Welcome to the ongoing quest to photograph 700 or more ABA countable North American bird species. Of the 718 total species of birds possible to see in North America currently published to this site, the number of ABA “countable” species presently stands at:
August 31 Salton Sea, CA
September 1 – 5 San Diego, CA (pelagic)
Little Blue X Tricolored Heron Hybrid
August 18: For the past three seasons, Connecticut birders have been observing an unusual heron in and around the boulder pond at Hammonasset State Park in Madison. This hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron has the overall look of a Little Blue Heron, but with yellow on its face and scattered white on the body. Unlike the well-known Brewster’s and Lawrence’s Warblers, Olympic (Glaucous-winged x Western) Gull, Cinnamon x Blue-winged Teal, and Snow Goose x Ross’s Goose among others, this heron is not a well-known hybrid combination. How many hybrids can you think of?
August 18: For the past three seasons, Connecticut birders have been observing an unusual heron in and around the boulder pond at Hammonasset State Park in Madison. This hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron has the overall look of a Little Blue Heron, but with yellow on its face and scattered white on the body. Unlike the well-known Brewster’s and Lawrence’s Warblers, Olympic (Glaucous-winged x Western) Gull, Cinnamon x Blue-winged Teal, and Snow Goose x Ross’s Goose among others, this heron is not a well-known hybrid combination. How many hybrids can you think of?read more »
Each year the American Ornithologists’ Union makes taxonomic revisions that affect check lists with various lumps, splits, reassignments into new genera, or various other classification changes. This year they include the split of Clapper Rail into three species, King Rail into two species, new scientific names for several parakeets, dropping the hyphen in Common Black-Hawk, and a host of other changes. The entire roster of changes is neatly summarized here.read more »
June 27-29: Back in June, 2012 I had made a solo trip to New Hampshire for a Saturday morning van excursion partially up the Mount Washington Road ostensibly to look for Bicknell’s Thrush. The outing started just after 6 AM (late for Bicknell’s) and in its entirety consisted of spending less than an hour at one single, all-or-nothing, roadside spot at about 4000 feet, and although the group did get to hear Bicknell’s song, it was a major disappointment having made such a long drive only to be offered what seemed like an inadequate and rather perfunctory effort in lieu of the far more persistent kind of search generally necessary to actually see this elusive species, let alone photographing it. So I resolved to try again at a future time, but definitely somewhere else and certainly not under such imposed constraints.
A bit of research led me to the Lake Placid region of New York’s Adirondacks, where Joan Collins offers the unique opportunity to drive up Whiteface Mountain before sunrise. Joan picked me up promptly at 4 AM at Ledge Rock in Wilmington and, treated to the early “morning chorus” all the way up the Whiteface Mountain Road, we were at 4000 feet just as the red ball of sun first peered over a distant ridge. Bicknell’s song isn’t hard to locate, as the birds are actually quite numerous on the mountain, and in fact we spotted one almost right away perched at the top of a small balsam fir, but it was not light enough yet for photography. The temperature was 52 degrees, but it soon began to warm up - good for comfort, but very bad for black flies! These things are voracious, relentless, and, unfortunately as it turned out, present in dauntingly large numbers in all the good birding habitats – and while DEET does help, even it is not 100% effective against these nasty little critters. Bicknell’s comes at a cost.
The road here does not open to the general public until 9 AM, so there was no traffic and we were free to stop anywhere and just hop out. Amongst the chorus of Swainson’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, White-throated Sparrow, and others, we could pick out Bicknell’s on both sides of the road at more than a half dozen spots, and got fleeting glimpses of several more individuals, but most remained concealed. At last, at exactly 8:12 AM at 3943 feet, after several “just missed” chances for photos over more than four hours of perseverance, a Bicknell’s flew across the road, and instead of disappearing into dense cover as usual, to our amazement flew up and landed at the very top of a dead snag. Here it sat for several minutes, in perfect light, singing its alternate one syllable call/song.
Joan knows the Adirondack area so well that she can provide visitors a reasonable chance of finding whatever the desired species might happen to be, and I was hoping to somewhere find a Ruffed Grouse since the only one Dan Logan and I saw in northern Maine in October, 2012 flushed before we could stop the car in time. We planned to look for the grouse in the Tupper Lake area after checking out some spots for certain other species along the way. Along Franklin Falls Road we made a stop at an acre-sized area of tall grass and second-growth vegetation that sits between the road and the forest – a perfect spot for Mourning Warblers – and sure enough, we heard a total of five on both sides of the road and saw two flying, but unfortunately none ever perched in the open and there was no photo op. Next was a woodland section off Moose Pond Road where we observed a male Black-backed Woodpecker chick looking out of his nest hole, patiently waiting for his mother to return with lunch (Joan has since told me that this chick fledged the following day). In Bloomingdale we stopped at a farm to enjoy the comings and goings of a colony of Cliff Swallows nesting under the eaves of an outbuilding. On Middle Pond was a female Common Loon with one chick, while the male flew the length of the lake overhead several times before coming in for a skidding landing.
