Saturday, October 31, 2009


Last week, I had plans to go to Dead Creek in Addison to see the Snow Geese. It is a pilgrimage I try to make once a year during the fall. Thousands of Snow Geese stop at the wildlife management area during their journey south. The flight of these geese can be breath taking. Plus, you never know when a Ross’ Goose might be among the mix, and that would give me another rare goose to write about.

But ... deep into the evening before, I received an alert that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher had been sighted in Orange, Massachusetts, an hour south of my home, but in the opposite direction from Dead Creek. I faced a dilemma. Do I go chasing after a bird I have never seen, but have a good prospect of seeing on a trip to Texas in November? Or do I go north to see abundant numbers of migrating geese that I see every year? I opted for the tick on the life list - a bird in the hand, as they say .... In the morning, I headed toward the airport in Orange.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a common breeding bird on the southern Great Plains. It is the state bird of Oklahoma. From its breeding grounds, it heads to the open areas in the tropics. Except, sometimes it gets lost. Then it may show up just about anywhere in North America. There was one in Arlington, Vermont, in May, one on Cape Cod in September, and now one in Orange.

A bird which shows up far out of its normal range, or far off its normal course of migration, is called a vagrant. My dictionary defines a vagrant as one who strolls from place to place, an idle wanderer ... a nomad with no home ... someone, or thing, with no fixed course, direction, or aim. The dictionary definition does not quite fit “vagrant” when applied to a bird. The vagrant bird is not an idle wanderer. It is lost. Terribly, and very likely, dangerously off course.

When I arrived at the tiny airport in Orange at 8:30, there were already half a dozen bird chasers there, along with a newspaper reporter from Worcester, Massachusetts. Within fifteen minutes, the bird returned to a favorite perch on a wire, and for the next hour, I followed it along the edges of the airport as it did its flycatching thing - perching on a fence, wire, or post, then sortieing forth to capture flying insects. Birders came and went.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a tyrant flycatcher, closely related to our familiar Eastern Kingbird. It is about the same size as the Eastern Kingbird, though slimmer. It is typically described as elegant, or handsome. When perched, it almost looks like our familiar mockingbird. A young birder I was with briefly wondered if there were two Scissor-tails along the fence wire; one was a mockingbird.

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Scissor-tail is its tail. The tail is long - disproportionately long - up to twice as long as the body. Apparently, the long tail enables the Scissor-tail to perform aerial, flycatching acrobatics. One of Bent’s contributors to his “Life History” described the flight: “One of his favorite performances is to fly up and, with rattling wings, execute an aerial seesaw, a line of sharp angled VVVVVVs, helping himself at the short turns by rapidly opening and shutting his long white scissors.”

Like other tyrant flycatchers, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on its breeding grounds is a tyrant toward intruders, brooking no idle nonsense from other birds, even those many times bigger than itself. Again, Bent’s contributor: “Another day we saw a scissor-tail in pursuit of an innocent caracara who was accidentally passing through the neighborhood. The slow ungainly caracara was no match for the swift-winged flycatcher [which dashed] down upon him and actually rode the hawk till they were out of sight.” The Northern Caracara weighs about 2.2 pounds and has a 49 inch wing span. The Scissor-tail weighs about 1.5 ounces and has a wingspan of 15 inches. I have to admire a bird with the moxie to take on something so much bigger than itself.

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Orange was a juvenile. It was found on a Wednesday, three days after the New England Patriots played their football game in a nor’easter snow storm. It seems a reasonable conclusion that this northeast moving weather system also brought, or pushed ahead of it, the flycatcher. Though the weather was relatively balmy for late October when I saw the bird on Thursday, it was much cooler than the Scissor-tail would normally be accustomed to. It seemed to be having no difficulty in feeding, but one has to wonder, for how long.

