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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Birds in Superstorm Sandy, what happened to them?

Magnificent Frigatebird

First of all, our hearts go out to the many who suffered losses and are without power due to Hurricane Sandy, renamed Superstorm Sandy. We here in NH were mostly spared some of the most severe effects felt elsewhere, although many tens of thousands are still without power (luckily, we are OK).
For birders, the first rule is to stay safe during a storm. Many birders did venture out at the end of the storm to see what happened to birds. Such a large storm can effect birds by pushing them into coasts, or some actually get caught up in, or entrained, in the storm itself and carried far away from their usual areas. Monster storm Sandy deposited many, many birds in unusual places, including Magnificent Frigatebirds reported from Little Compton, RI and South Dartmouth, MA (possibly the same bird). 

Phil and Don scan the gray sky for unusual birds

Here in inland southwest NH we ventured out yesterday with some other birders and found 2 Laughing Gulls, usually a coastal species, on our lake.

Laughing Gull, winter adult

Henry helps scan also

We joined with Henry and went to a big lake in our town and found 10 Black Scoters  far out on the lake. These sea ducks are usually off the coast of NH.

White-winged Scoters are another type of sea duck that could be effected by a storm.

This is a Wilson's Storm-Petrel, the more commonly seen one from the NH coast. The more rare and similar looking Leach's Storm-Petrel, still in migration, was more a victim of this storm and many were found displaced throughout the storm area. In our state of NH a Leach's Storm-Petrel was seen at big Lake Massabesic, only to be eaten by a Herring Gull!! 
For photos of this amazing event go here.
Many other storm blown birds are being found. Large numbers of Pomarine Jaegers have been reported from NJ, NY and PA. For excellent coverage of the storm displaced birds throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England Area see John Pushcock's reports on the American Birding Association blog go here
and here.
Also see the live blog updates of storm birds at Nemesis Bird website here.
If you find any unusual storm blown birds in your area, try and document them and report them to your local birding listserve, birding organization and also ebird

Friday, October 26, 2012

Leucistic Pine Siskin

Leucistic Pine Siskin, bottom left, had a whitish head and is paler than the normal Pine Siskins above it. Female Purple Finch is on bottom right.

Here it is at the bird bath next to a more normally colored Pine Siskin.

Another view, it only stayed a short time.

We just had a strange Pine Siskin at our feeder with a very light head. This is what is called a leucistic bird. Leucisim in birds, is a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, especially melanin, from being deposited in a normal way on a bird's feathers. Usually the leucistic areas are noticeable on birds with black or brown feathers, as in the above cases. Leucistic birds may have white splotches, or look paler or bleached. This is different than albino birds. Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin in a bird's body. Albino birds usually appear all white with a pink eye. Scientists are still working out what these two conditions are and how they affect birds.
It is rare to find leucistic birds and even more so to see truly albino birds. With all the Pine Sisikins
showing up this year, people are sure to find some unusual ones.

We often get sent photos of leucistic birds that people find in their yards, to see the photos go here.

Let us know if you find any leucistic birds or unusual Pine Siskins. We have also had a Green Morph Pine Siskin at our feeders in 2009.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gray Ghost Meets Chocolate Falcon

This Northern Harrier, male soared by here yesterday, very thrilling for us. Dubbed the "gray ghost" by some birders, the male Northern Harrier is beautifully pale gray above, whitish below. We seldom see males here, we're more likely to see females and juveniles, which are brown with warm tones below.
Harrriers course over fields looking for voles, so the fields in front of our house attract them.

Meanwhile. recently over our local hawk watch site, Pack Monadnock Raptor Migration Observatory, Peterborough, NH, sailed this Merlin, aka the "chocolate falcon." Adult male Merlins are gray above (in the subspecies found here), females and juveniles are brown above. Merlins are faster than a speeding bullet, if you blink you miss them. Being falcons, they eat other birds.

