Saturday, January 29, 2011

Some work birding in the snow

Some of my latest bird sightings:

We've been getting huge flocks of American crows here for the last couple of winters; these crows were photographed right across the street from my work. I wish I'd captured the flock of probably 200+ swarming in the air, along with a Red-tailed who swooped through the flock and disappeared; I wasn't fast enough with the camera. Still, I got some good pictures despite the overcast sky. I like that bird on the right in the second photo; it looks like he's strutting.

Another day, I saw this bird, which I'm fairly sure is a Common Raven. I was flying down the highway when I passed him and he looked so huge I was sure it was a raven and not a crow:
He was absolutely HUGE, and I'm pretty sure I captured the "Roman nose" here. I didn't get to see him fly so I could check out the tail to make sure. Note the snow in the photos. Could someone confirm crow or raven?

I also saw another Rough-legged Hawk:The other photos I took were terrible; he was a dark-morph, so about all you can see is his little beak. Rough-legs are everywhere around here this year! Today, a local listserver posted seeing seven!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coming soon: another trip to Texas!

One of my resolutions this year was to see my family more often than I used to, so I booked my first trip to Texas this year: March 4-12. It'll be a bird-heavy trip too, of course; I'm flying into Austin and then Mary and I will drive to the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday the 5th. Mary already made hotel reservations at the same good place we stayed at in Weslaco last year, so we're both totally pumped!
this image "borrowed" from here

We'll spend Sat, Sun, Mon, and Tues birding at various locations around the Valley; I'm hoping to go to Bentsen, maybe even the upper Valley/Falcon Dam area. We'll also stop in Kingsville to see our brother Ricardo and his kids, and maybe some more birds there. You know I will be meticulously planning and getting lists and freaking out in Excel spreadsheets for the next few weeks!

I'm getting even more excited just thinking about all the sorting and formatting!

On Wednesday morning, we'll drive up to San Antonio and I'll spend the rest of my trip with my parents and my sister Raquel and her daughters. There will most definitely be some Scrabble death-matches and lots of Mexican food!

I'm so excited about the trip--family and birds, who could ask for anything more!?

Well, actually, I could. AB can't come on the trip, at least she doesn't think so at this point. She's on a big push to do her comps right now, so that's got to come first. Still, we're already planning to go down there for Christmas! So you can bet there will be some Christmas birding and sight-seeing, but I sure am sorry she won't be on this trip.

So--until then, prepare to read ad nauseum about this trip! And if any of you is sitting there thinking, "gee, I'd love to see the Valley with some real live Valley girls!" now is your chance! Let me hear from ya!

Monday, January 17, 2011

More raptors!

On my way to work this morning, I managed to see a bunch of raptors near this farm by our local state correctional institute, Rockview State Prison. I even got pics:
Am I correct in saying that this is a Rough-legged Hawk? I'm amazed by how tiny his beak is.

I also caught the bird in flight:This hawk was unlike any I'd ever seen. I first thought it was a dark-morph Red-tailed, but it didn't have a red tail! I pulled over as best I could to get these photos, and luckily there was a bit of scrubby hillside to hide behind while I shot. Hawks are so twitchy; usually I pull my car over and by the time I grab the camera, the hawk has seen me and flown the coop. Today, I had a little better luck.

I also could've sworn I saw a Golden Eagle, but this is the only shot I got, and it's probably just a Rough-legged:I know it's awful, but here's the thing: I saw those little "windows" (like you get with a juvenile Golden) on the wings, both from below and above, and you can see there's clearly a white patch on the right wing of this bird. It also has the up-turned wingtips of a Golden, and the white stripe on the tail. He had a lighter brown on his nape, but also on the front of his neck too, and the wings are in more of a dihedral than my guide shows they should be for a Golden. Still....