Many birders love “accidentals” and “vagrants,” and enthusiastically chase after them. The British term for such birding is “twitch,” a term which far more accurately describes the physical effect which the chase produces in birders. I admit that I have done my share of chasing in New England. When I reviewed my life list, I found at least ten birds that I have seen in the Northeast which simply do not belong here. They were far from their normal range; one might even say that they were woefully lost.

For me, there is a bitter-sweet quality about seeing these accidentals and vagrants. For the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, I have to use the words, “poor bird” - a human emotion that feels sorry for a bird that is valiantly trying to survive, but probably will not. It is so far from where it should be, that it is unlikely it will find its way back. The Scissor-tail was seen on Wednesday and Thursday, and then the reports ended. Did it move to another open field, one with no birders to report its presence? Did it succumb to cold nights and heavy rain? Did a predator get it? Or did it head toward home in the tropics? There is no way of knowing, but the last seems to me the most unlikely.

So I saw the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that does not belong in New England, and at the bird’s expense, added a new tick to my life list. Then when the weekend rains cleared out, I went to Dead Creek to see the Snow Geese. Though they were roosting at a distance, whenever a passing winged predator put them up, they filled the horizon with a blizzard of swirling white.

On nearby Lake Champlain, there was a raft of ducks that included all three scoters. There were Common Loons, Horned Grebes, and a scattering of other waterfowl. Red-necked Grebes had not yet molted to their gray and white winter plumage; they still sported their breeding plumage red neck.

For late October, these were a couple of days of good birding.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Snow Geese at Dead Creek, Snow Bunting on Putney Mtn

Last Sunday, we made the annual pilgrimage to Dead Creek WMA for the Snow Geese, meeting other friends from Brattleboro, and as always in a small state like Vermont, meeting other birders we know from around the state - in this case, Ted Murin (co-author of Birdwatching in Vermont) who was scouring Lake Champlain with his celestial scope in search of migrating sea ducks and pelagics.

At the WMA, the geese were feeding far from the viewing area, but occasionally a few came over at a relatively low altitude.

Then something would spook the geese, (a passing Peregrine, harrier or eagle perhaps) and two or three thousand birds suddenly took flight, darkening the horizon with their numbers.

Pipits and several species of sparrows worked the grasses along with a few Pectoral Sandpipers . We were surprised at how few raptors we saw - a single perched Peregrine, and this young Northern Harrier ...

Good company, and a glorious late October day, augmented the birding ...

Coser to home, Tuesday was my day on Putney Mountain - dismal gray day with no hawks flying. But when I arrived at the viewing area, this Snow Bunting was there to greet me. Seems early for these true snow birds, but it is a reminder of what is soon to come ...

And a technology note: I have been losing confidence in my computer, either because Microsoft kept "updating" Vista, or because the equipment was getting worn. So I spent a chunk of this week shopping, buying, and setting up a whole new system. It went well - at least as well as can be expected when using a Microsoft OS (Windows 7) - not seamless, by any means (after all, I am talking Microsoft!) - but okay. I say this, knowing full well that MAC users are nodding in smugness. What can I say? And BTW, the new monitor greatly improves the quality of photographs - when I look at your photographs, they are greatly improved, while my photographs really rock!!

This also means, that my usual post of the weekly column may be slightly delayed from its usual Saturday at 6AM. But soon.

Good birding!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autumnal Gold

The rusty red oak leaves, and the yellow beech leaves, filter the sunlight and illuminate the woodlands with brilliance during these waning days of autumn. So good! - to be able to take a quiet walk in the woods ...

... and chat briefly with friends ...

... just because ...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two More Geese

Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Canada Geese may seen during the cold season in the Brattleboro Retreat waters and along the length of the Connecticut River. Wherever there is open water and fallow farm fields, they may congregate in huge numbers. Canada Geese are an adaptable, and therefore, very successful species.

Occasionally there may be other geese mixed among the abundant Canada Geese, or lingering nearby. In recent weeks I have written about the Cackling Goose, a diminutive look-alike that is easily overlooked ... and the Barnacle Goose, that winters in northern European, but occasionally strays into North America from eastern Greenland.

