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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Selasphorous Hummingbirds in New England

Rufous Hummingbird that's in NH

More rare hummingbirds are turning up in the Northeast at feeders. The latest is an Allen's Hummingbird (Selaphorous sasin) who has been coming to a feeder in Scituate, MA and has been banded and determined to be, most likely, an adult female. The bander is still checking with some experts before the ID is 100% sure. While the homeowner wishes to remain anonymous, the photos of the Allen's are posted on Mass. Audubon's South Shore Journal Blog, click here.

This would only be the second time an Allen's Hummingbird has been found in MA. I blogged (including my photos) about the Rufous Hummingbird (Selaphorous rufus) coming to a feeder in Hollis, NH. That was also banded and the bander felt they could not determine whether it was an immature female or male.

Both Rufous and Allen's Hummingbirds are rare in New England. Only a few, at most, Rufous are reported in New England each year; Allen's is more rare here. Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the Northwest and into Alaska; Allen's is mainly a West Coast Hummingbird.

Female and immature Allen's vs. Rufous Hummingbirds are notoriously hard to identify, even for banders, even when they are holding them in the hand. How hard??? Bear with me here while I walk you through some of the technicalities.

The bander's reference bible is the "Identificaton Guide to North American Birds" by Peter Pyle, a highly detailed reference for birds in the hand. Under Allen's Hummingbird it states "females and juv-HY/SY males from Rufous Hummingbird (with caution) by wg averages shorter by sex: r2 not notched to slightly notched by age/sex; outer rects narrower by age/sex."

Translation: Female and young male Allen's Hummingbirds are separated from Rufous Hummingbirds by slightly shorter wings and an r2 (which refers to the second tail feather from the central tail feather) that is not notched to slightly less notched than on Allen's. By notched, they are referring to a slight indentation or narrowing of the tip of the feather. The outer rects (rects refer to rectrices, which are tail feathers) are narrower on an Allen's vs. Rufous in these ages classes as well.

If your brain has wandered at this point to things like, who won last nights World Series game, what you're having for lunch or dinner, or why is Lillian bothering with this, that's understandable. This ID stuff IS VERY HARD, even for banders.

Meanwhile, the MA Allen's and the NH Rufous Hummingbirds are wearing new jewelry (bands), sipping sugar water from the feeders, and have no idea (or do they?) that they are off course for migration (according to us, maybe not them.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Brown Creeper, looks like tree bark

Lots of birds here this morning. We saw 3 Golden-crowned Kinglets together, then 4 Brown Creepers, as a little migrant group. Plus we have tons (100 plus) of robins, many going to our crab apples. Sometimes we see more birds on rainy, gray days like this, as they slow down on their migration.
Both Golden-crowned Kinglets and Brown Creepers have somewhat similar high-pitched "tseee" calls and that can alert you to their presence. Golden-crowned Kinglets are hyper-active little birds, who often flick their wings. The male has an orange-red patch in the middle of the yellow of the crown, visible when he raises his crest. Golden-crowned Kinglets are more boldly patterned, with their big, white, eyebrow and black and yellow on head, than their relative, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Brown Creepers are very camouflaged little birds who hitch their way up tree trunks, then flutter down to the bottom of the next trunk and begin their way up again. They probe the bark of trees for insects, only very rarely will visit bird feeders for suet.
So these birds are out there, maybe more visible now, as they come through on their migrations. They can be seen just about anywhere in the country. Go outside with your binoculars, listen for their high-pitched calls, and get treated to these cool little birds in this trick-or-treat season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Corgi Outtakes

Time for a Corgi break,
Outtakes from trying to get a Halloween photo of our Corgis. (I'm still working on it). Phoebe is on the left, Abby is on the right.

Phoebe, "I am closing my eyes and holding out for more bribery and cookies before I cooperate for a photo."
Abby, "You want us to do what?"

Phoebe, "Whatever you do, Abby, don't look at the pumpkin!" Abby, "Yes Obi-wan, master of getting bribes."

