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

Varied Thrush in NYS and a Barred Owl

Published April 25, 2015
Tags: General Observations, Varied Thrush, Barred Owl, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Caspian Tern, Broad-winged Hawk

I chained myself to my desk this past Saturday, needing to complete a few work projects. It was a sunny day and it was killing me to stay in - but I must do what I must do!  Finally, after finishing up as much as I could do for the day, I decided I had enough daylight left to take a run for a reported Varied Thrush seen up near the Irondequoit Bay area.

The Varied Thrush is a beautiful bird that hails from the west coast. In this case, a female must have gotten blown off course and landed here in NYS!  I've only seen one before, also a female, and it was up in Guelph, Ontario last January (Western Double Hitter).

It only took a few minutes for the bird to show after my arrival, coming to the feeders and yards of a cute neighborhood area. The homeowner and finder of the bird, Candy, was most gracious, allowing people to come into her backyard. The thrush changed position quite often: it would feed at Candy's feeders, it would leave the yard entirely, reappear, and visit other neighboring yards.  It kept the seven or eight of us gathered birders on our toes the whole while. What terrific folks in this community - one woman even offered us lentil soup that she had made during our stakeout!

I was slightly disappointed that this Varied Thrush wasn't a male, but when I saw her, I was once again struck by how beautiful the female is. One day, I think I'll be really amazed when I finally do see a handsome male!

Yesterday, I birded hard with my friend, Gale, in Dunkirk. We walked miles through a great area with interesting habitats at the College Lodge SUNY.  Photos were few as the forest was dark and the birds were mostly high - but we had some great sightings: WARBLERS! We saw Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Northern Waterthrush, and Pine Warblers. There were several Hermit Thrushes that came our way as well as both kinds of kinglets. At a nearby marsh, we heard both Sora and Virginia Rail. Altogether, including my stops at the harbor and beach, I had somewhere around 60 species for the day. I think I fell asleep somewhere around 8:30 that night!

After work on this rainy day, I decided to take a drive to see if I couldn't drum up some warbler sightings. Not surprising, I didn't find any warblers - well, maybe I heard a Pine Warbler in the background - under the din of some mobbing crows - but I quickly lost interest when I saw a large, light brown'ish bird fly through. Wow - a Barred Owl flew right into my view. It landed in a nearby tree and I watched as it lurched forward on its branch at one of the crows, keeping that crow at bay. After a little while, the crows left but the owl remained for yet a little while longer. Sweet!
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Varied Thrush
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Varied Thrush
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Varied Thrush
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Varied Thrush
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Varied Thrush
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Varied Thrush
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Banded Caspian Tern at the Dunkirk Harbor
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Caspian Tern
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Pine Warbler (very poor photo - sorry!)
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Yellow-rumped Warbler
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Hermit Thrush
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Broad-winged Hawk
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Barred Owl
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Barred Owl
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Barred Owl
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Barred Owl
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Barred Owl
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The harassed owl with one of the pesky crows on the left
Reply from: Candy Giles on 4/29/2015 9:40 PM
 Love your photos!! Today was the first day the varied thrush didn't show. Maybe she went back west:("
Reply from: Ann on 5/5/2015 9:19 AM
 Love the owl. Your pictures are always awesome!"


Neotropic Cormorant in Dunkirk!

Published April 23, 2015
Tags: Life List Happenings, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant

An adult Neotropic Cormorant was spotted by Jim Pawlicki early this morning as it flew WSW along the 90 towards Lake Erie. Gale VerHague, an experienced birder and familiar with the area, followed her instincts and checked out Lake Erie State Park. Miraculously, Gale found the small cormorant as it flew, circling the beach area.

I hoped this would-be life bird would stick around for me as I raced down to the Dunkirk/Fredonia area. However, I arrived to an empty beach and, save some gulls, terns, and a handful of Double-crested Cormorants, not much else was around.  I was just debating on where to look next when Gale joined me, bless her heart! She already had an idea about where to start searching again, so we jumped in our cars and I followed her over to a private pond down Van Buren Road.

