Quaker Sandhill Cranes

28 10 2011

Sandhill Cranes - Ken Mirman

After a steady day at the hawkwatch in which we tallied a nice number of Red-shouldered Hawks (69), we were treated to a late afternoon push that included bunches of Turkey Vultures, a Golden Eagle but best of all  a group of six Sandhill Cranes.

In 2009 we had a group of 5 Sandhill Cranes fly over Quaker, so for fun I checked back to see what day they appeared and bizarrely enough it was on almost the same exact day – October 29th (story here)!!!!! They were such a notable flock that they were tracked from Cape Cod, Massachusetts where they originated through Rhode Island, Connecticut and finally they were picked up on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border (a report from Georgia seemed less likely to appertain to the same group but was wholly possible).

This year there were again a group of Sandhill Cranes out in Wareham on the Cape and surprise surprise it seems like there were six of them (listserve note here on Cape Cod Birds). To me it seems wholly possible that the Quaker birds (depending on further reports from Wareham) may be their group of six birds. It’s kind of amazing and pretty damn cool that we had a large group head over Quaker Ridge on almost the same day two years later and that they may well be the same group of birds that originated in Wareham!!!!

If these are the Wareham birds does it mean they fly the same route every year in the same little window of days? It does boggle the mind somewhat and makes one really wonder about the incredible migrations that these birds undertake.

Thanks to Ken Mirman for the use of his shots.

Sandhill Cranes - Ken Mirman

Cool creatures and daring rescue missions!

25 10 2011

Star-nosed Mole - Luke Tiller

As a kid I had a book with “Incredible Animals’ from across the globe. The book was essentially a large format book with a picture of a cool animal on each page and a description of where it lived and other tidbits of basic information. Well today I finally saw one of the animals from that book in the shape of a rather awesome  Star-nosed Mole (Condylura cristata). You can read more about it on Wikipedia (here).

Star-nosed Mole - Luke Tiller

Whilst we were hanging out at the hawkwatch this creature suddenly appears and starts scuttling acoss the hawkwatch lawn towards the parking lot. Stefan Martin quickly ID’d it and we rushed to stay ahead of the mole and snap some photos of the cute little guy as he scurried across the tarmac. Anyway no sooner had I said ‘watch out and make sure he doesn’t fall down the storm drain’ when that’s exactly what he did.

Little did any of us know but these things are actually great swimmers, however it wasn’t going to help him climb up four feet of pretty bare concrete walls to get out of the drain.  With little fuss (and the grounds guy John on the way with a crane to lift the storm drain cover) hawkwatch fan and drain fisherman extraordinaire Orlando Hidalgo had reached in with a butterfly net that we had fetched and lifted the little guy out.

Star-nosed Mole - Luke Tiller

A really amazing looking creature and fascinating to find out about. Ted Gilman, the head naturalist here at Audubon Greenwich, filled us in with lots of cool facts about the little guy (including telling us how great at swimming they are) before we took him back to somewhere a little safer than the parking lot and let him go. Forget hawks, moles are much much cooler!

Late warbler push

19 10 2011

Nashville Warbler - Luke Tiller

Tuesday saw a fairly nice ‘fallout’ (for want of a better word) at Greenwich Audubon including a rather good collection of warblers (totaling eight species). As well as the expected Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers visiting birder Catherine Hamilton (blog here) and I also managed to pick up 4 or 5 Blackpolls, 1 Nashville, 1 Orange-crowned, 1 Black-throated Green (why couldn’t it have been a Townsend’s?), a handful of Common Yellowthroats including a stunning male and 1 Pine. Beyond the warblers we also had a House Wren or two and both Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Luke Tiller

It seems to have been a fairly weak and slightly more protracted migration this year than normal, with Chimney Swifts still passing the hawkwatch last Sunday, a mid-October record of Common Nighthawk and word from Shaun Martin (a hawkwatch regular) that he had a Wood Thrush in his grandparents yard just a day or so back.

Somewhere out there are still a host of  ‘northern’ birds that haven’t arrived at the hawkwatch yet including our first Golden Eagle, or a significant push of Red-shouldered or Red-tailed Hawks. I’m hoping that they are still out there and waiting to come through in Late October and early November and keep things exciting at the watch for the final month.

Orange-crowned Warbler - Luke Tiller

Anyway here are a couple of shots from the last few days in Greenwich including a rather poor record shot of at least one of the Orange-crowneds. Lets hope there’s more interesting birds to come. Today whilst running errands in downtown Port Chester there was an interesting warbler right there in the middle of town. I didn’t have bins unfortunately but it looked like a Baypoll/Pine type (probably was that Townsend’s knowing my luck!).

HMANA Article

19 10 2011

HMANA Journal - Luke Tiller

So excited that I finally got my name in print in a reputable birding journal. I just had a rather nice piece published in ‘Hawk Migration Studies’ Volume 37, No 1. The Journal of the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Kind of a nice story as the guys at HMANA picked up the article from my blog post about the Big Day that we had at Braddock Bay this spring. I enjoy writing a lot (although finding time and inspiration for this blog isn’t always easy) so it was really nice to realize that other people liked it too, especially as those people happened to run a really cool organization.

HMANA Journal - Luke Tiller

You can essentially read the article on my blog (here) but I would also encourage you to join HMANA as well. HMANA, as well as providing you with fantastic articles written by yours truly 😉 (beautifully illustrated by Shawn P. Carey’s stunning pictures), also run the hawkcount website (here) and provide cool online data such as the Raptor Population Index (here).

