Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sun in Leo: Dog Days of Summer

"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken." - James Dent

The West Fort Ann house has a new, extremely unwelcome visitor: a cat. It seems to be feral, very timid of humans. I cannot get anywhere near it, not that I want to. I just want it gone, no defecating worms into the garden and no attacking my feathered buddies. I'm hoping it left alone the green frog I found today. The frog "spoke" to me when I came near; unfortunately, I don't speak it's language. It then hopped into some water and turned back around to look up at me. For all I know, it could have thanked for me providing a cool spot on such a hot, humid summer day.

The nesting House Wrens are still around. It feels like I have been saying this for a month now. I have seen the pair, but I have seen no others. They like to sit on top of the nest box or this metal windmill ornament in front of their "house" and call, and I've watched them catching insects. They don't seem to mind my presence, except that the Mr. has designated a certain spot he doesn't want me to cross. I like to mess with him and sneak up near his nest box, where he will pause in his preening to look at me and open his bill without sound coming out, as if warning me that if I take one step closer, he was going to make noise. And he does, if I come forward. He'll close his bill and go back to preening if I back off. But I usually leave him alone and let the wren family have it's space. Tonight I scared off the juvenile Blue Jays and a Grackle from trying to attack him.

The juvenile Blue Jays are a blast. They hang around the yard, since it's a source of easy food. They sit in nearby pine tree perches and whine, then fumbling with flight to get to a location. One of them is still spooked by human presence. He/she sat completely unmoving on the suet feeder with a huge chunk in it's bill, staring at me to see what I was up to. Another one is trying to figure out how to use a feeder that is way too small. It also seems like they've been alerting each other to the presence of that unwanted cat.

I heard the Red-eyed Vireo today making an alarm call briefly, that hoarse "qwaaa" sound. Not sure why it's here on a daily basis now, with it being the middle of summer.

Goldfinches and chickadees are still in good number here, and I occasionally see one of the young Chipping Sparrows messing around the yard. I have noticed a lack of American Robins suddenly. The Broad-winged Hawk is no longer watching the yard as territory.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Before Noon Treasures

I have realized that every time I have come down with a skull-crushing headache, there's a low pressure system hanging overhead. I guess it's nice to know that I'm that strongly connected to nature, but I'm not liking the squeezing of my brain feeling.

I braved the heat today and got out birding earlier in the morning! I wasn't sure I'd even enjoy it, but I definitely did. I even found out that I've been missing out on quite a few morning species at my favorite spots. I felt like I had won the lottery.

I typically visit Ash Drive/Warren County Bikeway by Glen Lake in the early afternoon. Today I got there at 9:30 AM. This is what I saw:
- Eastern Kingbird (2 - seemed to be a pair that was constantly calling to each other, and one was very much keeping an eye on me)
- American Crow (1 - not heard there before)
- American Robin (3)
- Red-eyed Vireo (2 - not heard there before!)
- American Goldfinch (1 male picking at a thistle, 4 heard)
- Tree Swallow (2)
- Song Sparrow (1 - a regular but it sat right out on a bush in plain view, calling)
- Blue Jay (4 - not seen here before, they tried mobbing me because I was pishing something else!)
- Black-capped Chickadee (3 - believe it or not, not heard here before)
- Gray Catbird (2)
- Yellow Warbler (1 - NOT the male I've seen all summer, looked like a juvenile)
- Barn Swallow (1 - not a regular)
- Common Yellowthroat (1)
- Red-winged Blackbird (1 - I miss them already)
- Cedar Waxwing (2)
- Great Crested Flycatcher (1 - not a regular)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Northern Cardinal (1 - not heard here before!)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1 - not heard here before!)
- Hairy Woodpecker (1 - not seen here before! It landed on a wooden pole right in front of me and started working on destroying it. I was so happy, I've missed the woodpeckers lately.)
- Mourning Dove (1 - can't remember if I've seen them here before, my memory says no)
- Great Blue Heron (1 - saw earlier this spring being mobbed, today it was restful without the blackbirds around. It waded for a bit, then flew up to a roosting spot in a tree where it stretched out and then sat)
- possible Baltimore Oriole? It landed in a tree right below one of the Kingbirds, mere inches below, and looked up at the kingbird. The kingbird seemed surprised, looked down, and then called feverishly, scaring the "oriole" into the bushes. The bird was quite ugly in color, and I'm guessing it was a juvenile male, but the coloring was totally weird. It was a bit bigger than the kingbird, and had a long tail, brownish-orange at the tip tapering in a gradient to almost white at the body; the upper body and head/face were almost completely brown with some orange mixed in; the black eye was surrounded by a black mask that resembled that of a waxwing; the wings on this weird bird were black and white patterned like that of a goldfinch. Some of that brown seemed to be hints of future black feathers, and I could figure out that the brownish-orange would become future bright orange. I can't even think of another bird it could be. And that would be my first Oriole here.

