Sunday, December 13, 2009


The winds finally stopped blowing up here last night so I decided to head over to the Burnt-Rossman Hills State Forest to check on the Red Crossbills that were there and after that take a ride through farm country to see if anything intersting was going on. The weather forecast was for some accumulating snow in the afternoon and that was just what I was looking for.

Burnt-Rossman is an intersting piece of state forest. It's considered large for a piece of state land outside the Adirondack or Catskill forest preserves. It's difficult to find much information on it as there are no kiosks or maps and I litterally stumbled upon it one day years ago while out driving and have enjoyed birding it ever since.

Even the DEC isn't quite sure how big of a parcel it is, as these two signs are about a mile apart from each other. This is the kind of thing that drives surveyors nuts. One thing is for sure, the taxman knows exactly how big of a parcel it really is.

One of the first birds that I spotted was this Ruffed Grouse strutting around on a snow covered forest road. Another bird was on the edge of the road and that was probably why he was acting so territorial. It's not unusual to hear them drumming or see them acting territorial in the winter.

It didn't take long to find the crossbills. They were in the same general area where they had been hanging out for the couple of months. Not a lot of them, that's for sure. Last weekend my curiosity was really piqued when I found a pair and the male actually was singing. They have an incredible song that is quite elaborate for a winter finch.

There was actually some sun out during the early morning hours and this female was spotted in a nearby hardwood.

3 more were spotted across the road on top of a Norway Spruce. It's always amazed me at how quiet crossbills can be when they want to. You get the feeling that someone or something is watching you, so you turn around and there they are. These birds were completely silent and did not make a sound until they eventuall flew back deeper in the forest.

This is what I really wanted to see. In the past few months I had only observed them feeding on the cones of some of the European Larch that is planted there. According to what I've read, larch is not the prefered food of the larger billed Red Crossbills as it is very hard for them to manipulate such a small cone with a beak that is designed for larger cones. I was happy to see that this crossbill had found some of the abundant White Pine cones in the area and was feasting on them. There is an excellent White Pine crop in the area and perhaps this will encourage them to stick around.

I think this guy has found what he was looking for. Time will tell.

I found this Northern Shrike along the side of the road once I had left the state forest. It was clouding up in a hurry and the lighting wasn't that great.

And then it was off to farm country as the storm approached. When the snow finally arrives, the fieldbirds come out to the edge of the road to try and find something to eat.

At one intersection, I found a group of "snowbirds" frantically foraging.

The flock was mainly Horned Larks, but after some careful scrutiny I was able to find a Lapland Longspur in the group.

A few moments later I realized that there was another longspur in the flock. It was snowing pretty hard at this point and the birds seemed to be frantic.

It sure is hard to get a decent picture with so many snowflakes in the air.

Longspurs are very abundant on the arctic tundra in the summer. Hard to believe that they come down here to the "sunny south" to spend the winter. I think I would keep heading south!

A little further down the road, I spotted some geese in a field on top of a knoll. It was snowing so hard that at first I thought there were just some Canada Geese in a field with some clumps of snow behind them.

A closer look revealed that there was actually a flock of Snow Geese on the top of the hill. They were probably grounded once the heavy snow began.

I wish the visibility was a little better, but then again the reason that the birds had landed was the snow. Guess I shouldn't complain.

There were both adults and immatures mixed in the flock. I looked through the flock as best I could given the conditions. Nothing but Snow Geese were found and I decided to move on and stop back later once the fast moving storm had stopped. I stopped back about an hour later and all that was there were the Canada Geese. Just a short delay in their plan and they were off again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Another real nice morning up here in western Albany county. Brilliant blue sky and mild. I went for a ride over to Rensselaerville to see if anything was going on.

It didn't take long to find a Northern Shrike. It was in a dense stand of saplings and I figured this would probably be the best picture I was going to get. Shrikes can be less than cooperative when it comes to offering great photo ops. I was in a good spot to park and wait. So that's what I did.

The bird eventually went back to actively hunting and came a lot closer.

The sun was at my back and the incredible blue sky made a nice backdrop. The wind was messing up it's feathers a bit.

This is actually the second shrike that has come my way this year. I was lucky enough to spot one in my own neighborhood on October 31st. Could be a great year to observe them in these parts. On the other hand, as unpredictable as they are, this could be the last one that I see this winter. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I was in the area today so I stopped down and visited the Coxsackie Grasslands. A very unique area that consists of a managed grassland in the midst of a growing commercial area. A great oasis for migrating birds that was created and is being maintained through the dedicated efforts of local individuals.

