Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Winter Is Coming...

     The air has a new smell to it, a new feel to it, and I sure don't like it. In terms of how I function, I am reptilian. Heat, sun, and warmth are what I love and winter brings out my true reptilian self as it dries out my skin and I even feel scaly. Summer is over, even with those last few attempts at 80 degree days, I think it has given up and fall is transitioning quick into winter.
     The bird species present also are reminding me of winter, specifically the waterfowl I saw on this morning before work. I hit two locations in my attempt to find some very specific birds, based on yesterday's reports. I stopped first at the Salt Marsh Nature Center and then stopped at Plumb Beach, before getting to work.
     The one plus for this morning is that the wind died down a lot from the past few days and the sun was bright, so at least there was that. Enjoy the sights...
A sun-lit song sparrow along the path.
This isn't the wigeon you're looking for.
I came here hoping to see the Eurasian Wigeon who has been here over the last few days, instead I came up only with an American Wigeon. My first of the season, so I suppose I can't truly complain-- plus, he is still a super handsome guy. 

A great blue heron along the marsh grasses.
A bird I always adore and appreciate, cormorants- a double-crested cormorant to be exact. With no ability to fully waterproof their feathers, they must dry them out so that they can successfully fly.
Meanwhile at Plumb Beach... one of may black-bellied plovers I saw.
A few sanderlings associated with the plovers, and were dwarfed by the plovers when side-by-side.

A herring gull feasts on a prize, a fish head. Eat them up, yum! (I had a childhood where these were normally songs we listened to, if that tells you a little bit about myself...)
Stumbled upon a few semipalmated plovers too-- like, practically didn't see them till they were underfoot, as I was busy spying the sandbars and mudflats for other things...
One of these birds is not like the other birds...
Came out to see some royal terns, and royal terns I got! I like this shot because, depending on what they are up to, in a crowd they can easily blend in, especially when asleep among laughing gulls. I also saw Forster's terns among them too, who are much smaller than the royal terns.
Aside from the wigeon and the plumage change among the black-bellied plovers and sanderlings, other tell-tale signs of winter are the arrival of brant. Copious numbers of brant. I also saw bufflehead, a common winter sea duck, males are boldly marked with black and white, females just with a light white blush to their cheeks.
While I don't like winter, I do look forward to what the change in season brings with it- the chance to see some new avian faces in our area. Just need to start getting out the layers, we'll get there.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gusty Green-Wood Scenes

     I took an afternoon stroll through Green-Wood Cemetery, on a surprisingly not hung-over day. Last night we tried a new bar, close to home, Church Bar- really great cocktails, and the bartender was good to us, giving us two rounds of on-the-house shots (on top of what we ordered). I am amazed I am even without the least bit of grogginess! So, with a great feeling of life inside of me, I decided that I needed to get outside on this amazing autumn day.
     After checking Twitter for any leads on where to go, I decided to go to Green-Wood, as tweets of cool birds came in after I was deep into the middle of the cemetery. So letting the Eurasin Wigeon and Lincoln's sparrow go, I enjoyed whatever I could find out in the cemetery.
     With gusty winds, it was hard to see much. It was not super birdy, but I can't complain with a huge turn-around from yesterday's weather.
A little golden-crowned kinglet, just hangin' around...
A red-bellied woodpecker caches away some food for another day.
When the first spot didn't work out, try another-- looks like this one works.
Normally mockingbirds are abundant, but I only found this one today, who happened to not mind a few photos. With gusting winds, I found a lot of birds were either deep inside of leaved trees or just not present.
A red-eared slider basks along the edge one of the pools close to the main entrance.
I found a patch of blooming flowers, it was covered in butterflies, bees, and other insects. Who seemed to be clinging to escape the wind and feed, ravenously. Monarch Butterfly migration can go into November, so this gal needs to make a move.
Also on the flowers were at least two species of skippers, a smaller butterfly than the monarchs.

Fairly certain I have a chipping sparrow here...
clean grey, line through the eye, brown back with black streaks. It also does not feel right for a white throated.
And a great blue heron, who worked some poses for quite a few onlookers.... note the goldfish scale on it's bill... someone is eating the stocked exotic fish from the crescent water. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Braving the Weather for a Good Find

     I got no sleep last night, all I heard was the pouring rain. And all I could think about was whether or not the bird walk would happen today that I signed up for at Floyd Bennett Field. After waking up early, skipping coffee, and checking my email, it appeared that we were still on.
     The winds were gusty, like over 30mph gusty, the air was cold, and the rain made things soggy. My rain gear kept me dry, but the cold was really not something I was enjoying.
     While I was being whimpy in my head, the tiny birds were toughing it out. From small field sparrows to some late osprey, they were out there. The smaller birds staying out of the wind, but a few could be spotted on the wing.
     One of the pluses of FBF is that you can bird from the car, which we did, scanning fields, groups of birds and driving to sites. We scanned a group of gulls we saw earlier and I noticed a small egret with them, hunkering down from the wind...
One of these birds is not like the other ones...
A small egret, stocky, shorter bill than a snowy egret-- a cattle egret.
Our leader, Rob was jokingly mentioning prior to this sighting how maybe we'd see a cattle egret as we walked past the farm that they seasonally set up next to the Aviator complex. With cattle present, why not? I don't think we actually expected to run into a cattle egret!
Cattle egret are small, and here he/she is dwarfed by herring gulls who were resting/preening on this grassy field, next to the community garden area.

