Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Newest Neighbor

     My day has been filled with psittacines (those are birds that are members of the parrot family...); I greeted the morning and ate breakfast with my Senegal Parrot, Gizmo, I hopped on my bike to care for a friend's beautiful parrot, then I went for a run and came back to a budgie hanging out in the tree in front of my house. Yup, there is a parakeet in the tree outside my home.
     I have been hearing a parakeet, formally known as a budgerigar, outside for the last week now. I thought a neighbor had a bird cage close to their window and we were hearing him, although even our parrot isn't that loud. Then I realized the sound was traveling past our window, often, I had to confirm for myself that a budgie was flying about the block and today I did. These budgies are commonly kept as pets, they are inexpensive, easily obtained, but sometimes owners ignore their intelligence (don't let their size fool you, they are brainy!) and need for serious care. When people get frustrated or tired of their pet bird, sometimes it is thought that the best thing for the bird (and the humans who own it) to just "let it free." Sometimes these birds also simply just escape, open windows, lack of training, and unclipped wings can result in flying the coop.
     These budgies originate from open grassland and scrub in Australia, New York, and Brooklyn at that, is no place for them. They are small and will not be able to survive winter, they need to compete with the natives, and can also fall prey to them, especially as I heard a kestrel outside today. Before considering any pet it is best to learn as much as possible before bringing that animal in your home so that the future is bright for both you and your pet. I have tried contacting and continue to contact people for help, in hopes that this little guy could have a safer place to live with plentiful food, water, and a space that is secure (no predators, hazards, or worries about weather).
     Anyway, this guy is a character and cute to boot:
He is SO HARD TO FIND. He does camouflage pretty well on this London Planetree.
So just to let you know, I live in a 2nd floor apartment. I just opened the screen and am sitting at my window taking pictures. Even this bird is looking at me like I am that crazy Brooklyn lady. Not going to lie, when someone walked by I would try to be a little less creepy, put the camera down, back away from the window-- or maybe it made me that much more creepy....sigh.
Budgie's are typically this color in the wild, but due to their popularity as pets come in a multitude of different color mutations.
Judging from the brown cere, that area above the beak where the nostrils are located, this budgie is most likely a female, males tend to have blue cere or nostrils.
Vocalizing that raspy repeating "buzz" that is typical of these little guys.
Then I kept seeing her tail move up and down, sometimes diapering completely, since she was staying in one place, this was my chance to get outside to take a closer look...
She appears to be excavating, which is budgie breeding behavior... These birds will excavate hollows to lay their eggs in and raise their young.

In Brooklyn we do have resident quaker parrots, also known as monk parakeets, that were accidentally released in the 1960's when bringing them in from JFK to be sold as pets. These birds do well here as they are from temperate regions in Argentina, but this little budgie may need assistance come winter.
Alright, little BK Budgie, welcome to the 'hood!
**Update - 7/24/14
I am incredibly sad to say that I found this girl on the street, presumably struck and killed by a car. I was so upset and I only wish I had been out earlier, in case she had been previously injured, I could have helped her and got her to the animal shelter. I had to remove her from the street, being right outside my home and having to constantly see car after car going over her.
This is a sad and awful reminder that "the wild" is no place for captive animals to roam free or grant freedom to, as they are no longer wanted. Whether urban or rural, the hazards are there, from cars, to predators. Also, sometimes these animals can become nuisance to wildlife native to the area, and can threaten species that actually do belong in the outside habitats. It is a sad and tragic end for this little girl and many other "freed" pets. Remember to do your research before bringing an animal into your home, and keep your current pets safe and secure. I would hate for anyone else to have to experience this!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beach Birding

From Point Breeze on Plumb Beach, looking over Mill Basin. The Gil Hodges Bridge is what takes you from Brooklyn to the Rockaways in Queens.
     I planned to get up early today and get out the door to get out and explore. At 7:10AM I hopped on my bike and made the 8 mile ride to Plumb Beach. The morning was pleasant, very comfortable out, so much so that sweating was minimal for 8 miles to my destination - Plumb Beach.
     Plumb Beach is just past Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, across the way you can see Breezy Point, of the Rockaways. The beach can be accessed by car, there is a tiny parking lot, just off the Belt or by Bike, if you continue to the end of Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, there is a path across the street from the Comfort Inn. 
     It was low tide when I arrived, the waters here are in general, very shallow, making it a lovely place for waders and shore birds. It was empty, except for the 6 people I saw when I first began my walk. With proper footwear (or I guess none at all) you can walk through the wet flats that are exposed. Some people would even walk out to the sand bars, where they were digging up clams. The birds were active, many fishing and digging up their own clams. Many also rested right on the beach making viewing comfortable and easy.
     After I finished, I pulled out my packed towel and laid out and watched birds continue their activity. More people arrived as noon came around, but the birds stuck around. The beach isn't too much of a swimming beach, I sat in the water for a little bit, but its shallow, so sitting is about all you can do. 
     Today's sightings included 23 species... I am going to try to be diligent about submitting my sightings to eBird, Cornell's Lab of Ornithology's database where birders can log their sightings and help contribute data. My sightings are listed here... and many are included in the photos below, enjoy!
A lot of least sandpipers today.
A ring-billed gull shows us his beach strut.
Two black skimmers skimmed the water with their unique beaks. The lower mandible is longer than the upper, and the lower part is dragged through the water, if it touches a fish, the bird snatches it up, and somehow does not get whiplash, as their head bends forward, almost against their bellies in the quickest motion.
Common terns, three in a row, I win!
Least tern, smaller, more yellow bill and legs, and a white forehead, unlike the common terns above. Their voice is so much daintier too than that of the common terns.
Birding along the Belt Parkway, essentially. Thankfully I didn't have to take it to get here, I'm sure it would have taken a painfully long time... 
Least sandpiper flyby.
A juvenile common tern sat with one other and begged for food on the beach. I don't know if terns or any birds breed here, but when leaving I did see a feral cat. I'm sure if there is one, there are more, only making life tougher for these guys.
American Oystercatcher, presumably catching oysters, or some other shellfish.
A greater yellowlegs flew out of the grasses where there were small pools of water.
Least tern.
A common tern vocalizing.
... and flying quite close!
Here's the black skimmer skimming...
Winner, winner, fishy dinner!
Fun fact, when born, their beaks upper and lower mandibles are the same length, but when they leave home and fly off, their lower has already outgrown the upper mandible.
The least tern on the left was on the beach vocalizing, then the one on the right flew down and fed it a fish. It was cute. Not sure if that is a juvenile, mate?
Greater yellowlegs and reflection. 
This guy looks like he had a strong cup of coffee for breakfast and is ready to take on the world, or this crab. So many gulls were plucking crabs from the water, it made me want to go get some for lunch... I settled for a clam bar on the ride home.
These two oystercatchers were having a kerfuffle, flying up and down the beach multiple times. They even went after each other in the air at one point, just over the water.
My first encounter with a robber fly. Its like a dragonfly met up with a mosquito and they made babies... It was almost as long as my thumb and I was thankful to learn they only use their piercing mouthparts to stab and eat other insects, not people.
"Hey, you guys want to hear a joke?...... Tough crowd." Clearly these laughing gulls don't.
Found this female horseshoe crab trying to get back to the water. Thankfully I was in the helping mood.
And last, but not least... but technically, least. Tern.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oceanside Marine Nature Study Area

