midwinter visitors

14 01 2009

somethingdifferentLook carefully at this group of mallards and you’ll see that, in fact, they’re not all mallards. It’s like that old Sesame Street skit, “One of these things is not like the other things, one of these things just doesn’t belong…

The last couple of days have been good for our less common Sapsucker Woods birds: the day before this wildfowl visitor showed up (any guesses as to its identity?) we had several great looks at a northern shrike terrorizing the north side of the pond.  I even overheard someone this morning saying that they had watched a shrike impale and dismantle a mouse just a hundred feet off of Sapsucker Woods Rd. Looking at the Sapsucker Woods eBird data from the last 100 years, it shows that shrikes are fairly common during the fall and winter, but the odd duck out is a fairly rare occurrence.  

noshpondNow, you might be thinking that a duck and a hook-billed songbird aren’t all that exciting; but add in a sprinkling of dozens of pine siskins, a healthy dose of american tree sparrows, and a light dash of white-throated sparrows, and you’ve got quite a diversity of birds to watch.  Not to mention the red-tailed hawk that skimmed by right outside the windows of the lunchroom.  And the furtive brown beady-eyed mink that I saw in the gloaming last night.  Plus a group of rosy-breasted robins in the late dusk sunlight, high in the trees.

So keep an eye on those windows! Despite the single-digit highs of the next few days, there’s no telling what else the woods will reveal…

Midwinter Gulls, Terns, & Skimmers…

7 01 2009


One of the best parts of working at the Lab of Ornithology is being constantly surrounded by beautiful artwork by talented artists: from the legendary Fuertes and Audubons in the Observatory to the work of locally or nationally known artists.  

If you haven’t stopped by recently you owe yourself a visit to see Ben Shattuck‘s excellent exhibition “Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers.”  Weaving together his observations from a couple seasons spent working out at Cornell’s excellent Shoals Marine Lab, Ben treats us to exquisitely rendered oil paintings of his subjects in anything but normal poses.  His gulls don’t merely pose, they seem to be caught in mid-motion, in between behaviors that they couldn’t seem to hold back.  The broad swaths of paint are all more the evocative thanks to the matte black backgrounds, making the birds seem to pop out of the darkness.

Ben’s works will be on display until January 30th in the Lab’s auditorium gallery-hope to see you here!

Unmoved by the snow…

19 11 2008

Despite the onslaught of cold, snowy days, the little blue heron that has stalked the shallows of Sapsucker Woods pond is still standing its ground. Literally. It has stood, unmoving, for nearly the entire day, on a half-submerged log on the north side of the pond. As I write, my thoughts drift toward the cold forecast for the next few days, and I wonder how many more mornings I will arrive to see that shining white beacon greet me from across the water. Stay warm, youngster, and Godspeed toward warmer (unfrozen) climes…

Lost in the fog…

8 11 2008

foggybottomSapsucker Woods has always been a place where clouds and moisture get the chance to interact with terra firma.  It sits over 700 feet above lakeside Ithaca, and cold rain and wind on the lakeshore can often lead to whiteout conditions and snow accumulation here at the Lab.  As far back as 1950, studies indicated that humidity is typically higher and temperatures are usually lower here than in Ithaca (up to 10% in Owen’s 1950 thesis).  

This last Thursday was a perfect example of humidity interacting with temperatures to create our own foggy fantasyland.  Each day, I drive across two creek watersheds on the way to work.  On this day, the first of the watersheds was draped in a high fog, the second filled with brilliant sun.  My arrival at the Lab was greeted with high clouds and scattered patches of blue sky.  Within two hours, the temperature had decreased a few degrees, and an intense fog rolled in (shutting down the airport as well!) The picture above was taken midmorning, and it remained that way for several hours, giving a surreal sense of wandering through an out-of-focus dreamscape…

By midafternoon the skies had cleared, the temperature had risen a few degrees and planes were buzzing around the skies, making me wonder if it had all just been a dream.  Then, looking at the pile of work still remaining to be done on my desk, I hoped that I was still dreaming.

Rarity Alert!

7 11 2008

Little Blue Heron – New York

Originally uploaded by bonxie88

Just in case you’ve been wondering what you should do this weekend, take the opportunity to get out and see a great rarity hanging out around the pond in Sapsucker Woods. This Little Blue Heron has been spending its time skulking around the pond margins, perching on snags, and generally making itself available to the birding public. Try the platform on the back edge of the pond for the most likely viewing; also, rewarding views have been garnered from inside the Visitors’ Center, especially on the second floor.

Hope to see you out there!