So many cool raptors still being seen here. On Pack Monadnock this weekend they will be looking for Golden Eagles, come join them!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wood Sandpiper rarity fun plus video with Canon SX 40 HS

Wood Sandpiper 1

Wood Sandpiper 2

This is how far we were away from it when viewed through the camera.

Wood Sandpiper 3 same photo, cropped so you can see the bird.

Wood Sandpiper 4

Here we are standing out in the marsh with scopes, cameras and binos, in muddy water. (Thanks to Chris Powell for taking this photo of us.)

Wood Sandpiper 5

This video (shot at 140x hand held) of the Wood Sandpiper I took shows its interesting bobbing behavior. (Once it plays, click on the lower left return arrow to replay the video and do not click on the other images that show up, they are other youtube videos)

We went to see the rare Wood Sandpiper that showed up at Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve in Jamestown, Rhode Island and first discovered on Oct. 13th by Carlos Pedro. Although it is found somewhat regularly in western Alaska, this was a first state record of that bird for RI and only the seventh record for the lower 48 states. So there was much excitement and many other birders went to see it.
We were thrilled to have made the drive from NH and then actually gotten to see it, which is not always the case when you chase a rarity!! It could have flown off by the time we got there! Thanks to Chris Powell who led us out into the marsh and helped us and the other birders locate the bird.

When we were there the Wood Sandpiper was quite a distance from us and backlit. So for me this was a photographic challenge. For other lucky photographers at other times, evidently the bird came quite close and in excellent light. So, many people have great photos, much better than mine.
I had my Canon 1D Mark IV with the 300 mm lens and 1.4 teleconverter. I also took my Canon SX 40 HS, a little point-and-shoot superzoom camera that has an amazing 35x optical range and can even go beyond that into the 4x digital zoom, which adds up to 140x!!

Some of these photos were shot with the Canon 1D Mark IV and some with the Canon SX 40 HS, at the 140x digital zoom, can you tell which is which? Answers at end of post. Given that the Mark IV costs more than ten times what the SX 40 does, in this situation, the SX 40 did pretty well given I had pushed it to its limit. I like to experiment with my different cameras and see how far I can push them in challenging situations to see what I can get.

In terms of the video, it was shot at the 140x zoom and hand held, so it's ridiculous that I got any viewable video whatsoever. Tip: I was holding the camera as steady as I could, holding my breath, and had my elbows braced against my body.

Photos of the Wood Sandpiper 1, 2, 3 were shot with the Canon ID Mark IV and photos 4 and 5 were shot with the Canon SX 40 HS.

Have fun chasing rarities, and, if you are a photographer, when the photo situation is less than ideal (i.e. it sucks), try pushing your gear. Most of all, have fun!

For more info on the Wood Sandpiper, see our The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Eastern Red Bat photo in flight!

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Eastern Red Bat

Just in time for Halloween, a bat appeared in our yard yesterday. I just photographed this migrating Eastern Red Bat in flight as it foraged over our house. We watched it for about 10 minutes as it swooped over the trees and fields, catching insects. So cool!! But what is even more fun is looking at the photos. In the middle photo you can see the ear, lit by the sun. In the bottom photo you can see the outline of the bones.

These bats live in trees in wooded areas and roost up in the foliage curled up in their furry tail membrane. They are mainly solitary, just getting together to mate and during migration. They eat lots of moths as well as other insects. They live throughout the eastern half of the country. In fall the more northern ones migrate to southern areas, often using the same migratory routes along the eastern seaboard as some birds do.
We were so lucky to see it!

To learn more about bat conservation go here

and see out Stokes Beginner's Guide to Bats, written by Rob Mies and Kim Williams.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rare Wood Sandpiper in RI is in The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America!

Lesser Yellowlegs, might be confused with Wood Sandpiper. The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America will help you sort out the differences in the most complete way of any other field guide.

