Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fork-tailed Flycatcher Alert

A Fork-tailed Flycatcher has shown up in Massachusetts yesterday at the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in South Wellfleet, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This is a tropical species , well off it's migration route. It has shown before, quite rarely, in a number of locations in the U.S. and southern Canada. Most records are from the East Coast in fall.
I took the above photo of one that showed up in November 2006 on the coast of NH, much to the delight of many New England birders, including us. That tail is just amazing.

Being a flycatcher, it mostly sat around on perches then sailed out to grab insects in the air. But the NH bird also ate berries. Here's a photo of it plucking off a bittersweet fruit.
If you want to see the Massachusetts bird, hurry on down. It was still being seen this afternoon. You can see photos of it here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NH Morning

The leaves are turning into their beautiful fall colors, here in NH. The above tree is over our driveway.

Acorss our lake, through morning mist, here's the view.

Yellow-rumped Warblers are migrating through here big time. Look for their yellow rumps, which may be obscured by foliage, as here. They usually also have yellow on the upper sides.

Swamp Sparrow playing peek-a-boo behind the rhododendron branch in our garden this

We also saw some Eastern Phoebes, 2 juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, 2 Blue-headed Vireos, lots of White-throated Sparrows, and heard an Eastern Towhee as we birded around our property this morning.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Can't Wait

Our American Goldfinches just can't wait until our sunflowers are ripe. This male is eating the seeds before they fully mature. I always love to plant sunflowers in the garden. I have some for me for cutting flowers and some for the birds to eat. Usually, the sunflowers drop their leaves and droop their heads, then the seeds fully mature. Sometimes the goldfinches get to them first.
What I love about this image is the soft, painterly quality, produced by the lower light conditions and the fact the photo was taken from a distance. Shot with the Canon Mark II, 300 mm IS, with 1.4 teleconverter at 200 ISO, f 6.3, 1/200 sec.
I often think, if John James Audubon were alive today, he would be using a Canon Mark III, long lenses and Photoshop. The digital tools are a kind of bird art of today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Winter Finch Forecast

The White Pine cone crop is HUGE this year in New Hampshire, where we live.

The winter finch forecast is out. Done by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, it focuses on Ontario, but some of it is applicable to the northeast United States.

Basically he says there will be no major finch irruptions outside their normal winter ranges. Winter finches are those finches, such as Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, Common Redpolls and crossbills, etc. who leave their ranges some years, because of poor food availability, and "irrupt" down into the lower U.S. He says finch numbers will be lower in southern and southeastern Ontario and Quebec and higher in northwestern Ontario, northern Saskatchewan, the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland and northern New England States.

Here in New Hampshire we have a bumper crop of pine cones. We have many White Pines on our property and each is loaded with cones. The hemlocks and spruces on our property also have good cones. He makes predictions for individual finch species, saying:

* Evening Grosbeaks, whose populations are lower now because of outbreaks of spruce budworms, ruining their food in the 1980's, may wander down here.

* Pine Grosbeaks will not move south much because "mountain-ash berry crops are excellent in most of the boreal forest."

*Purple Finches will migrate south out of Ontario. They're a declining species and we are lucky to get them at our feeders each year.

* The type of Red Crossbill (there are different "types" with different bill sizes, who specialize in different cones) that likes pine cones will leave Ontario and northeastern Quebec because of poor White Pine cone crops there.

* White-winged Crossbills will leave Algonquin Park because of low spruce and hemlock crops and go to the Maritime Provinces and northern New England States.

Common Redpoll

* Common and Hoary Redpolls, species that love birch seeds, will leave and head elsewhere, especially westward in the boreal forest.

Pine Siskin

* Pine Siskins, which were huge here last year, may be scarce this year. Evidently they now seem to be in western Canada. It is unclear whether they will return to the Northeast this year.

So if any of you irruptive species are reading this, from those birders in New Hampshire, including us, we say,
"Come on down!!" We have lots of cones for you.

