Big January – Additional Photo’s

11 02 2009

It seems like the story of this years Big January was the story of winter finches rather than rarities. It’s been a decent couple of years for them with Pine Grosbeaks, Redpolls, Red Crossbills and Bohemian Waxwings evident last winter and this winter the tale has been of Pine Siskins (sometimes in their hundreds at feeders), White-winged Crossbills and a smattering of Redpolls (I even got lucky enough to add them to my yard list).

The first sign of Pine Siskins were massive movements tallied at hawk watches across the state in fall, however it appeared as if a second major push occurred in winter, bringing many thousands of these birds into the state and onto peoples feeders. The other major flight this year was of White-winged Crossbills. Although much harder to come across these birds have been reported up and down the state and have probably been no easier to find than at Sherwood Island State Park (where Renee took the attached photo).

It was cool to stumble on these flocks myself and to get to see them happily feeding and chirruping away to each other – like many of their northern brethren they seem to often have little fear of your average birder and on one occasion at Sherwood they allowed me such close approach that I could have almost just reached out to grab one.

Annette sent me this cool picture of a Crossbill at her feeder, a pretty rare occurrence for a bird that tends not to regularly frequent them (although I have seen a few feeder pictures of this species this year). My guess would be that lone birds are more likely to approach a feeder especially if they have joined a mixed flock that is using them.





Owl Prowl – Additional Photographs

26 01 2009

Here are a couple of great additional pictures from the Owl Prowl taken by Steve Ballentine on the day.  Thanks again for sharing them Steve.





Sunrise Bird Walk – Daytime Owl Prowl Jan 24

25 01 2009

What no owl? - Luke Tiller

What no owl? - Luke Tiller

Another weekend, another wonderful birding trip. This was my first attempt to run an owl prowl for Sunrise and it turned out to be a very successful day (even if I say so myself). Part of the problem with owls is that personally I believe one needs to be almost hyper sensitive of their needs as they can ill afford to be expending extra energy. Raptors have a hard enough time in winter as it is and birds that are roosting during the day should be left as undisturbed as possible. At the same time it is nice to show people these birds as they are highly appreciated and often they are difficult to find even when you know where and how to look (part of the trip was an attempt to help people decide where to look for and what to look for to find their own owls in the future).

In the event we managed to get good looks at 3 species of owl and best of all it was all done by a very respectful and appreciative group.  I specifically picked public places to look, where the appearance of a few birders wouldn’t make any real difference to the birds usual routine. Highlights of the trip were obviously LONG-EARED OWL, GREAT HORNED OWL and BARRED OWL. The Barred  in particular gave us a great demonstration of how hard these birds can be to find even when you know where they are, as it finally revealed itself to us after we had walked underneath it a couple of times (as had numerous dog walkers, dogs, hikers etc).

There is something still kind of mystical and magical about owls and I love to see them although I do it  rarely (doing some scouting I found a few other owls but most were too flighty, in too vulnerable positions, or just simply too far from the route to share with a group). Sometimes I think the impression is on CTbirds is that there is an in clique of birders that share these sort of sightings, but in my experience there really isn’t. I generally do not share any owls I find and at the same time I pretty much expect the same from my birding friends. Even when I get a tip off about an owl I generally don’t follow up on it as I don’t want to disturb the bird, and for me the real thrill is finding ones own owls. That moment you suddenly stumble on one is quite unbelievable.

I remember the first time I found a Saw-whet, I looked under a tree and found some pellets and expected as usual to look up in the tree and find it empty but to my surprise there the a bird sat winking down at me. A fantastic experience that will stay with me forever. It is that experience that you want to share with people, but at the same time you are always drawn in the other direction of leaving the bird alone to just get on with its life without disturbance.

On the trip I also mentioned the dangers of getting too close to owls especially when they are nesting. Highlighting this was British bird photographer Eric Hosking who famously lost an eye whilst trying to photograph a Tawny Owl (a member of the Strix family which includes Barred, Spotted and Great Grey in the US). He basically became famous after that attack and his autobiography was amusingly titled ‘An Eye for a Bird’.

Of course checking pine stands in winter you are always likely to turn up some other goodies. Highlights included a small flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, PINE SISKINS – almost ubiquitous this winter (I checked online and it is estimated there are as many Pine Siskins in the US as there are Goldfinches so it’s no wonder they appear to be so many in these big incursion years), BROWN CREEPER, MERLIN, 31 BOAT-TAILED GRACKLES and GLAUCOUS GULL (obviously not in a Pine Stand!!!).

A nice day out shared with old friends, some new faces and some amazing birds. Saturdays really don’t come much better. Thanks to everyone for coming and to Shaun Martin and AJ Hand particularly with help locating a couple of these hard to find birds.

Trip List

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brant, American Black Duck, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Turkey, Dunlin, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Downy Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Brown Creeper, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin House Finch, American Tree Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, DE Junco, Boat-tailed Grackle, White-winged Crossbill, European Starling, House Sparrow