Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lifer in the Middle of Bio Lab

Today while I was in the woods on campus working on a group project for Field Biology with a couple of my classmates, I suddenly saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly to a nearby tree and land there. I freaked out--"oh my god, guys, come here, come here! I can't believe this, it's a Pileated Woodpecker....come here, guys! No, really, I want to show this to you, it's a really cool bird." I've been wanting to see one for a little while now, and I honestly can't believe that I saw one on campus while technically in-class. My classmates weren't as enthused as I was, and I don't blame them a bit. If I were hanging out with a geologist and he started excitedly pointing out kinds of rocks, I wouldn't really care. *shrug* Just not my thing.

Unfortunately, no pictures of the bird since I didn't have my camera on me, and it also flew away while I was trying to get my classmates to look up at the tree where it was. Oh well.

Despite the weather predictions for the day, I raced against the rain and tried to get in a little birding. Then, even when it did start to rain, I just went back to my apartment to re-outfit myself: plastic bag and a solo cup with the bottom cut out to protect my camera against the rain. This provided more proof that I have no inclination whatsoever toward engineering, but it kind of worked. I only needed it to work for a little while, anyway. I'm glad I went out (to Mendon Ponds) because I saw lots of sparrows and Yellow Warblers. I can now check White-crowned Sparrow off of my life list. I also saw Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Thrashers, and Chipping Sparrows.
I'm not sure if I'd call this a lifer or not--I can't remember if I've seen a Field Sparrow before and somehow forgot to check it off my list, or if I really haven't seen one until today. In any case, I got very close views of a couple of them today.
Take nothing but pictures (and maybe the trash of jerks who came before you), leave nothing but footprints.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Springing Forward

Tuesday was a day of kestrels, swallows, and phoebes. I went out to Burger Park and explored it. I've really only been in the little parking lot before. I was delighted with the grid of trails I found. It wasn't long before I remembered how impatient I can be when I'm trying to stalk the passerines hiding in the thickets and the trees. I'm not as stealthy as I think I am. After exploring the trails I laid down along the path near the parking lot to attempt to get some pictures of the swallows diving and swooping overhead. A few of the times I missed completely and got a picture of nothing but clear blue sky. When that happened, I'd make a funny little noise of frustration, reminiscent of childhood tantrums, and then just laugh and give up for the next couple of minutes. It was all too delightful to watch, how could anyone actually be annoyed?

I adore watching swallows dive and dip and plunge and swoop and swirl and sail and careen and soar and turn and otherwise rocket around. It just makes me smile. They look like freedom.
That day I also got a lot of good looks at Kestrels hover hunting. At the time, I had no clue that that was what I was watching, but a quick trip to the Hawkwatch (to pester one of the counters I knew would be there) answered all my newbie birder questions.

Yesterday wasn't as outstanding as was hoped for, but it was still a great day of birding for me. Three Sandhill Cranes flew by while I was at the Hawkwatch--first lifer of the day--the view wasn't outstanding, they were a bit far off, but it wasn't bad either.
Then someone pointed out a pair of Wood Ducks to me--second lifer of the day--they were also a ways off, but I got a couple pictures, and was thrilled that she had said something, since otherwise I would have missed it entirely!
The third lifer of the day was a Caspian Tern. I got good shots of it both yesterday and today.
After a while at the Hawkwatch one of the regulars I've been getting to know decided to go birding in the woods, turning the attention from raptors to songbirds. Things were slow up above our heads, so I joined her and she showed me Island Cottage Woods, which was a new birding spot for me. She showed me what Sapsucker holes look like: and put a name to a couple of plants I hadn't bothered to ID yet--May Apples and Trillium. Hermit Thrushes were everywhere. I suggest clicking on this first photo for a bigger look, and then admiring the camouflage this guy's got going for him Towards the end of our walk we got a special treat--a look at one that was only a few feet away, for maybe a good 45 seconds. It's always a thrill to get a close-up look at a bird, especially when it lasts for more than 2 seconds or so!
Today was a big day of migration: strong SW winds and hot. Lots of broad-wings. It was the first of "Bird of Prey Days" for BBRR, so there were tons of people there. There was an owl prowl in the morning, tours of the Hawkwatch, the Raptor Banding Station, and the songbird banding station, and presentations with live raptors (including a Golden Eagle) and live venomous snakes. Other presentations covered the endangered Short-Eared Owl in NY and the Raptor Population Index Project. Some of the day's pictures:
Some Great Egrets we had the pleasure of seeing today:
I got my lifer Golden Eagle today, and it honestly couldn't've been much better. It flew in overhead, getting closer and closer, but not too quickly (a lot of the birds today just got blown right over us in a blink because of the strong winds). Then it hovered above us and provided a fantastic photo op for everyone. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