October is their fund-raising month specifically for the Hawkcount website. If you aren’t a member of the organization and you like hawks and hawkwatching (and like to scan through their information online) you should really become a member. If you are already a member of the organization maybe you want to consider a further donation to help fund the Hawkcount website and support it’s upkeep and improvement. You can find out more about the sponsorship opportunities (here).

HMANA Journal - Luke Tiller

As well as giving a shout out to HMANA I should also give a big shout out to Braddock Bay Raptor Research (website here). If I hadn’t been up at Braddock counting I would never have found the inspiration for the piece of writing. Braddock is really a miraculous place, a migration hotspot for birds of all shapes and sizes from giant Sandhill Cranes to tiny warblers.

Not only is the place amazing but the people up there are too. The whole organization is run by a fantastic group of volunteers, who use their time to invest heavily in the conservation, education message and scientific research that the organization undertakes. The rewards for their labor are the pride they have instilled in the area and the excitement their programs elicit in the local public.   You can keep up with their events on their facebook page (here).

Next year they have big plans for an expanded educational program amongst other things and I am really looking forward to going back up there to help them with that, as well as with the count. For me the educational part of hawkwatching is one of the most important aspects of carrying out a count and I am really looking forward to getting more involved in that next year.

If you want to support an excellent, small scale conservation, research and educational  organization I couldn’t find one I’d rather recommend. OK I may be a little biased but you have to trust me on this one, I certainly wouldn’t say the same for every organization I’ve worked for.

Red-shouldered Hawk vs Starlings

18 10 2011

Red-shouldered Hawk - Luke Tiller

Just thought I’d stick up this short collection of shots I got the other day of a Red-shouldered Hawk. It essentially spooked up a flock of European Starlings. Although small mammals are typical prey of these rather beautiful buteos, these birds do sometimes take small birds especially around feeders in winter and I guess the European Starlings recognized this bird as a threat.

Red-shouldered Hawk - Luke Tiller

Rather than really mobbing the hawk, the Starlings took the rather smart decision to try and stay directly above the hawk. Although more atmospheric than crisp shots I thought the snaps rather nicely illustrated a couple of the key identification fieldmarks of this species including the banded tail and the pale ‘commas’ on the outer primaries.

Red-shouldered Hawk - Luke Tiller

It also nicely highlights a regularly observed phenomenon in the world of raptor ‘dogfighting’. As with swallows and smaller raptors the Starlings having made the smart move of trying to climb up above the potential threat, to prevent the raptor launching a diving attack. Anyway I was pretty happy with how the shots turned out, hope you like them too.

Sunrise Bird Walk – October 8th

12 10 2011

Lincoln's Sparrow - Luke Tiller

Saturday I hit my old stomping grounds at Allen’s Meadows with a group of keen birders as part of my series of fall walks for Sunrise Birding. Upon arriving things initially actually appeared a little slow, and I wondered if I was going to be somewhat disappointed by my old friend. However perhaps the slightly quiet greeting was also due to a rather large Coopers Hawk that was making its presence felt by throwing its weight around in the community gardens area.

Things slowly heated up a bit though, with a couple of American or Buff-bellied Pipits (depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) putting on a rather amusing show as they hopped up on and walked along a nearby set of soccer goalposts. Allen’s really is a haven for open country birds like the pipit and every time I visit I give thanks that the town finally saw reason and decided that plonking a dog park on a couple of the few remaining acres of natural habitat wasn’t the smartest use of the space.

Sparrows are probably the main draw at Allen’s Meadows in fall and the walk saw a typically strong showing, with at least nine species of this family seen.  As well as all the expected species we also stumbled upon a Vesper Sparrow or two, which is one of the rarer regularly occurring species in the state. Allen’s seems to be as good a place as any to find Vesper Sparrows in the state and I always feel a little disappointed if I don’t come across one on a trip there in October.

Vesper Sparrow - Luke Tiller

As well as the expected and hoped for birds, as is so often the way Allen’s threw up an interesting bird on the day in the shape of a rather late Hooded Warbler that was picked out for the group by local birder Joe Bear.  It was a real surprise to stumble upon this stunning male warbler but a shame that it only put in the briefest (but definitive) appearance for everyone.

I have to say I rarely come away from Allen’s feeling disappointed and today was not to be an exception. As well as the relatively uncommon species we also had a nice mix of common birds including a rather beautiful male American Kestrel which put on quite the show as it teed up in a nearby pine. No overwhelming rarity on the day but you can’t have everything. Looking forward to heading back there at the end of the month with another Sunrise Walk and seeing if we might find something special then.

Swamp Sparrow - Luke Tiller

Trip List – 54 species as follows:

Great Blue Heron

Canada Goose

Turkey Vulture

Coopers Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel

Herring Gull

Great black-backed Gull

Mourning Dove

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Eastern Phoebe

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue Jay

American Crow

Tufted Titmouse

Black-capped Chickadee

White-breasted Nuthatch

House Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Eastern Bluebird

American Robin

Gray Catbird

Northern Mockingbird

Brown Thrasher

European Starling

American Pipit

Cedar Waxwing

Nashville Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Eastern Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Swamp Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinal

Indigo Bunting

Common Grackle

House Finch

American Goldfinch

House Sparrow


Shot of the day – October 4th – Eastern Towhee

4 10 2011

Eastern Towhee - Luke Tiller

Decided to just plant myself at the Teenage Woods wood pile today and this rather obliging towhee popped up. Thanks little buddy!