Friday, March 31, 2017

Sign up for eBird

A Mallard pair has staked out a territory along Canandaigua Outlet Creek where it passes near the Manchester Gateway Trail in Ontario County, NY. (photo © Dave Spier)
The checklist with map link is at

Note: If you ever participated in Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, or any of the seven other Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen-science projects, you can sign in to eBird with the same username and password. If you do not have these, the first step to using eBird is to create a free account. When you try to submit observations, first you'll reach the sign-in page,

eBird sign-in page -- look for "Create an Account" on the right side
Look toward the lower right for "Create an Account" and click that link to eBird's website account page,

eBird's Create an Account page

Here you will fill in your name and email address, pick a user name (just for signing in) and finally create a password. Important, write down and save that information with your laptop, computer or mobile device. If you ever change your email address, please update it in your eBird account so we can contact you, for example to discuss a rare bird sighting or send you a password reset.

The basic instructions are also at the beginning of this article, which then continues through the steps for submitting your bird checklist via the website.

If you have a mobile device, there is a free eBird App that would be useful for future travels. Here's a set of instructions:

If you have any questions, please email me at

About eBird

adult male Pileated Woodpecker on homemade suet log - © Dave Spier
complete eBird checklist at

About eBird

eBird allows you to keep all of your birding records in a way that makes them available to scientific research and conservation. The eBird motto is 
"Global tools for birders, critical data for science." (and it's free!)

The following is adapted from the eBird website About page (

Record the birds you see
Keep track of your bird lists
Explore dynamic maps and graphs
Share your sightings and join the eBird community
Receive rare bird alerts
Contribute to science and conservation

Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird gathers data from birders around the world to develop basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of space and time scales. eBird’s goal is to harness the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers. In return, birders have free and permanent storage of all their sightings and birding lists (such as life, country, state, county, etc.).
Each participant's observations join those of others in an international network. eBird then shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. This data set is becoming the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere and now beyond.

How Does it Work?
eBird documents the presence or absence of species, as well as bird abundance through checklist data. A simple web-interface, or the alternative mobile app, engages tens of thousands of participants to submit their observations. Results can be viewed via interactive queries on the eBird website. Users are encouraged to participate by providing internet tools to maintain their personal bird records and enable them to visualize data with interactive maps, graphs, and bar charts.
A birder simply enters when, where, and how they went birding, then fills out a checklist of all the birds seen and heard during the outing. eBird provides various options for data gathering including point counts, transects, and area searches. Automated data quality filters developed by regional bird experts review all submissions before they enter the database. Local experts review unusual records that are flagged by the filters.

To get started using eBird, see these articles:
entering data via website:
entering data via mobile app:
I'll elaborate in future blog posts starting with creating a free account.

Data Accessibility
eBird data are stored in a secure facility and archived daily, and are accessible to anyone via the eBird web site and other applications developed by the global biodiversity information community. For example, eBird data are part of the Avian Knowledge Network (AKN), which integrates observational data on bird populations across the western hemisphere. In turn, the AKN feeds eBird data to international biodiversity data systems, such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). In this way any contribution made to eBird increases our understanding of the distribution, richness, and uniqueness of the biodiversity of our planet.

For more information on birds, including photos and sounds, visit All About Birds.
Explore Data has an interactive range map for any species (zoomable to your location).
map link: and type in a species

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at 
or connect through my Facebook page. (

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Bird Surveys at Ganondagan SHS, NY

Grassland Bird Surveys at Ganondagan SHS south of Victor, NY (southeast of Rochester) will expand in 2017. Two primary goals of the surveys are to support the designation of Ganondagan as a NYS Bird Conservation Area (BCA) in 2017 and to aid in assessing conservation and habitat-restoration efforts going forward.  Help will be needed and greatly appreciated. Data will be collected using eBird, a free program. ("About eBird" and data-entry instructions for both the free website and free Mobile App are linked at the bottom.*) While grassland birds are emphasized, it's important to record ALL the bird species detected along with their counts or estimated counts. For conservation purposes, we need to know population trends.