Another goose that shows up among the abundant Canada Geese is the Greater White-fronted Goose. In many parts of North America, there is nothing unusual about the presence of this goose. Greater White-fronted Geese are common during the winter in California and along the Gulf Coast of Texas. These birds breed in Alaska and the western portions of the Canadian tundra and taiga. They follow the Pacific coast or Mississippi flyway to and from their wintering grounds.

Along the Atlantic coast, the Greater White-fronted Goose is rare, and its presence is always noted by birders looking for an oddity among the Canada Geese. All reports that I know of, at least recently, distinguish these sightings as the Greenland subspecies.

Parenthetically, as the field skills of the A Class birders has grown, they continue to refine and improve. Not content just to identify species, they routinely name sub-species and often discuss, argue and dispute about sub-species differences, characteristics, and intergrades.

I saw my first Greater white-fronted Goose in an old corn field in Concord, Massachusetts. That same winter, I did not go to Arlington, Vermont, for the one that was reported there. Wintering Greater White-fronts are seen rarely, but regularly, in Barton’s Cove in Turner’s Fall, and along the Connecticut River. Last year a Greater White-fronted Goose was found in late March resting on the ice at the waterfowl roost just north of the Vernon Dam in Hinsdale. It was among the two thousand roosting Canada Geese. I am unaware of one being reported in the Retreat waters, but pay attention.

The Greater White-fronted Goose is much smaller than a Canada Goose. It is slender and has a slaty appearance. Bright orange legs are notable, as is the long orange bill of the Greenland subspecies. (The bill is pinkish on the western birds.) A caution: “Beware confusion with the superficially similar domestic Graylag Goose.” (Sibley) The Graylag (or barnyard) Goose is larger and bulkier.

The “white-front” refers to the white-rim at the base of the bill on the front of the face. The “greater” separates it from the “lesser,” a similar European species that does not stray to North America (as far as I know).

The last couple of years, there have also been sightings of the Pink-footed Goose. The documented presence of this species is so recent that only one of my field guides (National Geographic) even includes it. I am going to forego further comment on this goose.

The last of the dark geese that could show up in our waters is the Brant. Seventy-five years ago, Forbush was concerned for the Brant. “Formerly its great flocks were seen both fall and spring in every land-locked bay and harbor where eel-grass grew upon tide-washed flats, but as settlement increased and civilization extended all along the coast, the Brant, unprotected, constantly persecuted in migration and decreasing in numbers, withdrew, until at last it frequented only a few isolated points and islands ....” The Brant has recovered, and now winters in flocks along the mid-Atlantic coast, often in numbers that can be considered abundant.

The Brant is primarily a coastal bird. Audubon considered it “a salt-water bird, for it never ascends our rivers beyond the influence of the tides, nor is found on inland lakes or ponds ....” Audubon was right about the Brant being a salt-water bird, but wrong about its presence inland. It does occasionally pause on fresh water, including the Retreat Meadows. Some flocks migrate along the Lake Champlain and Hudson River Valleys. Along their flight south, they may make a right turn, and come through southeastern Vermont. Last year on Putney Mountain, the hawk watchers saw a flock of fifty Brant pass over the ridge. If the geese need a resting place along the way, they may drop down to the waters of the Retreat Meadows.

The Brant is a small, handsome goose that bears a superficial resemblance to the Canada Goose. It is darker than the Canada and has a completely black head (no white cheek patch). On its black neck it wears a white necklace. Sometimes the necklace is so dainty that it looks like a string of pearls.

Forbush knew the Brant as “among the wariest of wild-fowl,” and Audubon called it “a shy bird, not easily approached.” The wariness was likely a response to its popularity as a game bird and the toll that hunting took on its numbers. Again, Audubon: “The flesh of this bird I consider as excellent food. The young in autumn, or about the time of their first appearance on our eastern coast, Massachusetts for example, are tender, juicy, and fat; and are well known to the epicures of Boston ....”

