Saturday, December 26, 2009


A little over a week ago while making a house call on an acquaintence in south central Vermont I was greeted by a turkey after getting out of my vehicle. The bird approached much as any barnyard bird might and at first I discounted it as a domestic bronze variety. It was very inquisitive and literally came to my side making "putt putt" vocalizations, cocking its head to the side and giving me a upward glance. It then became obviously apparent that this bird bore all the plumage characteristics of a young wild bird. Now, I have observed a wild turkey now and again that displayed somewhat fearless behavior but nothing so extreme as this individual. Willing to push my luck I reached down and was surprised at being permitted to place my hand on its hard-as-armor feathered back, although at a cost of a very sturdy peck at my hand and a resulting blood blister. This was indeed a first of a kind encounter. Fetching my camera out of the car, I clicked off several close-ups as this opportunity was no doubt very much out of the ordinary.

I was soon joined by Forrest, the resident, who told me how this bird came to take up residence there. Taylor, the name given to it by Forrest's grandson, was orphaned after its mother was hit by a car. Leaving two young poults behind, Forrest collected them and brought home for care. One of the poults died shortly after, but Taylor perservered and thrived on a steady diet of worms and insects. Eventually it was capable of fending for itself, and Forrest fully expected that it would wander off to join one of the marauding flocks of wild turkeys that periodically passes through the surrounding woodlands. While Taylor communicates with its wilder kindred, it has so far shown no interest in the hard life.

Lacking fear of humans, Taylor has staked out its own territory around the Forrest homestead following family members about and persistently demanding their attention by tugging on clothing and pecking exposed fingers. Forrest admits Taylor has become somewhat of a nuisance but has yet crossed the threshold of wearing out its welcome. It has also become attached to a very old horse and frequently roosts on its rump using the vantage point to scope out its turf. Frequently the bird will "groom" the horses coat but can be a bit overzealous resulting in a gentle buck from the gelding.

Forrest has no idea how long Taylor will remain, but suspects that once spring approaches and its hormones kick in for mating it will find its proper ecological niche. In the mean time it has managed to allude predators and is providing the Forrest family with a rare but intimate opportunity to observe and appreciate a wild turkey up close and personal despite Taylor's less than typical wild turkey behavior.

The resurgence of wild turkeys in Vermont is a wildlife restoration success story. The state's last turkeys were extirpated by 1854 as a consequence of habitat distruction and uncontrolled hunting. In late 1960s the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department undertook an effort of reintroducing turkeys to the state from wild stock obtained from New York. The original releases occurred in 1969 and 1970 of 17 birds introduced in Pawlet and 14 birds in Hubbardton, respectively. From these few birds the state's population grew rapidly to an estimated 600 birds by 1973. In-state relocations further encouraged the population to grow and broaden its distribution. The population is currently estimated at 35,000 birds distributed statewide and supports well regulated hunting. Turkeys are so abundant now that they are a common sight around many suburban backyard bird feeders and if they become too frequent visitors can bust the feed budget. This unlikely affinity for humans perhaps offers some insight in the domestication of the species by the Mesoamerican Aztecs prior to arrival of Spanish conquistadors.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Eurasian Collared-Dove, Vermont's First

Since its introduction to the Bahamas in 1975 and appearance in Florida during the late 70s, the range of Eurasian Collared-Dove (ECDO) has steadily expanded westward through the Gulf Coast states and subesquently into the Southwest, Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and locations northwestward. By 2006 the species' distribution included about two-thirds of the land area occupied by the lower 48 and southern Saskatchewan (Alderfer 2006). For whatever reason the westward progression initially bypassed the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Great Lakes states. Massachusetts' first occurrence was in 2005. I have not been able to find out whether there are any accepted records for New Hampshire and Maine. If any readers of this blog know, please feel free to add a comment. Now being ECDO sightings come from across southern Canada it was only a matter of time before the species would make an appearance in Vermont.

Well, this apparently happened around mid November at a Norwich bird feeder with ECDO confirmation made the morning of November 25 by several local birders. The sighting was posted that day by Chris Rimmer and the news was out to the Vermont birding community.

Yesterday's high winds convinced me to postpone my visit until this morning arriving at the residence of John and Dianne Dunn at 8:20 a.m. No other birders were present, but within a couple minutes I was joined by Jim Mead and Dwight Carsgill from northern Vermont. Just as they walked up to where I was standing, I spotted the ECDO perched in a white birch at the opposite end of the Dunn's house. The bird was backlit by the morning sun and far enough away that we retrieved spotting scopes from our vehicles for better views. The bird obliged our viewing for only a few minutes before flying to the ground in a low lying area out of view. Soon after Hugh and Bunni Putnam of Springfield and another birder from Enfield, NH (failed to get his name) joined us. Several minutes later the ECDO reappeared and put on a good show and comparisons with accomapnying Mourning Doves (MODO).

