A Big “NO!” to Governor Patterson’s Cuts

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the economy stinks right now.  But what Governor Patterson is asking could put thousands of people at risk of losing their services.  He is proposing a $65 Million Dollar cut to OMRDD, which could threaten the very services disabled persons in New York State rely upon to live.  These people are being targeted because they can’t vote, so Governor Patterson feels it is ok to take money from them, because they won’t hurt him at the polls.  Guess again Governor.

Personally this affects my youngest daughter, who’s school could possibly face closing or a shorter school week because of the cuts. When she started there, she did little, could not walk, could not hold a bottle.  Now after 2 years at the Center, not only has she learned to walk on her own, she has grown in every way and has accomplished more than we had hoped for.  This happend in large part to her going to the Center 5 days a week for a full day for intensive therapies with qualified staff.  Cuts to staff means a cut to therapies and the potential that the progress my daughter has made could be lost.  In addition the Center for Disability Services is one of the LARGEST employers in the Capital District, and they have already suffered massive cuts, no raises, no cost of living increases at a time when people could really use them.

Times are tough, but that is no excuse to pull the services of New York State’s most vulnerable Citizens!

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The Decline of the Karner Blue Butterfly

Once again I turn to the Albany, NY Times Union for another interesting article, this time about a Butterfly, the endangered Karner Blue.  This small blue butterfly, finds its home in isolated pine barrens, ranging from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Eastern New York and parts of New Hampshire and very local with in those areas.

According to the article, the Karner Blue butterfly has been extirpated from Schenectady County and in serious decline in Warren County.  It did mention that the Butterfly seems to be holding on, even making a bit of comeback in Saratoga County, but its last real strong hold in Eastern New York, the Albany Pine Bush, the Butterfly has declined drastically.  And experts are puzzled as to why.  Some are targeting the use of herbicides to deal with invasive species near the Pine Bush in the decline of wild Lupine, the Karner Blue’s main food source.  And while herbicides are not allowed inside the preserve proper, there are no rules governing their use on the large amount of private property that surrounds the preserve and in some cases in the preserve.

Others have pointed out a lack of snow cover, which leaves more eggs exposed to be eaten by hungry birds or just exposed to extreme cold.  Others have looked at a string of cold, wet springs which may impact the Karner Blue’s caterpillars.   The article quotes a DEC official by who said that sometimes Butterfly populations crash from unknown reasons.

So what can be done to save this species?  New York and other states are raising caterpillars at a facility in New Hampshire to be released  Currently it is estimated between 1,000 and 5,000 butterfly’s currently live in the Pine Bush in Albany.  It is estimated that 3,000 is needed to have a sustainable population, so there are either barely enough or not nearly enough.  Other conservation efforts such as controlled burns, to encourage Wild Lupine growth have been done and will continue to be done.  But a major difficulty is this is a small animal in a large area, making it very difficult at best to study and get an accurate population count.

The Full Article Can be found here:

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=848099

New York State DEC Web Page on the Karner Blue:

http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7118.html

Injured Hawk is Released

The Times Union newspaper in Albany, NY ran an article about a Red-tailed Hawk which was recently released back into the wild after being shot by a worker at the track.  The Hawk, was doing what it did best and was eyeing a cage full of Pigeons on the roof of the track grandstand.  The man, who was from Guatemala, used a rock and sling shot to shoot the hawk, breaking its wing.  The bird plummeted from the roof and the scene was witnessed by several bystanders who alerted authorities.  The bird remained missing for a while, before being found by another track employee and given to a rehabilitator.

DEC was able to track the man down, where he plead guilty and paid a $250 fine (pretty cheap if you ask me), but according to the article he had some immigration issues and since returned home.  The hawk however healed, and was happily released very near where it was shot.

The full article can be found here

  http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=848063

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!

Downtown Albany Snowy Owl Cause of Death

The one Snowy Owl in the Capital District it seems I haven’t seen this winter (and certainly won’t now), has died.  It apparantly died last Sunday or Monday and was found on the rooftop of a building in downtown Albany near the DEC building.

According to an article in the Albany, NY Times Union, DEC Wildlife pathologist Ward Stone reports:

“It had a lot of mouth lesions, which is caused by the trichomonas parasite,” Stone explained. “It was probably acquired from eating a pigeon with a pathogenic strain.”

