Monthly Archives: June 2008

Birding at lunch

I work in a windowless office in the center of the building in Westchester county NY.  There could be a blizzard outside and I would not know.  I try to get out to breathe the air and see the sunlight if at all possible.  Four laps around the parking lot make a mile (or so I’ve been told.) and I suppose I should do it at a brisk pace not a leisurely stroll, but I find myself watching the birds, examining the wildflowers/weeds, testing the raspberries-that grow along the edge-for ripeness and generally reveling in nature not physical exercise.  I think I will bring you occasional snippets from my lunchtime stroll.  I have seen some pretty cool birds there.  Today’s  BOD (bird of the day)–a rusty red Veery at the top of the lot, pecking at something on the ground.  As I approached it flew off into the woods.  The bins are in the car and I am too lazy to go get them and the bird will be gone anyway.  So I just enjoy it as it is.

Are you able to bird at work?     


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Wordless Wednesday

Pica Hudsonia


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Golden-winged Warblers-Yes!

I got out of the car with fingers crossed.  I had brought my house guests to see Golden-winged Warblers.  They had never seen them and the birds are declining.  Looking for Hooded Warblers weeks ago, I happened to have heard the Golden-winged at this spot.   So I knew they were around, but any time you go birding, especially during nesting season when the birds are quiet, it is a crap shoot.

After dousing ourselves with bug spray, we headed down the path to where I knew there were Hooded Warblers doing family duty.   Stopping to listen, we ticked off what we were hearing:  Hooded Warbler, Ovenbird, Warbling Vireo, Eastern Pewee, American Redstart…. From the corner of my eye I saw movement.  When I swung up my binoculars, I saw a beautiful Blue-winged Warbler, then a female Redstart dashed across my field of view.  As I followed her, there he was, a Gold-winged Warbler with his classic black triangle throat patch. I shouted to my friends.  “Hey, Goldens!”

Since there are both Blue-wings and Golden-wings nesting in the same spot, I left them ogling while I trotted back to the car to grab the Petersen to refresh on what the hybrids look like.  We saw no hybrids today.  But we did see a lot of Golden-wingeds.

The birding was amazing today. I need to get over there more often.

Our grand total: 32 species.  Great Blue Heron, a large family of Wood Ducks, a small family of Canada Geese, Broad-winged Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood-pewee, Great-crested Flycatcher, Tree Swallows, Black-capped Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, Indigo Bunting, Veery, Catbird, Crow, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, American Redstart, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Red-winged Blackbird, Phoebe, Yellow Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Towhee, Brown-headed Cowbird.

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Wordless Wednesday

Falco sparverius


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Willow Flycatcher

Of the 5 look-a-like Empidonax flycatchers, I see Willow the most, or rather I should say I hear it. Well, I do see it but since they all look alike, I depend on their call to identify which one I am looking at. So, I both hear and…oh, never mind, you know what I mean.

On my walk this morning on the Liberty Loop at the Wallkill NWR, I was nosing around not really looking for anything in particular. I was admiring a particularly nice swath of milkweed just coming into flower when I heard the harsh fitz-bew of a willow flycatcher. I looked around for it. But being a small non-descript look-a-like bird, I struggled to find it. Then a small gray-brown bird flew off. Rats, that could have been it.

I wandered around looking at sparrows, orioles, red-winged blackbirds, herons and swallows, all the while hearing the tantalizingly close fitz-bew. Finally it hopped up to sit on the top of a low tree. I waited. La-de-da. Watching. Waiting. La-de-da. Finally it raised it head and let loose with a full-throated 2-syllable burst. Ah, there you are, you little devil. He never sallied forth to catch a fly (which would have been helpful) but sat contentedly looking around.

On the rest of my abbreviated walk (the biting flies were out and the bug spray was in the car, of course.) I saw/heard many of them. Are there more this year? They seem to be everywhere I go lately. Or, maybe I need to broaden my horizon.

Every time I hear its call, I think fitz means son of, so fitz-bew would mean son of Bew. You can see how my mind works. Sad, isn’t it?

Which of the Empidonax do you have by you?


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Beyond the Birds

At this time of year, when the birds are silently going about the business of raising their families, my time in the woods and fields lessens somewhat but when I’m out; it broadens to include other critters not so high in the canopy.

