Archive for February, 2013

Barred Owl

My brother Jim is living in a nursing home overlooking the Hudson River a few miles north of Croton. I went to visit him yesterday and along the way I decided to stop at Croton Point Park to see if I could find the Barred Owl that has been hanging out there. On three previous visits I haven’t seen it.

I drove up to the owl’s favorite pine grove and check each tree. Nothing. A guy with a big lens walked up saying “ I saw it earlier today”. Together we checked the pine but no owl. A woman with an even larger lens appeared and look up. “There it is” she said. And it was. Sitting out in the open basking in the warm sun. Don’t know how we missed it. It was obvious once you knew where it was. A good view.

This has been a good birding week – a first ever Barnacle Goose, a Wilson’s Snipe, and now a Barred Owl. I’m exhausted but happy

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Snipe Hunt

Snipe - 2Snipe - 1

Today I travelled to Katonah for a snipe hunt. Bylane Farm, a sanctuary owned by Bedford Audubon, is a large old farmstead located on a rut-filled dirt road, a peaceful rustic setting. A Wilson Snipe has been a steady visitor at farm’s pond for over a week.
A small parking area overlooks a gently sloping valley with the pond at the low point. Immediately as we stepped out of the car we could see the snipe feeding with its characteristic “sewing machine” motion not 200 feet away. Excellent view. Hard to miss. In fact, our view was so good we didn’t bother to plod through the snowy field toward the pond for a closer look. Our view was great. “Easiest Life Bird ever” to quote Bill VanWart.

Janelle Robbins, Exec. Director of Bedford Audubon, invited us into the farmhouse for even better views as well as conversation and photos of the chickens she is raising at her home in downtown Yorktown.

Alan Soiefer did some research in preparation for our snipe hunt. He informed us that when a snipe is suddenly flush from its marshy habitat it flies off in an rapid, erratic zigzag flight. Hunters shooting shorebirds find it almost impossible to track and shoot a snipe. Any hunter who was good at shooting snipe became known as a “sniper”. That is the origin of the term meaning an excellent shot.

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Barnacle Goose
A sharp-eyed customer called the store saying she had just seen an “odd” goose in a flock of hundreds of Canada Geese at Larchmont Reservoir. What is it? After some questioning, we decided it must be a Barnacle Goose. Doug Bloom stopped at the Reservoir before the store opened today and confirmed that, indeed, it was a Barnacle Goose.

I’ve never seen one. So I checked the field guides. In fact, I checked every field guide in the store and they all said the same thing: A Barnacle Goose is a rare bird in this area. It summers in Greenland and usually winters in Europe. Occasionally, one will be seen in winter along the northeastern shore. Well, I decided to see this one and raced over to the reservoir at lunch time.

It was easy to spot the Barnacle Goose, even in the middle of a flock of Canada Geese. The Barnacle Goose looks different. It is slightly smaller. It has a silvery-gray back, as opposed to the brownish-black back of the Canada. The short neck is similar to a Brandt. But the most distinguishing field mark is the large white patch on the head.

So it is only mid-February and I found my first Life Bird of the Year. (Lately, I have only added one or two lifers per year. It gets harder every year to add a new bird) I was so out of practice I almost forgot to do the obligatory “lifer dance”. I did it. But it was so icy I almost slipped and broke my neck. Still, one must maintain traditions.

A new life bird brightens the spirits on a gloomy winter day. Hooray!

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I love Piping Plovers

Piping Plover Chick
Last night I attended a lecture sponsored by the Bedford Audubon Society. The speaker, who was from National Audubon HQ, described their new flyway strategy. The basic strategy is simple. Many of our local birds spend their winters in Central and South America. Audubon has long focus on preserving important bird habitat here in North America. But all their effort will be useless unless the bird habitats in Central and South America are destroyed. In order to save birds, key areas must be protected in both here and in Central and South America. Makes sense. Birds spend half their time here and half down there.

An interesting approach is to focus on 35 key species. Insuring the survival of these 35 key species will also benefit most other species. For the key species, they choose birds that human can feel close to and care about. One of my favorites, the Piping Plover, is on the list. If you have ever seen a Piping Plover you know they are adorable little birds, hard to resist. And the young are even cuter.

Unfortunately they have been endangered for some time. The speaker surprised me by stating that there are only about 8,000 in the world. They nest on Long Island shoreline and in Massachusetts. I’ve been lucky enough to see some of them.
Recently Audubon discovered that about 20% of the population winters in the Bahamas. And, working with the government, they have achieved protected status for some of the bird’s favorite locations.

from pa jetty

I, for one, hope they can save the Piping Plover for future generations to enjoy.

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How to Count Birds

Many birding activities require counting the number of birds you see. That sounds easy, but not always.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Great Backyard Bird Count and the on-going Feeder Watch are two activities that require counting. And eventually you run out of fingers and toes so you need a better way to count.

Cornell just put out the following write up on counting birds. I would skip the first half but the second half is interesting and useful. See if you can count the number of birds in the photos


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Bald Eagle Walk

If there were any groundhogs at Croton Point Park this morning they certainly saw their shadows. The cloudless sky was bright blue and the warmth from the sun counteracted the colder temperature.

I billed today’s walk as a Bald Eagle walk, so our objective was to find eagles. A friendly group of 16-18 birders joined in morning’s scavenger hunt. First we headed up the hill to the nature center. Eagles often sit in the tall trees overlooking the river.

The bird feeder attracted the normal variety of backyard birds: chickadees, juncos, white and red-breasted nuthatches, mourning doves, white-throated sparrow, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker. The best birds at the feeder were Am. Tree Sparrows. But no eagles in sight. The park naturalist mentioned she had seen 15 eagles from the train that morning but, when pressed, she admitted they were about 12 miles further north.

Well, maybe an owl. There have been reports of a Barred Owl in the pine grove near the camp ground. A quick drive took us to the pine grove but no owl was present.

Finally we headed to the boat ramp by the train station where the Croton River merges into the Hudson River. That is normally the best spot to find an eagle. And we did. First we spotted a pair sitting side by side in a distant tree. Then we noticed another, closer adult eagle. Everyone got a good look at it through a scope. Next an eagle flew over the railroad bridge and landed at the very top of a tree across the tracks. Quickly we had it in the scope for an excellent close-up view.

Final score for the day: Groundhogs, 0; Bald Eagles, 4

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