With the end of market hunting and protection as a migratory species, the Brant population has rebounded, and apparently has been able safely to alter its behavior. Now it is known as a tame species that “often allows very close approach and usually chooses to swim (or walk) if pressed.” (Dunn)

The abundant flocks of Canada Geese can yield a variety of rare and unusual geese. Bird watchers who slide quickly over those flocks can miss good sightings, and imperil the addition of new check marks on their life lists. Normal people who pick through those flocks may have an “Oh, wow, that’s different!” experience that ratchets up their enjoyment of those commonplace geese.

Good birding.

Note: The first photo is the Hinsdale waterfowl roost, March, 2009. There is a single Greater White-fronted Goose in the center of the photo - look for a white stripe along the side. Now stand on a snow-covered bluff, exposed to the wind, on an early Spring afternoon, and use your scope to search through the hundreds of geese looking for one that is different. Even when one of the ten birders found the goose, it took time to follow his directions to the roosting White-fronted.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

For folks in New England, this is now old news. Yesterday, a juvenile Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was located at the Orange Municipal Airport, Orange, MA.

In all likelihood, the poor bird was blown north on the past weekend's Nor'easter. For the moment, it is feeding actively and putting on a good flycatching show for the many chasers who have converged on the tiny airport.

The Mass Bird List Serve ( ) has many additional links to photos. Fortunately, we are in the age of digital, so the hundreds, or even thousands, of photos which the bird is generating are not also contributing to excessive chemical waste from film processing. Here are my Scissor-tailed contributions:

For the bird's sake, let's hope it finds some way to head back south soon. New England is not far removed from weather ill-suited to a bird which winters in the tropics.

Good birding!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

American Robin

In the woodlands, the loose, nomadic wintering flocks of resident birds are beginning to gather - chickadees, nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers.

Many Hermit Thrushes are also moving through the woods, but these did not provide any photo opportunities.

Migrating robins are increasingly common. Several were feeding on buckthorn berries in one patch- such as this one which insisted on staying half hidden ...

Then it popped onto a branch and perched/posed very cooperatively ...

Good birding!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hawk Watching

Saturday provided a perfect sky for watching hawks, but the birds were high and few. Still, a few hours on Putney Mountain trumps most other fall activities, such as getting the house and yard ready for winter.

Red-tailed Hawks are moving south, as are the Turvey Vultures, a sure sign that winter is approaching. This is not a crisp photo of the Red-tailed Hawks, but it shows all of the marks of the Eastern Red-tail - the belly band, dark head, dark wing tips, and of course the red-tail.

When the oak leaves turn to rusty red, fall is on the wane, and winter is not far off.

Good birding!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rare Geese

Hundreds of Canada Geese often hang out in the Connecticut River, in the waters of the Retreat Meadows and the West River, and in the nearby pasture and cornfield. They did so through most of September, then disappeared. Now they are coming back.

Once in a while among those hundreds of Canada Geese which hang out in the Brattleboro waters, there will be a different goose. Last April there was one.

In mid-April the paired Canada Geese were beginning to nest, while the bachelor and bachelorette geese meandered around the waters and pasture. Among the unpaired geese was a Bar-Headed Goose. Smaller than the Canada Geese, the predominantly light gray Bar-headed Goose stood out among the flock. About two-thirds the size of the familiar geese, it was also stouter. The back of its neck was dark brown, the beak yellow, and the head white. The head was also marked with prominent black bars, hence its name.

Geese do not often get called beautiful. That is not fair, but by our species-centric aesthetic standards, geese just don’t measure up. Not so the Bar-headed Goose. It was a beautiful bird.

Most of the local birding community came around for a look, and some birders passing near Brattleboro stopped for a gander. But generally the response was rather muted, and that requires an explanation.

