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Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

‘Tis the season

Since we are now in the peak migration period for Broad-winged Hawks in the northeast, I figured I’d share some videos I took this afternoon at the Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch in Greenwich, CT (over 6000 were seen there today). Broad-wings migrate in large groups, often forming “kettles” of swarming, swirling birds. Quite a sight!

Make sure you watch FULL SCREEN in HD for maximum effect!



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Matinicus Rock, Part 2

(Be sure to also see Part One of this post.)

A spectacular Matinicus Rock sunset, with Moe's tower on the right.

If one visited Matinicus Rock during the day, finding evidence of Leach’s Storm-Petrels (short of checking burrows) would be hard to find. At night, though, Leach’s calls sometimes fill the air. We checked a plot of storm-petrel burrows on three occasions to assess the number of chicks fledged per nest (called productivity).

One night I walked down the boardwalk, recording with my phone. Almost immediately you’ll here a close storm-petrel, followed by some ones further away. Also notice a lot of Arctic Tern and Laughing Gull noise–and of course, the foghorn. Listen to some Leach’s Storm-Petrel calls.

The storm-petrel chicks are probably one of the cuter things in the world.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, Manx Shearwaters nest on the island in small numbers, too, making Matinicus Rock the country’s only known breeding location for these birds (there are more in the Canadian Maritimes and off of western Europe). We used infrared cameras to detect activity in possible shearwater burrows, but shearwaters could also be heard calling on dark nights.

One night, I recorded a Manx calling in the distance. The bird starts after the first foghorn blast (at about 0:09) and continues for six seconds. It sounds like low, deep, labored breathing. Listen to a Manx Shearwater.

An infrared camera in position above a possibly active burrow.

Terns, shearwaters and storm-petrels are not all that Matinicus Rock has to offer–in fact, it’s much better known to be an alcid island. Razorbills, Atlantic Puffins, and Black Guillemots all nest on the island in numbers.

One of many charismatic Black Guillemots.

A Black Guillemot chick!

A guillemot showing off its red feet.

A guillemot with a rock eel, a major component of their diet.

Common Murres, while not island breeders, often hang out on the north end of the island.

Razorbills, though, are one of the island’s most interesting colonial nesters. Unfortunately, they nest early, so by the time I arrived in late July the Razorbill chicks had all fledged. Luckily, many were still hanging around during that time, though they had all but vanished when we left Matinicus Rock in mid-August.

Razorbills congregated at sunset strip, these with some puffins and a murre.

The real stars of the island, though, were the Atlantic Puffins.

Puffin with a mackerel.

We tried to recapture a puffin with a geolocator that had been affixed last year--and, although he sat right next to our box trap, he never stepped up.

A few second-year puffins were around.

Part of the work we did with puffins was resighting their bands. This consisted of sitting in blinds and finding close puffins with visible bands–then reading and recording them to note puffin presence and movement.

We “grubbed” over 200 puffin chicks this year–that is, we took them out of their burrows to band. Grubbing is sometimes a challenging process, taking strategy, skill, creativity, and determination.

A puffin chick, just asking to be grubbed.

Grubbers, the tools of the trade. Each grubber (one small, four large, and one supergrubber) has a small hook at the end that we can snag on a chick's leg to coax them to within reach. Puffins' legs grow very quickly and are very sturdy; no birds were ever hurt during the grubbing process.

The monstrously long supergrubber comes in handy with those hard-to-reach chicks.

A three-person grub in progress. We got the chick.

Burrow 591 with chick, "General Santa Anna" (we name all the chicks), barely visible in the back. This would be a job for the supergrubber.

The "complex". Lots of chicks to grub inside!

Another successful grub in the works. I got this one in the end!

We found a couple pairs of small alcid wings on the island as well, having apparently been killed by a Peregrine Falcon, probably this past winter. The wing chord, at 114 mm, fits perfectly for Dovekie!

We did have a chance to go off-island for a boat trip. A great boat trip, as it turned out.

A group of Great Shearwaters.

Great Shearwater.

Northern Gannet.

We saw a number of jaegers from the island and a couple from the boat.

Our target--Troppy, the Red-billed Tropicbird! This bird has summered in the area for years.

Troppy flew right over us!

Common Eiders nest on Matinicus Rock in addition to the other seabirds.

Another great sunset from the Rock.

And on our last day, we were treated by a brilliant Prothonotary Warbler!

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Matinicus Rock, Part 1

(Be sure to also see Part Two of this post.)

I just returned from three weeks on Matinicus Rock, in Maine’s Penobscot Bay. About twenty miles off the coast of Rockland, the 23-acre Rock is home to a diverse array of breeding seabirds, including Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Arctic and Common Terns, and Leach’s Storm-Petrels. Matinicus Rock is also the only known breeding location of Manx Shearwater in the United States. I had the privilege of working with these species with others from the Project Puffin Seabird Restoration Program. It was a great experience.

