A Connecticut Warbler in My Court…

So far the last few nights, I’ve spent my evenings in the backyard looking for Common Nighthawks.  Usually in late August I’ll see dozens of these graceful Nightjars flying over my house as they make their way south for the winter.  This year I appear not to be on the flight path as I have seen none.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  Thankfully some other birders have set up shop the last few nights near the Albany Pine Bush and have reported at least healthy numbers each night.  So they are out there, just not over my house.

Right at dusk last night, I was scanning the western sky for Nighthawks, when a fairly large Warbler practically dropped out of the sky into the weedy and brush margins of my yard.   Thinking I had my first Common Yellowthroat of the fall, I was very surprised to see  a much larger warbler, with evidence of a hood, along with a strong white eye ring.  The bird was also a skulker, keeping very low in the vegitation or directly on the ground (and out of sight).  Given its size and coloration, I reported it as a Mourning Warbler, even though that eye ring would be very unsuaul (but not unheard of).  It was too big for most other warblers, and the bold eye ring ruled out the rest.  However it was dark and I just went with what I saw.  During the night my ID bugged me.  By morning I had turned the bird into a pale Canada Warbler.  But it still didn’t sit well.

The next day, I took my dog out into the yard for some morning exercise.  As she walked along the edge of the yard, she flushed something from underneath the hosta plants.  Whatever it was skittered further into the weeds and briefly popped up when I walked over and spished.  Again I could clearly see this bold white eye-ring even without optics.  I dashed inside, grabbed my camera and binoculars and rushed back out.  The bird was still in a tangle of wild grape and with some coaxing, I got it sorta come out and snapped a few pictures.  Sadly in my rush, I used auto focus… and of course the camera choose to make the grape leaves nice and crisp, while leaving my bird fuzzy (argh!)

But I got at least 2 shots:

A “Mystery” Warbler. August 23, 2012 – Albany, NY – Will Raup.

“Mystery” Warbler – August 23, 2012 – Albany, NY – Will Raup

Clearly my ID of a Mourning Warbler was off.  Even Canada Warbler was being a stretch.  Only 2 birds really fit this description, one the rather common Nashville Warbler and the decidedly uncommon Connecticut Warbler.  Now I have seen many Nashville Warblers, especially in my backyard… and this warbler was too big.  Also the bill and tail were very long for a Nashville Warbler.  But a Connecticut Warbler is almost unheard of in this part of New York, even more so in August.  So I needed a fresh set of eyes.  I set Danika up with the photos and field guides and she kept coming back to Connecticut Warbler as well.  As this would be a life, and one heck of a yard bird… it gnawed on me.  So I posted the pictures on facebook, in particular the American Birding Association page.  I then had to mow the lawn.

While I mowed the lawn (figuring if the bird was still around this would get rid of it), I went over all the field marks in my head.  Everything was pointing to Connecticut Warbler, but since I had zero experience with this species, I was being cautious.  Later in the afternoon, I started to get some feedback.  Some still called it a Nashville, a few a Canada and soon there was a number of people supporting Connecticut Warbler.  When Ken Kaufman posted his thoughts that it was a Connecticut, things really started falling into place.  So I was feeling pretty good, as I headed out for another Nighthawk vigil this evening.  Again, no Nighthawks… but right at dark, against all odds, the bird reappeared.  This time I was able to (quickly!) see the long bill and tail and large size, clearly ruling out Nashville.  The white eye-ring looked like a flashlight in the dark, dense Golden Rod.  The bird only made a couple of brief hops up to about 3 feet off the ground, but spent much of its time right on the ground, decidedly not Nashville behavior.  Mystery Solved a new life and yard bird!

From Iceland With Love

This past winter was a banner year for Gulls at the Coxsackie Boat Launch in Greene County, New York.  Besides the “Big 3″ (Ring-billed, Herring and Greater Black-backed Gulls), Lesser Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls were frequently found, but Iceland Gull, both adult and immature were nearly common from January to mid March.  One particular young Iceland Gull was a bully, frequently making himself the sole recipient of any handouts from people.  Of course this meant you were able to get some killer looks at this species and of course, some photographs.  Makes me look forward to next winter!

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Ring-billed Gulls with Iceland Gull for comparison, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

A great shot showing the wings and tail of an Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

Ring-billed Gulls with Iceland Gull, Coxsackie Boat Launch, Greene County, NY

NYS Young Birders Club

Although anyone who has followed 10,000 Birds  knows about Hope Batcheller, a remarkable young woman, who I think is destined to change the birding world (ha, ha Hope, try and live up to those expectations!!!  just kidding!).  She not only has a 14 species lead on me right now in the NYS Region 8 Big Year  (I have a big day planned Sunday Night and Monday, so I’m going to catch up!), her persistent work through the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club  and the New York State Ornithological Association and her founding of the NYS Young Birders Club is nothing short of amazing.