I couldn't stop there! It was still not too hot and I was so totally pleased with my finds that I headed to the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls. During my walk here it became extremely hot and humid, to the point where NO ONE else was on the byway at all. Ouch. I did meet a few neat people early on, including a backyard birder who was extremely worried about all of her birds suddenly missing (she loved hearing me talk about fall migration and she walked away excited and relieved), and a young girl with her mom who remembered that I had given a bird presentation at Moreau Lake in June! To hear one of the kids recall that and even say they liked it was great. Both mom and daughter talked about how they are always looking for birds and trying to ID them. I was beyond glad.
So here's my feathered friends:
- American Goldfinch (15! They're either currently breeding or just post-breeding, so the #s make sense.)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Canada Geese (10 together, 1 alone - this was so sad. There's been one there who is not thriving. It is extremely skinny and small, the group won't let it near, and it begs humans for food even while it's carrying grass around. Someone told me it is definitely ill.)
- Yellow Warbler (1 female, 6 unknown - you may recall I previously noticed they were missing from here. So there's still some but the numbers have greatly decreased).
- American Robin (7)
- Mallard (4 females, 4 eclipse males, 3 unknowns as they had their heads under their wings, and 1 male)
- Song Sparrow (7 - more than usual?)
- Northern Cardinal (2 males, 3 unknowns)
- Cedar Waxwing (8)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (1)
- Common Grackle (1 juvenile - I so badly wanted it to be a Brown-headed Cowbird)
- Northern Mockingbird (never seen here before, and it seemed to be nesting)
- Tree Swallow (3)
- White-breasted Nuthatch (2)
- Gray Catbird (5 - they seem less shy in the morning)
- Black-capped Chickadee (12 - more than usual)
- American Crow (1)
- Red-eyed Vireo (2 - not seen here before, and these two were making themselves visible to me! They were totally on alert. They also wouldn't sit still, so I couldn't even see their red eyes, but I definitely saw their "white eyebrow." Pishing these birds is interesting, each time I pished they would fly out to the CLOSEST branch to me! They were also giving their alarm call repeatedly, which I hear as a quickly descending 'qwaa' sort of like the song of the Red-bellied Woodpecker.)
- Possible House Wren - (very tiny brown bird with no defining mark flitting around, calling "chek chek chek chek" vaguely resembling a nuthatch. Upon listening to audio tonight, I'm not so sure, because the call sounded more of a Marsh Wren.)
- Eastern Kingbird (1)
- Blue Jay (1)
- Veery (1 - buy the SGF Water Works building)
- Great Crested Flycatcher (1)
- House Sparrow (5 males, about 15 others! They were a flock moving through the area, looking for food. I had previously never seen a single House Sparrow here. They were picking up everything off the ground to see what it was, including dried out old gum wads and a feather twice as long as their little bodies.)

There is also an inlet past the SGF Water Works building that sometimes has cool stuff. This time a muskrat was nearby rummaging around in the grass.
- Eastern Phoebe (1 - it was really busy flycatching, which was so neat to watch)
- Song Sparrow (2)
- Mourning Dove (1)
- Great Crested Flycatcher (1)
- Cedar Waxwing (3)
- Gray Catbird (1)
- American Goldfinch (2)
- American Crow (1)

Maybe I can get myself to bird more often in the morning!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

90 Degrees

That is what the digital thermometer read around 1 PM today! The humidity gives it a tropical rainforest feel. I really don't know why the Yellow Warblers leave during the hottest months in the Northeast, this seems to be their weather.

