As a member of the Buffalo Ornithological Society Board of Directors, I occasionally receive hotline calls reporting unusual observations in the Western New York area. Such a call was received on May 12, of a sighting of an immature Blue Grosbeak in the Western New York area. Another phone call came from Cherin Mehs of Gerry, questioning why we are not seeing the popular Evening Grosbeaks to the extent that we did years ago. I also had an opportunity to take a ride to Westfield when a call from a former board of education member, Jim Tennies — whom I served under while I was an administrator for BOCES — let me know that he had good numbers of Turkey Vultures migrating and resting over his property. He invited me to come up and observe them. Almost immediately Nancy and I, camera in hand, were on our way, and obtained the pictures accompanying this article.
Finally, a letter was received from Leonard Catalano of Dunkirk, containing photographs he had taken of animals on a recent trip to Florida. With an array of reports in hand, it became a matter of compiling the backup information on each of these animals for inclusion in today’s article.
The Blue Grosbeak report was an extremely rare one, as this bird appears to be declining in numbers. Not receiving any photos of the bird permitted me to include a photo I have in my library of a Blue Grosbeak that will provide assistance in watching for this animal. New York state records include sightings as early as 1838. It was considered a rare bird until the 1940s, with most sightings at that time coming from the southeastern section of New York. Most records came from the south shore of Long Island during April, May, September and October. Records maintained by the Buffalo Ornithological Society report this bird as being sighted during about the fourth week of May in 1975 and again in 1999. The records I have maintained for our county show the bird making an appearance during the middle of May. This bird is usually found in the southern part of our country in brushy fields and woodlands, building its nest as high as 15 feet above the ground.
As for the Evening Grosbeak, while they are defined as grosbeaks, they are actually more related to the finch family. Known more as an irruptive species, each year they are seen less frequently as the prior year. I have heard unconfirmed reports of habitat decline on their breeding grounds, but I am still waiting for confirmation. They rely on a diet of cones and the population is affected by the success or failure of the cone crop produced. Consequently, we will have high and low observation years of this species. When observed, they usually show up in early October to mid-May, with sporadic reports just prior and following those dates. Chautauqua County records pretty much follow these dates.
Switching to a different bird now, I would like to briefly discuss the bird that does not always appeal to everyone, despite the fact that it serves a very important service in nature. That bird is the Turkey Vulture. It is one of two species observed in our county from early February to mid-December. The other vulture is the Black Vulture, occasionally sighted at the Ripley Hawk Watch. I am including some photos I took at Jim Tennies’ house of the migratory flight of these birds a few days ago. The pictures depict the Vulture soaring and another photo shows the silhouette of two birds perched in a tree.
The other animal I have received photos of comes from an old friend, Leonard Catalano, who recently returned from a trip to Florida. I guess Leonard was trying to change the pace, when he sent me pictures of crocodiles he photographed on a recent trip to that state. These photos reminded me of a time when my oldest son, Dick, and I were playing golf in that state several years ago. My golf ball, naturally, was hit into the rough on the right side of the fairway. When I went to retrieve it, I found it was being well protected by an approximate eight-foot crocodile. I decided to let the animal have the ball and play on with a new one.
The crocodile is an interesting animal, differing from the alligator in the shape of the snout. It is a common resident of the southern states near swamps and bayous. You are always warned not to approach these animals, as they are unpredictable and dangerous.
I once again remind you that I am always looking for nature column ideas and photographs. To do so, please send them to me at 38 Elm St., Fredonia, NY 14063, or e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Photo by Dick Miga
This photo of Turkey Vultures was taken at the Westfield home of Jim Tennies.