Monday, April 27, 2009

Those Sparrows and Calls That Break the Brain

On second thought, listening, and memory, I realized that the calls are of a totally different sparrow then the sighting. THe calls, upon recalling a sparrow I spotted near the calling site, came from smaller, duller sparrows without the striking white and yellow supercilium. In fact, on these sparrows, the face was as dull as the body, but the song was remarkable. I cannot find a recording that matches, although Song Sparrows sound close and I even heard in the background of one recording some Red-winged Blackbirds calling, which is just what occurred on my walk.

The larger sparrow that I spotted was much further down the trail in different habitat - more wooded. Looking in my field guides, there's nearly no doubt in my mind that it was a White-throated Sparrow, whose call is not at all like those near the marshy pond.

I also noticed that the Chipping Sparrow call is very similar to that of the Pine Warbler. Not that I doubt my Pine Warbler IDs, but I can see where that'll quickly pose problems now that I see the Chipping Sparrows around.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bog Meadow Brook Trail

On Saturday I visited the Wilton Wildlife Preserve at 10 AM - 12 PM for a guided wetland walk at Neilman Parcel. It was awesome. I can't quite ever remembering visiting forested vernal pools before that, and I was quite impressed. Even with all the information I've learned over the years, I still learned new info, and got nice refreshers on wetland ecology. I didn't quite get to bird - I noticed birding is nearly impossible during a guided hike if that's not the goal. I did note hearing the call of some sort of thrush - this excites me, as I love the weird trills they make in their calls (my favorite is the Veery with the descending spiral call). Also, a nature nut with one of the most fantastic beards I've ever seen kept trying to quiz me. When we finished the walk, a Tufted Titmouse overhead was loudly calling. He asked me if I knew what it was, and I confidently called out the species. Victory!

After the guided hike, I drove about 15-20 minutes south to the Bog Meadow Brook trail just near the Wilton Mall. I've only visited it once before, and decided to walk the entire length. On an 85 degree F day with being out of shape and having already walked probably 2 miles, I quickly found out this was a terrible idea. I wound up extremely exhausted, very sweaty, and with a bad headache, barely able to walk by the time I was done. Oops. Also, I was quite overloaded - I've been finding that marshy ponds can be like birding on extreme hard mode if you're unfamiliar with that type of habitat.

I split up my walk into two parts. The first is by a large marshy pond, the second through more forested wetland habitat (with small streams and a much smaller marshy pond at one section).

Part 1:
10 Black-capped Chickadees
14 Red-winged Blackbirds
4 Pine Warblers (calling)
2 American Crows
2 Mallards (both M)
2 American Goldfinches
2 Common Grackles - very close, great views through the binoculars!
1 Canada Goose - hidden in the reeds, also came out to swim with the Mallards
2 Eastern Phoebes

TO BE IDENTIFIED:
- F Red-winged Blackbird? Was sitting near a male. Lg, sharp dark bill, white wingbars, white supercilium, whitish throat and narrow chest band that went around the sides of the throat, dark cap, dark grayish rump, speckled/streaked chest, long brown line well past eye, dark brown barring near sides but lighter on chest
- 4 Sparrows - distinct song with a central trill - hard to ID at first, most stayed extremely well hidden in the brush and their coloring keeps them hidden - later I caught sight of one and saw the long white supercilium with a touch of yellow near the front of the head (near the bill), gray face, quite streaky overall and a large size
- Unbelievably difficult bird to ID. 3 Flycatcher or Warblers, quite small size (smaller than a M Amer Goldfinch in comparison - possibly same size as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher), dull olive yellow overall, very dull underparts that didn't contrast (no difference in color between belly and undertail coverts), 2 very white wing bars, dull whitish eye ring, long primary projection, wings almost gray, brighter yellow just under wing, scalding was insect-like, a quick few clicks
- 2 solid chocolate-brown (except for maybe mildly streaky wings), Grackle-sized birds hiding in the bushes, difficult to see due to constant movement, with seemingly raised head feathers in alarm

Part 2:
15 Red-winged Blackbirds
29 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Downy Woodpecker
8 American Goldfinches
2 Pine Warblers
2 American Crows
5 of those sparrows
2 Northern Cardinals

BONUS: a chipmunk and a young garter snake
NOT BONUS: I found out after returning home that I had acquired two deer ticks from the Neilman Parcel walk (I had found one crawling on my shirt while there). I've since been very sore where they were - they were removed about 5 hours after picking them up. I do not like the idea of having yet another bout of Lyme Disease, but so far, so good.

