Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter Finch Report - From a Tree

Like the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk pictured, I've spent a lot of this month hunting from above. Red-tails often perch hunt, and that is my usual method as well since flight hunting isn't an option. The freezer is full, at least for now, and many fine experiences with the natural world were had, from the flying squirrels outside my north Jersey cabin at night to Pileated Woodpeckers every day, a species which very, very seldom strays to my home county of Cape May, NJ.

Most hunters pay attention to far more than their quarry while hunting, and my hunting partners and I take birding while hunting to an extreme level.  Often the first thing we talk about when meeting up at day's end is birds, not deer. Waiting quietly in the winter woods day after day is an excellent way to detect migrating finches, for example, of which this year there are very, very few.

After about 40 December hours listening from a mountain, here's the report: no Pine Siskins. Remarkably, no Purple Finches, surprising after a good fall showing. No crossbills. Decent numbers of American Goldfinches. No Evening Grosbeaks, but oh, pearl of greatest price, a single Pine Grosbeak flew over one day calling, my first ever for New Jersey since they stopped coming to the state the year I started seriously birding.

January and its birds and deer awaits.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: Quoth the Raven

[Common Raven over Hunterdon County, NJ, October 21 2016.]

“Hey," said Shadow. "Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are." 
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow.
"F**k you," said the raven.” 
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fri-D: Blackpoll Warbler

[Blackpoll Warbler, Cape May NJ, October 14, 2016. Click to enlarge photos.]

Today, Friday October 14, 2016, it was a blackpoll morning in Cape May, a tad late in the season for thousands of these amazing long-distance migrants to still be passing through, but there they were. Yellow-rumped Warblers out-numbered Blackpolls, but certainly won't outdistance these long-distance migrants, some of which fly from Alaska to the Canadian Maritimes, then over the ocean to South America in a flight that takes as long as 88 hours non-stop!

Blackpolls are the classic greenish-yellow wing-barred confusing fall warbler things that trouble more than one good birder. The photo above is a tad more difficult than even the usual fall warbler, because I took it during the low-angle sunlight of dawn. This means the bird looks slightly yellower than it is.

One favorite approach to bird i.d. is to ask, "Why isn't it a . . .?" With Blackpoll, the why isn'ts are Bay-Breasted and Pine Warblers, both of which are less common where I live than Blackpoll. There are other why isn'ts, like Blackburnian or Cerulean, but they're easier to sort out.

So why isn't it a Pine Warbler? The obvious back streaks are a good go-to here, though structure helps if you are familiar with both birds. Blackpolls are slimmer than Pines and have finer bills and much longer wings, manifested by primary feather tips sticking way out past the tertial feathers.

Why isn't it a Bay-breasted? This is the toughest similar species to Blackpoll, plus everybody wants it to be a Bay-breasted since they're scarcer. The warm light in this photo temps one to call Bay-breasted, because the flanks look slightly yellow or even bay. But: the undertail coverts are contrasting bright white, the wing bars are too narrow, it has obvious streaking below, it lacks a contrasting light collar on the nape, and if you don't like those reasons, it has yellow feet (Bay-breasted has dark feet.)

 Above, Blackpoll in morning flight. Contrasting yellow in front/white behind below, zeep flight call (annoyingly shared by several other warblers), and, a fine point, FAST, as you would expect from a long-distance migrant. If you're lucky enough to be in the middle of a warbler morning flight, and a bird starts passing everybody, think about Blackpoll.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016