The Bar-headed Goose is native to Central Asia. It breeds on the high plateau north of the Himalayan peaks, then migrates over those peaks to winter in the Indian subcontinent. And that is the problem. How did the Bar-headed Goose get so far off course?

The answer is that it probably did not get off course. This goose adapts very well to captivity and, I am told, is a favored addition to waterfowl collections, especially in Europe and England. Our Bar-headed Goose had no leg band, but collectors often neglect to band their captive birds.

One inventive birder offered the following itinerary for the Bar-headed Goose in Brattleboro. It was a feral bird in England that hooked up with White-fronted Geese and flew north to Greenland. In Greenland it hooked up with Canada Geese and flew south to Brattleboro, where it was found by local birders in April - when most migrating geese are heading north. I need hardly say that there are more than a few problems with this explanation.

The most likely explanation is that the Bar-headed Goose was an escapee from some private collection or zoo in the United States. The Sibley Guide to Birds includes the Bar-headed Goose among “Exotic Waterfowl,” with this note: “Exotic species frequently escape from zoos and private collections; virtually any of the world’s wafterfowl species can occasionally be seen free-flying in North America.” At best, the rare bird records committee will designate Bar-headed Goose, “Origin Unknown.”

The Bar-headed Goose was around the Retreat waters for several weeks. Then it flew with a flock of Canada Geese to Sunset Lake, and from there to a pond in Wilmington. Then the Bar-headed Goose and the Canada Geese it was with, disappeared. Non breeding Canada Geese often fly north to Canada in the early summer for their molt, and it is a reasonable conclusion that the Bar-headed Goose went with them.

As unusual and distinctive as the Bar-headed Goose is, if it has survived and wanders anywhere in the proximity of North American bird watchers, it will undoubtedly be reported again.

Another rare goose which could show up in the Retreat waters is the Barnacle Goose, a close relative of the Canada Goose. The Barnacle Goose is smaller, pale gray with a black breast, white face and short bill. The white face and white eyebrow make it stand out, even at a distance. In recent years, the Barnacle Goose has been reported during the spring waterfowl migration at the Hinsdale roost just north of the Vernon Dam, and in nearby corn fields. I don’t recall any reports from the Retreat waters, but I would not rule it out.

The Barnacle Goose is European. It winters along the northern coasts of Europe and the United Kingdom, then goes north to breed on rocky coasts of arctic islands. In North America, the Barnacle Goose has been popular in zoos and private collections. The first Barnacle Goose I saw was at the Philadelphia Zoo - and, no, I did not life list it.

Birds escape from zoos and private collections, and for a long time it was assumed that any Barnacle Goose seen in North America was an escapee. There was considerable tension between life-listing birders who wanted another tick, and records committees who dismissed every report of the Barnacle Goose as an escapee, or origin unknown. The life-listers insisted that there were too many regular sightings among the flocks of migrating geese for all of them to be escapees. Their arguments were unpersuasive. The Barnacle Goose is European, insisted various rare bird records committees; it does not come to North America on its own.

Except that the Barnacle Goose does come to North America on its own. The proof came in October, 2005, when a hunter in Ontario shot a Barnacle Goose that has been banded in Scotland in November, 2004. This clearly established this particular goose as a wild bird, not an escapee. It also proved that the Barnacle Goose, like many other European birds, could occasionally make a wrong turn and end up in North America. At that point, records committees became more willing to accept Barnacle Goose sightings.

The Bar-headed Goose and the Barnacle Goose are handsome birds that will stand out in a flock of Canada Geese. The Bar-headed seen in our neighborhood last spring was an exotic escapee. The Barnacle, when it appears, is probably a bird whose GPS went awry. Though respectively “impossibly rare” and “very, very rare,” both are avian messages that encourage us to pause and to look at those abundant geese roosting in our waters.

Good birding!

