Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Greenwich Christmas Bird Count

On Sunday the 20th, I joined Ted Gilman, the head naturalist at Greenwich Audubon, and two Connecticut young birders for the Greenwich/Stamford Christmas Bird Count. A storm had put 6-8 inches of snow on the ground, and delayed our start by two hours. Still, we were there, if late.

After looking at the feeders and some bird specimens at the audubon center, we headed to Pheasent Hollow, some sort of gated community next to the audubon center.

On the way I spotted a Kestrel diving at a group of juncos, and we stopped frequently to count the flocks of juncos and robins. When looking at a small group of Red-winged Blackbirds, a Brown Creeper appeared on the tree beside us.

As soon as we got out of the van at our destination, Ted called "eagle," as a flock of geese, a red-tailed hawk, and the eagle all flew by in different directions. Everyone ending up looking at the birds that weren't the eagle thinking that they were, but I think I got a momentary glimpse of it.

Proceeding up the hill, we began to notice a large number of turkey vultures flying by. One came within 15 feet of us. When its a sparrow or gull 15 feet away, its not too amazing. But when the bird has a 5-6 foot wingspan, it is pretty cool. Then a Black Vulture flew by, and we realized that the birds in the trees on the other side of a small depression and stream were all vultures.

This photo doesn't do it justice, but here is what the trees looked like. Each black spot is a vulture, and this is only of portion of the number of birds there:

When we got closer we could see that the vultures were eating a dead deer. Again, terrible photo, but the group on the right is on the carcass. Our final tally was 45 turkey vultures, 3 black vultures.

The other two birders had to leave soon, but Ted convinced them (without any difficulty) to stay to look in a hemlock grove where there had been a barred owl at some point. He warned us that it flushed easily, and that many times all he had seen was a dark, large shape flying away.

On the way into the grove we found a couple American Tree Sparrows, my first of the winter. We slowly walked into the clump of trees and began searching. Nothing.

Then Ryan (one of the CT young birders) saw something and pointed quickly as the owl, only visible as a large bird, flew away. I caught a glimpse. The others missed it. If we had not been very lucky, that would have been it. But we were very lucky, and the owl landed in a tree, somewhat distant but still easily visible. It surveyed the area with dark eyes, at one point glaring directly at us, before flying off into a more distant grove. Wow.

The others had to leave, but after lunch Ted and I went to a country club nearby to look for rusty blackbirds, my longtime nemesis bird, and others.

The birding was a bit slow until we reached the farthest point from the parking lot, where a small stream ran though the woods- perfect rusty blackbird habitat. We were probably standing on a green, but the snow made it impossible to tell. There we found tree and song sparrows, and a group of bluebirds. Then the blackbirds flew in, foraging in the stream practically at our feet. A great way to get a life bird.

There are Rusty Blackbirds in this photo, I swear. I just can't really find them.

A swamp sparrow popped up, and the bluebirds flew back and forth frantically to get our attention: "Look, we are blue! Bluebirds! They're brown. You can barely tell them from grackles! What are you looking at them for?" I imagined them saying.

I left with a life bird, my first Christmas bird count done, and the certainty that I will do it again next year, and the year after that, and after that...

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Brief Book Review- Kingbird Highway

In the same vein as my previous posts, I am ignoring the long posts that I should be writing in favor of a shorter one. I got Kingbird Highway as a gift for Christmas, and was done by the next day.

The book, written by the expert birder and field guide author Kenn Kaufman, relates his "big year," in which he hitchhiked across the country to try to see as many birds as possible, at hotspots from Dry Tortugas and Key West to Gambell, Alaska and the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound.

The descriptions of two of the birds seen at the latter two are incredible- Sky Lark and Ivory Gull. (Out of the golden mist behind me came a bird the color of deep snow, the color of distant icebergs..., The bird sang from a stage of immense proportions, sang as the soloist before the orchestral growling of the surf...)

I don't have too much to say about it except that it is really good. If you are reading this blog, you should read this book. If you aren't, you still should read it, but I can't do anything about that.

All weekend birding, I kept hearing Rowlett's Owlets not calling from one tree, but after reading it, I knew that they were actually not calling from a completely different tree. (See, a joke you would understand if you had read the book. Yet another reason to do it.)


Happy Holidays, And a Quick Quiz

I have two posts I have to write now, but not the time or the photos to do it. Therefore, here are a pair of photos taken yesterday at Duxbury Beach, MA.

Try to:

a) Find the Bird(s)

b) Identify the Bird(s)

c) Figure out how many birds are in each shot

d) Comment below with your answer

Shot 1-

Photo 2-

Good Luck, Have a Happy New Year, and I'll post the answers at some point.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I am planning on a Christmas bird count on sunday and maybe some owling on saturday, but its going to snow. 8-12 inches predicted by sunday here in NY.

To prepare, I stocked up :-) ...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Its getting colder...

...but the birding is getting better.

Today I went to the Edith Read Sanctuary in Rye, NY. The sanctuary is right behind a large amusement park, and can only be accessed through the parking lot. There is a large lake on one side of the road and the long island sound on the other. The lake is known for wintering ducks, such as canvasbacks and scaup.

We (that is to say, my dad and I) stopped there first, and scanned. Bufflehead, DC Cormorants, and Mallards were common. There were two american widgeon as well. A Canada x Snow goose hybrid was also interesting. Then I spotted a group of scaup.

Scuap ID is tricky, to say the least. One bird seemed a fairly easy greater. Greenish gloss, forward peak on the head. The other male had purple gloss and a slightly differently shaped head. As close to a definite lesser as I'm ever going to get. I counted it. Life bird.

A red-tailed hawk perched in a tree right next to the nature center. There was one there last february too. Maybe the same bird. This guy was not going to move just because a couple of birders walked by his tree. We got amazing looks. Reddish tail, talons, piercing brown eyes, and all.