The ECDO appeared to be somewhat unsettled with the human activity and tended to keep distance from us despite the nearby presence of feeders. Even though it kept "company" with several MODOs, it seemed to maintain some separation and even showed what I interpret to be mild aggressive behavior toward them.

Below are a couple digiscoped images of the Norwich ECDO. The bottom photo shows the underside of the tail: broad buff-gray terminal band, undertail coverts, and hint of the black tail base.


Alderfer, J., editor. 2006. Complete Birds of North America. National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pink-footed Geese, Yarmouth, Maine

Recently hearing of the continued presence of three Pink-footed Geese in the Yarmouth, ME area, since first discovered a month and a half ago, motivated me to get on the road early Saturday morning and make the three hour drive. The last time I had an opportunity to see the species was February 11, 2006, when two geese were reported on the Connecticut River at Enfield, CT. I struck out. So the Maine sightings gave me some hope that this time may be productive.

The weather forecast for the day was not good...a nor'easter with heavy rains. Leaving home in a light rain, it was a wet drive until I got to the NH-ME stateline. From there north it was dry, cloudy but the rain was not far behind. Arriving at Idleknot Farm around 9 a.m. I found no other birders checking out the fields where the geese have been regularly seen. A couple hundred Canada Geese were visible feeding in the farfield, but no Pink-foots. Given the rolling terrain I suspected there were more geese than could be seen from my vantage point on Woodville Road. Soon I was joined by birders Don Mairs of Belgrade, ME and Letitia Lucier of UT. Don saw a new list serve post for the day that the Pink-foots were seen around 8 a.m., so the prospects were still good.

Jennifer Cummings, who lives in the house near our spotting location, came out and told us about seeing the geese earlier in the morning and that they very well could be hidden behind the far fields as we suspected. She kindly offered us permission to access the fields and suggested how we might go about getting the best view without agitating the geese. Approaching a slight rise, many more Canadas were revealed and Letitia was the first to spot the subjects of our efforts. K'ching! Pink-footed Geese are striking: short bicolored bill, pink legs and feet, grayish brown mantle and flanks with prominent white bars; gray tertials and paler gray secondaries with white edges, and dark brown head and neck. Size-wise I'd guess they are about 2/3 the size of the Canadas.

I began digiscoping the geese at the time the rain arrived. Go figure. So between the rain and less than optimal lighting conditions, the photos are of marginal quality.

Thanking Jennifer for her hospitality, we headed out our separate ways. For me a long but satisfying drive back home in pouring rain. A life bird for me and reportedly a new bird species for the Pine Tree State.

Check out Derek Lovitch's October 1 post at for his account of the first Maine sighting, and for general information on the species.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Mexico, September 29-October 6

This is a time of seasonal transitions whether in New England or the Southwest. We recently returned from a week in New Mexico preparing our home there for winter and fitting in some fall birding in the western mountains region. Certainly not as stunning as Vermont's foliage change, nonetheless New Mexico offers its own version which can be just as breathtaking when contrasted against the dominance of varied earthtones characterizing the landscape much of the year. Late summer rains have added a pastel green tint to the grasslands and mountain slopes not unlike the all too brief period of misty green Vermont's terrain displays during early spring. On top of this green tapestry are accents of southwestern flora in full bloom, including the bright yellows of chamisa (rabbitbrush), plains zinnia and daisies, the silvery-white plumes of winterfat, blues and purples of asters, and orange-reds of globemallows.

Within a day or two of our arrival the bird feeders were replenished and in no time were rediscovered by a variety of birds affiliated with the surrounding pinyon-pine woodlands. Ten species were observed visiting the feeders over the week: Eurasian Collared-Dove, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed (Gray-headed, Pink-sided, Oregon) Junco, Cassin's Finch, and House Finch. Others seen in the "yard" but not at the feeders included Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Common Raven, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, American Robin, Green-tailed Towhee, and Spotted Towhee. A couple straggler hummingbirds (Selosphorus spp.) were spotted all too briefly to nail down identification, but I suspect they were Rufous Hummingbirds. As back here in New England virtually all the resident nesting neotropical species have already departed for Mexico and beyond.

On Sunday, October 4 we made a day trip to Glenwood 105 miles south of our home in Datil and hiked into Whitewater Canyon in the Gila National Forest. The canyon is known for the Catwalk, a metal walkway bolted to the canyon walls and formerly a 3-mile long pipeline constructed in 1893 to deliver water to generate electricity for the short-lived mining town of Graham. The present day Catwalk trail follows a perennial stream that flows through riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwoods, Arizona sycamore and walnut. The easy hike can offer productive birding including specialties like American Dipper and Painted Redstart. Time of the year and windy conditions made for challenging bird watching this visit with only 11 species sighted: Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, a vireo ("Solitary" group, possible Cassin's Vireo), Common Raven, Bridled Titmouse, Canyon Wren, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler, Townsends Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and White-crowned Sparrow.

