Archive for November, 2012


It wasn’t too long ago that politicians threaten to close all Westchester county parks. Thanks to protests from citizens like you the politicians backed off. Now they are trying again.
The new proposed county budget calls for closing some parks and laying off naturalists. It is time again to let our legislators know that you still oppose their proposed moves. Write or call your local legislators and the county executive. Attend a meeting. Let others know.

On-Line Petition

A simple online petition has been set up at the link listed below. It fast and easy to sign the petition. The goal is to get a 1,000 signatures. So far we are about 25% of that goal in only a few day.
Sign the petition. But contacting your legislator directly will add greater emphasis.
You can view and sign this petition at:


Westchester County Executive Astorino has once again unleashed his vendetta against environmental education and once again threatened the jobs of the curators in his budget proposal. Four of the curators will lose their jobs if his budget is passed. The curators at Lenoir Nature Preserve, Read and Cranberry Lake hang in the balance.

-Danniela Ciatto (Lenoir Preserve)
-Taro Ietaka (Cranberry Lake Preserve
-Michael Gambino (Read Sanctuary)
-Dan Aitchison (Curator of Wildlife)

The first budget hearing is just days away. Please write, call, e-mail your county legislator and express your displeasure in these cuts. We will post talking points here and on our website in the near future.
Public hearings:
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2012 – 7:00 PM
Mamaroneck Village Court, 169 Mount Pleasant Avenue, Mamaroneck, NY
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2012 – 7:00 PM
Town of Cortlandt Town Hall, 1 Heady Street, Cortlandt Manor, NY
Westchester County Center, 198 Central Avenue, White Plains, NY

Read Full Post »

It appears this winter will be good irruptive season for winter finches: Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, and White-winged Crossbill. Already there are reports of Pine Siskins. Crossbills have been seen in Connecticut and at Jones Beach. At least two customers have seen Evening Grosbeaks in their back yards.

These birds reside in boreal forests, the taiga, and even the tundra. Redpolls nest as far north as northern Baffin Island. Other irruptive migrants reside in the vast spruce-fir and birch forests that stretch across Canada and Alaska.

All are members of the finch family Fringillidae and subfamily Carduelinae. Because most of us see them only in the colder months, we’ve come to know them collectively as winter finches.

They are considered partial migrants because in most years, some individuals remain within the nesting range while others fly south of it. In addition, younger birds and females tend to migrate farther than adult males.

Based on many decades of Christmas Bird Count data, we know that irruptions usually occur every other year, with a few exceptions. In one year, only a handful of redpolls or siskins will be present in southern Canada and the northern United States. The next winter, birders will report large numbers of the birds. This may be a big year.

In addition, the movements seem to be synchronous over thousands of square miles, suggesting a common cause for the irruption. It’s somewhat bizarre that the numbers of individuals migrating in each irruption vary dramatically and that the wintering range changes.

The key to understanding the movements of winter finches is their food. Seeds are usually present year-round, meaning irruptive species often don’t have to leave their nesting areas in winter to find food. Seed availability, however, varies greatly from year to year, and in some years crops all but fail. When this happens, it is believed that irruptive species must leave.

It’s worth noting that the migration behaviors of northern winter finches are similar to movements of closely related species from southern latitudes. Pine Siskin, for example, is in the same genus as the American goldfinches.

Like their irruptive northern relatives, the goldfinches are also primarily seed-eaters, and they’re social birds, spending much of their lives in flocks with others of their species. The winter finches share a tendency to undertake relatively unpredictable migrations. They are irruptive to varying degrees and nomadic, choosing new wintering and breeding areas year after year.

The difference between the goldfinches and the northern species seems to be scale. The northern birds have immense irruptions that birders can’t help but notice, whereas irruptions of goldfinches occur in smaller numbers.

Recoveries of banded individuals have shown how nomadic finches can be. One Common Redpoll was found in Siberia and Michigan in successive winters. Another Common Redpoll was banded in Belgium during one winter and found the next winter in China.

Similarly, goldfinches don’t appear to have a fixed migration direction or distance. An American Goldfinch banded in the winter in Ontario turned up the next winter in Louisiana. And in Arizona, the abundance of Lawrence’s Goldfinches changes year to year, signaling that they have irruptions.

Because irruptions don’t happen every year and vary significantly when they do happen, we don’t typically think of them as a type of migration. But in a sense, they are. Viewed more simply, irruptions are adaptations to a constantly changing source of food.

