Posted on June 11th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
Photo Credit: Tennessee Warbler-Wikipedia photo
Posted on May 12th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The thermometer nudged into the lower 70’s today as the sun tried but couldn’t find a hiding place behind clouds. A gentle wind blew in from the northeast, but the sun kept things warm.
What a perfect day to walk Henry’s Woods in Lake Placid. The spring migrant bird population was in full chorus and the spring wildflowers were making themselves known with their vibrantly colored flowers.
Here’s what I saw:
The bird population was very abundant, and too many to fill this blog. But I’ll list a few that I saw. If you walk the looped trail in a counterclockwise direction you will cross over several small tributary streams that feed a larger brook. Here the soil is very rich with a healthy overstory of beech, birch, maples, and some conifers for a splash of color.
The treetops in this area are just opening their buds and so small caterpillars and other insects are feeding on these buds. These insects make for a great breakfast for birds. Here are some of the species I saw feeding in the treetops:
Photo Credit: “Squirrel Corn”-Brian McAllister
Posted on March 10th, 2011 7 comments Add a comment >>
The phrase “survival of the fittest” that we associate with Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, is playing out in real time this late winter season in the Adirondacks.
One of my students in ornithology lab told me of finding two dead barred owls under a tree recently, and also of a dead barred owl on the side of a NY State highway.
Today I received a call from friends saying they know of a recently deceased barred owl in their neighborhood, and about 6 hours later I hear reports of a barred owl feeding on chickens in a village residents’ backyard!
Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here. And that pattern is lack of food, too much snow, and a poor winter for rodent populations.
Reports are coming in daily about barred owls staking out tree branches in many northeast US backyards and keeping a sharp eye on the ground under bird feeders. Here they’re hoping to catch a mouse that runs out from the snow cover to grab a few fallen sunflower seeds.
Speaking of snow cover…we’ve got plenty of it here in the Adirondacks and it’s getting hard for an owl to find their preferred food which is snug under 3 feet of snow. Owls will pounce on a mouse or vole if it comes to the surface of the snow but some recent thawing and re-freezing has left a solid layer of frozen snow/ice that a vole finds hard to get through.
In addition to hard conditions(heavy snows) for mice, we also hear that it’s been a bad season for reproduction in rodent populations. So owls face a double whammy of cold temps/heavy snow and too little food source. All the fixings for starvation.
I was recently given a dead barred owl to take into ornithology lab where our students can investigate this truly beautiful bird of prey, and if possible, prepare this owl as a museum specimen so future students can learn from it.
Before the bird went into the freezer for safe keeping, I was able to snap a few photos of it to show the details of why it’s known as a bird of prey.
Talons for catching a rodent:
Tiny extensions on their primary(wing) feathers for turbulence reduction-which allows for silent flight:
Pretty sharp beak for tearing flesh:
Well, the spring forecast calls for rain, warming temps, and a growing litter of mice:-)
Photo Credits: Barred Owl(top)-Wikipedia, all other photos by Brian McAllister
Posted on March 7th, 2011 Add a comment >>
Well despite the 29 inches of snow that has fallen over the past two days, the calendar marches on and my “birding calendar” tells me that some species of birds will start singing before long. I don’t know about you but I am certainly ready for it! As I write this blog I am playing my Stokes Field Guide to Bird Song as background “music” to get in the mood.
Birds such as the hairy and downy woodpeckers will soon be heard repeating their song throughout our woodlands. But to our untrained ear it might sound like a series of dry rattles, or drumming. That’s because the male birds are rapidly hammering their little hearts out on some dead branch of an old maple of cherry.
In this unique case these birds are giving a song but it’s in the form of a song substitute(not given by the voice) – drumming their bills on a branch that they hope will resonate loudly through the forest. Click here for a great write-up on this topic by David A. Sibley.
Soon we will hear the light, musical phrasing of the Brown Creepr, as it “creeps” along the trunks of beech, maple, and other hardwoods, searching for food on the bark. It’s close relative, the White-Breasted Nuthatch can also be heard giving a series of quick “whi-whi-whi” notes in the same forested habitat
Listen carefully for the springtime notes of “fee-bee” given by Black-capped Chickadees as they gather in small groups in your yard or in the woods. Warm temps and blue skies can’t be far behind.
