Archive for May, 2012


Today I saw the first Chimney Swifts of the year.  It is one of those birds whose name pretty much tells it all.  Its name is simple and straight forward.  Few observers ever see the red belly on a Red-bellied Woodpecker or note the crests on a Double-crested Cormorant.

Roger Tory Peterson describes the swift as a cigar with wings and that is what it look like.  They are always in flight, zigging and zagging.  They have crescent shaped wings and appear to have no tail.  You never see them perched because they can’t.  The legs are not developed for perching.  They roost inside brick chimneys, 100s of swifts clinging to the vertical side of the chimney.

Several years ago I was leading a Bird Walk at Harts Brook Park.  One of the women on the walk mentioned she had never seen a Chimney Swift.  A few minutes later as we walk near the greenhouse, I noticed one flying over.  As I pointed it out, the swift veered sharply and flew straight down into the chimney of the old greenhouse – a perfect illustration of its name:  “swift” and “chimney”

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The weather bureau predicted today would be a lovely spring day, sunny and mild.  Surprisingly they were right.

I joined a couple of friends at Marshlands Conservancy.  Although we did not get started until after 10:00AM it was an enjoyable late morning walk.  Not as many birds as earlier in the morning but still I managed to add 5 new species to my 2012 bird list.

The best sighting of the morning was a male Indigo Bunting, totally dazzling in bright sunlight.  It may be called “indigo” but that does not truly describe its color.  I’m not sure what would be a better term.  To me the color seems to glow as if the bird was illuminated from the inside.  “Indigo” is better than “blue” but not even close to the real color.

The most unexpected bird was a single, solitary Solitary Sandpiper in a small water hole in the woods.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology is making great strides in marrying the simple pleasures of birding with the wonders of technology.  Average birders (Cornell calls them” citizen scientists”) submit millions of reports on bird sightings across the county.  Cornell has manipulated these data and developed real time Occurrence Maps that let you observe bird migration without leaving your computer.  And you can see an entire year of migration, week by week, in less than 2 minutes.

Check the link below and observe the yearly migration of the White-throated Sparrow.  You will notice how they blanket the east in winter but my mid-summer can’t be found in the US.  Note it is helpful to click on the Larger Map.


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At this time of year I receive a lot of phone calls from people who have seen a “new” bird at their feeder.  The most common “new” birds are described as

(1)    A beautiful, robin-sized bird with a black back, white undersides and a brilliant red throat.

(2)    A large dark, streaky brown bird like a sparrow but maybe twice the size and with a larger beak bigger

Despite the widely contrasting descriptions, these are both the same species – Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The male is a gorgeously striking bird.  I still remember the first one I ever saw as a young boy at the Skokie Lagoons just north of Chicago.  It was the first bird I ever saw that wasn’t a robin or a sparrow.  It was sitting in the open on a phone wire in full sunlight.  I can still picture it.




The female looks completely different, like a big sparrow.  Grosbeaks pass thru Westchester on spring migration.  If you should see one, I hope it is the male.  You won’t forget it.

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Our monthly BirdWalk took us to Larchmont Reservoir this morning.  Despite weather that was overcast and damp, 22 birders joined us to search for spring migrants.   I added 9 new species for the year.  In total we were rewarded with 43 species which included the following:

 Birds of Prey:   Osprey

Orioles:   Baltimore, Orchard

Waterfowl:   Canada Goose, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, Cormorant

Shorebirds:  Great Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron

Blackbirds:  Grackle, Starling, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird

Warblers:  Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Redstart, Magnolia,

Woodpeckers:  Flicker, Red-bellied

Others:  Kingfisher, Robin, Cardinal, Catbird, Red-eye Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Phoebe, House Finch, Goldfinch, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove,

 Heard Birds:  As a result of this spring’s warm weather trees have leaved out earlier than usual.  That make it difficult to actually see some of the birds.  These birds were identified by their sound:  Titmouse, Great-crested Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Blue-headed Vireo, White-throated Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 Our next BirdWalk will be on the 1st Saturday of next month,  June 2nd  Join us if you can.

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In spring there are so many warblers.  But most of them don’t stay long, here and gone, just passing through.  We only see them a few weeks per year.  So it is hard to get comfortable with identifying these temporary visitors. 

Every spring, I have to review and relearn my warbler identification.

David Sibley has helped refresh our ID skills by including fun little ID quizzes on his web site.  Each quiz is short, only takes 1-2 minutes.  Yet you pick up tips and skills. 

Try the following link and page down to his quizzes.


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