Saturday, October 31, 2009

Day one of Back Yard Bird Feeding

Yesterday was the day I scrubbed all of my bird feeders and stocked up on the regular winter staples like Black Oil Sunflower Seed, Safflower Seed and Nyjer and decided to put it out hoping I would get the birds back in a week or so. As you can see it took them less than 24 hours to find the bounty! The safflower was the hands down winner today by all birds including the awful House Sparrows. People say the HOSP's don't like Safflower, but I beg to differ based on past experience. Luckily, it is only a flock of 6 right now and they took off after about 10 minutes of hogging the feeder.
The Black-capped Chickadees have returned too which was indeed a welcome site. I am so glad I decided to stop feeding during the summer because it makes you really appreciate the birds when they come back in the fall. I spent this afternoon working on some analysis I am doing and kept my head near the window at all times to see who would appear at my feeders and it was so nice for a change.
I spend so much time going out of my way to look for the rare birds or the seasonal birds and often overlook the birds that are always near my yard 365 days of the year, it was nice to see them again in my yard.
I spend a lot of money each winter on various bird seed, but it's worth every penny. I get some really good pictures of them, they are fun to watch and it gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction knowing that on cold winter days, when food is hard to find, they will come to my yard to get enough food to survive another night.
And just for old times sake, a lousy Tufted Titmouse shot. One of the funniest backyard birds for sure!
I did head out to Barre Falls this AM even though I knew wind and weather conditions were far from our favor for hawkwatching. You see, every year Barre gets a Golden Eagle on Halloween so I wanted to be there to see if it could happen again. I didn't get there until 10:15 or so because I slept until 7:30 (GASP), and the place was barren except for a couple of hunters. Stuck around until 11 or so and then headed back to Millbury because there were literally no birds at Barre except for a flock of Ring-billed Gulls playing in the wind, and one lone American Crow struggling to fly across the parking lot. Made a stop at St. Philips and saw the Red-tailed Hawk above.
Stopped at Brierly's in Millbury and the Hooded Mergansers are back again. This time three males and one female. One of my favorite winter birds in town so a welcome site indeed.

Will be doing some birding tomorrow at Quabbin with Forbush and will have pictures of that of course.

Take care everyone!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cool Website Alert! Northeast Avian Data Center

I found a cool website for any of you fellow data dweebs who likes to crunch information as much as I do. Anyhow, my new computer has the complete Microsoft Office including Excel and Access so I have been busy building tables by using Hawkcount, eBird, etc.

Anyhow, I happened to come across this site and wanted to share it. Northeast Avian Data Center . This is full of fantastic information from various sources as you can see if you click on this link Explore Data. You can look at raw data using bar charts, Google Earth (wicked cool) and standardized tables.

If you are really geeky and know how to write queries or are good in Excel than you can download entire species information or state information in a raw text format and import it into Excel as a dataset which would be your own mini-data base. You can even access and download the data by state like this example for MA.

The information collected is fed in one file and comes from various sources including:

-Breeding Bird Survey
-Great Backyard Bird Count
-Hawk Count
-International Shorebird Survey
-Mountain Birdwatch
-Project Feederwatch

Anyhow, just thought I would share for those of you who are interested.

UPDATE: I noticed the data is only until 2008 so I emailed Marhsall Iliff (from Cornell & eBird) who also runs the data management of this site and he sent me another link that shows detailed and up to date information for all of the states for those of you not in the North East. The link to that is Avian Knowledge Network .This information gets updated every evening if you really have no mean if you really are into crunching data.

Take care and I am hoping to do some birding today after work. I am totally getting the "itch"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Forbush Bird Club-Wachusett Reservior & Other Places

I was part of the Forbush Bird Club field trip yesterday which was led by Fran and Kevin and our goal were for waterfowl around Wachusett Reservoir and other surrounding ponds. The fuzzy digiscoped picture above is of a Pied-billed Grebe with some Ring-necked Ducks in the background. Very excited to finally get the Grebe and it is another lifer for me. Also first of the season sighting for Ring-necked Ducks so the Quag was a productive stop yesterday!
Went to Gate 39 where we saw quite a few Common Loons including the one above who was very busy eating a fish as you can see.
We also had a Red-tailed Hawk here as well as a couple of Bad Eagles. Other sightings of the day included various passerines, Hooded Mergansers, Common Mergansers, Greater Scaup a Cooper's Hawk and a Northern Harrier (due to a good spot from Susan) and all of the various regulars like Great-blue Herons, Mallards, etc. It was a wonderful fall day weather wise as well as bird wise!
Of course I had to post just a few more pictures of the Barred Owl.
Yes they probably all look the same as the last post, but I got to edit them on my new computer. I bought a rebuilt one as I just didn't want my computer anymore because it was giving me too many problems. I have owned many computers over the past decade or so and I find that the rebuilt ones are so much better than the ones you get off the shelf, so instead of getting a whole new hard drive, I bought a rebuilt one from PC Design in Millbury dirt cheap. If you are ever looking for computer servicing this is the place to go seriously (and I don't ever make too many endorsements!) The computer I have now is quick and Picassa works great on it so I had to play with the owl pictures more.
I also got my first Hermit Thrush of the season around the same area. Don't know if I will get much birding done this week with work an all. I do plan on taking some time and scrubbing my feeders though to get ready for winter bird feeding. I haven't fed the birds since last spring and miss them. Hoping my very common White-throated Sparrows make a return.

