Saturday, February 16, 2019

Great Backyard Bird Count 2019

     I look forward to ANY good reason to bird. This span of 4 days (2/15-2/18) is the Great Backyard Bird Count an amazing community scientist initiative to get folks out looking at, counting, and identifying birds. Whether this is your first time or millionth, it's for everyone!
     There are some great birds out there for all to see and I got to share a well-showing life bird with my dad, yesterday afternoon as I birded some area of Long Island, with all target species I was looking to see squired. That is also a very nice feeling! And sharing birding with someone is always extra special.
I began at Point Lookout, not much variety in the water. But the long-tailed ducks, few common eiders, and brant were riding the waves, practically with their eyes closed.
A handsome male shows off his namesake long tail, blowing in the wind.



Sanderlings ran after and ran from the waves. The morning was very cloudy and mono-tone in color.

Next I went to Jones Beach, stopped at the coast guard station and then the parking lots, mainly looking for horned lark and snow bunting (above).
Was happy to have found both!

Snow bunting are very cute in their winter plumes, little rust colored cheeks, their overall coloration blends them super well into the dunes. As opposed to their stark black and white breeding plumage, giving them the "snow" in their name -- besides the fact they are a bird of the high north.

After making a grilled cheese at my parents house and enjoying the finer things I never have in my home, like Pringles, cookies, and an Entemann's donut... And "putting together" my dad's binoculars (attaching the strap). I magically convinced my dad to come find another target bird with me, a Pacific Loon.
And as described by others, it was exactly where it has been for the last week plus!

My dad wondered, as most do- if this loon is not from here, why is it here? Well, these birds breed in the Arctic and winter, normally along the west coast on the ocean, bays, and estuaries out there. But when you have wings a page in a book does not determine where you should be. Yes, birds often go to and return to the same place but sometimes you take a wrong turn, get blown off course, or even find good resources elsewhere. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology on their range map page for birds now includes a sightings map, compiled from ebird data, showing reported sightings - and its pretty interesting to see how the two maps differ. You just never know when a bird will show up and break the rules of its range!

A life bird for both my dad and I!
Birding helps create memories and I'm glad I got to share this moment with my dad. 
So, what makes them different from the common and red throated loons we often see in winter at our coast?
Well for one, that chinstrap. Although it isn't always easy to see or visible. It is much so on this bird.
Also, the bill is thinner, less heavy than a common loon - and common loon tends to me at least to look a bit heavier bodied than this bird. It's back is also very dark, compared to the loons we usually see here.



Another field mark I like in particular, but not unique to this species - is that striping that fades into their chest. I never really see that well defined on the winter plumage of common loons, but you will see it the breeding plumage of most loon species.

We enjoyed watching this bird at close range from the walkway above the marina in Oyster Bay. It darted under docks, between boats and seemed to know when all the shell fishermen would come in for the day, in mid afternoon where it would change its location to just outside the marina to avoid the small boat traffic.
I love sharing birding with others and glad to have my dad along for this one!

...Now, onto day 2 with owls, harriers, and pasta!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Spring in February

     A balmy day greeted us, the temperatures quickly rose up out of the 30's up to 60 degrees. So I got out early today before work and just basked in the warmth and beauty of the morning. I visited the Marine Park salt marsh and Sheepshead Bay before starting the workday and very happy I did!
I arrived to fog rising and dissipating over a still icy marsh. The wind wasn't blowing and the result was this amazing warm, still, and beautiful landscape. It is all that I love about Brooklyn, this is the urban wilderness I love.
A belted kingfisher rattled in the trees, looking over the areas not frozen for a meal.

A lone ruddy duck paddled across the glassy waters.

Swimming through the clouds and sky.

Eye contact, and then a morning trail walker spooked him.
The marsh provided lots of robins, blue jays, a few white-throated sparrows, and a loud, singing Carolina wren, who I not only heard, but saw the pint-sized bird with an amplified voice.

At Sheepshead Bay, I was on the search for a duck. Not these ducks. But these are always nice to see, these are lesser scaup. The duck I am looking for is related, in the pochard family. Pochards are diving ducks. And in an instant they can disappear below the surface in search of food or to avoid being spotted.

In 15 minutes I was able to find the duck I was after, just from silhouette alone with that sloping forehead, a canvasback.

I saw a canvasback last month in Queens, this one is in Brooklyn, close to home and work, and close to the walkways, giving opportunities for amazing close looks. I couldn't pass up the chance!

Sheepshead Bay is as developed a habitat as any. The Bay is a marina, surrounded by commercial businesses and a major road on its north side, and residences and schools on its south side. It is riddled with mute swans, boats, and unfortunately trash.
But, then there are scaup, mergansers, bufflehead, black ducks, and sometimes the odd black-headed gull or canvasback shows up.

This is a drake (male), and he is handsome! 