And who can’t wait to hear the first sounds of northward migrating Canada Geese as they honk to one another and follow their ancient pathways through the spring skies.
Along with these early songsters we should also be on the look out for flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds ( I hear there are reports of blackbirds winging over fields and brush down in the Lake Champlain and St Lawrence Valley’s), Common Grackles, and Brown-headed cowbirds.
Waterfowl are certainly not taking a spring break this month. Soon reports of many mixed flocks of waterfowl will be given around the St Lawrence River and Lake Champlain regions as they are now congregating in big groups on the open Hudson River well to our south.
If you’re sick of looking down at the dirty, gritty snow, then take a look skyward on warmer days with southerly winds and hopefully you’ll pick out some migrating hawks, falcons, and eagles. Reports of many Golden Eagles are filtering through the “internet air-waves” as they fly northward from the Ohio Valley to Pennsylvania and into New York. Late March-April can be a great time to look for Goldens over the Adirondacks.
The thrushes and warblers on my CD are lulling me into an early bird-induced-spring-fever, but that’s OK because there’s still 29 inches of snow out there to melt.
Photo Credit- singing Savannah Sparrow-Brian McAllister
Posted on February 28th, 2011 1 comment - Add a comment >>
At first they were being seen around the Great Lakes region in early winter, then they slowly filtered their way into New York State around January. Now we can find Common Redpolls scattered throughout the northeast and down to the mid-Atlantic states. They now number in the hundreds at some bird feeders in NY as well as here in the Adirondacks.
The common redpoll is a small sparrow-sized bird that often goes to where the food is plentiful. That means that this Canadian-breeding species will move, en masse, to an area of healthy food supply any given winter……and this winter looks like a good one for us.
White and yellow birch(Betula) is one of several food sources they see out. It’s possible that birch, and other seed-producing trees in the north are not producing a good mast(seeds) and so redpolls filter south into the US.
To the birdwatcher’s (and bird feeder-watcher’s) delight, common redpolls are visiting birdfeeders all over the northeast. That can be a good thing or a rather expensive thing depending on how often these pink-hued mobs eat you out of thistle and black oil sunflower seed!
Males will burst onto the scene with their blushing red chest and ruby-red cap, while the females and younger males take on a more subdued “streaky brown” coloration, both showing a quieter red cap and black throat.
To the sharp-eyed birder, chances are about one in every group of 100 could be a Hoary Redpoll, which looks quite similar. Still, many an “advanced birder” can find themselves second guessing their own identification of a hoary.
But then if a birder gets a bit daring they will further their identification prowess by calling out, “that one looks like the Greenland race of common redpoll, as a opposed to the more-common “southern” race of Carduelis flammea! Just look at their dark brown auriculars, deep black lores, and darker greater coverts!”
“Why yes, I concur whole-heatedly!”
On another note…….
I’d like to bring your attention to the new Facebook page on the website of Adirondack Park Institute (API) who, by the way, has become a wonderful sponsor of the 9th Annual Great Adirondack Birding Celebration, taking place at the Paul Smiths College “VIC” June 3-5, 2011. API is a friends group for the Paul Smiths College VIC and the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb(a part of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry). The two VIC’s are going through a bit of a change after NY State gave up ownership of these incredibly beautiful and educationally-valuable pieces of property in 2010. Both College-owned facilities will continue to provide much-needed information and education to visitors that come to the Adirondacks as well as to those who dwell within the 6 million acre park. API has, and will continue in this role. We’re hoping all you Face book-savvy folks out there will take the time to check it out, and then become a “friend” of the Adirondack Park friends group!
Photo credit: common redpoll-wikipedia
Posted on November 6th, 2010 Add a comment >>
November means waterfowl-watching along the still-open waters of Lake Champlain, and right on cue the waterfowl are making their entrance.
On a recent birdwatching trip along the western shoreline of the lake we made several stops to our favorite haunts including AuSable Point Campground, Willsboro Bay, Noblewood Park, and quaint village of Westport.
