Sunday, October 20, 2019

Highlights from the Big Sit, plus a Painted Bunting and a Rosa Buckeye!

Saturday, October 12:

Last Saturday was the day of the BIG SIT! We had a lot of fun with and assistance from several long time volunteers at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch: Betsy Foster, Chris Foster, Harry Armistead, Paul Shanahan, Rose Leong, Steve Thornhill, and Wes Hetrick. Anna and I would like to thank them so much for all their help! We counted 66 species from our location on the hawkwatch platform. Some of the highlights included four Eastern Meadowlarks (FOS), two Common Nighthawks, one Yellow-billed Cuckoo, one Blue Grosbeak, and one Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It was a pleasant day overall, with 414 total raptors counted.

We had some interesting non-avian sightings, including a few Red Admirals visiting our hummingbird feeder. We are continuing to maintain these feeders even though the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have moved on for now. We do this just in case some unusual species decides to show up... and it turns out to have paid off, although not in the way we were expecting. It is very nice to see that the butterflies are appreciating our efforts to feed any little pollinator that could use an easy meal. 

As we are getting further into the migration season, we are starting to see more species that are known for arriving at this time of October. One of these is the Eastern Phoebe. We are also seeing groups of Blue Jays and Eastern Bluebirds. 

Red Admiral Butterflies at our Hummingbird Feeder (Megan Murante)

Juvenile Eastern Rat Snake (Megan Murante)

Eastern Phoebe (Megan Murante)

Eastern Phoebe (Megan Murante)

Jerry Garcia (our beloved resident Mockingbird) taking a bath (Megan Murante)

Sunday, October 13: 

On Sunday we had 849 raptors, which is a great total for this time in the season. The typical peak of the migration is over, so we were all astonished when hundreds of accipiters started flying over. There were 519 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 176 Cooper's Hawks, many of which flew very low over the platform, allowing for excellent looks. The majority of the birds passed through in the morning, and the numbers fell rapidly in the afternoon as the weather worsened and there were light sprinkles in the afternoon. I led an additional early bird nature walk on Sunday, and as we were walking my group kept pointing out accipiter after accipiter flying over the trails!

Broad-winged Hawk (Megan Murante)

Peregrine Falcon (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

American Kestrel (Megan Murante)

Peregrine Falcon (Megan Murante)

Sharp-shinned Hawk (Megan Murante)

Monday, October 14:

Monday was a pretty incredible day. The morning started on a very thrilling note. An immature or adult female Painted Bunting was seen and photographed by Anna in the holly and cherry trees near the platform. Unfortunately this rare bird vanished shortly after it was first seen. We imagine that "Jerry" the mockingbird decided that the bunting was spending too much time in "his" cherry tree and chased it away. Other interesting non raptors of the day included a Common Loon, a Dickcissel (FOS), and a Red-headed Woodpecker. 

In the afternoon I was able to find a "rosa" buckeye butterfly that had flown away when I was trying to photograph it two days prior. Monarchs aren't the only species of butterflies that migrate through Kiptopeke, but Common Buckeyes do too. We have been looking at the buckeyes that visit our butterfly garden in the hope that we will see a "rosa". This variation of Common Buckeye is found in the fall, and there is not a lot of information about it. The key characteristic of a "rosa" is that the underside of the wing is a shade of pink or purple. 

There was a decent flight of raptors and we ended the day with 239 total. We were enthralled by a Merlin that found a perfect hunting ground in the field next to the platform. The Merlin repeatedly swooped down to catch an insect and then would fly up to the t-pole in the middle of the field to eat. A few times it caught an unsuspecting bug so close to us that we could actually hear the "crunch" as its talons snapped around the target! I recorded the Merlin for a short while as it sat on the t-pole eating, and you can view the highlights of it's activities here

Red Admiral (Megan Murante)

Painted Bunting photographed from the Hawkwatch Platform (Anna Stunkel)

Common Yellowthroat (Megan Murante)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Megan Murante)

Rosa Common Buckeye (Megan Murante)

Topside of "rosa" buckeye (Megan Murante)

*Note the darker upper side and the light blue in between the orange stripes at the top of the wing close to the head. When comparing it with other Common Buckeyes in the garden, I noticed that none of the others had that light blue. I wonder if the color variation also extends to the top of the wing, not just the underside. 

Merlin returning to the t-pole after snatching a snack (Megan Murante)

Coming in for the landing 

A flawless approach... 