Take care all.

Barred Owl-Millbury

Note: Computer is down again at home and have no access to home email so if you have emailed me, I am hoping to get back in touch with you at some point this week. I can't wait to get this month over with as it has been one thing after another!

Anyhow, Alan and I did some birding in the AM yesterday before the Forbush Trip and we finally were able to see the Barred Owl that lives in and around the Brierly section of town. Alan could see some whitewash on a tree so I used my binoculars to search for an owl and sure enough there it was! The picture above is my favorite because of how it is staring at me. I was directly underneath it with my camera and the owl wanted to check out what the heck I was doing!

Finally I move away to get a better angle for pictures as it stares back in return. The Barred Owl didn't move once and only looked semi-alarmed when it heard a flock of American Crows nearby making a racket.

After a while it started dozing off again as I continued to take photos.

Such an adorable bird and my new favorite bird for the month of October! Seriously, owls are really cool birds and it was such a rush to get one in broad daylight that would sit still for you! The weekend highlight for sure.

I do have some pictures from the Forbush trip this past Sunday that I will be posting at some point. Wouldn't you know I got some fantastic photos of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on a church steeple on Saturday morning and even have a couple of pictures of a crow mobbing it, but I think I lost those photos because they were on my hard drive and I deleted the pictures from my camera. Totally not fair!

Take care all and I will post when I can.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Forbush Bird Club-Saw whet Owl Banding Uxbridge

The Forbush Bird Club had a bird trip last night out in Uxbridge, MA for Saw-whet Owl banding. This program is an all volunteer program and these people are usually out most nights banding these birds which is vital to understanding owl migration patterns which is difficult in itself under normal circumstances due to the fact that you normally don't see them out while birding or on the usual hawkwatches many birder participate in as migration takes place at night.

We were able to get two Saw-whet owls close to 9:30 PM when we went to go check the nets like you can see in the photo above. Look at how cute she is!

The volunteers carefully removed them from the netting and held them out for all of us to see and get some pictures.

Check out the fabulous wings on this owl. Such a stunning bird.

Next it was back to the make shift banding station which is out in the middle of the woods at a place they call "Lookout Rock" which was pretty darn impressive considering how primitive it was. They had everything they needed smack in the middle of the darkened woods. The first thing they do is weigh the Saw-whet Owl in the cloth bag it is in for protection. This is done on a normal kitchen scale. After they weigh that they take the owl out of the bag and then re-weigh the bag to get the actual true measurement of the owl.

Second year Saw-whet Owl
Then its onto the banding itself. The bands are so tiny it really gives you an idea of just how petite these adorable little birds are. Paul had shown us the bands for Barred Owls and the size comparison was very different which was cool to see.

The next stage of the process is to measure the wing of the owl. This is done to help determine the gender. They have some kind of mass body weight to wing span ratio that is almost always accurate. Interestingly enough they get more females than they do males. I was told this may have to do with the fact that they have recordings of a male Saw-whet Owl doing his mating call near the nets and the ladies want to check it out a little further. The males may avoid the mating call as they are not interested in starting a fight between another male while migrating. This is theory only and I am sure other variables come into play as well.

Now it was onto the next one. Don't you just love the face! It almost looks as if it was saying "why didn't I just move on instead of trying to check out who the dude was in the Forest".

First year Saw-whet Owl
Another interesting thing they do with the wing is to determine the age of the bird by the wings themselves. They do this by looking at the wings to check for molting patterns. If the wings are uniform in color and "fresh" then they are first year birds like the one above.

They also showed us the incredible ears this bird has. Check out the photo above. You can actually see its eyeball as well which is closer to the thumb. Such a well made machine this little puff ball is! Nature is absolutely incredible.

We also were able to get a good look at the talons of the bird. This adorable creature has 4 toes, two that face forward and two that face back. The fourth toe can actually move front or back for hunting and capturing prey and for perching.

And another shot so you can get a look at its fabulous tail!

We checked the nets one more time and look what we had. Another one!!! This was my favorite of them all as she would blink her eyes more and looked, well, more wise if you will. Come to find out she was the oldest of them all and the oldest bird they have banded this season thus far. Proving once again that with age comes wisdom!

