Bird Banding at Audubon

I finally had a Saturday with enough time in the schedule to at least stop by the banding station at Audubon.  After hitting the snooze button a bunch of times, I arrived “late” at 6:30 or so.  Nets were already up, but they had not done the first net check.

I never ended up going on a net check because I got immediately distracted by the Eastern Bluebird pair working hard to feed the nestlings who are so close to being ready to fledge.


I waited (im)patiently to try for a shot of a parent removing a fecal sac after feeding. Bluebird parents keep a tidy nest.


In preparation for nature photography classes I’ll be teaching Tuesday evenings in July, I spent most of the time practicing with my 100-400mm lens. I didn’t have my tripod, but Terry LeBaron loaned me his. Thanks, Terry!


Eastern Cottontail


House Wren – sporting some bling!


Baltimore Checkerspot Caterpillar




I think it might be a Blue Dasher teneral… Colors will change as it becomes mature.

Then it was back to the banding station and a quick lens change:


Emily Thomas and a Gray Catbird


Emily checks the molt limit on a Song Sparrow

That’s all for now. Bye!


Yellow Warbler Female

Nest Box Walk

We had a perfect day for the first in our Summer Learning Series at Audubon. Terry LeBaron led a Nest Box walk to kick off the summer courses and I tagged along adding my two-cents now and again.

Terry, Pam, Amy

Pam Checks Resident of Wren Box
Pam checks residents of a Wren box

The only current residents of the boxes now are House Wrens and mice.

House Wren Eggs

House Wren Babies
House Wren Babies

Amy holds Baby House Wren
Amy discovers that day-old babies are so ugly they’re cute.

Baby House Wren
Baby House Wren

And… the mice:
This photo was taken by Katie Finch, staff naturalist, last week during Day Camp. Her picture turned out so much better than mine!

Earlier in the week a box of Tree Swallows fledged and almost immediately House Wrens began building on top of the abandoned nest. Whether this is a dummy nest or the real thing remains to be seen.

Each Box Has a Story

Participants in the class were especially excited to take a peek in our parking lot Kestrel box.

Pam Peeks into Kestrel Nest Box
Peeking into a Kestrel Box

American Kestrel Eggs
According to Terry’s records, these Kestrel eggs should be very near hatching. The plan is to video record when Emily is banding them… If you happen to be there that day, you can be an “extra” in the film!

Heron Rookery

Heron RookeryI learned recently of a heron rookery not far from my house. On Mothers’ Day, I drove out to see it… wanted to give the 100-400mm lens a little exercise. Turns out, I could have used an even longer lens; the nests are visible from the road, but not close to the road. Still, it was fun to watch the herons in action through binoculars, and I did get a few shots.

I watched the males struggle in nearby trees to select just the right branch with just the right leaves on it, then fly back to the nest to hand it to Mom – her Mothers’ Day gift.

A Mothers' Day Gift

This Mom took the branch and placed it just right in the nest. Her movements seemed awkward and cautious and I wondered if she already had eggs that she was stepping around.

As she fussed, Dad stood on a branch to watch.

Dad standing by

Look at his toes. How does he manage to hang on to that branch? It can’t be nearly as comfortable as walking in squishy mud looking for food.

Herons nest in colonies, so I watched this offering of the branch and careful placement more than once.

A branch for the nest.

This eager mom wasn’t nearly so careful accepting the offering and placing it in her nest.

Gimme that thing!

Dad says, “That’s how it’s done.”

Yes, Dear.

The rookery will be one of the destinations for Audubon’s Saturday (May 14, 2011) bird outing. Meet at Audubon at 7am to carpool. For a map and to learn more, click –> here.

Hello, Mr. White-Crowned Sparrow

Hello, Mr. White-crowned Sparrow!

Could you please show us various views of your fine striped cap?




Thank you. That will do.

White-crowned Sparrows do not breed where I live here in Western New York. They may be around our feeders in Winter, or during migration time. This one was found in my Mother’s backyard on Mothers’ Day, 2011.

An Old Bird

This is a very old Swamp Sparrow!

Scott and Emily left for their last net check of the morning, to be combined with taking the nets down. This usually goes quickly, for by 11 or 11:30am, there aren’t as many birds in the nets. From the Pavilion, I could see that the group at net 4 was taking an unusually long time, so I decided to walk over and see what the trouble was.

A poor Swamp Sparrow, already sporting a band, had gotten himself rather twisted and tangled in the net. Scott worked carefully and methodically to free the bird and place him in a bag for transport.

Back at the banding station, Emily removed him from the bag and read the band number to Scott. I wrote the other data, wing length, tail length, etc, while Scott searched previous year’s records for this bird.

He was originally banded here at Audubon on May 17, 2007. At that time, he was judged to be ASY – after second year. Some sources say that Swamp Sparrows live “up to 6 years.”

Carry on, old man!

Banding Demonstrations continue May 14th and 21st.  Come on down!  For more info, click –> here.

May Days!

I always get plenty of fresh air in May. Hundreds of kids on field trips keeps me outside a lot for work. And between the birds and the wildflowers, most of my free time is spent outside, too! My self-appointed title “Reluctant Birder” may have to be retired. Yesterday, I went to shoot wildflowers and found myself wishing I had brought binoculars to see the birds flitting overhead.

The birding class we are offering at Audubon this spring is turning out to be one of my favorite activities during these jam-packed days.


First of all, our experts, Don Watts and Scott Stoleson, are being so generous with their time and knowledge. Second, the participants are so enthusiastic. And third, the birds are just being so darned cooperative.