     I promised my Gma I would take her out for a birthday lunch yesterday (a very happy 89th to her, she endured many summers of me reading field guides to her when I was little and not understanding anything or being able to help me pronounce any animal names) so I headed out east to home on Long Island. I also promised myself I would squeeze a walk in somewhere out on Long Island, on my drive in. I have been seeing so much about this Marine Nature Study Area, and I always see the signs when I go out to kayak, but have never had the chance to visit. So I took today as my opportunity. It happened to be perfect for a short walk, as the area is not huge. It is situated on a salt marsh and it very accessible as paths and boardwalks bring you around. I also love that there is an active osprey nest on site and it happens to be on a path, but there are signs instructing you to either turn around or to quickly walk by until you reach the other side, giving warning not to linger or cause any undue stress to the birds. There was lots of activity when I arrived around 9:30am and I was delighted by various waders, shore birds, and raptors. Also there were dragonflies all over, fiddler crabs in the muddy banks, and you could see the fish that attracted all the birds to the area.
     Bird sightings for the day included mockingbirds, redwing blackbirds, song sparrows, house sparrows, salt marsh sparrows (lifer), barn swallows, tree swallows, black capped night heron, yellow crowned night heron, snowy egret, great egret, least sandpiper, laughing gull, herring gull, greater black-backed gull, common terns, osprey, and peregrine falcons.
     I highly suggest a visit, especially if you are looking for a quick walk- but be warned it is open, very little shade is available, so bring sunscreen and wear a hat. The walk is also very easy, so if you're worried about hills or length of walking, this place is nice and easy. People are also very friendly, I had great conversations about what people saw around here today or in the past. People were very helpful in pointing things out or discussing the day's happenings. For more information, check them out at their website: http://mnsa.info.

I love the red eyes of the black capped night heron, who is stalking about for some delicious salt marsh creature.
If there are dragonflies about, other insects are also around, as a dragonfly needs to eat. The biting flies were out and I was glad dragonflies were everywhere to get them and keep them off of me! I think this guy is a four spot skimmer, and a lovely one at that!
Common terns circled about on the lookout for an unlucky fish.

Not a perfect picture, but their forked tails give them such a delicate appearance.
Terns are fun to watch when they are out hunting, if they spot potential prey they will hover, and stare down as if they are calculating the perfect moment, before they dive and splash into the water, and fly back out, hopefully with something delicious.
When I arrived, all I saw were large birds diving through the air down to the water, and other birds trying to evade. It turns out a family of peregrine falcons live nearby and they were taking the kids out to practice their hunting skills. They all then rested on some lights on a sports field across the water from the salt marsh, an adult sits left and a juvenile sits right. 
The osprey had some young (I think 2) in their platform nest. The adult say diligently over them, and you can see on curious face below.
I walked below the nest quickly, causing the adult to call out, but he stopped when I reached the other side. The center has a camera on the nest so you can view from above. The young birds also got banded yesterday, but I was not able to stic around. See the webcam here.
The song sparrows were doing as their name implied, they were very vocal. 
I love the water reflections on this snowy egret (much smaller than the great egret, with a black bill and black legs). This egret was up to no good though...
...He flew in to give chase to another snowy feeding on this small area of water within the marsh. You can clearly see their inner dinosaur when they become territorial.

I came hoping to add a sparrow to my field guide that I have seen. I was hoping to find a salt marsh sparrow (clearly my field guide is a bit out of date, as it is referred to in it as a sharp-tailed sparrow) and I did! If you keep your eye on the grasses you may see some sparrows flying among them, but never high above. The tend to always be in the grass and well hidden. You have to be diligent about keeping an eye on where they land if you wish to see them again.
Zooming in on a not so great photo, reveals the yellow around its face that makes this my first salt marsh sparrow :)
A sleepy yellow-crowned night heron. 
The study area has great service, this great egret was clearly hired as a parking attendant....