The most noteworthy sighting was not that of a bird but rather a rare, nonvenomous snake, the Narrow-headed Gartersnake Thamnophis rufipunctatus (photo below), a state threatened species in New Mexico and a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service species of special concern. As far as gartersnakes go, this species is very atypical in that it lacks the long stripes along the body, instead being spotted, and having an unsual head shape. The individual we sighted measured about 18-20 inches in length and was crossing the trail within several yards of Whitewater Creek. The Narrow-headed Gartersnake is a highly aquatic species associated with clear-water, rocky streams having abundant streamside vegetation (NMDGF 2007). It is primarily a fish-eater, although amphibians are also consumed. When alarmed it typically dives to the stream bottom and takes refuge under stones.

At the end of our hike we were treated to a group of five Javelinas (Collared Peccaries) foraging in the dry river bed. Among the group was an adult female with two young. They casually munched on vegetation and from time to time where heard overturning stones presumedly looking for prey. As the sun sank behind the horizon we continued our trip back home along the way spotting another larger group of javelinas, Mule Deer and and Elk. An enjoyable and rewarding day.

Now back in Vermont, we're enjoying the fall foliage season at its peak and getting caught up on fall chores (moving fire wood inside, putting the vegetable garden and flower beds to rest, and soon raking an almost endless crop of leaves). Following photos: Western Scrub-Jay, Mountain Chickadee, "Pink-sided" and "Gray-headed" Juncos, Javelina with barely noticable young, and Greater Roadrunner.


New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. 2007. Narrow-headed Gartersnake (Thamnophis rufipunctatus) recovery plan. NMDGF, Conservation Services Division, Sante Fe, NM. 22 p.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 8 Pelagic Grand Slam

This past Tuesday I participated in a nine hour pelagic birding trip off the New Hampshire coast organized by the Massabesic Audubon Center. It was likely the last pelagic outing I will take in this year, and if that proves to be the case, for myself I cannot possibly imagine this trip being outdone anytime soon. Simply stated last Tuesday was fantastic! The weather and sea conditions were near perfect, and the seabirds and other marine life presented an exciting spectacle.

About 40 or so birders boarded Granite State Whale Watch out of Rye Harbor and headed out past the Isles of Shoals towards Jeffrey's Ledge mostly birding New Hampshire water, more specifically Old Scantum and Jeffrey's Basin, with a couple brief forays into Maine. Spending most of the day chasing down birds and whales, the boat headed back to the Isles of Shoals in late afternoon checking out activity there before returning to port.

The undisputed highlight of the day was sightings of all three jaeger species: Pomerine, Parasitic and Long-tail, constituting for me a life bird hat-trick. This was followed by a sweep of the four shearwaters likely to be encoutered in the Gulf of Maine. In total 21 species of birds was observed. Most notable sightings with estimated counts of each were Cory's Shearwater, 31; Greater Shearwater, 940; Sooty Shearwater, 210; Manx Shearwater, 58; Wilson's Storm-Petrel, 260; Northern Gannet, 17; Great Cormorant, 1; Red-necked Phalarope, 28; Pomerine Jaeger, 1; Parasitic Jaeger, 5; Long-tail Jaeger, 1 juvenile; unidentified jaegers, 5 (likely Parasitic); and Black Guillemot, 1.

Marine mammal diversity (7 species) and numbers were also impressive: Gray Seal, 6 or more; Harbor Seal, several; Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, 150 including calves; Harbor Porpoise, 1; Finback Whale, 20 or more; Minke Whale, 4; and Humpback Whale, 5. And among all these, we also got close-up views of a large Basking Shark; two large, bizarre looking Ocean Sunfish; and several Bluefin Tuna.

Photos of some of our sightings, including jaegers and shearwaters, were taken by Len Medlock and can be viewed at

In closing, I want to thank to Jon Woolf of MAC for coordinating the trip; Steve Mirick for being the trip 'MC' and collating and posting the species counts; Len Medlock for his photographs; Lance Tanino (driver) for getting Cliff Seifer, Phil Brown and me to and back from the coast; and the crew of Granite State Whale Watch.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fall Dragonfly Migrations

My last three posts have dwelled on recent outings along and off the New Hampshire coast taking in migrant shorebird and pelagic seabird activity. Indeed it is the time of year when birds are on the move and this is only the beginning of more to come over the next month or so. This past weekend reminded me, however, that fall migrations are not limited to birds but also include some insects. Of course there is the well-followed mass exodus of Monarch butterflies, but last Saturday while visiting with friends in Maine, I was reminded of dragonfly migrations that more or less coincide with the southbound passage of raptors later in September. While perhaps less known and understood than that undertaken by Monarchs, dragonfly migrations are no less amazing natural phenomena.