Most of what we see on the Lake, over the winter months, would fall under the group called diving ducks (those that feed on fish, crustaceans, and mollusks). And currently these ducks are just beginning to arrive on the lake. Flying down from Canada’s many lakes and ponds, these ducks will often remain in the area until the increasing ice forces them farther south.
On our recent trip along the lake we found buffleheads in growing numbers as well as common goldeneyes, common merganser, and lesser scaup. As we approach early winter all these species can be found in large groups or “rafts”, of one species but may often be found in mixed rafts.
Driving along Route 22 south of Plattsburgh we find a few spots to pull over on the shoulder, look out onto the lake and scan for ducks. Near Valcour Island we begin to find common loons, and horned grebes in their winter plumages.
In the town of Westport we can find geese, ducks and gulls all coexisting on a few sand bars near the Westport Boat Launch, and in front of the Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The “broad lake” has quickly become a birdwatchers delight as the north winds howl and the ducks replace the sailboats on the choppy winter waters.
Posted on November 5th, 2010 Add a comment >>
On a previous posting, I wrote of the chances of a few “northern” winter finches coming down to visit the Adirondacks in search of better food sources. We’re slowly getting word that pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, and purple finch are being found at local bird feeders. In addition to these species we also get word that a small flock of bohemian waxwings is being seen around the Lake Placid area.
These largely nomadic groups of waxwings can suddenly appear in a region, visit all the cherry, mountain ash, and ornamental crab-apple trees in that area for several weeks and then secretively vanish as they search the countryside for new sources of berries, and seeds.
Its close cousin is the cedar waxwing which resembles the bohemian with the main difference being a smaller size and lacking the rusty-red coloring of the under-tail coverts which help us identify the bohemian.
So despite the inclement weather of rain and wet snow, you should keep an eye out for these avian visitors on your travels and at your feeders. If you do see some of these species, feel free to write in your sightings on the “comments” section of this blog….we’ll appreciate it!
Posted on September 23rd, 2010 2 comments Add a comment >>
Fall means migration in the bird world and we are in the thick of it!
While we sleep thousands and thousands of small migratory birds are winging their way south over cities, villages, farmlands, and forests. Some are making incredible flights thousands of miles in length.
One bird, the Bobolink, that was nesting in hay fields around the Adirondacks this summer, has gathered into flocks and are now flying to the very southern reaches of South America. As we proceed into autumn and winter, our South American neighbors are feeling the tantalizingly warm beginnings of spring. As a result the Bobolinks will spend their summer (our winter) in Argentina eating rice!
Hawks, eagles, and falcons, also called raptors, are all on the move south these days. Many birders in our area will be heading over to the Lake Champlain Valley to watch the migration of thousands of Broad-winged hawks as they form roiling “kettles” of circling birds that are riding warm air thermals rising off the Valley floor and gently moving the birds south. Some Broad-winged hawks have the very sweet winter destination of Costa Rica.
Warblers and vireos are also commonly found these days grouping up into feeding flocks that filter through our Adirondack woodlands in search of late caterpillars, moths, and spiders. I find it amazing that these tiny birds are migrating hundreds of miles each night while we slumber. Read more here.
Before long the autumnal blue skies will be filled with south-bound Snow Geese and Canada Geese. Filling our ears with that homecoming-sound, the geese passing overhead aren’t going too far for winter. They’ll end up in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.
But the big news in the birding world was just released today in the form of a long-awaited email. It’s the traditional analysis of Canada’s cone crop review.
Each autumn, a Mr Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, gathers information from many birders around Canada and northeastern US about how the current pine, spruce, and other cone-bearing trees are doing this year. Are they producing lots of cones for the winter finches, waxwings, and other seed-eating birds?
2009 was not a very good year for winter-visiting finches here in the Adirondacks. So what does Mr. Pittaway have to say about this year? Read here!
Cutting to the chase, it looks like a couple winter finches might filter down our way from Canada. Possible visitors of Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll and Purple Finch might grace our seed-filled winter feeders. But if you enjoy skiing or snowshoeing, then it’s worth a perambulation through your nearest woodlands this winter to check out the avian visitors.