A rare bird, a Wood Sandpiper, is now in Rhode Island and birders are flocking to see it. Although this species is a regular visitor to western AK, it is only a rare vagrant to the Northeast Coast and this is only the 7th time it has appeared in the lower 48! We are happy to say this species is included in our new
The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It is not included in many other field guides and our guide has the most extensive photos and text on this species of any other guide. We show all of the major plumages of the Wood Sandpiper: summer adult, winter adult, juvenal, and in flight. So, If you are a birder looking for how to identify this rarity, ours is your go-to guide. To quote the Stokes guide,

Wood Sandpiper

Tringa glareola L 8"

“Fairly regular visitor to w. AK; vagrant down West Coast and along Northeast Coast. Shape: Much like Solitary Sandpiper but with slightly longer legs. Primary extension past tertials very short, less than 1/4 bill length (almost length of bill in similar Lesser Yellowlegs).
Ad. Summer: In all plumages, broad whitish eyebrow (from forehead to nape) contrasts with dark caplike crown and dark eye-stripe. Upperparts dark grayish brown with bold white notches along feather edges (similar Lesser Yellowlegs has finer spotting); head and neck finely streaked; breast and flanks lightly barred; legs yellowish green. Bill with paler base (all black and longer and thinner in Lesser Yellowlegs). May bob front or rear of body. 
Ad. Winter: Like ad. summer but with muted markings; spotting smaller on upperparts; neck and breast indistinctly streaked and washed with brownish gray. Bill with paler base.
Juv: (Jul-Aug) Like ad. summer but back dark brown with finer buffy spotting.
Flight: Dark wings and back; no wing-stripe; rump white; white tail with narrow barring. Toes extend fully beyond tail.
Hab: Bogs, marshes in summer; inland wetlands in winter. Voice: High-pitched mellow dewdewdew or slowly repeated jit.
Subssp: Monotypic."

Hope you get a chance to see and enjoy the Wood Sandpiper and, if not, keep looking at those Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers to be sure they are not a rare Wood Sandpiper!

For more photos of the RI bird go
and here.
For updates on where to find it go here.

Good Birding!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Evening Grosbeaks, Irrupting, Coming Your Way Too!

We keep telling you the big news in birding circles is this is going to be a big irruptive year for certain birds. It's true for Evening Grosbeaks. These birds only show up certain years when their winter range food crops are low. So we are seeing them repeatedly come to our bird feeders now in NH. These two female Evening Grosbeaks were enjoying the sunflower seed, their fav, this morning. Look how they dwarf the goldfinches feeding with them!
Keep a look out and your feeders well stocked with sunflower and perching room and let us know when you see Evening Grosbeaks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lots of Pine Siskins Here, More Coming Your Way.

How many Pine Siskins can fit in one feeder?

Line up for the bird barh.

Had over 60 Pine Siskins here yesterday. They are coming your way, this is a big invasion year for Pine Siskins, who make irruptive migrations out of their normal winter range when food is low there. Stay tuned and watch your feeders! How many are you seeing?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Misty Morning Moose

This morning at dawn, we looked out our bedroom window and saw this moose walking across our field into our shrub area, following close behind a female moose. OMG was our first response. Then, photographer that I am, I ran downstairs and, fortunately, the camera was already set up on the tripod inside the house. In the dim light I shot this photo at 10,000 ISO (yes that is the correct number, my Canon 1D Mark IV will shoot even higher ISOs than that) with a Canon 500mm lens plus 1.4 teleconverter, from about 300 ft. away.

This is a young bull moose, you can tell by his antlers. Quoting from our Stokes Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior,
"There is no way to determine the age of a moose by counting the points on the antlers. The only clue that antlers give to age is the diameter at the base of the antlers, which gets larger each year. Bull calves have only short spikes for their first fall. Yearling and 2-year-old bulls can have either simple spikes or branched antlers, but generally their antlers are not flattened like those of older bulls."
So he is about 1-2 years old, and he is about to get lucky, because he was walking behind a cow moose (she had already moved into the shrub area and I did not get her photo.)
"Once a cow in estrus and a bull have found each other, they stay together for 1-2 weeks. During this time there are three phases of behavior. In the first phase the bull simply stands sideways, several yards in front of the cow, for long periods. When she moves, he moves again to stand in front of her. In the next phase the bull follows a few steps behind the cow, moving when she moves. Finally the female stands still and lets the bull mount and mate with her. They may mate several times over the course of a day or two. Following this, the bull leaves in search of another cow in estrus."
We watched them browse in the dense shrubs at the edge of our woods. The cow then moved on, and he followed close behind her and they disappeared out of sight (dang)......