Note: Photos of Barnacle Goose in the Hinsdale roost were taken by Terry Wright who was the first to find the goose in March, 2007, and post the sighting on the VTBIRD listserve. Terry gave me permission to use the photos then, and I hope his permission extends to the present use. Thank you Terry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pileated Woodpecker

I'm still recovering from last weekend with the Newfane Heritage Festival (I had responsibility for all exhibitors). If you are interested, you can see more about this arts & crafts festival at

My hawkwatching friend, known to some as "Woodcarver Phil," and to others at Putney Phil (somewhat akin to that Pennsylvania groundhog prognosticator, Punxsytawney Phil, on account of predicting when the big Broad-winged Hawk day would be) - was one of the exhibitors. (I do hope you did not get lost in the subordinate clauses and parentheses.) He sold his hard carved feathered friend back scratchers - which by the way come with a life-time guarantee, good for as long as he lives.

Good birding!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cackling Goose

You know all those Canada Geese you see on the Retreat Meadows and in the Connecticut River? In the Fall and the Spring, the numbers can be up in the hundreds, sometimes even thousands, as the Arctic migrants join our local Atlantic (or Eastern) Canada Geese. You look through several hundred Canada Geese and that’s all you see - Canada Geese. And most of the time that’s true. But all of those Canada Geese might not be Canada Geese.

A couple of weeks ago, after getting a clue from some other birders, I searched through hundreds of Canada Geese in the West River and on the Retreat Meadows, and at least one of them was not a Canada Goose. It was a Cackling Goose.

That is the good news ... and maybe the bad news. The Cackling Goose looks almost exactly like the Canada Goose. The plumage of these two geese is nearly identical: brownish body, black neck, white cheek patch, white under the tail. The Canada Goose is Branta canadensis. The Cackling Goose is Branta hutchinsii.

More specifically, the goose which was not a Canada Goose was a Richardson’s Cackling Goose, one of several recognized sub-species of Branta hutchinsii. Until a few years ago, Richardson’s Cackling Goose was known as Richardson’s Canada Goose, a sub-species - Branta canadensis hutchinsii.

Unless the hundreds of geese are very close, and not feeling skittish, you have to use binoculars (or even better, a scope), and you have to look closely. The Cackling Goose is smaller. The common eastern form of the Canada Goose which nests so prolifically in our waters is about 45 inches in length and weighs about 9.8 pounds. Richardson’s Cackling Goose is about 27 inches and weighs about five pounds.

But be careful that you don’t try to make a young Canada Goose, who hasn’t quite grown up, into a Cackling Goose. It is very unlikely that you will see a Cackling Goose during the time when our local geese are raising their young. The Cackling Geese are up in the Arctic doing that for their own species. They are not in our waters during breeding season.

Size is one difference between the Cackling and the Canada. A short stubby bill is another difference The short stubby bill gives the Cackling Goose what some might call a sweeter appearance, a cuteness or adorability that can seldom be attributed to the adult Canada Goose.

Body size and bill length are probably the best features to look for in picking out the Cackling Goose from the hundreds of Canada Geese. But here, too, caution is in order. Fall, winter, and spring, when Cackling Geese are most likely to be seen, is also the time when the arctic migrant Canada Geese mingle with our non-migrating geese. Among the Canada Geese, there are several recognized sub-species, including the Lesser Canada Goose. The Lesser Canada is generally described as around 36 inches in length, but there is lots of variation, and the Lesser’s size can approach that of the Cackling Goose.

There have been many times when I have searched through flocks of Canada Geese and have tried very diligently to make a smaller Canada Goose (probably a Lesser) into a Cackling Goose. The temptation gets compounded when the head is turned toward me; then the angle makes the bill of the Lesser Canada look much shorter, almost stubby. So I watch carefully until I get a profile, and until the subject in question swims close to an unquestionable Canada and allows for a size comparison. And invariably, my hoped for Cackling remains a Canada.

