Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October Butterflies

While summer is known as the best time to look for butterflies, the fall months can be rewarding as well. Although the butterflies are less common and less numerous, unusual butterflies often show up. Today, I found five butterfly species in the yard. The first of these, a Cabbage White, is a very common butterfly during the warmer months. This species is often one of the first butterflies in the spring, so I was not surprised to still find a couple of these.

The second species was the Monarch. Several of these passed through the yard today, a few of which stopped to nectar on the various flowers that are still blooming. I also managed to tag two individuals, one male and one female.

The third species was a bit of a surprise to find. The Gray Hairstreak is a very common butterfly in August and September, but it does not usually stick around into October. I found one very worn individual on the various Asteraceae that are still in bloom.



The Gray Hairstreak wasn't the only hairstreak around today. While watching the Gray Hairstreak, I saw a flash of blue in the corner of my eye. I followed the small butterfly, thinking it was an Eastern Tailed-Blue, a common butterfly during the warm months. However, when the butterfly landed, I noticed that it was larger and grayer than a blue. The butterfly, similar in size to the Gray Hairstreak, was grayish and had a distinctive white spot near the base of the wing. This butterfly turned out to be a White M Hairstreak. This is a fairly uncommon butterfly in the region(especially this late), which I have only seen twice before.

White M Hairstreak

The final species, which is by far the most beautiful butterfly of the day and maybe the prettiest butterfly in Pennsylvania, was the Milbert's Tortoiseshell that spent the day on the blooming Chrysanthemum. This gorgeous butterfly shows up every year in October and sometimes stays until December. Since this is also a fairly uncommon species, I was excited to find and photograph it!

Milbert's Tortoiseshell


Be sure to check your flowers for any late-season butterflies!

Big Sit Report

A few weeks ago I did a big sit here in Kunkletown. Below is the report from an awesome day of birding:

Around 11:50pm on October 9, 2010, my family and I headed out to The Big Sit! spot as the Shadow Mountain Sharp-shins. At midnight, we began listening for any birds that might be calling at that early hour of the morning. In a matter of minutes, we heard the first species of the day, Canada Goose. After about ten minutes, my tired brother and mother headed back to the house. My dad stayed out long enough to hear a Great Horned Owl calling to the east. Not long after, my dad retreated to the comforts of a heated house. Now I was alone in the pitch-black darkness. I could hear several large groups of deer walking around me, but all I could see were the gorgeous stars including 18 shooting stars.

For over an hour and a half, my list stood at two species (and the temperature dropped to 34 degrees). In the days before, flight calls had been fairly audible and numerous. Apparently this morning was different despite the nice northwest breeze. At one point, just as I was slipping off into sleep, I heard a flight call from somewhere overhead. As I jumped up and listened intently, I heard the short, descending call again. Savannah Sparrow! As I was up, I heard a cardinal that must have been disturbed from its roost. Just before I sat down again, I heard a fairly close flight call. A soon as my brain could comprehend what I had just heard; I knew that the high-pitched rising call was that of a Grasshopper Sparrow.

The next few hours were slow, but I managed to get several Eastern Screech-Owls. At one point, I heard the Whoooo? of a Barred Owl in the valley below. About ten seconds later, another owl responded with a full Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you alllll? Soon, both owls were in a frenzy, each trying to figure out who was preparing the other’s meal. Not long after the Barreds started up, three Great Horned Owls also began hooting. For about ten minutes, a cacophony of owls arose from the foggy hollow and drifted up to the ridge top.

As the sky began to brighten, I was awaiting a large number of flight calls like I had heard the morning before. Although I did hear several Hermit Thrushes and one Swainson’s, I did not hear a single Gray-cheeked Thrush or anything else for that matter. Before long, the birds in the bushes around me began to wake up and start chipping. Between this time and sunrise, the Autumn Olives to the north of the spot were filled with sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and various other songbirds.

This is the meadow where the Shadow Mountain Sharp-shins The Big Sit circle was located.