Wow, we never know what cool natural history event we will see here at Bobolink Farm, our 48 acre NH property. This was one of those very special moments.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are migrating now!

We're seeing a lot of Ruby-crowned Kinglets migrating through here right now. They're a cute, very small bird, as hyper as a warbler on caffeine, 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. They may give a  harsh chidit call or ch'ch'ch'ch. Look for them now in woods, or in your yard, they're a treat, not a trick.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Amazing Nuthatch Photos!!

White-breasted Nuthatch, male

Red-breasted Nuthatch, male

Check out these amazing photos of Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches. There's nothing like digital photography to add to your birding experiences and make you see things in a new way. I just love it when I capture action shots of birds at my feeders. Sometimes I don't realize I'm getting the photo when shooting, my camera just fires away quickly. When I look at the photos later, I see birds caught flying away or landing, as here. The White-breasted Nuthatch had just taken a seed and was leaving. The Red-breasted Nuthatch was landing at an open spot on a feeder filled with Purple Finches above.

You can see such cool things about these photos. Look at the tail of the White-breasted Nuthatch and notice the white outer feathers, the black lines, and the dark spots on the outer edge. This fancy tail is not just for fun. It can be used in communication with other Nuthatches, or, possibly distracting a predator by making it focus on the tail spots. Nuthatches have a "Tail-fan-back-ruffle" display (see Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior Vol. 2) in which they ruffle their back, raise and fan their tail, and droop their wings when they are in conflicts with other nuthatches.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch photo shows how far under and up the rufous goes. The dramatic black-and-white head pattern could be disruptive coloration. It masks the eye and the true shape of the head, breaking up the image a predator may look for. By the way, there is a big irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches into the East and Southeast happening, so be on the lookout.

Digital photography opens up a whole new world of birding and bird appreciation. It can capture a bird at a moment of time, freezing for our eyes, the wonder and amazement of this winged creature. I love it!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Northern Harrier, raptors still migrating

Had a Northern Harrier fly over our fields, plus had 2 Sharp-shinned Hawks in our yard this morning, scaring the feeder birds. Hawk migration is still going on. Broad-winged Hawks have mainly cleared out of New England, but Sharp-shinned, Cooper's and Red-tailed Hawks as well as American Kestrels, Merlins, and more are still coming.
Have a great weekend and see some birds!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Pine Siskin Invasion is Starting!!

Pine Siskins at our feeders

Update, just took this photo today, there are 50 plus siskins in our yard.

Pine Siskins have started invading New England. We had a flock of 25 at our feeders yesterday and we are getting reports from other birders in New Hampshire of Pine Siskin flocks at their feeders..
According to the Winter Finch Forecast given each year by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, there is a "widespread tree seed crop failure in the Northeast...Both coniferous and hardwood tree seed crops are generally poor from northeastern Ontario extending eastward across Quebec to Newfoundland south through the Maritime Provinces, New York and New England states" and each irruptive bird species will deal with it differently.
Thus, Pine Siskins in the Northeast could move south this fall and winter due to poor cone crops. They may show up in numbers at bird feeders.

Green-morph Pine Siskin is very rare. A small percentage of male siskins (maybe only 1%) can show and abnormal amount of yellow in their plumage and appear greenish on their back. They are called "green-morph" Pine Siskins. We had one show up at our feeders in 2009.