Reaching the sound, we stopped and scanned. I spotted a cluster of blobs moving on the rocks pretty far offshore. We moved closer, and got the view of behavior and silhouette that clinched the Id- my life purple sandpipers.

No one has ever been astounded by how purple these sandpipers are, and no one ever will be. They are most definitely gray. They are pretty cool birds though. And tough. That water was freezing, and they were on slippery rocks partially submerged in it. They must have some seriously warm feathers.

Back to the name. Rock Sandpiper, the western version, is well named. So I propose changing the purple sandpiper to the Atlantic Rockpiper, and the Rock Sandpiper to the Pacific Rockpiper. The sand part is a misnomer too. Hence the Rockpiper label. It's perfect.

After pausing to look at the hawk, who was still in the same place as before, we departed.

Before today I had not seen a lifer since September 26. Not a bad way to end a drought.

Below: Purple Sandpiper. Photo from Wikipedia.

Oh, and for anyone waiting for a follow-up on that owl- We missed it. I will try again when the long eared owls arrive, and get 2 species in one trip. At least, that's the plan. It won't work though. They hate me.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Whooping Crane Shot

^^^^^Read the Link first^^^^^


Some conservation efforts involve people who like animals but need to make money, and stuff like that. Compromises are necessary.

Others involve an idiot with a gun and an urge to kill one of the rarest and most beautiful animals in the country (or even the world.)

That one crane is the same fraction of the total population that 12 million people would be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

With snow predicted for tonight and a saw-whet owl expedition planned for tomorrow, my winter birding has officially begun!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Geese are Smarter than People

Above- Shore park brant near sunset.

My local waterfowl spot in winter is Shore Park, a small grassy area with a playground that borders the long island sound on two sides. I have found 9 species of waterfowl there, including all three mergansers and a Black Duck x Mallard hybrid.

So I was slightly worried when I saw the column in the local paper claiming victory in the war against the geese. There are large flocks of canada geese and brant that reside at the park, and most people (birders excluded) don't like them. True, the grass is constantly covered in droppings, and I can see how people might not want that, so the efforts were probably justified. The town bought some sort of lightbulb thing that was installed at knee-height, and is supposed to look like light reflecting off the eyes of a predator. This would make the geese uncomfortable, and they would not sleep there.

I was a bit concerned that the light would drive off all the other waterfowl too, which would make a waterfowl spot somewhat useless (the whole lack of waterfowl thing). I shouldn't have worried.

The first time I biked down this winter, it seemed as though the light was working. That didn't hurt the birding any though. Shore park was completely goose free, but the neighboring yard was covered in geese. I bet the people who owned that house were a lot less amused by that than I was.

The second time I checked, it seemed as though the town was wrong. The park did not actually have any geese on it (they were in the water), but it was again covered in droppings.

I have to look again sometime, but it seem like the geese have the upper hand here.

An imagined converstion between two geese:

Goose 1- Hey, that coyote still hasn't moved.
Goose 2- Yeah, its been in that exact same spot for 3 months.
Goose 1- Pretty stupid coyote. You think it's dead?
Goose 2- Maybe. Lets check it out.
Goose 1- Wait! That's a light! Not a coyote.
Goose 2- Wow. You mean we've been avoiding that place for months because of a light?
Goose 1- Well, at least it's not a coyote. We can go back there now.
Goose 2- Nice.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Looking Foward to Costa Rica

This February, I am going with my family for ~10 days to Costa Rica. As many birders know, Costa Rica is a birding paradise. And though, unfortunately, the primary focus of the trip is not birding, I have been able to work a few stops into the itinerary and am hoping for some great birds. Some stops at Savegre Mountain Lodge, Carara NP, and Monteverde Cloud Forest should get me good numbers and great sightings.

To assist in id'ing the many (850+) bird species that live in costa rica, I purchased the field guide shown above, and have been reading it almost constantly since I got it.

The birds of costa rica include dazzling tanagers (speckled, emerald, red-legged and green honeycreepers), awesome hummingbirds (violet sabrewing, black-crested coquette, fiery-throated hummingbird), bizzare or unique species (sunbittern, three-wattled bellbird, bare-necked umbrellabird) and some of the most beautiful birds in the world (lovely cotinga, quetzal, scarlet macaw), as well as the usual tropical contingent of manakins, parrots, motmots, euphonias, and toucans.

Jealous Yet?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sign of Winter

I just put up my bird feeders again this week and already have a couple juncos. Juncos, which spend the cold months of winter here but summer in Canada, are a sure sign of winter.

The winter finch forecast doesn't look great, but winter birding is still really fun. Cold, but fun.

Below- My feeder setup. See the juncos?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Comments Welcome

By now my hits counter has reached 160, so at least some people have to be looking at this blog. I even have huge numbers (1) of followers.

Anyway, there have only been 4 comments ever posted on this blog. Of those 4, 3 of them were me. I am looking for input on the blog, etc.

So, feel free to comment on any posts or anything about this blog.

Just to start off with a couple (hopefully) comment-getting questions:

What is your favorite bird? (A simple question to start off) Mine are Northern Gannets, though if I see a sunbittern this February in costa rica it will jump to the top.

I am going to Costa Rica in February. Has anyone ever been? Any recommended spots?

Who uses a spotting scope? What is the price range? Any recommendations?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Greenwich Cranes

(from Wikipedia)

I headed over to Greenwich Hawkwatch to try for a golden eagle today. I failed, but saw some better birds, as well as the usual hawks.

Raptor Highlights: A few harriers (my favorite raptors), lots of red-shoulders, a kestrel, bald eagle, many coopers hawks and sharp-shinned hawks.

Also, a few migrating common loons were interesting. A skein of Canada geese numbering almost 190 birds flew over as well.

The best birds were two large birds that one of the hawkwatchers picked up over the nature center. There had been 5 sandhill cranes flying over earlier in the week, so he quickly realized that that was what they were. We all watched them fly by for a couple minutes, before disappearing.

