Saturday, November 7, 2009

River of Black Birds, Portsmouth, N.H. 11-6-09

5oo,ooo Blackbirds! That is my guess as to how many blackbirds there were and that is really a moot point because the experience of seeing that large a number of birds flying by is somewhat overwhelming. Everywhere you looked, it was blackbirds! This image was facing northwest-ish. It started out slowly, but that changed very quickly. There were three streams of birds - one north and south of our location and one overhead. That's not to say there weren't others; there were. They were scope range at best and more importantly, largely overlooked because of the distance to them. Plus there was an extraordinary number of blackbirds flying by at close range. The stream to the southeast was very large and dense, but you had to look through a scope to see it. Case in point. The image below shows birds passing in front of the moon . Not too far away, but in the lower left hand corner is a distant and larger group of blackbirds passing by that went unnoticed by me until I got home and was looking at the images on the computer. Image below is a 200% enlargement of the marked area from the image above.

This is an example of what it was like. It points out how hard it would be to try and get an accurate count of the total number of blackbirds flying in to the Great Bog roost area in Portsmouth NH.

Here is an image of the group watching the blackbirds flying overhead.

The dark pink area on the horizon in the center of the above image looked like this image below through my 400mm lens.
It was a life experience that is very difficult for me to put in words. Even the images don't convey the scope of the event. They do, however, offer fragments of a much larger picture. The image below is looking east and similar views were going on to the south and west when I recorded this image. The roost fly-in lasted about 45 minutes or so and the sound was impressive.What I would say, is that if this happens again next year, a trip down there to experience it first hand would be highly recommended. Who knows, maybe we could carpool next year!

I had a great time birding the coast of New Hampshire thanks to Steve and Jane Mirick, Len Medlock, Jason and all the others, and The River of Blackbirds is truly an unforgettable experience!

Thelma turned over 200,000! It happened at 4:20am about a mile west of Warner, NH.

Marv Elliott of the Rutland Audubon had the winning guess of Nov 4th. A special thanks to all 47 people that entered the Thelma Mileage Contest. Marv will be receiving a framed Red-tailed Hawk image from those taken at Mt Philo back in September. Again, thanks for taking the time to enter.

Peter Manship

images and story © 2009 Peter Manship All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Birding the New Hampshire Seacoast 11-1-09

The alarm went off at 3am! I really didn't want to get up, but I knew I had to get moving. I made it to Rye Harbor, NH by 6:30 and started trying to locate the Common Murre which had been reported on the NHbird list the day before. With an hour to spare I was hopeful of sighting the murre, but it was gone. I had to get going if I was going to meet up with Steve Mirick and the others by 8am. I was doing fine until I got to the Seabrook Harbor Bridge which was down to one lane for repairs and the light was red. I sat there waiting for the light to change; then a boat passed through the bridge and it was 7:55 when I finally got across. Too late, I thought, so I decided to wait at the Seabrook harbor parking lot. There was a Black-bellied Plover hunting for food. Here's and image of the plover:As 8:30 rolled around I noticed that there weren't any birders here. They must be starting somewhere else. No biggie, I'll bird the coast and eventually our paths will cross.
Here is an image of a White-rumped Sandpiper from Ragged Neck on the NH seacoast.On the north side of Rye Harbor State Park there were quite a few shorebirds working the wrack line (washed up seaweed, etc.). I settled in photographing the shorebirds when I flushed a sparrow that looked different. Couldn't relocate so I was returning to photograph the shorebirds when it popped up just in front of me. After photographing it I asked Denny Abbott if he knew what it was. Looking at the image "Ipswich" type Savannah Sparrow was his response. A life bird for me! Here are some image of the Ipswick sparrow: and some shorebirds - Dunlin preening:
A molting juvenile Sanderling: juvenile Black-Bellied Plover:There was a flock of about 70 Snow Buntings feeding in the parking area. I left Denny and headed north. I was hopping to find Steve and the Brookline Bird Club. Driving south again having not found them, I noticed a car approaching with a person waving out the window; it was Denny. "What's up?"
"I found the Common Murre right after you left, about 10:30 in the harbor," he said. I raced back to the harbor excited at the prospect of finding this rare bird. As I walked up to the edge of the seawall, there was a woman scanning the harbor. "Did you find the murre?" I asked.
"Nope, been looking for 10 minutes with no luck."
" I was just told that the murre is here." We doubled our effort. Not much luck, I decided to move down the road and we agreed to get the other if we found it. Well, she pulled in to where I was all excited. " I got it! " was all she said.
Back at Rye Harbor S.P. looking through my scope at this wonderful rare bird, when I hear, "You're too good to bird with me anymore!"
I turned and it was Steve Mirick and company. "Got the murre" was all I said. Steve promptly got the group and everyone was able to get great looks at the Common Murre, a life bird for most, me included. Here is an image I got from a mile away. Well almost.Here is a link to images of the Murre taken by Len Medlock. These are amazing images at point blank range from a boat that Len and Jason ( both of whom are great photographers) asked for to get a ride out to the bird. Enjoy!
How about this? Len Medlock doing the newest birding craze, "Tailgate birding." Here we see Len scanning off shore for rarities. As the day was coming to an end, I asked Steve if we could head over to see "The River of Blackbirds." Image below left to right - me with Steve Mirick and Len Medlock
Here is what Steve Mirick reported to NH Birds list about the river of blackbirds;
"200,000. For those who stuck around to the bitter end, we finished the day at the Great Bog blackbird roost and witnessed "The River" of blackbirds from the parking lot of the Target Store along Rt. 33 at the Greenland/Portsmouth town line. Today it started later than about 4:15 PM (EST) and continued non-stop until very late when it finished somewhat abruptly almost exactly at 5:00 PM. About 25 minutes after sunset! I really don't know how many birds there are in "The River", but today's flight was significantly longer than last night's and lasted about 40-45 minutes. Based on input from others, I decided to up last nights estimate of 100,000 to 200,000 birds tonight. There may have been more than that and Len seemed to think closer to 400,000 birds.....who knows? "
More info and images from the "River of Blackbirds" in a separate post. Plus Thelma turned 200,000 contest results in next post.