During the early evening of our visit we observed a horde of dragonflies hawking over our hosts' lawn presumedly preying on mosquitoes that otherwise would have turned the table by dining on us. The numbers of dragonflies darting here and there within 5 to 6 feet of the ground defied an accurate estimate. Most conservatively there were no fewer than 50 and perhaps may have approached or even exceeded 100. When twittering Chimney Swifts diverted my attention skyward, another layer of dragonflies at a higher elevation was revealed. I believe it was too early in the season to be witnessing dragonfly migration but rather it may have been the prelude to the upcoming flight: fattening up for the long journey on an abundance of insects namely mosquitoes given the wetter than usual summer. If this was the case then the darners were effectively reducing mosquito numbers as well as the itchy welts we otherwise might have received. Like birds preparing to migrate, dragonflies have a need to build up energy reserves to fuel their autumn southbound migration.

Unfortunately my dragonfly species identification skills are not particularly good even with one in hand not to speak of those zipping about erratically in flight. That said, I'll speculate they may have been Anax junius, the Common Green Darner, a common species in the Northeast, one of about nine or so North American species reported to be migratory, and typically one of the most abundant species observed indulging in such flights.

Studies done in recent years reveal some similarities between dragonfly and bird migrations (Russell et al. 1998; Wikelski et al. 2006), i.e. (1) both undertake spring and fall migrations; (2) the bulk of migrants tend to follow topographic features, such as lake shores, ocean coasts, and ridgelines; (3) spring northward flights are assisted by southerly warm fronts, and autumn flights generally occur after the passage of a cold front out of the north; and (4) a flight day during the fall migration season occurs the day following an evening that was colder than the preceding one. Wikelski et al. (2006) projected that Green Darners monitored for their study may be capable of migrating over 400 miles during their two month migration period. However, the possible record distance traveled by dragonflies may be undertaken by those originating in India migrating across the Indian Ocean to Africa and back, a distance estimated to be between 8,680 to 11,160 miles, more than doubling the roundtrip migration of Monarchs (BBC Earth News, 14 July 2009). If such intercontinental dragonfly migrations are more substantiated this would truly rival those undertaken by birds and no less by an insect weighing not much more than a gram.


Russell, R. W., M. L. May, K. L. Soltesz, and J. W. Fitzpatrick. 1998. Massive swarm migrations of dragonflies (Odonata) in eastern North America. The American Midland Naturalist 140(2):325-342.

Wikelski, M., D. Moskowitz, J. S. Adelman, J. Cochran, D. S. Wilcove, and M. L. May. 2006. Simple rules guide dragonfly migration. Biology Letters 2:325-329.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 8, More Pelagics & Whales

While waiting for shorebird and other early fall migrant activity to pick up here in the Green Mountain State (but not necessarily looking to rush into winter), I've been passing the mid summer birding doldrums by concentrating on the New Hampshire coast. Frankly, I have been having some great experiences there this season. Yesterday was my most recent trip to the coast birding primarily Hampton Harbor in the morning and taking in a five hour afternoon whale/pelagic seabird boat trip aboard the M/V Granite State, based at Rye Harbor, NH, out to Jeffrey's Ledge. Accompanying me to the coast was Lance Tanono, who I rendezvoused with in Keene, NH,; we arrived on the coast at about 8 a.m. We soon linked up with birders Steve and Jane Mirick, Len Medlock, Lauren Kras, Ben Griffith, and Jason Lambert.

Shorebird abundance continues to pick up steadily with good numbers of Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Short-billed Dowitchers staging on the mudflats. Less numerous were Greater Yellowlegs, and on the seaward rocky coastline Ruddy Turnstones and a single Spotted Sandpiper. The usual assortment of gulls, terns and egrets continue in the harbor and surrounding marshes. The highlight sighting of the morning was two Hudsonian Godwits viewed from Hampton Harbor State Marina. One of the pair caused some temporary excitement and discussion, as it was a more washed out more grayish bird with a somewhat longer, straighter bill suggesting a possible Black-tailed Godwit than the other bird (an adult male, below photo in foreground). This tentative identification, however, was quickly dashed when both birds took flight revealing black underwing coverts and the mystery bird was concluded to be a juvenile female Hudsonian.
Later in the day Steve, Jane, Len, Lance and I took in the whale watch trip hoping for some good pelagic bird activity and for me getting first-time views of Red-necked Phalarope and Manx Shearwater, both reported seen offshore by others earlier this week. The leg between Rye Harbor and the Isles of Shoals was fairly void of pelagics, but once past the Isles actitivy steadily increased. Winds were from the SSE, skies clear and sunny. The following more notable counts of our observations were tallied by Steve: Cory's Shearwater, 9; Greater Shearwater, 628; Sooty Shearwater, 309; Manx Shearwater, 4; Wilson's Storm-Petrel, 330; Northern Gannet, 6; Red-necked Phalarope, 7; phalarope sp., 12; Common Tern, 45; and jaeger sp., 1. For most of the passengers, anticipation was focused on whales, and they (as we) were not disappointed. A total of 8 Humpback Whales were seen at close range bubble feeding and tail breaching. Surface feeding behavior was a cue to shearwaters in the area that leftover food was present. This was a great asset to me in identifying my first Manx Shearwater after missing the three previous birds sighted that afternoon. The fourth Manx of the day passed just ahead of the boat bow gliding to the shearwater feeding frenzy. Photos below: Top - Greater Shearwater; Bottom - Greater and Sooty Shearwaters cleaning up the spoils following a Humpback Whale feed.
So in the end, the day was a fantastic outing: both targeted life birds were seen and my day spent with the other birders was enjoyable and entertaining. Special thanks to Steve and Len for their efforts and patience in helping me with Red-necked Phalarope and Manx Shearwater. For readers of this post, especially my fellow Vermont birders, I encourage you to make the trip to the coast and utilize Granite State Whale Watch. It has been a fantastic season for offshore pelagics and whales, and the cost for the five hour trip, morning or afternoon, is only $31 person and ask about the birders' discount offer.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Hampshire Coast, July 25

