Following a few severe thunderstorms, local birder, Gale VerHauge was able to track down 5 American Avocet who put down at Write Park Beach in Dunkirk, New York today. I was lucky enough to head down with my dashing friends, Alec Humann and Joe Fell for some beautiful looks at the weary travelers. While the birds are a total rare bird alert in western New York, they stopped through the same area, and at about the same time last year as well. I would't mind seeing them every year, that's for sure. Lifer!
Spent some time back at the survey site in West Seneca with my friend Tom Kerr a few days ago. Could not re-locate the Red-headed Woodpeckers. The next day was spent at the Charles Burchfield railroad tracks in West Seneca, and the last set of pictures are from Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Spent a little while at Tifft Nature Preserve yesterday. I was fortunate enough to witness a male Blue-gray Gnatcatcher feeding a fledgling while I was there. The fledgling stayed in hard to photograph areas, but I snagged a few good shots of the adult, and it was fun to watch. Another fun spectacle that remains un-photographed was a pair of Barn Swallow feeding their three fledglings on Heritage Boardwalk as well. Tifft is abound with new life, and it's just wonderful to watch it all happen. My main mission was trying to find some interesting Odonates to photograph and identify. Tifft is a great place to do such things. I hope you make it out there soon.
I helped my friend Tom Kerr from the Buffalo Audubon with a survey site on private property in West Seneca yesterday. This fantastic piece of land is located on a river, and also includes some swamp areas surrounded by young woods. It is home to the Red-headed Woodpecker (a species of special concern in NY), which eluded us yesterday, and I feel like it would be a perfect place for the Prothonotary Warbler to take up residence with a few nest boxes in the swamp. Despite not finding the mated pair of Red-headed Woodpecker we had hoped to on that particular day. I could't put my camera down. Most birds were a ways out on the swamp, so I could't document everything I wanted to in the few minutes we were there, but you could easily rack up one of the highest species counts in our area at this location alone, mid-summer. Here are just a few pictures of the things we found. I would normally never post animals so far away, but these are just record shots.
My friend Nathan Johnson and I went exploring on the same railroad tracks that the famous artist, Charles E. Burchfield spent a lot of time enjoying birds and nature on in his lifetime out in West Seneca. It looks like he really knew his stuff because the place was a virtual smorgasbord of passerines. We were greeted by an actively singing Indigo Bunting right as we started our walk, and the birds never stopped coming. We saw Cedar Waxwings, Great Crested Flycatcher, 3 types of Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Red-tailed Hawk fledglings as some of our highlights. I've also included my best picture yet of a Virginia Rail, and the last sighting of the Great Horned Owl fledgling from my birthday on the 18th of June.
A few weeks ago I posted about my friend, Nathan Johnson, who just started birding. Nate is an amazing photographer and got into it hard and fast. Since he began birding, he has been texting me pictures when he has trouble identifying the birds he finds. I've gotten pictures of Baltimore Orioles, Nashville Warblers, and all sorts of great local birds from Nate. Well, yesterday he sends me a picture of a pretty funny looking bird. I just assumed his mother or a friend sent him the picture, because it was of a completely foreign bird. Having watched tons of David Attenborough my entire life, I immediately identified it as a Laughing Kookaburra, and didn't think much of it. Nate responded back that it was a new one for him, and he would have to look it up for his list. Ha! What did he mean? Inquiring further, I found out that not only did he take the picture himself, he took it outside in a little park here in Western New York. Amazing find, Nate! The Kookaburra family are the largest of the Kingfishers, and are native to Australia and New Guinea. Unlike our native new world Kingfishers, they eat mostly small mammals, and don't rely much on fish at all. Anyways, I drove down to Burchfield Park in West Seneca today to see if I could relocate the bird, and sure enough... a Laughing Kookaburra in all of its glory is flying around down there. I found the bird just past the pavilion on a red wooden bridge. I observed it trying to eat worms from the ground while I was there. I hope it is finding enough food to survive until someone can figure out where it escaped from, and hopefully return it to its home.
