Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Snowy Owl

There has been a large influx of Snowy Owls in the Northeast this year.  Since I have started birding again in a real way, about the last five years, we haven't had a decent showing of Snowy Owls... until this past week.  By the way, it's a lifer.  After a couple of reports of Snowy Owls seen in CT, one was close enough to make a run for.  So in the middle of the afternoon, I booked out of work for an hour or so and headed to Milford Point.  It was worth it.

Light might not be the best and led to a very soft image when in conjunction with my crappy lens.  But a record shot it is.  I was lucky enough to see another one about a week later in the same area but obviously a different bird, being very dark.  This one I believe was called a female, I have no skill in figuring out the difference.  I'm just glad that they are here and I hope I have another chance to get out and take a bit better of an image.  As I got to this point, at the boundary where the US Fish and Wildlife Area began, the bird seemed to be paying more attention to me and so I snapped a few quick shots and backed up so as not to spook the bird.  Not everyone is as accommodating, on Sunday I even saw two men walk through the off-limits area to go around the other side of that bird to get closer.  I heard that the bird left shortly there-after. 

The map above illustrates locations of all the spots where Snowy Owls have been seen in November and so far this December.  This data was pulled from eBird a website where everyone can participate in a citizen science project that collects sightings of birds all over the world. 

Without actually downloading data from eBird and creating my own maps,  the above is the total number of reports for Snowy Owls from Nov-Feb for the past 5 years.  While this is influenced by a lot factors (ie. number of people birding, ease of birds visibility, and number of reports); it's more an illustration of the chance of seeing one.

Here's the same data BUT from the 5 years previous.  aka.  2004-2008.  It looks like the last big year for Snowies in Connecticut was 2008 the winter before I started birding again.  There's lots of great ways to look at birds sightings and distributions on eBird, like these two graphs from the website.  Go check it out and submit your observations!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not so Big Year- 2012

For the year 2012, I engaged in a friendly competition with my friend Heather from Oregon.  As I've mentioned in the blog before, the rules are simple.  Each of us would make a state list for our respective states for the year.  Birds seen or heard within state lines during the year could be counted.  Now for how the year shook out.

Heather and me! - Oregon circa 2010

I started the year with an attempt at a Big January but stalled out around 60 species.  I continued to slowly make gains during the cold winter months, tacking on wintering ducks and the odd gull.  By the time spring rolled around I had managed to scrounge up 95 species. 

American Wigeon- Stratford

Spring migration came fast and walks around work led to quite a few warbler sightings.  I should have spent more time finding more migrants but work got in the way a bit.  Still, I managed to get my year total up to 160 species by the time birds quieted down onto breeding grounds for the summer. 

Cerulean Warbler- Kent

The end of summer began the beginning of fall migration and the chance to get more migrants.  A couple of out-of-towner species made for an interesting list; Lark Sparrow, Sandhill Crane, and American Avocet.  I ticked off another 20+ species before heading into the final push of the year.

Savannah Sparrow- Stratford

With one month to go, I focused my efforts on the irruptive species that had moved into the state from the north because of poor seed crops.  As the month pulled close to the end, I knew I could hit 200 species and used my week of vacation the last week of the month. 

Pine Siskin- Yard Bird

White-winged Crossbills- Madison

I did a good job of trying to keep track of the birds I saw but even in the last few days of writing this blog I had to do some cleaning up.  The result... I thought I had breached the 200 mark but I failed.  I counted 199 species on the year.  If you are a real stickler... I only had 198.   Booo.  Maybe I'll have to make a run at 200 for 2014.  Why only 198 and not 199, you may ask.  That all comes down to the Trumpeter Swan...  Some people say that all the Trumpeter Swans we see are from an introduced population in New York.  That's a whole debate I'm not getting in to and you (or Heather can decide.).  Here's my list. 

