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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cedar Waxwing Glory of the Season

Cedar Waxwings

Our Christmas Bird Count team, l. to r., Don and Corgi Phoebe, me and Corgi Abby, Meade Cadot, Sandy Taylor, Jonathan Atwood (photo taken by Polly Pattison)

Cedar Waxwings move in flocks and look for berries in winter.

They love crabapples.

We did the Christmas Bird Count here, in southern NH, last weekend on one of the coldest days it has ever been held. After tramping around in the cold, we came across this glorious scene, a group of Cedar Waxwings feeding on crabapples. What beautiful birds, looking like velvety apparitions against the seasonal colors of red crabapples and white snow. I quietly enjoyed them and, from a distance, took these photos in the overcast winter light. Enjoying nature in each season is what it's all about. (Canon SX 50 photos.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Now that you've saved Snowy Owls, help save Bald Eagles, warblers from slaughter on Lake Erie

Bald Eagle

Nashville Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Sign near globally significant bird area on Lake Erie

Snowy Owls were just saved from killing when the NY Port Authority reversed their decision from shooting the Snowy Owls to trapping and removing them at JFK airport. The outcry of bird lovers on social media, TV, internet, etc. had an effect. Now Bald Eagles, warblers, and millions of migratory birds need your help!

These birds could face slaughter on a major migration flyway on Lake Erie by poorly located wind turbines. We are in favor of wind energy and wind energy is beneficial when sited in the right place, but not when massive wind turbines are placed smack in the middle of a major migration route where hundreds of thousands of migrating warblers pass by and where there is the largest concentration of breeding Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states! This could be a disaster for these birds.

Magee Marsh, the "warbler capital of the world," and nearby areas are under heavy pressure from the threat of wind energy development. Birders flock to Magee Marsh each fall to witness the many thousands of beautiful warblers and other migratory birds who fly through this area using Magee as a stopover and feeding area. More than 50 active Bald Eagle nests are nearby. There are plans to place numbers of large turbines along Lake Erie's shore in this area. In fact, several of them are already up and operating in these highly bird-sensitive areas. Future plans for even more turbines must be stopped! Black Swamp Bird Observatory is leading this effort.

Birders are an important voice for bird conservation, as well as an economic force. The tens of thousands of birders have who have visited Magee Marsh for warbler watching have brought significant money to the local economy.

If you are a birder or bird lover, here's how you can help:

Go to this link and SIGN THE PETITION and email these politicians and protest.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Good News, JFK airport will now trap and relocate Snowy Owls, not kill them!


Well, good news for Snowy Owls! The NY Port Authority, which has allowed Snowy Owls to be shot at JFK airport has now changed its mind and they are starting a program to trap and relocate the owls instead of shooting them.

I was interviewed for the NY Daily News exclusive story that broke on Monday which said the NY Port Authority had put the owls on their kill list and had already shot 3 of them. While I understand that birds can pose a threat to planes, I expressed my dismay and told the reporter there was a better way to treat the owls. I told the reporter to also interview Norm Smith, a raptor bander, who, at Boston's Logan airport, had been successfully trapping and relocating the Snowy Owls for years. I also gave her the name to interview, of Jeff Gordon, president of the American Birding Association.

Once the story broke birders sprung into action to put pressure on the NY Port Authority to change its policy. Through facebook, blogs and social media, the word spread. There was an online petition (which I and over 3,000 other people signed) addressed to Gov. Cuomo, asking him to stop the killing of the owls. The TV news stations got on the story. The pressure from bird lovers and the birding community was successful!! Thanks to everyone who made an effort!!

Snowy Owls, a tundra breeding species, have been appearing in unusually large numbers in the U.S. this winter and seeking out tundra-like habitat such as large airports, coastal dunes, fields. Some think it may be due to a lack of enough food availability in their usual range or a population surge of the owls. Snowy Owls have been seen now as far south as NC and Bermuda. Snowy Owls eat lemmings on their breeding range and in winter can eat rodents and waterfowl.
I and my husband Don, saw 9 Snowy Owls in the coastal NH area on Nov. 30th, when I took the above photos.

Lesson learned. Birders are a community who can be effective at bird conservation when they join together and lobby for safe treatment of birds.

Monday, December 09, 2013

NY City JFK Airport Now Shooting Snowy Owls!

Showy Owls are in the crosshairs at NY City Airports

The Port Authority has shot three of them so far.

Update, Tues., Dec. 10th.
Good news, since I wrote the blog post below, the NY Port Authority has changed its policy and will stop shooting the Snowy Owls and instead trap and remove them. Read my update here.

