Winter is Coming

To steal the ominous language of Game of Thrones, Winter is Coming.

I can't wait. 

I just re-read Bernd Heinrich's Winter World in preparation.

It's no surprise that the wonder, intrigue and science in Winter World is far beyond anything in his other (albeit excellent) book, Summer World. The adaptations to surving in a frozen landscape are unimaginable to us temperate-world humans. From manufacturing glycerol to full cellular freezing, the litany of mechanisms to cope with cold are mind bending. 

Here's a small selection of my brother's 'Snow Portraits'. A timely reminder, for me at least, as to why winter is the season of wonder. 

For more of Ben's images, see: benhallphoto.com/


Texan vagrants, take two

The weekend did indeed bring more luck.

I'd hatched a vague plan to go meet Mike Britt at Laurel Hill to try for Golden Eagle, but he (wisely) called it off to hit the coast.

Unsurprisingly, I'd barely got out the car at Laurel when I got the text for Lapland Longspur and Bonaparte's Gull in Liberty State Park. Breaking a few speed limits, I headed over. There were a few folks on the Bonaparte's and I had a quick look through a scope before even turning the engine off. Just as well, as a harrier kited over the cove and put the birds up, and this delicate, diminutive little gull floated away on the breeze.

The gales were howling on the edge of bay, and I barricaded myself against a tree, searching in vain for the longspurs. One of my nemesis birds, and I had a creeping feeling they weren't going to just fortuitously reappear for me.

I was about done, when I looked up.

Against the blue, all 15 grams of Texan Cave Swallow rowed bravely into the howling headwind, coming in off the ocean and passing front-lit above the London plane trees. It was a fleeting moment, but its tawny rump, throat and neatly capped head were crisply illuminated by the still low sun. I later realised how different the view would have been in silhouette.

This was even better than a Franklin's gull (for me anyway - I saw many wintering Franklins living in Arg/Chile).

POSTSCRIPT: Sunday morning I was on my balcony just doing a quick scan through the gull flock that roosts on the pier below, when another bundle of hirundine energy came in off the river and hawked insects at eye-level with my 8th floor vantage point. I was torn between running 3 blocks to get my SLR out the trunk of my car, or just watching it and trying to get some video on the point-&-shoot.

I did the latter. Lesson for the day - shooting cave swallows with a tiny camera IS NOT EASY.

But the views as it hawked in the sunlight for around 30 minutes were amazing.

I put the news out on the Manhattan side and there was a bit of a scramble from friends over there to get on the same bird, but the Hudson river is nearly a mile wide here, so it was tough for those guys who hit the Chelsea pier.

It's not very often Hoboken gets one up on Manhattan on the bird front....



Every time I looked at my phone today there was another coastal report of Franklin's gulls.

I figured I'd be lucky to get one this far up the Hudson river, but two were seen off upper Manhattan this morning, and Andrew Farnsorth reported one from the East River.  I've always been puzzled by why the East River attracts so many more Laughing Gulls than the Hudson, at ostensibly equal tidal reaches. Would this apply to storm blown Franklins too?

Coming back from work early I stationed myself on my balcony in Hoboken, with a view spanning 8 miles of river - from the GW Bridge to the Freedom Tower. 

Surely, if there were any Franklin's about, they couldn't sneak past this checkpoint...`

Margaux hoping to be the youngest person to see a FRGU in the Hudson River

The real issue was volume of gulls (huge). I finally had two possibles following a debris barge, but they were over the midpoint of the river and too far to separate from Laughing. Do FRGU even do this? I'd imagine as inland gulls they wouldn't have adapted to the behaviour, although I've seen them happy on wintering grounds in bustling Chilean ports.

Maybe tomorrow will bring more luck.


Chaco Eagle!

Over the last few weeks the SACC has been cleaning up some names; a lull in the flood of new taxa perhaps?

Anyway, I was quite pleased to see today that this proposal to recognize Buteogallus coronatus as Chaco Eagle, befitting its core range in the heartland of the Chaco, has just passed. 

This is a hugely under-appreciated biotope, with many ecological threats and subsuming one of the poorest regions of the continent at its epicentre in Paraguay and northern Argentina.

How great to have a name that situates this apex bird in its geographic heartland.

And what irony that my last three trips to the Chaco I've dipped on this bird.

As an aside, they could have gone with Crowned Buzzard-Chicken ;)



During the months over the last two winters I spent working out of my client's office in northern Georgia, I got my pretty accustomed to seeing Orange-Crowned warblers. They'd be the last to arrive and last to leave - lingering with the siskins and purple finches along the rich riparian corridors of the Chattahoochee.

So with winter looming, this drab little parulid was on my radar for Hudson county, and as local advice and eBird records showed, I figured I'd have plenty of time to target it at Mill Creek Marsh over the next month.

So it was a nice surprise to flush one this morning at Laurel Hill, when i was more focused on sparrows and (absent) pipits.

But wait, was it an OCWA? A little voice in the back of my head said it could easily have been a Nashville, especially a drab fall bird. The warbler in question flushed into the scrubby woodland behind the dinosaur fence, so all i could do was pish, wait, pish some more, walk around, wait some more.

Eventually I pulled up the call on my phone and within a half-second it came rocketing out of the birches.

It was far from impressed to see a human with an iPhone, and if this hadn't been a passage bird I would have felt pretty guilty. It perched for all of two seconds, looked aggressively around, or as aggressive as a 10 gram warbler can get, then disappeared from whence it came...

When I got home I had a found this lengthy discussion, contributed to by some heavyweights like Kaufmann, Jaramillo et al, about this individual:

My bird looked pretty much like the bird being argued over here. But it's getting quite late for Nashville here, my last being over 2 weeks ago in Hoboken of all places.

Moreover, what I saw this morning looked intuitively different; showing a dirtier, greenier yellow underneath than I've ever seen on a Nashville, and lacking any contrast between throat and hood color. If you cut my bird in half, the back half would be brighter and richer than the front half. This is kinda the opposite from what I'd expect on any Nashville.

I'm taking the unequivocal response to playback as confirmation - but whatever the rationalisation, I know if I hadn't called the bird out, I'd still have a few nagging doubts....


a good excuse

Some nice folks back in England, doing an admirable job of promoting and funding conservation for shorebirds, are entreating everyone to go out find waders this weekend.

As if we should need an excuse to go look at waders, now we have one anyway. Wader Quest will give you a signed shorebird poster from probably the *best artist to ever paint a bird, the one and only Lars Jonsson.

Get involved, wherever you are, at waderquest.org

*Don't believe me? Look at these eiders battling the North Sea;

My photo
I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com