Friday, December 28, 2012
I participated in the Bronx-Westchester Christmas Bird Count last Sunday, and blogged about it for Green, the New York Times environmental blog. Check it out at: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/every-bird-counts-but-some-make-the-heart-beat-faster/
Sunday, November 18, 2012
|A Harlequin Darner-- Or is it??|
I concluded that this bug was probably a harlequin darner based mostly on the fact that they are more common, and I had never seen Taper-tailed before, but I realized that I was pretty much impossible to be certain.
But now I have a new dragonfly book, so I thought I would test it out, and seem if I could clinch the ID one way or another. The book (Dennis Paulson's excellent "Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East) said that Harlequin Darners have more than one bridge crossvein on their wings. It also mentioned that Harlequin Darners often land on people's clothing when they are approached, which offered more circumstantial evidence that this was a Harlequin. However, I wanted to be certain, so, using the appendices in the guide, as well as this blog post about pygmy darner ID, I began to try to puzzle out my dragonfly.
The photo above was the best that I took of it, but it isn't at a good angle, so I used one that showed a better view of the top of the wings:
Now the key field mark is found on the wings, so I zoomed in there a bit:
And a bit more. Still not quite enough:
Once I zoomed in this far, I could finally see the bridge crossveins, and be sure of the ID. There are two veins, so it is indeed a Harlequin Darner, Gomphaeschna Furcillata.
A bit closer look at the veins in question:
And here are some arrows to help. The inner (left) vein would not be present were this a Taper-tailed Darner.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
I was in Western Massachusetts last weekend to look at colleges, and of course, got some birding in too.
After looking at Williams on Saturday, I saw that there was a report on ebird of a Cacking Goose on the power canal in Turner's Falls, MA, which was pretty much on my route, so my dad and I went to check it out. We got to the canal, and began the tricky task of sorting out the single Cackling Goose from the 700+ very similar Canada Geese.
Until a few years ago, there was only one brown goose in the U.S. with a black neck and white chinstrap-- the ubiquitous Canada Goose, which had a number of subspecies that varied strongly in size and other field marks. Then research suggested that the smaller western subspecies were actually a distinct species, and the Cackling Goose came into existence. It's rare but regular on the East coast.
Back to the power canal, where there were lots and lots of Canada Geese. Some looked sort of small, but I decided that they were just small canadas. But when I spotted a tiny goose with a squared, blocky head, tiny bill, and white ring at the base of the neck, I knew I had my bird.
|Through iPhone and binoculars. It's the small one in the middle.|
|A closer look|
|The reservoir again. Really pretty spot.|
Another interesting thing about Red Crossbills is that their are one of the most taxonomically complicated species in North America (or anywhere). Research has found that there are at least ten different "types" of Red Crossbill, each of which gives a slightly different call note, and is adapted to feed on a different type of conifer. The extent to which they interbreed, if at all, is not really known, but it is quite possible that each of the "types" is actually a full species. If not, they are at least potentially evolving species, and it's interesting to try to figure out the distribution and habits of each of the types. For a great article on crossbill taxonomy, go to http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/red-crossbill-types.
With this in mind, I tried to record the crossbills with my phone, figuring that I could try to identify them to type that way. I sent the recording to Matthew Young, the crossbill expert at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and the author of that article, and he confirmed what I suspected-- these birds were Type 3 Red Crossbills (aka the Western Hemlock Crossbill). There was a twist, though: he said that there was one bird in the recordings that didn't sound like the others, and was actually a Type 10 Red Crossbill (Sitka Spruce Crossbill).
So I listened to the recordings that I had made again, and eventually picked out a short segment that had two distinctly different calls in it. See if you can hear the difference between the first three notes and the last one:
Even better than listening to the recording, however, is looking at a spectrogram, which is a visual representation of the sound. I used Raven lite, a program that the Cornell Ornithology Lab created, to generate a spectrogram for that recording. I compared my spectrogram to the samples in the article I linked to above, and bingo. The first three are perfect matches to the Type 10 spectrogram, and the last one is a perfect match for the Type 3 spectrogram
|Click to see large. The calls are at the .25, .4, .6, and 1.2 marks|
So in all I got two lifers, good birds, and some pretty cool identification/taxonomy/evolution stuff. Not bad for one weekend.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
|The New Mexican desert east of Portal, AZ|
|Looking for Buff-breasted Flycatcher|
|A Female Phainopepla|
|Canyon Wren, mid-song|
We also got point-blank looks at a Painted Redstart at this spot, plus our first Golden-banded Skipper and Northern Cloudywings (butterflies) of the trip, as well as our only Striped Plateau Lizard. And on the way out we added two more birds: an energetic and fast-moving flock of tiny and long-tailed Bushtits, and a very cool (and unusual) Arizona Woodpecker, a very nice southeast Arizona specialty and one of the few woodpeckers that is brown, not black.
|Striped Plateau Lizard|
|Evidence of forest fires near Rose Canyon|
|The view from Aspen Vista|
|Banded Alder Borer|
On our last morning in the Santa Catalinas, we made another attempt at the Buff-breasted Flycatcher spot, but were not any more successful, and the bird remained elusive. We did spot an "Aububon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler, the western subspecies of the widespread species, which may be split into a full species soon, and also relocated Grace's and Olive Warblers.