The List (alphabetized by common name):
1. American Avocet
2. American Black Duck
3. American Coot
4. American Crow
5. American Goldfinch
6. American Kestrel
7. American Oystercatcher
8. American Pipit (last bird of the year)
9. American Restart
10. American Robin
11. American Tree Sparrow
12. American Wigeon
13. American Woodcock
14. Bald Eagle
15. Baltimore Oriole
16. Barn Swallow
17. Barred Owl
18. Belted Kingfisher
19. Black-and-White Warbler
20. Black Scoter (life bird)
21. Black Tern
22. Black Vulture
23. Black-bellied Plover
24. Blackburnian Warbler (life bird)
25. Black-capped Chickadee
26. Black-crowned Nightheron
27. Blackpoll Warbler
28. Black-throated Blue Warbler
29. Black-throated Green Warbler
30. Blue Jay
31. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
32. Blue-headed Vireo
33. Blue-winged Warbler
34. Boat-tailed Grackle (CT first)
35. Bobolink
36. Brant
37. Broad-winged Hawk
38. Brown Creeper
39. Brown-headed Cowbird
40. Bufflehead
41. Canada Goose
42. Canada Warbler (life bird)
43. Canvasback
44. Carolina Wren
45. Cedar Waxwing
46. Cerulean Warbler (life bird)
47. Chestnut-sided Warbler
48. Chimney Swift
49. Chipping Sparrow
50. Clapper Rail
51. Clay-colored Sparrow
52. Common Goldeneye
53. Common Grackle
54. Common Loon
55. Common Merganser
56. Common Nighthawk
57. Common Raven
58. Common Redpoll
59. Common Tern
60. Common Yellowthroat
61. Cooper's Hawk
62. Dark-eyed Junco
63. Double-crested Cormorant
64. Downy Woodpecker
65. Dunlin
66. Eastern Bluebird
67. Eastern Kingbird
68. Eastern Phoebe
69. Eastern Screech Owl
70. Eastern Wood-Pewee
71. Eurasian Wigeon
72. European Starling
73. Field Sparrow
74. Fish Crow
75. Fox Sparrow
76. Gadwall
77. Glossy Ibis
78. Golden-crowned Kinglet
79. Gray Catbird
80. Great Black-backed Gull
81. Great Blue Heron
82. Great Cormorant
83. Great Egret
84. Great-creasted Flycatcher
85. Greater Scaup
86. Greater White-fronted Goose
87. Greater Yellowlegs
88. Green-winged teal
89. Hairy Woodpecker
90. Hermit Thrush
91. Herring Gull
92. Hooded Merganser
93. Horned Grebe
94. Horned Lark
95. House Finch
96. House Sparrow
97. House Wren
98. Indigo Bunting
99. Killdeer
100. Lark Sparrow
101. Laughing Gull
102. Least Flycatcher
103. Least Sandpiper
104. Least Tern
105. Lesser Black-backed Gull
106. Lesser Scaup
107. Lesser Yellowlegs
108. Little Green Heron
109. Long-eared Owl
110. Long-tailed Duck
111. Louisiana Waterthrush
112. Magnolia Warbler
113. Mallard Duck
114. Merlin
115. Monk Parakeet
116. Mourning Dove
117. Mute Swan
118. Nashville Warbler
119. Northern Cardinal
120. Northern Flicker
121. Northern Gannet
122. Northern Harrier
123. Northern Mockingbird
124. Northern Parula
125. Northern Pintail
126. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
127. Northern Waterthrush
128. Orchard Oriole
129. Osprey
130. Ovenbird
131. Palm Warbler
132. Peregrine Falcon
133. Pied-billed Grebe
134. Pileated Woodpecker
135. Pine Siskin
136. Pine Warbler
137. Pink-footed Goose
138. Piping Plover
139. Prairie Warbler
140. Purple Finch
141. Purple Martin
142. Purple Sandpiper
143. Red Crossbill
144. Red-bellied Woodpecker
145. Red-breasted Merganser
146. Red-breasted Nuthatch
147. Red-eyed Vireo
148. Red-shouldered Hawk
149. Red-tailed Hawk
150. Red-throated Loon
151. Red-winged Blackbird
152. Ring-billed Gull
153. Ring-necked Duck
154. Rock Pigeon
155. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
156. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
157. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
158. Ruddy Duck
159. Ruddy Turnstone
160. Rufous-sided Towhee (Eastern Towhee)
161. Sanderling
162. Sandhill Crane
163. Savannah Sparrow
164. Scarlet Tanager
165. Semi-palmated Plover
166. Semi-palmated Sandpiper
167. Sharp-shinned Hawk
168. Short-billed Dowitcher
169. Snow Bunting
170. Snowy Egret
171. Song Sparrow
172. Spotted Sandpiper
173. Stilt Sandpiper
174. Surf Scoter
175. Swamp Sparrow
176. Tree Swallow
177. Tufted Titmouse
178. Turkey Vulture
179. Veery
180. Virginia Rail
181. Warbling Vireo
182. White Ibis
183. White-breasted Nuthatch
184. White-crowned Sparrow
185. White-throated Sparrow
186. White-winged Crossbill
187. Wild Turkey
188. Willet
189. Willow Flycatcher
190. Wilson's Snipe
191. Winter Wren
192. Wood Duck
193. Wood Thrush
194. Yellow Warbler
195. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
196. Yellow-crowned Nightheron
197. Yellow-rumped Warbler
198. Yellow-throated Warbler
199. *Trumpeter Swan

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

West Trip part 2

Where was I....