Cranes are very unusual on the east coast north of Florida, so to have 7 in one week at one spot it remarkable. These 2 brought the year total for greenwich to 9, possibly a record. Very cool to see them there.

One last thing- did you notice how I titled this post. "Today...". Not "In August...", or "Last year...", but today. That means that I am finally caught up on my blog posts. YES!!!

Eamon Corbett

Edit: I also had a pileated woodpecker flyby- my first outside of Florida.

Shorebirding at Jamaica Bay

Over most of August, I had been planning to go to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, in NYC. The east pond there is one of the best spots to see migrating shorebird in the northeast. Rarities are expected every year. The shorebird section of my life list was a bit thin, so I figured that I could get 4-6 lifers in one trip.

Unfortunately, actually getting that one trip was tricky. I opted out of a NYS young birders' club trip there in favor of a weekend at the beach. A missed text message would have given me another opportunity. August ended without a JBWR trip. Still, I wanted to go. So finally, on September 13 (2 months ago by now), I got there. I'm glad I did.
The first stop was halfway up the east pond. There, I saw Parulas, yellowlegs, shovelers, and teal. On the way back, I found a northern waterthrush, peregrine falcon, and palm warblers.

A drive and then walk, which was somewhat lengthened by a wrong turn, brought me to the northern shore of the east pond. There, I saw why everyone I talked to said to bring boots. I was glad I had listened to them. The mud there is deep, sticky, and muddy.

One of my target birds was the pair of american avocets, which are unusual on the east coast but had been seen there recently. They were a few steps down from the start of the trail in the middle of the "pond"(really a area of wet mud), in a group of canada geese. Awesome. Lifer #1.

I continued down along the pond, spotting lesser yellowlegs and least sandpipers, and navigating the trecherous cove, the muddiest part of the trail. Soon after that, I found a pair of birds that I realized were stilt sandpipers, another target and lifer #2. A single little blue heron was also present, along with some forster's terns.

I reached another birder with a scope, and he helpfully pointed out my life pectoral sandpiper. A red knot in the same flock of birds was also a lifer. I missed the long-billed dowitcher that was in the same flock when a merlin spooked all the birds. After a couple more minutes, I had to leave. It had been just 30 minutes that I was on the east pond, and I saw 4 life birds. This really shows how great Jamaica Bay is for shorebirds.

And maybe next year i'll go in August.

Eamon Corbett

Monday, October 26, 2009

Race Point Pelagics

A non-birding trip from my beach house to provincetown, on the tip of cape cod, brought me to race point beach. I had been reading the reports of hundreds of shearwaters being seen there, and there had even been a sabine's gull the previous day. My expectations were not for hundreds of anything or any rarities, but I thought that I might see a couple birds.

From the visitor's center, I could scope a greater shearwater and lots of terns. Some were probably roseate, but I still can't tell them apart, especially from over a mile away. Still, the shearwater was my first from land. A whale was spotted, right next to a whale watch boat, but I didn't see it.

I hurried down to the beach, and set up my scope.

By the way, my scope is not great. It is a $60 scope on a $15 dollar tripod. It has gotten me some cool birds I wouldn't have seen otherwise (Barnacle Goose, Harlequin Duck, etc), but in terms of magnification and quality, it isn't great.

As a result, I didn't get great looks at any of a couple shearwaters that flew by. But I had had my great shearwater looks in July (see earlier post), so it was no problem.

My dad spotted a bird flying fast toward us. Really fast, with really strong wingbeats. Gull size, chasing a tern. Any guesses?

Yep, it was a jaeger. And luckily, it was a light adult, so id was not impossible. Too dark for long tailed, to small for pomeraine. Long, pointed central tail feathers. Parasitic Jaeger. Lifer.

In an amazing display of acrobatics, it and the tern dove, spun, twisted, and did pretty much everything to get away or keep up. I'm not sure who won, but I think it was the jaeger. It flew off and landed on the water, next to another bird. The second bird- my second ever jaeger. I can only assume it was parasitic. I didn't get a good enough look to be sure.

Really awesome birds.

A close up seal was the next prize, and we headed home.


Oh, and I realized why there hadn't been hundreds of shearwaters, etc. That report had been from 5:30 in the morning. I prefer my method.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Supurb Summer for Birding- Part 2- Wild Dove Chase

(from www.birdfinders.co.uk)

Another Friday, another Friday Morning Birders trip. This time, we set off to chase down a rarity- a White-winged Dove being seen in Manomet, Plymouth. It was the 7th record in Massachusetts.

The drive was probably 30-40 minutes, and when we arrived there were two birders already leaving, having seen the bird earlier. Ian Davis, the birder who had found the dove at his feeders, was outside. He reported that it had been seen recently, but flew across the adjacent pond and hadn't been seen since. We waited in the road and scanned the other side of the pond, hoping that it would fly back. It didn't. Our leaders, David and John, exchanged cell phone numbers with Ian, and we left for Manomet Point, hoping that the phone would ring to inform us of the dove's whereabouts.

The point was decent, but not great. We found turnstones, red-breasted mergansers, some eiders, and some not-bonaparte's gulls (we tried to make a few laughing gulls into bonaparte's, but they weren't.) On the way there and back, we drove slowly through the neighborhood across from Ian's house where the dove had flown to. On the way back, we searched extensively.

Below- The View From Manomet Point

Our group was in three vans. We could communicate with radios that we had in each. At one point, the first car, with David driving, stopped. After a minute, we began wondering what they were looking at. But we were sure that if the WWDO was actually in view, they would radio us. Then a bird flew off the wire and into a wooded area behind someones house. It had white wing patches.

The first van pulled up, and David jumped out. "Do you see it?" "That was it!" "Why didn't you back up?" "Is your radio on?" "We were trying to radio you to tell you to back up so the car doors opening wouldn't scare it." Turns out our radios were fine. His was broken. We had gotten a look at it, but not a very good one.