P.S. Ron Pittaway also says this could be a good year to see Northern Goshawks, because of lack of their food of hares, grouse and squirrels. We also may see more Blue Jays who will seek acorns here. Evidently Blue Jays have already been seen migrating in numbers along the north shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, because the nut crops in Ontario have been poor.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Goldfinch Mania

We have tons of American Goldfinches at the feeders now, all vieing for perching room. That's because all the baby goldfinches have fledged, swelling the population numbers. Finches love to feed in flocks, so they're all joined together, adults and young. The adults, looking scruffy, are turning from their yellow summer plumage into their drab, brown-gray, winter plumage. You can see clumps of the new, brownish feathers growing in amongst the molting yellow feathers on the adults.

Goldfinches seem to use the feeders more heavily now. Soon, they'll visit the feeders less and feast on the abundant, matured, wild seeds and cones in nature. That's when we'll get the question from our readers, "Where have all my goldfinches gone?"

Have faith, when colder weather sets in, and the wild seeds are eaten, they'll return to feeders. That's true also of many of the bird species that regularly use your feeders. So keep your feeders ready.

American Goldfinches breed across approximately the upper 3/4 of the contry and into lower Canada. In winter they retreat from the northernmost regions and range across much of the country including down into the South and Southwest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Juvenile Hawks in Flight

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

It ain't easy to ID juvenile hawks. It ain't always easy to indentify adult hawks either, but that's another story. We had posted a photo of a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk in flight and one of our blog readers asked if it wasn't really a Red-tailed Hawk juvenile. So that prompted this post.
Here are some of my photos of juvenile Broad-winged, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks and their differences.

The juvenile Broad-winged Hawk is variable. The above bird is lightly streaked on the flanks and belly. It has a has a thin center stripe on the center of the throat (in some cases the throat can be all white). The underwings have narrow dark bars on the primaries and secondaries, dark tips to the primaries and a hint of a dark trailing edge to the wings. The tail has numerous dark bands, which may be narrow, or thicker, with a dark band at the tip.

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

This is a darker individual with more heavy barring on the underparts. You can see rectangular pale panels on the underside of the wings, more visible when the bird is backlit, as here.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile, "Eastern"

Here's a Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile. Note the dark mark, called the patagial bar on the leading edge of the wings, a great ID clue. The throat can be white or, on more heavily marked birds, have narrow streaks. There are scattered dark marks on the undering coverts, sometimes looking like a comma. There's a white unmarked breast. The dark belly streaks form a "belly band," another great ID clue. There are numerous, dark, thin tail bands and there may or may not be a wider band at the tip.

Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

Here's another view of the same bird. You can see the belly band, and dark patagial mark on the leading edge of the wings. Juvenile Red-tails have a large pale panel on the outer edge of the upperwing, seen from above.

Red-shouldered Hawk, juvenile

One of the distinguishing marks is the pale, tawny, crescent-shaped mark on the outer edge of the top of the wing, showing clearly in the above photo. This can also look like a translucent crescent when viewed from below and backlit. This is very different from the rectangular panel on the wings of the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, or the rectangular panel on the Red-tailed Hawk seen on the top of the wing.

Red-shouldered Hawk, juvenile

The wing crescent is slightly visible on the underwing in the above photo. The breast, belly and flanks have dark marks. Throats can be white with a middle streak, or have more streaks, or all dark with a white edge.

As we said, it ain't easy, but looking closely at birds and photos helps you see new things and prepares you better for the next time you're birding and encounter these birds.

For further, more detailed information about hawks see our new field guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Photos of Broad-winged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk taken in the Northeast in Sept. Red-shouldered Hawk photographed in Florida in Jan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brown Thrasher, Hummers still here

We still have a Brown Thrasher here. Saw it today, along with some migrating warblers. It likes to sit in our rhododendrons, or in our peninsula of shrubs that's behind our bird feeders, providing cover. Thrashers can be skulky birds, but this one popped up to check out the scene.
Allowed me to get this photo. Such a classic Brown Thrasher pose. Check out the long tail and suprisingly long bill. Becoming tuned in to the shape of birds can help you ID them at a distance, even when you don't see their colors.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our Stokes Select Sky Prism feeder.

