Monthly Archives: August 2008

White-winged Crossbills in the Catskills

A small flock of singing White-winged Crossbills was reported from Sullivan County, New York in the middle of August, in the same locale as the Pine Grosbeak last winter.  They are one of the life birds that I have been trying to get for years.  With their erratic wandering though; finding them has not been easy.  Since there were still postings on the ListServ; I decided to make seeing them a priority over the holiday weekend.   Everytime I told someone I wanted to drive to the Catskills to try to see White-winged Crossbills, I would get the eye-roll.  I don’t get it.  It is not that far.  Well, at least not from my house.  So directions in hand, and a general idea of where I was going, I headed up alone into the mountains.

It took me slightly over an hour to drive to the boreal bog where the Crossbills were being seen.  Two women with straps adorning their bodies were intently scanning the tree tops as I pulled up.  Anxiously, I stopped to ask if they were looking for the Crossbills.  With nods and smiles they assured me that I was in the right place.  Eileen and Ann Marie had driven all the way from Long Island to see them, again.

Having been to see them several weeks earlier, they knew which trees they were frequenting.  As we stood chatting, we listened and scanned the tops of the trees for movement.  White-winged Crossbills are partial to trees with small cones like hemlock, larch and spruce.  There, they were eating black spruce cones.  We heard the trilling before we saw them.

I first saw movement high in a tree across the road from where we were standing.  The bird was backlit but I could see two distinctive flashes of white wing marks.  We crossed over to get a better look.  Ann Marie and Eileen got on it and said they saw red.  Red.  Two white wing marks.  The bird was flitting and hopping at the top of a spruce.  I kept losing him amongst the branches, but then he popped out into a sunlit window and sat.  I could not have asked for better view.  The camera, of course, was in the car.

Eileen and Ann Marie are wonderful birders.  Ladies, if you want to chase again.  Let me know.


Filed under Travel


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Check out other skies at SkyWatch.


Filed under carnival, Photos, Travel

Crows Never Forget a Face

Quick put on lipstick, crows can tell us apart.  Did you see the article in the New York Times about a study using masks for banding crows and the ruckus they put up after the fact?  It is fascinating–go read it.

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Birding Jamaica Bay

Having heard stories of how wonderful birding was and then reading about the recent rarities being reported on the ListServ; when I saw the notice about the Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival, I decided to go. I even convinced a few friends to go too.

Never having been to the refuge, of course we got lost, arriving an hour late. Oy. After dashing in to get the trail permits, we found the small group of festival birders was just moving off to another location when we finally got to the East Pond. We birded East Pond as far around as we could, but since the water was pretty high in places; we didn’t follow the trail all the way around. (If you go, knee-high waterproof boots are key. We didn’t know.) There were small flocks of sandpipers, dowitchers and plovers frantically feeding along the water’s edge fluttering off as we approached to resume chowing down when we were past. Whole families of Mute Swans lounged trailside; no protective hissing and flapping like the ones on my lake. Terns plunged into the still green water and overhead a Peregrine Falcon folded its wings diving at an Osprey. As I watched a Gull-billed Tern wing past, a Blue-winged Teal came flying over my head to settle on the water at the end of the pond. (I just love ducks.) We crossed the street to bird the West Pond behind the Visitor’s Center too. In the end, we came away with 30 species. I got no life birds, but one of my friends did. She was happy.

While I can see that it could be a very birdy location, it was not what I expected. I thought there would be loads of birds and birders. Not so. The participants were few and many of the birds had moved on. It was a better day at Brigantine and according to an email even the marsh by me was full of birds that day. Sigh. But that is how it goes. You just never know. That is the ups and downs of birding. Maybe the Meadowlands festival will be better.


Filed under festival, migration, Travel


I do not often see swans flying.  But when I do, it is a sight to behold.  

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Filed under carnival, Photos

Snake in a tree

Thinking some kids had thrown an old bicycle inner tube up in a tree, I only gave it a passing glance until my friend yelled over, “Hey.  What’s that in that tree?  Is it a snake?”  I looked away from a promising woodpecker hole to throw a glance in the direction they were looking.  Huh!  The things you see when you actually look.  I walked over to them to contemplate the non-inner tube.  We decided it probably was a rat snake since they can climb trees and birds and eggs are some of the things they eat.  It’s tail was still hanging in what appeared to be a large hole.  What it was doing in a dead tree in the middle of a swamp is anybody’s guess.  But it looked full and happy.  Or at least satiated and not moving in the hazy sunlight.


Filed under Local schmocal

Wordless Wednesday


Filed under carnival, Photos

Shorebird Migration

I saw a Greater Yellowlegs at the Liberty Loop at the Wallkill a few days ago.  Migration is starting.  Shorebirds are starting to move down from the north and are on a beach or lake or marsh near you.  Go check it out and let me know what is happening.  The Jamaica Bay Shorebird Festival in Queens, NY is next Sunday.  I’m going to pop over with friends to check it out.

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Rooster Whippoorwill duet

Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill…


Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill….


The cats ears twitch and I stop to listen.

Some minutes go by then he lets ‘er rip again.


But the Whippoorwill has given it up in the strengthening light.