Here is another photo of the green-morph. So look closely at the siskin flocks at your feeders, to see if you have one.

This could be a big year for irruptive winter finches in the Northeast and beyond.  We have also has a flock of Evening Grosbeaks visit our feeders yesterday and we have many Purple Finches at our feeders too. Keep your feeders stocked, as finches like lots of perching room, keep an eye out to see who shows up, and let us know.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sparrow ID at Your Bird Feeder, New Way

White-throated Sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, come in two morphs. One morph has brown head stripes, as here;

the other morph has black-and-white head stripes, as here. There is much individual variation. They all have white throats and are very common at many feeders in winter.

White-crowned Sparrows, Zonotrichia leucophrys, in their first winter have rufous brown head stripes

and no white throat.

The dramatic adult White-crowned Sparrow has beautiful black head stripes and a white central crown stripe.

One of the best ways to approach sparrow identification is to learn what sparrow is in what genus and the distinctive characteristics of that genus, especially regarding shape. Shape is one of the best ways to identify sparrows, since these mostly brown birds can look alike. Becoming familiar with these shapes can help you place an individual sparrow into one of these groups, or genera; then you can look for plumage clues to complete your identification. 

There are 12 genera of sparrows in North America. Only 5 have 3 or more species, and these are the ones that are most useful to know to use in this generic approach.

In our new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, in addition to extensive photos and plumage information on all the sparrows, we give you a whole section on Identification Tips for Sparrows, including all the sparrow genera, go to page 656.

Tip: Your bird feeder is a great place to start to learn sparrow identification. Look at sparrows through your binoculars at your bird feeder and learn the characteristics of the shape of each genus. You will get better at ID-ing them and it will set you up to learn the sparrows in other genera. Here are some sparrows you might see at your feeder.

White-throated Sparrows are migrating and coming to bird feeders across much of the country now. Somewhat less common here in NH, White-crowned Sparrows are also migrating and coming to feeders. Both these species winter across much of the country and you may have them at your bird feeders all winter. We recently had 5 first-winter White-crowned Sparrows at our feeder amongst the many, many White-throated Sparrows.

Make, near your feeders, a brush pile, with open spaces below and cover above, and sprinkle millet seed mix on the ground below. Sparrows love to feed there.

These sparrows and other sparrows love to feed on the ground on millet or seed mixes containing millet. We make a special sparrow feeder by building a big brush pile and sprinkling the seed in front and under the pile. It's a sparrow magnet and provides perching spots and cover from predators. The big bonus for us is that we get to see lots of fall sparrows.

If you live in the far western part of the country, you will get lovely Golden-crowned Sparrows visiting your bird feeders. They have a golden forecrown, surrounded on the front and sides by black or brown.

All these sparrow species are in the genus Zonotrichia.  On p. 656, on our Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, we discuss the Zonotrichia genus and say these are "large deep-bellied, broad-necked sparrows with a fairly small conical bill, rounded crown and fairly long, slightly notched tail." In addition to White-throated, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, the Zonotrichia genus includes Harris's Sparrows.

Below are some sparrows in the Melospiza genus. 

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia, frequently comes to feeders.

Swamp Sparrow, Melospiza georgiana, often found in swampy areas, not so much at feeders.

Lincoln's Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii, not much seen at feeders, but may hang out with other sparrows. We saw three on our property the other day.

Swamp Sparrows are in the genus Melospiza, along with Song and Lincoln's Sparrows. In The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, we say of the Melospiza genus,

"* Melospiza: Medium-sized to large sparows with rather average proportions: they are slightly deep-bellied and have a medium-sized bill, rounded crown, and fairly long rounded tail. These sparrows are easily seen in brushy areas and marshes; when flused or curious they tend to fly up to higher perches for long periods and give short alarm calls. Some (Song Sparrow) come regularly to bird feeders. Includes Song, Lincoln's, and Swamp."

So get out there, build a brush pile sparrow feeder, use the genus and shape approach, and improve your sparrow identification skills!