Scene behind my desk chair a few moments ago.
"Zzzzzzzzz, Zzzzzzzzzzzz" (Corgi's dreaming of ways they can get more cookies).
Did you ever notice how 2 Corgis align themselves in complementary fashion. I love the way they are both facing each other while sleeping, feet in mirror image.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rufous Hummingbird in NH again

A Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorous rufous) is visiting a feeder in Hollis, NH. This is a very unusual hummingbird for here. One was last reported in NH in 2007. The Rufous Hummingbird is a western species whose breeding range goes as far up as Alaska. Increasingly, Rufous Hummingbirds are showing up in fall in the eastern half of the country. This hummingbird was banded over the weekend and the bander has reported it as a hatching year Rufous Hummingbird, sex could not be determined. Identification of female and immature hummingbirds can be tricky, especially telling Rufous from Allen's Hummingbirds. Sometimes only banders, holding them in hand, can tell them apart by subtle differences in the shape of the tail feathers and even then sometimes it is not possible to definitively tell their sex. The above photo shows the extensive rufous on the sides and rufous on the tail feathers.

The throat has lines of small marks, with a number of larger marks (looking dark because the sun is not hitting them) concentrated in the center and going out to the sides of the throat. Usually the immature female rufous has smaller and fewer throat marks, occasionally with a few larger iridescent marks confined to the center of throat.

The back shows little rufous coloring on this bird. Some immature male Rufous Hummingbirds can show more rufous back coloring, especially later in winter. Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often have extensive rufous on their backs and their throats, here's a photo, from video I took in the past.

If you live in the Northeast, and have a late hummingbird visiting your feeders in October, look closely at the sides to see if they are rufous. You may have a Rufous Hummingbird visitor, or in really rare circumstances, an Allen's Hummingbird.
Update: On Oct. 26th there was a report of a Selasphorous hummingbird in Scituate, Mass.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ruby-crowned Kinglets

We're seeing a lot of Ruby-crowned Kinglets migrating through here right now. They're a cute small bird, more hyper than a warbler, and give a little, high-pitched call. Note the yellow-greenish color on the edges of the wing feathers. We see them flitting along the woodland edges here.

They really do have a ruby crown, but they keep it mostly hidden. When alarmed they can raise their head feathers and show the ruby.
Look for them in your yard, they're a treat and will take your mind off the fact few birds are coming to your feeders now, (more on the on Friday).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Belted Kingfisher, male

Belted Kingfisher, female has chestnut band

Here are some photos I took of Belted Kingfishers, common birds who breed near water areas across much of the U.S. and Canada and winter across much of the lower two-thirds of the country.
We have them in summer on the pond where we live in NH, but they've migrated by now. I miss seeing them and hearing their familiar rattling call. The female is more brightly colored than the male and has the chestnut orange band across her chest. These kingfishers hunt small fish by hovering, then diving head first into the water. I love to watch them hover high in the air, their wings flashing like signal flags.
There are two more kingfishers found in the U.S. The Ringed Kingfisher is found in southern TX. The Green Kingfisher lives in southern TX and a few are found in southeastern AZ.
The November issue of National Geographic has an article and photos of the brilliantly colored Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) of Europe, to see the online article and gorgeous photos, go here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

3 Pink-footed Geese in Maine

Thornhurst Farm, is a very, very large farm

On Saturday we went to see the 3 Pink-footed Geese, very rare birds, at Thornhurst Farm, North Yarmouth, Maine. The Pink-footed Goose breeds in eastern Greenland and there are only a small number of records of it showing up from eastern PA to Newfoundland. A Pink-footed Goose was found by Derek Lovitch at Thornhurst Farm on Oct. 1st, a first state record for Maine. Then 3 Pink-footed Geese were found on Oct. 14th at the same place. This may be the first time 3 of them have been seen together in N. America.

When we got there, other birders were looking at them and they were far away. We did see them but they then moved. We went to another vantage point. "The geese are down in a ditch behind the black cow", we were told.

We then went back to another place and, "now one of them is in front of the brown cow we were told." (that really is one, with its head down.) We never got close enough to get any good photos. Through the scope they were extremely distant and there was lots of wind and heat distortion, so excuse this really bad photo.

