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Showing posts from October, 2008

Roadside Cranes

From the Indiana Turnpike, Kenn writes: So yes, we just got home from New Jersey yesterday, but today we’re on our way to Chicago. And right there in a field next to the Indiana Turnpike, as big as life, were two Sandhill Cranes. A few years ago, this would have been big news. Now it’s just a big satisfaction to see these big birds along our route. The midwestern population of Sandhill Cranes has been growing over the last 20 years or more, with huge increases in Wisconsin and Michigan and scattered pairs starting to nest in Indiana and Ohio. Now we can hope to see these gangly birds, hear their guttural trumpeting calls, almost anywhere.

The Raptors Are Coming

From Cape May, New Jersey, Kenn writes: Now is the season when birds of prey, or raptors – the hawks, falcons, eagles, and their fellow-travelers, the vultures – are migrating south. For the most part, these birds move on a broad front, spread across the landscape, and we don’t notice them in big numbers except in a few places where they’re concentrated by geography. But there are a few favored spots where the hawks follow ridges or shorelines and where huge numbers can be seen under the right weather conditions. Cape May, New Jersey, is one of the best such concentration points north of the Mexican border. The entire southern one-third of New Jersey is a peninsula, of course, and at Cape May it narrows to a point just a few miles across. During their fall migration, especially when winds are from the northwest, raptors will move south along the outer coast of New Jersey. When they get to the tip of Cape May Point they face a quandary, because most of them are reluctant to cross the o

Invasion of the Thistle Snatchers

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From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: The title from this post came from an e-mail we got yesterday, passed along from a naturalist at a nature center farther east in Ohio. Thistle snatchers -- yeah, they're talking about Pine Siskins. These sturdy little nomads have been showing up all over the place, little flocks bouncing around the fields and woodland edges all over the Midwest. I wrote about these birds back on October 14th -- see that post for more info. It doesn't look like it at first glance, but the Pine Siskin is closely related to the American Goldfinch. In my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America , I described it as looking "like a goldfinch in camouflage." And like the goldfinch, it's a major seed-eater. It likes the seeds of wild thistles, but it will come to bird feeders (often in the company of goldfinches) to eat Nyjer seed, which is often marketed as "thistle seed." One thing you'll notice, if you get siskins at your feeder,

The Magic and Mystery of Merlin

From Bellville, Ohio, Kim writes: Kenn and I led a field trip for the 2008 Audubon Ohio State Assembly this morning. This was actually a "Kim is so selfish" field trip. What exactly do I mean by that? Here’s the scoop… The organization that I work for -- Black Swamp Bird Observatory -- was one of the Assembly partners. During one of our early planning meetings, Jerry Tinianow, Director of Audubon Ohio, suggested that someone really should do a trip to Ohio Bird Sanctuary (OBS) because, for one - it was close to the Assembly location in Bellville, Ohio; two - OBS is a really wonderful place that’s doing great work; and three - he felt that participants would really enjoy it. Well, I immediately volunteered to lead that trip. I mean, yeah, I had the best interests of our participants in mind, of course! But, mostly I had KIM in mind, because I had never been there myself, and I've always wanted to go. Whew...true confessions are so liberating. Now that I've got that o

Siskin Attack!

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: I heard it this morning, high overhead, a sound that I'd been waiting for. Distant but unmistakable, a mix of querulous rising notes and dry rattles. Scanning the sky, I picked up a flock of half a dozen small, short-tailed birds, in high, bounding flight. Yes, they were Pine Siskins, all right. Every fall, birders over much of the U.S. and Canada keep an ear toward the sky, listening for the calls of "winter finches" flying overhead. The "winter finches" are a group of about nine species that nest in the far north or in high mountains and that are mostly vegetarian in their diet: they eat seeds, buds, berries, but relatively few insects, unlike most other songbirds. These "winter finches" are extremely variable in their winter distribution. If there's a good supply of food in their nesting range -- a good cone crop on the spruces, for example, or lots of seeds on the birches -- the finches may stay in the A