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

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Amazing Day Hawk Watching on Mt Philo pt-1

Prologue to Part 1, I had planned on going to Putney Mountain hawk watch with Don Clark and company, but because it was almost raining in Ludlow, I decided not to go. I needed a tire which I had ordered and was supposed to pick up on Thursday, but I thought maybe it's in so I called to see. It was. I went to Rutland under the threat of rain and got my tire replaced. As I was leaving the tire place, I looked north to see if any cars were coming and noticed that there was some blue sky and sunshine. Looking south down Rt 7 was dark and stormy looking so I went north just to see if anything was going on at Mount Philo, not expecting much with the wind out of the east. If there wasn't, I'd go birding at Dead Creek. That was the plan anyhow. Part 2 will deal with images of the Local Red-tailed Hawks

As I walked up to the lookout Jim Osbourn said, "You just missed a great bald Eagle show! Came in right over our heads." He was surrounded by kids from a Burlington school who were having a great time looking for hawks asking a million questions which Ted Murin, Jim Osborn , Mike Lester or I would try to answer. Just then the hawks were starting to come over in bigger numbers making things quite interesting. Little did we know what was yet to come. At first the kettles started forming in the northeast, then quickly spread in every direction. The count when something like,2-1-15-1-18-37-144 - and so it would go for the rest of the day. It didn't matter what direction you looked in. Some would just pop up from the tree line getting a bump up from Mt Philo, rising right over our heads, while others were picked up as pepper size dots way off in the distance.

This image has 39 broad-wings in it............ some of the kettles were closer and some pretty far out there - pepper sized specks.

There was a kettle out near the edge of Lake Champlain that was almost 300 strong. It looked like 300 dots flying all helter skelter and counting it would be fairly difficult. Thanks to Ted's perseverance, we figured 226 Broad-wings in it and 360 birds total. The Burlington kids left and were replaced by a group of environmental studies students from St Micheal's College. They arrived just as Ted finished counting a kettle of 140 Broad-wing Hawks. Everyone was fielding questions and showing them where to look. Plenty of eye-birds. One young man said he'd never seen an eagle and just then Jim yells out 'Bald Eagle!' Mike Lester had to leave to go to a class and boy he didn't want to go but he did. Scott Schwenk showed up just in time to take his place keeping things running smoothly. There were quite a few people that had come up to look for hawks migrating and still others that had no idea about the hawk migration just wanting to get out in the sun and fresh air. I think that everyone there got inspired by what was happening. They could sense that we were having a special day and joined in looking and calling out when they had found some birds. As it turned out this help was great because we couldn't watch everywhere and they caught a few hawks that were trying to sneak by low while we were looking elsewhere. Someone asked Ted how many he thought we'd seen so far - "over 2000" was all I heard. I did some quick addition that confirmed that its was way past 2000. That news only lasted a few second because more Broad-wings were passing by and even though the pace was very fast, Jim Osbourn very matter of fact said to one of the St Micheal's kids, "That's a Petrol Falcon. You can tell them from a Gas Hawk by how high they're flying. Gas Hawks fly low and Petrol Falcons fly..." Well you get the idea.

Image of a Gas Hawk Everyone was having fun and enjoying the hawk watch. As the day progressed it seemed as though no matter where you looked there were Broad-wings with an ever increasing number of Bald Eagles thrown in just for good measure. The kid from St Micheal's that wanted to see an eagle, not only got his first eagle but 20 more that made his day on Mt Philo one he'll never forget.

American Kestrel - I believe it's a juvenile but could be wrong. Anyone that knows better, please drop me an email so I can correct if need be.
I also heard one of the kids saying to her friend that she loved this class because it's so interesting and fun. Isn't this great! By 4:45 pm the sun was getting low, the hawks were running out of lift, the crowd of people gone except for a couple from Rutland whose names I don't remember (sorry). As the air cooled down so did the numbers of hawks. Time to add up the day's numbers.