That wasn't the only lifer I got today while I was at the Hawkwatch, either. A few of the regulars around me suspected that a certain gull flying over the marsh nearby wasn't an ordinary variety. Then someone confirmed their suspicions and called out "Glaucous-winged gull!"

Tomorrow's the second day of BBRR's Bird of Prey Days. Here's a link to the schedule of events, if you're interested.

Take nothing but pictures (and maybe the trash of jerks who came before you), leave nothing but footprints.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nets + Tours

This week has been a really exciting one for me and my birding "career" (I use the term here very loosely). When I checked my email on Wednesday (April 15) I had something from one of the RIT professors who runs the on-campus banding station (an "e-hello," as he put it). He had gotten my email address from the BBRR volunteer list I had just recently signed up on. He asked what I was interested in in terms of birding, I gave the poor guy a very lengthy answer, and he invited me to stop by the RIT banding station. Essentially, more networking with members of the birding community--and I'm thrilled!

I went to bed around 1:30 am on Thursday morning after making some cardinal-shaped cookies (they turned out edible, but quite plain. that's fine by me, considering it was the first batch of from-scratch cookies I've ever made by myself in my life) and had a lot of trouble actually falling asleep--I was just like a little kid on Christmas Eve.

Then the alarm was going off. The glorious alarm! *YAWN* okay, maybe not so glorious. I arrived down at the banding station by 8:30, and was greeted with waves as I parked my car from a few women who were already at work setting things up. Introductions were made and we set to work. I had no clue how exactly these nets were set up, but everyone helped get me acquainted with things, and I learned a lot. The first one went a little slowly (or at least, it seemed to) and then as more people arrived and we got into the swing of things, the pace really picked up.

I met a lot of new people (no, I don't remember everyone's names. I'm terrible with names. Terrible. Horrendous.) and I'm really excited to spend my Thursday mornings out there with them all, getting to know them and learning from them--I'll definitely benefit from their experience.

We did end up keeping a few of the nets open for a little while: a black-capped chickadee was recaptured, and we banded a song sparrow and a grackle. I started learning how to act as a scribe--recording wing length, tarsus length, mass, sex, year, etc.

That was pretty much it for the day (not to imply that all that isn't enough for one day), I went home tired and happy.

Friday night, as I was getting ready to go out with some friends, I got an unexpected phone call from someone who works with BBRR (Braddock Bay Raptor Research, person's unnamed because I prefer not to mention names unless I have permission). I had just signed up as willing to volunteer and given them my contact information a week prior after the Saw-whet Owl presentation. Apparently the size of the group going on the Hawk Banding Tour the next morning had more than doubled at the last minute, and they needed someone to help out with the tour. They knew I had just signed up and this was last minute, but could I help out? I said I'd give it a try, I was given the details, and then I started to get really excited.

The next morning I was pretty nervous. Would I be able to answer questions? I didn't have to lead the tour, just sort of keep half of the group occupied while the other half was at the banding station (not enough room for everyone all at once), but could I do that and make it look like I knew what I was doing? When I explained to one of my roommates and her boyfriend why I was nervous, he asked if I would be "backwards-walking person." I said yes, and laughed. I quite like that way of putting it.

Long story short, it went just fine. I didn't feel totally useless (thanks to everything I learned from the regulars at the Hawkwatch station, the Saw-whet Owl Presentation, and my guidebooks!) and I feel so lucky that an opportunity like that just fell right in my lap. I had a really good time, and yea, I feel like a cool kid now. B-)

Take nothing but pictures (and maybe the trash of jerks who came before you), leave nothing but footprints.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

BBBO Set-up Tomorrow!