For general information on NYS BCA's, go to This is a state-level program on state lands, but otherwise it's similar to Audubon's Important Bird Areas (IBA) initiative.

The first 9 survey points (out of 61 planned) are active and can be used by any ebirder. Go to Hotspot Explorer - - and type in "Ganondagan SHS" and you'll see a list of all the locations. The two general hotspots are always available for any sort of birding at Ganondagan or for birds detected between survey points.

The protocol for the Ganondagan SHS grassland bird surveys, along with maps and sample data sheets, has been revised and can be emailed as a 4-page PDF. Stationary point counts will be 5-7 minutes long depending on habitat. Essentially it's five minutes in open habitat and seven in the more wooded settings. A series or sequence of two or more of the 5-7 minute counts at one point would aid detectability studies for each species reported.

eBird Hotsops (red markers) at Ganondagan SHS (satellite view)
There are five annual target surveys for each point: spring and fall migrations, breeding start and end, and one winter comparison. There is, however, no limit to the number of visits you can make, and ongoing, year-round coverage [weather permitting] would provide the greatest benefit for ornithological research and conservation. Please check the protocol PDF for all reporting details including weather notes and other information to include when using survey points. Non-ebirders can use paper forms or email their results to me at and I will forward them to Alexis VanWinkle, Supervising Conservation Steward, Ganondagan State Historic Site, 1488 Rt. 444, Victor, NY, 14564. She is headquartered at the Environmental Field Office, a.k.a. the old visitor center at the top of the hill near the blinking red light. Alexis is "more than willing to host introductory 'meetings' with anyone interested in helping on this project!" You can also contact Dave Spier or Alexis VanWinkle by facebook message.

Eastern Meadowlark, a grassland nesting species (© Dave Spier)

List of eBird hotspots at Ganondagan SHS with links and GPS coordinates
Ganondagan SHS    42.9635518, -77.4154615   
Ganondagan SHS--Fort Hill site    42.9615576, -77.4322844
survey pt. (Bluestem Unit, 4.7) 42.964159, -77.426105
survey pt. (Bluestem Unit, 4.8) 42.961625, -77.427503  
survey pt. (Bobolink Unit, 8.13) 42.95462, -77.42846  
survey pt. (Dogwood Unit, 3.6) 42.96454, -77.42163  
survey pt. (Farmhouse, 7.12) 42.95934, -77.42494   
survey pt. (Fort Hill, 5.10) 42.96411, -77.43416   
survey pt. (Fort Hill, 5.9) 42.96125, -77.43361   
survey pt. (Hickory Unit, 6.11)   42.959052, -77.429034
survey pt. (Pollinator Grassland, 2.5)  42.96364, -77.41364

*List of eBird links:
About eBird:
Entering data in eBird (website):
Entering data in eBird (Mobile App):

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Snowy Owls in Seneca County, NY

© Nicholas Kachala

January 15th was a wonderful day in Seneca County! 
3 different Snowy Owls...

On a more serious note, as I observed these birds at a safe distance, I witnessed two different parties approach one of the birds. They were walking through a farm field, obviously trespassing on private property. They got within 20 feet of the bird, snapped a few pictures with their professional lenses, and walked away in a hurry. From what I could see through my scope, the bird didn't look incredibly stressed, but it definitely increased it's head movements as it was aware that people were standing almost below it.

If anyone happens to go out and get these birds (or any Snowy Owl) in the future, just be sure to maintain your distance out of respect for the bird, and respect for other birders who want to share in the experience of observing one of these gentle beauties.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Birding Point Breeze to Seneca Falls, NY

© Robert Buckert

Had a very nice day of birding on January 21st... 
A bit of failure, but some nice surprises too...

