surprise a beautiful, crisply marked juvie Northern Goshawk muscled his way in and perched at the top of the tree right outside my house – simply incredible! A half hour into my morning and I had already spotted 2 pelicans, 2 cranes and a Northern Goshawk, that just gives you some idea of how good the birding at Braddock Bay can be!

I wasn’t finished with the excitement for the day, and still have to jot down some thoughts on yesterdays incredible hawkwatch, but for now those experiences can wait – time for another cuppa and to pop out and see what else I can find for my Bigby list!