Yellow-bellied SapsuckerThe class is being offered as 4 Wednesday evening lectures and 4 Saturday morning walks. The lectures are filled with useful information. But the walks are the most fun (for me!). Last Saturday’s walk as on the grounds at Audubon and started at the bird banding station. We kept hearing a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s uneven tapping. Toward the end of the walk, we finally saw one just off of Redwing Trail near the building. When I went back to the banding station after the walk, they had even captured one in the net!

I’m hoping I never forget the song of the Swamp Sparrow. We certainly heard that quite a bit while out on the trails.

Swamp Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow

One of our classmates is Terry Lorenc, who gave me permission to use some of his photos on my blog! He’s been toting his camera to class and on the walks to help us remember what we’re seeing.

Yellow Warbler – by Terry Lorenc

Red-winged Blackbird – Male – by Terry Lorenc

Red-winged Blackbird – Female – by Terry Lorenc

Terry got some amazing shots on Saturday, too. Two little Chickadees had us transfixed for quite some time! We watched them excavating a cavity for nesting.

Black-capped Chickadee – by Terry Lorenc

From the double-decker tower, Terry got an amazing series of a Bald Eagle coming down to get a fish.

Bald Eagle – by Terry Lorenc

Check out the whole series by clicking –> here.

If you feel like you are missing out on the fun, maybe you should join us. Classes continue through May 21st. Learn more by clicking –> here.

Watts Flats Wildlife Management Area

Watts Flats WMA SignOne of the bird walks for Audubon’s spring birding series will be at the Watts Flats Wildlife Mangement Area. I decided to check it out today. I’m frankly kind of suprised I’ve never run upon it before this. It is so close, and so accessible.

We parked at a lot at the corner of Swede Road and Green Flats Road.

Before getting to the parking lot, we saw a mink bound over Swede Road in front of us. Later we would also see a muskrat, and plenty of evidence of beaver activity:

Beaver Activity

We parked close to Swede Road and walked Green Flats Road to the second parking lot. It looked as Green Flats Road is supposed to continue as a grassy trail.

Path to bridge

But the bridge and much of the trail was under water!

Bridge - flooded

We turned left instead and into the woods. The trail was wet – even covered with water in some places. But I could see it would be a very nice trail when the water goes down a bit. We hiked out until we got to a spot where the trail was covered with two feet of water, then turned around and back out to the car.

Along the way, we saw plenty of wildlife.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Garter Snake
Eastern Garter Snake

Canada Goose
Canada Goose

We also saw robins and crows, a red-tailed hawk, a pair of frisky kingfishers, and a very large bird that we could not identify. I swear it was shaped like a cormorant, but it was a light brown color. I heard red-winged blackbirds, but never saw one. Dozens of frogs jumped into the water before we could see what they were. And we even saw dragonflies – one was definitely a Common Green Darner. I suspect the other one was, too, but I couldn’t get a good look.

Plants were also plentiful, though not many in bloom yet.

Pussy Willows
Pussy Willow

Colt's Foot
Colt’s Foot

Ground Pine
Ground Pine

It was a very pleasant afternoon walk. I look forward to going back early in the morning in a few weeks as part of the birding classes. Hopefully the water will be down and we can hike around that pond.

Green Flats Road
Walking back to the car…


There are a couple of places at Allegany State Park where you can see ospreys on the nest.  These photos are from the approach to the Quaker Area of the park. There is another nest on the Red House side.

An instant before I took this picture, there were 2 birds on the nest. I wasn’t quick enough!

I only had my 18-55mm lens, so all these photos are cropped a LOT.

I had also never tried tracking a moving “target”. Most of my photos are of things that sit still and my biggest challenge is wind.

I didn’t change any camera settings. I just tried to follow the bird in flight and snapped away.

I was pretty surprised these turned out as well as they did, given the equipment and the challenges!

  • Osprey – Cornell Lab of Ornithology
  • Osprey – The Peregrine Fund

Woodcock Ale?


This photo is from a day in July 2008 when we got a woodcock in the mist nets at CLDC banding station. (Click the picture for THAT story.)

March 26.  Went to Southern Tier Brewing Company for a sandwich and a brew.  When we came out, I heard it:  “Peent.  Peent.  Peent,” followed by that strange whistling when the bird takes flight.  We were dressed for running from car to building, not for standing in a soggy meadow in the cold.  But I vowed to come back in a week, dressed appropriately.

April 2.  Arrived in the parking lot at 8pm.  The sun was gone, but the sky was still light enough that we could almost see field marks on the bird that fluttered just above our heads.  “There’s one now!”  I love it when that happens!  I’m introducing a friend to something new and the bird flies overhead, as if on cue.

We listened for the “Peent” and heard it on the hill above the parking lot.  We picked our way over the stones to get closer to the source of the nasal call.  The “Peent” stopped and the bird flew up in his wide spiral, wind whistling through the feathers.  “Quick!  While he’s in the air let’s get closer to his dancing ground.”  When we sensed he was returning, we froze so we wouldn’t scare him off.  “Peent.  Peent…”  for about a minute… then off into the air again.

Each time he took flight, we inched closer until we were within 10 feet of his ground dancing, though by then, it was so dark we couldn’t see him on the ground, and the sky had lost enough light that we couldn’t even see him in flight any more, either.

We decided it would be wise to climb back down off the hill before it was too dark to find our way safely and go inside for a beer.

So, Phin… maybe for next year you could brew a special Woodcock Ale, just for Audubon, just for spring…?

Tom LeBlanc has a couple of posts over at his blog about woodcocks.  This one (click here) is about catching one on the night of the salamander migration in 2009.  And this one (click here) contains a video in which you can hear the woodcock’s “song” – though it is dark enough that you can’t see the bird, but there is a great photo there, too.