My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Chirps and Cheeps Bird Blog

A Birder's Blog About Birding in Western New York

Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Experience

Published October 24, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Northern Saw-whet Owl, bird banding, keel, Jamestown Audubon Society

My friend, Gale, informed me of an event that the Jamestown Audubon Society was holding, a Saw-whet Banding demonstration.  It sounded like a very neat opportunity to see how a licensed bander handles, measures, and bands the super cute, little owls. We both signed-up for the event and, along with about a dozen others, we headed down to Frewsburg (near the southern end of Jamestown) to the bander's home.

After we had all squeezed into the bander's work area, Tom Leblanc, a licensed bander, gave us some first-hand knowledge about the process of banding.  He had already caught one of these cute, doll-like owls and deftly began the process of taking its measurements as he explained why this particular, little owl was a female. He could tell she was a little bigger than a male, as female owls are. The owl was pretty complacent, not struggling at all, and calmly blinked and looked around as Tom measured wing length, bill length, and feather moult that helps age the bird. We all got to feel the keel (a flat, thin bone that protrudes at right angles from the chest wall) that indicates if the bird has more or less body fat to give a feel for how well it's been eating.

Of the four birds caught in the mist nets that night, two were male and two were female. Only one seemed a little less well fed than the others, one was a little less tolerant of being put into a can (head first!) to get weighed, and one took off immediately after release, rather than hanging around the way the other three did.  There were differences between them all and all had their own personality.  I wanted to bring them all home with me and was so thrilled to have gotten the chance to even hold one!  What a privilege!

A big thank you to Tom and his wife for letting us troop into their home and to the Jamestown Audubon Society for arranging this wonderful evening!

NOTE:  someone commented on one of the images that I uploaded to my Flickr page that they were disappointed I used flash in photographing an owl. While that is true, please know that I used the lowest setting on the flash along with a diffuser, a plastic globe-like object that sits over the output beam of the flash, causing the light to have to travel through it.  Because the diffuser is only slightly translucent, it softens and, because of its rounded shape, it spreads out the beam of light - thus preventing the owl from having problems seeing for the few minutes following the banding process and photos. And since the owls that were photographed sat around after their release, even if the light had given them any vision interruption, their eyes absolutely had more than enough time to adjust before flying off to continue their night of hunting. In post processing, I also brightened the outdoor images to make them easier to see.
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Tom Leblanc, licensed bander, shows why this band is NOT the right size for the little Saw-whet!
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Taking measurements
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Showing the new vs older feathers to ascertain the age of the bird
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Showing wing length
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Feeling the keel, which gives a feel for how well the bird is hunting and eating
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All done!
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Another Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Northern Saw-whet Owl
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Tom even let me hold one!
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The next few are photos of when the birds were released - three hung around while one, fiesty female took off immediately
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Release shot
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Release shot
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Release shot
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Release shot
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And off she goes!


Finally - a Greater White-fronted Goose and a Northern Shrike

Published October 23, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Greater White-fronted Goose, Northern Shrike, American Kestrel, American Tree Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher

Up until today, I've had a big "hole" in my list of birds seen for this year.  To date, I've seen 312 birds for the year, 309 of them have been in New York State.  BUT - I had yet to find a Greater White-fronted Goose, which is a bird that should have been on my list since spring.  It was seen and reported several times but I missed it each and every time.  I've been getting a little anxious for this bird as the fall migration window of opportunity would be closing soon.

I was due a day off and, after taking care of a few critical work items, I headed up to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge to "hunt" for this year's nemesis. I had been out that way just the evening before because I had a family function relatively close.  I had checked a few spots where they had been seen in years past, but I didn't find anything.  I only had a little bit of time that evening, so I felt a more thorough search was needed as there were geese.  There were LOTS of geese at a couple of locations.

