Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are We There Yet???

Tree Sparrows soon to be heading north
to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
Sometimes we can be as impatient as children riding in a car. Yes, we're (some of us) anxiously waiting for Spring. And others are still having fun in the snow--- shoveling being one of the regular outdoor activities.

Well, in a few weeks spring will be here and then we'll be complaining about the dirty piles of snow, the rain, the freezing rain, and mud. Lots of mud. All this snow is going to have to go somewhere when it melts. Some areas might see flooding especially if it melts fast and doesn't have time to seep into the ground slowly. Some areas will welcome it because of past droughts. And most people will be glad to see and hear the sights and sounds of spring.

Canadian Geese on the Oswego River, Phoenix, NY
I would say that we haven't had a very extreme winter here in Mexico, New York. Our snowfall is about average. Probably somewhere around 150" to date. We don't get all our snow at once. It will snow, melt some, snow some more, settle, and sometimes there is a thaw in there, then more snow. We've missed out on most of the larger snow storms that fell in Watertown and Adams, NY.

Here are snow totals as posted by Jim Teske (from the Syracuse News Channel 9) for this season through the end of January. Notice the snow totals for Redfield, NY - 284"! I heard that they have now reached at least 25 feet! We're about halfway between Oswego and Redfield so I'm guessing we had about half of what they got - 150+/-". And those totals do not include the February totals.

It won't be long now before you will see the first of the migrating birds returning to the area. Actually a few people in the area have seen robins. Many of the male bird species return back to the area before the females to scout out for nesting sites. One of the first birds to return to our Central/Northern New York area are the red-winged blackbirds and the male bluebirds, and then after them the robins, orioles, hummingbirds, and the wood warblers. Millions of birds will fly through the Country, and some might stop in your backyard for water, fruit, berries, seeds, bugs, and a rest. Some might stick around for a few days or so and then continue on their journey further north. You might only see some species for a few minutes never to see them again. People think that birds fly south for the winter because it's too cold up here for them, but it has more to do with the length of the day, and what food supplies are available.

Here is a link to a Spring Migration Chart. Select an area on the map and click on it and it will show you some birds that frequent your area and their expected date of arrival. Depending on the species it might just pass through your area and head further north. There is also a search box on the upper left corner of the page in which you can type in any specific bird if it's not listed on the pages. You can also click on any bird on the page and it will show you a map of that bird's migration route.

Onondaga Audubon Derby Hill Bird Observatory. Northern Oswego County, and specifically Mexico, NewYork, is a designated site for the spring migration of many bird species. It is most noted for the hawk migration. We have a area in our township called Derby Hill Bird Observatory. This is one of the most important areas in the Northeast United States for watching the hawks in their spring migration. This area is located off the southeast corner of Lake Ontario. Because most migrating hawks fly in the thermals they use less energy. The thermals do not occur over large bodies of water. When the birds are flying north in the thermals they come to Lake Ontario and follow the shoreline northward. Derby Hill is at the eastern end of the Lake and from this point the birds will head north. At this observatory site there are two hawk lookouts, a north and a south, depending on which way the wind is blowing. There is also a separate platform for watching migrating waterfowl and wetland species.
Immature Bald Eagle

The hawk watch season starts the beginning of March and runs through the end of May. April is the best month with the most sightings, and up to 20,000 Broad-winged hawks can be seen in a single day. The average count of raptors for the season is over 40,000.  If you have the chance to visit our area from March through the end of May you might want to stop by to see if you can catch some glimpses of these great hawks.

They have been counting and recording their numbers since the early 1960's. Since 1979 a professional hawk counter has been employed. The data has been entered into a database maintained by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.

Here is the link to the database: Hawkcount. When you open this page, select Derby Hill from the drop-down box in the center of the page where it says "Select Count Site", then click on "Go to Site" on the right of that box. As of today's date of 2/16/2014, there are no numbers in the database because the count hasn't officially begun. Here is some more information on Derby Hill Observatory: What is Derby Hill?

American Bald Eagle

Bald Eagles in Oswego County. We had heard reports of people seeing Bald Eagles on the Oswego River in Phoenix, NY. Lake Ontario had a lot of ice around the shoreline, and at one point there was an ice jam in the river at Oswego and the Eagles were coming up the river looking for open water to fish for food. We drove around hoping to photograph some and spotted a few on the other side of the river in trees. There have been several reports of people seeing them in that area along the river. My husband, Ted, did manage to get these two pictures of the Bald Eagle and the Immature Bald Eagle. We had seen some others there, but they were either on the move or too far away for us to photograph them.

Lead Poisoning in Bald Eagles. I recently read an article the New York State Conservationist (Feb 2014) by Kevin Hynes. In this article he describes how eagles will hunt for rodents and other small mammals, and will eat carrion (dead carcasses) from deer that have been discarded by hunters. This happens when the water areas where they usually fish are frozen. The Department of Conservation (DEC) has been finding dead eagles every year in winter and early spring. The cause of this might be from fragments of lead bullets. It is stated in the article that solid copper bullets might be a better choice for hunters. Here is the article in its entirety. Lead Poisoning in Bald Eagles

Three squirrels (two on the feeder, one on the ground) and a Cardinal waiting patiently for his turn.

