Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birds and Vegetables

After reading a post on the CT bird listserv I headed over to the Stratford Community Garden to look for a bird that I had never seen before.  A Dickcissel is a House Sparrow-sized bird that breeds throughout the Midwest and winters in Central America.  Every now and then a few birds get turned around and head east instead.  A local Stratford birder had reported two at the community garden and I was lucky enough to find one!  A life bird!


Another great bird that was stopping by the garden was two Bobolinks.  Bobolinks are normal migrants through our area but they aren't as often seen as heard.  That's why I was excited to see these two.


Bobolink- notice the sharp tail feathers

One last little surprise was a Marsh Wren who was pretty elusive.  I heard a few short chip call notes and saw it hop up and down on some fencing but it never really came out into good view.  This was the best shot I got.... pretty sad.

Marsh Wren

I had another great day today in the birding world.  I joined the Sunrise Birding group led by Luke Tiller on a warbler walk and we were successful!  The best part of this trip was the first fifteen minutes when we found a little group of warblers, two of which were life birds for me!  Both a Prairie Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler were part of the group!  Not that they are unusual or even uncommon warblers, it just shows how much time I haven't put in to birding during migration.  No pictures this time but I'm sure now that I have seen them, they will show up everywhere.  Case in point, first great looks at a Wilson's Warbler (not a super common bird) was this week at work, my first CT sighting in fact and today we had two Wilson's Warblers in full view on our walk.  Oh Birds!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Yes That Many Hawks!

Last year at work my coworker Sue and myself took a two-hour break on a mid-September day to experience an amazing piece of natural history that's visible from many spots in Connecticut.  This time of year is prime time for the migration of Broad-winged Hawks.  These small Buteos breed all over the Northeast and begin a mass migration south every year at this time.  Our hawk migration last year was great BUT we realized quickly we needed to spend more time watching for a real idea of what was flying over.  So, this year we planned a full day to set up shop in the corner of a parking lot and count some hawks.  Luckily, the weather conditions leading up to the day and the day itself was perfect for Broad-winged Hawk migration.  Check out the results here.

Osprey: un-modified

For anyone who hasn't taken part in a hawkwatch, I wanted to give an idea of what hawkwatchers are looking at and how one goes about identifying the dots.  The first thing to do is prepare for a neck-ache.  We took out plastic Adirondack chairs that were slightly reclined so we could keep our eyes to the sky without having to get too sore.  But as soon as we see a hawk it's time to jump up quick and get ready to follow it with your binoculars.  It's not an easy task to identify a bird that can be thousands of feet above you.  The first step is to identify the silhouette of the bird.

Osprey: lightened to show plumage

This Osprey has a very distinctive shape with very long wings in relation to the body length. The wings are also fairly narrow and have a bend along the leading edge.  Osprey that are fairly close are also easy to distinguish with their strong contrasting plumage of light and dark.  Two other groups of raptors that are common at this time of year are the Accipiters and falcons.  These two groups are similar in size and both have long narrow tails but the Accipiters have broader wings with the back edge usually curved.  The falcons have pointed wings and the trailing edge of the wing is fairly straight.  Accipiters also fly by doing a few quick wing beats and then a quick soar.  Falcons tend to flap their wings for longer periods of time before gliding across the sky. 

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk: ventral view showing belly band

The group of hawks known as Buteos, like the Red-tailed Hawk above, tend to have fairly bulky wings and shorter tails.  They also have a bulky body appearance.  Often there are easy clues in the color of the plumage to identify the species.  Red-tailed Hawks are mostly pale below with a darker band across the belly and also a dark spot in the middle of the leading edge of the wing.  Red-shouldered Hawks on the other hand are identified by locating two pale crescents at the ends of the wings.

Kettle of Hawks

Here's what we really see though when counting hawks such as these Broad-winged Hawks that migrate at this time of year in huge numbers.  We look at behavior in most cases to get an identification of birds at this distance.  When there are that many hawks and they are all flying together and behaving similarly at this time of year, you can pretty much make an identification that they are Broadies.  But when we can get a little closer by looking through binoculars you start to pick up more features.

Broad-winged Hawk kettle

Now we can see that they are all about the same size.  They all have similar silhouettes and are flying in the same manner.  While it's easy to count when the birds are streaming, going over in one long stream of birds, it gets more difficult when they form these kettles where they are trying to use the thermals to gain altitude again. 

Broad-winged Hawks
 Finally, When we get a better look at a few closer up we can see that they are mostly white underneath with black fingertips on the wings and the trailing edge of the wing also has a black line.  Notice the strongly zoned tail with equal amounts of black and white.  Both of the birds above are Broad-winged Hawks, sometimes size is difficult to judge depending on how high up birds are and also, every species has variation in the size of individuals.  That's why as a hawkwatcher you have to look at a bunch of smaller characteristics to be able to finally make an identification.

In the end, all of our work was well worth it.  We had a great day outside and saw quite a few different species.  And it's great to hear people react... "You saw that many hawks, here?", when we tell them we saw over 1800 raptors in one day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sun, Wind, and Hawks!

I spent the morning with the Connecticut Butterfly Association members and other butterfly enthusiasts at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven.  We gathered this morning to tag some monarch butterflies as they migrate their way south to Mexico.  Monarch numbers were low but it was still an enjoyable time and the best part.... I just walked across the field and did some hawkwatching when we were done!

I didn't bring the camera because I figured I wouldn't need it since the hawks would be too high to get decent images.  For the most part that was true until the afternoon when a male Cooper's Hawk flew over our table, a resident Red-shouldered Hawk made a trip around the field, and an Osprey decided to fly fairly close and check us out.  We has strong winds today, almost making it chilly, but they were coming mostly from the East and not exactly the best for a hawkwatch.  I have no idea what total numbers were but here are the raptors I remember seeing, migrating or not.

Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
American Kestrel

I picked up a few ID hint/ helps but as one would expect...  I still need a ton more practice.  We are planning on doing a hawkwatch at work this Friday as long as the weather and winds look good for it.  With what we've seen around so far it should be great. For this past weeks hawks at work.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Baby Hawks

Cooper's Hawk- first sighting
I went over to lunch today at the roomies parent house in Orange, whose yard has many large spruce, hemlock, and white pine trees.  While sitting outside we had a number of hawks flying around the yard or sitting in the trees calling loudly.  At one time there were 2 hawks visible flying through the air, with up to four hawks calling.  I never saw an adult bird but here are a couple shots of the immature birds I did see.  Finely streaked chest, mid-sized bird, and rounded tail indicate it's a Cooper's Hawk (Accipter cooperi).

2nd bird

2nd bird- calling

Not a flattering picture but shows the tail feathers well!