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Today, Sunday April 26, I just hung around at the West Fort Ann home and did some garden work. I didn't do any serious birding, but the surrounding area was very busy all day. The robins are out in full-force and were noisy all day. There were the occasional callings of a Phoebe, a Pine Warbler, some Blue Jays, American Crows, and those unidentified hawks (too far away for binoculars). Many chickadees at the feeders, a chipping sparrow, and the nuthatch at the back feeder. Two turkey vultures flew overhead at some point, majestically, quietly soaring by. I swore I heard two calls of "Oh Sweet Canada Canada Canada" which was odd as I swear that's out of season, but I'll do some research.

Bonus: A M&F pair of Eastern Bluebirds checking out the nest boxes in the yard! I couldn't believe my eyes. I hope they find a desirable nesting site here and keep returning, as they are absolutely welcome here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Week Update

Ah, so I tend to get behind during the week. This is due to working 9.5 hours Mon-Thurs and 4 hours on Fri and having no motivation during those Fridays. Not good!

Weird week for birds. As you see below, the weather on Monday wasn't great. The weather for the rest of the week wasn't, but that's fine. Things are definitely changing along with the warmer weather. I'm seeing a lot of birds moving back in that went on vacation for the winter or at least deeper into the woods. Hooray for spring!

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Wednesday was overcast and about 60 degrees F. I couldn't bird because I was having a leadership volunteer orientation but I still observed. I was blown away by the sheer noise that morning at the West Fort Ann house as it sounded like 30-50 American Goldfinches had migrated in nearby. I really have no idea what went on, but those birds had been missing all winter and suddenly there's a few at the feeders.

I reached the Wilton Wildlife Preserve office around 10:20 AM and noted 4 Pine Warblers and 1 Northern Cardinal. I believe that's the first cardinal I've heard/seen here since before winter. In fact, my adventures today showed that they also are coming back in numbers now. I heard yet another at 3:15 PM when I arrived at AngioDynamics in Queensbury.

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Thursday weather was awful, at least where wind was concerned, as there were fairly consistent gusts to 20 mph. In fact, despite the temperature was 51*F, it felt more like 35. I birded from indoors that day. At the West Fort Ann house, I have my own personal feeder in my window. On Thursday I had 1 White-breasted Nuthatch, 2 Black-capped Chickadees (I chuckled to see a seed between the feet of one as it tried pecking it open), 1 Blue Jay who nearly fell off, and 1 Pine Siskin. Two American Robins nearby got into quite the fight.

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Friday was nicer, but cooler. No wind, sunny, and 46*F. There was quite a bit of early morning activity at the West Fort Ann house, including 2 Tufted Titmice and a Chipping Sparrow which at first looked like a Redpoll (yes, I got excited for that minute), and 2 Common Grackles - an adult and a sooty all-brown juvenile at the feeders. While most people dislike Grackles at feeders, they were a sight to see. I think Grackles are pretty, and the solid chocolate-brown juv was stunning. Also nearby was a Blue Jay (possibly the one from Thursday?). The Grackles were in a feeding flock with 4 American Goldfinches, 3 Pine Siskins, and 1 White-breasted Nuthatch.

I also was standing outside at 5:30 PM with no intention of bird watching when two hawks appeared overhead, circling. They absolutely took my breath away. I was also quite annoyed at myself for having no bins, and my raptor ID abilities are terrible, so they are unidentified. Having viewed quite a few Red-tailed Hawks in my time, I'm sure they weren't more. They were both smaller than a Red-tailed, appeared to have thick black bars on their short fan-shaped tails, were very white with reddish or brown nicely patterned spots/speckles on the underside, and one kept calling a mournful, soft, clear, high-pitched "keeeeeey-errrrr."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sherman Island waterfowl

Today I had no intentions of birding, but simply couldn't stop myself. I drove down to pick up the Moreau Lake trail map for $2 and decided to hit up the spots along Spier Falls Rd where I had gone hawk/eagle watching with the guides from the park.

And it took such little effort to find birds! Sherman Island is a neat little "way" off Spier Falls Rd, overlooking the Hudson River (and you can walk right down to it). I stopped, got out my binoculars, and started scanning. If I hadn't done that, I would have never spotted anything, besides the 3 male Mallards flying at eye-level. I saw a Canada Goose standing still in the water by the island, 2 female Common Mergansers with their feathery bright rufous heads, preening their feathers while afloat. An American Goldfinch made it's flight call in the distance.

I walked down to the shoreline, and scanned again. Another Mallard, this time female. And then I saw them - 4 Wood Ducks! Two pairs, hanging out near each other on the water. Absolutely stunning males. I watched them until they floated off out of viewable distance.