We then packed up our tents and gear, and headed down the mountain, en route to the Chiricahuas, a trip that would take most of the day, with lots of stops. The first was at the Gordan Hirobayashi Campground, which has scrubby habitat with lots of agaves and yuccas. There were a few Rufous-crowned Sparrows, and we saw our first Rock Wren of the trip, a rather drab bird with a very long beak perched on a yucca stalk.
Our next stop was the eastern portion of Saguaro National Park, just outside Tuscon. This was a stop for desert birds, and there were once again plenty of the park's namesake cacti. Typical desert birds that we hadn't seen for a few days were Pyrrhuloxia, Gambel's Quail, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gila Woodpecker, and cactus-nesting Purple Martins. The sought-after Gilded Flicker did not appear, but as we were heading out we had a run of very good luck, and spotted three new birds in just a couple of minutes. The first, and my favorite, was a Greater Roadrunner, the bizzare large ground-cuckoo on which the cartoon is based. Roadrunners are really cool birds, and seeing this one, at very close range, was one of the highlights of the trip. To add to that, we found a Harris's Hawk on a telephone pole and a flock of tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, and left the area with three new birds (plus some cool new butterflies, like Ceraunus Blue, American Snout, and Orange-barred Sulphur).
|Willcox Sewage Treatment Plant|
|A big flock of Avocets, Stilts, and Phalaropes|
|4 species- two avocets on the left, 6 phalaropes, a stilt in the back right, and a dowitcher in the middle|
|Western Box Turtle|
|Box Turtle poses for photos, post-rescue|
|The desert east of Portal|
|Our rooms at Cave Creek Ranch, underneath the walls of Cave Creek Canyon|
|Sunset over Cave Creek Canyon|
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
We decided to check briefly a few spots up the Rye coast a bit to try to locate the pelicans. Rye Beach had lots of raptors overhead (Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Kestrel, and Cooper's, Sharp-shinned, and Red-tailed Hawks), but no pelicans. We decided to make one last stop at the Edith Read Sanctuary, behind the Rye Playland amusement park. Playland lake was devoid of ducks and pelicans, but when we stepped out of the car at the nature center, two gigantic white birds with huge bills and black flight feathers flew directly overhead!
|Not a very good photo, but they are pretty unmistakable|
Friday, October 5, 2012
On July 30th, I flew from New York into Tuscon, and met up with rest of the camp-- nine other campers from all over the country and Costa Rica, and two excellent leaders: Michael O'Brian and Louise Zemaitis, both well known birders and authors.
We ate lunch in the airport and then headed to our hotel, noting a couple of House Sparrows on the drive, and two life butterflies-- Sleepy Orange and Fiery Skipper-- in the airport parking lot. After unpacking in our rooms we quickly got outside for our first taste of Arizona birding, in the parking lot of the hotel. The heat and huge cacti made it obvious that this was the desert, but the birds confirmed that: just in the parking lot were Cassin's Kingbirds (lifers, or birds that I have never seen before, will be in bold for this report), Lesser Goldfinches, Verdins, White-winged Doves, and a pair of vivid orange Hooded Orioles.
We then headed to Sweetwater Wetlands, a great birding spot in Tuscon, for the afternoon. There we walked a loop around some wetland habitat and saw plenty of desert and wetland birds. Gila Woodpeckers were common, as were Verdins, big reddish southwestern Song Sparrows, and the range-restricted and black-masked Abert's Towhee. In the ponds were lots of Mallards, some of which seemed to be pure or at least close to pure Mexican Ducks (currently considered a subspecies of Mallard), plus some Cinnamon Teal, American Coots, and a Common Gallinule or two. The bird highlight was probably a Sora that gave great looks for a while in the reeds by the side of a pond. A family (with lots of chicks) of Gambel's Quail were fun to watch hiding in the underbrush. There was also a pair of Tropical Kingbirds, which have a very small range in the US, defending their territory from a Cooper's Hawk. On the way out, we added two more new flycatchers to the trip list (and my life list)-- Black Phoebe and Western Kingbird. The kingbird perched right next to a Cassin's Kingbird, giving us a great comparison of these similar species. It wouldn't be Arizona without hummingbirds, and we saw two at the end of the walk: Black-chinned, which were common the whole trip, and Costa's, which was a good sighting, and one of only two for the whole trip.
|It is a sewage treatment plant...|
|But it has good birds! Like these Yellow-headed Blackbirds.|
We ate dinner in Tuscon and returned to our hotel, eagerly anticipating this next morning, when we were scheduled to go to the famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
|The Desert Museum|
|Juvenile Cactus Wren|
|There were also lots of cacti|
|A Queen, one of the most colorful and abundant butterflies in Arizona|
|A drabber, but much less common butterfly-- Arizona Powdered-Skipper|
|It's really delicious!|
|Starting in the desert...|
|Through the scrub oaks...|
|And into the pines.|
|Male Anna's Hummingbird|
|Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird|
|Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird|
|Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird on Sarah's finger|
|A Pygmy Nuthatch duo|
|My tent at Bear Flats|