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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Gray Jay at Bigelow Road.

Ok, not really an adventure by some’s standards, but certainly an intense adventurous weekend…

The moment I was told that the NYS Young Birders Club was doing a field trip to the Adirondacks for Bicknell’s Thrush, I was in. Despite the very good chance of finding this very range-restricted high-altitude thrush that only breeds at certain locales in the northeast (almost all over 2900 feet), it was also chance to find more of the boreal birds. I’d been to the Adirondacks once before, this past winter, and I was itching to see what it was like with all the neotropical migrants (warblers, thrushes, etc.) around as well.

The only problem was that trip was just one morning. Anyone who has birded in this area knows there are TONS of great birding spots, and no one location has all the specialty birds that call these mountains home. The choice was clear: I had to find a way to go up for the weekend, not just one day. Luckily, Arthur, from a local Audubon chapter was able and willing drive for the weekend, and with my friend Ryan coming along as well we figured we could split the expenses between the three of us to make them manageable. A plan was soon developed — I handled the motel ($55/night ain’t bad), Arthur did the car rental (no one had a car in good enough shape with decent gas mileage), and Ryan…came along for the trip ;).

But enough background; on to the birds… We arrived at the Hawkeye Motel on Friday night (6/11), and discovered that it wasn’t half bad. Our only complaint was a faulty shower head, but $55/night for two nights split three ways — $40 per person — was worth it. In our first few minutes after arrival, we found Field Sparrow, Black-and-white Warbler, and Purple Finch. The restaurant we ate at that evening (“The Wilderness”) even had two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds coming to a feeder just outside the window, in perfect view.

Saturday

I had decided that Spruce Grouse was one of the birds we should try to get. A rarely-seen uncommon resident of spruce forests, this bird has been declining in New York, due in part to the fragmentation of its population into the small pockets of suitable habitat remaining in the Adirondacks. In order to maximize our potential for finding the bird, I planned morning stops to Massawepie Mire and Spring Pond Bog, perhaps the two spots most well known for the frequency in which grouse are seen. We planned to get to Massawepie around 6, which meant leaving at 4:30…which meant getting up by 4. The forecast was also foreboding. “Occasional showers in the morning developing into a steady rain during the afternoon” was none too promising. But we didn’t let it bother us. Up we got at 3:45 and we were out the door at 4:15. We picked up Greg, another young birder who was staying for the weekend, and headed west toward the Mire. No rain yet.

Unfortunately, it only took about 20 minutes for the first rain drops to fall on the windshield, and by the time we reached Massawepie it had become pretty steady. We needed to keep to the schedule to have time for everything, though, so we birded. Overshooting the trailhead by a mile or two didn’t help much (stupid GPS…but we did hear a singing Mourning Warbler), so we got started at the correct place around 6:20.

Grouse like dirt roads because they can dust in them, a cleansing behavior, but the roads were now muddy and we realized that our chances for Spruce Grouse were even slimmer. But there were many other birds to be seen (or at least heard). Palm Warblers lined the path, White-throated and Lincoln’s Sparrows sang, Eastern Bluebirds called, and Magnolia Warblers flitted back and forth. We also heard Winter Wrens singing their bubbly song. Little did we know we would tally more than 30 of these by the end of the weekend. Unfortunately, none of our target boreal specialties showed themselves (yes, we did go to the right spot). Plus, there were tons of biting insects out, even in the rain, and of course we were soaked. On to Spring Pond Bog.

A White-throated Sparrow at Spring Pond Bog.

The rain had abated considerably by the time we showed our pass (obtained from the Nature Conservancy) to the gatekeeper and rolled in to the preserve. We drove slowly through prime Spruce Grouse habitat with no luck, but we did find a Ruffed Grouse, and — finally — some boreal birds! Gray Jays and Boreal Chickadees both showed well, and we heard, but did not see, the two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers. Other breeders such as Blackburnian and Nashville Warblers, Hermit Thrush, and Olive-sided Flycatcher were around as well. We spent around three hours total at Spring Pond Bog, but we frustratingly could not find the actual bog path! It was very annoying, but we managed okay anyway, leaving with many new birds for the day (and lifers for some).

My lifer Yellow-bellied Flycatcher!

