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 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 December 15th, 2010 Add a comment >>
In an earlier posting I had mentioned how birders anxiously await the coming of winter to see what “exotic” northern birds might come along with the cold and the snow. Well over the past few days we have been hearing about good sightings of Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, and the occasional Evening Grosbeak throughout northern NY.
And the timing could not be better, as this week begins the much-anticipated 111th Christmas Bird Count. Across New York State and countries all over the Western Hemisphere, birding enthusiast’s will cover many miles by car, on foot, on skis, in boats, all in search of avian critters to count.
New Yorkers will begin there counts this weekend and even through the holidays they will keep an eye on bird feeders, nearby parks, and wood lots and record their findings. Adirondackers can find about half-a-dozen CBC’s in their neck of the woods
Click here for more information on the NYS Christmas Bird Count.
And here’s an additional article from the New York Times
Also…at this time of year, how can we not think about the amazing winter survival strategies that are going on all around us in the animal world.
Winter World is a book written by Naturalist/Professor(UVM) Bernd Heinrich which delves into the frigid world of winter and survival techniques that animals use to make it through the many sub-zero nights. A must read!
Around my neighborhood gray squirrels raid birdfeeders and local conifer stands by day but what do they do as late afternoon temperatures drop and a clear night sky plunges the thermometer to zero or below? Heinrich takes great effort to explain the ways animals make it through another winter night.
Finally…snowflakes have been on my mind lately. We all know the wonderful 6-sided shapes they come in as they fall on our face, sleeves, or tongue. But do they all look that way throughout the winter? The answer is no.
Snowflakes can change shape even as they fall from hundreds of feet in the air and finally land on the ground. Flakes of early winter(like now) will usually hold their hexagonal shape with multiple edges. They may even collect other flakes as they fall and give us the big downy flakes right down to the ground.
But as we progress through winter the moisture and temperature levels in the air decrease and as the flakes fall they often collide with one another resulting in broken pieces of the crystal breaking and falling to the ground. We often see these smaller column-shaped or “spicules” landing on our gloves later in the really cold months of January or February.
Go buy some cheap black knit gloves and head outside while it’s snowing to enjoy the shapes of snowflakes all winter long.
Photo Credit: Brian McAllister
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 July 7th, 2010 Add a comment >>
The alarm clock struck 6am and it was still 69 degrees out. The 3 “H’s” were going to make a third appearance this week.
Pouring myself into my kayak I took great joy in knowing that I would be birding atop a glistening river where tall trees along the shoreline, create a temperature-dropping shade to hide myself and rejuvenate.
With beaver dam obstacles, low-growing alder shrubs, and the occasional deer fly all behind me I can now focus on my task of surveying another boreal forest habitat for resident birds. I’m on “part two” of my Chubb River survey. Part one was from the DEC Canoe Access Site (along Averyville Rd in Lake Placid) to the 1/4 mile “carry” skirting some rapids and waterfalls. Part two is from the end of the carry to about a mile further up stream.
As I plop back into my kayak at the end of the carry, I hear the sounds of warblers and flycatchers nearby. I conduct this survey by listening to all bird vocalizations and recording them during a 10-minute point count. I have 5 points on this section of the River.
Suddenly I find myself writing down bird names furiously as they blend their songs and call notes into a chaotic melody. After 3 minutes I tick off Northern Parula Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, Purple Finch, Magnolia Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush.
Well, I have to say, I’m surprised at the liveliness of the birds this hot, early morning. I was expecting a quiter survey. But once again the birds prove me wrong and belt out song after song in the steamy, jungle-like humidity of an Adirondack(?) summer.
My next three point counts continued along with the same unexpected results. Birdsong seems to filter down from the tall conifers and out onto the flat layer of sedges that line the river’s edge. Singing White-throated Sparrows sit among the conifer branches, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Nashville Warblers top-off this Adirondack symphony from their hidden perches in the alder shrubs.
I finally make my way to the 5th and final point count of the morning. I’m still in a marshy habitat along the river with sedges, alders, and grasses towering over me and my kayak. Then, just beyond my line of sight, falling somewhere outside of my imaginary 50 meter circle that I sit in, I hear the emphatic request…”Quick-Three-Beers” of the Olive-sided Flycatcher
To me, no other bird carries the boreal region in it’s song more so than this bird. I long to hear those notes off in the distance on some far-off peatland or conifer swamp, telling me that it has safely arrived on the breeding grounds.
To our dismay the Olive-sided population, across the country, has dropped precipitously and ornithologist are scrambling to figure out the cause. Loss of habitat on breeding grounds? Loss of habitat on wintering grounds? Answers elude us.
All the other birds I hear on this steamy morning share their notes with the landscape, and to one another. And they all go on with their lives having dodged disaster after disaster on yearly flights North and South. As they sing along this river they speak volumes to those who will listen.
Photo Credit: Royal Fern along River-Brian McAllister