I did the Hamlin Beach State Park to Point Breeze section of the Waterfowl Count along Lake Ontario in northwestern Monroe County, NY, with Greg Lawrence starting at Point Breeze. The fog became awful and provided pretty much no visibility of the lake, so we focused more on land and pond birds from Point Breeze to Buck Pond. (I won't get into TOO MANY specifics, but...) We had Pine Siskin, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Snowy Owl as our inland highlights.

a cloud of Snow Geese above Cayuga Lake - © Robert Buckert
When I got home, I found out that Lynn Bergmeyer was heading to Seneca Falls for a second try at the Gyrfalcon's roosting spot where it has been going around 4:00 PM. This was our second attempt. We started at Cayuga Lake SP and got around 11,000 Snow Geese, a Ross's Goose, and some other nice waterfowl including the Black Swan (which is certainly an escapee). Unlike our first visit there on the previous Sunday, the Snow Geese largely outweighed the Canada's. They were flushed by a Bald Eagle and all departed around 3:35 PM, but most returned by 3:50.

Black Swan at left, on Cayuga Lake - © Robert Buckert

a raft of Snow Geese on Cayuga Lake - © Robert Buckert
We drove to the spot on Hoster Road where you could view the trees the Gyrfalcon has been resting in before it drops down into the quarry rocks for the night. One thing that was really cool during the wait was the same flock of around 2 dozen Horned Larks on Hoster Rd., except they were singing their spring songs! [editor's note: The weather was more like  March or April than January.] We waited there from 4:15 to 6:00 PM with NO FALCON! Maybe the Gyrfalcon took advantage of the nice weather to fly far away...

two Horned Larks flying - © Robert Buckert
Point Breeze to Seneca Falls in one day, with good photo ops, I can't complain!

[editor's note: each eBird hotspot link provides a zoomable map
 and a list of additional species reported]
Cayuga Lake SP--lake & launch
North Hoster Rd., Fayette

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Raptors in Seneca County, NY

© Robert Buckert

On Sunday, January 15th, Lynn Bergmeyer and I took a day trip to Seneca Falls in New York's northern Finger Lakes Region, to look for the GYRFALCON. Although, like many others, we failed on the GYRFALCON, it was still a good day. We started at the Lott Farm* and Finger Lakes Regional Airport* and viewed two of the continuing three SNOWY OWLS. One of the owls was on a silo of the Lott Farm just east of Route 96. The other was perched on a telephone pole in the Lott Farm which is divided with many small roads (not real roads, just used for reference). The Snowy Owl was on a pole on "Hi Yelder Road." From there we just began searching the area for the falcon. We went all over Canoga Road, Hoster Road,* Ridge Road, Seybolt Road,* and Martin Road, along with many others. The search ended up fruitless, but we did have some other good birds. Early on, there was a flock of 24 HORNED LARKS in a field on Hoster Road. The flock consisted of adults and juveniles very close to the road. We did find the continuing NORTHERN SHRIKE on Seybolt Road.* [editor's note: there are four eBird hotspots for Seybolt Rd.] The whole day, there were RED-TAILED HAWKS everywhere. Also, there were GADWALLS and MALLARDS in a small, private pond that actually had open water. All of this was from about 10 am to 2:30 pm.

We then moved on to Seneca Lake just to see what was down there. The lake was mainly closed with ice, but there were many AYTHYA species in the open water. There were two BALD EAGLES, one Juvenile and one adult, on the ice, and as usual, many GREATER BLACK-BACKED GULLS. Also on the ice were RING-BILLED and HERRING GULLS. There were TRUMPETER and TUNDRA SWANS, COMMON MERGANSER, RED BREASTED MERGANSER, COMMON GOLDENEYE, AMERICAN WIGEON, and GADWALL viewed from Wolffy's Restaurant.* We then realized that there was a large flock of 20,000 plus geese on the ice farther north so we moved north and viewed this flock directly from Cayuga Lake State Park.* There were about 15,000 CANADA GEESE and 5,000 SNOW GEESE plus AMERICAN WIGEON, AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS, and MALLARDS. We were able to pick out one ROSS'S Goose, but no CACKLING GEESE.