Yesterday, the New Hampshire coast provided some fantastic birding despite being my second unsuccessful attempt this season to see the Sabine's Gull which has been seen off-and-on at Hampton Harbor over the past several weeks. Nonetheless, a small group of birders got excellent views of two other unusual gull species that have been frequenting the N.H. coast as of late: a Little Gull and a Black-headed Gull.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. The immature bird was spotted and identified by Len Medlock as he stood at a vantage point in the vicinity of Hampton Harbor State Marina looking northwest toward The Willows (near the mouth of the Hampton River). The bird's upright posture; long neck and legs; and stout bill set it off from any of the resident Black-crowned Night-Herons. Len cell phoned the group, who were scanning the harbor for gulls from the public use area next to the Yankee Fishermans Cooperative in Seabrook, setting us all dashing to link up with him. Everyone got distant views of the bird, but it was decided a more satisfying look could be had if we drove to The Willows and were able to approach it on foot within safe range without causing the bird alarm. By the time our small group arrived we were joined by two other local birders hearing about it via the cell phone network. Everyone got great views of the heron and it was photographed by some before it took flight and headed north over the saltmarsh.

From that point on our attention refocused on locating the three gulls. Several locations on the seaward side known for gull congregations were checked out but produced only Herring, Ring-billed, Bonaparte's and Great Black-backed gulls. But then Laura Kras phoned one of the group informing us that she had located a Little Gull at the Rye Ledges. Setting us all in motion again we arrived just minutes before the gull had "disappeared." Not to give up so quickly everyone scanned the many gulls resting on either the water or tide exposed the rocks. The gull (below) was quickly relocated and observed by all at close range until it again flew out of sight. One last time the bird was spotted by Steve Mirick and all got to view it in flight as it passed out of sight. Based on the partial carpal bar, whitish inner primary wing tips and black outer primaries suggests to me that this individual is in second pre-basic molt. Other opinions are welcome.

The day wrapped up with everyone returning to Seabrook to checkout Hampton Harbor again with hopes of the Sabine's and/or Black-headed gulls. While observing the usuual gulls, terns, some early migrant shorebirds, as well as a couple Least Terns, high tide was rapidly closing in vanquishing exposed mudflats and sand bars. The Black-headed Gull was spotted about mid harbor drifting on the incoming currents. Unlike any previous encounters I have had with adult Black-headed Gulls, this individual had a decidely mocha brown colored hood rather than dark brown to nearly "blackish." Perhaps this was due to the light conditions at the time (bright sunlight) or this bird simply has a lighter brown hood. As poor an image as the one below is, the brown hood is nonetheless evident. Eventually the gull flew to and landed on a spit of sand. In a repeat performance of the birders' scramble to get a closer view and photos of it, we got a new observation point literally seconds before it seemed to vanish into thin area and nowhere to be seen in the harbor.

Other notable sightings of the day included Northern Gannets, Wilson's Storm-Petrels, an immature Black Guillemot, Roseate Terns, and a couple Fish Crows.

Special thanks to Steve Mirick and Len Medlock for making the day a success and freely escorting three "in-landers" (Lance Tanino, Cliff Seifer and yours truly) in our pursuit of gulls. Kudos to Len for finding the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and to Lauren Kras for the Little Gull, and to the others who added to the excitement of the day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Summer Blues

I have an admission to make: the wet weather northern New England has experienced so far this summer has really gotten me down. Since returning from New Mexico over two weeks ago, nearly every day has been punctuated by downpours more often than not occurring after work dashing any hopes of squeezing in home chores or even some birding during the remaining hours of daylight. As a life long New Englander I'm certainly accustomed to our fickle climate but we're stuck in a rut and my overall attitude is showing it. So when last Friday was forecast to be a splendid day weatherwise, it did not take a second of thought to decide to escape to the New Hampshire coast with Lance Tanino to take in a morning whale watch cruise out of Rye Harbor with the hopes of observing pelagic birds. Conditions were fantastic: sunny, warm, nearly cloudless skies, and a light southeast wind. The birds did not disappoint us nor did the whales.

Arriving at the coast an hour or so before the boat's scheduled departure we checked out Hampton State Park, Bicentennial Park and Seabrook Harbor, all locations from which a first-cycle Sabine's Gull has been reported. No luck!