So, with much of the day before me, I went to every place out that way where I could find flocks of Canada geese, knowing a Greater-white Fronted would tend to mix in with them.  Finally, at one of the spots I had been to just the night before, I found one!  I couldn't believe it - and then I found a second one very close to that guy. I looked away and then looked back - just to check myself and to be sure I wasn't dreaming it up - but no, there was the gray neck, the lack of the black "chin strap" that a Canada Goose has, and there was the lovely pinkish/orange bill with a white oval of feathering between the bill and the gray face.  They were very obviously Greater White-fronted Geese. Finally.

With that off my list fairly early, I spent some time at this spot (Ringneck Marsh) and did a little more birding there, finding my first of the season, American Tree Sparrows mixed in with a flock of Juncos, and a Song Sparrow.  Other passerines (song birds) nearby were Black-capped Chickadees, both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and a Northern Flicker.

I drove around the back of that spot onto Sour Springs Road where I was very happy to see a Northern Shrike.  I usually see these guys when there's snow on the ground, so I was surprised one was there this early. Later on, a check of the BOS date guide showed October 16th as the early date, so it was within range, it just seemed very early to me.

The shrike flew off just as I clicked off a photo.  Soon, a couple of birding friends, Karen and Jim, pulled-up.  I showed them the photo and and we discussed and then dismissed the possibility of the shrike being the much less often seen Loggerhead Shrike. Finally, the shrike returned and we all enjoyed scope views of it.

Having had enough excitement for one day, I headed back home, very elated I finally had a productive goose chase instead of my usual WILD goose chase!
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Two Greater White-fronted Geese - they're hard to see but they're both in the center of the photo - one has its head tucked and the other is up.
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Horned Grebe
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Northern Shrike
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After the shrike returned, he was visible but a lot further out
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American Tree Sparrow - a sure sign that winter is on its way!
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American Kestrel
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Immature Bald Eagle
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Immature Bald Eagle
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Red-tailed Hawk
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Belted Kingfisher
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White-breasted Nuthatch


Hamlin Wild Goose Chase

Published October 19, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Merlin, White-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird

I am embarrassed to say how many times I've chased after a Greater White-fronted Goose this year.  This bird is killing me.  One was seen late in the day in a farm field with hundreds of Canada Geese up in Hamlin, NY.  Naturally, I hopped in my car early the next morning and chased after it. Once I got there, I slowly and carefully scanned through close to a thousand Canada Geese and came up with nothing.  Nada.  Again.

In with the geese, though, were seven Snow Geese, one being a blue morph. Those are always a nice sight for me and they were my first Snow Geese of the season.  Unfortunately, they were too far out for decent photos, but I had some nice looks through my scope.  A Cooper's Hawk came swooping through, probably after one of the cute, little Horned Larks I found in the field as well. But no Greater White-fronted Geese were to be found anywhere...

Disappointed (again), I drove around the Hamlin area looking for fields containing more geese to look through, but I didn't come up with much at all.

As I was driving, though, I came upon a Merlin and then a rather "birdy hot spot" of passerine (song bird) activity.  I was able to get a few photos of the Merlin as well as some of the songbirds, which included a family group of Northern Mockingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Hermit Thrush, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, and a Fox Sparrow (my first of the season).

I stopped at a new park (for me) on my way home.  It's called Mill Road Park and is in West Seneca off of East and West Road. I liked it a lot and found some nice habitat there - diverse enough to attract a few different types of birds - from waterfowl in the creek - to songbirds - to raptors.  I found an unexpected Spotted Sandpiper there, rather late in the season for that guy.  I also found a Great Blue Heron, Mallards, and Wood Ducks in the creek, Yellow-rumped Warblers, both types of kinglets, a Hermit Thrush, several woodpeckers, and a Cooper's Hawk giving chase to a Mourning Dove. I think it will be a nice place to bird come spring...
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Northern Mockingbird
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Northern Mockingbird
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Northern Mockingbird
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Young White-crowned Sparrow
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White-crowned Sparrow
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White-crowned Sparrow
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White-crowned Sparrow
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Fox Sparrow
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Horned Lark in the fields where the Canada Geese were
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Spotted Sandpiper at Mill Road Park
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Merlin (male Taiga)
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Merlin
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Merlin
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Merlin
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Merlin
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Merlin