Snowy Hawk Mountain

Last Saturday I counted again at Hawk Mountain. The weather was rainy on the drive up but as I polled into the parking lot I was met with snow. Upon reaching the lookout, I could see the line where the snow started further down. The trees and rocks were covered and it was beautiful. Unfortunately, birds were slow to come. I thought that maybe we would at least get some finches after the cold front but even that was wishful. Only about 4 birds before 2 pm but after that it picked up a little bit with a Northern Goshawk, two Golden Eagles, three harriers and 23 Red-tailed Hawks for a total of 34 raptors for the day.

Currently, the Hawk Mountain count for the season is at 18,946 raptors, another good year for hawks and hawk watchers. My last count day will be December 8th, which will hopefully bring me my first Hawk Mountain Rough-legged Hawk and maybe some finches and crossbills as a bonus.

Finally a Rufous!

Number 266 for my Pennsylvania list, the female Rufous Hummingbird I was able to see in Berks County this past week was a delight. When I first arrived at the house that it has been frequenting for about a month now, the hummingbird was nowhere to be seen. I was treated to a lovely overview of its habits and daily routine and I was promised that it would appear soon. And all of a sudden it did, she was sitting on one of several butterfly bushes the property owner had around the yard. I rushed to the window and was treated to a fantastic view of it sitting on the bush, then it flew to the feeder and I was able to watch it quite a while there.

female Rufous Hummingbird

I was able to sneak outside and digiscope it a few times, but the lighting was dismal and the bird was playing hide and seek behind the butterfly bush leaves. Nevertheless, you can see the orange on the hummingbird’s flanks. Below is a shot that is a tad better of the bird’s face.

As far as I know, this is the 8th or 9th Rufous Hummingbird in Pennsylvania this fall. Keep your feeders out because there could still be some more coming through and there is always the chance of something exotic like a Green-breasted Mango or a Green Violet-ear.

Backyard Finches

For the last few weeks, finch numbers have really increased in my backyard, thanks in large part to a cool double sock nyger seed feeder that really seems to draw in both American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. My high counts have been 32 goldfinches and 5 siskins at one time.

The double sock stuffed with njyer seed really seems to maximize the amount of space for finches to feed on because they can perch anywhere they want, in whatever orientation they want to.

I particularly enjoyed watching the Pine Siskins because they are not as common, especially in this part of Pennsylvania. Finches are definitely moving south further this year than is typical according to reports. In the photo above you can see the distinctive pointy bill that the siskins sport. The golden edging on the flight feathers and wingbar can be seen as well as the streaky undertail feathers.

I am hoping for some Evening Grosbeaks and Common Redpolls to show up at my feeders. They have been showing up all over PA and so I am going to be optimistic.

New citizen science project to add to your schedule

This past February, the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) initiated the Winter Raptor Survey, a volunteer effort to determine winter abundances of raptors. The purpose according to the association’s website “is to get birders/raptor enthusiasts out in the field during the winter looking for diurnal raptors, and to provide those surveyors with a set of guidelines enabling them to record their observations in a standardized format.”

While 2007 was the kickoff year, birders are still being encouraged to make their own 30-100 mile route and record raptor species seen from this car route between November and March. Instructions and data forms are available on the HMANA website.

This is a great opportunity to get out for a nice drive and possibly see some of the rarer winter raptors such as Rough-legged Hawks as well as some of the other common species.

Monitoring in this way is a great conservation tool and the results will be published in the associations publication, Hawk Migration Studies.

Superflight 2007-2008

As posted on BirdChat-

We are experiencing the biggest winter finch irruption since the
"superflight" of 1997-1998, when many boreal finches went well beyond
their normal ranges. The cause is the largest tree seed crop failure
in a decade across more than 3200 km (2000 mi) of boreal forest from
Saskatchewan into Quebec. Today in Toronto, I had a Pine Grosbeak,
Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches
migrating along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Boreal winter finches
are being reported in many areas of southern Ontario and the United
States, where some species such as Pine and Evening Grosbeaks haven't
been seen in years. There is no telling how far south this
"superflight" will go.

Winter Finch Forecast 2007-2008 is stored at two sites. AT

Ron Pittaway
This is definitely true in Pennsylvania as Pine Siskins and Purple Finches are being seen at feeders across the state, quite a few redpolls have been seen and heard and reports of Evening Grosbeaks are coming from most of the state. Get those feeders out and fill them!

Bonies at the flats

A few days ago I spent the morning at Conejohela Flats, canoing around because the water level was extremely high following the 3 inches of rain we had just received. Generally we spend most of our time scoping the birds out from a blind that is on one of the small islands but now the blind was basically a small island of its own.

Bonaparte’s Gulls

Before I set off though, I had the pleasure of watching several first winter Bonaparte’s Gulls (or bonies) elegantly forage for food right near the dock. I really enjoy these gulls because of their bouyant, tern-like flight. They are not these big bruiser gulls like Herring or Glaucous Gulls that look mean and fly like a cargo plane.

On the contrary, they can float just above the water, gracefully maneuvering to and fro looking for a tasty floating tidbit, and then just as gracefully dive down to nab it. Even without binoculars they were easy to pick out among the Ring-billed Gulls due to their size and different flight mannerisms.

Bonaparte’s Gulls are smaller gulls, and the first cycle birds (just molted out of their juvenile plumage) have distinctive dark stripes on their wings. I also saw several adults later on when I was in the canoe, hence the lack of digiscoped adults.

One interesting thing about Bonaparte’s Gulls is that unlike most other gulls, they usually nest in trees. I would be hard pressed to remember one time when I saw a gull in a tree.