Vagrant orioles

This has been a good year for orioles in Pennsylvania. A Scott’s Oriole in February near Harrisburg started out the year with a bang, see pictures here. This was the first recorded Scott’s Oriole in the state. The usual suspects for Pennsylvania are Baltimore and Orchard Orioles. Now, its December and there is a Bullock’s Oriole hanging out at the Lost Creek Shoe Shop at Oakland Mills.


Bullock’s Oriole

I managed to get up to see the Bullock’s Oriole the last week in November and after almost an hour of waiting for it to show up at the feeder it had been frequenting, someone spotted it down the lane in some bushes. We all sprinted down there and once we all had good looks I managed a couple shots of it hidden in the tangles.

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.

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.

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.

My sparrow fest

So it seems like ever other bird blogger has gotten out to digiscope the sparrow migration and today was finally my day. I got some OK pictures but there always seemed to be something obstructing part of my subject.


Lincoln’s Sparrow

I managed to come across several Lincoln’s Sparrows and one cooperatively perched about 30 ft away long enough to snap a few photos. These delicate sparrows are one of my favorite. According to some, Lincoln’s Sparrows affinity for dense shrubby areas, secretive nature and boreal breeding habitat make it one of the most elusive of N. American birds.


White-crowned Sparrow- adult

White-crowned Sparrows made a major push into the area following the cold front that just passed. Both striking adults and buffy juveniles were pretty common and generally easy to digiscope.


White-crowned Sparrow- juvenile


White-throated Sparrow- tan-stripe morph

According to Birds of N. America Online, there are two different color morphs of White-throated Sparrows during the breeding season. Tan-striped birds like the one above generally provide more parental care while white-striped birds, pictured below, are more aggressive, territorial and likely to mate more than once (extra-pair copulations). The interesting thing is that each morph nearly always mates with its opposite. Tan-striped males tend to mate with white-striped females and white-striped males look for tan-striped females to mate with.

White-throated Sparrow- white-stripe morph

Ammon, Elisabeth M.. 1995 . Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/beta/species/191

Falls, J. B., and J. G. Kopachena. 1994 . White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/beta/species/128

More Arizona pictures


Juniper Titmouse @ Grand Canyon National Park


Black-headed Grosbeak @ Grand Canyon National Park


Broad-billed Hummingbird @ Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum


Barn Owl @ Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum


Anna’s Hummingbird @ Madera Canyon


Anna’s Hummingbird @ Madera Canyon

Arizona pics

So almost 2 months ago I was in Arizona for my honeymoon. We stayed in Sedona for a while enjoying the scenic canyons and visiting the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks. I did not manage any digiscoping on that part of the trip but we then went to SE Arizona for a few days and I did much better then. This White-eared Hummingbird was phonescoped thru my binoculars. It is amazing what one can do now with the availability of cameras everywhere. I am just waiting for the day when I find a rarity and can send the picture to a group of people moments after seeing it for verification and notification.


White-eared Hummingbird- Miller Canyon

I was able to take this shot at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum of a female Broad-billed Hummingbird sitting on her nest. It was right next to the walkway and allowed quite close views. In my experience, it seems that females are quite approachable when on the nest.

Broad-billed Hummingbird- Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Those of you who live in se. Arizona are truly lucky when it comes to hummingbird variety. We were lucky enough to find 11 species of hummingbird with the highlights being 2 White-eared Hummingbirds, Lucifer Hummingbird, and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds. I digiscoped this gorgeous male Broad-billed Hummingbird coming to the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon.


Broad-billed Hummingbird- Santa Rita Lodge

Acorn Woodpeckers were also a treat to see in Madera Canyon. They reminded me a bit of Red-headed Woodpeckers back east with their flashy white patches against all the dark. It was fun watching such a communal bird storing acorns in holes they made all over the place.


Acorn Woodpecker- Santa Rita Lodge

For the trip we managed 163 species with 70 of them being lifers for me. It will be hard for me to ever do a trip in the ABA region and get that many lifers again, maybe even impossible.