This unfortunately pushes me indoors a bit more than in spring, except to check on a few things, including some wildflowers around the yard. I did spot the House Wren peeking out of the hole in his/her nest box during mid-day (it's probably rather cool in there), and two Mourning Doves sitting on wires shaded by tall pines, cooing. The Red-eyed Vireo is still nearby. Male and female Goldfinches were feeding from every feeder possible, and refusing to disperse with my presence. Their cute little noisy conversations are most welcome. An American Robin was outside my window earlier, searching for worms. I also saw ol' bluecoat (the male Eastern Bluebird) a 10 minute walk down the road at a mini-golf park...he had been MIA for a week.

Right now I could use some October weather!

Yellow Warbler movement Pt 2

Tonight (July 27) I noticed more movement from Yellow Warblers. At 8:15 PM at the Queensbury K-Mart parking lot I heard one calling from one of the small trees planted near the edge! This is not a usual spot for them, though apparently a Common Yellowthroat did breed here this spring as I frequently heard one of them calling there. But it is a parking lot home to many Ring-billed Gulls (in all stages of their lives) and plenty of House Sparrows. Gulls were nowhere to be seen that late at night tonight, but the House Sparrows were having a party, apparently. I also noted the abundance of House Sparrows in the Queensbury Wal-Mart parking lot this morning around 10:15 AM. Also at K-Mart tonight was a Red-winged Blackbird calling further in the distance, and a very noisy Northern Cardinal.

If anyone wonders why I seem to get such a strange mix of birds or wonders why so many wetland birds are seen or heard so close to mass market stores, it's because all of them were built in a marshy wetland area. Cattails are abundant on roadsides here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, Is It Hot Out There

Upstate New York finally has summer, my least favorite season, believe it or not. The humidity is why, and it is intense now.

This morning around 9:45 AM I heard a Red-eyed Vireo calling across from the West Fort Ann house. It is probably not a resident bird, I rarely hear vireos around the house, so it struck me as odd that I would hear, "Here I am, in the tree, look up, at the top" while getting in my car. It may have just been passing through, movement is occurring now as fall migration begins, but I also noticed all this summer that this location would occasionally get an errant bird for whatever reason. This breeding season we had that Black-throated Green Warbler calling all day long, for one day, never to be heard again. Weird...

Last night I realized that if I lived to 75 years of age, I'd have 50 years of birding under my belt. How exciting! :)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fall Migration Begins

Knowing that late July is typically when fall migration begins, I just had to get out there, no matter the weather. The weather was not great - overcast, very humid, windy, showers turning to rain, and so, so, so hot. I did some very slow walking and was still drenched with sweat. Yup, we do have a front moving through.

I actually got to see the fallout of the beginning of the rain along the Hudson River. For half an hour the trees were mostly quiet. Once the wind and rain picked up, dozens of birds noisily flew down to the trees along the bank, some mobbing each other due to landing too close to each other.

The site where migration is most evident around here is Ash Drive, along the bike trail. The Red-winged Blackbirds are almost completely gone, and so are the Yellow Warblers. I was quite sad until I saw some travelers stopping by, and of course the honeysuckle and other fruit-bearing shrubs are ready:

- American Crow (1)
- American Goldfinch (3)
- Eastern Kingbird (2)
- Gray Catbird (2)
- Blue Jay (1)
- Cedar Waxwing (4)
- Common Yellowthroat (1)
- Song Sparrow (1)
- Red-winged Blackbird (1)
- American Robin (3)

Ash Drive pit stop birds:
- Alder Flycatcher (2) They were rather huge flycatchers so it ruled out Least. They popped out onto an exposed branch in the shrub near me to see what I was, and I got a great view of how olive they were. They then started calling repeatedly, which gave their identity away.
- Barn Swallow (1) I have never seen them here before. This one flew right in front of me!
- Great Crested Flycatcher (4) Another I've never seen here before. They were alerting each other to my presence and sat on medium-level perches in open canopy, right where I could easily see them. They were passing bunches of either dried seed pods or leaves to each other.
- Eastern Phoebe (1) Never seen here before, and was in a very odd spot - sitting on the railing of a bridge over the water.