I think we've been spotted.
But being little, I would assume you need to be rather aware of anything above you, bigger than you.
Despite the wind, cold, and rain- this made the trip worthwhile. Glad I was able to get out and spy this little egret with the group!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bike Path Wildlife

     On my bike ride home from work, I opt for a longer and more scenic ride home along the path that takes you along Caesar's Bay and the Belt Parkway, under the Verrazano Bridge, and up into Bay Ridge. It is 5 miles longer than my usual ride up Ocean Parkway, but the views make up for the extra milage.
     Often I am hoping to spy a spouting whale, or a different gull from the standard species found along the way. Often I am dodging the lines of casting anglers as the fish are plentiful along the span of the path. I saw two anglers pull up a flopping catch as I approached them and I had to stop, because it wasn't any ordinary fish, it was cartilaginous, flat, and one we often see evidence of on the beach...
The bottom of the animal -- I know it's a female as it lacks "claspers," specialized structures on the pelvic fins that help males mate and internally fertilize the female. Sharks and their kin don't spawn, they are more sophisticated than that, even though their kind have been on this planet for 400 million years.
This fish is a skate, I think it is a little skate, which are more common inshore. Skates like sharks do not have bones, but skeletons of cartilage. They are not sting rays-- but related. Skates have fleshy fins on their tail, not a stinger. But they are related to sharks, and like sharks have some crazy rough skin that looks rather toothy, because they are dermal denticles. I touched it and got the chance to feel how rough she was.
I asked the anglers if they were planning to eat it. And they looked at me like I asked the craziest question. They asked me if I ever ate one, and I told them I did, and that I stopped consuming skate because they are not really good to eat, sustainably speaking. They told me that when they catch these guys they always toss them back as they are of no use to them.
To learn more about sustainable seafood, check out the seafood watch guides from Monterey Bay Aquarium.
And in case you were wondering, this is the evidence of skates that we find on the beach. Playfully referred to as "mermaid's purses," these are egg cases that once contained and protected most usually a single embryo. The washed up cases are almost always empty, the baby skate once developed makes its way out and into the ocean world.
Egg cases can be identified by species, based on characteristics, allowing researchers to know species present locally and have some idea of their population densities.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Marine Park Salt Marsh 10.16.16

     After taking yesterday to be all domestic and wife-like (I made batches of "Sunday Sauce," apple muffins, cleaned the place, went dress shopping, and made a killer bowl of miso ramen- with all the toppings... no, I'm not bragging....), today had to be an outside day. And what a day it was, I got to shed a few layers!
     I made an afternoon of things at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park where I spent a lot of time watching everything. I checked out every sparrow, sat around hoping things that dove in for cover would come back out, and muttered out loud, often, to myself "ugh, another song sparrow..." or "...yellow-rumped."
     I got some nice surprises, in terms of observing behaviors, and some photogenic individuals. So no complaints in terms of todays sights, enjoy...
I arrived with high tide, and a group of 4 double-crested cormorants were fishing together. I would assume that working together around a school of small fish would work out in someones favor. They would dive and resurface together. I saw them come up a few times with a prize.
A snowy egret, perhaps thinking about the journey that lies ahead and perhaps considering waiting a few more days as temperatures here are predicted to get up to 80 by mid-week. 
A very urban look for the song sparrow, as it poses so perfectly on a chain-link fence. Someone once mentioned to me how it seems that chain-link was designed with birds in mind, so many of them has no problem navigating through the small space between each link.

Hard at work.
A female downy woodpecker makes the perfect little cavity. There are a few dead trees in the salt marsh, often dead trees are removed by humans- thought to be of little use, or simply an eyesore. But dead limbs and trunks provide great opportunities for cavity nesters, and ones that create those cavities.
I was told by another observer that she has been working at this for the last two days.
A back trail, toward the ball courts are perfect for peeking at sparrows and finches. The tall grasses are full of seed and the seed-eaters are taking advantage. Here a swamp sparrow forages close to the edge.
Many American Goldfinch were bobbing and swaying from the stalks of the tall wildflowers.
I really wanted this to be something else, but who knew- the swamp is full of swamp sparrows!
Lots of bee species taking advantage of the goldenrod. Also taking advantage of these late blooms were monarchs and cabbage whites.
I also heard a call I know well, only to look up and find a pair of kestrels scanning and hovering for prey. Here, is the male.
I saw the pair had settled- I found the female on one tree eating her prize. Being the smallest falcon in N. America, it is not uncommon for these birds to prey not only upon small birds and rodents, but insects too. It almost looks like she has a mantid or katydid.
And then she made for a wonderful subject... note how her belly is streaky, kestrels are easy to tell apart in terms of their sex.
Another indicator of sex- the wings, barred on the female, wings of the male are slate blue.
Both male and female are some of the more beautiful of the birds of prey. I admire them greatly, tiny but tough.
A red bellied woodpecker peers around a dead limb to see if there is anything worthwhile...
He didn't give a single hammer- he just peered around...
Frome all angles, just to make sure he wouldn't miss a morsel.
Lucky for me, the male kestrel was just a few trees over from the female. A handsome guy, he is.

How perfect is this avian-dinosaur?!
Also treated to a coopers hawk who scared the sparrows I was watching. I tend to enjoy the raptors over the little guys... they really draw me in.
By time I left, the tide had gone out and the low-tide crew came in- more egrets and a group of greater yellowlegs, ran around chasing down little things to eat.