Mississippi Kites – Update #2

On Friday July 3, I once again traveled to the town of Root in Montgomery County, New York to try and get a more satisfying look at the Mississippi Kites in the area.  Unlike the last time I was there, there were many other birders there and I’m happy to report that thus far, everyone has been on their best behavior!

Among the many birders there were Rich Guthrie, Andy Guthrie, Corey Finger, Tom Burke, Shai Mitra, Andy Baldelli, Pat Lindsay, Alison Van Keuren, Sue Adair, John Hershey, Kevin McGowan and I’m sure others whom our paths did not directly cross.

I arrived around 9:30 and joined the mob on Mapletown Road as one bird foraged over the tree tops to the west of the road, when a good portion of the mob went down to Donato Road to try and get better looks, I went a bit further west on Lattimer Hill Road and waited and watched, but saw nothing, save a high flying Bald Eagle, Great-Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed Hawk and common field edge birds, including one persistantly singing Savannah Sparrow, which kept me company most of the time there.

Soon however my phone was ringing with reports of good looks at the bird.  Now I normally don’t like standing around in crowds waiting for a bird to appear, but after about 1pm or so I headed down to Donato Road, where I waitied with Shai Mitra and his crew, Alison Van Kueren and Sue Adair and Kevin McGowan and his nephew.

Around 2:30 or so, a Thunderstorm passed over chasing us from the watch.  One group thought it a fine time to go get Ice Cream, but a majority of us waited for the rain to pass  We were joined by a couple from the Syracuse area and as soon as the rain stopped, we got out of the cars and began searching the fields again.  About 3:45, I happened to catch sight of a bird flying low across one of the fields.  I got it into my binoculars, white head… I had the bird!  “Here we go!” I shouted over to the group standing down the road from me, as the bird then quickly flew over our heads before heading into the woods where both birds have been frequently seen.  Kevin McGowan was called in and joined in the vigil.  About 10 minutes later, I spotted the bird again above the tree tops, the bird proceeded to fly into the field in front of us and sort of float around, allowing everyone to get excellent long looks that was a state bird for most of us and life bird for some!

Even after I left a 4pm, I recieved word that the bird was seen frequently that evening and was seen well on July 4th and 5th as well.  As for any more nesting proof, I’ll save that for another post…

Mississippi Kites in New York State – Update

Hi folks, just a quick update on the Mississippi Kites in the Town of Root, Montgomery County, New York.

This appear to be the 1st Mississippi Kite record for NYS Kingbird Region 8.  There are 3 American Swallow-Tailed Kite records (1 Albany County, 1 Greene County (yours truly) and apparently one from the 1880’s (which implied nesting!)  in Rensselaer County. (Information courtesy of Rich Guthrie)

The birds were seen by several observers the next day on the 29th, although no one commented on getting ‘great’ or even ‘good’ views.  They remain difficult to see and it may take many hours of siting in one spot to get a 15 second view of the bird(s) flying over.  A very frustrating twitch to be sure.

On the 30th only a couple of reports of a positive sightings came in, with several others striking out.  Severe Thunderstorms and flooding (heavy rain at least) might have limited the birds movements on this day.

As of this writing, there have been no sightings as on July 1.

I’m sure some of you in other parts of the country are saying to yourselves, “Whats the big deal?”  Interesting according to Bull Birds of NYS (Levine:1998), Mississippi Kite was only 1st recorded in the New York on Staten Island in 1979!  In a 30 year period, this species went from 1st record to possible breeding!  Perhaps these birds are simply following the long list of “southern” species that have steadily moved north, such as Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren and more recently Black Vulture.

I plan to be back in the area later this week, and should have some images (of something) to share then!

Mississippi Kite Nesting in New York State?

Well it’s certainly possible!

On June 1st, a report was made on the OS Birds List-serv (Otsego-Schoharie Counties in NYS) about a Mississippi Kite being seen in the Town of Root, Montgomery County, New York (The Town of Root, you may recall had a Northern Hawk Owl a few years ago).

Now I will freely admit I was skeptical of this report.  The next day, the same people posted they saw the bird again and this time took some photos and posted them on the OS Bird yahoo site (must be a member to view), I viewed the photos and sure enough, it was clearly an adult Mississippi Kite!

At this point, word began to spread more and there was at least some attempt to relocate the bird, without any success.  Not even the original spotters saw the bird.