As we said, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are still coming through here, everyone's talking about it. It's late to see hummers. It has been pretty warm here, with lots of plants blooming. Maybe that, (or global warming?) has something to do with it. We're keeping the feeders up.

The birding has been good here. Here are some of the birds we have seen on our property in the last 2 days.

17 Wood Ducks
1 Green-winged Teal
1 Black Duck
2 Mallards
Great Blue Heron
Eastern Towhee
Brown Thrasher
5 Northern Flickers
several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
2 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
Northern Parula
Blackpoll Warbler
Palm Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-rumped Warblers
Gray Catbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Cedar Waxwings
White-throated Sparrows
Song Sparrows
Chipping Sparrows
Savannah Sparrows

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fixed it

I just figured out how to get photos to load into blogger, had to check the "accept the terms of service 2006" box next to the upload button. Now the button works and I do not get that message.

Anyway, panic is over, here's a Ruby-throated Hummingbird photo on Bee Balm. We saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird today, here in our NH garden, and have seen several this week. Mostly females and immatures, the males have left. Kinda' late for us to see Rubythroats, they usually have all gone by now. We still have Bee Balm in bloom here in our garden, it was feeding at that.

Just to update our blog readers, I still cannot get any photos to upload to my blog. The Upload button will not work. Is anyone else having this problem?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Osprey Migration

For birders, there are lots of Ospreys still to migrate, unlike the Broad-winged Hawks, which might clear out of New England by the end of the weekend. We had 338 hawks over Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory yesterday, 273 were Broad-winged Hawks. A front is coming through today, with sun and stronger winds.
Ospreys migrate singly, unlike Broadwings, who try to get in big groups then ride the thermals on their migration as an energy efficient way to get to Central and South America. They eat little on migration. Their food source of reptiles and amphibians becomes unavailable, once the weather turns cold, so they have to leave here. Ospreys will migrate into Oct. They can stop and hunt for fish and refuel. Since we're on a shallow lake that's a dammed up part of a river, we get Ospreys passing right by our house, during their migration.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2129 Hawks, Pack Monandock

Broad-winged Hawk "kettle" of them rising on a thermal of warm air. If they are distant, they look tiny in your binoculars.

Broad-winged Hawk, adult, up close. Sometimes they glide right over your head.

Well, well, in a total reversal of the previous day, on strong east-northeastly winds, Pack Monandnock had a big day, yesterday, a total of 2129 hawks, of those, 2042 were Broad-winged Hawks. Many moved early, then there was a lull, with more sun, in the middle of the day. Then cloud cover returned, but we saw big kettles of many Broadwings at the end of the day. Sooo beautiful to look out and see a large swarming mass of Broadwings rising fast in a kettle that went way up into the top of the sky. I never get tired of that sight. The more I see, the more I want to see. Those OMG moments.

Amazingly, Mt. Wachusett, which had big Broadwing numbers tues., and is not that far away below us, in Massachusetts, only saw 97 hawks yesterday, 60 of those were Broad-winged Hawks. Mt. Watatic, another nearby site, saw 915 hawks yesterday, 821 of those were Broad-winged Hawks. So Pack had the big numbers, yesterday.

There are still more hawks to move. Yesterday, at the end of the day, we saw big Broad-winged Hawk kettles, getting lift, in what seemed like big, gray, cloud cover, so don't assume they only move in sunny, cumulus conditions. If you want to see hawks, keep looking today. We'll be on Pack.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hawk update

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile

Here's a photo of a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk I took yesterday. Note the paler, squarish, lighter panels on the wings. In flight, with light from behind, the outer wing has a pale panel encompassing all of the primaries. This is a helpful ID clue, but not to be confused with a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, who, in flight, has a pale crescent at the base of the outer primaries.

