Archive for April, 2013

3 day old Red-tailed Hawks

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a 24 hours live web cam on a local Red-tailed Hawk nest. Follow the link to see what is happening today. The nestlings are now 3 days old. Check back daily to watch them grow in handsome red-tails.



This link show the young ones when they were only one day old


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Bake a Cake

Are you invited to the Birthday Party on Friday, April 26th ? It is John James Audubon’s 228th Birthday. He has been well known for most of those years primarily as a bird artist.

I confess I don’t like his art. It does not look very natural or realistic to me. The Museum of the City of New York has a full collection of famous prints. When I looked at the originals, instead of cheap reproductions, I changed by opinion a tad. When you compensate by realizing they were done 200 years ago, I must admit they were revolutionary. But still not my favorites.

Although Audubon is best known as an artist, he was also a scientist as well advancing the study of birds. He conducted a classic experiment designed to prove whether birds find food by smell. He chose vultures for his experiment because of their preference for carrion, dead animals. Audubon hid dead goats and lambs under a cover that prevented them from being seen by birds flying overhead. The smell of the rotting meat could escape into the air. His theory was that if birds did indeed locate their food using their sense of smell they would find the carcass. They didn’t.

The conclusion was that birds don’t have a good sense of smell. He and his fellow researchers presented their results to the prestigious Royal Society. After that it become common bird lore that birds, particularly vultures, do not have a good sense of smell.
Unfortunately, Audubon was wrong. Vultures do use smell.

Just ask the gas pipeline companies in the southwest. For decades they located leaks in the pipeline by looking for vultures. The smell of the gas in the pipe oozes out of any leak and acts like a magnet attracting vultures. Dozens of vultures surround the leak.

Why did Audubon’s study show just the opposite? Scientists speculated the meat he used was just too old and rotten. Even vultures have a limited when it comes to gross food. So they duplicated Audubon’s experiment using freshly killed animals, hiding them using a sheet of plywood as a roof. The vultures found the fresh(er) meat.

Good at art, fair at science.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Audubon

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For those of you that work and play in the city, you may want to check out another new birding movie, called A Birder’s Guide to Everything, that is now playing at the TriBeca Film Festival

Sideways meets Stand by Me in this endearing story of friendship, family and a place in bird watching’s history books. On the eve of his widower father’s second wedding, fifteen-year-old David Portnoy spots what may just be the extinct Labrador duck. Now he and the two other stalwart members of the local Young Birders Society, joined by their headstrong photographer classmate Ellen, take off on a rollicking, interstate road trip in search of a rare bird and elusive answers to teenage questions large and small.

With marvelous supporting performances by Ben Kingsley and James LeGros, A Birder’s Guide to Everything is an alternately poignant and funny window into the thoughtful world of birding and the inner peace that can be discovered during a walk in the woods. Rob Meyer delivers a sparkling feature film debut with a coming-of-age tale to warm the hearts of anyone who grew up with a nerdy passion. It becomes a tenderhearted look at the moments and relationships that change even the most intensely focused lives.

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Recently I was thinking (I know, that is dangerous) that during the past 14 years I have owned the Wild Bird Center I have led a monthly BirdWalk. That a total of over 150 walks. Surprisingly only a handful have ever been cancelled because of bad weather.

I’ve been asked which one I remember most. Or what is my favorite location. In truth I’ve enjoyed them all, primarily because of the nice group of people that participates in them. Over the years many nice people have joined us. Young and old, male and female, tall and short. I learn from them all, they learn from each other. Bird people are nice people.

Thinking back, certain bird sightings do stand out. Not because, they were spectacular sightings of a rare bird but for other reasons. Maybe because of the people in the group, the weather conditions, or the time of the year.

One such notable sighting, occurred about three years ago on a spring walk to Read Sanctuary in Rye. The Osprey had returned just the previous day. Other returning migrants reminded us of the renewal that comes with spring. What I remember most was standing under the Osprey nesting platform as the newly returned birds brought large sticks to the platform for use in constructing their new nest for the year. They were totally oblivious to us standing just yards below as they went about their annual ritual. In my mind’s eye I can still see them flying in carrying sticks in their talons.

