Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Birds in Flight

Are you interested in learning more about and how to identify birds in flight? Check out the Birds In Flight Project by clicking the logo below. Once on the page, browse the pages by clicking on the links under the "Pages" tab.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Veery Flight Call

Here is a spectogram of two Veery calls.

You can listen to a Veery flight call at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center's Sound Field Guide.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Even More Birds in Flight

This morning I found 59 species in the yard, including Olive-sided Flycatcher and ten warbler species.

American Robins are an abundant migrant in the fall. The flight pattern and the orange-red breast are distinctive.

As I discussed yesterday, Eastern Kingbirds are abundant fall migrants. The neat thing about kingbirds is that they can be aged and, if an adult, sexed. The way to tell is by primaries 9 and 10, the "top" two feathers on the wingtips. In young birds, these feathers are blunt. In adult females, these feathers have a slight notch at the tip. In adult males, like the one above, the tips of these feathers are deeply notched.

Flycatchers can sometimes be trick to identify when they are sitting. In flight they can be very difficult. This flycatcher shows broad white wing bars and no distinct eye-ring. Those characteristics, as well as the fact that it sang a "whisper song" while flying, make this an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Red-breasted Nuthatches have been very common migrants this year. I almost missed this one as it flew south over the yard. This species is fairly easy to identify in flight due to the distinctive pattern and the fact that they often call while flying.

Although out of focus, this photo shows a common behavior of warblers that fly overhead. These two Black-throated Green Warblers spent a few seconds diving at and chasing eachother. The yellow-green body and tail pattern help the identification. I also heard a chip note as I was taking the photo.

This bird called as it flew over, but I was unfamiliar with the call. Although the photo seems useless, it reveals the identity of the bird. This bird shows distinct striping down the side of the bird. Also, the front of the bird is brighter than the back. Finally, the pattern on the underside of the tail is visible. These characteristics make this a Cape May Warbler.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More Birds in Flight

Since fall migration is the time to study birds in flight, I am posting a few more photos of birds flying. The species illustrated below were photographed during the past two days.

American Goldfinches are very numerous right now. Their flight pattern and flight calls make then fun to watch.

When flying directly above, goldfinches are more difficult to recognize, but the short, forked tail and yellow color give it away.

Purple Finches are also fairly easy to identify based on their distinctive flight call.

After their long nocturnal migration, warblers (like this Black-throated Green) are commonly seen flying over (looking for food) for a few hours after sunrise. A good look or a decent photograph can sometimes allow identification.

Eastern Bluebirds are very common and are commonly seen flying over in loose groups.

Eastern Phoebes, one of the most common summer flycatchers, become harder to find in the fall. However, they are commonly seen by those looking to the sky.

Eastern Kingbirds become very numerous during late summer and early autumn. They often congregate in large groups which move around during the morning.

During migration, there is always the possibility of finding an unusual bird. While watching the sky this morning, I saw this Olive-sided Flycatcher. Olive-sided Flycatchers are fairly uncommon and are exciting to find.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Swallows in Flight

This morning, I walked out of the house and found a small group of swallows over the yard. This time of year, swallows often group up before migrating south. On sunny August days with a N or NW wind, these groups often take to the sky. I was able to pick out four swallow species in the flock over my house.

In this area, Tree Swallows become very numerous in late August into September and
often dominate swallow flocks. Tree Swallows seem to have fairly broad
wings and a completely white underside.

Barn Swallows are also quite common this time of year. Compared to Tree Swallows,
Swallows have skinny, pointed wings. Also, Barn Swallows have a buffy-yellow
underside, a red throat, and a distinctive forked tail.

Bank Swallows are an exciting species to find. During the breeding season, this species
is difficult to find away from sandy areas near water courses. Even during migration,
they often stay close to or over water, so this was a treat to see. Bank Swallows
have wings more like a Tree Swallow than a Barn. The underside is mostly
white expect for a broad brown band across the chest.