Read Full Post »

Every day I get more reports of Pine Siskins showing up at someone’s feeder or backyard. It is clear that this winter will be a so-called “invasion year” – a year when many siskins move south into our regions.
Pine Siskins look somewhat like small sparrows but Ken Kaufmann more accurately describes a siskin as looking “Like a goldfinch wearing camouflage.”.

The resemblance is no coincidence. Siskins and North American goldfinches have been moved around taxonomically but it’s generally agreed that they’re all close relatives. If you’re preparing to recognize the Pine Siskin, that’s a useful clue.

Kaufmann also provides the following tips:
When going from place to place, siskins tends to fly high, in flocks, with a buoyant, undulating flight like that of a goldfinch. Most sparrows, whether in flocks or solitary, tend to fly low, with a more labored action.

Siskins often forage high in treetops, feeding on seeds of conifers and other trees. Sparrows seldom do this. When siskins are in weedy fields, as often happens in winter, they clamber about on top of sunflowers, cockleburs, and other plants. Sparrows are more likely to forage on the ground below.

Finally, if we approach sparrows too closely, they usually dive into cover. If we approach a Pine Siskin, it’s likely to look up with a bored expression and go on eating. Although fearless behavior is not a foolproof field mark, it is a surprisingly frequent siskin trait.

As we might expect for social birds of similar habits, siskins often associate with American or Lesser Goldfinches. Many a birder has seen his or her lifer Pine Siskin outside the window, in a goldfinch flock, on a feeder. Direct comparison makes it easy to see that the birds are similar in overall shape, compact and short-tailed, but the siskin’s bill is distinctively narrow and fine-pointed.
Keep your eyes open for this winter visitor

Read Full Post »

Turkey or Eagle




On the afternoon of July 4, 1776, just after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress appointed a committee made up of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to select a design for an official national seal.

Nations often adopted animals as symbols: England had its lion, India its peacock. The three patriots had different ideas and none of them included the Bald Eagle. They finally agreed on a drawing of lady Liberty holding a shield to represent the states. But the members of Congress weren’t inspired by the design. So they consulted William Barton, a Philadelphia artist who produced a new design that included a Golden Eagle.

Because the golden eagle was already used by some European nations, however, the federal lawmakers specified that the bird in the seal should be an American Bald Eagle. On June 20, 1782, they approved the design that we recognize today.

At the time, the new nation was still at war with England, and the fierce-looking bird seemed an appropriate emblem. But from the start, the eagle was a controversial choice. Franklin scowled at it. “For my part,” he declared, “I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.”

Some people question whether the eagle would have been chosen to adorn the seal had the nation not been at war. A year after the Treaty of Paris ended the conflict with Great Britain, Franklin argued that the turkey would have been a more appropriate symbol. “A much more respectable bird and a true native of America,” he pointed out. Franklin conceded that the turkey was “a little vain and silly,” but maintained that it was nevertheless a “bird of courage” that “would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.” Congress was not convinced, however. The eagle remained our national symbol.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday I attended a planning meeting for the upcoming Hudson River EagleFest. This annual event promotes the importance of a healthy Hudson River and the return of Bald Eagles. Scheduled for Saturday, Feb 9th the event needs colder weather that will freeze lakes and ponds farther north and force eagles down to open water around Croton.

The EagleFest has grown in popularity every year and last February attracted around 5,000 attendees. That is an amazing number of people for an event that is organized and operated primarily by volunteers. Representatives from a dozen different environmental and nature-related organizations participated in the planning meeting with the goal of making this winter’s EagleFest be bigger and better than ever.
The number of eagle viewing sites along the river are increasing. The southern-most location will be RiverWalk Center in Sleepy Hollow; the northern-most is Boscobel in Garrison. There is even a site on the western side of the river at Steamboat Dock Park in Verplanck. Each official site will be manned all day by knowledgeable eagle spotters equipped with spotting scopes.

An innovation from last year was a dedicated car on a Metro North train from Grand Central Station that brought 80 people from NYC to celebrate eagles. A naturalist from New York City Audubon pointed out sightings along the way. This year two cars will needed.

There will be at least three live raptors show including the most popular show with a live eagle that allowed visitors up close for photos. There are activities all day from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm including bird walks, naturalist-led bus tours to multiple eagle locations, lectures and presentation (there are two separate theaters that seat 100 and 250 people), as well as hands-on activities for children. Most programs are free, although there is a small charge for some. Tickets for the most popular programs sell out early.

