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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eastern Towhee migrant

And here's another recent migrant, an Eastern Towhee, male, hanging out on our shrub penisula, and area behind the bird feeder that we stock with berry-producing shrubs. This is a species whose populations is declining, so it's nice to see him show up and visit our restaurant to refuel for his migration.
It's always exciting and rewarding for us to know that our efforts at providing good bird habitat pay off and that we provide for the needs of both breeding and migrant birds.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lincoln's Sparrow migrant

Recently we had this Lincoln's Sparrow migrant stop by our yard. This species breeds in Canada's Boreal Forest, not near us in southern NH. We make a "sparrow feeder" by sprinkling some millet on the ground near a shrubby woodland edge, just the type of place sparrows like. That's where we found this bird. What a lovely sparrow, with its creamy breast with a pale, buffy cinnamon wash across the breast under the fine breast streaks. It has a thin, whitish eye-ring. Note the central breast dot, which might make you think it's a Song Sparrow.

Here's a Song Sparrow for comparison. The breast dot is bigger and the breast streaks are thicker. Sparrow ID is subtle, you must look closely at face and breast patterns. But we have fun searching through those "LBJ's (little brown jobs) to find some treasures, such as our visiting Lincoln's Sparrow.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Phoebe Hawk Watch/Pet Fest

Blogger Phoebe here,

You've been listening to Lillian and Don tell you about their hawk watching fun. Well let me tell you about my hawk watching experiences. First of all, it had nothing to do with hawk watching. What really went on was that it was a pet fest, starring me! Cuz' I'm perfect.
I got petted by the third grade class. Their teacher took them to see hawks but all they wanted to do was to pet me. They were really good at it, I especially love the scratching of my chest.

Then there was the ecology class of older kids, who spent a lot of time petting and admiring me.

In my spare time, not that I had much, I was so busy getting petted, I let the other canine visitors admire me. Here's a 4 month old Golden Retriever puppy showing he's clearly interested in me.

and even a Pug came over to check me out. Reminds me of my Georgia boyfiriend, Stockton, the Pug whose breathing quickens evey time he sees me.

Speaking of petting, did you humans know that research has shown that petting a dog can lower your blood pressure, anxiety, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Research has also shown that "after just 15 minutes of positive contact with humans, dogs have beneficial increases in hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin, prolactin, beta endorphins and beta phenylethylamine. Similar neurochemical changes occur in humans when they interact positively with dogs." (From article in the Mayflower Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club magazine The Corgi Cryer.) Win, win.

Until next time, this is Blogger Phoebe signing off
"Woof, Woof"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And More Highlights

The biggest numbers of Broad-winged Hawks went over Pack Monadnock on Thursday 9/18. At one point, we had a kettle of 300 plus broadwings with another several hundred behind them.

There were so many, Ian looked out and said "the sky is black over Pack Monadnock." You have to image the above broadwing photo multiplied many times.

At other times, the hawks were so close the above crowd (Don is in the center in blue) were treated to "naked eye" birds. That's a hawk watcher term for close birds.

Close Broad-winged Hawk.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More Highlights

I was giving another photograher tips for photographing hawks in flight while we were all watching the hawks migrate. Big tip — get on the bird as early as possible. Do not wait until it is right over your head to try and get it in your viewfinder. These photos were taken 2 seconds apart as a beautiful Osprey came right over our heads. The last photo is a slightly cropped version of photo 3. You can see how quickly the Osprey looms up in the camera frames. If I had not gotten on the Osprey in the first frame, I would have not gotten the closer shot. It's an adreneline rush to have the bird come over you so fast, to find, to focus and to hold down the shutter button, letting the camera take almost continuous shots. The result is satisfying photos of these magnificent hawks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hawk Watch Highlights

We had quite a week hawkwatching last week. Tuesday 9/16 there were 980 hawks, Wednesday 9/17 there were 860 hawks and Thursday 9/18, there were an awesome 2,533 hawks migrating past Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory where we hawk watch in southern NH. Other hawk watch sites in New England also had a great day on Thursday with 3,816 hawks being seen south of us from Mt. Wachusett in MA and 5,223 hawks seen from Mt. Watatic in MA. The vast majority of these were Broad-winged Hawks, who are on their way to Central and South America and will be passing by southern hawk watch sites in the mid-Atlantic states and the Gulf Coast.
For the next few days I'll show you some highlight photos, starting with this crowd-aweing dogfight between 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks (note the squarish tails, a great way to tell Sharp-shinned Hawk from the look-alike Cooper's Hawk.) Don't know why they do this, they just do. The first photo makes my head spin, the top bird is just about bending over backwards. They basically just chase one another, not hurting one another, for a bit, then continue their migration. Even though the Broad-wing Hawks have left New England, lot of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Merlins, Kestrels, Ospreys and more will still be migrating through Oct.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Hawks.....

