30 March 2015

NY: That's a wrap

This month has been one of my worst ever for blog posts... at least in the number that I've pumped out.  I'll attribute that to the fact that I was away from home for 3 weeks.

I left off last time while I was still in western NY catching up with family and doing a little bit of exploring in nearby counties.  Although I limited myself to counties I could get to in 2 hours or less, I ended up seeing a good chunk of western NY.

One such day took me up to Lake Ontario.  After not having much to scope elsewhere, it felt great to have a big body of water to scan for a while.  Here's a panoramic view of the piers in the town of Wilson:
One of the most obvious and abundant species at this spot was LONG-TAILED DUCK; they were calling nonstop which put me in the mood for Alaska all over again.  Here's a dapper male:
Another species that was abundant here is the WHITE-WINGED SCOTER:
It was while I was scoping that I saw a distant city rising from the lake to the NW... it's Toronto from about 50 miles away:
Back in Allegany County, though, birding remained slow (at least by the species diversity point of view).  I had a NORTHERN HARRIER down the road one day... turns out it was the first for the county that year, mostly likely a newly arrived migrant:
Although they're not uncommon in those parts, I was surprised to see this female PILEATED WOODPECKER at the suet feeder.  After looking at things like nuthatches and little Downy Woodpeckers, you can imagine looking out and seeing a crow-sized woodpecker instead!
I didn't look ONLY at birds on my visit, truth be told.  For example, I was happy to see this AMERICAN MINK along the Genesee River in Wellsville:
Anyway, after two weeks in western NY, it was time for me to fly back home to California (I drove to NY but will leave my car there for the summer).  Shortly after take off from Buffalo I was looking down at ice and urban development... instead of looking at it at eye level:
A bit farther on, you could say I reluctantly birded at Point Pelee... but at 40,000 feet elevation and at about 500 mph, I can't say I saw much.  You can see it here in the distance, the second peninsula pointing to the left (behind the first point which is Rondeau Provincial Park):
But it wasn't long before everything clouded over and the ride became a lot less interesting to someone who is fascinating by maps:
... but hey, can I complain, especially after landing a seat with no seat in front of me?!  Talk about leg room!
And now I'm back in Sacramento enjoying temps in the 80s, palms trees, hummingbirds.... and not having a car to go birding.  :-(

17 March 2015

Birds that find YOU

Here in Wellsville, there doesn't seem to be a lot that attracts out-of-town birders this time of year.  That's not to say that there aren't a few resident birders here, but compared to most other counties in New York, coverage here seems quite minimal.

To be honest, I don't mind that; I hope this dearth of coverage makes my menial checklists more valuable in filling some data gaps.  And as anyone who knows me knows, I find it pretty rewarding to have visualization of birding effort.  So yeah, I've been all about birding Allegany County for the last 1-2 weeks to see where it would take me.

Because I don't know this county like I should (considering I was born here), I've only been slowly feeling my way around, exploring roads here and there and repeatedly hitting some spots that seem productive.  But sometimes birds find you.

I was chugging down Highway 417 to the east of town when I passed an owl-shaped bump on a sign.  My first gut reaction was "Ok, who put a plastic owl decoy on a sign all the way out here?" but a split second later I realized it was a REAL owl, a BARRED OWL:
Woah, right?  I thought I had found something good for the county until... well... 10 minutes later I saw ANOTHER one somewhere else.  Ok, so maybe they're pretty thick around here.  Moving on.

Another spot I've checked several times is the Genesee River right in the middle of town (in the parking lot of a Tops grocery store, in fact).  One recent visit yielded 2 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS which was flagged in eBird as rare.  Because of that fact, I snapped a picture so that whoever the eBird reviewer is would have some proof:
They're not rare around here but because I tire of seeing ROPI and EUST, I took a picture of this young BALD EAGLE along the river as well.  Of course, a gust of wind was blowing the neck feathers around AND the thing wouldn't look at me:
I've driven some of the hilltops around here hoping for more Snow Buntings but because we've gone into quite a thaw lately, more and more land is exposed and I think that's making the buntings harder to find.  In their place, however, were several HORNED LARKS.  Like the eagle, this one did a crummy job at posing:
Even with the recent thaw, bigger bodies of water around here aren't thawing quickly enough to get me excited.  This is a panoramic photo of a place we called Alma Pond (or Beaver Lake) which is a few miles to the SW of Wellsville:
Slap a filter on it via Instragram and one can make it look a lot more moody:
I did venture out on a county-listing endeavor yesterday though.  You see, although I spent many years growing up around here, I lack detailed (and reliable) records that I could enter into eBird.  And so in looking at my county map which I've posted lately, it's obvious that I had some work to do.  My goal yesterday was simply to make a checklist or two in as many counties as I could reasonably get to from home.  I ventured east, north, and then back west and south.  I ended up touching at least 10 counties yesterday which I thought was a good start.  Here's a map of only my NY counties:
You can see that I have 4 easy ones to visit up north and west of here; perhaps I'll attack those Thursday.