For some reason, the owner of the house that we were parked in front of was watching this whole thing. It was also his yard that the bird had flown into. David hurried over, and explained the situation. The guy probably thought we were crazy (we probably were), but he let the 15 or so complete strangers into his yard to see the bird. Thank you to that guy.

So we were staring into a tangle of vines and dense brush and trees. A redstart was distracting, but only for a millisecond. Then we got back to work. I was the first to spot it, a distinctive dove with a bright blue eye-ring and white on the side of its wing. We all admired it for 15 or 20 minutes, through a scope and with binoculars. The trees were so close together that there were only 2 spots were you could get a good look at it, but good look we got. Great bird. After stopping by to tell Ian of our success, we headed back, but not before stopping to get solitary sandpiper and rock pigeon, the 3rd dove of the day, at Damon's Point on the north river.

Above- The thicket where the Dove was found.

The dove was a great bird, and the story is good too. It was the first time the Friday Morning Birders saw the bird it the 21 year history of the group/walk/trip. It even had to be written onto the Field Card we used for our checklist. Somewhat ironically, this was the one FMB trip where I did not see a life bird. I had seen the dove before in florida. But this was a much better, longer, and more definite view, and it was in MA, so it was rare. Definitely one of the better FMB trips.

Eamon Corbett

Supurb Summer for Birding- Part 1- 3 at 3rd Cliff

From http://www.capebretonbirds.ca

First off: I am way way behind on these posts, so I am going to have a few from the summer, and then one from recently, and then I will be caught up.

On July 31 I joined Mass Audubon's weekly Friday Morning Birders bird walk, where we take a van to various birding spots on the south shore (massaudubonblogs.typepad.com/southshorejournal). I have gone 7 times by now, and gotten a life bird on 6 of them. This time, we went to Scituate, just north of where the trip meets, in Marshfield. Our first stop was 3rd cliff, a beach that is at the mouth of two rivers, right where they join the ocean. The ocean side was reletively empty, but the river mouth had shorebirds. There were a few points of land that had just been exposed to the tide. The first was sand, and we picked out turnstones, semipalmated and black-bellied plovers, terns, gulls, and many sanderlings and semipalmated sandpipers. One bird looked different- smaller than the gulls and larger than the sandpipers. Its bill was hidden, but after we got closer it began preening, and the long, decurved bill of a Whimbrel was obvious. Life bird!

The next spit was covered in small rocks. It turns out only some of them were actually rocks. There were hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers covering the whole area. It was amazing, because you could hardly tell there were any until you looked closely. By this time, we were nearing the Piping Plover and Least Tern nesting sites on the beach, and we spotted adults and chicks of both species. Taking another look at the shorebirds, one of the leaders found a black tern, my second lifer of the day. 15 minutes later, when we tried to relocate it, we discovered that there were actually 2 black terns.

Some other good birds included a Savannah Sparrow, Horned Lark, and a flock of 6 whimbrels that I spotted.

The next spot was a muddy parking lot at a public beach. In the puddle, there were semi plovers, semi sandpipers, and my first White-rumped Sandpipers!

The last stop was a lighthouse, where we scanned the sea to find a handful of moving black specks- Wilson's Storm-petrels.

All in all, a very good morning of birding, with 3 lifers, a few more cool birds, and 13 shorebirds (20 if you count gulls and terns)

Eamon Corbett

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aou Checklist Changes

The 50th supplement to the American Ornithologist's Union was released over a month ago. (that's how far behind I am on these posts.) There were some notable changes, though no major splits. They include:

-The Sharp-tailed Sparrows are now Nelson's Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sparrow.

-Some scientific names of chickadees were changed.

- A new family of Hawaiian birds was created. The only issue- they are all extinct.

-The finches were shuffled and scientific names were changed, so the pine siskin is now Spinus pinus, which is a great name.

So the only thing that really affects birders is that the sparrows now have shorter names.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Surprise Skimmers at Plymouth Beach

With the number of terns I had seen from the whale watch and the posibility of arctic or roseate terns, I could not resist a visit to Plymouth Beach. There is a huge tern colony at the tip of Plymouth Beach, with hundred or thousands of common terns, plus a handful of roseates. The latter 2 were my targets.

Plymouth Beach is also known as Plymouth Long Beach, and with good reason. The walk to the tern colony was almost three miles, some of it in soft sand. On the way I found mixed shorebirds, including dowitchers and willets, and some endangered Piping Plovers.

(A juvenile Piping Plover, Plymouth Beach, MA)

I left my dad and sister after around 1.5-2 miles, when they turned back. I continued on to the tern colony. Least terns and shorebirds became more abundant, and then came the dunes. At the tip of the spit of land that the beach is on is a area of dunes, and that is where the terns nest. I scanned the flocks from a distance. There were many flying in every direction over the dunes, and a few hundred facing the same direction on the sand. I found a few individuals that could have maybe been arctic terns, but I am not good enough to know for sure. (Below- Arctic Tern? Who Knows?)

The birds on the beach were not near their nests, so I tried to get closer, but a handful of birds flew up and dive bombed me, screaming and flying at my head. Instead of trying to get any closer, I moved around the flock, trying to find unusual terns and marveling at the numbers and the noise. Tern are pretty loud birds. And 1,000 terns are really loud. They make a variety of calls, screeches, screams, and more.
Around this time I heard a different sound, and turned around to see a black skimmer flying up the beach behind me. It called a few more times, and then flew into a portion of the dunes close to and visable from the beach. I had seen them before in Florida and Cape May, but this bird was a huge surprise. I didn't even think that there range extended that far north. I study the skimmer for a few minutes, and then moved a little farther down the beach. When I returned, there were 2 skimmers sitting in the dunes.