The most exciting swallow I found was this Cliff Swallow. These guys are neat birds and
are less common than the three other swallows mentioned. To identify these guys, look
for a swallow with a white belly, but a red throat patch. Above, this species has a large,
buff-colored patch on the rump, which is distinctive and easy to see, even from a distance.

Along with the swallows were a few Chimney Swifts. Swifts resemble swallows, but
they flap much quicker, have skinnier wings, and are completely dark. Due to the
color and shape of Chimney Swifts, they have been nicknamed "Flying Cigars"

Enjoy the beautiful weather and go watch some migrating birds!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bring on the Birds

This morning, before heading to a soccer scrimmage, I was able to do some birding around the yard. Right away, I headed to the highest point on the property which receives the first rays of sunlight as the sun peaks over the Kittatinny Ridge. This area, which is made up of Gray Birches, usually holds migrants. Although I couldn't find any migrant songbirds, I did see a Great Blue Heron flying over. From here, I worked my back towards the house. In a small meadow, I found two Sharp-shinned Hawks flying around. The two birds chased each other then rested on a bare treetop before flying into a stand of pines. In the vicinity of the pines was a calling Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Sharp-shinned Hawks perched on a dead tree in the meadow

While looking up, I noticed a Common Nighthawk flying over the trees. As I brought my binoculars up the nighthawk, I noticed that a hummingbird was diving at it. As the nighthawk flew away, the hummingbird followed diving and chriping until the nighthawk dove out of sight. Once the sun was up, I began hearing distinctive noises from the sky. These noises were from Bobolinks which continued to fly over for much of the morning.

After sunrise, many birds can be seen flying including this Rose-breasted Grosbeak

From the meadow, I headed to the area around the house. Most of the birds in this area were in the fruit trees. A large group of Gray Catbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, and a Brown Thrasher fed on wild cherries while a group of Red-eyed Vireos and warblers fed on insects in an apple tree. Although most of the warblers were common species, I did find one Worm-eating Warbler which is always a pleasant surprise.

The Worm-eating Warbler that I found in an apple tree

The final place I wanted to check before I left was the field across the road from the house. The various fruiting trees along the edge (dogwoods, viburnums, and cherries) were filled with birds. Catbirds seemed to be on every tree. Mixed in were Baltimore Orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and a few sparrows.

As I walked back to the house, I saw a large bird flying towards me from the west. At first glance, I thought it might be a raptor of some sort. As it flew closer, I realized that it was a gull. More specfically, a young Herring Gull, a somewhat rare species in this area during the summer. I have no idea where it came from, but it was flying directly east.

Herring Gull, an uncommon bird in the region during the
summer and an unusual find for the yard

The birds are migrating, so if you are interested, keep a watch on the radar at night:


Monday, August 2, 2010

August Butterflies

Today, I did some butterflying at Arlene Koch’s property. Arlene owns a large amount of land in southern Northampton County, which she and her husband maintain for wildlife. While there today, I found 27 different butterfly species, as well as several bird specie including Orchard Oriole, Willow Flycatcher, and Bald Eagle.

After four hours of butterflying, I added three new species to my butterfly life-list: American Copper, Meadow Fritillary, and Tawny Emperor. The copper was in a section of weedy fields with lots of blooming White Clover and Daisy Fleabane.

American Copper
The tiny, yet stunning American Copper was a lifer for me.

The Meadow Fritillaries were in a field of Queen Anne’s Lace and Red Clover. These beautiful butterflies were accompanied by hundreds of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (including several dark-morph females), a few Black Swallowtails, and a huge number of Peck’s Skippers.

Meadow Fritillary
Meadow Fritillary was another new butterfly species for me

The Tawny Emperor was along a gas-line cut through a forest. It sat perched in the open for a few minutes, but unfortunately was too far away to photograph.

Gray Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak, a common butterfly in August

Tomorrow, I will be heading to West Virginia for the Appalachian String Band Music Festival!