Mark your calendar. And save the day. Saturday, February 9, 2013

Read Full Post »

The folling article appeared the Science Section of the New York Times on Tuesday, Nov.  It provides imteresting info on how birds survive major storms

To Birds, Storm Survival Is Only Natural

AWASH A protected area for plovers in Lido Beach, N.Y., after a 2009 storm.


Published: November 12, 2012Reprints
  • In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the spiteful me-too northeaster, much of the East Coast looked so battered and flooded, so strewed with toppled trees and stripped of dunes and beaches, that many observers feared the worst. Any day now, surely, the wildlife corpses would start showing up — especially birds, for who likelier to pay when a sky turns rogue than the ones who act as if they own it?

Yet biologists studying the hurricane’s aftermath say there is remarkably little evidence that birds, or any other countable, charismatic fauna for that matter, have suffered the sort of mass casualties seen in environmental disasters like the BP oil spill of 2010, when thousands of oil-slicked seabirds washed ashore, unable to fly, feed or stay warm.

“With an oil spill, the mortality is way more direct and evident,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “And though it’s possible that thousands of birds were slammed into the ocean by this storm and we’ll never know about it, my gut tells me that didn’t happen.”

To the contrary, scientists said, powerful new satellite tracking studies of birds on the wing — including one that coincided with the height of Hurricane Sandy’s fury — reveal birds as the supreme masters of extreme weather management, able to skirt deftly around gale-force winds, correct course after being blown horribly astray, or even use a hurricane as a kind of slingshot to propel themselves forward at hyperspeed.

“We must remind ourselves that 40 to 50 percent of birds are migratory, often traveling thousands of miles a year between their summer and winter grounds,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist of the National Audubon Society in Washington. “The only way they can accomplish that is to have amazing abilities that are far beyond anything we can do.”

Humans may complain about climate change. Birds do something about it. “Migration, in its most basic sense, is a response to a changing climate,” Dr. Farnsworth said. “It’s finding some way to deal with a changing regime of temperature and food availability.” For birds, cyclones, squalls and other meteorological wild cards have always been a part of the itinerant’s package, and they have evolved stable strategies for dealing with instability.

Given the likelihood that extreme weather events will only become more common as the planet heats up, Dr. Farnsworth said, “the fact that birds can respond to severe storms is to some extent a good sign.” Nevertheless, he added, “how many times they can do it, and how severe is too severe, are open questions.”

Among a bird’s weather management skills is the power to detect the air pressure changes that signal a coming storm, and with enough advance notice to prepare for adversity. Scientists are not certain how this avian barometer works, yet the evidence of its existence is clear.

As just one example, Dr. Langham cited the behavior of the birds in his backyard in Washington on the days before Hurricane Sandy arrived. “They were going crazy, eating food in a driving rain and wind when normally they would never have been out in that kind of weather,” he said. “They knew a bigger storm was coming, and they were trying to get food while they could.”

Songbirds and their so-called passerine kin may be notorious lightweights — if a sparrow were a letter, it could travel on a single stamp — but that doesn’t mean they’re as helpless as loose feathers in the wind. Passerine means perching, and the members of this broad taxonomic fraternity all take their perching seriously.

When a storm hits, a passerine bird can alight on the nearest available branch or wire with talons that will reflexively close upon contact and remain closed by default, without added expenditure of energy, until the bird chooses to open them again. If you’ve ever watched a perched bird in a high wind and worried, “Poor squinting thing — could it be blown away and smashed to bits down the road?,” the answer is not unless the perch is blown away with it.

Scientists have found that many migratory birds, especially the passerines, seek to hug the coast and its potential perches as long as possible, leaving the jump over open water to the last possible moment. But for birds over the open ocean, hurricanes pose a real challenge, and they can be blown off course by hundreds of miles. In fact, ornithologists and serious bird-watchers admit they look forward to big storms that might blow their way exotic species they’d otherwise never see in their lifetime.

Hurricane Sandy did not disappoint them. As an enormous hybrid of winter and tropical storm fronts with a huge reach, it pulled in a far more diverse group of birds than the average hurricane, and Web sites like ebird.org and birdcast.info were alive with thrilled reports of exceptional sightings — of the European shorebird called the northern lapwing showing up in Massachusetts; of Eastern wood-pewees that should have been in Central and South America suddenly appearing again in New York and Ontario; of trindade petrels, which normally spend their entire lives over the open ocean off Brazil, popping up in western Pennsylvania; and of flocks of Leach’s storm-petrels and pomarine jaegers, arctic relatives of gulls, making unheard-of tours far inland and through Manhattan.