When I got home, I did a little research on skimmers in MA, and found that they were unusual and erratic, and that nesting birds were very rare. I also learned that these particular skimmers had been seen before were known to be nesting, the only pair in MA and the northernmost nesting pair in the country. Over the next few weeks, I heard a couple of people talking about going to plymouth beach to see the skimmers.

I had gone to the beach for the terns, and stumbled upon the skimmers.

Eamon Corbett

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stellwagen Bank Pelagics

Greater Shearwater (Top and Middle) and Humpback Whale- My camera died before I could get any other photos.

On July 13, 2 and a half weeks ago, I went on a Captain john Boats whale watch out of plymouth harbor in MA. After leaving the harbor and passing the Mayflower II, Plymouth Rock (overrated), and the tern colonies on Plymouth Beach, we got into Cape Cod Bay. I was looking for pelagics and whales.

Wilson's Storm Petrels showed early, just as we were out of the harbor. There were a couple flitting around behind another boat. We would see many of them by the end of the day. Storm-Petrels were secondary here. My main target were the 4 reported shearwaters and the 3 jaegers.

My first glimpse of a large shearwater was inconclusive, with my binoculars being unsteady when the boat rocked and the bird far away. No matter. Soon I had located a sooty shearwater out in front of the boat, flying left to right. Lifer number 1. Then I saw a greater shearwater flying by the boat. And then another. Lifer 2 There was never any shortage of them, with one in sight almost the whole trip after this. The boat passed right by some large rafts, giving close looks. In one of the larger rafts, I picked out a Cory's Shearwater (lifer 3), and the naturalist took a break from the whales to pick out another. My camera battery died at this point, leaving me with the above photos only.

Oh, I forgot to mention the whales. This was, after all, a whale watch. We saw multiple pairs of humpbacks, including interesting behavior- breaching (jumping), and fin-slapping, as well as a mother-calf pair right next to the boat.

The grand finale came after the naturalist got a call from other whale watching boats, reporting many whales at a location to the east of us. We headed over, and found ourselves facing a huge underwater school of bait fish. Above it was a flock of shearwaters, gannets, and gulls numbering over 1000 birds, mostly greater shearwaters. Inside it many whales, including fin, minke, and humpback. We could see pairs of whales in every direction, with probably 10+ in total. The numbers of shearwaters were incredible. If you closed your eyes, the loudest thing yoo could hear was the pattering slapping sound of their feet against the water as they took off in front of the boat. It was specatcular.

Unfortunately, we were already behind schedule, and had to leave after only 10-15 minutes. Given more time, I might have been able to pick out a manx shearwater or jaeger. Still, it was great, and on the return trip I saw dowitchers and hundreds of terns on plymouth beach.

Great trip. If you ever have a chance to go on a pelagic or whale watch, do it.

Part 3- Hammo

The day after doodletown, went with Benjamin and Ryan to Hammonassest SP in connecticut in the evening, mainly for marsh sparrows, but also for some other stuff that had been reported there. We missed cattle egret in one parking lot, after only a half-hour or so, we had seen glossy ibis, willet, martin, little blue heron, and killdeer.

A walk to the end of the moraine trail produced common and least terns, as well as the king eider we were looking for, with 2 surf scoters. The eider was a lifer and ABA bird 250 for me.

On the way back we saw saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrows, and some of them actually stayed in view for a couple seconds. Easily my favorite sparrows.

A walk onto the ceder island trail as the sun was setting yielded seaside and sharp-tailed sparrows, with the seaside sparrows being a lifer. Fighting mosquitos and gnats on the way back to the car, we found a willow flycatcher and more ibis to end the day.


Part 2- #250 at Doodletown

I am way behind on these blog posts, so this will be short. Actually, for this post and the next one, you could just go to Benjamin Van Doran's blog- warblings.wordpress.com. That would save me some time, and he was on both of the trips. Anyway- I went to Doodletown, NY with the NYS Young Birders club a long time ago (about 3 weeks- the day after the rails at marshlands) I had 248 birds on my life list when I got there, and was hoping for my 250th. Warbling Vireo, black vulture, and indigo bunting were in the parking lot, but after that it was quiet until we stumbled across a small group of warblers. Hooded sang and then appeared right next to the trail. 249. Worm-eating warbler called and then was spotted in a more distant tree. 250!! Cerulean was found preening in a very distant tree. 251. Yay. Things were quiet visually (doesn't make any sense, but you get the idea) for a while, despite more vocal ceruleans. A louisiana waterthrush (in a tree!) was another lifer. A very close worm-eating warbler supplemented the distant sighting earlier. And a yellow-throated warbler far above us was the last lifer of the trip.

I have never been to Doodletown in mid-may, when birding is best, but even in late june I saw 5 lifers, with worm-eating warbler being my 250th.

Good Birding,

Eamon Corbett

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Sufficiently Awesome Weekend- Part 1- Marsh Hen Tide

(From 10000 birds- a great birding site/blog)

I have gone birding 3 times in the past three days, and was going to post them all in one post, by now am breaking it up into 3 parts.

Part I- Marsh Hen Tide

On Friday I headed over to the marshlands conservancy. It had rained so much over the past few days, plus it was a new moon 3 days before, so the tide was very high. That was exactly why I was there. I had sort of seen clapper rail before. (See my post, Ruffing It) But that had been a calling bird, and then I had seen a moving shape that could have been anything. It was not the kind of look I wanted for a lifer, but I counted it anyway. I don't know why, and I probably shouldn't have. This time I wanted a good look. So I went at a very high tide, hoping for the phenomenon known as a "marsh hen tide," when the highest tides of the year would drive the rails out of the center of the marsh and make them visable for once.