It's been a strange hawk watch on Pack Monadnock so far. We have had relativly low numbers of hawks, especially Broad-winged Hawks, who migrate in large numbers this time of year. We have seen Broadwings migrating singly, or in small groups of twos and threes, with practically no real kettles, just a few of about eight to ten birds. Ordinarily, you would think that means Broadwings are just not migrating yet. Then you look at the numbers from other major active hawk watch sites nearby. South and slightly Southeast of Pack, lie, first, Mt. Watatic, then, south of that, Mt. Wachusett. Both are fairly close to Pack, Wachusett is about an hours drive.

Here are the numbers for the last two days.

New Hampshire
Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, Peterborough, NH
9/14, 315 total hawks, 257 were Broadwings
9/15, 334 total hawks, 273 Broadwings

Mt. Watatic, Ashburnham, MA
9/14, 526 total hawks, 472 Broadwings
9/15, 836 total hawks, 774 Broadwings

Mt. Wachusett, Princeton, MA
9/14, 1282 total hawks, 1231 Broadwings
9/15, 2348 total hawks, 2260 Broadwings

Putney Mt., Putney VT
9/14, 712 total hawks, 627 Broadwings
9/15, 284 total hawks, 240 Broadwings

So how could Pack see so few Broadwings, 273, and Wachusett, nearby, have a large flight of 2,260 the same day? There are no good answers. And it is not unusual, during a hawk watch season, for one of the three mountains (Pack, Wachusett and Watatic) to have a bigger flight, by thousands of birds, than the other sites. Pack had seemingly good conditions, and a number of good observers, yesterday. Frustratingly, (I'm trying not to whine here) we just did not have many birds. We did have fun people and close looks at some hawks, but no big kettles of Broadwings, which I really like.

The weather has been screwy, with changing forecasts. Today is quite heavy cloud cover here, with possibility of rain, and fairly strong winds, but a few hints of blue to the north. Tonight temps are supposed to drop into the 40's, then clearing tomorrow with ENE 9mph winds. Maybe more hawks will decide to move, maybe even over Pack.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Broad-winged Hawk, note the dark trailing edge of wings

Broad-winged Hawk, side view, on a glide, makes tail look longer

Broad-winged Hawk, going by, top view

Up on Pack Monadnock yesterday, we had 315 total raptors, 257 of them were Broad-winged Hawks. No big "kettles" of Broadwings, as there did not seem to be many good thermals (which they use to migrate). But lots of fun folks were there, and we all had nice looks at a variety of hawks. We had fun teaching some of the beginner's who were up there, to look at the quantitative shape of hawks ( such as length of tail compared to width of wings) as a good ID tool.

Some of my photos above show Broadwings from different angles. You don't always get close views from the underneath side of hawks, so it's important to learn to identify them from any angle. Keep watching and holding your binoculars on them as long as they are in view, even when they go by, and you'll learn a lot.

Windy conditions prevail today, with more northerly winds than yesterday, but warm, just like yesterday. So we'll see what the hawks think about migration conditions. Cold fronts are coming in, so good hawk watching conditions may occur, even into the weekend.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pack Monadnock, 301 raptors

Cooper's Hawk, juvenile (click on it to see larger image)

Same bird,

Same bird.


It was a good birding day watching hawks at Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory in NH today, with nice, close looks at a wide variety of raptors. They had a total of 301 birds:

204 Broad-winged Hawks
52 Sharp-shinned Hawks
1 Northern Harrier
5 Cooper's Hawks
2 Red-tailed Hawks
12 American Kestrels
3 Merlins
1 Unidentified Buteo
11 Unidentified Raptors

The daily hawcount data for Pack Monadnock and other North American Hawkwatch sites can be found on here.

Above are some of my photos from today. I was so close to the Cooper's Hawk it was frame-filling. I was using my Canon Mark 1D II with a Canon 300mm IS lens with a 1.4 teleconverter. I was hand-holding the camera, it gives me the best flexibility for flight photos.