Some photographers, who were there at other times, had much better luck and closer views and got way, way better photos than I did. To see their photos,
click here
and here,
and here.
The Pink-footed Geese were still being seen as of this morning. For updates go here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Solitary Sandpiper

Cumberland Farms in Halifax MA, where we just saw the Brown-chested Martin rarity, is a fabulous birding spot, that had lots of other birds besides the martin.
Here's a Solitary Sandpiper I photographed there, that was feeding in a puddle near where all the birders were waiting to see the Brown-chested Martin. This bird is a juvenile, told by all its fresh, not worn, plumage, fine dots evenly distributed over back and wing coverts, and brown wash over head and breast.
The farm fields were using some kind of compost, made from cranberries, so the red dots are floating cranberries.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brown-chested Martin in MA, mega rarity

Brown-chested Martin, 6th time for North America

We just got back from Cumberland Farms, Halifax, MA where we saw the Brown-chested Martin (Progne tapera) a very rare bird, initially discovered on Monday, the 12th, by Marshall Iliff and Jeremiah Trimble.

This is only the 6th record of its occurrence in North America. This bird normally lives in much of South America. Those birds of this species that live in the northern part of its range are not very migratory. The population of this species that lives in the southern part of its range, called the subspecies fusca (Progne tapera fusca), is an austral migrant to northern South America. This subspecies is the bird we saw, confirmed by the presence of the dusky marks down the center of the breast below the chest band, which helps distinguish it from the nominate race. It was identified as a juvenile by the pale tips to wing coverts.

This subspecies may be extending its wintering range and has been seen in Panama and Costa Rica. On rare occasions, it has migrated much farther, showing up in North America, and first was seen from Monomoy Island, Massachusetts on June 12, 1983. Another was seen in Cape May, New Jersey from November 6th to 15th, 1997. There are sight records of it appearing in Connecticut and Florida, and also, with photo, from Arizona's Patagonia Lake.

We were lucky to see this Brown-chested Martin, and so were scores of other birders some who had come from as far away as Ohio. Cumberland Farms is an IBA (Important Bird Area) with extremely large area of farm fields with dirt roads, in southern Mass. There were many other swallows feeding over the fields when we arrived, including Barn Swallows, Cliff Swallows, Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows, with which you might confuse the martin since, like a Bank Swallow, it has a brown chest band. About 2:30 pm (we had been there since about 1:30) the Brown-chested Martin came into view. Yeah!!! Collective happiness from all who were waiting.

It was immediately apparent that it was larger (6 1/2" long, about the size of a small Purple Martin) and flew differently, than the other swallows.

Here's a very distant photo, blown up, of it gliding up over the tree tops. Notice how it's holding its wings, in this instance, in a downward V-like position as it glided – very unlike the other swallows that were there.

In addition to the thrill of seeing the martin, we also had a great time seeing old friends. Here's Don talking to Scott, another NH birder, like us, who came down to see the martin.
For additional wonderful photos of the martin, by other photographers, go here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big Sit Photos

Bald Eagle, adult

As promised, here are some photos from our Big Sit on Sunday. Our big sit 17' diameter circle was our front deck. Probably the highlight was seeing Bald Eagles three times. I never, never get tired of seeing eagles, always a thrill.

Pied-billed Grebe

A Pied-billed Grebe, first spotted by Rich, popped up on the pond in front of us. This is a rare sighting for inland NH. In the eight years we have lived here, this is only the third time we have seen one here.

At dawn, the air was sooo still, crunching on an english muffin was making too much noise to hear for birds. If you cup your ears you can hear better. We heard a lovely Hermit Thrush call from the woods.

The mist was rising from the pond and fields, it was cold, about 30 degrees and we were bundled up. Scopes were a big help.

It warmed up in the middle of the day to about 50 degrees, but the wind became very strong and from the west. That made hearing birds just about impossible, but raptors started to move on the wind, a plus for us.

Rich showed up at about 8 am with home-made muffins, what a nice guy! His good birding skills were welcomed by our team.

Our Corgi Phoebe is saying to Abby, "it's a big sit, not a big lie-down!" They were a nice addition. Abby even alerted us to Canada Geese flying high, as she gave low "wuf-wufs".
We had a great day and saw 48 species, more than we expected.
Bird Photos were not taken on the day of, I was too busy counting birds.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Big Sit 2009, 48 Species

We had a great time doing the "Big Sit" and, thanks to the weather front that come through, saw more species than we expected.
Here's our list. Photos coming later today or tomorrow.
Some highlights — looking at a male Northen Harrier while a Ruffed Grouse flew through the same binocular view, also seeing Bald Eagles three times.