Matinicus Rock is home to a historic 19th-century lighthouse and light tower, a boat house, and the one-room Audubon house. The house has no running water or plumbing–though, of course, there is a fast internet connection. Drinking water comes in jugs from the mainland, and there’s a rainwater cistern under the house for washing dishes, clothes and hands. Electricity good enough to power lights and small devices (no large refrigerators, for example) comes from a few solar panels out front. There’s a propane stove and small propane fridge. Oh, and the foghorn sounds every fifteen seconds and is loud enough to be heard for three miles.

The light house and light tower.

When I arrived on July 20th, tern work was starting to wind down. We stumbled across the occasional young chick, but the majority of the surviving progeny were approaching fledging age. Over 800 pairs of Arctic and 200 pairs of Common Terns were present on the island this year.

Common Tern. Notice the black-tipped long-ish bill, black cap with considerable white above gape, dark "wedge" in outer primaries due to molt, and lack of long tail streamers (all points to compare with Arctic).

Common Tern, again.

Commons also show a sizable black trailing underwing edge to the primaries.

When perched, the dark outer primary wedge is visible. One can easily see the newer, lighter inner primaries, and the older (4) outer primaries.

The size of the wedge can vary, though. This bird shows five dark outer primaries. Notice also the length of the tarsus (from the "knee" to the foot) on Common Tern.

Part of the tern work consisted of 3-hour feeding stints, during which we recorded all of the feedings that took place–including the time it occurred, the type and size of fish, which chick it was fed to, and which adult performed the feeding.

A tern plot. Each numbered stake corresponds to a nest, and (in most cases) a chick or two.

Common Tern carrying a mackerel.

Common Tern with a pollack.

Common Tern with a snipefish.

Common Tern with a sand lance.

Common Tern attempting to feed a butterfish--a fish that many chicks can't swallow. When butterfish makes up a large portion of tern diet, the chicks don't do very well.

Common Terns often dive-bombed us, while the Arctics were a bit less aggressive.

Arctic Tern. Notice the completely red bill, the smaller white space between cap and gape, and the long tail streamers.

Also notice the uniform upperwing on Arctic.

And, importantly, the thin trailing edge to the outer wing, instead of Common's thick edge.

Also see the short legs and the lack of newer primaries (Arctics always molt all their primaries before migrating north in spring).

Arctic Tern with a...larval lobster?

Juvenile Arctic Tern.

Young Arctics share the thin black trailing edge under the primaries.

And Arctic juveniles have light secondaries.

Common Tern juveniles are generally browner on top with more orange, larger bills, and darker secondaries.

(And, of course, the thicker dark trailing edge to the primaries.)

Also interesting were subadult terns. I noted a couple first-summer Arctic Terns (all in the inter-tidal zone), and several presumed second-summer Common Terns up in the colony, but I couldn’t confirm any were actually nesting.

First summer (second-year) Arctic Tern.

Apparent second-summer Common Tern--with white speckling in crown and remnants of a carpal bar.

A similar-aged Common Tern.

Another presumed second-summer Common with more white in the crown.

Sunsets on the Rock were spectacular, with each day a new variation.

Go to Part Two.

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Croton Cackler

Yesterday afternoon (2/27) I stumbled across a Cackling Goose at Croton Point in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. While this species is more regular in New York State to the southeast of Croton (i.e., Long Island), this is a fairly good record for Westchester County–there are no prior county records on eBird, and, as far as I can tell, only two previous official county records (both from 2007).

Cackling Goose (center) with Canada Geese. A much smaller bird overall, with a stubby beak, shorter neck, and lighter back coloration (hard to see in this photo).

I watched the bird from the south side of Croton Point Park, as it slowly swam west in Croton Bay with a group of seven Canadas. Hopefully, it reappears!

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A Three-Day Weekend

Thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I had no school yesterday (actually, I have no school today too because of the “snow”, so I guess that makes it a four-day weekend), and, of course, what better thing to do during long weekends than go birding?

On Saturday I went out to Montauk Point with a few friends, and despite the relative lack of activity out there, I thought we saw some great stuff. We had close views of many Razorbills sitting on the water at the point, plus 40 thousand scoters of all three species. At Camp Hero, we heard a probable White-winged Crossbill flyover, though we unfortunately couldn’t get eyes on it. At Culloden Point, on the west side of the Lake Montauk inlet, we found a second-cycle Iceland Gull, and at Lazy Point in Napeague, I spotted a young Northern Shrike perched on top of a nearby telephone pole–so I’m not complaining.

A poorly phonescoped image of the Iceland Gull.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike in flight

On Sunday, I couldn’t get out for some really intensive birding, but I did manage to pick up a new bird for my county–Northern Pintail–thanks to eBird!

Northern Pintail--so close, I couldn't fit its tail into the frame!

Then, on Monday, I took a trip down to Veterans Memorial Pier in Brooklyn to try and locate two Black-headed Gulls that have been there for weeks. We arrived relatively early (~8 AM), but there were only a few gulls actually roosting on the pier, and none were the ones we were after. However, there were hundreds of gulls in the water, so we commenced sifting through them, with a very cold wind buffeting us from, it seemed, all angles.

