4th of July Birding Challenge!

Do you love America? Are you a warm-blooded patriot looking for a way to enjoy your freedoms? Do you love birds? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions, then you qualify for the –

“Thermal Birding 4th of July Birding Challenge: ‘Merica Addition!”

American Avocet – photo by Steve Brenner

One week from today, people all across the country will be having cookouts, launching fireworks, and birdwatching! The rules of the challenge are simple: when you are out birding on the 4th of July, every species you see that begins with the word “American” counts. Also, any species that begins with the name of a U.S. state (e.g.. California Towhee) also counts. You can also collect bonus birds for each of the following winged-countrymen you spot: Bald Eagle, Wild Turkey, and the official birds of each U.S. state. So, for example, let’s say I go out on Independence Day and see an American Robin, 5 American Crows, 3 American Redstarts, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Bald Eagle, and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds, then I would have a grand total of 6 countable species. So it’s fairly straight-forward and similar to other ‘big day’ type competitions. Feeling patriotic yet?

As with all birding competitions, this is solely meant for the purposes of fun, and as long as you have a good time birding, that’s what really matters. Also, mid-summer can be a very slow time for bird watching, so this provides an excellent opportunity for birders to get out there and check out some breeding birds in your area or scour those neglected local hotspots. Please post replies on how you faired with the challenge, and try to nab as many of these species as you can. Remember, Thomas Jefferson may have spent all day inside on July 4th, 1776, but that doesn’t mean you should! So get out there and bird, people . . . USA, USA, USA!

Here is the list of the 57 eligible ‘4th of July birds’ for counting in the ABA area, including the official birds of each state. (Note: ‘state game birds’ have been omitted, as has Hawaiian Goose, Blue Hen Chicken, and Rhode Island Red Chicken).

  1. American Avocet
  2. American Bittern
  3. American Black Duck
  4. American Coot
  5. American Crow
  6. American Dipper
  7. American Flamingo
  8. American Golden-Plover
  9. American Goldfinch (also state bird for IA, NJ, and WA)
  10. American Kestrel

    ‘Merica Kestrel – photo by Steve Brenner

  11. American Oystercatcher
  12. American Pipit
  13. American Redstart
  14. American Robin (also state bird for CT, MI, and WI)
  15. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  16. American Tree Sparrow
  17. American White Pelican
  18. American Wigeon
  19. American Woodcock
  20. Arizona Woodpecker
  21. California Condor
  22. California Gnatcatcher
  23. California Quail (also state bird for CA)
  24. California Thrasher
  25. California Towhee
  26. California Gull (also state bird for UT)
  27. Carolina Chickadee
  28. Carolina Wren (also state bird for SC)

    Carolina Wren – photo by Steve Brenner

  29. Connecticut Warbler
  30. Florida Scrub Jay
  31. Kentucky Warbler
  32. Louisiana Waterthrush
  33. Mississippi Kite
  34. Tennessee Warbler
  35. Virginia Rail
  36. Bald Eagle
  37. Wild Turkey
  38. Northern Flicker (AL)
  39. Willow Ptarmigan (AK)
  40. Cactus Wren (AZ)
  41. Northern Mockingbird (AR, FL, MS, TN, and TX)
  42. Lark Bunting (CO)
  43. Brown Thrasher (GA)

    Brown Thrasher – photo by Steve Brenner

  44. Mountain Bluebird (ID, NV)
  45. Northern Cardinal (IL, IN, KY, NC, OH, VI, and WV)
  46. Western Meadowlark (KS, MT, NE, ND, OR, and WY)
  47. Brown Pelican (LA)
  48. Black-capped Chickadee (ME, MA)
  49. Baltimore Oriole (MD)
  50. Common Loon (MN)
  51. Eastern Bluebird (MO, NY)
  52. Purple Finch (NH)
  53. Greater Roadrunner (NM)
  54. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (OK)
  55. Ruffed Grouse (PA)
  56. Ring-necked Pheasant (SD)
  57. Hermit Thrush (VT)

Western Tanager Chase

I’m not sure what’s going on with western birds showing up in Upstate New York lately, but after my successful Western Grebe chase and after Drew Weber’s successful Black-throated Gray Warbler chase, I figured 2013 was done producing birds from the other half of the country. You can imagine my surprise when this past Tuesday, a 1st year male Western Tanager was reported in the little town of Irving, NY, about 40 minutes south of Buffalo. Checking the eBird records, there haven’t been many Western Tanagers in upstate or western New York in the past 10 years. This was a really good bird for us.

ebird range map of Western Tanager in NY past 10 years

Naturally, I went after this guy this morning. Reports on the bird had it coming into a suet feeder about every 15 to 45 minutes, and all visitors got great looks at this guy on Wednesday and said it was extremely cooperative. No one waited more than an hour for the bird. I got to the private residence at 9:50. It was last seen at 9:30. This should be a piece of cake . . . Flash forward 4 hours later, and I still hadn’t seen any sign of the tanager. I had groups of birders come and go in my span of being there, and my morale was at an all time low. I was pretty much calling it quits at 2 o’clock when lo and behold, Western Tanager shows up for 20 seconds and then bolts under duress from some Common Grackles. It was a major relief to finally get this bird, and it did return about 10 minutes later for an extended look. Unfortunately, the tanager was not as cooperative as previously reported for photos, but I managed to get a decent enough documentation shot. All in all, an excellent bird and an even better bird for New York. I should add that the owner of the property, Pauline, was extremely cooperative and friendly with the hordes of birders coming to her house. Many thanks.

Western Tanager – Irving, NY 4/25/13

Spring Report: Buffalo

It has been a slow trickle for migrating birds so far in Western New York, but things are starting to turn a corner and I can feel a big push on the horizon. Most of March and the beginning of April were painfully stagnant, but the past two weeks have provided some very promising signs of a good spring ahead. Two weeks ago, I had a steady diet of Bonaparte’s Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns along the waterfront in the city. While these arrivals were right on time and completely expected, watching your first Common Tern in about 6 months gracefully fish for lunch is a always a welcome sign of the impending summer.

Bonaparte’s Gull – Buffalo, NY

Common Tern – Buffalo, NY

This past week, the passerines have been showing up in small but noticeable numbers. Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are almost everywhere, and I have run into FOY Blue-gray Gnatcatchers the past couple of days as well. Pine Warblers have also been spotted at various hotspots in Erie county, and Palm and Black-throated Green Warblers just arrived in the last few days. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I’m ready for the real deal when it comes to Spring Migration 2013 (especially with Nate starting to cash in down in PA, and that pesky Drew Weber from Nemesisbird getting awesome rarities in central NY). Until then, I always have Tree Swallows to keep me company.

Tree Swallows – Birdsong Parklands, Orchard Park, NY

Short-eared Owls in Medina

If you have ever driven across New York State on I-90, you have probably passed by the Medina exit thinking to yourself, “Medina? It’s not quite Buffalo, it’s not quite Rochester, and it’s not on Lake Ontario. Why should I go to Medina?”

Horned Lark wondering why he is in Medina

Short-eared Owls is why you should go to Medina, weary traveler. I spent last Thursday evening cruising Posson Road on the outskirts of town looking for my first New York Short-eareds, and sure enough there were 11 of them. This species has always been a personal favorite of mine, so it was a nice treat to watch the sun go down with such a charismatic bird. An added bonus was when the DEC showed up attempting to catch and band some of these owls (spoiler alert: they didn’t catch any). Despite the lack of owls in hand, it was fun for me to revisit the good old owl banding days with some friendly folks from the local government. So if you ever need to tick Short-eared Owls, Horned Larks, or Northern Harriers for your NY list, maybe give Medina a try.

Short-eared Owl – Medina, NY 2/21/13

The Death of a Squirrel

Ah, the cruel beauty of nature. At one moment you’re joyfully scampering about in the morning breeze without a care in the world, and then the next moment . . . BAM!

Cooper’s Hawk on it’s kill

While I was scoping the shores of Lake Erie for waterfowl earlier this week, I happened across this accipiter nearby standing on a kill. I’ll admit that this bird gave me some identification trouble at first (particularly with the unusually pale superciliary line), but after settling on a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, I continued to watch the grizzly scene before me unfold as Disney’s “The Circle of Life” played out in full.

Cooper’s Hawk making off with its tasty prize

Perhaps the most heartbreaking portion of the morning was when a melanistic gray squirrel appeared, only to stand frozen in terror as he witnessed the horror of his brother in arms getting devoured by the Cooper’s Hawk. He should consider himself lucky that it wasn’t his skull that was crushed by the talons of a top-notch predator. Look on the bright side, little squirrel: your buddy may be bird food, but at least now there are more nuts to go around.

“Oh, the squirrel-manity!”

Finally, Some Migrants!

It was a slow week for Western New York birding, full of cloudless skies and south winds. Finally, a small storm passed through last night bringing in a cold front and northwest winds. I went back to Birdsong Parklands early this morning to see what kind of migrating warblers I could get, and it turned out to be one of my best bird mornings of the fall, tallying 42 species! I found most of the warblers very early in the morning, so the lighting wasn’t the best. But George Washington didn’t make excuses when fighting the British, so I can’t in good conscience make excuses for poor photography.

Hooded Warbler – Birdsong Parklands 9/15/12

Black-throated Blue Warbler – Birdsong Parklands 9/15/12

Wilson’s Warbler – Birdsong Parklands 9/15/12

The morning was going pretty well for warblers, and I was even able to pick up my first Erie County Swainson’s Thrush. But just as I was closing in on 10 different warbler species, a Sharp-shinned Hawk showed up and chased away all of my defenseless passerines. Still, it was a solid morning, and hopefully the good luck birding carries over for the Bills’ home opener on Sunday. (eBird checklist)

Sharp-shinned Hawk – Birdsong Parklands 9/15/12

It’s Always Sunny with Philadelphia Vireos

Birdsong Parklands – Orchard Park, NY

This morning, I swung by Birdsong Parklands in Orchard Park, NY, a quaint little hotspot full of potential. The habitat is pretty diverse at Birdsong, and it also has some excellent areas for migrating songbirds. I really need to rack up on warblers for my New York year list, so I figured no time like the present. I knew the day was going to be good when within five minutes I had stumbled upon a Philadelphia Vireo! Granted, it wasn’t a warbler, but an awesome bird nonetheless. I was in poor lighting and was caught a little off-guard, but I was able to get one decent photo of this sneaky little bird before he flew off.

Philadelphia Vireo – Birdsong Parklands 9/5/12

I could find only 5 species of warblers for the day, and I was quickly reminded of how tough fall warbler I.D. can get. None of the warblers felt like giving me any good views for more than 2 seconds, but at least it gave me a chance to get a nice refresher on warblers from poor angles. A few birds were kind enough to show me a few diagnostic features, but I’ll have to talk to them about staying still for better photographs.

Magnolia Warbler – Birdsong Parklands 9/5/12

The trip also produced a few Purple Finches, a species that I typically don’t associate with the late summer, but was a pleasant surprise to see. I also found a Red-eyed Vireo and two Blue-headed Vireos, leaving me one Vireo species short from hitting the cycle for Vireos in the day. Regardless of my baseball analogies, it was a productive morning that bodes well for the near future. (ebird Checklist)

Purple Finch – Birdsong Parklands 9/5/12