My list for the day,Total species seen 55, Life birds in caps:
Semipalmated Plover, Sanderling , White-rumped Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Bonaparte's Gull,"IPSWICH" SAVANNAH SPARROW, COMMON MURRE, Common Eider, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Common Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon,Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, NORTHERN GANNET, GREAT CORMORANT, Double-crested Cormorant, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Wood Duck, , American Black Duck, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, COMMON TERN, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Pipit, Black-capped Chickadee, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Finch, House Sparrow, Common Grackles and other blackbirds - 250,000 to 500,000
Will post more about this later this week.

Good Birding
Peter Manship

© 2009 Peter A Manship All right reserved

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Yellow Warbler in November

Here are two images of what I think is a female Yellow Warbler (see the PS below). I saw it at Brilyea Access road yesterday afternoon. I was about 300 feet in from RT 17 looking for ducks when I saw a yellow flash. I was only able to get these two images before the bird took off.

I welcome any input about the birds ID.

P.S. As it turns out this warbler is a male Yellow Warbler thanks to Walter Ellison for the ID help. click here to read Walter's email describing this bird on Vtbird.

Good Birding

Peter Manship

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow Geese at Dead Creek or Thelma turns 200,000

Monday - the sun came out! Amazingly, this October has been quite rainy and between work and rain (two words that can produce funny emotional responses), I took the day off and went birding. Dead Creek was my destination where I wanted to end the day with the Snow Geese flying in against the setting sun. Hopefully! Wandering the back roads between Route 7 and Lake Champlain is one of my favorite ways to spend a sunny day birding. At McQuen Slang I found Rusty Blackbirds in the Maple-leaf Viburnum along with many robins. The big surprise was the 45 plus juvenile Cedar Waxwings hawking bugs from the tree tops. Next stop was Whitney Creek to try and locate the Orange-crowned Warbler that was reported on VTbird. There were White-throated Sparrows , Savannah Sparrows and more Cedar Waxwings, but no Orange-crowned Warbler. Butterflies were out sunbathing, taking advantage of the warm sunshine. A half dozen Clouded Sulphurs were showing their wear and tear this late into the season. An Eastern Comma Butterfly (winter form) was also enjoying the sun before hibernating in the leaf liter for the winter. They are one of the first butterflies to fly in the spring, often seen late April and early May. Farrell Access road to Dead Creek was very slow; however, there was a lone female Hooded Merganser feeding at the pool in the bend in the road. When I finally arrived at Brilyea Access with winds out of the northwest, it was also quiet. Highlights there were two Pie-billed Grebes, Green Winged Teal, American Black Ducks, Mallards and a feeding Great Blue Heron. I had just enough time to take this image.
There was one of those large farm “honey bucket” spreaders bearing down on my position; it was time to move. At the goose viewing area there was Lady Bugs all over the place, and the Moon. What can I say! The Snow Geese might be down in numbers, but it is still a thrill to see them fly. Here is a link to a report in the Addision County Independent about the decline in the numbers of Snow Geese at the Dead Creek WMA facility. With the geese well back from the viewing area, I used my 400mm lens to close the distance some. A low flying Northern Harrier spooked the geese and I was able to make this image. I thought that there were about 2500 Snow Geese in the area for the afternoon. They only flew one more time towards the end of the day as the light was fading and most of the geese were in the southeast field anyhow; not a good place for sunset images. I looked back one more time just as I was leaving. Wow! I jumped out of Thelma, the jeep, (the official vehicle for all BFO adventures) and was able to record the header image. On the road as I approached the top of the hill on Route 17 and 22a, I saw the sunset reflected in the rear windows of the Addison town office building. A different way of showing it was a nice sunset.