The Granite State Whale Watch cruise began at 8:30 a.m. with the boat returning to port at 1:30 p.m. During the five hours we headed out past the Isles of Shoals to Jeffrey's Ledge and then south to off Rockport, Massachusetts. Lance was the "official" note keeper with species observations and counts as follow: Greater Shearwater, 26; Cory's Shearwater, 12; possible Sooty Shearwater, 2; Wilson's Storm-Petrel, 250 (conservative count); Northern Gannet, 17; Double-crested Cormorant, no count; Parasitic Jaeger, 1 adult; other possible jaeger sp., 3; Herring Gull, no count; Great Black-backed Gull, no count; and Common Tern, no count. In addition to the birds we got close-up views of 3 Humpbacked Whales, 7 Minke Whales, and a Fin Whale. Passengers were treated to several of these behemoths blowing bubble rings and breaching the water surface to feed (photo).

After getting back we had the afternoon and early evening to bird the New Hampshire coast beginning at Odiorne Point and ending at Hampton Harbor. Species of particular note included Common Eiders; Mute Swans, 2; Wilson's Storm-Petrels; Double-crested Cormorants; Great Blue Herons; Great Egrets; Snowy Egrets; Black-crowned Night-Herons, 2; Ospreys, 2 adults and 2 immatures; Willets, 12; Whimbrels, 2; Short-billed Dowitchers, 126; Laughing Gulls; Bonaparte's Gulls; Ring-billed Gulls; Herring Gulls; Great Black-backed Gulls; a Caspian Tern; and Common Terns. And again no Sabine's Gull or the Little Gull also recently sighted in the area.

So, did the day lift my spirits? You bet! Besides a great weather day, Cory's Shearwater was a lifer for me, and as a side Lance returned to the coast on Sunday and added Little Gull to his life list.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Henslow's Sparrow, LB #477

Last Friday (July 3), Lance Tanino and I drove south on I-91 to Montague, MA with hopes of seeing the Henslow's Sparrow that was firsted reported the previous Saturday and continued to be seen and heard singing every day since then in an unmowed hay field just north of the intersection of Meadows and Upper Taylor Hill roads. Observing the bird was not nearly as challenging as finding our way to it on roads unfamiliar to us. Fortunately there was already a birder on the road shoulder peering into a field fitting the description of our destination, so little time was wasted and we got onto the bird almost immediately. The sparrow's song (tsi-LICK) was distinctive and seemed to project some distince giving the impression that the bird was alot closer than it really was. Actually the bird was hanging out 50-70 yards from the road near the center of the field. When not taking refuge down in the grasses, it perched on one of several green oat stems that protruded above the surrounding vegetation. Soon we were joined by a half dozen or so other birders, including two from Delaware. Henslow's Sparrow is now a rare sighting in New England, so Lance and I were both very satisfied to add it to our life lists here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Mexico Trip Report, June 10-24

This is my first report from the Southwest since establishing this blog last winter. Eva and I have been going to New Mexico at least once annually since 1996 and last year established a "home" base near the town of Datil located in the state's western mountains. The natural and cultural worlds of the Southwest contrast so dramatically with those of the Northeast, and every visit offers new adventures and learning experiences regarding the fauna, flora, ecology and geology, as well as the Hispanic and Native American peoples who have contributed richly to the past and continue to do so.

I would have liked to report two weeks worth of birding, unfortunately the downside of establishing a second home is another list of household chores in need of doing. So, this trip was a bit scant on the birding side of things, but nonetheless this report provides a snapshot of the birdlife of northern Catron County and other observations of particular note.

The weather over the two weeks was superb: daytime high temperatures were in the low to mid 80s; sunny, blue skies accented with scattered culmulus clouds; and a light breeze. Nights offered comfortable sleeping with temperatures typically in the 50s. This was in stark contrast to what we left behind in New England over the same period of time and eventually returned to. Rain is almost always a welcome event in the Southwest, but the monsoons (the Southwest's summer rainy season) held off until the evening before my departure. Since then weather reports have forecast the possibility of daily showers and thunderstorms. I cannot possibly put into words a description of the aromas given off by the arid vegetation (pinyon, juniper, creosote bush, etc.) following a summer shower...absolutely stimulating!

Over the two weeks foremost among my bird sightings was pair of nesting Ferruginous Hawks. The nest and two nestlings were in a juniper tree adjacent to NM Route 12 which traverses the southern extent of the Plains of San Augustin in Catron County. The plains are the southern most limit of the hawk's breeding range in the state. Over the course of the two weeks I periodically checked on the young and observed first hand changes in their development.