On the walk back to my car, I finally SPOTTED a Belted Kingfisher. I usually only hear them. The gun-metal-gray head and back contrasting with the bright white undersides really stood out, even better than in the field guide. It noisily flew away from me, but I saw it anyway.

Great success! I'll have to come back here again. Also, further north near West Fort Ann, I spotted two Red-winged Blackbirds perched on some reed grass, and heard a Tufted Titmouse. It's fairly quiet today, being cool and overcast, with a slight breeze that chills right to the bone.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Moreau Lake - First Warblers

Today was an okay day to go birding in Moreau Lake State Park, it was about 55*F and sunny, though quite a bit windy and there was an abundance of dog-walkers and kids screaming in the playground, and thus there was a noticeable quiet in areas of the park. I also realized I may need to be birding earlier there, as there was a sudden, astounding quieting of all birds around 3 PM, until I left the park at 3:20 PM.

My adventures are split in 2 as I was stopped by a nice old gentleman fishing with his apparent grandson at the Causeway Foot Bridge. He was just looking for a chat, and we had one which lasted for about 20 minutes. He was very kind, and he hoped he would run across me again there. Also, his grandson found a newt/salamander! Anyway, I'm amazed at the kindness of the people who visit the park, and today it seemed I was a bit of a novelty to some of them, as I walked around looking up while carrying a pair of binoculars. At some point I overheard a woman whispering excitedly to another woman, "She's looking for birds!" Strange, but neat.

So during the first half, from 12:50 PM to 1:40 PM, I walked along the road from the main parking lot, along the lake, to the beach/Nature Center. I heard 1 American Crow, and 14 Black-capped Chickadees along the way. When I hit the first open area with benches and a Phrag stand, I had what was apparently a Belted Kingfisher flyover (identifiable by sound rather than sight). Then I spotted 2 White-breasted Nuthatches - they were not very shy which gave me a good view. A very quiet Eastern Phoebe also sat still for me to stare at him/her while sitting on a low branch by the private cabin. Along the way I kept hearing a call that I could not ID coming from the tops of white pines. If you've seen a white pine, you can quickly figure out what the problem was with sighting a bird at the top. Also, none of these birds flitted about. The habitat quickly made me think it was a warbler, though I thought it odd that a warbler would make a trilling sound that reminded me so much of spring peepers. I noted this down and started counting...8 in all, all the way to the Nature Center. At the Nature Center, I spotted a lone Chipping Sparrow scaling the roof - I applaud myself for noting down the rufous crown, white throat, and black eye line, or else I would not have identified the sparrow.

At 2 PM to 3:20 PM was part two, from the Causeway Foot Bridge, up to Loop D (camping sites), down the trail to the marshy pond, along the creek/stream, back around the pond to the beach trail leading back to the Nature Center area. Just after the bridge I had 8 Common Grackle overhead with about 4 Red-winged Blackbirds. All were noisily calling, apparently unhappy with my presence. Unfortunately for them, I was not so disgruntled and stood watching them for quite some time. All along my way back to the Nature Center I heard about 8 American Goldfinches making their 'potato chip' flight call. I also spotted 3 American Crows flying silently. I counted 7 more mystery birds making calls that sound like spring peepers. 12 Black-capped Chickadees were counted.

At the pond I saw two silent Canada Geese. One was still, the other dipping it's head into the water. Near the stream/creek I caught the sight of a Hermit Thrush. Along the beach trail, another quiet Eastern Phoebe sitting at eye level, this one dipping it's tail. Also, two unidentified hawks. Definitely hawk-shaped, but one was mostly obscured by trees as it flew overhead, and another was so far away that my binoculars couldn't help.

Bonus: 3 Mourning Cloak butterflies on the beach trail; 2 painted turtles right near those Canada Geese in the marshy pond!

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So the mystery birds (15 in all) making peeper-like calls? After getting online and doing some crafty searching, I quickly found out they may be Pine Warblers, and apparently they are nesting now. However, Chipping Sparrows make a nearly identical call, so I'm not sure how many of them were one or the other. I'll have to study their calls more.

The Hermit Thrush was quite a challenge as well. I've never actually seen one before and did not at first know which identifying characteristics would be helpful. Plus, the thing was 'shy' and quickly hopped to underbrush. I tried stalking it, but it was dark brown, and so was the underbrush and dried leaves. I was not fooled, however, by the distinct rufous tail contrasting greatly with the darker (chestnut?) brown back and head. And I knew it was a thrush by it's American Robin-like shape and behaviors.

Oops, Already Behind!