Finally! After seeing tons and tons of Least Bittern, taking hundreds of shots, spending countless hours trying, and walking away with nothing but blurry flight pictures, I finally got a decent one. The mostly crepuscular nature (in my experience) of this elusive marsh bird has made it near impossible to photograph until now. I can;t explain how hard to photograph this particular has been. I was looking around for a Sora at Tifft Nature Preserve this afternoon with my friend, Nathan Johnson when a Least Bittern just popped up right in from of him! What luck!?! We managed to come into contact with a feisty little Marsh Wren a bit later as well. Just one more shy bird that makes it nearly impossible to photograph with its quick movements, and elusive nature. Other highlights include multiple Willow Flycatchers, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and a fantastic Virginia Rail with my other friend, Kevin Rybczynski as the sun set over the marsh. I think all three of us had an amazing night at Tifft!
Sorry it took so long to post an update. Aside from work and everything, I was asked to help out at the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage this last weekend. I led the 6am bird walks and presented a workshop on wildlife photography. The event was one of the most magical and amazing things I have ever been a part of. If you are looking for a way to connect you and your family to nature, I implore you to check out their website and make sure to sign up for next year's event: Allegany Nature Pilgrimage. The birding was fantastic there, and although I could't really take many pictures because of my responsibilities, I managed to snag a few. Highlights were a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler, a seemingly mated pair of Orchard Orioles, and the bird of all birds on this trip: the White-eyed Vireo. It was the first time one had been recorded at the Pilgrimage, and it had to be added to the checklist by hand. That's when you know you have a good bird! There were countless other birds, but nothing much matters without a picture I guess. All the birds aside, I actually learned a ton while I was there. My strong areas in birding are all on the visual end, and I consider myself a point-of-id birder. I'm admittedly weak in the ear birding department. I was lucky enough to bird alongside some greats that taught me a ton whether they knew it or not. I picked up lots of mnemonics from great local birders like Willie D'Anna, Betsy Potter, Frank Gardner, Celeste Morien, Jay Whopperer, and Tom Kerr. My ear birding skills more than doubled on this one trip! Life is a constant lesson, especially in the world of birding, and there is always more to learn. That's probably why so many of us are attracted to the hobby.
In other news, I finally checked up on the Great Horned Owls at Forest Lawn Cemetery. I gave them all the space they needed to raise young since the time I discovered the nest. I'm happy to say that they fledged an owlet! Just awesome! Here are a few pictures from the last few days:
Despite the heavy overcast, 45 degree weather, and strong winds, Tifft Nature Preserve was alive yesterday. I encountered Wilson's Warblers, American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Magnolia Warblers, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Marsh Wren, Northern Shoveler, and multiple silent Flycatchers that I was not able to identify. The real highlight was the ever-elusive Virginia Rail. What a treat! I've included a few random shots from the prior days or so at Forest Lawn Cemetery as well.
Today I want to talk about my "spark bird." Sounds kind of funny, right? Am I talking about a glittery bird made from fire sparks that's about to burst into flames like the legendary Phoenix? Haha. Almost. A spark bird is the one that started it all for you. It's the bird that made you decide you would be a birder. It's a special bird, and probably your favorite one, or at least the one that gets extra attention every time you see it. My spark bird is the Magnolia Warbler, and this is the story: I was at Tifft Nature Preserve one day looking around for a little yellow bird. The Yellow Warbler breeds at Tifft in the thousands, but just for a second I could have sworn I saw a Hooded Warbler appear, and then flitter off in an instant. I was frantically searching around for the Hooded Warbler with my binoculars when out of nowhere came the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A Magnolia Warbler. It landed on a branch right in my view where I was looking for the Hooded Warbler. It took my breath away. It filled my entire world with beauty. All there was was me and that bird in a special moment. I had no idea what it was, aside from the most spectacular gem in the universe. I just could't believe that I was the only person in the entire world enjoying that special treasure. Right then and there I decided I was going to be a treasure hunter for the rest of my life, and that I would dedicate myself to sharing that beauty I found in the Magnolia Warbler with the rest of the world. Right then and there I decided I was going to be a birder, and right now I'm still on that same mission to share the beauty of the natural world with everyone I can. I hope you find the same enjoyment in this Magnolia Warbler that I do, and if you have a spark bird story, I would love to hear it. If I ever find your spark bird, I'lll post your story along with a picture in one of my future posts.