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

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

Willow Ptarmigan at Point Peninsula

Published April 27, 2014
Tags: Life List Happenings, Willow Ptarmigan, Rough-legged Hawk, Common Raven, Common Loon

A Willow Ptarmigan, an arctic bird, was found in Point Peninsula this past week. If accepted, it will be the first record for New York State and it has birders from all over flocking to the site. I accompanied three other birders on the 5+ hour drive for me to see it on Sunday. It was worth the trip!  What a beautiful and cool bird.

I found it fascinating to watch it foraging on the buds of a Willow tree. Its heavily feathered legs walking along the branches were mesmerizing. It fanned its tail a few times and the spread feathers revealed black feathers on each side of the white, central tail feathers. Every once in awhile, it would raise an eyebrow and we'd see an arch of red over its eye.  Other than that, this bird was all white, still in its winter plumage.

Ptarmigans (there are three: Willow, Rock, and White-tailed) are all birds of the tundra. The Willow Ptarmigan, or the Red Grouse in Britain, has an interesting way of roosting at night.  It flies directly into a snowbank, leaving no footprints for predators to follow.  Their feet, heavily covered with feathers, serve as snowshoes and I'm sure come in very handy in their native land!

There was no little discussion on the bird's ID as to whether it was a Rock Ptarmigan or Willow. The stouter beak has everyone convinced its Willow now - but the discussion continues as to whether it was an escaped bird or has it really found its way to New York from the arctic. We may never know but either way, I'm very glad to have seen it.

A little further birding of the area found a Rough-legged Hawk, picked out by Vicky's sharp eyes, a few Common Loons, and a Common Raven that Brian Morse and Willie pretty much simultaneously pointed to. Bald Eagles, a Northern Mockingbird, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, and many more were seen along the way.  Great trip, great birds, and great company!
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Willow Ptarmigan
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Willow Ptarmigan
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You can really see those black tail feathers in this photo
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Look at those heavily feathered legs!
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Here, you can see the red eyebrow
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The shape of the bill was pretty much the key field mark everyone has been going by
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Willow Ptarmigan
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Willow Ptarmigan
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Common Raven
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Common Raven
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Rough-legged Hawk
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Common Loon
Reply from: Tim on 4/30/2014 12:50 AM
 Wow what a cool and unique looking bird. Great job capturing this rarity!