Ah, so where was I. I'm a little behind, due to being busy with a bunch of things, both bird- and non-bird related. Time flies lately. Also, the weather conditions haven't been that great this week for birding, it's warming up but every day the winds cause a lack of birds.

So:

Thursday, April 16th:
10:35 AM (10 mins), sunny, slight breeze, 50 degrees F at West Fort Ann, Hadlock Pond Rd
3 Pine Siskins at the feeder fighting with each other
1 American Goldfinch heard, flight call
3 Black-capped Chickadees heard calling
3 Mourning Doves flying overhead (with the neat wing noise)

Friday, April 17th:
3:20 PM (10 mins), sunny, quite windy, 67 degrees F at West Fort Ann, Hadlock Pond Rd
1 Tufted Titmouse making it's pew pew call
Bonus: 1 Gray squirrel making alarm calls and shaking it's tail while hanging on the side of a tree

Also, at 7:20 PM, I let the dogs out into the yard, and my lab immediately took off excitedly barking up the apple tree. When looking out, I saw that she wanted to grab this pudgy Blue Jay sitting on a top branch. It acted as if it couldn't fly, which made me wonder if there was a fledge nearby, but closer inspection after the bird flew away showed nothing. I heard another Blue Jay calling from a distance, just outside the boundary of the yard. I'm so glad to see them around again as they are one of my favorites.

Saturday, April 18th:
Nothing! Around noon it was dreary and cool, with rain clouds quickly moving into the Warren/Washington/Saratoga counties. The rain began around 1 PM while I was in Saratoga at the library (actually, I heard a few American robins, saw a bunch of unidentified sparrows, and watched 2 Common Grackles noisily feed from the ground) and when I pulled into the Moreau Lake State Park half an hour later, it showed that it was not going to let up. Disappointed, I drove home and worked on other things.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Unofficial Birding

I haven't had time to actually bird the past 2 days due to having to run errands and then work for 9.5 hours during my afternoon/evening/night, but I do pay attention to what's around here.

Both days I've spotted Red-winged Blackbirds in the Queensbury area flying over the car.
I've spotted what were likely two first year male Indigo Buntings, with the deep blue tail and very dark brown bodies. They were in different locations, one in Queensbury and the other at Hillbilly Fun in West Fort Ann.

Also, two gulls flying above Burger King in Queensbury (by the Aviation Mall). Unidentified.

An Eastern Phoebe singing near the house yesterday, sitting on the top branch in a deciduous tree (no leaves yet). I have never seen them here before, so that was a treat.

Also today at 12:40 PM, saw a Red-tailed Hawk soaring quietly overhead (low to the ground - there's a lot of food around here for them) at the house! I saw it twice, as I went for a little walk to see if it'd perch anywhere. It reminded me that I need to print out the neat raptors guide sent to me by Dave from Moreau Lake State Park.

Hopefully I will have time this weekend for some official bird counts! I'm planning a trip to Moreau Lake this weekend, and might hit up a few trails nearby as well.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Backyard Lunch Watch

It's still fairly cold due to the wind (52 degrees F but gusty), but a nice sunny day. At noon I sat outside near the feeders with my lunch to see what was going on. This is what occurred:

  • About 6 Pine Siskins high in the trees calling, 1 of them visited the feeders
  • 1 White-breasted Nuthatch calling
  • 2 American Goldfinches high in the trees, 'potato-chip' flight call
  • 3 Black-capped Chickadees total, all of which started off with the "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" call, also a descending "tseee." Two visited the feeders, where one made a high-pitched "chip" and the other sat and repeatedly pecked at the plastic window on the feeder. I'm not sure if the bird was confused as to how to get to the seeds or if the loud, resonant sound of the pecking on the feeder was used as an alert sound. Also interesting, just before they visited the feeder, one individual would call "chick-a-dee-dee" and the next individual would immediately begin the same call, back-and-forth, with the third individual repeatedly calling over both of them with the "tsee."
Bonus sighting: a tiny orange butterfly, no larger than a quarter, fluttering by. I didn't get a good look at it and it's flight was very quick due to being carried by the wind, so no ID.

Earlier while driving around the area I noticed two gulls in the Burger King parking lot. No ID on them either, but I do know that they love BK French fries.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday log

Today was unseasonably cold, with quite a bit of wind to go along with it (gusts up to 25 mph), effectively creating a wind chill of 30 degrees F. Obviously, the birds were not out today, but I still attempted a short stationary count near Hadlock Pond. There were no birds at the feeders, but there was 1 American Crow flyover, 2 American Goldfinches higher up in the trees calling periodically, and 1 Black-capped Chickadee alarm-calling from a nearby location, hidden lower in the bushes.

