Eagles in Homer – The Daily Show

13 07 2009

Some cool footage and the piece made me laugh: helms—the-eagle-has-loitered I’d love to be able to get some shots with eagles like I did with my chickadees. It does make me wonder however why people who are interested in birds and birding always seem to be completely bonkers on TV – it certainly isn’t my experience within the birding community. Not that the mayor comes across particularly well – no comment on the standard of politicians from Alaska!!!! Shame they are stopping the feeding of the birds I would think it would make for a good tourist attraction.

Sunrise Birding Walk – Feb 15

18 02 2009

Another fun day out on the local walk. I arrived at Sherwood Island to hear the group declaring that there was a hawk stuck in the tree in the parking lot and asking whether we should get on the phone to a rehab specialist that I know. I could see the hawk was flapping around, but as I swung my scope into action to see what exactly the hawk was caught on, I realized it wasn’t caught on anything but rather was trying to get at something in a hole in the tree.

The Red-shouldered Hawk was flapping around the hole trying to get into it with his talons and then stopping every now and then to appraise the situation. It was amazing to watch and as the bird peered into the darkness, moving it’s head side to side to better appraise how to deal with the problem, it’s easy to see how they mold the actions of dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park when you see that kind of behavior. Eventually the bird lunged in and for a while it had the squirrels tail and was trying to yank him out using it’s beak ,but without much luck. As with most raptors the real strength lies in their talons and it eventually gave up on the meal and departed.

When I told my wife the story when I got home she said that she felt happy for the squirrel but kind of sad for the hawk as it was going hungry. I knew how she felt even though I am not a huge squirrel fan (especially when they wreck my feeders). It was an amazing episode to watch though and one of those incidents that you just feel lucky to stumble on.

It made me think of an incident a few years back at Sherwood when I had hiked in early to to be there at dawn and had seen a skunk scuttling back towards its daytime den. Spotting the mammal crossing open ground, one of the young resident Red-tails had noticed the seemingly easy meal and was swooping in for the kill. As I watched it close in on the skunk the skunk turned and gave it an almighty spray from its scent glands and the hawk visibly stalled in its attack path. The hawk recovered fairly quickly and renewed it’s attack but was met with another accurate burst and again it reeled backwards, after a third squirt the hawk quite obviously realized it had bitten off more than it could chew and decided to go look for a slightly more defenseless meal, at which point the skunk headed on it’s merry way home.  Apparently Great Horned Owls and Red-tails are the skunks most common predators. I would guess that the irritant factor (which can even cause temporary blindness) of the well directed spray was enough to deter this hawk. It’s these kind of fascinating things that you feel blessed to see when you are out in nature.

The rest of the walk was fun but with nothing Earth shattering in the way of birds. We had a couple of chipping Yellow-rumped Warblers that were new arrivals at Sherwood but probably weren’t early migrants but lingering fall birds that had wandered in from somewhere. The blackbirds however were migrating and those first flocks of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are to me the first real gauge of the beginning of spring. It’s a great moment when you get those first flocks winging their way north and as they move during the day, unlike many of their passerine brethren, they are a real visual sign of an exciting spring to come. Other highlights on the day were an adult Bald Eagle that I think Mike and Katie spotted first at Southport Beach and the regular (but still uncommon in North America) Lesser Black-backed Gull at Burying Hill Beach.

Post walk I stumbled upon a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a somewhat unexpected sound on a still cold February Day (listen here) and an adult Kumlien’s (Iceland) Gull at Compo Beach in Westport (see dreadful pictures below). It was cool to see this adult as I haven’t seen that many previously. Obviously with gulls structure plays a key element in IDing the birds and this one has the typical dove like rounded head, cute expression as well as the small bill and longish primary projection.