I was interviewed for a story in today's New York Daily News whose headline and tease is is "Hoot To Kill... Exclusive: Whooo'd be so cruel? Port Authority declares open season on adorable snowy "Harry Potter' owl at JFK airport." This is terrible news for Snowy Owls, especially when there may be a better, safer way to handle the issue that these magnificent birds, who leave their tundra home in times of food stress, seek out tundra-like habitat, such as airports, coastal dunes and fields in the lower U.S. I told the reporter that Boston's Logan Airport has a ace raptor bander, Norm Smith, who traps and removes the Snowy Owls who show up at Logan Airport, safely releasing the elsewhere. She did also interview Norm and there is a separate story on him in the paper.

The NY Port Authority gave permission for Snowy Owls to be exterminated at NY City airports and three have been shot so far. Owls are an issue for plane safety since they could be sucked into a plane engine. The news story has a quote "Even a wildlife specialist didn't understand why they were being killed because they are not part of a large population and they are easy to catch and relocate, unlike seagulls." Norm said that even though a Snowy Owl could get sucked into a jet engine,"its not like a flock of geese that is going to take out more than one engine and bring down a plane."

Snowy Owls are showing up in the U.S. in huge numbers this year and have been seen as far south as NC and Bermuda. These owls live in the tundra and must leave in winter when there is not enough food because of a drop in their prey (the lemming population) or there is a bumper crop of owls. They then irrupt south in large numbers and seek out tundra-like habitat and hope to find things they can eat like rodents, waterfowl, etc. Don and I saw 9 on the NH Coast on Nov. 30th, and I got the above photos taken from a distance in a car. See my blog post and more photos on the Snowy Owls here.

Birders across much of the eastern part of the country are being thrilled at seeing Snowy Owls, a lifer for many. One issue has been to educate people to keep a respectful distance from the owls for observing or photography, so as not to disturb them as they need to conserve energy and hunt for food. Now this! When are we going to be more sensitive to the needs of wildlife and find win-win solutions when the presence of wildlife may come in conflict with human needs.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Snowy Owls, Historic Irruption Underway Now!

Snowy Owls are coming down into the U.S. in possibly historic numbers. (note, all photos on this post taken with long telephotos lenses from a distance, mainly from a car, so as not to disturb the owl.)
We saw 9 Sat. on the NH and MA coasts. This one was sitting in a parking lot.
I love the soft feathers around the bill, all the better to keep it warm.
This owl preened
and sat in the wind.
 Grassy flat areas, dunes, marshes, and anything like its tundra home are the habitats these Snowy Owls seek out.

Here it is in front of a New Hampshire Parks vehicle.
There are actually two of then on this breakwater way out there.
Here's a closer view taken with the powerful telephoto lens (up to 4800mm) of the Canon SX 50.
There is a mega irruption of Snowy Owls coming down from their tundra areas taking place now, with reports flooding birding listserves across the northern parts of the U.S., southern Canada, and there has even been a Snowy Owl reported in Bermuda. Birders in St. John's, Newfoundland are seeing 150 Snowy Owls in a day. There more owls on the way and this could be a historic event. You can see a map of Snowy Owl sightings on ebird.

Saturday we saw 9 on the NH and MA Coasts, with birders reporting many more owls from those areas. Owls are showing up more in coastal areas but also some from inland. They are attracted to flat or rolling, grassy or marshy tundra-like habitats. We saw our owls in coastal dunes and marshes, but they can be in other places. There are Snowy Owls showing up at airports, and one was seen hunting the grounds of the Budweiser plant in Merrimack, NH. They can perch on buildings, rocks, houses and lamp posts overlooking favorable habitat. Keep your eyes open, they could be anywhere!

If you do see a Snowy Owl do several things:
* Report your sightings to ebird, the national database that tracks birds, so this event can be well documented.
* Do not get close to the owl to view or photograph it so as not to scare it away or harass it. These are birds that have left the far north because there is not enough food there. They are hungry and may be starving and need to conserve energy to hunt for food.
*Enjoy watching and appreciating these, usually rare, Snowy Owls for this is a special event. Some of these birds, unfortunately, may not make it if they do not find enough food.

Snowy Owls breed in the far north and in winter some come down into Canada and the northern half of the U.S. Sometimes when there is a food shortage in their usual areas, they may irrupt in large numbers and move south as they are doing now. They are diurnal hunters and eat lemmings and other small mammals and rodents, sometimes ducks and seabirds.
Male Snowy Owls are generally white overall with a suggestion of grayish barring. Females are heavily barred overall and young birds are the darkest of their sex with first year females being the darkest.

To learn more about Snowy Owls, and how to identify other birds (including all those you photograph!!) see our new field guides:


The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America contains over 3,400 bird photos (many of them from me and other top bird photographers) and is the most complete photographic guide to those birds ever done.


It is also available as eastern or western regional editions,


If you want to learn more about how to take photos with the Canon SX 50 Camera, go to my blog post here, where you can find out about my extensive tips.