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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Partial Albino Siskin

Late today this Pine Siskin showed up at our niger feeder with definite characteristics of partial albinism. Note the predominance of white feathering on the body and head, mostly flesh-tone bill and pink legs, while retaining normal plumage coloring in the wings and tail. Four degrees of albinism are recognized: total, incomplete, imperfect and partial based on the complete absence of coloring from one or more of plumage, iris and skin. Partial albinism occurs when pigmentation is reduced or absent from one or more of these body parts and is the most frequently encountered variant. Two normal plumage siskins continue to visit the feeder and may be nesting in the vicinity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Herrick's Cove IBA: May 9

This past Saturday morning while walking the perimeter of the Herrick's Cove parking lot scanning the brush and tree tops for the latest spring migrants, I heard from behind and above my right shoulder a soft gutteral "skyow." There in a boxelder tree about 15 feet off the ground perched a male Green Heron (top photo). Inspecting him through my binocs, he grew weary of the attention and nimbly like a high wire circus performer walked slowly down the thin limb placing one foot ahead of the other. And from there with as much dexterity stepped onto a branch of an adjacent tree repeating the moves until he assumed a more central position within the wooded thicket. Now I have been aware of the presence of a pair of Green Herons here for the past couple weeks and even briefly observed the male carrying twigs to a suspected but undisclosed nest site. However, on this occasion I forced myself to take time to scope the area more closely with the hope of locating the nest. After several minutes scanning the trees through the exploding new foliage, a basket ball size clump of twigs was spotted about 20 feet up an American Beech tree not too far from where the male was perched. Scanning the nest through the scope revealed a dagger-like bill protruding above the edge of the nest and barely visible at its base an eye with its gold iris. Aha...the female. Hunkered down on the nest she offered few opportunities to view much more of her. But once or twice she repositioned herself giving me the chance to click off a series of camera shots through the scope with the hope of getting at least one fair image of her (bottom photo).

I must admit taking such an amount of time to observe the behavior of a rather common bird has been a recent development over my 30+ years of birding and stems from my participation in the most recent Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas. Inventorying bird species within my assigned survey blocks was definitely not a new experience. On the other hand closely observing bird behavior to confirm nesting required an entirely different skill set including patience. So I suppose applying those experiences beyond the atlas years for me just adds a new dimension and deeper appreciation for the lives of birds.

As for the other birds observed at Herrick's Cove that morning, a total of 50 species and 286 individuals were tallied including: Canada Goose, 4; Wood Duck, 5; Mallard, 3; Wild Turkey, 1; American Bittern, 1; Great Blue Heron, 1; Green Heron, 2; Turkey Vulture, 2; Osprey, 1; Bald Eagle, 1; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 1; Belted Kingfisher, 1; Downy Woodpecker, 1; Hairy Woodpecker, 1; Northern Flicker, 2; Eastern Phoebe, 1; Great Crested Flycatcher, 2; Eastern Kingbird, 6; Warbling Vireo, 3; Blue Jay, 4; American Crow, 8; Tree Swallow, 100+; Barn Swallow, 2; Black-capped Chickadee, 13; Tufted Titmouse, 1; White-breasted Nuthatch, 1; Marsh Wren, 1; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 2; Cedar Waxwing, 2; Yellow warbler, 5; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 1; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 17; Pine Warbler, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 1; American Redstart, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 2; Scarlet Tanager, 2; Chipping Sparrow, 1; Field Sparrow, 1; Song Sparrow, 11; Swamp Sparrow, 2; Northern Cardinal, 1; Rose-breasted grosbeak, 1; Red-winged Blackbird, 21; Common Grackle, 9; Brown-headed Cowbird, 3; Baltimore Oriole, 6; American Goldfinch, 11. Overall a great morning.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Butter-Butts, Bandits & a Bog-Pumper

Spring migrants are making a definite push into the area. Visits to Herrick's Cove on May 1 and 2 yielded 34 species between the two days of which 12 were firsts for me this season. The two most notable sightings included two Red-necked Grebes in striking breeding plumage on the Connecticut River and a Bonaparte's Gull just west of the island at the cove entrance. In addition to an abundance of Yellow-rumped Warblers, five other warbler species were observed: Yellow Warblers, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats. Saturday morning produced three Baltimore Orioles including a male that was the most intense colored individual I recall ever seeing (photo below). If it were any more red, it easily could have been mistaken at first glance for a Scarlet Tanager. On both days a lone American Bittern was heard "pumping" from the cattail/phragmite stand in the cove.

At home, we enjoyed a "yard" first: a Red-bellied Woodpecker (female). Sure they've been increasing in number down in the Valley to the point that now they are almost taken for granted. But here at 1,500 ft. elevation, its appearance is a treat. Pine Siskins remain and with the recent report of a fledgling in nearby Woodstock, we are looking out for evidence that they may be nesting in our area too.

Digiscoped images of a few of the birds seen on May 2: Baltimore Oriole and Savannah Sparrow at Herrick's Cove, and White-crowned Sparrow and Red-bellied Woodpecker in South Reading.