I then headed to the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls. Along the way I met an older local gentlemen who knew his birds as well, and we discussed what had been previously seen here. This is also where it really began to rain. Noticeably gone were the American Redstarts and almost all of the Yellow Warblers, and the Great Blue Heron was absent. The number of Cedar Waxwings seems to have exploded here, again a place with a variety of fruit-bearing shrubs.

- American Robin (3)
- Canada Goose (1 sickly looking juv that seemed to be shun from the group of 9 nearby)
- Mallard (10 females and 1 eclipse male)
- Eastern Kingbird (3)
- American Goldfinch (11)
- Cedar Waxwing (10)
- Mourning Dove (3)
- Swallow sp. (2) - too far away over the water, possible tree swallows
- American Crow (8)
- Northern Cardinal (1 male came right out into the open!; 1 more heard nearby)
- Song Sparrow (5) I finally got a great look at one. Had a dark brown chest spot, thin brown streaks on it's chest, and dark brown malars. This does not seem to match the illustrations in the two books I have, but the song from the bill I saw open was unmistakable.
Gray Catbird (2)
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Tree Swallow (8) I'm used to only seeing about 2 here - I'm not familiar with their broods but maybe some of these are fledges?
- Yellow Warbler (1 Female, another heard nearby - possibly the last pair left)
Common Grackle (1 Adult, 1 Juv mere branches apart)

Pit stop birds:
- Great Crested Flycatcher (2)

Happy migration! It makes me a little sad to see them leave, but I hope they enjoy their wintering grounds. I look forward to actually doing some birding in late fall and winter, I never have, and I'm curious as to what I'll actually be seeing then around here. It'd be great to get another Pine Siskin irruption.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Common Raven

Do Common Ravens perch on telephone wires? Once in awhile I find a blog, a forum, or even a bird field guide that has a comment under certain species stating that said bird does not typically perch on manmade structures such as phone wires. I have yet to see this statement regarding ravens. However, in my experience, ravens tend to be rather shy, retiring to the woods upon seeing you, and perching on snags/dead trees.

However, I've also spent many, many hours watching and studying the morphology of the American Crow. They are a common bird, and some of the best advice I've heard and taken from a fellow birder was to learn your common birds in and out so that when something less common comes along, you'll easily spot it. Wise words. They certainly came in handy today.

Driving along County Line Road in Queensbury, I saw a rather enormous deeply black bird sitting on a telephone wire across from AngioDynamics. Too big to be a crow, I kept an eye on it as I passed by. It looked rather humourous, such an enormous, plump bird sitting on such a thin wire. The shag hanging from it's throat was impressive! It just seemed such an odd spot for a raven. But then again, this spring and summer have been lessons in learning that birds are rapidly being displaced from their habitats and are attempting to adapt to the damage that humans keep doing. AngioDynamics was built in an area with a wetland or two (or more) and has resident Killdeer, which is also a rather rare and strange location for them to be in now, but they are certainly there. I'm not sure if they are there this month, but go stand in the parking lot next late spring - within 5 minutes I can bet Mr. or Mrs. Killdeer will come running along, yelling at you to get off it's territory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Still Out There - Moreau Lake, My Second Home

I swear I have not stopped birding, if you noticed the lull in entries! I've just been busy with other things, and my nature hikes have become...well, nature hikes, rather than pure birding hikes! July where I'm located does become a bit quieter bird-wise now that nesting is finishing up or done for many species, and I'm not seeing fall migration occurring here yet, though apparently it's begun in the Hudson Valley (south of me). I'll be keeping my ears and eyes ready. So a lot of what I'm hearing and seeing are residents still near their territories, where I've spotted them before, and my entries would simply be redundancies from the spring. Redundant posts may not be interesting, but I've loved that I can simply revisit certain individuals' "homes" in the woods. I can still be sure if I show up at Ash Drive near Glen Lake, I will see or hear the same male Yellow Warbler and same male Common Yellowthroat. This fascinates me. It's like saying hello to old friends and stopping by for a visit. And Mr. House Wren has been here every day, still singing his greatly trilled melodies.