Canvasbacks, a great start to a beautiful, (unseasonably) warm day!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Superb Owl 2019

     It's that time of year again, Surpeb Owl Sunday! Let's celebrate the owls that got me through this season and then we'll take a look at some owls of past seasons. All are champions, many of whom fly great distances to the places where we had the the chance to cross paths.
     It happen to be, that this point of the year is an exciting time for owls, Many are starting to find a mate and nest. Which is why it's also a good chance to remind the biggest owls fans, that it is super important not to disrupt owls during the day, approach a nest site, and share their locations due to the crowds they draw which in turn are detrimental to their natural habits and behaviors. If you do have the very fortunate chance to happen upon an owl, it's important to mind your distance, keep voice levels down, and overall keep a low profile.
     Even though an owl will do it's best to keep a low profile itself, it generally knows you are there. It heard you coming before you saw it and is doing it's best to "blend in." If an owl opens its eyes wide or raises its tufts of feathers suddenly (if it has feather tufts, not all do), or goes into an alerted posture-- then you know you've gone too far. Unfortunately these are often the photos photographers crave and some go to great lengths at the expense of the animal for that perfect photo. When I see a bird, I'm glad to see it, and if a few pine needles, blades of grass or other obstructions are in the way, so be it. That's what owls look like, hidden!
     Anywhere, here are some owls from the 2018-19 season, taken at 500mm zoom, photos are cropped, and I never overstayed my welcome...
Saw my first barred owl in December. I really like the birds a lot. I used to work with one, his name was Kirk. He would give his signature "who-cooks-for-you?" call any time a police or fire siren drove by.
I can confirm, this bird is 95% feathers.

Saw this snowy last December. It looked to be eating well.

Then a crow flew by and caused the bird to perk up and give a glimpse of their "I'm not messing around" bits.
Shared this snowy with my friend Jeffrey in January. And nice to see this bird being fairly respected by its photo entourage.

A life bird last month, I get to finally say, I saw-whet!I saw three of three of whet, actually. Very very special to see these birds. And holy heck, they are tiny!!!

I see why pinecones are mistaken for these little too-ters.
Oh yeah, saw-whets dont "Whoo," they "Too!"

Now for some past season owls...
Got to share this Eastern Screech also with my friend, Jeffrey- it was a life bird for us both!
I also have a soft spot for birds that share similar plumage to myself.



I froze my @$$ off for 3 hours as dusk appoached, waiting to see my lifer barn owl.
Here it was.
It popped its head up and looked around.
Blinds are a great tool to provide a respectful shade and keep folks at a respectable distance giving birds owl or not some necessary privacy.

It could probably hear me shivering and was probably enjoying the spell it had cast on us silly hairless mammals, waiting just to catch a glimpse.
It might have even be mirroring us, as we peeked through a blind to see an owl peering at us, from its blind.

When your tipped off by the blue jays. Some of the best ways to find owls and other raptors, follow the mobbing blue jays. This great horned owl was being mobbed by a number of noisy jays.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Canvasback #79 #338

     I went out yesterday continuing to try and build up my year list with some birds who are only here for the winter. It was a success. I drove out to Baisley Pond and Jamaica By Wildlife Refuge. Baisley had a lot more going on as much of the east and west ponds in Jamaica Bay were frozen. Baisley also had a life bird I was super happy to encounter. I love birding in NYC, such amazing abundance and sights to see in sometimes the oddest places.
Gadwall were very present on Baisley. I also got some nice close looks. From afar, gadwall are a brown duck, closer inspection reveals their fine details and beauty.

How many species of bird do you see?
I see six... Ring-necked duck, gadwall, American wigeon, Canada Goose, Mallard, and American coot.
This gadwall guy was quacking up a storm. They sounded very much like a hunters duck call, but shot and deep in tone.



Drake American wigeon.

A hungry little white-throated sparrow.

White-throated sparrows are renowned for their amazing manners.


This is a very special floating lump.
This is a canvasback.
And a life bird.
Bird 79 of 2019 and 338 on my life list.

While waiting for the canvasback to wake, I looked at ring-necked ducks.

Finally, he woke.
And a nice comparison between the Canvasback, left and Redhead, right. That sloped forehead, whiter mid section, and red eyes!

Very happy to view this duck!

A short little preen before he went right back into that nap.

Female and male ring-necked ducks. Quite a number on the pond, enough so that ebird flags them as a high count. I feel like last winter there were just as many here.

Waterfowl mix.
Redheads, American wigeon, mallard, coot, Canada goose.


A little Junco before Jamaica Bay.

Jamaica Bay had good stuff too, but a lot less. Got a year bird here too, Tree sparrow, year bird #81. This is NOT a tree sparrow, but a house finch.

Next weekend, is my favorite, Superb Owl Sunday. Stay tuned!