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Good things come in little packages, say local birdwatchers

Warblers and blackbirds have their fans

May 13, 2010
TAMWORTH — Bigger isn't necessarily better in terms of birds, according to those who set out on a Tamworth Conservation Commission led bird walk on May 5. For them, a blackbird can be more exciting than an eagle.

For the past 20 years, the Tamworth Conservation Commission has organized several bird walks per year during the spring. The next bird walk will be held on May 19 beginning at 7 a.m. at the Tamworth Town House. The walks are meant to coincide with the peak migration season, which should run through June.

"We look for birds that we don't have around here until now," said bird enthusiast Tim Brown. "Some species are passing through to Canada. Eagles are here all winter."

Jane Rice, of Moultonborough, said her goal was to see some warblers decked out in their spring plumage.

Sue Colten, of Tamworth, was simply to get some help learning about birds.

Two other women were also on the trip, but they chose not to be in the story.

The bird watchers use a checklist to keep track of the species they see or hear. On May 5 the group counted 32 species. The day's list included several types of flycatchers, swallows, creepers, warblers, and sparrows.

For the birders a highlight of the morning was spotting what could have possibly been rusty blackbird — an uncommon bird in the New Hampshire— that is in a state of population decline, said Tamworth Conservation Commission Chair Ned Beecher. The alleged blackbird was spotted at the outlet of Jackman Pond off of Route 113. It was sitting on a dead tree branch.

However a couple days later, Beecher offered a more sober assessment of the situation. The alleged rusty blackbird was more likely to be just a Common Grackle.

A photo of the suspected blackbird later revealed that it was in fact a Common Grackle. As the bird's head was less round than a Rusty blackbird's head and its tail was too long.

"This is the kind of thing that makes birding interesting - trying not to jump to conclusions and to weight the clear evidence collected," said Beecher. "For a rare bird sighting (such as a Rusty Blackbird at the place we were) to be accepted by the New Hampshire bird records, we would have to have several experienced observers confirming it or a clear photo."

It takes many clues to properly identify a bird — such as song, appearance, habitat, and even how high in a tree the bird is sitting. Anyone who goes on a bird watching expedition really ought to bring binoculars — as many of the are birds are small and often times far away or difficult to spot in thick tree cover.

Avid bird watchers also keep a list of species that they have seen in their lifetime, said Brown who added 107 species to his personal list during an 11-day trip to Africa.

Bird watching may appeal to people's primitive instincts because it offers the thrill of the hunt, said Beecher.

For a layperson, the exciting birds to watch would be the swallows, which swoop through the air like little fighter planes. In fact, a pair of swallows got into a dogfight at the Alice Bemis Thompson Bird Sanctuary. At times, they seemed to wrestle in midair, but they never fell out of the sky. Beecher said those swallows were exhibiting mating behavior.

Another group of swallows were a lot more playful. They spent their morning buzzing around the farm on Cleveland Hill Road. Some members observed the swallows playing with a feather. They would drop it in midair and try to catch it. Other swallows were busy flying in and out of the barns and stables. Some cliff swallows stayed still enough to pose for pictures in the comfort of their little mud nests built on the ceiling of a stable.

At a property, on Bunker Hill Road, Beecher used a technique called "pishing" to coax some bird hide in the trees. Pishing consists of making a hissing noise, which makes the birds curious enough to come out from cover — at the property, Beecher was pishing for Black Poll Warblers. The scene at property couldn't have been more beautiful, as the grass was a lush green with polka dotted with bright yellow dandelions — all under a bright blue sky and puffy white clouds.

Beecher also has a more high tech way to get the bird's attention. His iPhone has an application that plays numerous birdcalls and also provides pictures and information about each species.

"You can draw birds out by playing it loud," he said.

Identifying each bird species through their songs takes much practice — especially when several species are singing at once. Beecher said it takes him some time to relearn birdsongs at the beginning of each season.

The bird species that enthusiasts would encounter in New Hampshire have been changing over time, said Beecher. A report called the State of New Hampshire's Birds reveals the following: There are 188 bird species that breed in New Hampshire. Of those, 42 species are increasing in population, 67 species are decreasing in numbers, 27 species' populations are stable, and the population status of 52 species is unclear. Some species, like cardinals, seem to be moving north, said Beecher.

Tamworth Bird-a-thon

The Tamworth Area Bird-a-thon and Bloom-a-thon, the longest-running bird-a-thon in New Hampshire, will be held on Wednesday, May 19. Participants will meet at 7 a.m. at the Town House Parking area. This is a fundraiser for the non-profit Loon Center in Moultonborough and New Hampshire Audubon's Lakes Region Chapter. They can always use help on the field team, scurrying around to identify as many birds and spring wildflowers as they can in one day (they count over 160 species combined). And, they need pledges — either a fixed amount or a per-species pledge. Contact the Loon Center for details at info@loon.org or 476-LOON.

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