I have been getting out though. On Sunday I took Jason (no, I haven't introduced him in a previous blog entry - I guess you'll just have to deal with the mystery!) out for a hike on the western side of Moreau Lake State Park. It was a little irksome that the park is becoming busier, but I do enjoy sharing info about the park with the confused visitors. I did not bird with binoculars while with Jason. I really wanted a hike out of this time, and I had a bag mishap - I don't have much of a strap on the bins, so once my bag was bust, I wasn't bringing them along. I did, however, bird by ear, not marking anything down, but pointing them out for Jason, who later told me he was intimidated (in a good way) by my skills. We heard American Crows, Black-throated Green Warblers (if you really haven't heard one and want to, they're all over Moreau Lake), Wood Thrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, Red-eyed Vireos, and um...well, that was it. It was awfully quiet in the park this weekend, and I really wasn't sure why. Maybe the combo of the ending of nesting season and the abundance of hikers and bikers. The hike itself was a blast though, and we got lost a few times only to find out we were very far from our intended spots.

On Friday, I went up Moreau Lake on the lake-side Nature Trail (with light blue markers) with Sue P. of fame, and David Alfred, the Environmental Educator at Moreau Lake, who you should really talk to about mushrooms, because he LOVES them. Another absolutely great hike, and with more great people! This was partially intended to be an actual bird walk, but us three love to chat about all things natural, so it veered from that a bit. But I kept a list for us:

In the parking lot by the Nature Center (great spot for birds until the beach gets busy/loud):
- Black-capped Chickadee (2)
- Eastern Phoebe (2) - a nesting pair that's been there since spring
- Scarlet Tanager (1) - my first ever F Tanager! I screamed with quiet glee! She was shades of yellow and olive and a very light tan on the underside. I saw her collecting insects and quietly calling, "CHIP-burrrr" while observing me.
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Chipping Sparrow (4)
- American Goldfinch (2)
- Thrush sp. (1) - I still cannot ID it, it was hiding up in a tree and peering down at me from a branch. All I saw was a necklace of dark brown streaks, and a whitish mustachial line. It was certainly Thrush-sized and shaped, however.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1) - spotted by Sue, as she was checking out some pretty flowers and the bird decided to visit them at that point.

Up the trail we went, with Dave making it official by giving the Intro speech! I wasn't expecting much bird-wise, being on the noisier side of the park (Eastern side of the mountain range, facing the lake). Boy was I surprised:
- Common Loon (1) - heard singing from the lake! Dave and I looked at each other in shock and excitement, as it was our first time ever hearing it call. A little odd for 10 AM.
- Black-capped Chickadee (10)
- Scarlet Tanager (2)
- Eastern Wood-Pewee (2)
- Broad-winged Hawk (1)
- Red-eyed Vireo (5)
- Wood Thrush (1)
- Winter Wren (1) - I give Sue major bonus points for hearing it from such a distance. If she didn't point it out, I would have likely missed the song. Because I'm not familiar with it. That's right, a new species for me!
- White-breasted Nuthatch (1)
- Dark-eyed Junco (1) - another major bonus to Sue. All three of us heard it singing a laser-beam-like trill, but none of us knew what it was. It's similar to Chipping Sparrows, but more musical. Sue actually spotted the Junco hiding very near a warbler.
- Blue Jay (1)
- Tufted Titmouse (1)
- Black-throated Green Warbler (2) calling "zee zee zee zoo ZEET!" and another (1) calling "zoo zee zoo zoo ZEET!" Yup, that's right, they have TWO distinct songs. It's confusing, especially when you also have Black-throated Blue Warblers with the similar song, "zoo zoo zooooo, zeeeet." I suggest listening to audio of each, although in my experience the Greens sound more exuberant and the Blues more tranquil, as their song is more drawn out.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Birding Hell

I know it's been awhile. I never stopped birding though. I'm always birding in some form. But today I am post-trip, suffering from the worst chaffing I've had probably since I was a baby, extremely sore legs, still suffering not-fun dehydration symptoms (ehem, hello bathroom), and sticky all over with horribly frizzy hair. My limp would make Dr. House feel like a total wuss for using a cane. I think I may be a little too insane over the birds.