(At least a couple of these visitors fell prey to New York City’s resident peregrine falcons, which either mistook the seabirds for pigeons or were in the mood to try a new ethnic cuisine.)

Most of the visitors didn’t linger, and once the storm had passed they took off, presumably heading back to where they wanted to be. “Birds have tremendous situational awareness,” said Bryan D. Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. “They know where they are and where they’re going, they’re able to fly back repeatedly, and they’ve shown an amazing ability to compensate for being pushed off track.”

Researchers have begun tagging individual birds with GPS devices and tracking them by satellite to gain detailed insights into how birds accomplish their migratory marathons and what exactly they do when confronting a storm.

In preparation for a possible offshore wind development project, Caleb Spiegel, a wildlife biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and his colleagues at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have attached transmitters to the tail feathers of several types of migratory birds, including the northern gannet, a big waterfowl with a spectacular fishing style of falling straight down from the sky like a missile dropped from a plane.

As it happened, one of the gannets was approaching the southern shore of New Jersey at just the moment Hurricane Sandy made landfall there, and Mr. Spiegel could catch the bird’s honker of a reaction. Making a sharp U-turn, it headed back north toward Long Island and then cut out to sea along the continental shelf, where it waited out the storm while refueling with a few divebombs for fish.

“The bird has since returned to New Jersey,” Mr. Spiegel said. “It’s pretty much back where it started.”

In a renowned tracking study that began in 2008, Dr. Watts and his colleagues have followed the peregrinations of whimbrels, speckled brown shorebirds with long curved beaks that breed in the subarctic Hudson Bay and winter as far south as Brazil. Because whimbrels regularly pass through the “hurricane alley” of the Caribbean and other meteorological hot spots, Dr. Watts said, “we’ve tracked many birds into major storms.”

In August 2011, the researchers marveled at the derring-do of a whimbrel named Hope as it encountered Tropical Storm Gert off the coast of Nova Scotia, diving straight into the tempest at 7 miles per hour and emerging from the other side at a pace of 90 m.p.h. Not long after, the scientists cheered as four other whimbrels successfully navigated their way through Hurricane Irene.

The joy was short-lived. In September 2011, two of the four Irene survivors sought refuge from another storm by landing on the island of Guadeloupe, where they were shot by sport hunters. Dr. Watts has since discovered to his dismay that throughout the Caribbean islands, hurricane season is considered hunting season, as enthusiasts target the many migratory birds grounded by bad weather.

“There are 3,000 permanent hunters on Guadeloupe alone,” he said. “The annual take in the West Indies may be 200,000 birds.”

Even the hardiest hurricane wrangler is helpless in the face of a gun.

Read Full Post »

Ducks on TV
On this Wednesday, Nov. 14th.,   PBS (Channel 13) will be airing the premier of a DUCKumentary on Ducks in the cold artic. Show time: 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central

Watch the preview

Read Full Post »

The local Audubon Society cancelled the Nov. 18th birdwalk to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (What a bunch of whimps) The refuge sustained a lot of damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy and is currently closed to the public.

Read Full Post »

Local Rarity

There have been numerous reports of an uncommon bird in our area – a Cackling Goose. Sue O’Rouke took this photo of the goose on Huguenot Lake in New Rochelle (that’s a fancy name for the large pond in front of New Rochelle High School.

You may be thinking that it looks a lot like a Canada Goose. It does. In fact, it used to be considered just a sub-species of the Canada Goose. But now has its own status as a separate species.

The Cackling Goose is much smaller, maybe only half as long as a Canada. And it has a more rounded head. When you see the two side by side the difference is obvious.

Read Full Post »

All the media is saturated with sad news of terrible devastation and loss in populated areas caused by Hurricane Sandy. Natural areas were also affected by the storm. At Jamaica Bay Natural Wildlife Refuge the storm surge carved a large channel connecting the waters of Jamaica Bay directly to the south end of the West Pond. The deep cut wiped out a portion of the trail that goes around the West Pond. We will have a chance to see the re-arranged landscape on Sunday, Nov. 18th when we visit Jamaica Bay together with the Bronx River–Sound Shore Audubon Society. Join us if you can. Meet in the store at 8:00 a.m. or, if it is more convenient, meet us at Jamaica Bay at 9:00 a.m.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »