Sunday, September 27, 2009

Searching For Hawks Closer To Home

I've made a few visits to hawk watching sites over the past two years. I'm thankful for the valuable information that veteran hawk watchers have been able to provide me with. I thought it might be fun to use what I've learned so far to try to find migrant hawks from a location that is closer to where I live. I believe that searching for and identifying migrant hawks without help from others helps me to pay closer attention to details.

Most of the official hawk watch sites are about an hour away from me but I wanted to experience the Fall hawk migration closer to home. Fortunately, I'm within 15 miles of several trails that provide access to the
Metacomet Ridge . The traprock crest of the ridge was created by lava welling up from hundreds of feet deep through faults that were created by continental drifts millions of years ago. The maximum elevation of the Metacomet Ridge in Connecticut is only about 1,000 feet but the view from the top area is fantastic, especially on a clear Fall day. I had a clear view of Long Island Sound in New Haven almost 30 miles away. As I was making my way through the wooded trail that leads to the top of the ridge I saw a doe, a deer, a female deer. I stood very still and talked to the deer in gentle tones. The deer seemed very curious as it took a couple of steps forward and stared right at me. I was concerned that it might run onto the busy highway which was only 10 feet away. After a few seconds of staring me down, it slowly wandered off into the woods. Further up the trail I saw a Fisher scurrying up the hill. There has been an increasing number of sightings in Connecticut of this sleek, dark member of the Martin family over the last few years. They may look harmless but they have been known to eat birds, domestic animals and even deer!
Do you know what kind of plant is in the above photo? I didn't find the big kettle of Broad-winged Hawks that I hoped to. My total count of broadwings was only 8 for the morning but I enjoyed closeup views of Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Black Vultures. Searching for migrant hawks reminds me a little bit of trout fishing. Don't worry, I don't intend to start casting lures off the top of a mountain in hopes of catching a passing Osprey. What I mean is, your success depends on the perfect weather conditions and being at the right place in the right time. Veteran hawk watchers wll tell you about some of there greatest days when they saw hawks by the thousands but they will also tell you that some days can be very slow. You can find count totals and hawkwatch locations on the hawkcount website .
One of my more exciting moments came when 5 Black Vultures flew past me in close formation. They reminded me of military aircraft flying out on a mission. The grey wingtips are one good fieldmark to differentiate them from Turkey Vultures. Other highlights included watching a Sharp-shinned Hawk chase after a Red-tailed Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk badgering a Black Vulture.
Does it look to you like this Osprey has wing damage? I wonder what happened to it and can it survive?

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I combined a couple of short clips The first clip is a Raven which seemed to be enjoying the winds which were in excess of 30mph at times. That is immediately followed by a sharpie showing off its rapid wing beats.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hawkwatching & Sandpiper Bully Video

Over the last couple of weekends I have been a lazy birder. I made stops at several different locations but haven't been birding for more than an hour or two at a time.

Now that I've The top photo of the Great Blue Heron was taken at the Portland Fairgrounds. I stood in the middle of the tall grass with its mouth open for 10 minutes. What do you think he's trying to say?
Every year at the Portland waste transfer station I seem to find a Black Vultures like the one on the left end hanging out with 2 Turkey Vultures. I only see them in August though. I'm wondering if they start to migrate in August.
On one particular day at Wangunk Meadows I found a frog that stayed still long enough for me to take its picture. I'm used to them diving into the puddles before I even see them.
I kind of like the way this butterfly cast a shadow in the dirt. I've seen these kind of butterflies before but don't feel like looking it up. What kind of butterfly is it?
I did put some effort into hawk watching today from about 10 am until 2:30pm. There was a Hartford Audubon sponsored gathering at Booth Hill in West Hartland CT. I was able to contribute by spotting quite a few hawks but let others handle most of the identifications. It's going to take me a while before I'm any good at identifying hawks in flight. Most of them were Broad-winged Hawks. We saw several kettles of between 20 and 30 hawks. The most we saw at one time was about 60. Many of them were flying high in single file. Total Broadwing count for the day was just over 1,000 birds. Other Bops we saw included Sharp-shinned Hawks, Osprey, Bald Eagles, Harrier Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, Merlin, and 1 reported Goshawk which I didn't get a chance to see. We also saw Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks but they migrate later. There was one Broad-winged Hawk which we believe may have been a dark phase broadwing which is rare to see in CT. I plan to do some more hawk watching over the next couple of weeks. Trying to see how many hawks you can spot is kind of addictive. Especially when you have a whole group trying to do the same.
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Here's a video that was taken in the rain at Rocky Hill Meadows a couple of weeks ago. I believe this a Pectoral Sandpiper chasing off a Least Sandpiper. I, along with several other birders saw 12 American Golden Plover and 1 Buff-breasted Sandpiper on the same morning.