Photo Credit: Pine siskin(Wikipedia)
Posted on August 26th, 2010 6 comments Add a comment >>
August seems to be a good time to find the parasites in the botanical world. First a definition-parasite(in the plant world) refers to any plant that feeds solely off another plant(host plant), but not always harming the host.
So what are they living off of? In the soil, growing among the many roots of nearby plants, are tiny hair-like fibers known as mycorrhizal fungi. These fibers are supporting the bigger tree & wildflower roots. But it is these mycorrhizal fibers that the pine sap, and others, are getting their nutrients from.
A slight deviation from that relationship is the parasitic life of beech drops which live entirely off of the nutrients of a host beech tree (Fagus grandifolia) root system. If you could dig down along the stem of beech drops you would find a connection directly to the beech tree root.
Amazing to think that there is a whole other world of plant relationships under the soil that we are just beginning to unravel!
A great spot to observe these parasitic plants(better in early August) is along the new trail system at Henry’s Woods in Lake Placid.
Other notes from the field are the recent swarming of winged ants that are coming out of their underground tunnels to fly around, mate, and then die…all in about 24 hours!
As I waited at a traffic light one early evening I saw hundreds of flying insects flying through shafts of sunlight and then they would disappear in the shadows. As I later parked my car at home I could see thousands of winged ants crawling all over the lawns, looking as if the ground was literally moving under my feet.
Can anyone tell us the species of these ants??
The next day I saw a large group of ring-billed gulls flying in circles and feeding on the flying ants. As a human I can relate to this….when blueberries come into season, I’m all over those fields plucking berries for a few days!
Photo Credit: Beech Drops(wikipedia)
Posted on August 2nd, 2010 Add a comment >>
Shorebirds(by that I mean the family of birds made up of sandpipers, plovers, and related species) are slowly winging their way south from that magical region in Canada known as the tundra. Having arrived there in mid to late May, shorebirds quickly take advantage of the sun-warmed tundra surface to breed.
It’s not always that welcoming in the tundra with the occasional late spring snowstorm that arrives or the lingering snow-pac and ice still clinging to the shorelines of many tundra lakes and ponds. But a breeding pair usually find a soft, protected spot of tundra ground to hollow-out and call home.
The shorebirds endure the often chilly days and nights and eventually produce eggs and successfully brood/hatch 2 to 3 young on average, during June and early July. Again, the dangers of tundra living await the young in the forms of predatory falcons, jaegers, fox, and the fearless gulls that come looking for an easy meal.
Once reaching fully-fledged status, the young are on their own(can fly after about 20 days). In the paradoxical world of idyllic settings of nature, we find many bird species (after a few quick lessons in feeding) leaving their young to fend for themselves.
Shorebird females are usually the first to leave the breeding grounds, then the males, followed by the “hatch-year” young a couple weeks later. All eventually “regroup” on the wintering grounds of coastal South America(Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil)
OK, but how do the Adirondacks enter into this amazing migration pattern? Well, we are not on a huge flyway for shorebird migration but we do get few winging their way over the Eastern Adirondacks, specifically along the Lake Champlain Valley.
On this map you can find Hudson Bay, and it’s smaller “tongue” of James Bay, directly north of the Great Lakes. Many shorebirds nest along the shorelines of these bays and nearby tundra. During the “fall” migration south(from late July to late September) many species of shorebird use a direct flight path from James Bay south through Ontario and Quebec, and are often funneled down through the Champlain Valley, eventually reaching the Hudson Valley and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Once on the ocean, most shorebirds make a bee-line for S. America!
Where should I look for shorebirds? In the agricultural fields of eastern Clinton and Essex Co’s., and over in Addison Co., VT, take a look at newly-plowed fields. It gets even better if there is standing water along the rows of the fields. This draws out the insects from the mud and reveals a good food source for the shorebirds.
One notable migration stop-over site is Noblewood Park, in Willsboro, NY. Slowly walk out onto the sand spit that builds-up at the mouth of the Boquet River. In mid August to late September, look carefully for some shorebirds and gulls sitting along the sand-spit.
Just watching one sandpiper feeding along the shore allows you a glimpse into the monumental journey that these bird make twice a year from Canadian tundra to the warm beaches of a South American winter.
Photo credit: Semipalmated sandpiper – Wikipedia photo