It worked. After checking out some other spots and getting indigo bunting, yellowthroat, willet, common tern, and marsh wren, I headed to the rail spot. I sat on a bench overlooking the marsh, and began scanning. Egret, Mallard, Egret. Then, by a clump of higher reeds, a head popped up, with a long bill and red eye. I had my rail. I then slunk across the marsh, but because the tide was so high, it was visable the whole time. Then it got to a spot with more water, and swam out of sight. Very, very cool bird. Looking back to where the first rail had been spotted, I saw another one poke its head up, then disappear. No marsh sparrows, but after seeing the rails, I can't complain. Plus, there will be another time for marsh sparrows (foreshadowing alert!- see later posts in this series)

Good Birding,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greenish Siskin

Today I had another unusual visitor to my bird feeders: a Pine Siskin. I had not seen any since early may, and they are unusual this far south in summer. Even more unusual, this bird was a green-morph siskin, a rare color variation occuring in only ~1% of male siskins.

In addition, we also had 2 house wrens in our backyard.

To see a good photo of a green-morph siskin, click here and here.

Good Birding,


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Marshlands Marsh Wrens and More

(From sdakotabirds.com. Great site with good photos.)

Today I took trip over to the Marshlands Conservancy, a nature center not far from my house. When I got there I learned that it was the day of the Summer Bird Counts for the area, so I ended up tallying species and individuals I saw on the walk. The Marshlands Conservancy, as I have probably said before, has a variety of habitats. I started off at the field, and quickly found a female orchard oriole, sharp-shinned hawk, and an indigo bunting. By the time I got to the water, I had seen ~10 buntings.

At the marsh, my target birds were marsh wrens and sharp-tailed sparrows. I missed on the sparrows, but as soon as I got near the reeds, I heard the unique song of the marsh wrens. I had never seen them before, only heard them, but this time I found them. There were a few, and they were right on the side of the trail, giving close, if reed-obscured, views. I counted 5 total, most or all singing. Also, a ruby throated hummingbird buzzed by over the marsh.

On the way back, I found more buntings and a nesting red-eyed vireo. It was a pretty good collection of birds for a short walk, with 31 species. This brought my marshlands list up to 77 and my year list to 189. 2 NYS birds (marsh wren, hummer), and one year bird (marsh wren) were seen.

The list:

Gray Catbird
Hairy Woodpecker
American Goldfinch
American Robin
Orchard Oriole
Tree Swallow
Indigo Bunting
Common Gracke
Mourning Dove
Barn Swallow
Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Wild Turkey
Blue Jay
Northern Mockingbird
Northern Cardinal
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Marsh Wren
Northern Flicker
Mute Swan
Song Sparrow
Canada Goose
Red-Winged Blackbird
European Starling
Brown-Headed Cowbird
Red-Eyed Vireo
Turkey Vulture
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Good Birding,


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Interesting Sighting

I had an unusual bird at my feeders just now with the ususal house sparrows and finches- a partially albino (Leucistic) house sparrow. It was not as extreme as many cases of leucism, but it still had 2 or 3 tail feathers that were bright white, rather than the drab brown. At a distance, it looked like those were the only feathers in its tail, because they were so bright.

Good Birding

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NYSYBC Muttontown Preserve Trip

Photo From sdakotabirds.com

I went on the New York State Young Birders Club trip to th Muttontown Preserve on Long Island. Since I wrote the trip report, and I don't want to write the same thing twice, here is my report. I had 2 lifers: Chestnut-Sided and Blue-Winged Warblers. That brings me to 2 birds away from 250.

We arrived and met in the parking lot of the Muttontown Preserve, in Nassau County, at 7:45. Already it was warm, and the weather would prove to be great for the whole morning. There were seven young birders there, including three that had joined recently, making this one of the best young birder turnouts yet. Our leaders were Brent Bomkamp and Stella Miller. A few catbirds were in the bushes bordering the parking lot, and a group of Chimney Swifts swooped overhead, twittering constantly. After visiting the center (or more accurately, the bathrooms), we set off. A Wood Thrush was quickly heard, though it did not show itself. That would be the case with many of the birds we located, and a significant amount of the birding was done only be ear. A Blackpoll Warbler was heard, but it, frustratingly, kept hidden as well.
Our first hotspot came only about 15 minutes into the walk. We were hearing the blackpoll, and also saw multiple yellow warblers, a redstart, a red-eyed vireo, and, the best bird, a chestnut-sided warbler. Both the redstart and chestnut-sided gave good looks to some. A veery was also singing its beautiful song. It was a great start to the day, and still barely 8:00.
Much of the sightings of the day would be around a number of fields on the preserve. We came to the first one hearing Blue-Winged Warblers, and eventually found them, as well as an Eastern Towhee and a few yellowthroats. Soon after a grosbeak was spotted and stayed in the open, giving all birders a chance to see it. At another field we saw a House Wren in a nest box and a brown thrasher.
Many good birds were found in the trees adjoining another large field. There we found Baltimore Orioles, Blue-Winged Warblers, Indigo Buntings, waxwings, yellowthroats, and a flyover Red-Tailed Hawk. One of the rarest, but most annoying birds of the day was found here too. Someone heard a White-eyed Vireo, and we all looked up into the large tree that it was in. And we looked, and looked, and did not find it. We even spent a couple minutes looking at the field itself after a bird, which turned out to be a yellowthroat, flew from the target tree down into the grass. We then went to the other side of the tree, and there a few people got mediocre looks, and one or two got good looks. While accomplishing this we realized that Vireo-neck can be just as bad as warbler-neck, and this time your quarry doesn’t move, so you don’t know where it is. When we were satisfied that enough people had seen it, we moved on.
Another surprise came at a different field, when an American Woodcock flushed from the meadow into the woods. At another wooded spot, we found a grosbeak that stayed right in the open very close to us, giving us great looks. We also heard a Magnolia Warbler and a Scarlet Tanager. Other heard-only birds included a kingbird and wood-pewee at different times.
At one point, Brent, being the great leader that he was, taught us a very important lesson about birding- Be careful when looking up into a tree. At one point, we were walking along a wooded section of the trail, and heard a loud rustling sound directly above us. Brent looked up… and, well, you can probably tell where this is going. As to the species, (the first thing we inquired about) it was a robin. We decided that it was supposed to be good luck, though unfortunately that luck did not manifest itself in the form of a cuckoo sighting. (We decided that the luck could have be that nothing got on his new jacket.)
After this we began to head back to the visitor center, seeing a Veery, Mallards, and bizarre bathtub-like things filled with charcoal. That was somewhat puzzling. Before we reached the center, we also found a pair of towhees that were almost certainly nesting, and a red-eyed vireo. A brief stop to try to locate a cuckoo failed. At the center again, we found a Red-Tailed Hawk and another hawk that might have been red-shouldered, swifts, and a nesting Carolina Wren in a vent in the side of the center. After the wren left, we also saw a female cowbird visit the same nest. A few Double-Crested Cormorants flew over as well. After talking for a bit, we departed after a great trip. The total for the day was 47 species, even without House Sparrow, Starling, and Rock Pigeon.
Thank you to Stella Millar and Brent Bomkamp for leading the trip, and the Huntingdon Audubon Society, our partner organization that sponsored it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend in Massachusetts

