Saturday, October 17, 2020

Floyd Finds

     My Birding spot this week was Floyd Bennett Field. After seeing the forecast for rain all day Friday. I got out for a little after work on Thursday afternoon, and headed back there this morning for more. I was not disappointed. 

    While it appears the grasses of the fields have been moved, the cricket field is (mostly) over grown; a portion was mowed for the green meadows farm that takes over every fall. The Cricket field is a sparrow's and sparrow hawk's paradise right now. I'd highly suggest a visit!

    And bonus, today was World Migratory Bird Day!

I birded ecology village after work Thursday with the baby. We didn't see a whole lot, mostly because a pair pf merlin were patrolling the skies.
We did see lots of yellow-rumped warblers, though.

Also a nice treat, Thursday, a not shy and very low red-breasted nuthatch. It was working really hard at stashing a little morsel it had. It really had a tough time finding the best spot to cache its find.

This morning I made a quick decision to go to Floyd Bennett Field hoping to see an American Golden Plover. Usually when I try to find a bird that is reported, I usually fail. Not today! It was hanging with a few black-bellied plovers in a puddle on an old runway. This was a lifebird.

These birds breed in the high Arctic and migrate through the middle of the country. I'm glad I have finally gotten to see one!

Next I went over to the Cricket Field. 
And so did this female American Kestrel. She knew there was also good things to be found here.

I love this wind-swept look...
Of course today my daughter was not with me, and there were quite a few kestrels around.

Below the Kestrel, the birds were rightfully upset, sounding the alarm in sharp, loud calls. Robins even approached the tiny falcon and sized up to her.
Smaller, more prey-likely birds stayed low, but still called out their anger. This Savannah sparrow was just the start of the sparrow show.
Soon after spotting this savannah, I spotted swamp, song, white-throated, white-crowned, and field sparrows.

And then I saw this little chonky sparrow, white eye-ring and white boarders to the tail means only one thing: VESPER SPARROW!
And what a treat, you cab even see the detail of its pupil! A beautiful little thing just popping up in the open. What luck! Always check all your sparrows; this one was with a group of Savannah's.

I am also happy to have found this bird on my own. That always gives me the birding warm and fuzzies.

And even if most of the birds on the field were Savannah Sparrows, let's be real, you cant get tired of looking at these little stunners.

The buttery end to a good morning of birds.
(Yellow-rumped warbler, aka: butter butt)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Three Days of Birding with Baby

     Never thought I'd feel this way, but I love birding with our baby girl. Despite only being able to go out for short periods of time and her controlling much of what we do (diapers, bottles, and snuggles are at her demand), I love sharing the sights and sounds of nature with her.

    We went out into the world for three days in a row, looking at birds, listening to the leaves rustle in the wind, and smelling the fresh air. On day three, we even participated in the Brooklyn Birdathon and had a very very special sight!

Our first day was baby's first Elizabeth Morton NWR experience along with grandma too.

In addition to the chickadees, titmouse, and nuthatch beggars, we saw a few other friends too, like this very boisterous Carolina Wren.

This and another Carolina Wren came falling to the ground in a scuffle ball, then chasing each other after hitting the ground.

Then some much needed rest.

A blackpoll warbler sat out of the way of the wrens to bask in the warm sun.

This robin was not the intended subject of this photo... but it is now.
Robins don't all migrate south for the winter. They migrate in their diet, from their spring and summer feast of worms and insects, they turn to berries for the winter. They frequent areas with berries that last through the winter, which is why you stop seeing them on your lawn until springtime.

We always do small amounts of food in our hand and never spill it out. Unfortunately not everyone follows these posted rules and reminders (That are everywhere along the trails!) and it attracts more than birds. The rats take advantage of the surplus food, do well, and cause issues for vulnerable nesting birds during nesting season.
Please take your seed with you!
Actually, a few peanut halves in your hand will make the birds go insane and land on you. The cheaper seed blends the birds pick out the good stuff and leave you with the filler. That's what folks end up dumping and then attracting vermin. Less is more!

The next day (last Friday), we did a walk around Marine Park. A beautiful day is wasted if you don't get outside for even just a little bit!
This cedar waxwing sat low and in the warm sun.

It also showed us its wax wing. See those little red waxy things? That's its name!
A lovely little bird, never can complain about seeing them.

A bonus sparrow... a white-crowned sparrow!
Among the many song, swamp, and white-throated sparrows, there was this juvenile white-crowned!
Another "always happy to see" bird, a the blue-headed vireo. Also super close, just above eye level.

Saturday morning, the kiddo and I did our first Birdathon. Our first bird sighted was this great egret. We call them all GREG, so we always wave hello to GREG's when we see them.
(Heck, I wave to every bird...)

We birded Marine Park for our little patch of birdathon and racked up 38 species in total, including a few of these greater yellowlegs.
During a diaper change over looking the marsh, we spotted two Nelson's sparrows which were a year bird for me (a life bird for her?).