In the woods the other day, I spied a five-lined skink. It warily watched me approach, then skittered a few inches away. We played push-me-pull-you for several minutes, before it ran off into the damp underbrush. I was thrilled; I had never seen one.

The black rat snake that is living on the chipmunks in the backyard occasionally lazes replete, draped on the top of the rock wall. This is the same snake I have cut out of deer netting, twice.

A gray tree frog was plastered to the window on the deck. I flipped on the outside light. I peered at it; it peered at me. Its throat pulsed, but I could not hear it over the rain. Its thighs against the glass were bright orange.

You often see more than birds when you are out birding.


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Wordless Wednesday


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Rail Tale

Paulinskill Valley WMA, NJ

I awoke with trepidation. The temperature was going to soar into the 90s and I had signed up for a marsh field trip at the Sussex County Birding Festival. I considered not going. I had things that needed doing around the house that may or may not have included sitting in front of a fan with an icy beverage. It would be a tough slog through a hot muggy wet blanket. But there were the possibility of rails. I reminded myself that I like the heat, hopped into a cold shower and was on the road by 6:30.

Paulinskill Valley WMA, known locally as Hyper Humus , is a large wetland between Lafayette and Newton NJ. I had seen its mention on the ListServe but had never been there. The fabulous thing about this trip was that it was lead by a man who virtually grew up there and still lives down the road. Shall we say, he birds there often.

Upon entering the trail we were greeted with yellow warbler, scarlet tanager, american redstart, and wood thrush. (When you enter a woodland path and a scarlet tanager is peering down at you, you are definitely having a birdy day.) As I walked along the path leading to the marsh I looked for birds, butterflies, dragonflies, wild flowers, frogs, turtles and snakes. I can be easily distracted and the painted turtle beside the path digging a nest hole was fascinating.

Birding is hard once the trees have leafed out. We were mostly birding by ear; the songs of yellow warblers, baltimore orioles and cuckoos drawing us further into the marsh. I never did see the yellow-billed cuckoo that dogged our steps although several others did. Once we got out to the “ponds” there were great blue herons, mute swans by the dozens, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, a few mallards and some canada geese. From off in the distance came the lilting tones of a marsh wren tucked away in the reeds. Standing out on one of the dikes, we heard the “kiddick” of virginia rails. Rails are more often heard than seen. But today there was a frenzied calling and scurrying about in the reeds at our feet. Holding our breath and gesturing in silence, we pointed them out to each other. They were close enough that we did not need binoculars. We all had great views. Virginia rails are always so much smaller than I think they are. I guess because clapper and king are so big. As we watched, a little further down the dike a lone rail walked out onto the grass path, posing nicely, then ducked back out of sight.

It was worth the muggy, 90 degree, 3-hour walk to see this. Really.


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Wordless Wednesday-Summertime and the living is easy

Columbina passerina


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The Importance of Sparrows


Commonly called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs, sparrows are notoriously hard to identify. This one is a Savannah Sparrow. Can you see the little bit of yellow by the eye? Classic.

I am fond of sparrows. They are ubiquitous yet overlooked in favor of the brighter, more colorful, more easily identified birds. Many of them have beautiful easy-to-learn songs, like the ol’ sam peabody of the white-throated sparrow or the ping-pong balls of the field sparrow or the distinctive maids, maids, maids, of the song sparrow. I always try to spend time with sparrows.

Let me tell you a sparrow story. I was with my sister at Point Reyes National Seashore in California at the end of September for our birthdays. This was a few years ago. It was cold and windy out on the point. I was standing in a field birding every bird looking for a golden-crowned sparrow, a life bird for me. There were hundreds of sparrows, popping up and down, mostly white-crowned. My sister is a good birder but after way-too-many LBJs, she wandered off to look at a Say’s Phoebe and to ogle the California Quail. Finally a golden-crowned sat on the top branch of a bush, I shouted for her to come see it, but she was on a Black-throated Gray Warbler, also a life bird for me. I abandoned extolling the virtues of the sparrow and dashed over for the warbler. Totally fickle right? Thankfully I have seen many golden-crowned sparrows and savannah sparrows after that in California and Alaska but I have only ever seen the black-throated gray warbler just that once.

Thanks Gale for being bored of LBJs.

But if we hadn’t have been hours in that field sorting out sparrows, we would never have seen the black-throated gray. The morale of the story is–Spend time with sparrows, you never know who is hanging out with them.


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