Fast foward nearly 4 weeks and on June 27, the same people who first spotted the bird reported the bird once again in the same tree the 1st spotted it in.  After this report, Danika and I had no plans for Sunday and decided to go check it out, turns out we were not alone.

Montgomery County is still very much agricultural, located in the Mohawk Valley, the landscape is a lot of rolling hills, wide open vistas and lots of farms.  This county is one of the most reliable spots in NYS Region 8 for both Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow.

Since raptors don’t get up at the break of dawn, we saw no need to either and slowly made our way to the location, birding of course along the way.  Late June of course is the middle of the breeding season and we found nothing unexpected that occurs in hedgerows and field edges.  Stuff like Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting, Common Yellowthroat, American Goldfinch, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Kingbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Bobolink, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Yellow Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Northern Flicker, 55 Species in all for the day.

We arrived in the area, armed with nothing more than the name of the road the kite was seen on.  We drove down Mapletown Road, scanning every tree, sky, field for anything flying.  As we drove along we saw another birdwatcher pulled over to the side of the road.  Were we not alone?  Pushing further ahead, coming to the top of a hill, who should we find by the side of the road but the esteemed Rich Guthrie!  He filled us in with some additional details, and we continued on our way.

About 1pm, Danika spotted a hawk taking off in the distance near where the bird has been seen.  It is small in size (at least compared to the nearby Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture), Crow sized, pointed wings, spread tail and no color visible.  Now we were quite a distance away, but even the distant Red-tailed Hawk, we could clearly see a red tail!  Danika managed to get it into our poor excuse for a scope, which didn’t help much other than we could clearly see extensive white on the top part of the bird secondaries.  Consulting Sibleys (something I loath to do) this fit perfectly for Mississippi Kite.  Of course we still had our doubts, we were about 85-90% sure of the sighting, but wanted a better look.

We headed up the road, where we found Rich again, this time joined by Kevin McGann.  We informed them of what we saw (I think giving them more hope) and continued circling around the area.  Lucky for Danika, on one of our tours, we managed to get some Eastern Meadowlarks singing, giving her yet another year bird.

We had stopped to try and turn a Savannah Sparrow into a Grasshopper Sparrow (we didn’t) when the phone rang.  Rich and Kevin had seen not one, but TWO Mississippi Kites!  Little did we know we were very close to where they were.  We rushed up the road, but the birds had moved on.  We spent the next hour chit-chatting and theorizing about 2 Mississippi Kites being seen in the same spot in New York in late June, and obviously birds that had been around for at least the last couple of weeks.  I had just turned around, when I saw a bird gliding along the hilltop behind us.  Everyone was able to get on the bird and it was clearly a Mississippi Kite! A new life bird and state bird (and county bird too!)  With everyone satisfied, we split up again, Danika and I went to try for Grasshopper Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper in nearby Ames, Montgomery County (We got the Grasshopper Sparrow, but not the Pipers, although they were mowing the field I’ve normally seen them in).  Before we finally headed home.

Now there will be some debate (and an obvious search) to see if this will be a confirmed nesting or simply a pair on territory.  But given the fact that a pair of Mississippi Kites nested in New Hampshire last year, anything is possible.  I’ll obviously have more on the subject as we learn more.

2007 Birding Year in Review

For anyone who cares, I finished 2007 with 251 species in New York State, throw in a few species I picked up while on vacation in Disney World in Florida and that number only goes up to 255.  Certainly this is well short of Corey’s big year of 316 or Rich Guthrie  at 317, but I’m not retired nor do I have a girlfriend in law school who happens to live only a short drive from Jamaica Bay.  I also have 2 young kids, which as Mike at 10,000 Birds understands is a challenge to give enough time, effort and energy to both loves.

There were of course a lot of great moments, I’ll have to admit I spent a lot of with Corey of 10,000 Birds.  In February we had two great trips one was north to Oregon Plains Road where we might have had the best success of anyone, with stunning looks at Red and White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch and a nice and very cooperative group of Gray Jays.  Another trek that same month was on Presidents day to Jones Beach to seek a bird, which I shall not name here.  It was cold, cold and cold.  It was also the first time I got to meet Mike from 10,000 Birds  (noticing a theme here).