After that fruitful portion of the trip, we went back to the farm fields of Seneca Falls where we were able to find one more SNOWY OWL viewable from Farron Road and an AMERICAN KESTREL. The SNOWY OWL was approached within 20 feet by two parties of photographers and caused the owl to become very alert. It was pretty troubling. I ask every one that reads this to remain a safe distance from the owls and to pay attention to their behavior to make sure you are not stressing them. Through this area there were thousands of SNOW GEESE flying overhead. As far as I know the GYRFALCON was not seen at all that day, but apparently it was seen in various places in Seneca Falls the next day. The last known was on the ice of Seneca Lake, viewed from Cayuga Lake State Park.

On an interesting note, when the GYRFALCON was best viewed on Saturday, January 14th, there was another gyrfalcon seen in Ithaca earlier that morning. I feel it is the same one and if so, it is showing how truly nomadic this bird is. That is not very far as the falcon flies.

From Seneca County we went to Bloomfield (Ontario County) to end the night with SHORT-EARED OWLS. As we approached the intersection of Taft Road and Sand Road, a SHORT-EARED OWL flew right in front of our car. We were running a little behind schedule, so we  were not able to get to the main show of five SHORT-EARED OWLS on Sand Road,* but we still got one!

Good Birding,

Robert Buckert (Rochester Birding Association)

*editor's note: each eBird hotspot link provides a zoomable map 
and a list of additional species reported:
Canoga Bait Ponds (Seybolt Rd.)
Cayuga Lake SP--lake and boat launch
Finger Lakes Regional Airport (0G7)
Lott Farm (restricted access)
Lower Lake Rd.--Wolffy's Restaurant
North Hoster Rd., Fayette
Sand Rd. E of Taft, West Bloomfield
Seybolt Rd.--N of Bait Ponds

Monday, June 6, 2016

Turkey Vultures

(Introduction) -- © Dave Spier

I've been doing a little birding with my grandson and several times we've encountered one or more Turkey Vultures. Are you still finding TUVU's after the spring migration? If so, where, what time of day and under what circumstances?

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) are fairly easy to recognize, assuming decent light and proximity.  If you encounter them gliding along in search of dead animals to eat, look for several things. From the front (approaching you) or the rear (going away), the wings are held in a shallow V called a dihedral. When passing overhead, the wings are two-toned with the forewing ("solid" portions) dark while the flight feathers along the trailing (rear) edge and wingtips are lighter gray or even silvery. The head appears small because it lacks feathers. At closer range, the adult's head is red while juveniles are gray or dark headed.

For their size, vultures are relatively light weight. They are easily buffeted by wind so their flight often appears wobbly.

Their diet consists of carrion, primarily road-kills in populated areas, which they find with their keen sense of smell. The lack of feathers on the head is a sanitary adaptation related to probing into corpses. Feathers would hold scraps that become diseased.

Turkey Vultures are certainly common in Western New York. As of June 3, 2016, a total of 25,718 passed the Braddock Bay Hawkwatch during spring migration on their way east and north. Some will stay and nest in Central New York while others keep going. The vast majority will return south next fall, but a handful can be found in Letchworth State Park year-round. In the winter, they shelter out of the wind by roosting on cliff ledges below the rim. In the morning, the sun warms the rocks and the vultures begin to ride thermals (warm air currents) that help them gain altitude. For more spring photos taken at Letchworth, including several in this blog, see eBird checklist S10396306.

For more information, a range map, photos and sounds of Turkey Vultures, visit the All About Birds website. An interactive range map (zoomable to your location) can be found in the eBird Explore Data section here (or go to that page and type in any other species of interest).

Although it's possible to encounter a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) in Western New York, it's far less likely. (Only one passed Braddock Bay this spring.) Several quick ID distinctions are that only the wingtips are lighter-colored in Black Vultures and the head is never red. For more information and a range map, there's also an ID page for this species.

Corrections, comments and questions are always welcome at or connect through my Facebook page and photo page. There's also a community-type page for The Northeast Naturalist