Smiling I go back to whatever I am doing, which very well might be sleeping.  Someone nearby has chickens.  Or at least a rooster.  With all the potential chicken-loving critters up here, I presume he is not a wild rogue living-off-the-land kind of bird.  But, I have not been to investigate their set-up.  I love the country feel I get every time I hear him crow.  He starts up early in the morning in typical rooster fashion; but then he continues on and off all day.  It is not something you would expect to hear in the still, damp, dewy mornings or hot breezy afternoons at the edge of a state forest.  Crows, yes.  Nuthatches, Titmice, Chickadees, Cardinals, yes.  Downey, Hairy, Red-bellied and Pileated Woodpeckers, yes.  Screaming Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, yes.  Whippoorwills, yes.  But a rooster?  Not so much.

The most amusing is the dueling notes of the rooster and whippoorwill in the wee small hours.  Good morning.  Good Night.


Filed under backyard

Roadrunner vs. Flammulated Owl

I am pulling together an Arizona birding weekend after a business trip in October.  I am going to go out with Melody Kehl, hoping to score some life birds.  I certainly did last time I was in Phoenix.

This is a repost from my other blog (before I spun off the birds) if you read it before go ahead read it again.  It is an amazing story.

As I was walking along a gravel path in the wildflower garden at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, I was contemplating leaving. It was close to 11:30 and getting hotter by the minute. I, being a northeasterner, was not prepared for the heat (in October!) and was wearing a black sleeveless shirt and no hat. Suffice it to say I was toasty and burning (not enough SPF). There was not much happening anyway. I should have come earlier in the day. I had seen some nice birds, but nothing new this time. Some other birders that I met along the path had told me that Harris Hawks nest at the zoo. I thought I might just go over and hang around in the parking lot to see if any were around.

The garden paths wound around and around. As I rambled towards the exit, a Roadrunner dashed by. I had seen one earlier in another section of the park by a huge mesquite tree. This time, I pulled out my camera to try and snap him. As I did, it ran across the path and around me to my left. I whirled around to see it dart into a low tree and come out with something dark in its beak. It suddenly spotted me and dropped its prey and backed off slightly, beak still agape. I looked down to see that the dark thing was a bird–and then– that it was some sort of OWL!

I had never seen such a tiny owl. The little owl spread it wings and faced off with the Roadrunner. The Roadrunner circled to the left, then to the right. Back and forth pendulum fashion trying to get an opening. I was standing not 2 feet away watching. As the roadrunner would dart in, I would shuffle my feet in the stones to try and help the little owl. The owl turned toward me and I saw dark eyes beseeching me. Tiny owl. Dark eyes. Hmmm, the only small owl that I knew of in the desert was the Elf Owl. Could this be that?

This presented the ultimate dilemma—to intervene or not, it is the life of the desert. I decided that I had seen many, many roadrunners but not this owl. I needed a better look. So I started to flap my arms and shuffle and stamp my feet—carefully staying on the path. The roadrunner pecked at the owl again and again. I thought at one point that the little owl flinched, as if hurt. It seemed to favor its right wing. Oh no! is that a speck of blood?

What to do…what to do….I couldn’t leave and get help. I knew the instant that I turned my back it would be all over. As luck and the owl gods would have it, a school group approached. As the kids came along, the roadrunner dashed off ahead of them. The guide spotted the roadrunner and stopped to show the kids. I sidled up to the guide and told her that the roadrunner had attacked an owl. I turned to show her and as I did, the owl fluttered off. She immediately picked up her walkie-talkie and called into it. “Come quick. We have an injured owl!” She said that there had been a juvenile western screech found a week before. I told her that the owl had dark eyes. Screechs have yellow eyes. We collectively looked and looked for the small owl. The guide asked me to stay and wait for the ranger.

Standing in the shade of a nearby saguaro trying to keep from frying, I flipped open my ancient Peterson’s. I turned to owls and scanned through them all. Hmmm. The only small owl with dark eyes is a Flammulated. Is that possible? The map does show it here, hmmmmm. I hurriedly looked through the pictures I had snapped. Sure enough, 1 small owl with dark eyes and 1 very agitated roadrunner.

As I waited for the ranger, I spied a Verdin flitting in and around an old nest. I snapped some pictures of it, but it was moving so quickly I finally gave up and watched it. As I was watching the Verdin, I saw a flash of dark movement out of the corner of my eye. (Thank goodness for good peripheral vision.) The ranger came down the path as I was continuing to scan where I had seen the dark movement. I told him of the drama. He was a volunteer for the garden and knew his birds. We looked for the owl. I told him it had dark eyes. We looked at the pictures and in the book. He said that there had only been one or two prior records of a Flammulated Owl in the garden. What a find! With him on the job, I felt free to make my way out of the heat to the relative cool of the gift shop.

On the way out, I became a member of the garden. It supports them and there is reciprocity with other gardens around the country, including the big one near me, New York Botanical Garden. More than that, it serves as host to migrating Flammulated Owls! It is a sea of green in an otherwise sprawling desert city.

When I returned home, I got an email from the ranger. After I left that day, he found the owl sitting straight and tall (well as tall as a 6.5 inch Flam can). As he was trying to take a picture of it, it flew off. He said that the flight looked nice and strong.

I encourage all of you to visit the garden, next time you are in Phoenix. It is one of my favorite places.


Filed under migration, Photos, Travel