We stopped quickly at a Stewart’s in Tupper Lake for lunch and made a beeline for Paul Smiths VIC (Visitors Interpretive Center). Adirondack Park is five million acres, so it’s understandable why so many of the birding places are spaced out. Still, drives of 30-90 minutes between birding stops were a drag, even if unavoidable. We arrived at Paul Smiths after checking two spots that had been suggested to us for Black-backed Woodpecker (guess what: nothing). While on the Boreal Life Trail we heard the distant drumming of a woodpecker that seemed consistent with our recordings of Black-backed, but no one knew for sure and we never saw it. On the way back Greg was almost assaulted by an angry Ruffed Grouse mother protecting her young. It charged him, tail up and wings held outward, and then scampered into the woods to draw our attention away from its family. We left the area quickly to avoid further disturbance. An unforeseen plus was a Northern Saw-whet Owl nest box I had just found out about the day before. Unfortunately, it seemed the young were fledged, but just to make sure we whistled and played a bit of the call. Just when we were turning around, we heard the unmistakable “toot toot toot toot…” of a saw-whet many meters down the trail. We debated searching for it, but Greg thought it would be a bad idea to risk exposing the bird to the Blue Jays that were around. We agreed, and returned to the car.

Boreal Chickadee at Spring Pond Bog.

It was mid-afternoon (around 4 pm), and with only 2 hours to go before we were due in Wilmington, we upped the pace. (more…)

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Burden Preserve is a fairly new park, owned by the town of New Castle. The first time I’d been there was this past Sunday, and boy, did it exceed my expectations. Both Hooded Warblers and a Kentucky Warbler were singing full steam, even at mid-day, and the habitat was excellent (despite tons of barberry).

Today I went back, itching to try out my new camera lens. Unfortunately, no Kentucky this time, but the Hooded did sing a few times, and there were other cool birds to see…here are a couple pictures:

This Ovenbird sang out in the open for us!

My first decent look at a Black-billed Cuckoo. A terrific look, too...

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This weekend I was up in Cornwall, CT. I had entered a few of my bird photos in a photo contest at the Goshen Fair, and my photo of a Rufous Hummingbird (right now the banner at the top of the page) one first prize in the youth animal category!

Beautiful Cornwall, Connecticut. (Taken with a cell phone camera.)

Beautiful Cornwall, Connecticut. (Taken with a cell phone camera.)

I also got some birding in. Many migrants were about, and here’s a summary of the highlights:

The best birds were two Olive-sided Flycatchers passing through on their way south (only seen during the migration season). One sang a few times (the mnemonic is “quick, three beers!”).

Olive-sided Flycatcher in Cornwall, CT.

Olive-sided Flycatcher in Cornwall, CT.

8/7 – 6 Eastern Bluebirds (a few juvis), 5 Pine Warblers foraging low in an apple tree with the bluebirds and singing a couple times.

One of several migrant Pine Warblers I saw in Cornwall.

One of several migrant Pine Warblers I saw in Cornwall.

8/6 – 2 flyover Common Mergansers, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Pine, Black-and-white Warblers, Redstarts.

8/5 – Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, molting male Scarlet Tanager.

8/4 – Parula and 30 Common Nighthawks.

After that, I convinced the family to make a detour on the way home to Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, CT to see a rare Northern Wheatear that just so happened to show up in the area. Once we arrived, thanks to directions posted to the email list, we found the bird on a fence being watched by some birders in their cars. A very nice treat.

A Northern Wheatear at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, CT.

A Northern Wheatear at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, CT.

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Jones Beach West End

Jones Beach West End

This morning, I left to meet Brendan at Jones Beach State Park around 8:30, meaning I had to wake up at 6:30 (get dressed, washed, eat at 7, leave by 7:30). After birding the Coast Guard station for about an hour, we had seen a lot of the usual stuff, including Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers, both Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants, Common Terns, and a pair of Greater Yellowlegs. A nice treat was a flyby Black Skimmer, a state bird for me. Also present were two Blue-winged Teal, very uncommon at that location according to Brendan.

A White-rumped Sandpiper at the swale, Jones Beach, NY.

A White-rumped Sandpiper at the swale, Jones Beach, NY.