                                                              (again, not my photo)

For memorial day weekend I went up to our beach house on the south shore of Massachusetts. I started the weekend by going to Wompatuck State Park on Saturday. There had been Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, and Worm-Eating Warbler reported from there. I missed on all three. Acadian Flycatcher I might have heard, but I am not sure. Cerulean and Worm-eating were total failures. Oh well. I did see 4 flycatchers (but not the one that mattered)- Pewee, Phoebe, Kingbird, Great-Crested. On the way out, we paused by a house with a hummingbird feeder, just in time to see 3-5 hummingbirds flying around and feeding. One male was even doing his u-dive display flight. 

Later that day, on the beach, I saw least and common terns, greater yellowlegs, willet, BB Plover, Killdeer, and Semi Sandpiper. One house along the beach is abandoned, and there is a huge swallow colony there. Mostly barn, but I did see one small brown swallow that I think was a bank swallow but I didn't get a long enough look to be sure. 

On Sunday, I took a brief trip to the local Audubon, Daniel Webster Nature Sanctuary. It contains on of the largest colonies of Purple Martins in the state. The highlights of the trip were hundreds of martins, a little blue heron, yellow warblers and yellowthroat, GC Flycatcher, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, oriole, and my personal favorite, dozens of Bobolinks. They were obviously in the peak of the mating season, as all the males were noisily singing and chasing each other. Many flew right past us, and one perched ~15 away singing. Very cool and beautiful birds. They and the martins are the specialty of that sanctuary, and are very likely to see every time you go there. 

Good Birding,


Friday, May 15, 2009

Glenwood Lake (Deja Vu)

This is (obviously) not my photo. It's from sdakotabirds.com

Having seen some good birds at Glenwood lake earlier this week, I headed back today to see what was there now. I ended up with some good birds, and a good diversity of migrants. 6 wood-warblers, 3 thrushes, and a tanager. The bird of the trip was a male scarlet tanager, the first one I had seen. I had heard them before, but never seen them. The thrushes were Swainson's, Wood, and Veery. The warblers- yellowthroat, yellow, redstart, magnolia, black-and-white, and canada. The redstart was the first male redstart I have seen. Other good birds included spotted sandpiper, chimney swift, and baltimore oriole. 

Here is a hint for the photo quiz, since no one is guessing. It's a type of warbler, and it was seen in may in New York.

Good Birding,


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Photo Quiz 1

You can guess what happened here. I set up the photo, but then the bird went behind a leaf. Still enough to Id it, I think. To guess, just post a comment.


Glenwood Lake

This actually is my picture. Hooray. It helps if the bird is 6 feet away.

Today I decided I would bike to Glenwood Lake, a small wooded area around a pond in the next town over, to see what birds were around. The first bird I saw was a yellowthroat. Good start. Proceeding along the trail, I found catbirds, a black-and-white warbler and a yellow-rumped warbler. Most of these were in the same approximate spot, which had more birds for some reason. I also found a Blackpoll Warbler, which was probably the best bird of the trip there. It was a life bird, sort of. It and 2 other birds on my life list were not definite sighting when I first saw them. In fact, the one time I thought I saw a Blackpoll Warbler, in Acadia last summer, it was actually probably a pine warbler. So I decided that if I didn't find those 3 by the end of the year, I would take them off the list. If I did, the previous uncertain sighting would not count. Therefore, this definite Blackpoll Warbler was a lifer. I also really wanted to see it, because I don't like taking birds off my life list. 

The birds were more scarce after that. Then I found another pocket of birds, including a Swainson's thrush, which was a lifer. It was fairly easy to ID, given how much I have heard about them having buff-colored spectacles. They were fairly obvious here.

I didn't really see any new birds after that, though I did spend about 20 minutes trying to figure out what bird was making the sound I was hearing. I never figured it out. I saw more yellowthroats, catbirds, and one more Swainson's Thrush. 

It was a good hour or so of birding, especially so close to home. I should definitely bird there again soon, if I can't go to Central Park or Prospect Park, at least. 

Good birding,


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Prothonotary Warber and Sibley Lecture

(I wish this was my photo, but it's from http://mayo.personcounty.net Remember, if I had had my camera I wouldn't have seen the bird.)

Yesterday I headed to the Greenwich Nature Center in Connecticut for a presentation by David Allen Sibley (International Migratory Bird Day). We got there early so as to get some birding in beforehand. Birds were somewhat scarce for migration, but we did find a few ovenbirds, and a pocket of thrushes. There were many wood thrushes, a few veerys, two of which stayed still very close to us for a few minutes. I found one thrush that was different, and narrowed it down to gray-cheeked or bicknell's thrush. Hermit thrush was eliminated by the lack of the reddish tail, and Swainson's by the lack of spectacles. Either Gray-Cheecked or Bicknell's would have been life birds, but it was impossible to tell without hearing it. Gray-Cheeked would be more common, but a Bicknell's could be passing through too. I would have to leave that bird unidentified.