Looks like the weather will warm up later this week! I can only hope.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Humble Beginnings

Ah yes, so here we are. The snow has thawed, the sun is warm, and spring is here. Which means I get a little bird-crazy. And I have certainly been busy.

For today, Saturday, April 11th, I was busy doing y
ard work (spring cleaning) but kept an eye on my feathered friends throughout the day. The yard, which is located near Hadlock Pond, got these guys:

* 2 Mourning Doves
* 6 to 8 Black-capped Chickadees
* about 8 Pine Siskins - 2 or 3 obvious juvs! They were so very tiny. And very unafraid of my presence while they ate at the feeders.

* 1 White-breasted Nuthatch hanging upside-down on a very tall, leafless deciduous while continuously calling out it's nasal 'yank'.
* 2 American Goldfinches, likely juvs

Also sighted later in the day on Route 149 were two Turkey Vultures attempting to not get tossed around in the wind, and what was li
kely a Common Grackle sitting on a phone wire, with a pretty iridescent chest and belly of extremely dark blue, almost black. The Garden Center at the Queensbury Lowe's was full of extremely pudgy House Sparrows hiding amongst the trees for sale.


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To catch up on previous dates and mention sites worthy of bird-watching:

Yesterday which was Friday, April 10th, after helping out at Old Gick Farm at Wilton Wildlife Preserve (cleaning up some fallen/cut alder and pine trees part of some habitat restoration), I decided to finally check out the Bog Meadow Brook Trail in Saratoga Springs, NY. I've visited the nearby Wilton Mall for about a decade now, and somehow never knew this trail existed. Well, I was blown away. It's a neat litt
le trail that cuts through a marshy area and passes by a pond. This is absolutely my favorite habitat and unfortunately often too hard to find. I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of birds calling, and the pond seemed absolutely full of Red-winged Blackbirds, so my count number is probably quite low as to the real number.

*1 American Crow

* about 12 Black-capped Chickadees
* 3 unidentifiable sparrows due to them being so shy, hiding easily among reeds, and not calling
* 2 American Goldfinches making their 'potato-chip' undulating flight call
* 30 Red-winged Blackbirds, all sitting on reeds over the pond making various calls, some sounding like the clicking of a camera
* 1 Northern Cardinal calling
* 2 Common Grackles making the "chek-chek" call
* 1 woodpecker pecking (not yellow
-bellied sapsucker)
* 1 Canada Goose quietly standing in the shallow pond water. I applauded myself for a good eye on that one, he/she blended so well with the background that I almost didn't see it.
* 2 Mallards, a male noisily chasing a female over the water. I don't know much about Mallard behavior, but it seemed to be related to mating.
* 2 Hairy Woodpeckers who stuck around on trees long enough for me to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. I've seen enough Downys to know they were much too large.
* 2 potential Tree Swallows. I really
only see them in flight, above the trees near water, and they don't always call, but distinct swallow shape and very white bellies.
* 1 Mourning Dove
* who-knows-what making a "wheedle-wheedle" call, absolutely beautiful, clearly whistled. An hour of searching online and in my field guides offered no help whatsoever.

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My Moreau Lake State Park birding adventure on Sunday, April 5th was rewarding. I've absolutely fallen in love with this SP, and there's some great trails, and the park is nice for birding as long as you can keep the curious dog-walkers away. There is woodpecker evidence (tree cavities) EVERYWHERE. Also, bird nests of long past galore. I stuck around the paved road that follows the lake to the beachfront (where the Nature Center is) and then headed off on the bridge that crosses over to
the campgrounds, then hit up a nature trail that leads around a small marshy pond, back to the beach area.

* 2 Canada Goose resting near the lake shore, silent, almost creepy with how still they were.
* 3-5 Eastern Phoebes curiously checking me out and making alarm calls near the private cabin.
* 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hanging
silently on a tree near the playground. Looked about ready to explode.
* 2 Tree Swallows, again those silhouettes flying against the sky.
* way too many American Crows to count.
* mobbed by a bunch of Tufted Titmice near the campgrounds. One bold one stood on the ground about 3 feet from me, making alarm calls. I love those birds.
* way too many Black-capped Chickadees to count.
* 1 Downy Woodpecker calling
* 1 Turkey Vulture seen just outside
the park

**Bonus sighting! Four Mourning Cloak butterflies, likely all males considering their instinct to get back into the sun even after being disturbed, hanging out on the nature trail that leads back to the beach.



That concludes my recent adventures!