Friday, December 7, 2007

You're My Blue Sky, You're My Sunny Day

It's all about timing, and for the timing to be just right several things have to align, much like the planets for an astrologically significant event. I was fortunate to have such an event on Thursday morning.

It started, as the past week or more has started, with several inches of snow. None new, but none melting, either, with the high temps hanging around the upper-20's (F). Twice a week I drive our daughter to school, and this was one of those days.

After dropping her off and briefly debating if I had time to stop to check in on the birds on the Big Flats Trail ("no" won, with that pesky, "you've got a backlog of recordings to analyze, but we'll promise to make time next week" argument) I headed back to the house to pick up lunch and head off to tackle the aforementioned backlog.

But (you knew there had to be a transitory "but" coming) as I crested our hill, about a quarter mile from our house, I saw a flash of something I hadn't seen in a while. It was small, it was blue, rusty-orange, and white, it was certainly not expected among the leafless trees, snow-covered lawns, and slush-filled roads. Not impossible, but not expected . . . Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)!

The Eastern Bluebird that caught my eye, attention,
and for a brief while, my soul on a cold December morning.

The birds were there, my camera was with me, the light was good (blue skies are not the norm in the Southern Tier from November to March), and the world would not end if I were sidetracked for a few minutes. Alignment! This was meant to be.

I pulled over, as far as the semi-plowed road would let me, jumped out with camera ready. The birds were awfully flitty but I managed a few shots that came out passable.

Eastern Bluebird looking very European Robin-ish (Erithacus rubecula).
Bluebirds, like American Robins (Turdus migratorius), are members of the
"thrush" family; European Robins are not closely related. But I think this pose
looks more akin to the Old World, non-thrush, non-counterpart.

Of course, there were other birds around, too. It was pretty active, with American Goldfinches (Carduelis tristis) , a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), and Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata), but mostly with sparrows (White-throated (Zonotrichia albicollis) and Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis).

One of the handful of White-throated Sparrows thrown into the mix.

A pretty typical list for the season at this location. A Pilated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) sounded off in the distance, a Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) chipped nearby, and then the surprise bird of the day popped up: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)! Not supposed to be here, according to the range maps; even eBird asks you to confirm that's what you meant to report at this time of year. But they are around, sporadically, through the winter.

A female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes a
surprise appearance during the brief stop.

I saw this bird several times during the 10 minutes I was standing on the road side, though I wonder if there were two: it kept appearing, but coming from a different direction from where it disappeared. But, having never confirmed two different birds by plumage or, even better, seeing both at the same time, it's recorded as a single bird for posterity.

When I finally made it home there were a handful of birds in the yard. Since I had the camera out already . . .

An American Goldfinch picking at the Purple Coneflowers outside our window.

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) on a dying birch.

A great birding stop just outside our home, all fueled by a chance sighting of a bluebird. Something told me it was going to be a great day. It had to be, right?

Don't fly, Mister Bluebird, I'm just walking down the road
Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know . . . .

Post title credit: Blue Sky (1972), Allman Brothers Band.


cjs said...

My folks have a place at Sheldrake Point where I visit once or twice a year. This summer I made a great list of species I saw, but it was before I discovered eBird. Next year I'll keep an eye out for sialia during our winter visit. Great photos!

noflickster said...

Hi cjs, as you know (but to explain to others), Sheldrake is a great spot year round, especially for scoping the lake. Though most of the lake action (waterfowl, gulls, loons, and other waterbirds) takes place in late fall, winter, and early spring, I bet you had a pretty impressive summer list, too. The great thing about the Cayuga Lake Basin: it's well represented in eBird, and it'll be great to have even more sightings, including from spots outside "the Basin." Thanks for the kind words about my photos, I'm still learning to use all those crazy camera settings!
Good birding,

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