Saturday, May 1, 2010

Backyard Big Day

The idea of doing a full-fledged backyard big day came to me on Friday night. Considering that there was most likely going to be a big movement of birds that evening, I decided that today, Saturday, would be a good day. I set my alarm clock to 4:30, and got a few hours of sleep.

At 4:30, I rolled out of bed and headed outside to begin my day of birding. I started by walking to the road, where I could listen for nocturnal migrants and any early-rising birds. The first bird of the day was a "chinking" Eastern Towhee, who for a short period of time was joined by a Song Sparrow, a Northern Cardinal, several Field Sparrows, a Chipping Sparrow, and a Brown Thrasher. The commotion lasted for about a minute, then stopped abruptly. In the silence, I was able to hear the flight call of an American Redstart.

Before long, the real dawn chorus began. The birds mentioned above, minus the redstart, again sang, and were joined by American Robins, Gray Catbird, and Wood Thrush. As the sky got lighter, small groups of Blue Jays started flying over, a sight that would not end until sundown. In the field, a couple of Eastern Bluebirds near the nestboxes sang, while a Common Yellowthroat "whichity-whichity"-ed from the scrubby edge.

As the air warmed, Ovenbirds and Black-and-white Warblers started singing in the woods. Once the sun rose above the Kittatinny Ridge, small flocks of Yellow-rumped Warblers could be found feeding at the tree tops. These warblers were often joined by chickadees, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Black-and-white Warbler
male Black-and-white Warbler

As I walked up the ridge a bit, I heard the insect-like trill of a Worm-eating Warbler. I followed the sound, and found the bird on the side of the hill. I watched as it buzzed several times, then fly directly above me, allowing me to get some interesting photos. While watching the buffy warbler, I heard the song of a Hermit Thrush and the burry notes of a Scarlet Tanager.

Worm-eating Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler

When I returned up the hill, I immediately heard the "boing" flight call of a Bobolink. While listening to the call, I heard several Zee-zee-zee-zoo-zees from the Black-throated Green Warblers, a couple Beer-beer-zeeeees from the Black-throated Blues, and a single Zeeeeeeee-up from a Northern Parula.

Before long, the sun had heated up the air, bringing the temperature to the upper-70s. Unfortunately, the heat caused the birds to stop singing. Fortunately for me, when the birds stop, there are always butterflies to watch! Butterflies were everywhere, but many seemed to be concentrated on a gas line cut which runs through the property. Along this strip, I found 17 species of butterflies, including some unusual ones: Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, White M Haistreak, Common Roadside-Skipper, Sleepy Duskywing, Eastern Pine Elfin, and Cobweb Skipper.

Around 2:00pm, the raptor flight picked up. I sat in the shade and peered into the scattered clouds, and was able to find four hawk and two vulture species. Mixed in with a group of buteos was a pair of Common Ravens.

When late afternoon arrived, the bird activity picked up again. Several Prairie and Blue-winged Warblers sang from the edge of the field, adding buzzy notes to the clear-noted chorus of Field and Chipping Sparrows.

Blue-winged Warbler
Blue-winged Warbler

Finally, as the day wound down and the sun set, my list stood at 63 species. However, sunset does not mean stop birding. In the remaining light, I was able to pick out a pair of Rock Pigeons fly by, a species I had missed earlier in the day. Once the sky got dark again, I took a peek at the NEXRAD radar map. This is what I saw:

NEXRAD radar showing birds

That is a lot of birds!

Seeing the massive movement on the radar screen, I headed outside to listen for migrating birds. Before long, I got my 65th species for the day, a Gray-cheeked Thrush. Before long, another new bird for the day called, a Virginia Rail. This bird, which was flying over, is secretive during the day, but quite frequently heard by those who listen for nocturnal migrants. This bird was also a new bird for the yard.

Before wrapping up, I listened for a few minutes. I heard the flight calls of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song Sparrows, Wood Thrushes, and an Ovenbird, all birds that I had seen earlier in the day.

What a great day! And if the birds keep coming in, tomorrow morning may be a good time to listen for more migrants!

Canada Goose 6
Mallard 2
Wild Turkey 4
Black Vulture 1
Turkey Vulture 13
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
Cooper's Hawk 1
Broad-winged Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 4
Virginia Rail 1
Rock Pigeon 2
Mourning Dove 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker 5
Downy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 3
Pileated Woodpecker 3
Eastern Phoebe 3
Eastern Kingbird 1
Blue Jay 86
American Crow 13
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 4
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 3
Barn Swallow 16
Black-capped Chickadee 9
Tufted Titmouse 7
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Carolina Wren 2
House Wren 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 6
Eastern Bluebird 3
Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Hermit Thrush 2
Wood Thrush 4
American Robin 13
Gray Catbird 1
Northern Mockingbird 1
Brown Thrasher 3
European Starling 1
Blue-winged Warbler 3
Northern Parula 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler 45
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Prairie Warbler 2
Black-and-white Warbler 12
American Redstart 2
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Ovenbird 20
Common Yellowthroat 1
Scarlet Tanager 3
Eastern Towhee 7
Chipping Sparrow 6
Field Sparrow 9
Song Sparrow 4
Northern Cardinal 3
Bobolink 1
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Baltimore Oriole 2
Purple Finch 4
House Finch 2
American Goldfinch 7
House Sparrow 4

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