I did not see much more until we were almost back to the center, when I saw a yellowish warbler flying away by the main lake. We relocated it and I could immediately see what it was-- a Prothonotary Warbler. It had a brilliant golden head and chest, a greenish-yellow back, blue-gray wings, and a strikingly long bill. It stayed in one spot for close study, and then flew a short distance and stayed in one place again, giving us great and lengthy views, before flying away to the other side of the lake. It was one of only two warblers we saw. 

We excitedly headed back to the reception before the presentation, and talked about the bird to the Audubon person at the center. He said that it was possible, as Prothonotary Warblers are rare but fairly regular overshoots to CT. He than asked another audubon employee who was there, and he said that the bird had indeed been seen earlier that day, which basically confirmed by identification. 

I got my Sibley Guide to Birds signed and told Mr. Sibley about the POWA too. Hmm, the first Prothonotary Warbler in over 20 years at Greenwich is on the same day Sibley was there. The birds follow him around! No wonder he's seen so many!

Oh, and the lecture was great too. 

The POWA kept my streak of at least one life bird a weekend for the past 3 weeks alive. (WAVI, RUFF, CLRA on the 26th; RBGR, BLWA, NAWA, AMRE, NOWA on the 3rd, and POWA on the 9th.)

Good Birding,


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Warbler Neck at Central Park

On Sunday I joined the Bronx River-Sound Shore Audubon's trip to Central Park in Manhattan. The weather was terrible- either raining, drizzling, or wet the whole time, but it was a good morning of birding, and I actually saw 5 life birds. The day's total for me was 58 species in 4 hours or so. The highlights included a few rose-breasted grosbeaks (a lifer), an indigo bunting, chimney swifts, rough-winged swallow, spotted sandpiper, warbling and blue-head vireos, hermit and wood thrushes, white-crowned sparrow, and eastern towhee.

The best birds were the warblers. We saw 14 species of wood-warblers, including magnolia, black-throated blue, black-throated green, parula, yellow, nashville (a lifer), ovenbird, black-and-white, redstart (lifer), northern waterthrush (another lifer) and yellowthroat

None of these, however, was the best bird of the trip. We were walking back from "the point," part of the wooded section of the park (the ramble), when another birder stopped us. " Sorry, but I just have to tell someone about this," she said, "I just saw a Blackburnian Warbler right here." We, of course, all immediately stoppped. The blackburnian is one of, if not the most beautiful warbler (Other contenders include Magnolia and Cerulean. Not having seen Cerulean, I can't comment on that, but I would say that this bird is more amazing that magnolia. Rarer too.)
Sure enough, there was an adult male blackburnian warbler right there. It was low in the trees, and we were on higher ground, so it was at about eye level and only ten feet away. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. It throat was amazingly brilliant orange, and its black back and wings with white wing panels were striking as well. It stayed in one spot for a minute, posing for pictures. Of course, this would have been a perfect time to take a great photo, if I had had my camera with me. But then, according to the universal laws of birding, we wouldn't have seen the bird. It was one of the five lifers, and it made the already good birding morning. 

If you are ever in the NYC area, central park is a great spot for birding, and you should stop there, if only briefly, especially during migration.

Good Birding, 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ruffing It

Sorry, I couldn't resist on the title.

Last Sunday I headed over to the Marshlands Conservancy in Rye, NY for a bird walk there at 7:30. After checking the bird list and the feeders, our group headed off. Just after we got out the sweet sweet i'm so sweet song of a yellow warbler was heard, and we saw two of the brilliantly colored birds fly over. I spotted a Hermit Thrush, and our walk was off to a good start. 

Marshlands has a variety of habitats, from woods to a large open field, to the marsh that gives it its name and supports rails and other marsh birds. We headed to the field first. A flash of color in a bush caught our eye. A yellowish bird, and a black bird with a orange color on it. It perched at the top of the bush, and we could all see that it was an orchard oriole. Soon after we saw a Baltimore, which was especially early. 

More yellow warblers flitted around, and over the field there were many tree swallows, some already claiming their nest boxes. Another good bird was a blue-headed vireo that was in the open for a while giving good looks.

We got onto the topic of rarities here, and the leader mentioned that a Ruff had been reported there the previous night by an expert birder. My reaction was: "A Ruff??!! Here??!! Now??!! Where??" We the made our way to the shore to see if we could see the ruff. On the way we saw flickers, kinglets, and others. A person who had seen the bird earlier that morning pointed us in the right direction, and after seeing an upside-down black-and-white warbler on a tree limb, we reached the spot. 

We set up scopes, scanned the greater yellowlegs, and waited. And waited, and waited. One and a half hours later we left without seeing the bird. We did see both yellowlegs, killdeer, oystercatchers, a thrasher, and a warbling vireo, which was a life bird for me. 

The person working at the visitors center said that the bird might be around at 5:30 that afternoon, as that was low tide and when it had been seen the previous night. So, of course, at 5:30 I returned. 

By then half the birders in the state were there. So was the bird. We reached the spot at the water where it was being seen, and someone pointed out the bird. It was an adult male in breeding plumage, with a rusty cinnamon colored ruff and a glossy black crown and nape. A great bird, one of the rarest I have ever seen. There was a clapper rail calling, and at one point I got a glimpse of it, just as a dark shape moving through the marsh. I don't have any Ruff photos, but you can see another persons photo here.

Good Birding


Hello to anyone who happens to be reading this blog (though as of now that number is zero).  I am an avid birder from Westchester County, NY. This blog will cover my birding adventures and experiences.  

My life list is currently at 239 species, with some of my best birds being Barnacle Goose, Painted Bunting, and Ruff.

My next post will be very soon. (Probably in the next 10 minutes as I already have my topic)

Good Birding,