After my conference in Rapid City , SD, I again met up with the leader from the bird field trip and he graciously offered to chauffeur me around for another day of birding.  While in the field trip we were limited by the preset route; now we could go anywhere and had already done the Black Hills before.  So, this time we set out to do the lowlands with a quick stop at the base of some hills where Pinyon Jay had been seen before.  We lucked out for Pinyon Jay but did have a nice bit of activity.  Black-billed Magpie, House Finch, and Cedar Waxwings were all moving around the pines. 

My bird host Gene at our first stop

From there we headed out into the agricultural areas and to a seasonal pond.  We got lucky with water and birds. 

Seasonal pond- American Avocets and such..

The most important for me was Wilson's Phalarope (lifer)!  Not a great picture but it will work. 

Wilson's Phalarope

While staring at the pond there were a couple of Upland Sandpipers that let me know, they would rather I got back into the car and leave them ALONE!

Upland Sandpiper
While distracted by me the Uppies didn't pay attention to the real threats and one almost 'bought the farm' when this guy showed up....

Red-tailed Hawk
Fly away Upland Sandpiper!!!

Luckily, the Red-winged Blackbirds were there to help chase the Red-tailed Hawk away. 

Call me weird but I did get a couple of life birds on my trip that I didn't want.  (What????).  Not being a huge 'lister' I'm not compelled to see every bird possible at every spot.  And the truth is there are just some birds I want to see at home!  These are the few that aren't everywhere in CT but can be found on random occasions.  And they are birds that seem to be avoiding me.  One of these species flew across our path while heading through a little wooded area near a farm.  It was a Red-headed Woodpecker (lifer).  But since we saw another one too I guess I can't complain too much.  No picture because they really are bad.

We decided to head east a bit but on the way this eagle caught our eye.  We never got close enough for good looks or photos and this is about the best.  We called it a Bald Eagle but now I begin to wonder....  What do you think?

The eagle:  Bald?  Golden?
Once we made it out to the east of Rapid City, we poked along in some more fields and enjoyed quite a bit of nature, not all birdy either.

Thanks to the fences and fence posts, we did get some fantastic views of Horned Larks...

Horned Lark
Lark Buntings (lifer).....

Lark Bunting
and Grasshopper Sparrows!

Grasshopper Sparrow
Probably the cutest stop of the day was as we headed back into town, right after we almost made a Gray Partridge (lifer) road kill around a bend in the road; we found a nice colony of prairie dogs (awww)

Black-tailed prairie dog
Do you kow what will reuse prairie dog holes?  That's right Burrowing Owls. (awww how cute!)

Burrowing Owl

And what trip to South Dakota would be complete without a picture of pronghorn antelopes. (ps... they aren't really antelopes) 

The un-antelope antelope..  Antilocapra americana 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cackling Goose

I have started thinking about getting the next installment of my west trip from the summer together but I thought I would write a quick post about a fun bird I had the other day.  I am one of the volunteers who counts migrating hawks, vultures, and raptors in general at the Boothe Memorial Park Hawkwatch in Stratford (CT).  While I was at the count this past Sunday we had a group of Canada Geese go overhead.  While counting the individual birds one stuck out as being significantly smaller.  There's a lot of talk about how to identify Cackling vs. smaller subspecies of Canada Goose but this bird, all by itself in size, must be a Cackling Goose.  If you want to read more about the different subspecies and idenitifcation tips for Canada and Cackling Goose, check out David Sibley's blog post:

Here's my goose.

What do you think?  

Friday, August 9, 2013

West Trip part 1

I recently ran into a birder friend who quickly chastised me for not having blogged in awhile.  (Thanks Jeff!)  And it inspired me to pull out the keyboard, dust off my thumb drive, and see what I could come up with.  As of late, I haven't been doing a whole lot of birding around town and had no idea what to even blog about.  Then I had an epiphany (more like I had a moment of stupidity before becoming normal again), I just went birding out West!!

