Monday, January 7, 2008

Winter Finches

Since the Franklins and Sabines gull dissapeared from Dunkirk Harbour upstate, I've saved a trip there and have been able to focus locally.  Yesterday was Long Island, and today I went up to the lower Catskills for some of the winter finches that have been reported there.  Many of these birds are eruptive, meaning you won't see any in the area one year, and then the next they'll be everywhere.  This has been an "everywhere" year, with birds like Pine Siskin, Hoary Redpoll, Red Crossbill and Bohemian Waxwing all coming downstate, and even as far as New Jersey.  This is generally attributed to a crop failure in Canada (the crop refers to what the birds would normally eat), which forces the birds to move south and find food elsewhere.  As is so often the case, what's bad for the birds is good for the birders, and many people in our area are seeing there birds for the first time.  
I started at Curt McDermott's house in Orange County...he'd posted a Hoary Redpoll at his feeders, and has been extremely generous in accomo
dating all the birders who have come up to see it.  There are two general types of Redpoll, Common and Hoary, and the Hoary is by far the less Common.  It can be a little tricky to positively ID...the differences between the two species are relatively subtle, and there is some overlap between the two.   The main issue is finding clean undertail co
verts (as opposed to streaked), as well as a "punched in" look to the beak.  
The bird also has a frosty, grayish white tone (as opposed to a warmer brown), and less streaking on it's flanks.  This bird seems to fit all those criteria!
On the way to my next location I saw a huge bird fly across the road and new immediately that it was a Pileated Woodpecker.  These birds are incredible-their size is always
 surprising, and they have a bright red pointed head.  Not an uncommon bird upstate, but a great one t
o see.

Next was the Pine Grosbeaks,
 seen at a crab apple orchard for the past week.  Crabapple trees are a source of food for many birds in the winter, and are a good place to check for unusual winter birds like the Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwing.  I saw about 20 birds in this flock...they were surprisingly quiet compared to other big flocks, and several came within 10 feet of me to feed on the apples.  They remind me of parrots in their mannerisms, and there coloration is equally exquisite, if subtler in tone.  
Next I j
ed up with a New Jersey birder and we cruised some of the local roads.  She spotted a Northern Shrike perched up in a tree, and I saw a fl
ock of Wild Turkey roaming a fallow field.  It always help
s to have extra eyes when you're looking for b
Finally I went to Shawangunk NWR to look for Short Eared Owl and Rough Legged Hawk.  The hawks were in strong evidence, with four separate birds perched around the grassland area (Shawangunk is an old airport that has gone to seed), and there were nine Northern Harriers that I saw, including five adults.  The adult Harrier is sometimes called the Gray Ghost because of it's beautiful gray and white plumage.  I've only seen a couple in all of last year, but here were five circling and cruising the meadow for prey.  The only thing missing was a Short Eared Owl.  I saw eight here about a month ago, but none today.  Still, I can't was a great day in the Catskills!

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