Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rusty Blackbirds

Today six Rusty Blackbirds were observed and digiscoped on Old Connecticut River Road in Springfield, Vermont.  These were in a flock of 10+ Red-winged Blackbirds and four Common Grackles.

Rusty Blackbird is a North American species of high conservation concern.  Since the 1960s its population has declined 85 to 99%.  Causes of this trend are unknown at this time, but the scientific community suspects global climate change and habitat degradation/loss.  The 2014 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is a citizen science effort to engage birders in seeking out "rusties" and to submit their observations on-line.   Check out the link for details.

Male Rusty Blackbird in late basic/early alternate plumage.

Male Rusty Blackbird (left) and Red-winged Blackbird (right).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bear Alert!

Vermont Fish & Wildlife
Department photo.
One sure sign of spring in northern New England is the first appearance of bear sign whether it be scat, paw prints in snow or mud, or experiencing destruction of backyard bird feeders.  Bear have begun coming out of hibernation and are searching for high caloric food following a long winter fast.  Bird feeders stocked with sunflower seed and suet are irresistible to a hungry bear; and once such a food source has been located, it can be difficult to discourage regular bear visits and the expensive loss of bird feeders.  The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recommends bird feeding be stopped by April 1st at the latest and that feeding not be resumed until early December after bears have denned.    

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Turners Falls Waterfowl

After seeing recent reports of a Canvasback and a Redhead on the Connecticut River and Barton's Cove in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, I drove down to check out the action being last week's late season major snow storm and subsequent cold temperatures greatly limit birding prospects in the vicinity of home.

The river immediately upstream of Turners Falls Dam was found to be largely ice free with good numbers of waterfowl including the following species: Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Mallard, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and Red-breasted Merganser.  While there I was told by another birder that three Canvasbacks were present earlier in the day, but only two remained by the time of my arrival.  The Canvasbacks and the Redhead (all males) were napping the entire time and not cooperating to be digiscoped.  Even though their heads were snuggled into their backs, identification was straight forward.  Note in the photo below the light gray back and sides of the Readhead contrasting with the very white back and sides of the Canvasback.
Redhead, left; Canvasback, right.
Left to right in foreground, Canvasback and Redhead. 
Ring-necked Ducks to rear and right.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter or Spring: Which Is It?

Ludlow, VT.  March 9, 2014.
The eventual arrival and settling in of Spring weather and bird migrants is a given.  However, when or how soon is always a guessing game at this point in time.  Turkey Vultures, Killdeer, American Woodcocks, and Red-winged Blackbirds are beginning to show up in Vermont, and there has been at least one report of a Peregrine Falcon returning to its nesting cliff.  At home I am now greeted each morning with a chorus of singing Mourning Doves, Black-capped Chickadees, Purple Finches, and the drum roll of a Downy Woodpecker...such a wonderful start to the day in contrast to the quiet of Winter.  And, along with these developments was last weekend's warm (40s!), sunny weather which saw the year's first appearance of sap buckets on roadside maple trees and frozen unpaved roads morphing into oozing mud.  Today was another lovely warm day so much so that I spotted a wooly bear caterpillar crawling on a curb against a snowy backdrop, and a freshly awakened chipmunk under one of the bird feeders.   But as all Vermonters know well enough Winter is slow to let go of its grip.  As case in point a major storm is forecast for tomorrow and Thursday and to deliver 12+ inches of snow!  Perhaps once the last of our overwintering Snowy Owls has departed for more northern latitudes can we be assured that Spring has arrived.

Late winter/early spring Wooly Bear (Isabella Moth) caterpillar.