Counting at Hawk Mountain

Saturday was one of the four days this fall that I am scheduled to count hawks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in eastern Pennsylvania. The day started out pretty dismal as a huge mass of rain from the south was working its way up the northeast. I initially headed to some lakes to check for scoters and brant which had been reported around the state during the storm but came up empty.

The storm ended around noon and I was soon up on north lookout, waiting for the raptors to start flying. I didn’t have to wait long as the afternoon started off with a young Osprey.

North Lookout, clearing off after the rain

Sharp-shinned Hawks dominated the flight early in the afternoon but the real star of the day were the Red-tailed Hawks. We ended up with 74 redtails and it always seemed like there were 1 or 2 in sight. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, an off-duty counter came up and asked, “Did you hold the golden for me?” He had walked the mile up to the lookout just to see a Golden Eagle. Since we hadn’t seen any yet, I answered that of course we had held it, and it is on the way. Well, the sun started to lower and it got colder so he decided it was time to leave, despite not seeing a Golden Eagle. Not a minute after he left I lifted by bins up to the horizon, and wouldn’t you know it, a large bird appeared. We quickly yelled down the trail, telling him to hurry back and we were all treated to a fantastic view of an adult Golden Eagle that slowly made its way towards us, circled, and then continued on.

adult Golden Eagle

I tried to phonescope the eagle since there were enough observers around to determine its age and other details. I only managed one shot of the eagle with my phone, thru my binoculars and it turned out better than I would have expected. If you look closely you can see the golden nape of the eagle as well as the distinctive way it holds its wings, not quite as board-straight as a Bald Eagle.

Passerines were pretty sparse except for a fairly exceptional number of tree swallows there were flying around the lookout. We counted ~70 throughout the day but they were moving around and it is hard to know whether that is accurate or extremely low.


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.

Taking away the noise

It’s been over a month since my last post, but don’t worry, I have still been birding and digiscoping in the interim. I decided to post a series of files created as I edited a flight shot I took this past winter of a Short-eared Owl that was residing close to my house. Since I digiscope, many of the shots I take do not initially show up on the computer screen accurately representing what I saw in the field. Take for an example this first shot below, the original file with no adjustments. The sun was beginning to set when the owls started flying but it was nowhere near this dark. The compensations my camera has to make to freeze motion thru an extra long lens it was not built to use means that it picks up less light than an SLR with a telephoto lens.

Cropping and lightening up the image results in something more like what I remembered, a blue sky with the underside of the owl catching the final reddish-orange rays of the day. Unfortunately, the resulting image (below) comes out looking very noisy, or grainy because of the extreme lighting adjustments I applied to the photo. I recommend clicking on the image to see a larger view and get a better idea of this noise I am talking about.

It is an identifiable image, but I am going for something that is both recognizable and pleasing to look at. Enter NoiseWare to rescue the day. This digital image noise reduction software does wonders to smooth out that noise while not losing any details in the image. Opening up the above image in the program and running it through the default settings resulted in the image below. I think you will agree that it is a much nicer image.

If anyone has more Photoshop techniques or tricks they know for salvage poorly exposed images like these, please leave some comments.

The aberrant warbler and a firethroat

Yellow-breasted Chat © 2007 Drew Weber

Point counts have been good as of late. I was in Lancaster County a few days finishing up points in that area and my best find was a very outgoing chat. I had it singing during a point count near Muddy Run Reservoir so I marked the spot on my GPS and returned after my morning counts were finished. I only had to play a few phrases of its song on my car speakers before he popped up again, flying back and forth checking out who was trying to take his picture. Most shots I took were pretty bad but he landed on a utility tower long enough for me to fire off one shot and that is what you see. I had forgotten how fantastically goofy these warblers/tanagers look when doing their display flight. They have always reminded me of clowns.

I believe that chats are going to be separated from the New World warblers (Parulidae) fairly soon. I can’t remember the exact details but I think they will get their own family and be considered the evolutionary bridge between tanagers and warblers. Someone please correct me if my facts are way off.

Blackburnian Warbler © 2007 Drew Weber

In another lucky catch, I managed to photograph this brilliant male Blackburnian Warbler through my binoculars. This is not a method I have ever had much success with, and although its not a print worthy photo, and a little drabber than real life, I believe it captures some of the brilliance of the reddish orange throat these warblers flaunt. Blackburnian Warblers have a ridiculously high-pitched ending to their song and are one of the first to disappear as one’s ears lose those higher pitches. It makes me curious whether even with my good hearing I am missing parts of the song.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies © 2007 Drew Weber

At the same place where the Blackburnian was singing, there was a large congregation of 30-40 butterflies all in one clump. If anyone know what they were doing please leave a comment…

Digiscoping the Gnatcatcher

Here are some of my attempts at catching the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher through my scope. Seems that despite my best efforts, this guy was always able to hide behind at least a little bit of tree stuff. The last shot is my favorite, catching it mid-hover as it is going up to snag an insect off of the leaves.

The hawk flight has slowed considerably, only 1 Cooper’s Hawk today and nothing this past Saturday. If it weren’t for all the new migrants it would really be boring. Warblers for the day include: Blue-winged, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue and Black-throated Green, N. Parula, A. Redstart,Yellow-rumped and Common Yellowthroat.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, flightiest sprite in the forest

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a tiny little bird, weighing in at only 6.9 g or less than a quarter ounce. Despite its small size, it has to be one of the speediest foragers of all time. I come to this conclusion honestly, after trying with no luck to digiscope one individual that was foraging quite close. Their main targets are spiders, insects and insect eggs. Below is one of the two shots I managed where the bird actually showed up on the picture. I did crop quite a bit, but I left as much bird in as possible.

With this second shot, I had more cooperation. Identifiable, yes. Print worthy, not really. Maybe like Britney Spears, this Ruby-crown had a bad haircut to hide.