But not in late September when one goose was clearly smaller than the others. Its bill seen in profile was clearly stubby, and that gave it an unmistakably sweet appearance. Then I had a Cackling Goose, first in the West River, and a couple of hours later in the Retreat Meadows not far from the Route 30 boat access.

When birding, there is a temptation to “see” what we hope to see, hence there are a lot of wished-for identifications. I succumb to the temptation often. But when the “I-hope-to-see-this-bird is finally seen, there is a different kind of certainty. Such was the case with the Cackling Goose. Size, bill shape, and subtle coloring differences all combined to make the identification possible.

One other “field mark” which I did not benefit from is voice. The typical Canada Goose has a very distinctive, low-toned “honk.” The Cackling Goose gives a honk that is something like a high-pitched “squeak.”

Field characteristics have suggested to biologists for a long time that the Cackling Goose should be considered a species in its own right, and not a sub-species of the Canada Goose. With the added evidence from DNA studies, about five years ago the mavens of avian taxonomy granted species status to the Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii), and have included in this species Richardson’s (hutchinsii), Aleutian (leucopareia) and other smaller forms once considered to be Canada Geese. They all look like scaled down Canada Geese with small bills.

Parenthetically, a rule among taxonomists is that when a species is split into two or more species, each species is given a new name in order to avoid confusion with the old one. For example, the Rufous-sided Towhee was split into the Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee.

But consistency is not a human characteristic and rules are made to be broken. The Canada Goose was split into the Canada Goose and the Cackling Goose.

Take your binoculars and look carefully at the Canada Geese. There may be one out there that has a stubby bill and whose honk is “squeaky,” instead of a “honky.”

Even if you don’t find a Cackling Goose among the hundreds of Canada Geese, don’t fret it. Just taking the time to take a good look at what’s out there is worth the effort. Such a pause in an otherwise busy day can turn an ordinary day into a good day. And you never know what else might suddenly appear. Good birding does not mean seeing what you expect to see, or hope to see. The allure of bird watching is that often you see what don’t expect.

As for example, when I found this hybrid Greater White-fronted x Canada Goose last November in at Millbrook, Audubon's home near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Good birding!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tufted Titmouse

Late afternoon Wednesday this Tufted Titmouse visited the feeder. Lack of typical titmouse activity suggested a young bird. Buzz cut crest suggested a molting bird. Behavior reminded me of the ill siskins this spring which would stay quietly on the feeders, taking a seed once in a while.

This titmouse knew how to handle the sunflower seeds, but behavior was different - so I conclude either young, or ill. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hawk Watching

Yesterday at the Putney Mountain Hawk Watch was a wonderful day. We had twelve species: Accipiters (SSHA, COHA, NOGO); Falcons (AMKE, MERL,PEFA); Buteos (RTHA, RSHA, BWHA - the one broadie was missing primaries and secondaries on one wing, other wing also ragged, making us wonder how it could even fly), Big Black Birds (BAEA, OSPR, TUVU). Many were low and the stream was steady.

A few photographic highlights. The Green Mountains are fast becoming hills of brilliant color. At 9am, Stratton Mountain still held a cloud in its grip.

Vermont's true snowbirds are returning - not the two legged kind that head to Florida for the winter - but the Dark-eyed Juncos that shift south, or down-slope, and stay around for the winter months. Now they stand out against the bright fall colors ...

The hawk watch/photographic highlight was the young Cooper's Hawk which made several sweeping attacks at the plastic owl we put on a tree top ...

Red-tailed Hawks are beginning to move southward, though often hunting along the way. This one kited to the west, then drifted north, and finally went south with dispatch ...

Likewise, the Turkey Vultures are beginning to move. A few drift northward for a while, but most are moving south, including this young one ...

And finally ... there were many Canada Geese flocks (20-70 birds at a time) on the move, often close enough to look for the smaller Cackling that might be mixed in. No Snow Geese yet. This flock never organized itself into the familiar V formation, but moved with seeming randomness from the Connecticut valley to the West River Valley ...

Good birding!


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