The nest and young were first spotted on June 12. As you can see in the photo below, the young on that date were predominantly covered in white down with some feathering beginning to emerge along the scapular region and in the wings. Despite the proximity of the nest to a relatively busy highway, the adults were exceedingly wary of human activity presented outside a vehicle and would promptly fly to other locations several hundred yards back into the surrounding rangeland taking positions on the ground or at the top of other junipers from which they emitted scolding high pitched whistles...kreee. Needless to say the separation distance between me and the adults presented less than satisfactory photo opportunities. On another day I tried a different strategy. Arriving before sunrise I took cover in a patch of saltbrush with scope and camera poised on the nest, but somehow the attending adult sensed my presence at daybreak and immediately retreated to its familiar distant vantage point. From that point forward my observations were made from a greater distance to minimize stress on the adult birds with the chance of causing nest abandonment.

On June 22 from 6 a.m. to noon I stole time from other commitments to dedicate to birding the 55 mile stretch of Route 12 between Datil and Apache Creek. The drive passes through several habitats: high desert grasslands, juniper savanna, pinyon-juniper woodlands(photo below top), ponderosa pine forest, riparian meadows and woodland (photo below bottom), and wetlands.

Essentially all birding was done from the road or involved very short ventures into specialized habitat (e.g., riparian woodland) resulting in a total tally of 47 species. Bird sightings included: Scaled Quail, Gambel's Quail, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, a Common Nighthawk (dead on road), Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Lewis's Woodpecker, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Warbling Vireo, Pinyon Jay, American Crow, Chihuahuan Raven, Common Raven, Horned Lark, Violet-green Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Western Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Western Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Bullock's Oriole, House Finch, and a Pine Siskin (dead on road).

By June 22 feathers had largely replaced the down and the young Ferruginous Hawks were taking on the appearance more akin to their parents (photo below top). And for whatever reason one of the adults remained on the nest long enough to allow me to snap off several images of it at relatively close range (photo below bottom). Perhaps it came to accept me not as a threat or the young having attained more advanced development (or independence?) may have been a factor.

With the preceding exception any other birding that took place over my two week stay occurred closer to "home" and was more or less incidental in nature. Habitat at our residence is primarily pinyon-juniper woodlands including some low elevation ponderosa pine and rangeland. Local sightings included: Turkey Vulture, Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Cassin's Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, American Crow, Common Raven, Chihuahuan Raven, Violet-green Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pygmy Nuthatch, Bewick's Wren, Western Bluebird, Mountain Blubird, American Robin, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, and Lesser Goldfinch. Other wildlife observed were Botta's Pocket Gopher, Least Chipmunks, Rock Squirrels, Desert Cottontails, Black-tailed Jack Rabbits, Mule Deer, Elk, and this doe Pronghorn nursing one of a set of twins shortly after giving birth.

Based on the infrequency of bird sightings reported for Catron County via the New Mexico list serve and RBA, I am lead to conclude this largest of the state's counties in terms of land area (6,989 square miles) is vastly undercovered by birders with the exception of a few well publicized sites, namely the Catwalk and Mogollon near Glenwood and in the vicinity of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. The county's human population is estimated to be 3,543, the third lowest in the state. Sixty-three percent of the county land area is under federal ownership of which most is adminsitered by the U. S. Forest Service under the Gila, Apache and Cibola National Forests. The largest standing body of water in the county is 131 acre Quemado Lake. No doubt Catron County is a bit off the beaten track for most birders, but I suspect it has a lot more to offer those willing to "tough it out" and explore its expansive back country.

Below is a very small sample of the 100 plus bird photos taken during this trip. Subjects include top-to-bottom: Clark's Grebe on Quemado Lake, male Black-headed Grosbeak, Plumbeous Vireo on nest, male Spotted Towhee, Ferruginous Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Loggerhead Shrike, male Western Bluebird, Prairie Falcon, and Curve-billed Thrasher with one of three nestlings visible.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Philadelphia Vireo, LB #476

Saturday, May 30: Connecting with Lance Tanino in Ascutney, VT at 7 a.m. we headed north to the White Mountains in New Hampshire for a full day of birding at several locations off Crawford and Jefferson Notches. Our primary mission to get Philadelphia Vireo, a life bird for both of us and for me one that I have tried repeatedly over the years to see but every time came up empty. I don't believe either one of us held more than a long shot hope of seeing one, but even so we looked forward to observing northern warblers and perhaps one or two boreal specialties.

Our first stop was Zealand Trail and an easy 1.5 mile hike to a spot on the Zealand River, where Alan Delorey in his 1996 A Birder's Guide to New Hampshire mentions as a potential location for the vireo as well as boreal species. At the "meadows" (photo above) described by Delorey, we were not disappointed. Hearing a Red-eyed/Philadelphia-like song from a distance but moving nearer to where we stood, patience paid off with the sighting of a pair of Philadelphia's interacting with one another, and on one occasion a bird was observed by Lance carrying nesting material. Both birds were scrutinized at close range. I was able to snap off a photo (below) of one of the pair, albeit a poor image. The day could not have gotten off to a better start.