Not long after, I began seeing the first signs of “morning flight”, which is when nocturnal migrating birds continue flying for some reason. Some other birds, especially the finches, began their diurnal migrations at this time. American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Purple Finches dominated the flight, with Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings also showing strongly. A few surprises flew over during morning flight including the day’s only Blackpoll Warbler and one of only two Pine Siskins seen during the day. These songbirds were not the only birds flying early in the morning. Several raptors, including a Merlin and several Sharp-shinned Hawks, also got an early start to their migration.

While the birds were active in the sky, there were also lots of birds on the ground. Around 7:30, a few family members joined me in the circle to enjoy these birds. As soon as my mom arrived, I noticed a small group of sparrows in the goldenrod a few yards from the circle. We watched as several Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, and two Swamp Sparrows ate seeds from the large patch of Solidago. Soon after, I spotted a sparrow sitting on a small shrub. My mom and I got on the bird, which turned out to be a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This was not only an exciting species to find for The Big Sit, but also a “lifer” for my mom. After calming down from the excitement of a good bird, my mom spotted a flying woodpecker. I am not sure how she managed to see the bird, as it was across the field. However, I managed to get on the bird and followed it as it flew from east to west. Without my mom’s keep eyes, I may have missed that Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

These bushes were filled with White-throated Sparrows during the early morning hours.

For the rest of the morning, I was alone in the circle. I tried to pick out new species, but the birds seemed to have stopped. However this was short lived. Around noon, Brandon Everett, a fellow young bird enthusiast, arrived to help look for birds. Not long after his arrival, we spotted a small raptor overhead. We (which included me, Brandon, and my brother, Joren) all got on the bird and identified it as an American Kestrel, a new bird for the day. Within a few minutes, several more new species showed up including Cooper’s Hawk, Black Vulture, Northern Harrier, and a distant immature Bald Eagle.

Not long after we had spotted the eagle flying along the Kittatinny Ridge, birder and friend Barbara Malt arrived. She was interested in finding raptors, so we scanned the sky in hopes of finding some. Sharp-shinned Hawks were numerous and fun to watch as they flapped, glided, and soared their way down the ridge. We managed to find several more Red-tailed and Cooper’s Hawks. With a spotting scope, I scanned the Kittatinny, and found a Red-shouldered Hawk and another immature Bald Eagle. The others were able to get on the eagle as it soared our direction than turned and headed back towards the ridge.

This is the south view from The Big Sit spot. The mountain in background is the Kittatinny Ridge.
Since the birds slowed after the push of raptors, a large part of the afternoon was spent talking rather than birding. However, despite our intellectual conversations, we were still able to catch Hairy Woodpecker and a Rock Pigeon as they flew past. As the sun started to sink behind the trees, everyone left me. Almost immediately after the others were out of shouting distance, a group of three Common Ravens flew past me. My dad, who had wandered back to me, got to see the large corvids as they glided along the mountain.

As the sun set, I hoped for another push of birds. My mom joined me around this time, and soon spotted an Osprey directly overhead. After the excitement of getting a great look at the large raptor, my mom headed inside. Since I was tired from being awake since midnight, I only stayed out for another hour and a half or so. However, this time period was fairly productive. At one point, I spotted a pair of flying Mallards, a species I had missed earlier in the day. After the Mallards, large flocks of American Robins and American Crows began grouping up and flying around. In one large robin flock, I spotted a single Red-winged Blackbird, another bird I had somehow missed earlier. As I was packing my backpack and getting ready to head inside, I saw two more blackbirds flying overhead. With only a quick glimpse, I assumed they were more Red-winged Blackbirds, but I decided to take a closer look. However, I was wrong with my initial identification. Instead, the two birds were Rusty Blackbirds! I snapped a few pictures then headed inside.

