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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Common Nighthawk Migration Happening Now - Tips for Seeing Them!

Common Nighthawk, male. Males have a white throat, white subterminal primary bar on wings and a white band on the tail. 

Common Nighthawk, female. Females have a buffy throat, smaller white primary bar and no tail band.

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk, female

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk, male

Common Nighthawk migration is in full swing here in New England. Last night in NH we saw 301 from our deck. We have gotten good flights before, our previous high count has been 2,202 in one night. We live on a dammed-up section of a river, where the river flows north and nighthawks often follow river valleys on migration. We count from our deck and are often joined by our friends.

Common Nighthawk numbers have been declining in the Northeast so it was very exciting so see so many of them that night.

This is peak Common Nighthawk migration time, so get out and look. The best time to see them is at the end of the day from about 5 pm to dark.

Here are some tips for seeing migrating Common Nighthawks:

1. Look during the later afternoon to early evening hours, from about 4 pm to 7:30 pm.
2. Look north, as they generally move from north to south.
3. Get comfortable, use a chair if you can, you will be looking for quite a while. Tuck your elbows in, it is less tiring and steadier to hold binos that way.
4. Nighthawks often move along river corridors
5. Note if there is an ant hatch. Nighthawks are attracted to, and eat, dispersing ants who rise up in clouds.
6. Study the photos above, to learn nighthawk shape. Often you will only see distant birds with long pointed wings, flapping rather slowly. When feeding, nighthawks fly erratically. When migrating, they move more directly and may even rise up on a thermal sometimes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Shearwaters, cool seabirds! See them on a whale watch trip.

Several years ago we went on a whale watch trip and we saw many hundreds plus of seabirds, we weren't counting as much as looking and I was also photographing. The seabirds were out feeding with the whales, near Jeffrey's Ledge, a 33 mile long shallow glacial deposit underwater formation that stretches from off Rockport, Mass. to south of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Because of nutrient rich upwelling from the deeper waters next to the ledge, it's very productive of food (small fish, mollusks, crustaceans) for the whales and other marine creatures. Here's a Great Shearwater in flight. By far, the most numerous seabirds we saw were Great Shearwaters. They have grayish brown upperparts, a dark cap and a variable white collar. This one has less of a collar. You can see the narrow U-shaped white patch on the rump.

We also saw a fair number of Cory's Shearwaters, shown here. The yellow bill is quite prominent, a help with their ID.

It ain't easy to photograph seabirds. First of all, you're on a moving boat. We were lucky in that the seas were calm, with no big swells. Some tips, brace yourself against the wall of the boat, keep you knees slightly flexed and plant your feet somewhat widely to steady yourself. Forget a tripod. The boat is crowded, rocking and you have to manuever around people. Use a telephoto lens with image stabilization. I had a Canon 300 mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter (giving me 420 mm) and a Canon Mark II camera. I now use a Canon 7D Mark II and a Canon 1 DX. If you can hand hold the heavy 500 mm lens or the 300 mm f 2.8 lens then good for you, they are too heavy for me.

Here's a Great Shearwater taking off, love the pinkish feet.

Another species we saw was this Sooty Shearwater, an easy ID because of its almost all over sooty color, except for the whitish on the underwing primary coverts.

Here's what it really looks like, with lots of little shapes bobbing on the water. These are Great Shearwaters, but you need to look carefully at each group of birds and all birds flying by to ID them. For great ID help for seabirds, use our best-selling, most complete photographic guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Take a whale watch trip and enjoy the seabirds!