Another experience etched in my memory also occurred at Read Sanctuary about 9 years ago. As we were walking along the entrance road between Playland Lake and Long Island Sound a pair of Mute Swans took off from the lake flying directly over our heads, not 20 feet above us in the air. That is when I realized just how big a swan is. They seemed enormous with huge wings that flapped very very slowly, so slowly in fact that you could actually see them beat up and down. But more dramatically you could hear the sound of their wings as they slowly flew overhead. Each flap was a distinct swish. I can still hear that sound.

A third memorable sighting, also at Read Sanctuary, involved a Great Egret that had just caught a large fish. The size of the fish was about twice the diameter of the egret’s neck. As we watched the fish, now a bulge in the bird’s neck, moved slowly
down the long skinny neck from it’s mouth to it’s stomach. It took a few minutes.

There have been more memorable bird walks

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Spring is coming and Hummingbirds are one of the most anxiously awaited migrants to return.

Don’t fret they are coming. After all, they flew all the way to Central America for the winter. It takes them some time to fly all the back north.
The following chart will give you some idea of their progress in their northern journey. The dates on the map show the location and date when Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds were first seen in Spring 2013.

Where are my Hummingbirds

As you can see they are moving north.
If you want to continue to monitor their progress check the following link

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For the past 37 years the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wisconsin has hosted a juried exhibit of fine art featuring birds. It called Birds in Art. Of the 600 artists worldwide who applied for the 2012 show only about 100 were accepted. The art included oils, watercolor, pastels and sculpture.

40 of the best pieces from the show are touring the country and are currently in our area through May 3rd at the Newington-Cropsey Foundation in Hastings. All the artwork is very good, some of it is spectacular.

If a rainy April day has you yearning to be outside watching birds, go inside instead and head for the Newington-Cropsey Foundation instead. Bird indoor. The building and the grounds are lovely. The birds are stationary and not flitting around. And surprisingly, there is no cost. It is free. Nada.

Another unusual element to the exhibit is that it is not open on the weekends, only on Monday thru Friday and only in the afternoons from 1:00 PM – 5:00.

Contact information:
The Newington-Cropsey Foundation
25 Cropsey Lane
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
(914) 478-7990

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Slow Motion Eagle

You may envy a bird’s flying ability or marvel at the ease of a soaring hawk.
And as you will see in the following link watching an eagle in slow motion is really cool.


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For our April BirdWalk we went to Twin Lakes in Eastchester. I’ve only been there once before (when I was a last minute substitute recorder on the Christmas Bird Count that was most notable for the 10” of snow that fell later in the day)

Today’s walk was notable for a different disaster: we ran out of parking spaces. More people wanted to enjoy a spring day than there were legal parking spots. Later arrivers had to park 1/8mile down the road at the equestrian center. As a result we ended up with two large but separate groups that eventually merged into one large mob of over 30 birders.

Clear sunny skies hinted at the anticipated arrival of spring – very welcome after a long winter. It was good to be outdoors.
The birds were also anxious for spring and we were greeted by a vanguard of the early migrants:

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Phoebe, Osprey, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree, Barn and N. Rough-winged Swallow.

Winter waterfowl were still hanging in and we got good views of Ring-necked Duck, Gadwall and one accommodating Green-wing Teal raised his wing into the glistening sunlight to show us how it got its name.

In total we spotted 34 birds species and had almost as many bird watchers look at them.

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Must see TV

The Lost Bird Project, a documentary film about five bird species driven to extinction in modern times and sculptor Todd McGrain’s project to memorialize them, will be airing on Earth Day, April 22, 2013. The film will be public television stations across so check your local listings for exact dates and times.

The film follows McGrain and his brother-in-law, Andy, from the tropical swamps of Florida to Martha’s Vineyard to the rocky coasts of Newfoundland over a period of two years as they search for the locations where these birds were last seen in the wild, talk to park rangers, speak at town meetings and battle bureaucracy in their effort to gather support for the project.

McGrain’s aim was to place the sculptures in places where the birds were once common and are now so starkly absent.

The memorials now stand in the places where the birds once sGreat Ackocialized, courted and fed their young — a testament to what we have lost…and a reminder to preserve what we have left

The film is a moving elegy to five extinct North American birds — the Passenger Pigeon (my favorite), the Heath Hen, the Carolina Parakeet, the Labrador Duck and the Great Auk — and a thoughtful, sometimes humorous look at the artist and his mission.

The Great Auk memorial is located on the island of Fogo, in Newfoundland.

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