This bird also did something that I thought only American Kestrels could do: it hovered in a fixed position in the air. It would hover for a few seconds, flap a bit and drop closer to the ground, then hover again, then flap and drop a bit again. It did it for probably a total of ten seconds. It was amazing! Of course, I was so busy being amazed that I didn't take pictures of that.

So all you raptor experts out there, please tell me - is there any way I saw a Golden Eagle this morning?
UPDATE: I'm told that hovering is a Rough-legged specialty, and that I most certainly saw and photographed a Rough-legged here. That's okay -- still a lifer!

Meanwhile, back to the Rough-leggeds. I also saw this bird:

I'm assuming this is a Rough-legged too, but it's obviously a different bird from the first one I showed you. Note the crazy neck/breast coloring, and the dark patches on the undersides of the wings in the flight photo. He looks like he's wearing a scarf.

One more raptor:I was looking at this one and thinking "Red-tailed belly band but look at that reddish streaking and how dark he is--rough-leg?," and just then he lifted himself into the air and flashed a Ron-Weasley-red tail, of which I (sadly) did not get a photo. I just never get tired of Red-taileds.

My bff Gretchen, who moved back to town Saturday -- YAY! -- and Laura and I went to try to see some Rough-leggeds and a Short-eared Owl that are supposed to be appearing almost nightly down by Huntingdon yesterday, but we only saw a young Northern Harrier hunting the grassy fields. No owl. I'm glad I ended up getting a Rough-legged though, for lifer number 289!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Raptor Day

I decided to spend the morning driving around looking for raptors and Horned Larks, and I was rewarded on both counts. The low light and heavy cloud cover made photos fuzzy, but I did manage to snap some decent shots:
This Red-tailed Hawk flew right over me, crying that awesome scream; it was a tear-inducing moment.

I wandered over to Penns Valley, my old stomping grounds, turning onto good old Kline Road and discovering this:
This adult Bald Eagle wheeled over me too, though he didn't scream his wimpy little call, nor was there a Hollywood foley artist dubbing a RTHA cry over it.

The American Kestrels were everywhere. Here's one in mid-hover:

Then perched:
I just love AMKEs.

UPDATE: Forgot to add my terrible Horned Lark photo:I chose to post this one not because it was any sharper than the others but because I caught two birds in flight.

My full list, including where I saw each bird:

Bald Eagle 1 (chased him from Kline Rd in Penn Hall, along Penns Creek Rd, up to Beaver Dam Rd)
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 (near Williams Rd)
Red-tailed Hawk 4 (3 along 220, 1 near the Baldie)
American Kestrel 5 (near Shingletown on Rt 45, Paradise Rd in Penns Valley)
Mourning Dove 30 (Airport Rd)
American Crow 70 (all over the place)
Common Raven 1 (flying along Rt 45 near Old Fort)
Horned Lark 20 (Williams Rd, Old Fort. People have seen at least one Lapland Longspur here lately, but I didn't see one)
Black-capped Chickadee 6 (everywhere)
White-breasted Nuthatch 2 (Indian Rd. in Penns Valley)
European Starling 20 (flocks on Airport Rd)
White-throated Sparrow 1 (Indian Rd)
Northern Cardinal 2 (Airport Rd)
House Sparrow 10 (Airport Rd)
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(

Monday, January 10, 2011

Help Wanted

Photos by my sister Mary, taken in Virginia over Christmas:

Wanted: experienced bird ID expert to help with this (probably oh-so-easy) identification! My first thought was female bunting, probably Indigo, but I'm just not satisfied that's right. Click on the pics to make them huge.


UPDATE: John from DC Birding Blog mentioned my other thought, Eastern Towhee--the shape is a dead match--but the coloring is so subdued, and there's no white on the belly. Sibley shows the male and female towhees with darker brown/black plumage, darker orange on the sides of the belly, and white on the belly itself. Is this some sort of pale juvenile?