There was also the Short-Eared Owl spectacular in Ft. Edward, which I saw with both Corey and my Wife.  By late March, Corey and I were standing in a snow covered field listening for American Woodcock, which did not sound but we found many tracks in the snow.  We also got to hear hooting Great-Horned Owls, a new property bird for that location.

March was also a fabled trip to Lake Champlain to look for Tufted Duck and the first time I met Jory.  We saw nearly every kind of duck that day including Barrow’s Goldeneye and Eurasian Wigeon, but no Tufted Duck.

April the great excitement builds for migration and we made lots of little local trips.

In May I headed down the NYC over mothers day to participate in the New York City Audubon Birding Challenge, where once again the team from Staten Island that I was one narrowly edged out the team from Brooklyn for the victory.  A week later I joined Corey, Chad Witko and my wife to do the HMBC Century Run, where despite miserable conditions we finished with over 120 species in 24 hours.

In June, 4 bird bloggers (Corey and Mike from 10,000 Birds, Patrick from The Hawk Owls Nest and myself) traveled over hill and dale in search of field birds such as Henlow’s Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper and the next day climbing a mountain in the dark to listen to the surreal song of the Bicknell’s Thrush (and we also got Mike his life Ruffed Grouse).

July had yet another trip up north with Tom W., Jory and Corey to search for Spruce Grouse, in one of the most remote and dramatic places I had ever visited in the Adirondacks, the trip was a bust on our target species, but no trip to the Adirondacks is ever a bust.

August is time for shorebirdsand other than a quick trip to Montezuma NWR in Central New York to get Sandhill Cranes (and missing a Whimbrelbecause we were lazy), we spent a lot of time at the Cohoes Flats and Peebles Island.  Corey had his mystery shorebird, that even David Sibley commented on, but a lot of the sightings would not have been possible without Zach B., who spent a lot of time looking through every shorebird in Cohoes, and eventually would turn up a pair of American Golden Plovers a rather uncommon bird in these parts.  I also was one of two people to snag a briefly stopping Buff-breasted Sandpiper in Albany County (Thanks Rich and Corey!)

September Corey and I did the first ever fall Century Run with the Hudson-Mohawk Bird Club.  We were one of only two groups that participated (it was labor day weekend) but we ended with around 90 species.

October Corey went to Germany and I hung around the house.  November rolled in with winter finches and waxwings and it wasn’t long before Common Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Northern Shrike and Bohemian Waxwingwere all added to my year list.  A late trip to Noblewood on the shores of Lake Champlain also got us a late Dunlin and a Little Gull (Hey Corey, we saw a Little Gull!)

December was spent doing Christmas counts, in Saratoga, Albany, Rensselaer and Columbia Counties and while I only added one new species (Snow Goose which I had somehow managed to miss up till then), but there is nothing I like better than spending the day counting birds.

What’s in store for 2008?  Well who knows, as of this writing I’m 10 days in to the year and haven’t gone birding once.  Too tired, a little stressed and generally distracted.  I will however I have the opportunity to be on the Gulf coast the first week in April, so hopefully I’ll get something good out of that!

Eight Random Things Meme

I hate these silly chain letters, but what the heck.

  • Players write a post with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • At the end of that post, they “tag” eight bloggers to write similar posts, including the rules.
  • The players then leave a comment to tell the “tag-gees” about the meme.

Okay here we go:

 1)  I have a deformed left ear and have been deaf in that ear since birth.  In fact there is no Ear Canal.  So, can some explain Surround sound to me? 

2)  The first bird I ever identified was a Great Blue Heron at the age 18 months.  Don’t believe me?  I have the newspaper article to prove it.

3)  I have lived in New York State my entire life and have been a Red Sox fan, even longer.

4)  My wife’s maiden name Kapusta, which means Cabbage in Slovak.

5)  Part of my family avoided suspicion during World War I by pretending to be Swiss (they were from Barvaria in Germany).

6)  I have written, designed and displayed a full Museum exhibit for the Irish American Heritage Museum.

7)  I read the entire ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy in the 6th grade.

8)  I have a degree in Greek and Roman Civilization with a specialty of Classical Archaeology, but I have never been on an Archaeological dig.

Since just about everyone I know tagged me, the only person I have left to tag is Josh at Armchair Everything.

Blog Updates 6/17/07

Happy Father’s Day!