If only there was something like the NYS Young Birders Club 15 years ago, when I was a teenager.  I consider myself lucky in the fact I got to bird, with some of the best the Capital District had to offer.  When I was about 5 or 6 my mother participated in a birding group which was lead by Rich Guthrie, I still remember vividly birding at Tivoli Bay and spotting an American Bitternflying over or the banding session at Powell Sanctuary in Chatham, NY when the highlight was a Red-breasted Nuthatch

When I was 11 or 12, I participated on several club field trips with the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club, making my poor (non birding) father get up at 5am on a Saturday (something I would kill my kids if they tried that with me, ha ha!) to go tromping through some odd spot in Albany County.  I remember one particular trip to Five Rivers which was lead by Bob Budlinger, and at one point he stopped and asked the group “Who can hear the Phoebe singing?”.  The song was faint and I’ll admit hard to pick up over all the other bird song, but I could hear it and raised my hand.  I was the only one to raise my hand.  He looked at me and said “Hey, your pretty good!” and we continued on our way.

At this point I was hooked on birds, I spent nearly every afternoon after school birding, mainly behind St. Patrick’s Church and Peter B. Coeymans Elementary School in Ravena and Coeymans.  I would sneak into the Town of Coeymans compost facility and here I was all alone.  I got intimate looks at Blue-winged Warbler, Eastern  Kingbird, Black-throated Green Warbler, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Wild Turkey and Red-tailed Hawk.  The highlight was a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, when Gnatcatchers were still uncommon in the county.  I watched them slowly, build a nest and raise a family.  I would also spend a lot of time at Coeymans Landing and I remember getting excited about Buffleheads and Hooded Mergansers, not to mention Bald Eagles, still a fairly rare bird in those days.  But the highlight of Coeymans were two birds, Carolina Wren and Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Both of course are now rather common across the entire region, but in those days, the only reliable spot to find them in Albany County was Coeymans Landing.  They were my birds.  I of course dutifully called in all my sightings to the Hudson-Mohawk bird line and made it so that I’m sure Frank Murphy will never forget me!

But of course bird watching, especially in a backward place like Ravena, NY is not acceptable for a teenage boy, and I faced a lot of difficulties.  I was nearly beat up on several occasions and I thwarted several attempts of people trying to steal my bike.  Eventually, I became a closet birder and it gradually took up less and less of my life.  At that time, there was little or no internet available and no real way to connect with other kids who shared my interests and I regret that this happened.  If there had been an organization like the NYS Young Birders Club, I’m sure it would have influenced where I went to college and what I studied.  As such I write to you now well versed in Greek and Roman Civilization and not Ornithology, but such is life.  Now, I am lucky in that I had a girlfriend, who later became my wife who helped to rekindle my love for birds and bird watching and that couple with the blooming of birding on the internet has allowed me to connect with people from the past and meet new people as well.  I’m very happy with the places in New York I’ve been and the people I’ve met, experiences to last a life time… But don’t worry, there is always that drive for just 1 more species to add to your life list, so I’m not quitting anytime soon.

Why this little trip down memory lane?  Because Hope  and her peers and hopefully others who come after them, will have the opportunity to excell in a profession I didn’t have.  So I encourage all of you to visit the NYS Young Birders Club  website and Hope’s Blog  and offer kind words of support.  Remember birding as a teenager goes against a lot of social standards in today’s society and failure to support our budding future ornithologists could add one more English Major or Classics Major of Art History Major to the unemployment line.

A Return to blogging and some video to share

Well its been busy the last couple of weeks and while things don’t seem to be slowing down much for me, there are just too many good birds out there right now NOT to blog!  So to help get you fired up about the Nightjar again, I’ve included some video of a Pine Siskin we took earlier this winter near Albany, New York.  I doubt Steven Spielberg is going to be giving me a call anytime soon, but I hope to get some really cool stuff out later.

Northern Hawk Owl: Peru, New York

* Note due to some technical difficulties (my pc card slot not working) I don’t have the video up.  I hope to have that fixed in the next couple of days.

Danika and I made the long 2.5 hour Drive from Albany to Peru New York in search of the previously reported Northern Hawk Owl.  Because I am thinking of doing a big year in New York this year, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss this not so easy to find bird.

Really it was a slow day of birding and we didn’t find much else, but our new GPS unit worked wonderfully and really we can’t complain too much about a day spent birding the Adirondacks.  The Hawk Owl did not dissapoint, even though it wasn’t a life bird or even a State bird (it was a county bird), they are still great birds to watch and observe.

Enjoy.

NHO 2

NHO 3

NHO 4

NHO 5

And a Female Bufflehead for something different.

Bufflehead 1

The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State

If you have not heard enough about this book or gotten a copy yet, you owe it to yourself to get it, even if you don’t live in New York State.

All of the New York’s 250 or so breeding birds are discussed in detail as well as  a detailed comparisons to the last Breeding Bird Atlas.

The artwork in the book in phenomenal, but at over 600 pages, this is not a pocket sized field guide.  Many of the original prints are currently on display in a small exhibit at the New York State Museum.

Also I will be more than willing to autograph any of your copies (my name appears on page XX, last name on the right hand column), free of charge.  I’ll even throw in a picture of myself at no extra charge, so you can try and figure out who I am.