The Merlin sticks the landing, a perfect ten! (Megan Murante)

Tuesday, October 15: 

It was another great day with 563 raptors that flew over the platform. Once again, accipiters were the most frequent flyovers, with 235 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 175 Cooper's Hawks. We also had a decent number of falcons, with 59 American Kestrels, 33 Merlins, and 14 Peregrine Falcons. In addition to the birds of prey, we saw a Baltimore Oriole in the cherry tree close to the platform. It was a nice surprise, since most of the orioles have migrated already. This individual happened to be traveling a bit later than most, but thankfully was able to get a good amount of food at our cherry tree before moving on. We also saw 104 Blue Jays, six Eastern Meadowlarks, two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and one Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Baltimore Oriole (Megan Murante)

A less extreme "rosa" buckeye next to a common (Megan Murante)

*On the common variation (the one on the right) there isn't any blue in between the orange stripes. I have noticed slight variation between even common variation butterfly colors, but none of the non-rosa butterflies I have seen have had that blue. 

Red-tailed Hawk (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Bald Eagle (Megan Murante)


Friday, October 11, 2019

Thousands of birds in the sky, oh my! (spoiler alert, they were swallows)


Michael will be giving a talk on Monarch butterflies this coming Monday, 10/15. It will be at 5:30 pm at picnic shelter 2 (the one across from the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch Platform).

I will have an additional Early Bird Nature walk this Sunday, 10/13, at 9:00 am. We will meet at the Hawkwatch Platform. All you need is proper outdoor attire and a desire to enjoy the beautiful trails of Kiptopeke (although binoculars and coffee are helpful too)!

Now on to our regular updates:

Tuesday 10/8:
While the day started and ended with pouring rain, we were able to spend a good chunk of the day on the platform. Thankfully even with the poor conditions, we saw several Northern Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys, and a handful of other raptors. We also saw a flight of 10 Marbled Godwits! There was also a lone Wilson’s Snipe and a very unfortunate Great Blue Heron that a peregrine stooped on several times. There were several low flying Ospreys, one of which showed off it's lunch. We believe it was a very large and unlucky fish. We are not quite as good at “flying” fish identification as we are at hawk ID. If you recognize this species of fish, please comment and let us know what you think it is!

Marbled Godwits (Megan Murante)

Osprey (Megan Murante)

Osprey (Megan Murante)

Wilson's Snipe (Megan Murante)

Wednesday 10/9: 
What a day for warblers! Just from the platform we were able to see several dozen Palm Warblers, a few Northern Parulas, Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and one Tennessee Warbler. We had a few birds that were the first of season for their species, such as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Swamp Sparrow, and a White-throated Sparrow. 

Four vultures were perched on the t-pole by the platform together, two of each species. While there are several different species that have perched on the t-pole this season, it was pretty exciting that there were two Black Vultures and two Turkey Vultures at one time. 

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Megan Murante)

Tennessee Warbler (Megan Murante)

Pine Warbler (Megan Murante)

Palm Warbler (Megan Murante)

Pair of Palm Warblers taking off (Megan Murante)

Northern Parula (Megan Murante)

Two American Crows chasing a Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Thursday 10/10:
We made up for the two slow days this week with several hundred raptors on Thursday. There were 812 birds, with good numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, American Kestrels, and Merlins. The majority of the raptors were flying above us at great heights and distances. It was a challenging day for spotting them, since they were so high up and there were thousands of Tree Swallows swooping around the platform throughout the day. 
One of the best parts of the day occurred right as we were about to leave (thank goodness we didn’t miss it)! A flock of 29 Great Egrets and seven Snowy Egrets flew over the platform. We also saw four American Goldfinches and two Tennessee Warblers. 

Swarm of Tree Swallows (Megan Murante)

Chipping Sparrows enjoying our bird bath (Megan Murante)

American Crow in front of the moon (Megan Murante)

(Anna owes me more ice cream from Brown Dog now)

Flock of Great and Snowy Egrets (Megan Murante)

Friday 10/11: 
Today we had another good accipiter flight, with 125 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 177 Cooper’s Hawks. There were high numbers of swallows again, but amongst the Tree Swallows there was at least one Bank Swallow. 

One of the main highlights of today was a very low immature Red-shouldered Hawk that circled around right in front of the platform. This beauty let us have a very good look while basking in our admiration, and then promptly moved on. We also had some very nice views of Northern Harriers.

Red-shouldered Hawk (Megan Murante)

Adult Male Northern Harrier (Megan Murante)

Bald Eagle (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A Bittern at Kiptopeke? Updates on some oddities as well as the usual sus-pecks....