After that, we crossed over to the actual beach part of the park. The bugs were incredibly annoying. Not just mosquitoes, but these tiny little black insects that would cover your arms and bite you if you weren’t careful! Nonetheless, the highlights there were White-rumped Sandpipers, Piping Plovers, two Black Terns, and four Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Sanderlings were everywhere! Flocks of several hundred passed us on the beach, and the shore was just covered with them, with some peeps and Ruddy Turnstones mixed in.

One of two Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Fort Tilden, NY.

One of two Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Fort Tilden, NY.

After departing at 11:15, I made a 40-minute detour to a location where two Buff-breasted Sandpipers were reported the previous day. Brendan warned me not to get my hopes up, but sure enough, there were two juvenile birds almost exactly where they were described in the post! After getting satisfying pictures of each, I headed home.

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(Left to Right) Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper. The bird in the back may be another White-rumped.

(Left to Right) Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper. The bird in the back may be another White-rumped.

During the past few weeks I’ve been to Jamaica Bay three times. I saw some great birds there, including American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Pectoral, Western, White-rumped, and Stilt Sandpipers, Red Knot, Black Tern, Tricolored Heron, the list goes on and on. Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in Queens, is a major stopover point for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. During migration you can see thousands of shorebirds on the East Pond. At Jamaica Bay, rarities are pretty common.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Today, a (if I do say so myself) perfectly timed visit in between bouts of rain provided a new bird, an American Golden-Plover! Not a super-rarity, but they don’t show up in large numbers in the northeast. This bird can look a lot like a Black-bellied Plover, but it is smaller overall, has a smaller bill, more attenuated shape, a more defined cap and supercilium (line above the eye), and in certain plumages appears darker overall compared to Black-bellied. I am happy to say that I found and ID’d this bird all by myself (there was no one else on the pond besides my dad and it hadn’t been previously reported). It feels good to find good birds!

My life American Golden-Plover, found and ID'd by me!

My life American Golden-Plover, found and ID'd by me! The darker bird in the center behind the Black-bellied Plover. This was digiscoped (taken through a spotting scope), and I'm not too good at it, so the quality is pretty terrible..

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On a tip-off from a friend of mine, I ventured up to Simsbury, CT (2+ hours away, near Hartford) for my second attempt at seeing the pair of Mississippi Kites that have nested there for the past couple of years near Great Pond State Forest. These birds normally spend the summer in the southeastern United States, but in the past few years have pushed northward and nested in a number of northeastern states. The last time I went up, I ended up looking out over the Great Pond, watching Red-winged Blackbirds and Great Crested Flycatchers. Now, mind you, there’s nothing wrong with those birds, but I wanted to see a Kite!

This time, I had an advantage – the exact location (which will remain nameless) of the very snag the adults like to hang out at! Upon arriving, I wasn’t exactly sure where to look, and it took about 15 minutes for me to look up and see the Kite right there, on a dead snag! It allowed for another 20 minutes or so of study before flying off. Lifer!

Mississippi Kite perched on a dead snag.

Mississippi Kite perched on a dead snag.

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No, this is not photoshopped.

No, this is not photoshopped.

The last major stop on our trip was the Grand Canyon. Besides breathtaking views and superb hiking, the Canyon is one of the last holdouts of the highly endangered California Condor. Just about all of the 150 condors left in the wild were bred with help from a captive breeding program, which was started as a last resort when less than 10 condors remained in the wild (late 1980s I believe). As of now, the ABA has not officially recognized Condors as having a self-sustaining population, so it is not technically countable. But, who cares about countability? The California Condor is the largest flying bird in North America!

In order to get some looks at a Condor or two, I decided to do some hawkwatching (naturally).  After getting comfortable at Lookout Studio on the South Rim, I met some birders from the UK who had just come from Southeast Arizona. They knew about the Solitaire :).

After a couple hours of waiting and watching many Turkey Vultures and Common Ravens, one of the UK birders spotted a Condor way out. It flew closer and just about overhead, and was joined by another. After they passed, the birders left. As it was getting late (5:45pm), I left as well, and started walking the rim with my family. Suddenly, more Condors appeared out of nowhere – I counted SIX, maybe seven! They put on quite a show, circling over my head and eventually gliding down into the canyon and out of sight.

Here are some pictures I got.

This Condor decided to circle not 75 feet above me!

This Condor decided to circle not 75 feet above me!

Two Condors doing some acrobatic flying above the canyon.

Two Condors doing some acrobatic flying above the canyon.

Some more acrobatics.

Some more acrobatics.

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