Archive for March, 2014

Add One

Wild TurkeyDoug and I have kept a list of birds we have seen from the store. Our cumulative total has been stalled at 76 species, everything from hummingbirds to bald eagles. Not a bad total. Especially when you consider that Central Avenue is more of a major shopping artery, than a nature center.

Today we added a new species – Wild Turkey.

A female turkey patrolled the ground under our bird feeder for an hour or so chasing away Morning Doves, sparrows and other intruders. Turkeys have made a comeback in Westchester but Central Avenue is not the proper habitat. I am curious to see how long she hangs around.

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Being a glutton for punishment I participated in another Woodcock Walk last Saturday. This one was at the Audubon Center in Greenwich. The walk was something of an opening act that was followed by a presentation by David Sibley. He is the illustrator and author of Sibley’s Guide to Birds and other books. In total he has sold over 1 million bird books.

Series birders debate as to which guide is better – his or the National Geographic. At least he is either first or second. And he was doing his book tour to promote his second edition. He was near by. So I went for it.

The Woodcock Walk itself was lead by Ted Gilman who is the Sr. Naturalist at the center and was recently named The National Audubon Educator of the Year. Ted is a great teacher and physically always reminds me of Henry David Thoreau – tall, gaunt, with a long bushy beard, a calm, quiet manner and an incredible knowledge of the natural world.

Ted translated the appearance of a woodcock into understandable terms. A woodcock, he said, looks like a grapefruit with wings and a long bill. That’s it exactly. To illustrate the placement of a woodcock’s eyes, Ted asked the audience (about 75 people) to point to their eyes. Then move your fingers back along your head to a point just behind your ears. That’s where a woodcock’s eyes are positioned. This allows a woodcock to see almost directly behind it. No way any predator can sneak up on it. A prototype for the teacher with eyes in the back of her head who never misses anything.

We did see one Woodcock on an open grass field. It was too dark to see any definite field marks I did see a grapefruit sized bird with wings.

David Sibley’s talk followed the Woodcock walk. My summary: He is a better artist than speaker.

I did have him sign a few copies of his 2nd edition as gifts for friends.

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American Woodcock

Birding activity during the past few months required dealing with frigid temperatures and trudging over a few feet of (hopefully) crusted snow. Needless to say I did not go out much. As a result, I developed a severe case of cabin fever.

Now warmer weather teases. Day Light Savings Time is in effect. Spring starts this week. Birds are singing in the morning.

Last Saturday evening, as the initial recovery stage in curing cabin fever, I joined a bird walk at Croton Point Park hoping to see Am. Woodcock perform their spring mating dance. Woodcock are sandpiper-type birds that live in wooded area. They have extremely long bills which they use to probe deep into the soil. Their eyes are located near the back of their head so if anything approaches while they are probing the Woodcock see. They are hard to sneak up on. And their coloration is perfect camouflage making them difficult to see. Except in spring when love is in the air.

Just at twilight on an early spring evening male Woodcocks move from their wooded habitat to nearby open fields where they perform their “dance” attempting to lure females. Calling their courtship ritual a dance is quite an exaggeration. The male struts around a little issuing a call that sounds something like “prent”. Then he fly a spiral path straight up into the air reaching heights of 100-150 feet. At the top of his vertical assent he stops flapping and falls back down to earth in fluttering manner usually landing back at the spot where he took off originally.

Observing the Woodcock ritual involves going into a suitable field just as darkness develops. Listen for the woodcock’s call. When it launches itself up into the sky, you rush to the launching spot waiting for it to flutter back to earth hopefully only a few feet away. That’s it. May not sound like much fun and it really isn’t. Just some unusual bird behavior from a bird you may not see any other time. It is hard to believe that this flight would attract a female, but to a female woodcock it is truly irresistible.
Saturday we did see one woodcock but it wasn’t performing. Maybe the presence of so many birders ruined the romantic atmosphere. It was skulking in short grasses where it was almost impossible to see. We highlighted it with powerful search lights and focused a scope directly on it. Still it was hard to see. It blended perfectly.
It was a lovely evening. No snow, no cold. Hints of spring. Nice sunset over the Hudson.
In addition to the one Woodcock we also spotted a pair of Bald Eagles, a single Merlin, a noisy mixed flock of 400-500 blackbirds (grackles, starling, red-wings, cowbirds), Wood Duck, Green-winged Teal, Great Blue Heron, and more.

My cabin fever is improving. A few more nice days and birds should cure it completely.

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In a recent issue Popular Science magazine described a new approach for discouraging squirrels from stealing seed from your bird feeder. A software engineer in North Carolina applied technology to the task. With a webcam aimed at his feeder, he designed customer software that analyzes the webcam feed and distinguishes squirrels from birds by size, color, and fuzziness.

When a squirrel is detected, motors aim a large Supersoaker squirt gun at the feeder and blast the squirrel with a powerful stream of water. It sound effective.

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killdeer_3The first Saturday of the month fell as early as possible in the month of March, the 1st of the month. Early March was still quite wintery for our BirdWalk. Playland Lake was frozen solid with only a small open patch of water. Worse yet, the weather forecast on Friday was for a brittle, cold evening, temperatures around 10 degrees in the city. Colder north. So when I went to bed on Friday evening I anticipated waking to miserable winter morning.

But I was wrong. When I walked out the door, the sun was brightly shining. Temperatures were not too bad and there was absolutely no wind. It turned out to be a pleasant day for a bird walk. Unfortunately, the lingering winter kept the early spring migrants farther down south and our winter visitors were hiding.

Still our jolly band of 15 birders managed to spot a total of 31 species and actually enjoyed a pleasant morning walk.

Species Seen:
The most unexpected sighting was a pair of early Killdeer that called as they flew past us. Red-winged Blackbirds were early arrival from their wintering grounds.

Waterfowl: Mallard, Black Duck, Gadwall, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon
Great Blue Heron, Herring Gull, Ringed-billed Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull.
Backyard Birds: Fish Crow, American Crow, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Starling, Cardinal, Common Grackle, House Finch, House Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Pigeon

Participants: Beatrice, Bernie, Bill, Bob, Dave, Elizabeth, Johnny, Mark, Sandy, Sue & Don, Teresa, Mrs. Murphy and friends. Plus Hank and Doug

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