Jim and Ted doing the numbers Ted was having trouble seeing straight after looking through binoculars all day so Jim "The Human Calculator" stepped in to help with the total. Even he was having trouble keeping all the numbers straight, but before long they announced that we had counted 2,758 Broad-wings and 97 other hawks for a total of 2855 hawks counted, migrating over Mt Philo this day.

Northern Harrier

Everyone was walking back to their car with the satisfaction of knowing that we had one amazing hawk count up here on Mount Philo, Ted Murin thought it was third highest but wasn't sure. It really didn't matter it was a big day that no one there will forget.

When I got home my son Montana asked what I'd been doing, I just showed him the page in my count book and he said holy cow is that all from today, you must have had an amazing day how many did you see? 2855.

As for me it was a personal high, one that I will never forget. A special thanks to Jim Osbourn, Ted Murin, Mike Lester, Scott Schwenk for there part in making this one very special Birding in Vermont day for me!

Good Birding to all!

Peter Manship

Story and Photos © 2009 Peter Manship All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Putney Mountain Hawk Watch report 9-13-09

Down in southern Vt the Putney Mountain Hawk Watch Group has worked hard to keep records of the hawks passing by and establish Putney Mountain as one of the better places to view the hawk migration. It is something very unique here in Vermont. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a day of hawk watching.

Cooper's Hawk top image. Some of the Putney Mt Hawk Watch Group below.The mountain top event is well known to the area people and at one point there were about 25 people watching/counting hawks, families with children, 3 or 4 people walking their dogs and still others that just came up to get out in the sunshine. The top of Putney Mt is also a popular place to hike. A couple from Saratoga N.Y. asked me what are we doing.

Broad-winged Hawk right"Hawk watching," I answered. With that someone yells out "two in the wispy white clouds" and I looked up pointing to the two hawks going by overhead for the couple to see. They stuck around for a while as the pace of hawk sightings increased. Everyone was very busy looking, counting, double checking and confirming ID's and keeping track of the day's sighting.

(pictured below Sharp-shinned upper and Cooper's lower) "I have a kettle of 18 over here," someone yells and instantly everyone focuses on that, counting hawks and confirming ID's. Kettles are quite a sight to be hold. They are a group of hawks all rising up on a warm air thermal. When they reach the end of the warm air(the top), they glide off heading south in search of the next thermal to get a lift from. Hawks also ride on wind currents when it favors their movement south.

A Broad-winged Hawk from the side

The excitement of watching hawks glide by is not for everyone, but those of you interested in finding out more can go to this link for a brief history of Putney Mt hawk watch and for info about the daily count totals and direction to Putney Mountain Putney VT. Click here then click on the site profile for directions.

Another Cooper's Hawk belowFor me this is all new and very exciting, getting a chance to see so many hawks heading south on their annual migration. And, yes, some are what they call eye birds. They are birds so close that you don't need binoculars to view them. Who doesn't love that?

Broad-wing viewOn this day the Putney Mountain Hawk Watch group counted a total of 689 hawks spread over 8 different species and entered this count into the permanent record for Putney Mt Hawk Watch for future scientific comparison.

I would like to thank Don Clark for showing me how to get to Putney Mountain and introducing me to hawk watching there. I'm already planning a return trip!


Peter Manship

Images and story © 2009 Peter Manship

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mt Philo Hawk Watch Photos

I was looking at the images from my visit to Mt Philo on my computer. When I saw this image, I was hooked. I knew I had to have more. I had never seen a hawk viewed from above. It was just beautiful to me. ( picture below)

