A (late) Red Phased Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owls are fairly common here in Eastern New York, they can be found in most lower elevation areas, especially away from the deeper forests (and Great Horned Owls!).  They are particularly at home in suburban yards and even venture into the City of Albany at times.  More often that not I find these birds in winter in empty Wood Duck boxes, which also double as nice roost box for an owl.  Whenever I see a Wood Duck box, I check them out to see if there is a “fluff” ball looking back at me.

Danika has been working part time at a farm/butcher shop in Alcove, southern Albany County.  This morning on her way home, see noticed a reddish pile of feathers in the road and pulled over to check it out.  She was sadden to find it to have been a red phased Eastern Screech Owl.  Most of the bird was largely intact and undamaged  but it appeared the bird had flown head on into a car, as its face was smashed beyond recognition.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity to check out these little guys close up, she took a few photos and then picked up the owl and placed it to rest in the woods, where it won’t get repeatedly run over by cars.



Late Summer at the Holt Preserve

This is from a walk I took a couple of weeks ago,  birding was very slow, but this is one of my favorite places to bird, not always because it has great birds (its a known Hooded and Worm-eating Warbler location), but that its just a neat spot.

A view towards Albany from the Upper Holt Preserve, Coeymans, New York. September 2012 – by William Raup.


The Pond at the Holt Preserve, September 2012, Coeymans, Albany County, NY by William Raup


A wooded scene at the Holt Preserve. Hooded Warbler territory! by William Raup

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!

Something Fishy is Going On…

Its been a mild and snowless winter to say the least, thus far.  As a result of mother nature and the anti-American Crow roost efforts by the City of Albany, I don’t have the thousands upon thousands of American Crows in my back yard.  Sure hundreds, if not thousands still fly over the house at dusk, likely to a roost site along the Hudson River near Troy.  But the lack of these big bullies, have given their smaller cousin a chance to shine.

Each day about 8-12 Fish Crows take up residence in my backyard.  They visit my poor excuse of a feeder, torment my dog and keep me informed of any local Red-tailed Hawks.  The American Crows arrive shortly after dawn and set up camp a couple of yards down in my neighbors fen.  There they bathe, drink and frolic as only Crows can do.  Then there is this invisible line, a buffer zone, before my yard and my nasaled Fish friends.  But it is an uneasy peace.

At times the bigger, bolder American Crows will cross the border, sending the Fish Crows into noisily into full retreat, there they wait until whatever had forced the American Crows into the yard to go away and slowly the Fish Crows return.

Fish Crow was a relative new bird to Albany when I moved into the City, over 10 years ago.  Fish Crows have nested in my neighborhood (ironically away from water) nearly every year I have lived here, but only in the last few have they become part of the winter bird scene.  However, my yard is not the epicenter.  For that you must head over to Westgate Plaza in West Albany, where in the parking lots of the supermarkets you may find 20 or more Fish Crows, equally fighting for garbage among the Starlings, House Sparrows, Ring-billed Gulls and American Crows.

Watching the behaviors of any corvids is fascinating, but I find myself simply amazed by the actions of Fish Crows, as they have learned to co-exist with their cousins and as their population has grown, they have slowly, but steadily carved a niche for themselves amongst the city birds.

Perhaps I should write to the American Birding Association and suggest the Fish Crow as the bird of the Year?

As the Fish Crows would say…


Boreal Chickadee

This week I have spent countless hours, in heavy snow, sleet, rain, wind and sun chasing a Pacific Loon on the Tomhannock Reservoir in nearby Rensselaer County.  Needless to say, I haven’t found it yet and I seem to be the only one.

Finally I was sick of seeing about every other kind of waterfowl, but this dang Loon.  So Danika and I decided to mix it up a bit and we planned a trip on Veterans Day to Partridge Run WMA in Southwest Albany County, to search for winter finches.

Our day did not get off to a good start, I manged to sleep till 10am for some reason and we just never seemed to be able to get moving and out of the house.  We finally did around 1 pm, after getting nutritious happy meals for the kids, we headed up into the hills and woods where we arrived around 2pm.  We had very low expectations and in fact were already talking about dinner plans.  But we pressed on.

Our first couple of stops got us silence, which isn’t unusual this time of year up there.  We figured we would take a quick ride through and be done.  We went several more stops and heard nothing or the occasional chickadee.  Finally at one stop we heard a flock of Chickadees and we got out to see if anything was with them…

…Turns out there wasn’t, but as we were working the flocks were heard the distinctive “jip-jip-jip” call of Red Crossbill and Danika got quick binocular views of two solid red birds flying away.  At least our trip wasn’t a waste as those were our first Red Crossbills of the year.  Encouraged, we got back into the car, rolled down the windows and began slowly driving along listening for more Crossbills as well as Evening Grosbeak which we have frequently had at a feeder up the road. 

As we passed a little beaver pond, next to a dense stand of evergreens, I heard the distinctive nasally “sick-a-jay-jay” call of a Boreal Chickadee.  I have seen and heard this species plenty of time in the Adirondacks, but I also knew of a couple of other reports from near Boston and Coney Island in New York City.  Within seconds I could see a little brown bird popping up from a weedy area next to the road, focusing my binoculars on the bird confirmed the bird, the brown cap, tight black bib, small white cheek, gray breast with extensive rusty flanking, plain gray/brown back.  Danika grabbed the camera and went about trying to get a shot of this little guy, who vocalized several more times, but was oddly alone.  No Black-Capped Chickadees were initially with us.  As we tried to “spish” the Boreal up for a picture (Boreals don’t seem to respond as well to spishing) we attracted a flock of Black-Capped Chickadees and a surprising number of drumming Ruffed Grouse.  Once the Black-Caps got there, the Boreal vanished into the woods.

We spent the rest of the daylight hours working every Chickadee flock we came across but they were all Black-capped Chickadees.  No other finches were found either.  To think if we had left when we planned, chances are we never would have heard the bird and if we hadn’t stopped and got those Crossbills, we likely wouldn’t have had the windows down (it was cold!).  Just goes to show how lucky you have to be sometimes, but that’s what makes birding great!

Boreal Chickadee, Partridge Run WMA - Albany County, NY

Boreal Chickadee, Partridge Run WMA - Albany County, NY