Friday, December 20, 2013

Snowy Owl Irruption in Eastern North America

The eastern United States and Canada are in the midst of a massive Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) invasion. Unlike the irruption a couple years ago, this event seems to be limited to the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes region, with large numbers of owls showing up as far west as Minnesota, Illinois, and North Dakota. Snowy Owls are even showing up as far south as North and South Carolina, with one report even coming from Bermuda!  Despite the restricted range of this winter's irruption, incredible numbers of birds are showing up.  One particularly impressive report comes from Bruce Mactavish in Newfoundland, where over 300 Snowy Owls were found in a small area of coastline (you can read more about this here).

This Snowy Owl invasion has caught the attention of many people, with articles even appearing in the New York Times, which you can see here.  Another extremely informative and interesting article about the impressive Snowy Owl flight is on the eBird homepage.  In this article, you can see the extent of this year's Snowy Owl distribution compared with last winter, which was not an invasion year.  The maps are striking.

I was lucky enough to see some of the Snowy Owl excitement on a recent trip home to New York for the holidays.  The first bird we encountered in the early morning light was still actively hunting from atop a power pole right next to the road. We were able to watch the bird from a respectable distance without disturbing it while it actively searched the dunes for prey before eventually taking flight to roost for the day.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) - Suffolk Co., NY

The second bird picture below was encountered roosting in the dunes along the beach.  This was one of two birds we saw at this site. Many of these coastal sites throughout the Northeast are currently harboring one or more Snowy Owls, where they haven been observed preying on mice, rats, rabbits, and even birds such as pigeons and ducks (Parmelee 1992).

Snowy Owl - Nassau Co., NY

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman


Parmelee, David F. 1992. Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fall Migration: A Recap

Fall migration in the Laramie area was very busy this year. The fun kicked off as early as July, with the earliest migrants, shorebirds, started moving. The earliest shorebird migrants that show up in July are generally failed breeders. Shorebird migration peaks in mid to late August, but continues well into September and even October.

Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) - Albany Co. 
Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) - Albany Co.
Besides shorebirds, songbirds and other land birds made a good appearance as well.  Wilson's Warblers (Cardellina pusilla) were very this year, with smaller number of other warblers such as MacGillivray's (Geothlypis tolmiei), Orange-crowned (Oreothlypis celata), Townsend's (Setophaga townsendi), and Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia), and rarities including Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus), Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) and American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). Sparrow diversity was also impressive, with good numbers of White-crowned (Zonotrichia leucophrys), Lincoln's (Melospiza lincolnii), and Clay-colored Sparrows (Spizella pallida).  Hummingbirds, which start moving by late July, lingered into September, with especially good numbers of Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus), and smaller numbers of Broad-tailed (Selasphorus platycercus) and Calliope Hummingbirds (Selasphorus calliope).

Wilson's Warbler (Cardellina pusilla) - Albany Co.
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii) - Albany Co.
Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida)
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) - Albany Co.
Laramie was also host to some more unusual birds this fall.  While not completely unexpected, two Lewis's Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) were found at the Greenhill Cemetery, while Williamson's Sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) were found elsewhere in town.

Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) - Albany Co.
In late October and November, gulls and waterbirds started pushing through in good numbers. Lake Hattie and Hutton Lakes National Wildlife Refuge were particularly productive, with huge concentrations of waterfowl that included both Surf and White-winged Scoters. Gull highlights included Wyoming's second record ever of Little Gull at Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, several Sabine's Gulls, and a single Thayer's Gull at Lake Hattie.

Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) - Albany Co.
Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica) - Albany Co.

Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman

The latest binocular review from CLO is out

If you are looking for a holiday gift for a birder in your life or if you are considering a personal upgrade, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's latest binocular review is out. This is a one-stop shop for comparing many models in difference price categories so you can hone in what you need. They've added a new price category and reviewed over 100 binoculars. Check out their top picks here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Bird Count - December 14th


The Laramie Audubon Society will again take part in a 100-year-old Christmas tradition, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, which mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteer bird counters in more than 2,300 locations. This wildlife survey effort provides important information about birds and their habitats to scientists and conservationists.

Volunteers are welcome to join in the count with the Laramie Audubon Society chapter as it conducts the Albany County Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 14 This will be the 36th count of the Albany County circle. Volunteers are needed to help count every bird present in a 15-mile diameter circle around Laramie on the day of the count. Novices are welcome and will be paired with more experienced bird watchers.

Volunteers can call ahead (307-286-1972) or meet at Coal Creek Coffee (110 E. Grand) at7:30 am on the day of the count to get data forms and team assignments. Some teams walk while others drive through portions of the count circle. Volunteers will reconvene at The Grounds Internet and Coffee Lounge (171 N. 3rd St.) at 12:00 pm to drop off morning reports and to regroup if continuing in the afternoon.

Volunteers should wear warm, layered clothing and boots, and bring water, snacks and binoculars if they have them. Bird feeder watchers are also welcome. Volunteers are invited to a chili supper where results will be compiled beginning at 4 pm at the home of Shay Howlin, event organizer. Potluck items welcome, but not required.  Please contact Shay Howlin if you would like to be assigned a route early, would like forms for feeder watching, or have any questions (

Gray-crowned Rosy-finch, Laramie Co., WY (2013)
Note: all photos in this post are © Shawn Billerman