Friday, December 21, 2012


Common Redpoll - male
   Redpolls are common in the Arctic tundra and boreal forests. In irruptive years, such as this one, they migrate south in search of food. We seem to see redpolls every other year here in Vermont. There are two varieties - common and hoary - and distinguishing the rarer hoary is tricky! Here are some pictures of what I'm calling common redpolls. For more information on how to distinguish the two, read Sibley's blog;


Monday, December 3, 2012

More Pine Grosbeaks

  If there's one word that describes Pine Grosbeaks, it's "tame". You can get amazingly close to these birds without flushing them. They're usually pretty docile, just eating crabapples from trees or picking away at what's fallen on the ground.

I'm not sure if these two are adult female and juvenile because this behavior could be interpreted as "the juvenile begging to be fed". Otherwise, it was a "hey! that's my berry!! let go!!!" kind of spat.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Birds on a Farm

rusty blackbird

It was a cold afternoon when we drove down to a farm in Vernon to do some birding. They had just harvested the last of the corn and one of the dirt roads was covered in kernels. Lots of birds were taking advantage of this! Enjoy the pix!

rusty blackbird
fox sparrow
song sparrow
dark-eyed junco
American tree sparrow
white-throated sparrow
juvenile Gambel's white-crowned sparrow

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Great Cormorant

November 17th was this year's first sighting of a Great Cormorant in Vermont. While double-crested cormorants are a common sight inland, the great cormorant is a sea bird, preferring to stay along the coast. But every so often, one goes further inland, and as you might expect, are found along the Connecticut River or Lake Champlain.

The difference between double-crested and great cormorant immature birds, as this one is, is the reversal of the coloring on the breast and belly. Immature great cormorants have white bellies and dark breasts (as you can see in this picture), while double-crested have dark bellies and pale breasts (see the picture below).

immature double-crested cormorant

Enjoy the pictures of the great cormorant taken at Lake Runnemede in Windsor. 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Red-shouldered/Red-tailed Hybrid

  In 2007, Julie Waters, a local photographer, who had been seeing this hawk for a year and a half, posted on a birding blog to try to figure out the identity. The discussion was pretty intense with opinions from red-shouldered to red-tailed to believing it was two different get the picture. 

On our way home from birding this morning, I spotted the hawk in its usual area along the Saxtons River near Gageville. 

This hawk has been continuously seen here for years now, so it's an adult. If it were a red-tailed hawk, it would have a red tail.

In 2007,  David Sibley (of Sibley guidebook) also commented on the identification. Here's what he said:
"What an interesting bird! While I had a momentary first impression of  'western Red-tail' that was quickly dispelled as I looked at more details and I think this can only be a hybrid Red-tailed x Red-shouldered hawk! 
The pattern of orange breast with sparsely streaked and barred belly seems like a mixture of the two species and not normal for either, the posture and body shape in some photos looks like Red-tailed, in others like Red-shouldered, and several photos show clear reddish accents in the smaller wing coverts which is wrong for Red-tailed. I'm sure a careful analysis would reveal lots more 'mixed' characteristics."

 Julie also had recorded an audio clip of the call. David Sibley said, "The clincher, for me, is the call which sounds most like a Red-shouldered and would be extremely unusual (if not impossible) for a Red-tailed."

So that's the story of our resident hybrid hawk!  I just love the fact that this bird is still here!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pine Grosbeaks - Irruption

This is an "irruptive" year for winter finches. There is a "winter finch forecast" that predicts if normally northern birds will move south to find food because of shortages of fruits and seeds in their usual wintering area. Read more about it here: winter finch forecast

Pine Grosbeaks are one of the largest members of the finch family. The males are rosy-red, while the females are yellow. First-season immature birds are hard to distinguish as both males and females are similar in coloration.

It was five years ago that I saw them here in southeastern Vermont.

This flock had at least twelve female and immature grosbeaks consuming crabapples.

They are relatively "tame", which is nice when you're trying to get pictures!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mystery Warbler

mystery warbler
We went birding at Herrick's Cove in Bellows Falls, a great spot on the CT River and a designated IBA (important birding area). There were lots of birds -  lots of sparrows, lots of warblers. Warblers in the fall migrate through the area in waves, going tree to tree in pursuit of a quick meal. These groups are usually mixed with different varieties of warblers, vireos and other songbird migrants.

mystery warbler - another view
 I was pointing out the warblers and Gerry was taking pictures. When I first saw this one, I quickly dismissed it as a black-throated blue warbler. After Gerry downloaded the pictures and I went through them, I realized my mistake as the bird does not have the white eye-brow nor the white "handkerchief" on the wing of a black-throated blue! Ah, confusing fall warblers!! Gone are the bright breeding colors - we are left with warblers that appear bleached out.

view of the undertail coverts
So what is this warbler? Maybe a Tennessee warbler? It does look like an orange-crowned warbler but the undertail coverts should be yellow and this bird's are white. Note the broken eye-ring, dark line through the eye, no wing bars, sharp pointed bill and the white patch under the wing. As soon as the experts figure this out, I'll let you know! If you have any guesses or comments, I'd love to hear them!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aerial Antics

Sharp-shinned hawk (left) and Cooper's hawk
Hawk-watching isn't always action-packed although this day it was!! Usually when we see a small-sized hawk harassing a larger one, it's a sharp-shinned hawk. This day, one chose to harass a Cooper's hawk. Both are accipiters; short-winged, long-tailed hawks built for agility and bursts of speed.

Luckily they flew right overhead and Gerry clicked away with his camera. The Cooper's hawk is the larger of the two. 
 Seconds later, they both flew off unscathed.