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If it has seemed quiet on this blog since last June, well, that’s my mistake — I migrated to a full website at BirdsDowntown.com last year and, in the midst of a whole lot of projects and web work, forgot to set up a redirect. 

The birding opportunities continue to amaze me here in the Paper City, so I hope you’ll check in regularly at the new(ish) site. 

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(c) Greg Saulmon

This year, Holyoke’s downtown Red-tailed Hawks built their nest directly under a building’s security light. (c) Greg Saulmon

The latest issue of Audubon Magazine includes a short piece about research on the impact of city lights on urban birds.

The research, which involved blackbirds, was performed by scientists working with Jesko Partecke, a researcher with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. The institute has posted its own summary of the research here.

In a nutshell: For ten months, the researchers exposed blackbirds to a constant light intensity at night. Birds exposed to light had gonads that grew a month earlier than birds who slept in the dark. The birds with night lights also had testosterone levels that rose earlier, and they began singing around one hour earlier each day. At the end of the breeding season, they molted earlier.

“All of this indicates that, from a seasonal perspective, the animals are ready to breed earlier,” Partecke writes in the Max Planck Institute summary. “These findings are clear evidence that the artificial light we find in towns and cities can dramatically change the seasonal organisation of wild animals.”

Lead researcher Davide Dominoni told Audubon that one implication is troubling: urban birds that breed and lay eggs too early might not be able to find adequate food supplies for their offspring.

The research makes me wonder about the implications for this year’s brood of Red-tailed Hawks. As shown in the photo above, the adults built their nest this year directly under a building security light that stays on all night.

Will that somehow impact the development of this year’s brood? Or, is the nesting season too short to have an impact? And: Is it possible that the adults deliberately chose a well-lit location as an additional measure of security against potential predators?

I had a brief moment of panic when I went to check on the Red-tailed Hawks today and found no birds on the nest.

Had I totally mis-judged when the chicks might fledge?

No, it turns out. The brood, and one of their parents, had just moved over to a shady spot on the platform where they’ve made their home this year:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

The chicks’ flight feathers are coming in, but their heads are still pretty downy, making me think they’re a little bit younger than last year’s brood at this time. The little hawks fledged on June 4 in 2012.

Here’s another recent shot of the brood:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

On a short walk through Pulaski Park this morning I spotted my first-ever American Redstart. It was hanging out way up in a tree, so I only managed a few photos that were just good enough for a positive ID. When I made a return trip this afternoon, though, two more were flitting about near the train tracks behind the VFW post.

They don’t sit still for very long, so they’re difficult little birds to photograph. The dappled sunlight at the edge of the woods made getting a good exposure tricky, too, but the shot above and the two below are a few of the frames I managed to capture.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

A few yards from the Redstarts, I almost walked right past this little guy, which I think is a juvenile Mourning Dove:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

After observing for a few minutes to see if an adult returned, a sibling popped up:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

 

Also in the park today was this Northern Parula. When I shot the photo below, the sky was extremely overcast and it was very hard to make out colors or field marks. The bird was very high in a tree, and all I could see were splashes of yellow and gray. I thought I was looking at one of the many Yellow-rumped Warblers I’ve seen in the park recently, until I got home and took a closer look.

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Adding to the first-I’ve-seen-in-Holyoke streak was this Common Yellowthroat:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

And this female Scarlet Tanager:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

To round out what felt like a productive day of birding in the city, I think I found a White-breasted Nuthatch nest in the park:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

(c) Greg Saulmon 2013

Two nuthatches were making frequent trips to this hole, bringing smalls insects and other morsels with each visit.

Today’s sightings bode well for Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon 2013, which I’ll be participating in next weekend. A tradition marking its 30th year, Bird-a-thon is a fundraiser that sees teams across the state attempting to log as many species as possible over the course of a weekend.

Last year’s winning team, from the Drumlin Farm sanctuary, logged an impressive 236 species in 24 hours.