One of my favorite parts of the Nature Center at Marine Park is a trail just off the main loop that takes you out to Avenue U, adjacent to the handball courts. There is shrub and tree growth there so you can find all sorts of things in there. It is sparrow city with the grasses that butt up to the trees and sometimes you can find a fun one in the mix (like my white-crowned that I saw above).
A yellow-bellied sapsucker flew right overhead in the tree we were under. It even seemed to acknowledge us.

Here you can see the yellow on its belly. This birds coloration makes them look similar to the lichens growing on the trees they cling to.

We had a 4 woodpecker day, the sapsucker, this downy woodpecker, and a red-bellied and a few Northern flickers. This downy perched right next to us. I really love birding in urban parks, the birds really do come so near, making birding without binoculars very very possible.

Another close lander, ruby-crowned kinglets were buzzing about everywhere on this little trail, picking for bugs under leaves and in the creases of branches.
The baby was starting to fuss, and she was right, we all needed breakfast (well, second breakfast for her). So we began our walk back, out to the main loop again to see if there were any good birds along the fence line.


An American Kestrel!!!
So, being that our daughter is named Kestrel... we have been looking for them on every outing. None. And so crazy, because we have been to places where you ALWAYS see at least one.
So this is her first Kestrel, on her first birdathon! We got to pass right under it, it was so close, and then it flew, a merlin came by and prompted it to fly to a neighboring tree. That merlin swoop, gave us then a three falcon outing as we saw a peregrine earlier too!

These birds are amazing littel predators. See that specially hooked beak, with that extra notch in there? That is for severing the spinal cords of their prey, subduing them so this awesome predator can carry them off to a safe place to eat. Falcons are awesome, and even little falcons do not disappoint!

A song sparrow for the road.
We did some fundraising to help bird proof the glass here at the Marine Park Salt Marsh Nature Center, the center at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and if we have extra monies, it will go toward bird-proofing other units in the Jamaica Bay area.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


     Last week, the baby and I headed to Green-Wood Cemetery to try our luck. I had no targets, just to catch a few migrating birds. But then I did what I try not to do, I checked the whatsapp alerts. A Connecticut Warbler in Green-Wood. Oh how tempting. So many reports of them lately, and still a bird I have yet to see...

    When I and another birder got to the place it was reported in earlier, the cacophony of mowers, blowers, weed-whackers; bad news bears. No way would it still be there. 

    We both went to the Dell Water, close enough near to that original site. Still growing wild, un-mowed for the entire season. The baby got into a fussy mood, something she never does, maybe her warbler senses were tingling. Maybe she was like, no dum-dum, the bird you're looking for is on the other side of the pond...

As she cried, I noticed the tree next to us was dripping with redstarts. 
This is what most American Redstart photos look like.

They also may look like this...

 And sometimes you get real lucky.
As I stood and coddled my crying daughter, I also saw a Wilson's warbler (needed that for the year), an indigo bunting, a brown thrasher, red-eyed vireos, and lots of common yellowthroats.

A quick change of the diaper, a bottle, and some strolling finally brought her some calm. And we saw a few more birds. A veery popped up and something felt good about this area, also caught a red-eyed vireo on the ground. Perhaps we were onto something,

And then something small popped up onto some low branches.
Grey above, yellow below, and quite dull... full eyering.
We just stared at each other.
I grabbed as many (out of focus) photos as I could.
But even this cruddy photo shows another field mark I learned about, those long undertail coverts (butt feathers) that extend almost to the tail tip.
So there, I got my lifebird (and some doughnuts after), a well behaved baby for it, and I was able to identify it and re-find it (because its likely the bird seen earlier).
I hope I'll see one again and try for a better photo!

For a small chunk of Saturday, the Kiddo and I are participating in the Brooklyn Birdathon. Consider supporting us, team Baby's First Birdathon!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wallkill River NWR

     My husband over the work week mentioned how he yearned to go for a day trip, to get out of the house explore somewhere new. My ears caught his words and I reminded him of how I like to spend my free time, exploring places, the newer the better!

    I chose for us Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Situated mostly in New Jersey, but a little bit of it reaching in to New York. I also saw there were places for us to go to and relax after our exploring that were outdoors, family friendly, and COVID conscious. If we had more time, I'd stop at a farm stand to get some fresh produce, eggs, and honey, being among the offerings we saw along the way.

    We made the drive and only explored a very small portion of the place. There are many trails but we mostly explored Liberty Loop Trail. It's flat, level, and gets 5 stars for stroller friendliness. It also gets 5 stars for the bird sights along its middle portion that cuts across the marshland. The baby had a great time and even enjoyed a few of her own firsts!

It's been a while since I caught a snake! I love snakes and reptiles, in general. Before birds, they were a big obsession of mine, especially in my teenage years. This De Kay's (Brown) snake was a first for me and a first for our baby girl who smiled so big when we showed her this little snake friend.