How did I get to this point, you must be wondering. Well, I'm finding out quickly that maybe birding and hiking do not mix so well. To look for birds, one usually must look up. Where I hike, Moreau Lake State Park, one must frequently look down, because the terrain is very rugged. Tiny pebbles all the way up to massive boulders that would dwarf almost any human on earth are scattered in abundance. In some spots, rocks are all you're walking on, wet rocks, some placed to aid in stream-crossing. This led to me rolling one ankle twice and the other one five times today. Awful. All because I kept looking up to see my feathered friends. I'm always so worried that the second I look down is when I miss that rare one.

The chaffing? It was hot today. I never checked the humidity, but it felt to be at tropical rainforest levels, which is not surprising because the lowest point of Moreau Lake was caked with ferns, thus giving the appearance of said rainforest. Even though the winds were up to 30 mph I could not cool off. I even stood atop a boulder at the overlook (great view of the bend in the Hudson River, by the way), arms spread, mimicking the eight turkey vultures that had just set off from that very boulder, in an attempt to dry out. It was a no-go, so I sat for a bit watching the vultures lazily lilting on the gusts while I wolfed down a few (yes, a few, not MANY, I promise) wild blueberries.

The sore legs are due to me gravely underestimating the mileage of the trails I took. The map that Moreau Lake gives out is incredibly deceiving. There's no mileage posted anywhere. It's a topographic map in small scale so the straightness of the trails is greatly exaggerated. The trails actually wind greatly, sometimes nearly touching spots you just walked. So while on the map you guesstimate that a length might take 10 minutes, you somehow wind up powerwalking for 40 minutes instead. This caused me great panic today, as I started my birding hike around 2:10 PM. I walked the eastern ridge of the mountain range, trying to follow a trail marked by navy blue markers. Please note: the eastern ridge of a range in late afternoon will get very, very little sun. I just barely made it out before I could no longer see the markers! Terrifying. I was not ready to hunker down and camp overnight with nothing to make a fire with, and no water left.

So now you're probably wondering what is the point of this, why did I bother writing about my fail trip at all. Well, because despite how awful the experience was, the birds still made it worth it. I heard eighteen elusive Red-eyed Vireos, four Ovenbirds, eight Wood Thrushes, twenty-one Black-capped Chickadees, a Chipping Sparrow, four Eastern-Wood Pewees (a special delight of mine), eight Black-throated Green Warblers and a possible Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Downy Woodpecker, one Brown Creeper (another big favorite of mine), a Great Blue Heron flyover, and two American Crows. Actually seen was a dark blue male Indigo Bunting on high alert (note: they can look a shiny black in bright sunlight), a female Indigo Bunting, those eight Turkey Vultures from the overlook, two Dark-eyed Juncos, and a bright red with nearly black wings breeding male Scarlet Tanager that had me staring for almost ten minutes. I have never seen the red breeding males, only the strange orange variant. It even sat out in the open and called, "chip-burrr" for me multiple times. Three others were heard at various points in my walk, but he was appreciated most.

The winner was a bird I have found most elusive all spring and summer and is a new one for the life list (which I take much less seriously than a lot of birders). Back in May I went on a bird walk at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve with a guy who is really all about actually seeing the birds he's hearing. We stood by a small bridge in the preserve at some point, hearing the loud, distinct "QWEEP!" of the Great-crested Flycatcher, which I was hearing for the first time. We spent ten minutes looking for the oversized tyrant, never finding it. The guy seemed really saddened that I could not add the visual to my life list on that day, so I've made it a personal attempt to actually see one. And this time, I was not even following anything making a "QWEEP!" call. I was standing around in a small field where I had seen the Indigo Buntings, writing things down in my tiny book. I looked up just in time to see a quiet nearly American-robin-sized bird flying awkward ellipticals off of branches and landing on other ones. Up the binoculars went, and there I saw the yellow belly, reddish-orange undertail coverts, and dull brown-gray above, and the odd flycatcher shape. It sat quietly for a few minutes, apparently watching me back, until someone's black lab decided to jump on me and attempt to lick my binoculars to death. Ah, dog walkers.