On the way home Thelma, the Jeep, turned over to 199,000 thousand miles - which leads me to this. Guess the date that Thelma the Jeep goes over 200,000 and win a beautiful framed BFO's bird image for your effort. Person or persons closest to the date and time wins. All you have to do is email me with your Date and Time guess. Here’s a clue. I’m sure that this will happen in the next two to three weeks at the latest.

Use this address to enter : petermanshipdesigns AT gmail dot com

Good Luck!!!

Peter Manship

©2009 Peter Manship all rights reserved

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at Pomainville WMA, Pittsford, VT

Pomainville WMA: 7:15 am and from Route 7. I could see a few birders already out there looking. Looking for the LeConte’s Sparrow and the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow that were found on Saturday 10-17-09 by Ted Marin, Allan Strong and Craig Provost and who managed to get the word out quickly.

(birders checking the grassland area at Pomainville WMA for the sparrows)It was a brisk walk out to the general area of the reported sightings. Everything was covered with frost. A bite nippy but beautiful; the excitement of maybe finding two life birds was enough to keep me warm. I joined Greg Askew, Michael Lester and three other birders whom I don’t know (sorry, I should have asked your names). They were looking along the fence row and having no luck. I asked Greg if he had direction to the location. He said, "no, but I can get them"—and pulled out his cell phone and pulled up VTBird. Ah “Birding in the digital age” we heard down the road (mowed path) around the northeast corner of the enpoundment area (pond). Greg was waist deep in the tall grass. I was 20 feet to his left. Next I hear Greg say, NELSON”S SHARP-TAIL! I looked but couldn't find it. I moved in closer to Greg and ask, where? As he pointed out the bird's location, I could feel ice cold water leaking into my boots. I looked down to find that we were standing in over a foot of very cold water. Retreating quickly I pick up the bird just as it moved off. We quickly relocated it and Greg phones the others to inform them that we have found the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Jim Mead joined group as the bird moved around the northeast end of the floodplain wetland affording everyone several chances for great looks.

Inspired by the Nelson’s find everyone spread out to see if we could find the LeConte’s Sparrow, but it was not to be today for us. There is so much good habitat for the LeConte's to hide in, that it would have taken all day for us to check it all. I think that the bird could and probably is still there, but now moved to a safer more private/peaceful area which could be just around the backside of the pond away from all the attention. Good luck if you go looking for the LeConte’s Sparrow or Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow at Pomainville WMA Pittsford VT!

Good Birding to all!


Photos and story © 2009 Peter Manship All right Reserved

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Local Red-tailed Hawks of Mount Philo

The flow of migrating hawks was slowing down after a day of record numbers. The local Red-tailed Hawks were returning to the skies around Mt Philo. An eagle was gliding by minding its own business heading south when one of the local Red-tails decided to escort it out of its territory. Things were getting back to normal. I noticed the juvenile Red-tails playfully chasing each other around after what must have seemed like a never ending parade of hawks flying in their home airspace. One of the reasons for going to Mt Philo was that I wanted to photograph the local Red-tailed Hawks so that I might be able to tell a juvenile from adult and, for that matter, to be able to differentiate male and female in the adults. Check out this female below; she must have just finished gorging herself. Look at the size of the crop ( just passed the dark brown head feathers -large white bulge). Must have been a big lunch!I was clicking off some images when I noticed the two juveniles turning and diving in a very steep dive down below the tree tops then zooming back up playing tag. I tried to follow them as they continued to to play and just kept firing off images as fast as the camera would go. I saw one roll up on its side to deflect the charge of the other and wondered if I could capture that. I continued to follow them hoping one of them would roll on its side again. All of a sudden one rolled up. Then the other went into a steep dive and it was over. They were out of sight. It was over before I knew it! I watched them fly around chasing each other but that was it. They didn't roll on their sides again. All the way home I wondered if I had gotten them on their sides. Well, when I first looked at the images on the computer, I just couldn't believe what I had on the screen in front of me! Both of the juvenile Red-tails were flying upside down! I was amazed!
This image was captured just before they were upside down. You can see the lead bird setting up for this.
These images ( numbers 4226 through 4229 ) have been cropped so you can better see what the Red-tailed Hawks were doing. The images show the sequence as it happened.
I never saw this while I was shooting the camera, in part because of the mirror. It flips up to record the image and temporally blocks what you can see in the view finder. The camera can record 6 1/2 frames a second and I only got four images- that's how fast it happened. The images didn't come out clear and sharp, but are good enough to show them upside down going into a dive. I hope to return this coming week to watch and photograph the local Red-tails flying around Mt Philo .

Please email me off list if you can shed some light on this flight behavior.
Peter Manship
images and story © 2009 Peter Manship all rights reserved