Male Northern Cardinal

On a closing note I would like to mention the Snowy Owl Irruption. An irruption is a dramatic, irregular migration of large numbers of birds to areas where they usually are not found. Several of my friends have spotted these magnificent birds, one of the largest owls in the world (I have not seen any this year, but have seen some in previous years). If you want to see them you have a likelihood of finding them either on the ground, on a pole, on top of a building or sitting on something else like a hay bale. You usually are not going see them in trees. They like open spaces. Where they live in the tundra there are no trees growing so they are used to flying very far to locate food. Their primary food is the lemming which are about the size of a hamster.

Here are some news links to the Snowy Owl Irruption:
National Geographic: What a Hoot: Snowy Owls Make Rare Southern Appearance Owl Invasion (this site also show a map of where the sightings have occured)

PBS- Nature: Magic of the Snowy Owl (video limited to US & territories). This is a wonderful video on the Snowy Owls (long, but well worth it 53 minutes): PBS Video: The Magic of Snowy Owls

One of my photographer friends, Eric Dresser (from Eric Dresser Photography) had the opportunity to photograph some of the Snowy Owls this year and he gave me permission to share some of his photos with you.

Thank you Eric Dresser. Here is a link to Eric's website if you would like to see more of his images: Wildlife Photos by Eric Dresser

*     *     *      *      *      *      *      *      *  

And on the horizon. . . .Spring is not too far away!

Hope you enjoyed this issue of my blog. 
Feel free to leave a comment, and
Thanks for taking the time to read it.


  1. Susan-this was an informative and inspiring post. You really put everything about the snow and weather into perspective. I did not know about the lead poisoning in bald eagles but it makes sense and is of concern. Maybe more information of this kind will encourage a movement to help protect the wildlife. Your friend's photographs of the snowy owl are beautiful. Nice post!

    1. Thank you, Lee. That was the first time I had heard about the lead poisoning in the bald eagles as well. If the word gets out I think it will help.

  2. Sue I think we are close to Fulton and behind in snow but I bet we will catch up. We have robins and bluebirds all year so I look for the red-winged blackbirds to be my harbinger of spring.

    1. You are so lucky to see the robins and bluebirds all year long. I know that if we didn't have so much snow here that we would probably see some robins here, too. I think we'll start to hear the cardinals singing their spring song pretty soon. I love that song especially when I wake up to it in the morning.

  3. My husband is working east of you in Saratoga Springs, and he said they only got the last storm. It was far milder there than we have it in Niagara Falls. Odd too I guess. I am waiting for migration of hawks. We don't see eagles here, yet some do fly the gorge I understand. I would love to see a bald eagle one day flying low.

    1. For all the snow that everyone around here has been getting I'm surprised that we haven't had more snow accumulation than what we got. This past week they got snow south of Syracuse and we only got a few inches. I'm surprised that the Niagara Falls/Buffalo area has gotten that amount of snow this year. Up until this week Buffalo was ahead of Syracuse in snow total amounts. I hope that one day you are able to see and photograph some low flying bald eagles. You take such wonderful photos of the birds.

    2. I did see a Snowy Owl two days ago and I did not have my camera as I was headed to a doctor's appointment. I usually have the camera in the car, but not that day. The owl was so close too, but no iPhone image would do. They hang out at the airport but usually are too far away to photograph. I do hope to see an eagle one day. I know where they are too, it is just a long ride that I rarely make.

    3. That is so frustrating when you don't have your camera. That happened to me last week when I was going for an apt. My next blog is on more barns and on the way to the apt. there was a great photo op of a barn and the sky was a bright blue. Had to go back later and get a pic, but the clouds moved in.
      I'm pretty sure I saw a Snowy Owl fly right over our house just above the treetops a few days ago. I went looking for him from window to window, but didn't see him. And we have so many trees around our place I'm not sure he'd land around here. We do have a lot of squirrels around here he might be interested in. He was all white underneath and I don't know of any hawks that are all white underneath. I'm not sure how much longer they will be around before they head farther north. They could be on the move now. If you have a chance to check out the PBS video link I posted above you will be impressed. It was wonderful. Also, if you are on Facebook there is a page there called Snowy Owl Obsession. They have some gorgeous pictures of the Snowy Owls in New York not too far from here. The Snowy Owls, when they are down here for the winter, like the airports because they look like the tundras to them with no trees. And they will go to beaches for the same reason.

  4. Beautiful bird photos! I am one who anxiously awaits spring and the thawing of the ground. I'm an avid gardener, never happier than when covered from head to toe in dirt! I don't do a lot in the wintertime.

    1. Thank you! It will be awhile here (maybe not) before we see the thawing of the ground. We still have about 2' of snow left covering our yard. But that could change tomorrow because of the rising temperatures. I don't do a lot of outdoor activities in winter. My winter activities are mostly things I can do from indoors like photograph the birds at the feeders and crafts- lots of crafts! Thanks for your comments.