The grasshoppers here were numerous and large, even. I hope one day we can all catch grasshoppers together!

Common yellowthroats were in much of the brushy, grassy sides of the trails along with house wren, indigo buntings, catbirds, and N. mockingbirds.
Hunting over the marsh was a Northern Harrier, swopping and surveying back and forth.

I knew this place was known for its Sandhill Cranes... but I didn't know I'd see a sandhill crane... more or less, a pair of Sandhill Cranes! Wow!!!!

The last time I saw Sandhill cranes was in Texas, earlier this year, while fairly pregnant, on our "Babymoon," before the year went into a downward spiral all around us. I won't say 2020 was a complete loss, because our baby girl arrived and made things a fair bit brighter for us in many ways. But anyway, back to cranes. These bird will be heading south soon as they migrate to places along the gulf coast.

While we didn't get to hear them, like their cousins, who we also had the amazing pleasure and luck to see on our Texas trip, the Whooping cranes, these birds can make quite the noise.

As I walked down the trail, the views of the cranes got better and also in the marsh in front of them other little treasures were found like these wood ducks and a few blue wing teals.

Also saw this little buddy, a juvenile common gallinule. It was making quite a scene, calling and fumbling over grasses.
But look at those feet!!!! Those long toes are always crazy to see. They help these bird stride with ease over marshy grasses and mud with no problem.

We saw an adult nearby too, this was another surprise bird that I welcomed into view.
Such perfect weather and a needed day to clear our minds and spend some family time together out in nature.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Nighthawk flight to confusing peeps

    When the clock hit 4pm last Friday, I packed up my work for the weekend and went into bird mode. I did some birding at Floyd, explored Cow Meadow Park in Freeport, LI, and went to the East Pond of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. 

    The weather is a bit more comfortable, with almost a chill in the air in the mornings. It's pretty perfect for walking around in and not coming home a sweaty mess.

    Lets start at Floyd...

A group of three American Crows were the first birds I stumbled upon at Floyd. This one is having a funny molt.

I found a number of house wrens and that is something I'll never be sad about.

I love these little round noise-makers. They all came out of the brush to scold me a bit and then take cover again.

Can never ever have too much wren. Ever.

As I made my way back, I saw a bird flying furiously through the air, making turns super fast, swooping, flapping furiously... I got my binoculars on it and those two white spots sealed the ID for me, a common nighthawk! Just what I was hoping for!

While the mosquitoes feasted on me, I feasted my eyes on the acrobatics of this bird. They are fascinating to watch and such a treat to see.

By day, these bird resemble a bump on a tree limb. Their tiny little bill actaully leads to a surprisingly large gape. When they are in action, they scoop up flying insects on the wing. A very cool bird to see and observe.

    On Sunday I went to Jamaica Bay, with those hopes of continuing to hone my shorebird ID. With the baby hanging back at home, I explored the east pond and tried my hand at sifting through the semipalmated sandpipers for discreet differences to hopefully discover some hidden birds among the flocks.

Upon arrival, I found a lot of peeps and a friend! Like an actual human friend, it was so good to see her! We spotted this bird, a little different from the rest of the semipalmated sandpipers... The longer, droopier bill made me think Western. And after sharing this photo with others, they agreed with Western Sandpiper.

One thing that I find super rewarding about birding is getting to know the intricacies of each species. The averge human would likely look at a sandpiper and call it just that, sandpiper. But they are so much more! Compare this fella to the one above, it's bill is shorter. Even the backlit western above doesnt show nearly as much reddish color. This bird also has yellow legs and feet and is (I promise you) smaller than many of the other sandpipers nearby, making this bird a least sandpiper.

One thing all sandpipers do not like, is being predated.
This and two other peregrine falcons made quite the scene. I don;t even think they were actually hungry. I almost think they were just having a good time riling up the flocks of sandpipers.

Another bird- not only is this bill longer and down curved, this bird was also significantly larger than all the other birds. This is a dunlin!

Again, I don't trust myself. This bird just felt different to me than a Royal tern. The bill felt redder and more heavy. Confirmed with the help of bird twitter (thank you!), this is a Caspian Tern!

And another, again, this bird was like a sports car among VW bugs, sleek and elongated. It wings extending past its tail. I could tell it was something different.

It is a white-rumped sandpiper! And next to a semipalmated sandpiper for comparison. Again, did not feel confident with my ID in the field, it is something I need to get better about.

And then as I picked my final peep out of the bunch all three peregrines at once come out like fighter jets, zooming fast, low, and with the intent to cause trouble.

Clearly the eating is good, you can see from the full crop... I guess I'm not the only one enjoying shorebird migration.

Before leaving, this Northern waterthrush made sure the coast was clear before it continued on its way. Fall migration continues on and soon we will have lots of new birds to explore with the seasons changing.