So without further ado, here is the first installment of a likely three part series of blog posts on birding the middle of the country.  To be more precise, it will cover two days of birding in South Dakota outside of Rapid City and then a few random shots from travels through North Dakota and Montana. (Ok it was a little more ado).

Mid-June I set out for a day on a birding field trip with other conference attendees.  One of the perks in working in natural history is that you do fun field trips at conferences like that.  We headed into the Black Hills-

That's what a trail looks like in the Black Hills.  I have previously mentioned to the leader, one of my target birds, and we spent substantial time trying to chase it down.  Here's what the nest looks like-

Know what the bird is yet?  Welllllll it's gray and brown and likes to hang out in streams.....

It's an American Dipper!  We found a few adults although none were willing to let us get close enough for a good shot.  I'll take it all the same.  I did get a couple of other life birds as well..  Here's one of those-

This male Black-headed Grosbeak was standing guard over his lady as she sat on a nest a few feet off of a well travelled path.  Almost every stop we made had either Black-headed Grosbeak or Red-eyed Vireo singing.  Luckily, even the vireos cooperated with an ok picture-

Probably my favorite stop of the day was up on top of a hill on the side of a dirt road.  There wasn't a huge showing of spectacular birds or anything it just had a cool feel to the place.  I think it has something to do with the pine trees.  We did see some Chipping Sparrows and an American Crow but they aren't in this picture-

Let's see, life birds on the day for me included:  American Dipper, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-naped Sapsucker, Mountain Bluebird, and Western Wood-Pewee.  I really wanted Pinyon Jay and Lark Bunting but we got skunked.  Check in for the next installment to see if we found them on a day of birding post-conference.   Here's a cute little Veery that popped out to say 'Hi!' to us. 

Ooops almost forgot about the FUNNEST part of the day.  A thunderstorm came through but instead of soaking us with water, it covered everything in a layer of hail!.

And one other lesson I learned... when trying to decide where to go, just ask the Western Meadowlarks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ode to a

I've been in Florida for a few days and got out to do some shorebirding this morning.  I was hoping to find my Piping Plover that I found two consecutive years in a row, check it out in this post.  I arrived at Bunche Beach while the tide was  fairly low but it meant less birders around and better opportunities to get closer to the birds.  I didn't find my banded bird but I did find a couple of others.
Banded Piping Plover

I'll send in the sightings to the USFS and hopefully will get some more information on when they were banded and where. 
A different banded Piping Plover

One of the issues with birding today was the five Bald Eagles that were moving around.  Every time the eagles took off, the shore birds would all take off too.

One of the Bald Eagles on the beach

LIFE BIRDS.  First up is this Snowy Plover.  I was looking at a Piping Plover and noticed this smaller lighter bird behind it.  The second thing that caught my eye was the gray legs.  Going back and checking the field guide all the characteristics were good for Snowy Plover.  A life bird!

Distant look at the Snowy Plover

As the tide chased me in, I turned and saw this bird; slightly larger than the Piping Plover, darker, and strongly banded.  A Wilson's Plover!  Another life bird!  The Wilson's is not infrequent to this beach according to what I've heard, I just keep missing them. 

Wilson's Plover

Here's another shot of the Wilson's Plover.  I was so focused on the Wilson's that I didn't notice the Snowy Plover in the background until I was looking back over my photos.

Wilson's and Snowy

Here's a few more birds for the day.

Marbled Godwit

Semipalmated (?) and Least Sandpiper

Black-bellied Plover
Oh I guess I should write a poem about plovers now....
When talking of Plovers, where to start
Bodies so small and eyes so wide
They've stolen my heart
while I was watching the tide.
I got drawn in by the one with bands
Two years in a row she said Hi
On the beach of white wet sands
But alas it seems she's gone for her final fly.
I know, I know... I'll stick to my day job. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Birds? What birds?

The emails keep coming in about some amazing birdy visitors to my lovely state and I have seen only a few.  I haven't been out birding since the beginning of the year and I don't plan on starting till it's warm.  I'm in hiding!  Fortunately for the few blog readers who keep checking out my pages, I will be heading south to some warm weather and birds.  So, be prepared for some posts coming your way.  Oh and I have a post that's been in draft for a couple of months so I'll add pictures and post that tooo.