Trip List

Horned Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Bald Eagle, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Goldfinch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Common  Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, House Sparrow

Hudson River Eagles Trip – Feb 8th

11 02 2009

On Sunday my ‘local’ walk took one of our few forays out of Connecticut for a trip over to the Hudson River looking ostensibly for both eagles and owls. I had done a little scouting on Friday and had been happy to find a host of Eagles but to my horror the roosting site of some of the sought after owls had a gaggle of workmen hammering away at something underneath them. Seeing me peer longingly into the pines one of the workmen chirped up with a ‘not here today’ obviously knowing what I was searching for. I tempered my reply avoiding the ‘you don’t say’ and just said thanks and moved on, praying that they would have returned by the Sunday.

Unfortunately for the sake of the tour the owls had obviously had enough and although we found plenty of pellets, whitewash and other roosting owl detritus from two different species we struck out on owls for the day. It’s hard not to feel a little disappointment as a tour leader when a place that you know can be so wonderful doesn’t quite meet up with your expectations for the day, although I always try to remember what a good friend of mine always says: ‘if you want guaranteed bird sightings you are better off going to the zoo.’

We did however do fairly nicely when it came to Eagles on the day, finding birds at Croton-Harmon Station soaring around the now open water. Thanks to a big thaw and temperatures in the high 40’s on the day things were quite different than Friday although honestly it was a blessed relief after so many frigid tours of late.

I have lead tours on the Connecticut River and still volunteer for the CAS Eagle Festival (sadly canceled this year) and have seen multitudes of Bald Eagles in that time. However it never ceases to give me a thrill seeing these magnificent birds. What is best about seeing all of these birds is knowing that with the help of conservationists and environmentalists we have managed to drag this species back from the brink of destruction after the dark days of DDT poisoning. Best of all is seeing all the young birds that will go on to secure the future generations of this species (I remember talking to old hands who said the most depressing thing in the late 60’s and early 70’s was seeing how few young birds were coming through each year.)

We then moved on to Croton Point Park proper . The park is the site of an old landfill (now grassland) and juts out into the mighty Hudson. The scenery there is beautiful and the birding can be sublime (in previous years I have been there when Short-eared Owls in large numbers have been actively hunting the site by day). Things were a little quieter than I had hoped but we still managed good looks at a number of Harriers which we discussed identifying to age and sex. Highlight was a particularly co-operative Grey Ghost, probably one of the more beautiful and graceful raptors in North America. Unfortunately no sign of a Roughie which can often be found here.

Exploring the park a little further we stumbled upon a large mixed flock of finches, but as hard as we searched we couldn’t find an Redpoll amongst them. Other highlights were 4 or 5 eagles sat on the ice almost playing with a few large fish that had washed up out of the river. I guess they had been feeding pretty well recently as these situations often lead to some scrapping. We talked about aging the eagles (which can usually be safely aged although it is a little more complicated than some texts suggest) and when they reach sexual maturity (4 or 5 years). The other interest sighting of the day was the huge rafts of Common Mergansers sitting out on the Hudson, staging up for their flight north. There were at least a couple of groups of these glorious birds numbering in the hundreds and somewhat surprisingly almost all were males (probably trying to get a head start on the trip north to set up their territories).

To end the day we stopped over at George’s Island. This is a well known eagle roost and towards sundown one is almost guaranteed good sightings and good numbers of roosting Bald Eagles. We arrived  little early to find one adult bird sitting in one of the trees but we were not waiting long before there were five birds all in the air at one time. As birds flew in and began to settle in for the night two young birds put on quite the show – perhaps practicing their courting maneuvers for future years (see the atmospheric shots from Michael below), or maybe just having a little fun for the day. This sky dance was the perfect end to the day and although there were still Eagles drifting in as we left, everyone was desperate to go grab a warming bowl of soup and a cup of Coffee. We ended the day back at Croton more in hope than expectation that some owls might put on a dusk appearance but although the scene was set perfectly for them with a beautiful wintery full moon they just weren’t playing ball today.

Still a fun day out with lots of great people and it was great to catch up with some old friends and introduce some new ones to the site. The eagles were as fantastic as ever, although the supporting cast could have been better.  Next year it’ll be awesome there I am sure.