I had finished with 66 species, only four short of last year’s record. During the day I tallied 1,132 individual birds including an impressive 113 Purple Finches and 104 Yellow-rumped Warblers. Below is the total list of birds found during The Big Sit:

Canada Goose     50
Mallard     2
Wild Turkey     1
Black Vulture     5
Turkey Vulture     42
Osprey     1
Bald Eagle     2
Northern Harrier     1
Sharp-shinned Hawk     25
Cooper's Hawk     3
Red-shouldered Hawk     1
Red-tailed Hawk     23
American Kestrel     1
Merlin     2
Rock Pigeon     1
Mourning Dove     2
Eastern Screech-Owl     3
Great Horned Owl     3
Barred Owl     2
Red-bellied Woodpecker     7
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker     2
Downy Woodpecker     2
Hairy Woodpecker     2
Northern Flicker     4
Pileated Woodpecker     4
Eastern Phoebe     2
Blue-headed Vireo     4
Blue Jay     156
American Crow     85
Common Raven     3
Black-capped Chickadee     12
Tufted Titmouse     2
Red-breasted Nuthatch     1
White-breasted Nuthatch     6
Carolina Wren     3
Golden-crowned Kinglet     2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet     5
Eastern Bluebird     9
Swainson's Thrush     1
Hermit Thrush     10
American Robin     169
Gray Catbird     6
Northern Mockingbird     4
European Starling     15
Cedar Waxwing     116
Yellow-rumped Warbler     104
Palm Warbler     1
Blackpoll Warbler     1
Eastern Towhee     2
Chipping Sparrow     16
Field Sparrow     4
Savannah Sparrow     1
Grasshopper Sparrow     1
Song Sparrow     9
Lincoln's Sparrow     1
Swamp Sparrow     1
White-throated Sparrow     18
Dark-eyed Junco     11
Northern Cardinal     8
Red-winged Blackbird     1
Rusty Blackbird     2
Purple Finch     113
House Finch     18
Pine Siskin     2
American Goldfinch     12
House Sparrow     4

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Big Sit, 2010

Yesterday, I conducted a Big Sit in my yard. I was out from midnight to 7pm and had a few visitors throughout the day. The birding was good, and we ended up finding 66 species, only 4 less than last year. Below is the entire list. Some highlights include 113 Purple Finches, two Pine Siskins, two Rusty Blackbirds, and Savannah, Swamp, Lincoln's, and Grasshopper Sparrows.

Canada Goose     50
Mallard 2
Wild Turkey 1
Black Vulture 5
Turkey Vulture 42
Osprey 1
Bald Eagle 2
Northern Harrier 1
Sharp-shinned Hawk 25
Cooper's Hawk 3
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 23
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 2
Rock Pigeon 1
Mourning Dove 2
Eastern Screech-Owl 3
Great Horned Owl 3
Barred Owl 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 7
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 4
Pileated Woodpecker 4
Eastern Phoebe 2
Blue-headed Vireo 4
Blue Jay 156
American Crow 85
Common Raven 3
Black-capped Chickadee 12
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 6
Carolina Wren 3
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
Eastern Bluebird 9
Swainson's Thrush 1
Hermit Thrush 10
American Robin 169
Gray Catbird 6
Northern Mockingbird 4
European Starling 15
Cedar Waxwing 116
Yellow-rumped Warbler 104
Palm Warbler 1
Blackpoll Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 2
Chipping Sparrow 16
Field Sparrow 4
Savannah Sparrow 1
Grasshopper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 9
Lincoln's Sparrow 1
Swamp Sparrow 1
White-throated Sparrow 18
Dark-eyed Junco 11
Northern Cardinal 8
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Rusty Blackbird 2
Purple Finch 113
House Finch 18
Pine Siskin 2
American Goldfinch 12
House Sparrow 4

Friday, October 8, 2010

Big Sit this Sunday

This Sunday (10/10/10) is The Big Sit, a birding event organized by the New Haven Bird Club and Bird Watcher's Digest. Basically, birders around the world pick a spot and stay there for as much of 24 hours as they want counting birds the entire time.

This year, I am doing The Big Sit in my yard, which is where I did it in 2007 and 2009. The first year, I found 49 species including some nice ones such as Tennessee Warbler and Red-shouldered Hawk. In 2009, I managed to find 70 species which included many great birds including American Bittern, American Woodcock, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Gray-cheeked Thrush, American Pipit, Nashville Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, and White-crowned Sparrow.

I hope that I can find something neat this year!