From 9:25 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. I tallied 26 species: Turkey Vulture, 1; Broad-winged Hawk, 1; Olive-sided Flycatcher, 1; Alder Flycatcher, 3; Least Flycatcher, 3; Blue-headed Vireo, 6; Philadelphia Vireo, 2; Red-eyed Vireo, 2; Blue Jay, 3; Tree Swallow, 4; Winter Wren, 2; Swainson's Thrush, 3; American Robin, 1; Nashville Warbler, 1; Magnolia Warbler, 5; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 8; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 3; Black-throated Green Warbler, 10; Blackburnian Warbler, 2; Blackpoll Warbler, 8; Black-and-white Warbler, 1; American Redstart, 5; Ovenbird, 3; Common Yellowthroat, 3; Canada Warbler, 4; White-throated Sparrow, 5; and Dark-eyed Junco, 1.

We got back to the trailhead not a minute too late before the sky opened up with a downpour and cherry pit-size hail. After grabbing a snack and cold drink at a nearby store, we continued to the Caps Ridge Trail in Jefferson Notch. The trailhead is at an elevation of 3,009 feet, the highest point in the White Mountains that is accessible by way of a no-fee public road.

On the trail at 2:10 p.m., the hike is more rigorous than that of Zealand Trail, but well worth the effort traversing thick impenetrable spruce-fir forest to get near tree-line dominated by krummholz. Along the way we were challenged by an abundance of thrushes: mostly Swainson's but a couple birds that bore physical resemblance to Bicknell's/Gray-cheeked. Eventually we identified Bicknell's on the basis of calls heard in the vicinity of our destination, the prominent rock outcrop about a mile up from the trailhead. There, we were visited by a couple inquisitive Gray Jays that were fooled (but only twice!) to take gravel from Lance's hand (photo). Next time we must not forget to bring a more palatable handout for them.

Birds recorded on the Caps Ridge Trail included: Black-backed Woodpecker, 1; Yellow-beliied Flycatcher, 1; Red-eyed vireo, 1; Gray Jay, 2; Boreal Chickadee, 1; Winter Wren, 2; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 3; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Bicknell's Thrush, 1; Swainson's Thrush, 8; Nashville Warbler, 1; Magnolia Warbler, 2; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1; Black-throated green Warbler, 1; Blackpoll Warbler, 3; White-throated Sparrow, 4; and Dark-eyed Junco, 1.

Leaving the Caps Ridge trailhead at 6:15 p.m. we wrapped up our birding day at the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail parking lot near the Mount Washington Cog Railway base station. Ten species, all observed previously during the day were recorded. Shortly after 7 p.m. we headed homeward both feeling very satisfied and rewarded with an excellent day in the North Country.

By the way, Lance is a resident of Keene, NH and an active member of the Monadnock Chapter of New Hampshire Audubon.

Lastly, a note about the photos. All were taken hand-held with my Canon Power Shot A 2000 IS digital camera. The poor quality images of the Philadelphia Vireo and Black-backed Woodpecker taken at some distance, under overcast skies were shot without benefit of the spotting scope. These particular photos have been enlarged and cropped to enhance details.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nesting Season

With the spring migration in its waning days, birds are shifting into procreation mode and some of our early nesters already have broods under their care. About two weeks ago I began monitoring a pair of Common Ravens that constructed a nest on the I-91 ledge cut immediately south of Exit 6 in Rockingham, VT. During the early evening of May 11 three downy young were digiscoped from the top of the ledge on the west side of the highway (photo right). Although the adults were heard croaking from time to time, none visited the nestlings dispite their begging. As the sun dropped behind the trees and the nest site was deprived of warm sunlight, the young disappeared into the depth of the nest. Eleven days later I revisted the site to catch up on the ravens' progress. All three young remained and had put on considerable growth. The slate gray down has largely been replaced with feathers, and one nestling (taller individual in photo below) has developed to the point that it can support itself on the nest rim. I speculate this is the dominant nestling. Neither adult was observed visiting the nest during my hour stay, but I'll return a couple more times hoping for the chance to catch an adult delivering food. Stay tuned.

Other noteworthy nesting observations from the area include the apparent success of the Peregrine Falcon pair on Skitchewaug Mountain in Springfield. According to Margaret Fowle of Audubon Vermont, eggs are suspected to have hatched on May 3 and the banded male may be the same individual that nested there in previous years. The female is not banded.

In my April 7 post I wrote about our optimism that this may be the year that the North Springfield Reservoir pair may pull off a successful nesting. Last Wednesday, wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond and I checked on the eagles during our lunch break. During the short visit we saw promising activity. Upon our arrival one adult sat on the nest. Shortly after it fly to a snag tree several hundred yards down the lake, where it deficated and promptly returned to the nest. At the nest, the bird showed much attention to whatever was in the nest (young?) and then resumed brooding position but with alot of bill gaping and head movement. Eagle pairs in the Upper Connecticut River Valley are reported also to have hatched young.

On the down side, the eagle pair that has established a nest site near the Upper Meadows (Herrick's Cove IBA) the past several years appears not to have been successful. A couple visits on my part including those of others have failed to find any eagle activity at the nest. Despite the species' recovery nationwide and federal delisting from endangered status, the Bald Eagle in Vermont still remains tenuous.