In any case, I ended visiting a hotspot or two yesterday in places I've hardly ever cared to look at birds.  One such public park in Chemung County had an area where families sponsored trees, benches, etc.  I was completely down with these folks sponsoring a bird-feeding station.  Even better, there was a little sign that said "Please fill the feeders".  Seeing that they were indeed empty and that the containers for seed below them were fully stocked, I was all about filling these bad boys.  I did just that and took a picture of of handy work:
Another hotspot I ventured to was calm, rather scenic, but completely lacking in terms of birds.  I'm sure this state forest will liven up when the breeding warbs return in a month or two:
One spot that had no shortage of birds was the Seneca Harbor Park in Watkins Glen.  In addition to species like RED-NECKED GREBE and GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS, the rafts of Aythya in the harbor proved to be entertaining for a while:
The CANVASBACKS were looking dapper.  This species is so-named because early Europeans thought that their backs was a canvas-like color.  In other languages, though, it basically translates to "white-backed duck".  Here's a male:
This species, like many ducks, dives completely underwater to find food.  The trick is to photograph them as they dive; here's one shortly after dunking its head:
Much more numerous than the Canvasbacks though were the REDHEADS.  Although they're somewhat similar-looking, note the gray back and bill differences on the Redhead.  This was an awesome place to get close looks at this sharp species:
In the end, it was one of my more enjoyable quick stops on my driving tour.  You can see the checklist here.

13 March 2015

X-Country (summer to winter)

This first update in two weeks is written with a heavy heart... actually, a cold heart... a cold everything, actually.  You see, I left the warmth and summer-like conditions in California, drove across the continent, and emerged in New York State where it certainly doesn't feel like spring.  Not to me, at least.

My epic 4-day drive took me through 12 states, put me in the front passenger seat of a police car in Illinois, and of course, a lot of county listing.  I'm not sure if it's the lack of other things to do as one drives across the country or my fascination with coloring in counties on my county map, but I kept track of birds I saw in essentially every county as I drove east.  All of that work was essentially for this map that I updated just now:

You'll see I missed one county in Illinois; that was due to poor planning on my behalf (I only ventured into this county under the shroud of darkness; and yes, I tried to find a HOSP in the dark when I got gas).  Other than that, you can see my route to western NY.

I didn't do a ton of birding along the way though; I was focused more on making good time.  I did snap a picture of this faded CHUKAR though; it's a shame, it looks like they've gone extinct at this particular location:
As I zoomed my way east through Nevada, pretty soon the Ruby Mountains became visible on the horizon.  I wouldn't stop for snowcock on this trip though; I was lucky to see them in 2013 and I'll be trying for them later on this spring:
I did make one detour in Nebraska though.  I found that I could pick up 2 new counties by just driving south from the interstate for 5 miles.  I figured I needed a break and found myself looking over grasslands (and HOLA, LALO, and EUCD) in Colorado:
Another stop in North Platte one morning yielded a slew of "Richardson's" CACKLING GEESE:
In fact, that stop yielded a lot of things that reminded me that I wasn't in the Central Valley anymore.  Here's the quick checklist.

I eventually found my way to Allegany County, New York, which is where I was born (and still have family).  Winter was waiting for me:
Speaking of winter though, the above landscape yielded a singing WINTER WREN which was mind-bogglingly pleasant sound.

Most of the rivers and bigger bodies of water though were still iced up.  In the few small patches I could find, COMMON MERGANSERS seemed to be a common theme.  Here's a blurry shot of one flying off... I suppose I was just shaking too much:
There have been signs of spring though.  The NORTHERN CARDINALS are in full song, some migrants have returned such as COMMON GRACKLES, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, and this KILLDEER (which probably wasn't too keen on foraging opportunities):
Using eBird, I looked around at what's been seen in this (dramatically under-birded) county.  I followed up on a tip and found this SNOW BUNTING on a nearby hilltop:
I had a pleasant surprise today when I heard the all-too-familiar honking of TUNDRA SWANS somewhere.  I glanced up and imagine that, 46 swans heading west.  I whipped out my stellar zoom lens (iPhone = no lens) and took this amazing,  publishable quality photo:
Yesterday I found myself in the next county west of us, Cattaraugus.  This county is lucky in that it holds Allegany State Park.  It's not a small park, mind you, it's about 65,000 acres.  The mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, which surely have nesting NSWOs somewhere, looked nice to my California-jaded eyes:
Equally as nice-looking were 5 RUFFED GROUSE I found while driving some backroads.  Here's one leaning down and nipping a bud off this tree:
And yes, buds/twigs of birch, aspen, and willows are a main part of the diet of this species during the harsh winter months.
Interestingly, the popularity of this species as a game bird led to some of the earliest game management practices in the US.  For example, New York had a closed season on Ruffed Grouse in 1708!  I'll leave you with one more photo showing how this highly-intelligent bird used its renowned camouflage: