Sunday, October 18, 2009

October birds

For the past few days, the fields here in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania have been filled with sparrows and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Most of the sparrows are Song, White-throated, and Field, but there have also been Chipping, Lincoln's, and Swamp Sparrows.

Swamp Sparrow

There have been about 50 Yellow-rumps throughout the field across from the house. These cheery, drab warblers are, unfortunately, a sign of the end of the year. Although most other warbler species have left, there are still a few stragglers including this Nashville Warbler that popped up today:

There were also good numbers of raptors today. Lots of Red-tailed Hawks starting to move, as well as many Sharp-shinned Hawks. Happy October and enjoy the fall colors!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Big Sit!-- The Kunkletown Kingbirds

Here is a description of the big sit I did in my yard:

On October 10, at 11:50pm, after a few hours of interrupted sleep, my dad and I headed out the Kunkletown Kingbird’s big sit circle in the field on our property. We got to the circle at midnight, and listened intently for any migrants, owls, or whatever might be calling. Not long after arriving in the circle, we heard the first bird of the day, a Chipping Sparrow. During the next few minutes, we heard several more flight calls from these sparrows. About 10 minutes in, the second bird of the day, a Swainson’s Thrush called while flying overhead. As with the sparrow, once the one called, many more started calling.

By 12:30, the lights in the neighbor’s house had gone out, and a disrupted Northern Cardinal chipped for a few seconds. Between for the next hour and a half, migrants were streaming overhead, calling frequently. Several common species were calling, but the best birds were Savannah Sparrow, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and American Bittern. AMERICAN BITTERN!!!!! This guy called several times while flying to the SE of the big sit circle. It sounded as if he was following the ridge rather than heading straight south. The bittern was a new bird for the yard.

Just before 2 o’clock, owls started up. I heard one Barred Owl, several Great Horned, and an Eastern Screech. That’s all of the expected owls. By 2am, the list stood at 12 species. The birds quieted for a bit, but a distant pack of Coyotes started up. Throughout the rest of the morning, more species called while flying over, including one unidentified bird making a duck-like “ehk”. Just before the sky started to brighten, the owls started up again, this time with 7 Barred, 7 Great Horned, and 3 Eastern Screech. When the Barreds started up, the dogs down in the valley started barking, but a series of gunshots from somewhere in the woods quieted the dogs, but not the owls.

The Big Sit!

Once the sky became ever-so-slightly lighter, a Saw-whet Owl made a drawn-out whistle from the field edge. Not long after the owl, an American Woodcock flew over, marking the beginning of the dawn chorus. Although the chorus was created mainly of common species, a few unexpected species sang or called, including a Brown Thrasher, Common Raven, and a Lincoln’s Sparrow. The Lincoln’s Sparrow was singing from atop an Eastern Redcedar. During the migration it can be hard to see these guys amongst the grasses, much less see one sitting on the top of a tree singing!

As the first sliver of the sun appeared over the mountaintop, a dense fog quickly rolled in. It hung over the field for close to an hour and a half, hiding any birds and muting their sounds. The heavy fog, mixed with the frigid air made for uncomfortable conditions while participating in The Big Sit!. Fortunately, when the fog lifted, the birds were still very active. Throughout the morning I (my dad had left sometime in the predawn hours) checked off species as they appeared. The birding was good until around 11:00, when the day got an early start to the afternoon lull.

Sharp-shinned Hawks darted past, most continuing south, others diving into the trees near my circle. At some point, a large flock of sparrows flew at me from across the field, and landed in the autumn olives directly behind me. The flock was mostly White-throated Sparrows, but there were also Song, Field, Chipping, and two unexpected White-crowned Sparrows. The sparrows hung out for about 30 seconds before disappearing into the brush.

The sun warmed up the air, which started up the raptor migration. Many more sharpies flew past, as well as Merlins, and Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks. A Northern Goshawk flew directly south over the ridge I was situated upon, but turned SW to follow the Kittatinny Ridge. Small kettles of accipiters and Turkey Vultures formed throughout the day, but only lasted for a few minutes.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The afternoon was slow, new species continued to appear, but at 30, 45, or even 60 minute intervals. Occasionally, a new raptor would show up, most flying among the masses of Sharp-shinned Hawks. I was able to find Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, and Bald Eagle, but could not manage to find any buteos other than red-tails. At one point, I was watching a kettle of Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks when a large bird flew into the view of the scope. I followed the bird as it lost altitude and flew closer. It turned out to be a Herring Gull that for some reason was pretending to be a southbound raptor for the day.

The late afternoon brought a final rush of birds, including many warblers that I had probably missed in the foggy morning. Pine, Nashville, Palm, and Blackpoll Warblers hung out around the field for a while, until disappearing into the sunset. The Blackpoll Warbler was the final bird of the day. I headed inside and retired around 9:00 and tallied up the list before heading to bed. I had ended up with 70 species, not bad considering my previous yard record had been 49.

The full list:

1. American Bittern*
2. Great Blue Heron
3. Turkey Vulture
4. Canada Goose
5. Mallard
6. Osprey
7. Bald Eagle
8. Northern Harrier
9. Cooper's Hawk
10. Northern Goshawk
11. Sharp-shinned Hawk
12. Red-tailed Hawk
13. Peregrine Falcon
14. Merlin
15. American Woodcock
16. Herring Gull
17. Mourning Dove
18. Eastern Screech-Owl
19. Great Horned Owl
20. Barred Owl
21. Northern Saw-whet Owl
22. Red-bellied Woodpecker
23. Downy Woodpecker
24. Hairy Woodpecker
25. Northern Flicker
26. Pileated Woodpecker
27. Eastern Phoebe
28. Red-eyed Vireo
29. Blue Jay
30. Common Raven
31. American Crow
32. Tree Swallow
33. Black-capped Chickadee
34. Tufted Titmouse
35. White-breasted Nuthatch
36. Carolina Wren
37. House Wren
38. Golden-crowned Kinglet
39. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
40. Eastern Bluebird
41. Swainson's Thrush
42. Gray-cheeked Thrush
43. Hermit Thrush
44. American Robin
45. Gray Catbird
46. Northern Mockingbird
47. Brown Thrasher
48. European Starling
49. American Pipit
50. Cedar Waxwing
51. Nashville Warbler
52. Blackpoll Warbler
53. Yellow-rumped Warbler
54. Pine Warbler
55. Palm Warbler
56. Eastern Towhee
57. Chipping Sparrow
58. Field Sparrow
59. Savannah Sparrow
60. Song Sparrow
61. Lincoln's Sparrow
62. White-throated Sparrow
63. White-crowned Sparrow
64. Dark-eyed Junco
65. Northern Cardinal
66. Common Grackle
67. House Finch
68. Purple Finch
69. American Goldfinch
70. House Sparrow

*a new species for the yard

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Big Sit! has started

I started The Big Sit! at midnight. Not long after midnight, my dad and I heard the first bird of the day, a Chipping Sparrow giving its flight call. Not long after, we heard a few more Chippies and a few Swainson's Thrushes giving their flight calls. Looking at the radar, the birds are moving in massive numbers, which hopefully means the birding will be good today.

I'm off the the circle again, after this 10 minute break... and don't expect to hear from me until tonight.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Big Sit

On this coming Sunday, I will be participating in the The Big Sit! (, a birding competition where birders across the world sit in their own 17-foot diameter circles and count all of the birds they can find. This year I will be counting from a 17-foot circle in my yard. The yard record for The Big Sit! is 49 species, which I achieved last year.

I'll be sure to post more about this after the sit!

Here is the bird list from two years ago:

1. Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
2. Canada Goose Branta canadensis
3. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
4. Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
5. Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
6. Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
7. Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
8. Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
9. Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
10. American Kestrel Falco sparverius
11. Merlin Falco columbarius
12. Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
13. Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
14. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius
15. Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
16. Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
17. Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
18. Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
19. Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
20. Common Raven Corvus corax
21. American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
22. Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
23. Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapilla
24. Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor
25. White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
26. Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
27. Golden-crowned Kinglet Regulus satrapa
28. Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
29. Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
30. Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
31. American Robin Turdus migratorius
32. Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
33. European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
34. Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
35. Tennessee Warbler Vermivora peregrina
36. Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
37. Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus
38. Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina
39. Field Sparrow Spizella pusilla
40. Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
41. White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
42. Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
43. Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
44. Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
45. House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
46. Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
47. American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
48. House Sparrow Passer domesticus
49. Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus (not sure why this is at the end of the list...)