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 in Review

Vermillion Flycatcher, seen at Santa Ana NWR, Texas

Thanks to eBird, I can now do a year-in-review of everything birdy about my last year!
I was lucky enough to be in Cape May for this
autumn's record-level migration fallout in October

Number of species: 199, 54 lifers
Number of different sites birded: 27, in 3 states (PA, TX, NY)

Species list:
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Muscovy Duck (Domestic type)
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Mallard (Domestic type)
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Wild Turkey
Common Loon
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Gray Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson's Plover
Black-necked Stilt
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
American Woodcock
Wilson's Phalarope
Bonaparte's Gull
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Caspian Tern
Rock Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Common Nighthawk
Common Pauraque
Chimney Swift
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Couch's Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike
Blue-headed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
Green Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Common Raven
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Purple Martin
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Carolina Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Black-crested Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Curve-billed Thrasher
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Canada Warbler
Olive Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
American Tree Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Great-tailed Grackle
Altamira Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Purple Finch
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow
some wonderful bird behavior, seen at
Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas

I also added some great bird books to my collection, including my Sibley's field guide, a biography of Roger Tory Peterson, some birding basics guides, a Maine birds guide, and more. I'm up to 288 lifebirds, with photos of 204 of them.

I'm hoping for some more birds this year, with a planned trip to Texas. Who knows where else we might go or what the year may bring.

Here's to good birds, good friends, and good times.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Christmas Bird Count highlights

I went on my first Christmas Bird Count today, with my old atlassing buddy Roana and another birder named Jen. We got 32 species and a lifer!

Now the picture's not very good:but our view of this Northern Shrike was. That's number 288, for those of us who are counting!

Our complete list:
Great Blue Heron 1
Canada Goose 40
Hooded Merganser 10
Red-tailed Hawk 6
Ring-billed Gull 5
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 5
Northern Flicker 12
Blue Jay 16
American Crow 15
Common Raven 1
Black-capped Chickadee 13
Tufted Titmouse 7
Red-breasted Nuthatch 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 1
Eastern Bluebird 24
American Robin 8
Northern Mockingbird 2
European Starling 57
Cedar Waxwing 27
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
American Tree Sparrow 10
Song Sparrow 2
White-throated Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 22
Northern Cardinal 6
House Finch 15
American Goldfinch 24
Northern Shrike 1
Merlin 1

Some real surprises, especially the Yellow-rumped; Ro told me that a few hang around here all winter, as long as it's not too cold, but I was surprised. It was also nice to see some Hooded Mergansers in the only small area of the lake that wasn't frozen. This pic's not too good either:
It was really cold; I was in Boston from Thursday night until last night and it was downright balmy there, in the 40s. I thought it was going to be warm here too, but I was wrong! A cold front blew in and the temps went from chilly to COLD. I was tough, though, as was this Ring-billed Gull:He was walking around on the frozen lake like a professional skater.

Speaking of skaters, the Skaters' Pond looked really weird:The lake's been drained (it's basically a manmade overflow channel to capture floods from local rivers; they drain it way down in the winter to make room), and this little pond had only a bit of a water, which froze in these strange shapes.

One of the House Finches was rather a strange shade of red, more like an orange:and it wasn't just the lighting. He was different from the other males. It was almost like the color on a Golden-fronted Woodpecker.

I got a better photo of a Blue Jay than I'd gotten before:

The park is frozen over, but there's still plenty of predators and prey; here's some evidence of both:Coyote(?) poo with lots of little bones. Squirrel? Bunny? We were on a mission, so I didn't get to examine too closely. Dangit! I should've taken a sample in a baggie or something! Something else to add to the Bad-ass Birding Bag kit.

I liked being a part of a big survey project again; since the breeding bird atlas work was finished a couple years ago, I've missed that sense of birding with a larger purpose. I can't wait to move back to the country, once we leave PA for AB's internship year (2012). The first thing I'm going to do is set up bird feeders and do Project Feederwatch again. What a blast!