Thursday, October 3:
Early October turned out to be very good for raptors, with 725 total on the 3rd. We had 104 Ospreys, 199 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 134 Cooper’s Hawks, 107 American Kestrels, 90 Merlins, and 39 Peregrine Falcons. It was pleasing to see so many accipiters and falcons, and we were able to get pretty decent looks at many of them. 

There were a good number of warblers that were also traveling around the park, especially American Redstarts, Palm Warblers, and Northern Parulas. 

At one point in the day we saw over 300 Brown Pelicans spiral into the sky, likely due to something startling them. It was pretty amazing to watch these large birds swarm and circle (almost like a horror film)! They settled down again, leaving us to wonder what could have scared them up like that. 

Merlin eyeing a dragonfly (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Two Peregrine Falcons (Megan Murante)

Kettle of Broad-winged Hawks (Megan Murante)

Black Swallowtail (Megan Murante)

Scoop of Brown Pelicans (Megan Murante)

Palm Warbler (Megan Murante)

Friday, October 4:
On Friday we started the day with a visit from a pretty bold Cooper’s Hawk. He briefly perched on the T-pole by the platform before taking off and zooming by only a few feet away from us. We had 638 raptors migrate through Kiptopeke, a good number of which were Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and Merlins. While they were flying fairly high throughout the day, we had a fairly constant flight and many wonderful volunteers to help us spot them.

In addition to our raptors, we had several groups of waterbirds fly through. There were exactly 100 Great Blue Herons that flew overhead, as well as five Wood Ducks and two Great Egrets. 

I am very pleased to be able to post a photo of a bird in front of the moon (FINALLY). This is something I have been trying to do for a while, since Anna and I started a friendly competition a few weeks ago at the platform involving the moon. We had an agreement that if someone was able to take a photo of a bird in front of the moon, Anna would buy them three scoops of ice cream at Brown Dog Ice Cream. There were large groups of Tree Swallows swarming around the platform on this day, plus it was the day before the quarter moon. I was able to take two photos of Tree Swallows flying past the moon, and so I won the competition! (And yes, Anna followed through on her promise and bought me ice cream this past weekend). 

A little while before sunset, Michael (CVWO Monarch Biologist) and I went to check the roost site at Wise Point. He was pleasantly surprised to find that there were Monarchs roosting there already, and he was even able to tag one before the rest settled in for the night. Before we left, we saw a flock of Brown Pelicans fly over the bridge. 

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Great Blue Herons (Megan Murante)

Wood Ducks (Megan Murante)

Double-crested Cormorants (Megan Murante)

Tree Swallows (Megan Murante)

Michael taking measurements of a Monarch caught at Wise Point (Megan Murante)

Sunset at Wise Point (Megan Murante)

Brown Pelicans over the Bridge-Tunnel (Megan Murante)

Saturday, October 5: 
The Early Bird Hike was especially fun this week. A group of 11 enthusiastic individuals joined me, and some of the highlights we saw were a Cooper’s Hawk perched on a very low branch, only a few feet off the ground, and a Cape May Warbler by Taylor Pond. We also saw several Northern Parulas, a Brown Thrasher, Northern Cardinals, Northern Flickers, Gray Catbirds, and Palm Warblers. 

We also had a very bizarre visitor in front of the platform close to our birdbath. An American Bittern shocked us by slowly skulking across the lawn before flying off! We were concerned that it was here and far from a typical bittern habitat. However, it was able to fly off, so maybe the high winds on this day blew it off course temporarily. 

Northern Parula (Megan Murante)

Cooper's Hawk (Megan Murante)

Cape May Warbler (Megan Murante)

Palm Warbler (Megan Murante)

American Bittern (Megan Murante)

American Bittern (Megan Murante)

Sunday, October 6:

It was a slow Sunday for raptors, but there were still some fun sightings! In the morning, five Gray Catbirds enjoyed a bath at our new birdbath across from the platform. Apparently they were having so much fun that they enticed a female Eastern Towhee to slowly inch out of the bushes to check what all the fuss was about. Not long after she emerged, the catbirds had a small scuffle amongst themselves and took off, leaving the towhee to leisurely sip water from the bath on her own. Once she had her fill, she flitted over to the bush directly in front of the platform, and gave us a closer look before taking off for the day. 

Gray Catbirds and Eastern Towhee (Megan Murante)

Gray Catbirds and Eastern Towhee (Megan Murante)

Eastern Towhee (Megan Murante)