Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wigeon, Ruddy Ducks, Siskin, Coot, and Cooper's

It's been more than two weeks since I've posted, so I'm playing catch-up again. On the 19th I visited Ontario Beach Park (as well as a few other places) and took these pictures of mallard drakes bathing. I like the candid poses I caught them in, and have been looking forward to posting the series of photos I wound up with. These are not all images of the same drake, but it still paints a decent picture of the antics of a bathing duck.

I've added several lifers to my list since the last time I posted. At Braddock Bay on March 14 I checked off American Wigeon:
On March 15, Ruddy Ducks at Braddock Bay:
On the 17th I did some birding around Canadice Lake, and was thrilled to finally see Pine Siskins. Even better-I pished them in. I noticed a few birds flitting around the tree branches overhead, but it was too high up for me to make out any details. I began pishing for them, and just like black-capped chickadees, 4 siskins came down almost immediately. They remained just overhead in the branches for quite some time, allowing me to take plenty of pictures.
At Mendon Ponds Park on March 19, I saw my first American Coot. Unfortunately, none of the pictures came out too great since the bird was quite a ways out on the lake, but it's a distinctive bird, so someone was able to identify it for me through BirdForum. I got back from birding that day, looked through my pictures, and tried to ID the bird. I only really flipped through the ducks, geese, loons, and grebes in my guidebook--completely ignoring the famile Rallidae. Stumped, I do the same thing I always do when I'm stumped--ask the good folks at BirdForum.
I consulted other birders at BirdForum again on the 23rd. On my way out the door to class, I noticed a petite raptor (Merlin-sized) land in a tree in my backyard. I was quite surprised, and ran back into the house to grab my camera. I managed to get a couple shots before he flew off. When I looked at the pictures later I couldn't ID the bird (my bird of prey experience is pretty limited) and again went to BirdForum for help. Cooper's Hawk is the general consensus.

One last note to catch you up with news on my birding--saw my first 2009 Northern Flicker today. :-)

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life Bird #101

Saw Life Bird #101 yesterday: Common Redpoll. Tuesdays I only have one class, and since this is week one of Spring Quarter, we got out early--leaving me the rest of the day to bird! I couldn't make up my mind between Braddock Bay (my favorite spot to bird around here, closely followed by Irondequoit Bay) and Hamlin Beach State Park. I decided to definitely check out Hamlin Beach at one point, since eBird had sightings of Common Redpolls there in the past couple of weeks, and I've more or less given up on my chances of seeing Crossbills this Winter. Common Redpolls were another species on my mental list of birds I haven't-seen-yet-but-definitely-could-if-I-just-make-a-small-effort-to-go-find-them. Since Braddock Bay is on the way to Hamlin Beach, I gave in to temptation and stopped by. I've been going to Irondequoit Bay this whole Winter, and was pleased to see large numbers of diving ducks at Braddock Bay--mostly Ring-necked Ducks, scaup, and Redheads, with some Common Goldeneye mixed in. I also saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of 2009.
I always visit the Marina of Braddock Bay when I go birding there. Now, I don't know if I just never noticed it before or if things have actually changed over the Winter, but the place is a DUMP. I kept thinking to myself, "Funny, it doesn't look like a trash can." [rant alert, consider yourselves warned]

I keep a trash bag in the trunk of my car since a lot of the time when I go birding there will be the ocassional piece of trash in the parking lot or on the trails, and the majority of the places I visit are Carry-In, Carry-Out. I think it's important to do your part, especially if it's a place you frequent--in my mind, once you become a regular visitor to a park, NWR, etc. it becomes your responsibility to look after the place in part. Anyway, the place was a dump. I kept muttering obscenities under my breath as I walked around with my trash bag, picking up beer cans, juice boxes, bottle caps, and a ridiculous number of lottery tickets (Cashwords, specifically. All of them.) Someone must come park their car at the Marina during their lunch break or something, eat their lunch, scratch their cashword, toss it out the window, and drive off. I don't know. Oh, and it was damp and muddy, too, did I mention that? There was even a Bud bottle stuck in a hollowed crevice of a tree.

Now, at one point as I was walking around the trunk of a tree and I discovered [this is a little PG-13] a bright purple vibrator. I just sort of stood there for a moment, nodding and thinking, "Yup. Seems about right given the other stuff around here. I really shouldn't be surprised." No, I didn't pick it up. And as you can imagine, after that I was a lot more careful about what I decided to pick up. If I didn't know what it was, it stayed where it was.

Reminds me of the time I was innocently birding at a park in Rochester and came across a couple having sex in their car. Yeah.....awkward.

