Archive for September, 2011


A young bride-to-be and her mother rushed into the store.  They urgently needed a hummingbird figure for the Wedding Cake and the Wedding was this coming Saturday.  The cake was to have red roses on it and bride had her heart set on a hummingbird.  They had searched everywhere –  Michaels and other craft stores,  gift stores, party stores, pet stores – without success.  They were getting desperate.

Their eyes lit up when they noticed the small fabric hummingbird figures I use as displays on my hummingbird feeders.  Perfect.  Just the right thing.  Instant joy.  While most customers are happy when they exit the store, these two may have been the happiest of all time.

In my mind I can picture the wedding cake topped with a hummingbird, guests commenting on it and the bride just beaming.  It made me happy too.


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Sherlock Holmes, birder

Sherlock sees

“Watson,” Sherlock Holmes often chided his companion “you look but you do not see.”  When Watson looked at a stranger he might describe him as average height, middle class, office worker.  Sherlock, on the other hand, saw fresh mud splatter on pant cuffs, a frayed shirt collar, black ink stains on the fingers of his right hand.  Watson looked at the man, Sherlock saw the details.

Most birders are like Watson.  They just look at a bird.  Fortunately a cursory glance is usually sufficient to identify your common backyard birds.  A robin.  A chickadee.  A  jay.  However, when a new or unusual bird appears at the feeder, they notice that it looks different from the regulars.  So they might look more closely, then check a field guide trying to identify the new visitor.  If, like a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the new bird has obvious characteristics, they may identify it.    But unless they are accustomed to observing closely, they probably didn’t note the details.  So, if the bird was a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, it will probably remain a mystery bird.  Based on their superficial glance, they may spend time leafing through pages of sparrows and never know what it was.  They looked but did not see.

Practice looking closely and truly seeing.  Have you ever noticed that Robins have small, white triangular wedges at the corners of the tip of their tail?  Or that they have semi-circles of white above and below their eyes?  Or have you ever noticed the blue ring around a Mourning Dove’s eye?    Such small details may be the key to identification. 

Learn to really see, not just look.

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Northern Wheatear

I received an email and phone call within 15 minutes.  Both brought news that a N. Wheatear was just seen at the boat ramp near the Croton train station.  A Wheatear is small thrush-like bird, about the size of a bluebird, normally found far north (Northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska).  It winters in Europe.  It has been seen in Westchester less than 5 times in the last 20 years.  I debated whether I should rush to see it.  I have never seen one and the station was only a 20 minute drive.  But we were still feeling the after effects of the hurricane and it was raining.   Normally I am  a fair-weather birder staying inside in bad weather.  However, today I made the trip and was rewarded.  Didn’t even have to get out of the car.  It was that easy.  It took 15 seconds to find the bird.  I pulled into the parking area and there it was sitting on the chainlink fence directly in front of my car.  Easiest Life Bird I ever had.  It sat on the fence for about a minute and then flew off somewhere.

It some ways that was not a totally satisfying sighting.    But it was a life bird for me, so I count it.

The weather was better the next day, so I went again hoping for a better experience.  This there were almost two dozen birders there.  Somehow people came from as far as Long Island and New Jersey even though the parkways were still flooded and impassable.  A Merlin zipped by, so we did not get a good close-up look.  The Wheatear move further away.  But thanks to many alert eyes looking for it, we soon found it about 200 yards away.  Birders with scopes zeroed in and everyone got a good long look.  I feel better now adding it to my Life List.

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I just completed a 3 session class on butterflies at Bedford Audubon where I learned to ID the common local butterflies.  Of all the fluttery creatures we saw my favorite was a moth, not a butterfly –Hermaris Thysbe, commonly called the Hummingbird Moth.  It looks exactly like a hummingbird but it is smaller.  It looks and acts just like a hummingbird.  If you see a tiny, whirling creature at your flowers, look closely.  Is it a butterfly?  A hummingbird?  Or a moth?  


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Movie Coming Soon

On October 14th. Hollywood is releasing a major motion picture about birders.  It is not an independent film with unknown actors, it features well known stars –  Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Angelica Huston, JoBeth Williams and others.

The movie, “The Big Year” is based on the 1998 book of the same name by Mark Obmascik that spent months on the New York Times best seller list.   If you haven’t already read it, it is a great read about 3 obsessive birders who each, unknown to the others, decide to set the Big Year record for the greatest number of  bird species seen in a single year in the US.  I’m guessing that for the film Hollywood changed the story somewhat to make it a comedy.

 I’ll provide more info on this film, including local theaters, when it is released in October.  Maybe we can assemble a crowd of birders and all go see the movie together.


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 The end of August through the middle of September is the peak period for hummingbirds in Westchester.  All the hummingbirds that spent summer in New England and Canada have begun their southbound migration.  They fly south.  When they reach Long Island Sound, they don’t really want to fly over the sound, so the head west along the Connecticut shoreline until they can continue flying south again over land.  That land is lower Westchester. 

 During the next few weeks all the hummingbirds in New England will be passing through Westchester.  Keep your eye open for tiny visitors in your backyard

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For our September BirdWalk our merry band of 20 friendly birders explored the Marshlands Conservancy on the Post Road in Rye.  A sun-filled sky coupled with mild temperatures and a gentle breeze produced a lovely weather day.  Add in the 29 species we saw and the result was a very pleasant morning.

 Highlights:  A Peregrine Falcon was the most unexpected bird of the day.  But for sheer spectacle you can’t top the Osprey flying 20 feet directly over our heads holding a freshly caught fish.  Despite low tide one Lesser Yellowlegs was the only shore bird.  A Ruby-throated Hummingbird made a fly-by appearance.

 For those of you who are keeping records here is a complete tally:

Water Birds:  Great and Snowy Egret, Mute Swan, Mallard, Cormorant,Birds of Prey:  Osprey, Peregrine Falcon

Gulls:  Herring Gull, Laughing Gull

Woodpeckers:  Down, Red-bellied, Flicker

Backyard Birds:  Mourning Dove, blue Jay, Chickadee, Titmouse, Robin, Carolina Wren, Catbirds, Baltimore Oriole, Goldfinch, Willow Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo

Others:  Barn Swallow, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Marsh Wren, Towhee,

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