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.
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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.

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.

http://www.ofo.ca/reports%20and%20articles/winterfinches.php

http://ca.geocities.com/larry.neily AT rogers.com/pittaway-new.htm

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!

Bird Migration Forecast

Despite the much lauded launch of Cape May Bird Observatory’s, the most exciting thing for me on the site is the Mid-Atlantic Birding Forecast. When its updated, it provides a nice update on the potential weather conditions for movements of birds. David La Puma of woodcreeper.com is the guy who updates it and he has several years experience of looking at wind conditions and weather patterns to guesstimate flight conditions for both north and south migrations. I would recommend reading both these sites as well as Paul Lehman’s National Migration Forecast.

Migration tonight

It looks like migration could be pretty strong tonight, check out the radar image below.

*update* I went out and did some moon-watching thanks to the post that Woodcreeper put on the Jersey listserv concluding the same thing I did; there was substantial migration going on. I counted 60 birds crossing the moon in 16 minutes which is the highest traffic rate I have seen in the few times I have moon-watched.

If anyone knows how to extrapolate the number of migrants passing over from moon-watching results please let me know.

10 Ways to See more Birds

These aren’t backed by any guarantee, just what has held true from my experience. In no particular order I present you with 10 ways to see more birds.

Walk slower. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people walk past birds because they aren’t walking slow enough, giving the birds more time to move and become visible. There is always the urge to walk fast and cover more ground, but I have found that it is when I am moving the least that I see the most.

Spend more time outside. This one is obvious, there aren’t many birds that you can see from your house unless you have a spectacular feeder setup. Not everyone gets to spend two months outdoors counting hawks in the spring, but any chance you have to bird could be the time you find something really special.

Start earlier. Birds are most active in the first couple hours of the day, particularly during migration when they are landing at first light after a long night of flying. Being there when they are most active means there will be more to see. I spent many mornings at Garret Mtn Reservation in northern NJ this spring, and I always felt bad for the people who had just showed up at 8:30am, after I had already seen 17 or so species of warbler. By the time they showed up the warblers were not as active and their chances of seeing even 10 species was getting small.

Know the habitat. Birds can turn up anywhere. Birds can and will show up in backyards, waste water treatment plants and pretty much any other place that might not seem enticing. But this is more the exception than the rule. Spending time in high quality habitat that the birds are more likely to navigate towards will often allow you great observations of foraging behavior.

Learn to interpret radar. An excellent way to get an idea if new migrants will be arriving is to check the radar every night. My favorite sources are the National Weather Service and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Woodcreeper.com is a great website that posts nightly about migration conditions in New Jersey. Reading the past posts can be a great way to learn about how this tool can be used to predict where birds will be.

Look at the weather. Great birding days can come when the weather stalls the migration during the night, leaving lots of little birds to forage while they wait for better weather. Checking out some good locations during a light rain or after a rainstorm can be very productive.

Understand migration timing. For instance, in mid-May, you will want to head to spot to catch migrating warblers, in January find an unfrozen lake that might hold ducks and in August look for flooded fields or mudflats to see shorebirds migrating south. September can bring large Broad-winged Hawk flights, while November will be dominated by the Red-tailed Hawk. Knowing what to look for will point you towards the correct type of habitats to bird.

Learn birds calls, flight calls, chip notes, contact calls, noises their wings make, and anything else that gives their presence away. Birds communicate with their voices and it is the easiest way to find them. A well hidden bird can still be heard, giving you clues to its location as well as its identity. Chips and flight calls can help you identify the bird even if you only have a brief look at it. Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs is an excellent resource for the birds songs while Flight Calls of Migratory Birds is great for learning the flight calls. Any sounds you add to your repertoire will increase you skill and enjoyment of birding.

Bird with friends. Take a buddy or two along, even if they aren’t experts. An extra set of attentive eyes can go a long way in finding birds. I would have missed my life Boreal Chickadee if my interested but inexperienced friend hadn’t asked me, “Hey, whats that one? It looks different.” And if they are experience birders, there is always the opportunity of learning new information or tricks to identify difficult birds.

Find migrant traps. There are certain places that, because of weather, topography or location, attract ridiculous concentrations of bird during migration. Point Pelee, High Island, Garret Mountain and Sandy Hook all come to mind. Some of these spots are bottlenecks, where the birds are all forced into a small area as they avoid flying across water until the last moment. Others, such as High Island and Point Pelee are the first places that birds reach after a long water crossing and so they land en masse, covering the trees as they desperately try to recover and find food. Visit a migrant trap like these and you could see flocks of warblers, tanagers, flycatchers and anything else that is flying.

I hope that these ten ideas help you to see more birds and if you have more helpful ideas, please leave them in the comments.

Big Migration

Looks like the birds are really on the move tonight. It’s quite exciting to be able to see the movements on radar. For more information on this technique as well as commentary and predictions on the flight in New Jersey, check out woodcreeper.com.