Thursday, December 23, 2010

Old Man Winter

I must admit, winter is the hardest time for me to get out there to go birding. It's the short days and the unpredictable Northeast winter which is also rough on the birds, and with our migratory birds finally gone for the season, some days can lead to very few individuals. The lack of a variety of wild food sources (unsurprising) also make me a bit less interested.

I've still managed to get out and have still wound up seeing some neat bird-related events and species in the past few months.

One of them I just saw in the past hour, the hour before day breaks (it's now quite dim as the sun likely has gone below the horizon). Hundreds - not dozens, literally hundreds - of crows flying in a messy, loose stream, low overhead, heading to their wintering night roosts near the Hudson River. If one was not looking up one might not have noticed, as the crows made no noise.

The lack of noise from those crows was almost surreal, considering that most times upon seeing them, it's due to them cawing loudly, which I got to witness earlier today over the Hudson. I tried birding Betar today, but the wind was constant and extremely bitter, causing my face to become quite painful. I just had to turn around and slowly trudge back and nearly ignored the cries of about a dozen crows behind me, obviously agitated. My curiosity got the best of me and I spun around to see them dive-bombing a red-tailed hawk I had watched earlier in my walk (he or she had been soaring quietly against the whitewashed winter sky as if enjoying the cold streams of air). The hawk flew against the crows as if it found them silly and not at all a threat or annoyance.

Earlier in this season of darkness and brisk cold (makes me able to understand why some of the best metal comes from the Nordic countries; the freezing cold can be hell on earth) I got to watch in clear view, a tiny golden-crowned kinglet flitting about the branches at Bog Meadow. Absolutely stunning colors and a cute face. I even got the best view of the top of it's head, the orange-streaked yellow crown bordered by black. I thought, a photo of one taken on a snowy branch would make a great Christmas card. But even more astounding is how the little bird just cannot stay still. It's as if it is manic, unable to handle perching on a branch for more than a few seconds, needing to visit every single tree nearby. I'm guessing this is part of it's feeding strategy, as it gleans and even hawks insects. I guess if you're going to catch a certain prey item, the best way to do so is to move like it.

I actually feel as though I've missed out on a few species this winter, including the medium-sized owl I spotted in some snowy grasslands yesterday morning at 6:55 AM, pine siskins, grosbeaks, snow buntings, and the finches have all somehow disappeared. I did get a bald eagle earlier on, flying low overhead, low enough to clearly spot the white tail and head.

Ah well, 3-4 more months to go! Before I know it, I will be swearing at my field guides over warblers I've troubled myself to ID and getting a stomachache from overdoing the foraging.

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