Peregrine Falcon

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile, against cloudy sky

It was low clouds without strong thermals

I saw the skies west of us and said I hoped the Broadwings weren't passing us by in VT.

Had a nice day hawk watching yesterday, 980 total hawks were seen during the day at Pack Monandnock Raptor Migration Observatory. Due to the low cloud cover (not what the weatherman predicted) the hawks were kept low, giving nice close looks of Broad-winged Hawk 'kettles', and other hawk species to the hawk watchers, some of whom were hawkwatching for their first time (hi Dianne, Mike and Barbara).
The weather seemed somewhat better to our west, thus Putney Mt. Hawkwatch in VT (1,917 total raptors) and Blueberry Hill Hawkwatch in Granville, MA (1,948 total raptors) had bigger number of migrating raptors than Pack Monadnock.
There are still more hawks to migrate, so today and tomorrow should still produce some hawk movement. Keep looking.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gone Hawk Watching

Ospreys, Broad-winged Hawks and other raptors will be migrating today.

Conditions are perfect today for hawk migration in New England. There was also much land bird migration last night. We went outside and could hear the chips of many migrating birds overhead. If you have a chance, go outside today and look for hawks and migrant songbirds.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Perfect Storm - for hawks?

Tomorrow could be the 'perfect storm' (perfect weather conditions) for hawkwatching if you live in New England. Today, with strong (possible gusts over 40 mph) west/southwest winds is not. Tomorrow the forecast is for northeast winds at 5 mph. The temps are dropping into the 40's tonight and the 68 degree sun tomorrow will warm the cool ground and produce rising thermals of warm air —just the elevators the Broad-winged Hawks use for migration. Broadwings spread their broad wings, ride up on the thermals, then glide to the next thermal. Above is a photo of what a group (called a "kettle") of Broadwings look like while rising up on a thermal. This is what it looks like through your binoculars, and yes they are rather small and high up. This is the search image you want when scanning the skies for migrating Broad-winged Hawks.

Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in southern NH, where we go to hawkwatch.

Don scanning for hawks. Tip — focus your binoculars on a far distant horizon because the hawks are at a distance, tuck your elbows in to help support your binos and slooowly and systematically, scan back and forth across the sky.

Julie, the official hawk counter, who keeps the records for Pack Monadnock. The records go into the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
So tomorrow take your binos and look up for hawks, even if you're on a lunch break.

Friday, September 12, 2008

1541 Hawks!

Yesterday we had a fabulous day hawkwatching at Pack Mondanock Raptor Migration Observatory in southern NH. A thrilling 1,541 hawks passed the mountain top that day. The majority (1448) were Broad-winged Hawks, who migrate in large groups, called "kettles," that use thermals to circle and rise up high, then glide to the next thermal. Above is a photo of what a kettle of broadwings looks like through your binoculars. I took it with a 300 mm lens and they were high overhead. This was only a small part of the kettle of about 90 birds. How do we count them? One by one really fast. Really. And yes, we can accurately identify those tiny specs.

Pack Monandnock hawkwatch site is an elevated platform at the front edge of the south Pack Monandnock mountain. There are great views to the north and west. The mountain right in front is the north Pack Monadnock.

Here's a Broad-winged Hawk that passed a little closer. Note the broad wings and white undertail feathers.

The official hat sold as a fundraiser to support the hawkwatch site. There is a paid hawk counter who keeps the records which are turned into the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
There was a wonderful group of third graders at the hawkwatch site whose enthusiastic teacher had done a good job of teaching them about hawks. One adult referred to the "gas hawk" and we had to explain to the kids we meant "an airplane." Novices often spot planes at a distance and mistake them for hawks. I was actually photographing this airplane and found there's a real Broad-winged Hawk going by the plane!