Scanning the 80 or so beautiful Double-crested Cormorants, the small Neotropic Cormorant quickly stood out in my scope! Gale's instincts were right on! We both enjoyed watching the little guy preen, fly around, and swim. We knew others were on their way and we nearly had heart attacks when the celebrity flew off twice. Each time, thankfully, it returned to the pond. Other birders soon began arriving and many got a life bird, or, at the very least, a state bird this day.  And who knows - maybe it will stick around for a little while - I think it's quite possible.

As its name suggests, this little guy was pretty far off-course.  The Neotropic Cormorant's upper range is Texas and is generally found in Central and South America. It usually sticks to fresh water lakes, ponds, and rivers and co-mingles with the beautiful Double-crested Cormorants at those locations. Its smaller size, longer tail, and white V-shaped chin patch easily distinguishes it from the Double-crested Cormorant.

I'm surprised this cold, gray, snowy day brought a life bird but - well.... you just never know!
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Neotropic Cormorant (on the right edge) sitting with Double-crested Cormorants
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Neotropic Cormorant flying past other DCCOs
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Neotropic Cormorant taking flight
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Neotropic Cormorant
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Neotropic Cormorant
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Neotropic Cormorant


An Afternoon in Dunkirk

Published April 23, 2015
Tags: General Observations, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Purple Martin, Northern Flicker, Eastern Meadowlark

I made a few birding stops in the Dunkirk area yesterday afternoon looking for spring migrants. The only new bird I saw was the lovely Purple Martin, about six of them.

I think my friend, Celeste, would be disappointed to hear me say that I never spent enough time appreciating these beautiful swallows! By the time I was finished watching their graceful flights, admiring the male's deep shades of purple iridescence in the sunlight, and listening to their delightful chirps and cheeps, I was a big fan!

The Purple Martin is our largest swallow.  The adult male is a uniform deep purple-blue color that shines beautifully in the sunlight. The female has a lighter, smudgy gray underside with a gray collar around her neck. What I found most fascinating were their vocalizations. One of the males I was watching ended some of his bubbly, chortling sounds with a "click click click"; it was very amusing to me and I couldn't help but smile.

The Purple Martin is fun to watch as it hunts and catches insects on the wing. Such acrobatic feats of skill and precision!  Trying to catch of photo of all that action is rather daunting, though - and I didn't do a very good job of it!

Unfortunately, this is another declining specie.  The invasive European Starling and House Sparrow both compete with the Purple Martin for nesting sites.  There are groups that are trying to raise awareness and provide information about how to help this bird. One effort is to encourage people to erect starling and House Sparrow-proof Martin dwellings near large, open areas by water. In the east, Purple Martins almost exclusively nest in these man-made dwellings now.  Southern Indian tribes started this practice a long time ago by hanging clusters of hollowed-out gourds near their gardens. The martins began using these to nest in and the practice continues today with some modern refinements.

Find out more about a local Purple Martin group sponsored by the Friends of Iroquois:  New York State Purple Martin Project.

A few other sightings from the area gave me nice encounters with a singing, male Eastern Towhee and a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher who was very busy preening when I first came upon him.  About two dozen Greater Yellowlegs flew overhead at one point, calling noisily.  I really enjoyed the songs of the Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields but they still elude my camera for a nice photo!  One day, I will get a decent shot of one, I swear!
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Eastern Towhee (male)
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Eastern Towhee (male)
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Eastern Towhee singing his heart out!
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He went on and on and on!
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Purple Martin (male)
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Purple Martins
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Purple Martin
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Purple Martin
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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (male)
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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
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Female Northern Flicker watches while her mate drums on the trunk of the same tree
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Eastern Meadowlark - as good as I could get!
Reply from: Larry on 4/23/2015 5:31 PM
 Nice photos-I especially like the singing Towhee photos! There is a martin house at our local landfill in CT. Surprisingly we do get some Purple Martins there but as you said they have to compete with House Sparrows and Starlings."