This bird flew out of sight very quickly and I was left wondering what it was. My hawk ID abilities are all based on looking up or out at the bird as it flies overhead. Checking in Hawks from Every Angle by Jerry Liguori on page 57, there, in the lower left hand corner, was the answer - an image of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, my favorite raptor. Now, there is no way that I wasn't going back to Mt Philo to do some more hawk watching.
With my friend Harry, binoculars, all the camera gear and sandwiches from the 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes VT, we set out for Mt Philo to do some hawk watching and hopefully capture some good images of the hawks while we were at it.
Well, two juveniles and one adult Red-tail put on quite a show. The adult (female) was flying very low overhead, looking around, hunting while the two juveniles played tag off in the distance. These images show the female Red-tailed Hawk as she circled around hunting just off the ridge viewing area. Enjoy!!!to see a list of the hawks we saw today click this link to VTbird
P.S. I received this from a non-birding friend :
Hi Peter-
Fantastic photos of Red-tailed Hawks! In looking at the link to all you saw that day, I have no clue as to what "TVs heading south" means. I'm sure television sets don't fly! *smile*
Well, I remember how I laughed the first time I read, 'TVs flying south" on VTbird. I was a beginner then and I eventually found out that it meant Turkey Vultures. But I thought that it was such a funny statement - "TVs flying south", that I made a mental note back then for future use. So as I filed the VTbird report, I added it just for a good laugh. Truth is, I don't think TVs are even counted .
Good Birding!
images and story © 2009 Peter Manship

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Infrared Images of the Scarborough Marsh

The images that follow were made with a converted Nikon 5400 digital camera to black and white infrared. The conversion was done by Life Pixel and I would highly recommend them. The Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center was where we set out from. It is located on Pine Road, Scarborough , Maine. (207 883-5100). This is a central location in the marsh. From there you can either go out to the ocean or head up river to explore for hours of great paddling/birding/or just plan relaxing out in the sun. These infrared images just begin to give you an idea of what the marsh is like, but I like them because of their graphic look which I find very pleasing in an Ansel Adams kind of way. (When I'm working with the infrared Nikon 5400, I ask myself , "What would Ansel do?" ) . I look for strong compositional images which is a lot easier to say then to do, I have to admit. At the end of this day I set my Nikon 5400 on the hood of the jeep, got distracted and got in the jeep and drove away. I looked in the rear view mirror and watched the camera explode as it hit the road at 50mph! I was able to save the CF card and the images you see here were on it.

Hope you enjoy these images of the Scarborough Marsh.

Peter Manship

Story and images © 2009 Peter Manship

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kayaking the Springweather Reservoir

September 2nd. Fall was in the air this morning but as the day progressed it turned into a classic mid 70's September day. We were greeted by 15 + Clouded Sulphur butterflies flying about the boat launch area . As it turned out deciding to kayak the Springweather Resevior in Weatherfield. VT turned out to be a great choice of how to spend this beautiful day. We kayaked up the Black River from the boat launch to just before where the Stoughton Pond run-off joins the Black River. It was hard work-period! We did, however, get to see a Green Heron feeding along the river's edge and every time we got close, it would fly ahead always staying in front of us. Then out of nowhere a juvenile Cooper's Hawk hit the Green Heron mid flight and the two of them ended up in the water. Lots of noise. The hawk let go and winged its way back to a dry perch as did the heron. Lost sight of the Coopers and the Green Heron was now in hiding so we drifted down river back to the main body of water. The lake behind the dam has many places to explore and look at the wildlife that calls Springweather Reservoir home. The view of Ascutney mountain from out on the water is a Vermont classic and Springweather has a half dozen different places to enjoy the great views while paddling around .

Here's a photo from my friend's camera of Ascutney Mt from up in the Black River area.

The birding is impressive whether you're kayaking or just walking one of the many trails that surround Springweather. Here's a list of birds seen there over the years and it's not up-to-date.

This day we saw a pair of Snowy Egret , two Greater Yellowlegs,

a Spotted Sandpiper and the Green Heron.
There are always Great Blue Herons, Bald Eagles and a whole host of other critters that live around water that you may see.

Springweather Reservoir can be tough to paddle if the water is low, but that's not a problem so far this year. If you're up for a day of adventure you just might find it at the Springweather Reservoir, Weatherfield Vt.


Peter Manship
© 2009 Peter Manship