Finally we found ourselves on the remote dirt roads of the Adirondack Preserve near Rock Pond. After just ten minutes we arbitrarily went right at a fork in the road, but as we trundled by I got a fleeting glimpse of something some hundred yards up the left fork, so we backed up and not only did the “something” turn out to be a Ruffed Grouse (with a chick), but we nearly backed over a second grouse chick in the middle of the fork. It seemed odd that the chick was so far away from the adult, so we wondered if perhaps there were actually two families and we just weren’t seeing the closer adult, but that remained unresolved and of course both birds scurried into cover before we could react. I was kicking myself at not having been quicker on the shutter and thereby missing this bird yet again, but the opportunity was indeed missed and there was nothing for it but to continue on. We got an unusually close look at a beautiful cooperative male Canada Warbler, and a more distant look at a family of four raucous Gray Jays which frolicked in the canopy above us but would not come down, even to accept our offering of raisins.
And then, at last, after some forty-five more minutes, another dark shape in the road – adult Ruffed Grouse with another chick. This time I leaned out of the window and wasted no time with the camera, but this family turned out to be less skittish than the first one and we were able to observe mother and chick for a full minute or two.
The species count for the day came to 67, including 17 warbler species. All in all it was a perfect weekend – two difficult new species, perfect weather, beautiful scenery, excellent dinner at The Hungry Trout restaurant, and a chance to see the site of the 1980 winter Olympics, including the Lake Placid Arena where the nostalgic “miracle on ice” happened all those years ago. And thanks again to Joan for her congeniality as well as her expertise.read more »
June 11: This afternoon I made a second visit to a known spot north of New Haven, CT to look for a Northern Goshawk after having missed this species there last month. It turned out to be one of the most adrenaline-producing experiences I have had in the field.
Goshawks are uncommon, secretive, and are well known to defend their territory fiercely against all intruders, including a passing human, so due caution was in order. After coming up empty last time, there was no guarantee a Goshawk would even be present, but if it was I didn’t want to disturb it. I made a few trial exposures and chose camera settings of shutter speed 1/160 and ISO 800. My plan was to proceed along this woodland trail very slowly, although not with completely silent footfalls so that, if present, the bird would be able hear me approaching from a distance, much like one purposely makes noise in bear country so as not to inadvertently surprise a bear. I planned to stop at the first warning call, try to spot the bird, hopefully get photos, and then simply unobtrusively withdraw back out from the edge of its territory. But things don’t always go according to plan.
All was quiet for about an hour, but suddenly, from somewhere high up and not too far ahead, a shrill ki ki ki ki ki pierced the solitude. I froze in place and, guided by the sound, finally spotted an adult Goshawk perched in a tall conifer, although largely shielded by branches and twigs. As I tried to position myself to get a clear angle for a photo, the bird took off directly toward my spot, missing me by no more than two or three feet and alighting on a more open branch on the opposite side of the trail. Quickly I snapped a few photos. I figured I must have just entered into its territory, so I began to slowly retreat back up the trail, expecting to leave it well behind, but the bird came at me again. Once more I retreated, and once more the Goshawk swooped. Each time it landed on an open branch, so a single burst of photos was possible, and it was a good thing I had preset the camera as there was no time to fumble with it now. No amount of retreat seemed to satisfy this bird, which apparently regarded this entire woodland as its sovereign territory. I had long since gotten its message, but this bird swoop-chased me nearly three hundred yards – almost back to the trailhead.
Some years ago I was buzzed by a Red-shouldered Hawk in Florida when I had inadvertently ventured too close to its nest, but a few steps away was all that was necessary to placate the Red-shouldered. Not so with a Goshawk. This is one magnificent, fiercely determined, single-minded creature, and he leaves no doubt that you are not welcome anywhere in “his” woods.
The first of these two YouTube videos shows an experience identical to my own, and just how spooky it can be alone out there when there is a Northern Goshawk in the area. The second shows the Goshawk’s astonishing flying maneuverability and why it is so hard to escape its pursuit. Listverse aptly names the Northern Goshawk the third most ferocious animal species on earth.read more »
June 9: Tried again unsuccessfully for Eastern-Whip-poor-will photos from 8:20 to 9:00 PM this evening at Meshomasic State Forest. Easily heard two Whip-poor-wills calling andread more »
June 4: This morning the New Haven Bird Club conducted a walk at White Memorial in Litchfield, one of Connecticut’s most well-known birding sites. The 4000 acres here includes many different habitats, from wetlands to mixed deciduous and conifer forests. The species count totaled sixty-nine including both singing Willow and Alder Flycatchers, with the morning’s highlights being a fledgling Barred Owl and a Pileated Woodpecker chick peering out of its nest hole.
The afternoon featured a specially arranged tour of the nearby Livingston Ripley Waterfowl Conservancy, a unique facility founded especially to husband and breed mainly rare or threatened ducks, geese, and swans. Here one can study the habits of some elusive species one might otherwise never get the chance to see in the wild, such as Baikal Teal, Falcated Duck, Whooper Swan, Spectacled Eider, and many others. I had seen a few Spectacled Eiders in Gambell and Nome in 2012, but at that time of year (early October) they were just fleeting distant in-flight views. Here these exotic-looking ducks, in their full breeding plumage, can be fully appreciated up close. The facility is open to the public on weekends and is well worth the trip.read more »