It's marked on my calendar in orangey-pink fluorescence, outlined in black: BBBO banding station set-up! It's tomorrow, people! Excited much? Yes.

I bought a cardinal-shaped cookie cutter from Wegman's especially for this. Trying to win their favor? You bet I am. Plus, they're cookies.....shaped like birds.

Yeah, I'm a little hyper right about now. I still need to do a little write up about my latest lovely day at Montezuma (March 31) because I had a number of lifers that day and got some decent pictures, some nice ones of a pair of Osprey getting their nest ready. Anyway, off to frantically prepare for the day of classes I have ahead of me.

Take nothing but pictures (and maybe the trash of jerks who came before you), leave nothing but footprints.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Long-eared Owl + Hawkwatching

Posting at two-week intervals seems to be becoming the norm for me.

April 2nd I saw my first owl--a Long-Eared Owl in the aptly named Owl Woods at Braddock Bay. I most likely would have walked right by if it had not been for the sharp eyes of the gentleman I was birding with. For the life of me, I can't remember his name, and I really hate that I can't. It makes me feel like such a jerk. I met him at the banding station after I stopped by and was lucky enough to get a personal tour. We left the banding station and decided to explore the pines of Owl Woods near the beginning of the trail together.

We stood in among the trees looking up, scanning them for any bumps along the trunk and things like that. I looked down in his direction (since I'm a young woman who was walking alone in the woods, I did make sure to keep him in my sights at all times, just in case. Nothing personal of course, just common sense.) to see him waving me over excitedly and staring fixedly up into one of the pines. I did my best to walk over quietly, and he pointed out the Long-Eared Owl. I was thrilled.

The owl allowed us an extended, close look. It even permitted us to move around the base of the tree to try to get a better look through the tree branches, cracking twigs and branches on the ground and making a fair amount of noise. Looking back on it now, I realize that we somewhat took advantage of the owl's patience, and we should have given him his space. This past Thursday night I remarked on my regrets to another birder I'm getting to know, who is one of the many regulars at Braddock Bay. His point of view was that the owl is much more in control of the situation than we are in those kinds of meetings, and that if the owl feels uncomfortable and wants to leave, it is more than able to do that. It's another way to look at things, but I still think I'm going to be more respectful of an owl's roosting space in the future.

I am getting to know a few of the Braddock Bay Hawkwatch regulars now. I stop by the platform when I can, and take advantage of their collective knowledge and experience. Several of the regulars have been coming to the Hawkwatch platform for raptor migration season for years now. I feel a little bit of that middle-schoolish desire to belong when I'm there--not social anxiety or a need to fit in, but I definitely want to be a part of the group. They're all friendly folks, lovely to spend time with. It's great to simply sit up on the platform on a nice day, heads tilted back, eyes scanning the skies, gossiping, joking, and swapping stories.
Turkey Vultures soaring overhead at the Hawkwatch Platform

April 9th I saw my lifer Northern Pintail and my lifer Pied-Billed Grebe while hanging out at the station. Both birds were spotted by other people who pointed them out to me (thanks!). Later that evening I attended a Saw-Whet Owl Banding presentation put on by Braddock Bay Raptor Research (BBRR). It was a great program and I learned a great deal.
Yesterday I invited a friend over to photograph the birds at my feeders.
I laughed out loud when I took this picture. I just love the goldfinch looking out from in between the branches like that. It's nice to see their breeding plumage coming in.
I'm thrilled to be seeing Chipping Sparrows again. They were the first species I was ever able to observe "at length." They hung around in the trees in my front yard last summer. I used to sit in the driveway and just watch them, wondering if the neighbors thought I was crazy.

Then we went out to Braddock Bay. We spent some time at the Hawkwatch, but things we pretty quiet because of the ENE winds, so after a bit we went to Owl Woods. We were delighted to see several Brown Creepers, lots of Golden Crowned Kinglets, and three Hermit Thrushes.
I also went birding at Montezuma NWR on March 31st, but I'll have to post about that later. I've got a nasty cold and am determined to rid myself of it ASAP--so it's back to bed for me.

Take nothing but pictures (and maybe the trash of jerks who came before you), leave nothing but footprints.