Lots of people were there, including a college class from Daniel-Webster College in Nashua, studying raptors for their first time. It's great fun to help beginner's spot the hawks and point out their field marks. One of my favorite moments was helping 2 women, who got hooked on birding after last year's raptor release day on Pack. I helped them use binoculars better, pointing out that if you wear eyeglasses, keep them on while using the binoculars and adjust the height of the eyecups until you see cleary with no black circles. Usually people with eyeglasses have the eyecups on their binos turned all the way down. However, if your eyeglasses fit so that your eyes are very close to the lens (as was the case with one woman), then you may need to raise the eyecups slightly, until you see clearly. What a difference, good binculars properly adjusted to you, can make in your birding enjoyment!

At first, there was low cloud cover enveloping us, then the clouds lifted up, with more sun, mild winds and more hawks from about 11 am to 2:30 pm. Then it got considerably more cloudy and things slowed down.

There were great views of Cooper's Hawks, Merlins, American Kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Broad-winged Hawks were seen singly and in small groups of up to about 13 birds.

There are lots (thousands) more Broad-winged Hawks to come this season. Tomorrow through Wednesday should produce bigger flights as the sunny conditions and northerly winds hold.
But, then again, with hawkwatching, you never can know exactly when the big flights will occur. You just have to go (as we do) on every likely day and hope that the weather conditions will be right for the hawks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hawk Migration forecast

Broad-winged Hawk, adult. The broad black-and-white bands on the tail help ID it.

A "kettle" (rising group) of Broad-winged Hawks with a few Turkey Vultures

Broad-winged Hawk, juvenile has thinner tail bands.

Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory lookout

We closely monitor the weather to see when we think the hawks will move and the big hawk migration will occur here in New England. There's a gale off the coast of New Jersey and heavy rain is coming into New England today. Clearing will occur on Sunday afternoon with a high pressure system occurring over much of the Northeast. Forecast is,

Sunday, clearing in afternoon, high 70, winds NW 5-10 mph
Monday, mostly sunny, high 74, low 54, winds 5-10 mph gusts of 20 mph
Tuesday, partly cloudy, high 70, winds nw 10-15 mph, gusts to 25 mph

So we think hawks will move from Sunday through Tuesday. There could be a big push Sunday into Monday. The majority of the hawks that pass inland are Broad-winged Hawks who use rising thermals of warm air, gliding up on them, then tucking their wings and riding to the next thermal. It's an energy efficient (because they do not have to flap as much), way to make their long migration out of North America and into Central and South America. Broadwings migrate in the biggest flocks, most other hawks migrate in smaller flocks, or singly. Broadwings wait for favorable conditions, including northerly winds and thermals. So the conditions look good although the gusty winds on Monday and Tuesday could blow apart the thermals, not a good thing from a Broadwings point of view. But we will see.
Even if you don't make it up to Pack Monadnock, or any of the other hawkwatching sites in New England, look up in the sky during the next few days, you may see some Broad-winged Hawks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Brown Thrasher here

We had a Brown Thrasher two days ago at our bird feeders. We have been seeing this bird while birding around our property, for the last several days. Very cool. This is not a usual bird up here in NH. It's the Georgia state bird, so that tells you something about where it's common. Actually, it has a large range over much of the Midwest and East. It's just sparse in northen New England. This bird likes brushy edges and scrubby fields. Like the Mockingbird, it imitates the songs of other birds, repeating each sound twice.
We're lucky, here on our property, Bobolink Farm, because we have mixed habitat on our 45 acres. We have mixed woodlands, large fields, shrubby edges, and two-thirds of a mile frontage on a large, 200-acre-plus pond with vegetated edges, that's a damned up part of a river. That's why we see so many birds here. We continue to manage our property for habitat diversity.

