Far flying Godwits

Here is an exciting news clip from New Zealand. It’s nice to see birds making the news.

Bar-tailed Godwits, a shorebird that breeds in Alaska and winters in New Zealand and Australia have been tracked in their migration. The Bar-tailed Godwit is one of the species that is considered High Concern under the US Shorebird Conservation Plan due to their low breeding population of 100,000-150,000 in Alaska. Threats to their wintering grounds and migratory stopover sights in Asia, as well as their restricted breeding range in North America are also factors.

It is incredible, and in fact hard to believe, that these birds weighing in at less than a pound, can fly non-stop for a week, covering 6,000 miles (10,000 km).

Bar-tailed Godwit

Source: Point Reyes Bird Observatory
Photo credit: Changhua Coast Conservation Action


Turkeys at Garret

This morning at Garret Mountain Reservation in New Jersey I came across a group of Wild Turkeys and managed this shot of one of the fine looking toms. There was not anything else new at the park that I didn’t see yesterday but Chipping Sparrows were more numerous. I heard rumors of several Pine Warblers but didn’t come across any in todays meandering.

Big Flight of the Kestrels

American Kestrel, photo by copeg.

Today was the day of the American Kestrel. It started at 10 am and by the time I finished counting at 6 pm, 28 of these light weight, Microtuskilling machines had flown past. That was counting 10 in the last hour, and four birds in the last few minutes of that hour. This is a good day count for Montclair in March when we would only expect a small handful in one day. The really interesting part was that most of these falcons followed the same flight path and they often came in groups of two. Kestrels are sexually dimorphic so I could see that they were often traveling in groups comsisting of one male and one female. Whether these falcons were flying with their mates or just pure coincidence, it made for an interesting observation.

When the weather isn’t right for a good raptor flight, its a good chance to put in a little time digiscoping. Unfortunately today was particularly cloudy and the lighting was not optimal but it gave me a good chance to practice with manual focus. I set the camera to infinite focus and simply focus with the scopes focus knobs. When I am close, I zoom up to 60x with the scopes eyepiece and really lock in good on the focus, unzoom and snap the shot. Of course this requires a patient subject, but sometimes you get lucky.

White-breasted Nuthatch

This technique is particularly useful for focusing through branches and capturing the bird without blurring it all. Although the picture below is not the greatest picture of a blue jay, you can see how it is in decent focus despite being behind twigs. This can be particularly useful for focusing on just one shorebird, or finding a sparrow hiding in the grass.

Blue Jay

Hungry Accipiters

I really wish I had a picture for this post. I guess that will have to wait until I manage to get a dSLR camera with a nice 300mm fixed lens. Anyways…

Standing in one spot for a whole day gives me quite a chance to observe things that I don’t ordinarily get to see. I was up at the hawk watch, like I will be every day for the next 6 weeks, scanning the skies and waiting for the next migrating raptor. Off in the distance I see a Cooper’s Hawk winging its way northward towards me. Just as I am getting excited that I will get to put down another tick for the day, he (a really small bird, hence ‘he’) tucks his wings and disappears into the trees just south of me. Hanging my head in disappointment, I lower my pen and start scanning the horizon again for the next bird.

Since this is still early in the season, I don’t see a thing for the next 45 minutes. Then, all of a sudden, there is a Coop in view again. Closer, closer he flies and what do I notice? This little Cooper’s Hawk has a crop the size of a Junco! It’s huge, bulging even.

Hmm, I put my thinking cap on and resume scanning. Not more than 10 minutes pass before a Sharp-shinned Hawk disappears at the same location as the Cooper’s did. I am starting to get suspicious at this point. When I see, 25 minutes later, a Sharpie with a huge extending crop, it all becomes clear. Someone has set up an accipiter feeding station just down ridge of me! Oh, the idea is brilliant. Just think of it. You can set up some tubes of thistle or sunflower seeds, disguised as ordinary and innocent bird feeders. Placed in a location where accipiters pass every day and Walah!, an accipiter feeding station.

Now to find the yard and get some pictures of hunting in action.

Pre-snow hawk watch

The first day went smoothly, minus the various encounters with curious dogs and their unconcerned owners. You would think people would be embarrassed to have their dogs sniff thru perfect strangers bags but no, instead its our fault that we “don’t like the dogs.” Never mind that the dogs are supposed to be on a leash.

Well, Tree Swallows are back. Had a couple come through individually and then a group of four flew past the hawk watch. One the drive home, they were everywhere that there was water. Phoebes were also vocal.

Raptors for the day were 11 Turkey Vultures and 4 Red-tailed Hawks, plus one Red-shouldered Hawk that was going the wrong direction.

The Watch is about to begin, what’s up with this weather

Tomorrow marks day one of the Montclair Spring Hawk Watch, weather permitting. After reaching about 75°F today the thunderclouds are rolling in and we might get a good storm tonight. Thats all good but what about this…snow on Friday? That could make things really interesting. Well, hopefully I will have some reports soon and some pictures to go along with it.

I went to the Montclair Bird Club tonight and was treated to a great slide show of western Montana, one of my favorite places that I’ve been. I would recommend it to anybody. My best experience in Montana was driving on backroads. One day my fiancee and I were meandering along and approached some roadkill that a Black-billed Magpie was feeding on. I was already slowing down to get a better look when I noticed some thing large swoop out of the sky to my right. I slammed on the brakes and watched in awe as an immature Golden Eagle swooped down and plucked the roadkill off the road, much to the chagrin of the magpie.