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.

Birding has been good

With spring migration in full swing now, and no nasty weather to stop it sightings have really picked up. I was lucky enough to go home to Pennsylvania for a day and was able to find 7 species of warbler close to Lake Ontelaunee, one of my favorite places to bird in my county. My highlight was getting very close views at 2 different Northern Waterthrushes and realizing how different they look than the Louisiana Waterthrush. Another highlight was the Marsh Wren, a very good bird for the county.

At the hawkwatch, new birds have been arriving every day. Recently a Field Sparrow has been hanging out with the flock of Chippies behind the lookout, giving everyone great looks.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have been quite common the last few weeks but they are now in their beautiful breeding plumage and are really showing it off. There seem to be good movements in the mornings and evenings so I think I am seeing different birds each time I come up to the hawk watch.

Another new arrival that has really made his presence known is the Brown Thrasher. He just showed up a few days ago and was singing all by himself, desperately hoping for a female thrasher to come along and sing back. He was lucky and was accompanied the following day by someone who could apparently put up with his raucous cries, and possibly even thought they were beautiful.

Other birds recently heard and seen at the hawkwatch were Blue-headed Vireo (if it weren’t for dogs running loose in the park I would have an excellent shot), Warbling Vireo, Prairie Warbler and House Wren.

Warblers are a’coming!

Just to whet your appetite on what’s to come, here is my somewhat poor digishot of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I thought that putting everything in b&w except for the warbler itself would jazz it up a bit. I know that there have been recent controversies about doctoring photos but you have to remember that this is not photojournalism, its closer to art.

Anyway, this bird was neat, entertaining me on a less than exciting morning at the hawkwatch. He/she spent at least an hour, foraging in a flooded yard below the hawkwatch, pulling worms and other exciting food items out of the lawn. Unfortunately he did not sing, but that is something I will be able to hear most mornings this summer as I do my point counts for the PA Breeding Bird Atlas.

Montclair Hawkwatch update

Broad-winged Hawk juvenile

It appears that Broad-winged Hawks are finally starting to arrive. We had our first double-digit day yesterday and hopefully as this weather clears we will get an excellent flight. Here are the numbers so far for the season.

Daily Raptor Counts: as of Apr 11, 2007
Species Day’s Count Month Total Season Total
Black Vulture 0 1 15
Turkey Vulture 10 55 258
Osprey 5 40 66
Bald Eagle 0 0 1
Northern Harrier 2 6 15
Sharp-shinned Hawk 9 43 120
Cooper’s Hawk 2 18 60
Northern Goshawk 0 0 1
Red-shouldered Hawk 0 6 52
Broad-winged Hawk 11 14 14
Red-tailed Hawk 2 15 60
Rough-legged Hawk 0 0 0
Golden Eagle 0 0 0
American Kestrel 2 55 107
Merlin 2 4 4
Peregrine Falcon 0 0 0
Unknown 1 4 11
Total: 46 261 784


The Mourningcloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is a medium-sized (2-4 inchwingspan) butterfly which is easily identified by the yellow trailing edge to its wings. On the inner edge of the yellow border there are iridescent blue spots making it very striking and distinctive. It belongs to the family Nymphalidae which are known as the ‘brush-footed butterflies’. Their front legs are smaller and often hairy or brush-like, hence the name. It is often the first butterfly seen in spring and because the adults can survive cold winters in ‘cryo-preservation’ hidden in cavities or under bark until the weather warms up.

Males of this species can be territorial. When disturbed, the butterfly will fly away, returning in a minute or two to the same vicinity. The Mourning Cloak lays its eggs in large clusters, and the caterpillars tend to remain in a group, making these early stages easier to find than is the case with other species.

One interesting thing is that the Mourning Cloak is known as the Camberwell Beauty in Europe and is a rare and sought after species in England, where it is a stray from mainland Europe.

Inquisitive Birds

Some days at the hawk watch the weather is less than ideal and the the hawks are not flying. These are the times when it is particularly fun to watch the other local birds behavior. Since I am stationary most of the day, the birds become used to my presence and settle down to enjoy the bird seed I put out for them. Here are some of the looks they give me as they are eating or perched around the hawk watch.

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.