As I walked along, I flushed a couple of sparrows from the ground that flew up into the adjacent hedgerow. I noticed that one of the birds had a lot of white on the edge of the tail as it flew away. Once it perched and I was able to get a good look at it, I realized that it was a Vesper Sparrow.

The other one was also a Vesper Sparrow and perched a little further down the hedgerow. Quite a treat as this species of bird is getting harder and harder to find in our area. These birds are probably migrants, but with all the positive grassland habitat modification that is going on at the Coxsackie Grasslands, they may just nest there someday.

The bold eye-ring, buffy flanks and white edged tail give this sparrow a very unique look. It's a shame that not many nest in our area due to habitat loss.

Once I had stopped gawking at the 2 Vesper Sparrows in the hedgerow, I spotted 2 more of them on a nearby berm. I had all 4 of them in sight at one time and was reminded of a similar encounter that I had a few years ago in the town of Knox. It was also in October when I spotted a small flock of them migrating south.

At one time they were actually called Bay-winged Buntings as they are fairly stocky for a sparrow and have a heavy bill. As time went on it was discovered that they were actually sparrows.

A Northern Harrier was also out over the grasslands looking for a meal.

A great place to observe them.

A Common Yellowthroat was spotted along the one of the edges of the fields.

And a Palm Warbler as well. A great place to spend a relaxing afternoon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I stopped in to Lake Myosotis today to see if anything was going on. As soon as I got out of the car I noticed that there were a few small rafts of ducks on the water.

One group formed a relatively straight line and the other was an active cluster further back.

The group that was continually swimming in a small, nervous group were Black Scoters. It was obvious that they were not comfortable. Scoters migrate at night like many species of birds and when the sun comes up they search for the first quiet, secluded area that they can find. Over the years, I've never even seen one of them dive or feed as all they are looking for is a safe place to rest until it is dark and they can continue their journey to the ocean.

It was a beautiful fall day so I hung around and watched them for a while. Every once and a while the entire flock of Black Scoters would take off and fly a lap around the lake, and then return to the same spot. They seemed very itchy to get going.

The other group of ducks were Surf Scoters. The above picture shows a female with a couple of juvenile birds that were there.

The Surf Scoters seemed much more relaxed and spent most of the time napping and resting up for the night ahead of them.

When they did wake up, there was a lot of wing flapping and preening.

I remember in my first Peterson Field Guide that one of their nicknames were "skunk ducks".
Easy to see how that name originated.

As the sun was setting, I couldn't help but thinking where these guys would be by morning. Would they make it to the Atlantic by sunrise? I'd like to think so. They are always one day wonders at Lake Myosotis.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

10/03 5-RIVERS

Not only was it a foggy morning up here on the hill, but it was the first official weekend of small game hunting on the state land. So I made a pre-dawn drive down to Five Rivers E.E.C. to see if any new migrants had arrived. It was worth the trip.

There was a lot of bird activity along the paths and trails. Most noticeable were the numbers of sparrows in many of the hedgerows. Two White-crowned Sparrows were spotted in with a lot of White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows.

A Lincoln's Sparrow was also spotted along a gravel road. Nice to see one out in the open for once.

Lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers were also flitting about. Very resourceful birds. They're not fussy eaters and will eat berries, insects, seeds and anything else they can find.

Still some Palm Warblers mixed in with the yellow-rumps. Only 5 were spotted today compared to last weekends abundance.

"Chipping" and wagging their tails. That's what they do best. They always seem to be in such an upbeat mood.

I couldn't quite figure out what this one was doing. I don't know whether it was trying to catch some kind of insects that were on the branch or actually trying to eat some of the lichen.

I heard some Purple Finches flying over earlier in the morning and finally caught up with one. Not unusual for them to stop by in the fall as they look for wintering areas. This was a very distant picture.

A Black-throated Blue Warbler was checking out some of the local berries. Migration is the only time these birds can be found at lower elevations.

A Nashville Warbler foraged in some of the lower vegetation.

Nashville Warblers also mainly nest at some of the more northern latitudes such as the boreal forests in Canada. In our immediate area small numbers do nest at the higher elevations.

Blue-headed Vireos are always good company on a cloudy, damp day. As is the case with most of them, this bird was singing along like it was the middle of summer. They seem at times oblivious to the weather.

A Green Heron was intently looking for something to eat at the Research Ponds. Getting late for them to be around.

An Eastern Meadowlark was spotted on the way home in Rensselaerville.

This young Turkey Vulture was spotted in a field a little further down the road. Vultures are somewhat of an anomaly in the bird world due to the fact that they actually have a sense of smell. I like the way you can actually see through this birds nostrils.

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was foraging along on of the forest roads near home.

When I finally got home this Northern Flicker was on the lawn looking for ants and other insects. It flew up on a branch and posed.