That wasn't the rant I was expecting to toss out. I guess I've calmed down since. But let me tell you, I was P.O.ed while I wandered around filling my trashbag. Worst part? I hardly made a dent.

So, after Braddock Bay I continued West on the Ontario Parkway to Hamlin Beach, stopping along the way to get some good shots of Red-tailed Hawks soaring overhead.Upon arriving I noticed a large flock of small birds moving around excitedly, foraging around on the ground. I pulled over to get a closer look, and my suspicions were confirmed.

Then I got my first Brown Creeper of 2009.
If I had to estimate the size of the flock of Redpolls, I'd say around 200? Not sure. I ran into another birder while I was there, he was more experienced and said he saw an unusual number of Hoary Redpolls mixed in with the flock. I decided to stay longer and get more pictures. He let me grab a peek through his scope and tried to describe the location of one of the Hoarys, but I couldn't tell the difference between the Hoarys and the Commons. Oh well. I'm hesitating to check Hoary Redpoll off my list, not because I don't believe the guy, but because I somehow feel like it's cheating if I can't identify it. I'll check it off if I see Hoarys in my pictures, but I haven't studied them closely enough yet.New visitors to my feeders include:
House Finches
Mourning Doves
For the time being, that's all, folks.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Snow Buntings and a Shrike

This past Thursday I made the trip out to Parker River midafternoon for some birding. Lately I have been in the mood for new locales, but I had a lousy time at Great Meadows, and knew I could/can depend on Parker River for good birding every visit. But, after tramping through the snow on the Hellcat Marsh trail and coming up empty handed (I probably should have gone for the Dune trail instead), and with the daylight fading, I was getting grumpy. So I got back in my car and started back up the road, following the 25 mph refuge speed limit. I scanned the trees as I drove, and all of a sudden:
BRAKES. Check rear view, whew, good, no one behind me! Put car in reverse.....return to the ideal photo-op spot, put car in park. Um, not in a bad mood anymore! There was a Northern Shrike perched atop a tree at the side of the road, quite close by, and he hung around letting me snap his picture for a few minutes. I was thrilled. I saw my lifer Northern Shrike in December at Parker River doing the CBC as you may recall, and although I got great views through the scope, my photos came out somewhat lacking because of the distance. I am pleased to say that this time I got plenty of nice pictures.
The shrike did fly off after a bit, though. I continued down the road towards the park entrance with a considerably improved mood, and decided to park in Lot 1 and check out the beach briefly. Right after parking, I noticed a group of birds flitting around the road and since I didn't recognize their calls at all, decided to get a closer look.
Hurray! Snow Buntings!! I've been wanting to see these fellows for some time now, and I found them quite handsome. So, a lousy day turned into a great one. There's always a chance the day will end up changing in your favor if you're just patient.....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

First Visit to Oxbow NWR

I ended up opting for Oxbow on Sunday, and I'm glad that I did: lifer!! But, let me start at the beginning.....

In my limited experience I've found that it's always a good sign if you hear birds chirping the moment you get out of your car in the parking lot. If you don't hear any bird calls from the parking area, it doesn't necessarily mean you've chosen a bad spot for birding, but it is a good omen if you do hear them. Such was the case at Oxbow on Sunday. I immediately heard chickadees chirping in the nearby trees. So, with a smile I started out on the trail. I hadn't gone too far when I heard a couple of nuthatches calling back and forth to each other. I paused to try to locate them, a number of chickadees were also close by, so I hung around the area for a few minutes. Then, as I was scanning the tree branches--a brilliant spot of blue. It was too blue to be a blue jay, more a shade of royal blue. Up the binoculars came, and I confirmed it--Eastern Bluebird!

Now, maybe it's silly that I haven't seen any bluebirds until now, but I haven't. There were a decent number of them I came across while hiking at Oxbow, I'd say almost a dozen in all. Unfortunately, of all the pictures I snapped, only one or two came out decently (I still hadn't figured out my new camera's manual focus, although you'd better believe I did figure it out the moment I got home) and neither of those captures the brilliant shade of blue. The others are autofocused on branches in between the bird and my lens. Like I said--I know how to use the manual focus now.

The bluebirds were fairly skittish, I kept scaring them off whenever I took a loud step *CRUNCH* into the snow. Then the nuthatches would laugh at me.
I can't wait to go back to Oxbow later this week to (hopefully) get some good pictures of those bluebirds. It was slow going on the trail, since the snow is on top of a layer of ice covering the majority of the trailpath, but in a way that was better--forced me to move at a slower pace, make less noise, and observe more.

I also came across a male Common Merganser while at Oxbow, he was feeding in the Nashua River.

And I shouldn't forget to mention the goldfinches, robins, and downy woodpeckers I saw, too.