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
American Black Duck
Green-winged Teal
Ruffed Grouse
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned HaWK
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-bellied Sapsuccker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Pipit
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
American Goldfinch
Pine Siskin

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Big Sit

Painted Bunting, males

A fun, free, annual birding event, called the "Big Sit" will be happening this Sunday the 11th. Anyone can participate, in any country. All you have to do is stake out a 17 foot diameter circle, anywhere in the U.S., even your backyard, and count how many birds you see or hear during a 24 hour period. To register go here.

LinkIf your backyard in in Florida you may be so lucky to see Painted Buntings at your feeder, as we did when we lived there.

Or, if your circle is on a mountain top in NH, and you invite your friends to help you with your count,

You may see a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, like this.

If your Big Sit circle is on the coast,

maybe you'll see a large group of shorebirds, such as this group, that consists mainly of Short-billed Dowitchers in flight. I love the white marks on their backs.

The Big Sit is hosted by Birdwatcher's Digest and the New Haven Bird Club, the club who founded the event 15 years ago. It's sponsored by Swarovski Optik, who offers a prize to the circle that can find the golden bird. What's appealing is that you don't have to use up a lot of gas, traveling all over, to check off species, as happens in many other birding competitions. You stay in one spot and let the birds come to you. You also get to experience a unique sense of place and the avian visitors who visit or fly over that little patch of the planet in one day.
So try it, you may like it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Peak Color, Bobolink Farm

Here at our southern NH home, at our 45 acre property we have named Bobolink Farm, because of our nesting Bobolinks, we are approaching peak fall color. Here's a view this morning off of our deck. the yellow maple in the center of the field we have named "big maple" as a point of reference when we spot birds. As in "Cooper's Hawk flying over big maple". When it sheds all its leaves it becomes a "must stop" place for any passing bird, much to our delight.

Then a bit of sunlight lit up the maple by the water. The adirondacks are our hawk-watching chairs. We sit and face northeast and scan the sky for raptors in the fall. We feel so lucky to live in the midst of such beauty.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Common Ground-Dove in New Jersey

Common Ground-Dove, adult male

Evidently a Common Ground-Dove has been found, yesterday, in New Jersey. It was photographed by Bob Abrams and the ID confirmed by Michael O'Brien. There's only one accepted record for the state, although it's the third time it has been recorded for the state. There was a lost specimen from 1858 and a record from Mary Gustafson who saw it in 1984.
Here are my photos from Sanibel Island, FL of this cute species.

Common Ground-Dove, adult female

Common-Ground Doves are found in the lower Southeast, TX, and parts of the Southwest and southern CA. So this is a bird quite out of it's usual range, when in New Jersey. There are also records of it appearing in the middle of the country and the Southeast coast.

Male and female resting, raised wings

The wings have extensive rufous on them, visible when raised or in flight, and are quite dramatic. When walking around, this bird looks like a plain little dove, length is 6.5 inches, much smaller than a Mourning Dove at 12 inches. We had Common Ground-Doves regularly visit our bird feeders when we lived in Florida. They have an ascending, very repeated, "wah-up" call.
Who knows where this bird went when it left NJ, So check your feeders and likely field habitats. Maybe you'll find one.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Corgi Break 2

And now for another Corgi Break, brought to you by Phoebe the blogger.

You know how I love to blog about moi. Guess what? My photo is in the 2010 National Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America Calendar, not once, but twice! Above is me guarding the farm. I do think I have a nice derriere (although I might have heard my owners referring to something like a big butt). Anyway, this photo appears on the last page of the calendar with a nice story.

My other photo, taken of me in the snow with my sidekick Abby, is the photo for the month of January. You'll have to buy the calendar to see that.
To find out more about the calendar, click here.

Until later,

"woof-woof, slurp slurp"
Blogger Phoebe

Monday, October 05, 2009

Doing The Wave

We've been birding around, on the NH seacoast, and also in Maine, "where the goose wasn't." More on that soon.
Here's a shot I got of a Ring-billed Gull that just had a wave roll over it. Doesn't seem to mind at all. Seems like surfing, gull-style.
When birding, I love to get photos of birds doing things we don't think about them doing. It gives us a glimpse into their world, and takes us away from ours, for a refreshing break.