Hawks are not the only birds migrating now, keep your eyes open for other migrants. Birds like Buff-bellied Sandpipers, a Marbled Godwit on the coast, Philadelphia Vireos, Cape May, Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Mourning Warblers are being seen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Get Ready, Set, Hawkwatch!!!!

Sharp-shinned Hawk

This time of year we get itching to see some good hawk migration. We have been hawkwatching in New England for over 25 years. We know that there's a good chance that a big hawk flight, mostly of Broad-winged Hawks leaving New England, will occur each year within about 2 to 3 days on either side of Sept. 15th. This morning, we were guessing as to what day that will be.
There's a rainy weather front coming through on friday and sat,. with clearing and north winds possibly on sunday then monday. That's what the hawks like, a canadian high pressure coming in, with gentle northerly winds and thermals. There's a good chance Broadwings will move in numbers, sunday, monday or tuesday. Other hawks can be seen as well, such as the Sharp-shinned Hawk above. But the biggest numbers of hawks seen migrating out of New England are Broad-winged Hawks.
Where to go to see the hawks? The best place in southern NH is Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory on the peak of Pack Monadnock mountain in Miller State Park in Peterborough, NH. It's staffed by NH Audubon and has an experienced hawk counter who records the numbers and turns them into the national database of the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Last year Pack had over 9,000 raptors pass there in the fall.
See you there.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Your Hummingbird Numbers?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

We still have hummingbirds migrating through here in southern NH. They come the Bee Balm which still has a few blooms, as well as Verbena and also our hummingbird feeders. We do not see the adult males, they have mostly gone, just females and immatures. We would say we had an average year for hummingbird numbers here.

Other people who have written us have different experiences.

One of our blog readers from Louisiana is concerned about dropping hummingbird numbers and recently wrote:

"It's Aug. 31 2009. I only have about 10 hummers! I live in northwest Louisiana. The year Katrina and Rita hit, I had 100s! Up to that point usually about 60 or so, and after the 2 hurricanes, 100s. But last year, 2008 from March to 2nd week of Sept., about 20. This year through the summer only 6. All Ruby-throated Hummers. The hurricanes of the last several years have all hit the Yucatan and all the places they're headed back to for our winter, during their migration. I think a lot has to do with the hurricanes. Also, all the friends in this area that also feed them, they also have reported to me they also have few to none. Not a scientific theory, but its my theory. I hope the population goes up next year.
I hope this helps anybody who feeds the hummers...
Much concern over the hummer population. Take care and keep feeding all the birds."

A blog reader from Southwestern lower Michigan just recently wrote:
"We also have a lot of hummingbirds, as many as 20 at a time feeding."

How have your hummingbird numbers been this season? If you reply, please give your location.

Friday, September 04, 2009

117 Common Nighthawks

Yesterday we said to be on the lookout for nighthawks. We saw 117 Common Nighthawks total, last night over our property. For a while, about 60 of them were feeding a a swarming mass over our house. There was a big hatch of ants that day and there were flying ant swarms everywhere, providing food for the nighthawks. Got great close views and photos! The two above are so close, but no collision.

Here's a male Common Nighthawk, told by the white bar on the tail.

The female Common Nighthawk does not have a tail band.

We're lucky because our deck is a great nighthawk watching spot. The birds are attracted to the pond in front of us, which is a damned up part of the river. Ahh birding while sipping single malt scotch and watching nighthawks, our idea of fun.
Have a great holiday weekend.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Common Nighthawk

Things happening now. Nighthawks are still migrating, we saw 24 last night. Keep looking. Best times are between 4 to 7:30 pm.

Some early fall migrants are beginning to come through. We have seen Common Yellowthroats, a Brown Thrasher, a few Pine Warblers, some young Cooper's Hawks, and more. Keep feeders full and bird baths available, migrants like a drink.

Yesterday was our Corgi Abby's birthday, one year old. Happy Birthday Abby. She got to go out for doggy ice cream, joined by her sisters Bubbles and Pearl and, of course, our other Corgi Phoebe who finished her ice cream waaay before the others.