Adult nonbreeding Bonaparte's Gull

There were several Bonaparte’s Gulls around (like the one above), which look similar to Black-headed, but with some key differences. So when Jacob spotted a young Bonaparte’s with an orange-colored bill…it wasn’t a Bonaparte’s! This first-cycle Black-headed Gull gave incredibly close looks.

The Black-headed Gull showing its thicker orangeish-colored bill with a black tip--a key difference from Bonaparte's (above). This individual also has more extensive dark markings on its head than a typical Bonaparte's.

In flight, notice the prominent white wedge in the outer primaries (a FIRST-CYCLE Bonaparte's would show a lot more dark there).


Another view of the Black-headed Gull

There were also a few Purple Sandpipers scattered along the rocks. We took a couple breaks from watching the gulls to snap some photos. They were, interestingly enough, not very skittish.

Purple Sandpiper munching on some plant matter


Purple Sandpiper


Purple Sandpiper

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Apparently these Black-bellied Plovers and Red Knots can't read.

It’s 3:30 AM on January 1st, 2011, and my alarm clock is beeping. Two hours of sleep, not bad, considering the date. Time to finally start off the year right!

Fast forward an hour. I, with a few other intrepid birders, are on the way to the barrier beaches on the south shore of Long Island for the Southern Nassau County Christmas Bird Count.

5:32 AM. Our first stop is on the side of the parkway, with no other noises save for the sound of a jet overhead and the roar of the pounding surf not far away. We are looking for Barn Owls, which would be a good species for the count. The recording plays the unearthly screeching hiss of a barn owl…

Not far away, the answer comes, “CKSHHHHH!”.

My first bird of the year, a Barn Owl! Not bad…

We continue the rounds, finding no other Barn Owls on our pre-dawn circuit. An American Woodcock in the headlights makes for a great second bird, however.

It's dawn, and you know what that means: a seawatch from Jones Beach!

As the sun begins to rise, we head to the beaches. In the parking lot, five Common Redpolls fly over the car. Snow Buntings rattle as they whirl over the beach. There are all three scoters on the water, plus Common Eiders, Bonaparte’s Gulls and thousands of passing Dunlin.

On the way back to the car, these two Peregrines put on a show.

Some aspects of the birding are disappointing: as hard as we look, no Northern Gannets are to be seen from the beach. But other parts are great. American Bittern and Red-shouldered Hawk are great birds for January 1st, and Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Fox Sparrow, a Gray Catbird and a Swamp Sparrow aren’t bad for the side of the highway…

We saw 47 American Pipits during the count, including this one (from a flock of 20).


Northern Harrier

As the day progresses, we tick off most of the common species (one surprising miss is American Goldfinch!). A final search for Short-eared Owls as the sun sets proves fruitless, but it doesn’t dampen the mood–a great first day of the year!

A close Horned Grebe at Pt. Lookout, while we were looking at some Harlequin Ducks.

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Hi everyone. Sorry it’s been so long between posts, but I’ve been collaborating on a really cool event for next year.

It’s a yearlong contest called eBird-a-thon 2011, and it will take place in the eight NYC Metro Area counties: Bronx, Kings, Nassau, New York, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, and Westchester. Update: Now also including Rockland, Orange, Putnam, Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties due to overwhelming interest.

The goal of this contest is to submit both as many species and as many complete checklists to eBird as possible from your county, and winners will be decided by the existing Top 100 page at eBird, which keeps track of eBirders with the highest number of checklists and species in a given geographical area. The catch is that a person’s standing in the contest will be decided by both their rank in terms of number of species AND number of checklists, so it is important to work on both!

If the contest had been for this year, I would not have done so well in the standings for Manhattan. However, note the order of the top 3 based on species...

...and by checklists.

In particular, southeastern New York is home to a large concentration of birders who are already collecting invaluable data on a regular basis every time they go birding, and we’d love to see that information contributed to eBird (and through it, the Avian Knowledge Network) so it can be used in analyses of the birds we all care about and accessible to anyone.

Indeed, eBird grows more valuable and becomes a more complete representation of avian occurrences as more birders contribute to its database, which already numbers in the millions of checklists. In addition, it is an easy and powerful way to keep track of one’s personal sightings. Ebird uses a user’s submitted observations to generate an impressive amount of birding “stats”, from worldwide life lists to month county lists, all of which can be very useful.

A first, second and third place prize will be given out for each county, as well as cumulatively (adding up eBirders’ species and checklists from all eight counties). Prizes include subscriptions to Birds of North America Online and the CD Voices of North American Owls. In all, over $1300 worth of prizes will be given out at the end of 2011, donated by the Cornell Lab.

The only requirement to participate is a free eBird account–if you submit a checklist in any county listed above, you’re automatically in the running. If you don’t yet use eBird, try using it to keep track of your 2011 year list. Or, if you already do, perhaps attempt a big year in your county!

See the information and rules page (http://wp.me/PxRb4-vj).
Once the contest begins, standings will be available here (http://novahunter.blogspot.com/2010/12/nyc-area-ebird-thon-2011.html).

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