Here's a Sharp-shinned Hawk we saw attacking a Broad-winged Hawk right overhead. This is a great size comparison shot. The broadwing has the striped tail, often visible from quite a distance, but note the broad wings, short tail and visible head. The "Sharpie" has short rounded wings, a thin body, square, longish tail and small head that does not stick out in front of its wings much. Most hawk ID from hawkwatch sites is done using the shape of the hawk at a distance. So field guides with close-up photos do you no good. You can download a free silhouette guide to hawks in flight, from the NorthEast Hawk Watch, here.

Something "Sharpies" do is often fight with one another or give grief to other hawks. Sharp-shinned Hawks are feisty hawks who eat other birds, maybe that's why they're always ready for aggression. These two birds put on a show for the kids and all the other hawkwatchers present.

The kids had amazing eyesight and spotted hawks with their naked eyes that the adults, including us, could only see through binoculars. The other thing they were good at was petting Phoebe, our Corgi, who got about 5 hours of solid petting. Here she is soaking it up. Pets are allowed on leash at the hawkwatch site.

A "Tail", a Red-tailed Hawk who had some hawkwatchers wondering about it's ID until it turned and revealed its red uppertail.

We have been hawkwatching for over 30 years. I was hooked on hawkwatching long before I met Don Stokes, then I got him into it. It's such a privilege to stand in awe each fall, watching the great exodus of these magnificent birds. We never tire of it.

The next really good hawk day in the Northeast may be next Tues. after the front passes. Keep looking up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


At about 7:45 am this morning, I went to the coffee pot and looked out the window at "pinnacle rock," a big rock next to the house. "Look, a hawk!" I exclaimed peering through the foggy light. Husband goes into birder mode and grabs the binos. I go into photographer mode and grab my Canon Mark II with the 300 mm lens plus 1.4 teleconverter. As I grab the camera I check the ISO setting, setting it as low as I think will still take a good photo. Fortunately, I can rest my elbows on the kitchen counter for added stability, even though my camera has image stabilization.
I just kept clicking away, hoping for a sharp shot and waiting, hoping it would fly so I might have a chance at that take-off shot. It sat and sat, my elbows feeling the weight of the camera, then it leaned forward and click, click, click, my instincts kicking in, I slammed the shutter button (which was in high speed mode) down.
Here are the resulting shots, both full framed and then cropped, showing all the lovely details of this immature Cooper's Hawk.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2 Mississippi Kite nests in NH

Speaking of raptors, the news is that there are not 1 but 2 Mississipi Kite nests in Newmarket, NH. The first nest was well visited all summer by many birders and just recently a second nest was discovered by NH birders. Both nests have fledgling chicks who hang out near their nests begging for food. On Sept. 4th, two NH birders, connected by cell phone, were each watching a different nest with a parent kite feeding a chick. NH birder Steve Mirick reported on Sept. 6th that he saw an adult feeding the chick at nest #2 on Gonet St. and then had a chick sitting and flying about near nest #1 on South Main St. while an adult flew above it. See his photos of the South Main St. chick here, and here.
So how amazing is it that in NH this summer, Mississippi Kites are not only recorded as a first state record, but they have two nests!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hawk Migration starting

Broad-winged Hawk

'Tis the season for migrating hawks. In the eastern part of the country, expect most of the Broad-winged Hawks to clear out of the Northeast between Sept. 10- 25th. Many other hawks will migrate during this time also. Look for hawks on clear days with mild north, northwest or northeast winds and good thermal activity. Broadwings migrate by rising on thermals and gliding to the next thermal, thereby conserving energy on their long journey to Central and South America.
The Hawk Migration Association of North America maintains the HawkCount website which facilitates the tracking and reporting of hawk migration. At the HawkCount website you can see how many and which kinds of hawks have been reported from all the major hawk watch locations across the country.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Golden Moment

Saw this lovely Black-throated Green Warbler, its golden face gleaming from the now lower light of the fall sun. Beautiful moments like this are to be savored.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

And Even More Nighthawks

Last night, had 82 migrating Common Nighthawks as we sat on the deck and counted. Grabbed the camera and got some of my best nighthawk photos yet.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


This morning a wave of little warbler migrants in our yard. Caught this Chestnut-sided Warbler just as it took off.