I even got to hold her!! OMG, such an experience holding this tiny little owl in your hand. You can actually pet them too and I have NEVER in my life felt anything as soft as this little owl, softer than a kitten seriously! The Saw-whet Owls actually enjoy being pet and this one here would close her eyes as if almost in a trance as you pet her gorgeous little feathers.

A wonderful experience and something I will be doing again. This Uxbridge program will have more demos so for those of you interested in the New England area, keep your eyes on MassBird as they will announce future programs through there. I highly recommend it as not only is it cool to be out there with the Saw-whet Owls, but it's a lot of fun being out in the woods in the dark. Haven't done that since my teenage years and its much more enjoyable holding an owl in your hand vs. a Bud Light that's for sure! ;-)

A VERY special thanks to Strickland, Beth and Paul who put this all together. You do such great work for a very important cause. Take care all.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher-Orange Airport

Please pardon the pictures. This has been a lousy week for me with my hot water heater going and me having to replace it, followed by my home computer crashing which is now being fixed. I lost ALL of my pictures as they have to re-do the entire hard drive so I am so grateful I posted most of my favorites on my blog. I uploaded these current pictures onto another computer which doesn't have good photo editing software so I can't even try and make these lousy pictures look any better than they are. Need a new camera but totally out of my budget now after the expenses this week. Anyhow, enough woe is me and onto the good stuff and the highlight of my week.

Alan and I headed out to the Orange Airport after work yesterday to see if we could spot the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher reported by Jeff Johnstone through Dave Small .
There were a few birders present and we all searched an area it was reported at last. A very resourceful birder drove past us in a convenient golf cart and told us where he last spotted the bird so off we went in an attempt to see it before it took off to roost for the night.

It took a strong liking to a fence and there it stayed the majority of the time.
The bird flew around -hawking for insects- here and there, but for the most part it really liked perching on this fence which was nice for a change. This is a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher which you can tell by the shorter tail and the duller sides (particularly the flanks and under the tail) that are more yellow vs. the adult which is more salmon pink

Here is an undigiscoped shot that can give you and idea on the overall size of the bird. The flycatcher stuck around for about 1/2 an hour and was kept company by Blue Jays, Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Mockingbirds.

Soon enough an eruption of flight took place as all of the various birds took off at once to retire for the evening and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher followed. AWESOME bird and one I never thought I would be lucky enough to get in Massachusetts.

Take care all.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Perfect Day for Birding

I took the day off today which meant I could spend the morning birding, so Alan and I took off in search for the Ruddy Duck I wanted to finally see. Our first stop was in Charlton on Route 20 that is very birdy and a good place to get birds on the Christmas Bird Count for Sturbridge. As soon as we got there we could hear the familiar call of American Robins with a couple even singing their daytime song which I haven't heard for weeks now. There were also scores of European Starlings who were starting to show that heavy speckling they get when in non-breeding plumage. The sparrows and warblers were out, but not as many as we would have liked, but did get Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and Yellow-rumped warblers.
Next it was onto Orlando's upper pond in Charlton which is the same area we were at this past Sunday where the gulls were eating english muffins. Sure enough there were three Ruddy Ducks there that could be seen really nicely with a scope. The picture above is of a drake in non-breeding plumage. Check out its tail!
These small ducks are absolutely adorable and are a little larger than a Bufflehead just to give you an overall idea on size.
Definitely the highlight of my morning and my new favorite bird for the month of October!
Next it was onto Lake Quaboag to see if we could find anything of interest there. Not much at all except for a couple of Double-crested Cormorants of which one was playing with its fish before consuming.
We travelled a little further north to the Quag hoping to see some different waterfowl there but once again a "no go" with just more Double Crested Cormorants and Mallards.
Song birds were out in full force though including this Hairy Woodpecker above. I really like this shot as it shows off the size of its bill in relation to the size of its head.
We also saw this Wooly Bear Caterpillar.
The picture above is of Coachlace Pond in Clinton which was where we went to get good looks at the many Greater Scaup Alan had seen there himself earlier in the week.

There were quite a few scaup clustered together along the pond including this drake Greater Scaup above.
Profile from the back so you can see how much the head shape can change based upon their position.
Alan was able to pick out a couple of Lesser Scaups in the group including the one above. Notice how the head is peaked vs the Greater Scaup which is round. Would I have been able to figure this out on my own??? No way, but once Alan pointed it out to me I could see the difference.
Huddled together as a group.
Love this shot of the Drake Greater Scaup. Those yellow eyes contrast perfectly with his black face.
Last it was onto Scar Hill Bluffs in Boylston to see if we could find any grebes. The place was very quiet with the only birds we could see were a couple of Ring-billed Gulls and a couple of Common Loons. All in all it was a great day with plenty of good birds and pretty foliage that is really starting to come out.

Take care everyone.


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