Posted on June 11th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
Photo Credit: Tennessee Warbler-Wikipedia photo
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 December 17th, 2010 Add a comment >>
Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY is producing some amazing resources for birdwatchers across the US. They’ve recently taken all the bird migration data that has been collected over these many years and have placed it all on a very cool, animated map showing movements of certain bird species across the US.
Click here for animation of maps. Be sure to look at the Olive-sided Flycatcher map and pay attention to the Adirondack region as the map is animated. This flycatcher is a summer resident of the Adks.
Also out from Cornell is a very clear video showing how White-winged Crossbills use their “crossed” bill to pry open cones and feed on the hidden seeds. Click here for the video.
Photo Credit: Cornell Lab of Ornithology-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 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 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
Posted on May 31st, 2010 Add a comment >>
What has bright yellow legs and is black and white all over? And by the way you have to travel up a mountain to see it in our neck of the woods.
The blackpoll warbler leads an interesting life as far as warblers go. During fall migration most species of warbler travel down the eastern US, often following the coast or higher elevations of the Appalachian Mts. But our little blackpoll has a different route.
After nesting just below the treeline on many of our Adirondack High Peaks in the thick spruce-fir forests, the black poll will often wind its way south and east to the New England coastline or farther south to the Long Island coast.
Here, if the winds are just right-meaning a good tail wind from the north, our tiny two-ounce bird takes flight into the night-time skies. Loaded down with fat layers on its body, the blackpoll starts on an incredible migratory journey that takes it out over the open Atlantic Ocean and it may not land on solid ground until it reaches the Caribbean Islands and northern South America for it’s winter holiday. If it’s tired it may stop off in Bermuda for a brief rest and refuel….whew!…that’s almost 90 hours of non-stop flight.
If your birding pursuits take you on a search for Bicknell’s thrush on, let’s say Whiteface Mt, take a moment to stop along the trail or roadside and listen for the extremely high-pitched song of this bird. A quick repetition of “tsi-tsi-tsi-TSI-TSI-TSI-tsi-tsi-tsi” rising in strength in the middle of song.
Once you pinpoint the song, scan the tops of the stunted trees before you and look for a small black-capped bird, not unlike the black-capped chickadee, but with black stripes on the breast and dark wings. Then look for the definitive ID clincher of yellowish legs.
I often describe the blackpoll song as a fast-moving squeaky wheel going by you as you stand still (soft at first, then growing in volume, then softening) as compared to the flat, monotone squeaky-wheel of the black and white warbler.
If you look for this bird during fall migration you’ll be fooled by its appearance. Just before summer ends it will molt into light-green-yellowish colored feathers with some white and dark striping.
Hopefully you’re planning a hike up your favorite Adirondack Mt. this early June, maybe in search of a Bicknell’s thrush, and as you do you’ll take the time to look and listen for this little, inconspicuous, black and white bird, with the unpretentious song.
Photo Credit: Blackpoll warbler-Wikipedia
Posted on May 15th, 2010 1 comment - Add a comment >>
While traveling along the wonderful “wildlife-watching ” roads of St Lawrence County, I stumbled upon this red fox as it trotted through a dandelion-covered field. On my return trip on this road, about a half-hour later, the same fox came up to the roadside, this time it’s long pointed snout held 3-4 “meadow mice” packed in a toothy grip. Putting 2 and 2 together, I figured it was heading to a nearby hedgerow which most likely was a the site of the family den…many young mouths to feed!
On another note, this weekend appears to have all the makings for great migrant bird movements. So far I’ve tallied up some great sightings of warblers, vireos, and other migratory birds. Two highlights so far are a Scarlet tanager, and a Philadelphia vireo
Along Lakeshore Road, just north of Westport, some friends and I found a Golden-winged warbler, and a blue-winged warbler, both singing their hearts out in a second-growth field on the west side of road. A description of this area can be found in Adirondack Birding by John MC Peterson and Gary Lee. Chances are these birds are on territory and so they’ll be singing for a while longer. Hope you get to see them!
Photo Credit: Red Fox-Brian McAllister
Posted on May 8th, 2010 Add a comment >>
Birds returning north each spring are anxious to get on breeding territories so they spend every clear night, with south winds, migrating north.
If you look here you will see a US radar map from Friday night showing bird movements (the big blue blobs again!) all over the eastern US…those are migrating birds passing over a Doppler radar site But as the map progresses check out what happens as that big yellow-green blob moves in from the west and “eats up” all the little blue blobs in New York.
-just kidding, no birds were harmed in the making of this blog.
So, what we’re seeing is a storm move into the Adirondacks and totally cut off northward migration.
What happens to the birds? Well they stop flying and find a protected spot in the nearest woods or wetlands to wait out the bad weather.
As a result the birds congregate into feeding groups that can contain many species. When this happens it’s often called a “fallout”, and it’s a birders dream come true.
On a bird walk this morning, along the trails of the Paul Smiths Visitor Center, we encountered a “mini-fallout”-not so big-but fun to see the different warbler species in the trees. 9 species in fact.
Our best-bird-of-the-day was, without a doubt, a warbler species called a bay-breasted warbler and what a beauty it was!
The Adirondack’s weather for the next couple of days shows rain and north winds, which most birds don’t want because it’s hard for an object that weighs about .5 to 1 ounce (2 or 3 pennies) to fly against strong headwinds.
But the flipside is this becomes a birders delight. So get up early Sunday or Monday and go birding-the birds will wait for you!
Photo credit: Bay-breasted warbler-Wikipedia photo
Posted on May 1st, 2010 Add a comment >>
Birders across the Adirondacks await the arrival of warblers, tanagers, buntings, sparrows, thrushes…just to name a few families of birds. But recent weather patterns have allowed for some really good movements of birds over the past 2 nights. Look here. You will see blossoming “blue blobs” all over the eastern states-those are migrating birds flying over radar sights at night.
So, birds are on their way. In fact this morning I saw four species warbler while walking the trails at the Paul Smiths Visitor Center. One that seemed a bit overdue is the Nashville warbler. But there it was singing it’s little heart out along the marsh-just a day or two late.
The going theory is that it seems a bit late for these arrivals but looking over the past weather patterns shows that there was plenty of good south wind blowing birds up into the Gulf of Mexico, from Mexico, but then bad winds and weather in the mid US shut them down, only temporarily.
Birding is a game of patience and patience is what it will take to allow these migratory birds to filter into our Adirondack woods.
Also….a comment here on the horrible oil spill in the Gulf. Most of the bird families mentioned here and many other small migratory birds are fortunate in that they are not affected by the spill, as they migrate at night and are mostly flying over the shorelines along the Gulf. However, the shorebirds(sandpipers, plovers) and wading birds(herons, egrets) along with pelicans, gulls, gannets, ducks, and other seabirds will, without doubt, be harmed by this spill. We can only hope for the best and then put the oiled birds into the hands of caring and helpful rehabilitators.
Photo credit: Savannah Sparrow-Brian McAllister