It’s a slow day here at the Irish American Heritage Museum, so I’ve taken the time to take care of some odds and ends with the blog.  The biggest changes are to your right in the links and blog roll sections where I added many new links to blogs and other sites.  If you have a site you would like to see linked here let me know!  Hoaryredpoll AT Hotmail dot com.  Please be sure to check out these sites and comment where you can.  People love to see how people got to their sites and where people are viewing the sites from.  As always I’m open to comments and suggestions as to how to improve the blog.

Be safe, do good deeds and have a great weekend!

The Curse of Eugene P. Bicknell Part I

It was hot, very hot.  The kind of summer hot that just drains your body.  I was sitting in air conditioning in my office when the phone rang.

“Thanks for calling the Irish-American Heritage Museum, how can I help you?”

“Hey Will, it’s Corey.  I’m here a little early and I’m out front.”

“Okay, I’ll be right out.”

It was nearly 4pm on Friday and I had no work that required further attention.  I gathered my stuff up and headed out into the blistering heat.  From there we made it to Corey’s penthouse suite where we sat in his kitchen sipping bottles of union water looking out over the industrial waste yards of Albany.

We were waiting for the other half of our merry troupe to arrive.  Patrick from the wastelands of suburban New Jersey and Mike from the 9th level of Hell, the Bronx.  We knew that they were coming already, so we didn’t have to wait long.  After a brief greeting and some introductions, we piled like clowns into Corey’s car and drove like mad men over hill and dale to Schoharie County in search of hard to get field birds.

In about an hour we found ourselves along the side of Goodrich Road in Schoharie County.  Within moments of stepping out of the car, we heard our first target species ‘singing’.  “Tlisk”…”Tlisk”  We were all happy just to hear the song of a Henslow’s Sparrow, but being the greedy people we are, we wanted to see the bird.  Becuase it was singing so loud, we knew it was close and it was Corey who first found the bird in a nearby shrub, most of us struggled to find it, but found it.  It flew back further into the field and landed ontop of a bush and continued to sing.  Patrick pulled out his scope and we all got great looks at this secretive field species.  It was a lifer for Patrick.  In less than 15 minutes we already had one of our target species.  A quick walk along the road, yielded nothing surprising.  We once again got into the car and headed for the nearby town of Ames in Montgomery County.

A brief stop on Kiltz Road in Sharon Springs did not yield the normal Grasshopper Sparrow, but we knew we had other opportunities to find them as well.  After a few more brief stops (including watching baby Killdeer), and again striking out on Grasshopper Sparrow in a few other spots (but getting Savannah) we arrived at the farm where Corey and I have both seen Upland Sandpiper before.  As we drove along the road, an Upland Sandpiper flew up from the road and flew around for a while.  A life bird for Mike, he was happy enough to just get good binoc views as it flew around.  We tried several more stops for Grasshopper Sparrow and again missed.  We circled back past the farm and this time we all got great looks (and I think Mike got some lousy pictures) of an Upland Sandpiper walking around someone’s backyard.  We next headed to an area in which Sedge Wren has nested and met a landowner, who reported that there were some way off the road with no access.  He did sound hopeful that they would at some point during the summer move closer to the road.  One last stop on Kiltz Road yielded a distant singing Grasshopper Sparrow which Corey and Mike were able to get distant, brief and lousy looks.

We also got a Vesper Sparrow nearby, so our Sparrow list was already impressive for two hours of birding!  But we had other birds to get.  Mike had never seen a Virginia Rail, so off to Black Creek Marsh in Albany County.

We arrived at dusk and headed out into the marsh.  Swamp Sparrow sang, giving us yet another Sparrow for the day.  It was long before we heard the distinctive chatter of Marsh Wren, which would follow us the rest of the time.  But the marsh was quiet, many of the speices are busy nesting and no longer calling.  But a few Virginia Rails were still grunting, but none showed themselves (We didn’t use tapes).  Mike was happy he got to hear them, but he is from the school of ‘bird watcher, not bird listener’, so I don’t know if he will count it.  Hopes at American and Least Bittern were crushed and we returned to the car, knowing we had a very succesful evening.  We loaded up on supplies and they dropped me off at home, where I proceeded to get a hair cut.  The rest went back to Corey’s where they dined on fine liquor and expensive bread and cheese.  We would start again on phase II of our plans at 2am the next morning.