Just goes to show how tough a life these birds have, to travel thousands of miles south of their homes in the Arctic only to eat a bad Pigeon.  I also believe the Pigeon was likely sick, thus easier for the Owl to catch (Being a young bird, it might not have been the best hunter).  While the Pigeon population of Albany may be healthier today, the world has one less beautiful Snowy Owl.

Rough-Legging it for a Snowy Owl

Well when the alarm went off at 7am, reality set in.  The Holiday’s were over.  Work beckoned.  School beckoned.  Today was the day our youngest Lillian started pre-school at the Center for the Disabled.  But we were in luck.  During the night we had a burst of freezing rain, which coated everything, the rain was done but all schools were delayed 2 hours.  I wasn’t feeling in a particular working mood, so I asked our older daughter Sophia if she wanted to skip school and go birding with me.  Normally she hates going birding, but today (maybe it was just to skip school) she said yes.

So off we went.

We first took a cruise around downtown Albany, where for the last 2 weeks a Snowy Owl has frequently been seen on the buildings downtown.  It was first spotted around Christmas on the roof of the New York State Capitol and no one really knew about it until an article appeared in the Schenectady Gazette.  A few days later it appeared on a window ledge of building down the street and a day later was on a church steeple, directly across from the headquarters of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (yeah a lot of work got done in that place that day).

Needless to say I’ve missed the owl by a few minutes each time.  Sophia and I pulled up in front of DEC and scanned the church.  Nothing.  We checked the other buildings nearby, but again found nothing.  Giving up we headed down to Coxsackie to do some more birding.

We first stopped at Henry Hudson Park in the Town of Bethlehem, but found the place very quiet with the exception of 3 Common Mergansers on the Hudson River.  We continued further south to Coeymans Landing, where I was able to give Sophia her first lesson in Gull ID.

Gulls at Coeymans

The one in the middle of course is a Herring Gull, while the two flanking it are Ring-billed Gulls.  Since they were looking for hand-outs, the birds remained cooperative while Sophia was able to ascertain the field marks necessary for identification.

Next we headed down to Coxsackie Boat Launch, where a good number of White-winged Gullshave been spotted.  Arriving, we found plenty of Gulls on the Ice about 75 yards from shore.  I started scanning, but found nothing obvious, mostly Ring-billed, Herring and Great-Black-Backed Gulls.  One another pass, I found an immature Gull, clearly larger than the Herring Gull standing in front of it, with a nice two colored bill, although this bird was pretty dark overall, I have no doubt it was an immature Glaucous Gull.  A few moments later a Red-tailed Hawk soared over and put all the Gulls up.  The immatureGlaucous Gull I spotted and watched fly away, showing no traces of black.  Also while we were there a small flock of Eastern Bluebirdsappeared out of nowhere, something I have experienced a couple of times at the Coxsackie Boat Launch.

From there we started riding around the Coxsackie Flats, finding many Red-tailed Hawks and the usual roadside sparrows (American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow), a few Northern Mockingbirds raised my hopes for a Shrike, but they were quickly dashed.  Finally on Flint Mine Road, I spotted way across the field, my first Rough-Legged Hawk of the day, a light morph.  Driving up the road a bit more, I found another light morph right next to road.  If I had better light, I would have gotten a better picture (this one is for you Nate of the Drinking Bird).

RLJan5

Just as I was about to take another picture, the hawk suddenly dashed down to the grass next to the car and clearly got something.  My camera furiously clicking to chronicle the kill, but I had it on auto focus, so the camera took some awesome, crisp images of a blade of grass between me and the hawk and left the bird fuzzy at best.  Here is my best shot.

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Just as I was getting my camera focused again, the bird took off and left me with a unique shot of the hawk.

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After that we headed over the Greene County IDA Grasslands, a spot well know for hawks and other birds.  When we arrived it was fairly quiet, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks were perched or hunting along the edges of the fields, a lone female Northern Harrier spent much of the time perched upon a fence post calling over and over.  I found this particularly cool, since prior to this moment I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Northern Harrier call before.  A few American Robins, Northern Mockingbirds and Blue Jays worked through the hedgerows.  Then my eyes started searching further out and I noticed something, can you see it?

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How about now?

cropped-snow

I put my scope on what I thought was a clump of snow, imagine my surprise when the clump of snow turned its head and looked at me!  Yes, we had found an immature Snowy Owl!  The second Snowy Owl I have seen at this location in my (and 3rd Snowy Owl overall this winter!).  What made it even better, was the fact that Sophia was able to get good long scope looks at with no pressure.  A truly awesome moment.

After the owl, we packed up and headed home after a very satisfying day of birding.